Is it possible to ‘do’ London in a day?
But you can give it your best shot.
Recently I planned a short trip to London with friends who had never been before. So much to see and so little time to see it in.
Here are my top tips to getting the most out of a day in London –
What do you want to see?
This might seem a really obvious question – but if you wait until to get there to work out what you want to see and do you will either miss lots of things that you could have done, or waste time criss-crossing London, or both. If you are not sure what you want to do, try these 3 key themes to get you started.
There are over 200 museums in London and most of them are free. For a first time visitor I would recommend one of these –
- British Museum. This has to be first on the list because it is my favourite! The Museum itself is older than the USA, opening in 1759. It became so big that it spawned two other museums to house some of its more specialist artefacts – The British Library and the Natural History Museum (more on that one later). At any one time, only 1% of its collection is on display. At its centre is the Great Court – an open space from which the rooms all span off and a very impressive glass ceiling. Search Google for the top 10 exhibits in the Museum and wander round those for a taster session.
- The Natural History Museum. Stuffed animals, giant skeletons, precious stones, dinosaurs – all that sort of thing. Displays are cleverly thought out housed in another impressive building. The museum’s collection includes over 70 million botanical items, 55 million animal exhibits, 9 million archaeological relics, and 500,000 rocks and minerals. One of the most interesting dinosaur exhibits is the museum’s mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex, which helps visitors understand how the dinosaur moved and behaved. And it scares little kids which is also quite amusing.
- The Victoria and Albert Museum. Pretty much across the street from the Natural History Museum, and perhaps more for the arty architecture lover, this place houses ornaments, statues and other eclectic items. More of a ‘grown ups’ museum it is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects. If that last sentence doesn’t float your boat, the museum is not for you!
What trip to a city would be complete without hours of trudging in and out of shops. London is no different. Again, the problem is what sort of shopping do you want to do? Here are some ideas –
- Markets – Camden Market is an eclectic mix of nothing – but very interesting all the same. And the location itself is quite unique (for me anyway, I’ve not seen anything like this place here or abroad). Borough Market is a food lovers paradise and is right next to the Shard. Covent Garden market isn’t really a market in the normal sense, more of a collection of stalls dotted about, but its right in the centre of a major shopping area. That brings me nicely onto –
- Shopping Streets. Oxford Street is the Londons equivalent to a ‘High Street’ – Top Shop, Primark, all those sorts of shops on a massive scale. We counted 3 H&M stores within 500 yards. Regent Street which runs just off Oxford Street is more upmarket and is a beautiful street for building architecture. It also runs nicely down to Piccadilly Circus. Carnaby Street maintains its uniqueness and great range of shops (and is nestled between Regent Street, Oxford Street and SoHo). Covent Garden and Seven Dials is an excellent mix of normal shops and unique / designer stores – probably all you need for a first time visitor.
- Slightly Further afield. Areas like Shoreditch and Spittlefields also have an excellent selection of shops and markets, but are a tube journey away and fairly spread out. Definitely worth a look though. And of course Harrods and the surrounding area are for the big spenders, or those happy to think they are.
Every visitor to London needs to be ‘that’ tourist – taking pictures, oooohing and ahhhhing at every corner. In the same way that New York does, London has this really familiar feel to it as it is used in movies all of the time. Key sights include –
- Houses of Parliament and Parliament Street
- Horse Guards
- St James Park and Buckingham Palace
- Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, China Town and SoHo
- Covent Garden and the Theatre District
- Tower of London, London Bridge and the Shard
- The Banking District and Sky Scrapers
- Southbank and the Globe TheatreSlightly further away –
- Greenwich Observatory
- Canary Wharf
- London Zoo
So how to you put a day together taking into account the themes above? Try working out things that you can do together – within walking distance, or can be accessed easily on the tube line. Why not start with some of these day suggestions and tailor them for your tastes –
- Central London Walking. Exit the Tube at Embankment, walk West along the river to the Houses of Parliament, double back on yourself up Parliament Street/Whitehall, past Downing Street, through Horse Guards into St James Park. Feed the birds as you stroll along to Buckingham Palace, then stride back along the Mall through to Trafalgar Square, swing round Leicester Square and then onto the British Museum. Head into the Theatre District for an evening meal. Google Map
- Kids and Adults. Start at the Natural History Museum. Get on the tube through to Carnaby Street for shopping and then SoHo for food. Walk through to Covent Garden for street performers and more shopping. Prebook a ticket for the Sky Garden for cocktails and views and then buy a McDonalds on the way home! Google Map
- Happy to travel. Start the day in Shoreditch for a graphitti tour and Spittlefields food market. Jump back on the tube and head to SoHo / Seven Dials for shopping. Cross over the river to the Southbank for some culture and visit the free viewing platform in the Tate Modern Gallery. Google Map
Walk as much as you can, but don’t be afraid of the tube either. If you are worried, stick to just a couple of main lines – such as the Northern Line. Work out the nearest station to where you want to be and then get off and walk. It surprising how much walking you can do underground changing platforms – why not do it on the street! Much more interesting…..
What are your top tips for London – or hidden jems? For a more in-depth review of London activities, check out this blog.