4 February 2016

very rough & first draft london city guide

london

ever since we moved to london – even after we’d only been here a few weeks – i have recieved regular requests for tips on things to do and see when visiting this incredible city. i feel like such and novice and  i have so, so, so, so much to learn about london and its delights, but i thought it might be helpful to post a very rough & first draft city guide. i’m sure i’ve left out loads of wonderful things that i have not yet discovered, but for now, six months in as a londoner, these are my favourites and my recommendations for those visiting london for a first and/or short time.

{i keep track of others’ tips for london on a pinterest board that you can find here. everytime i look at it i get a little overwhelmed because i want to discover every lovely corner in this city! also, i have super loved getting london recommendations from blog readers, so if you think of something i’m missing in my lists below, leave a comment letting me know!}

my suggestion for an epic walking tour: this could be an all-day event if you want to do everything (loooots of walking - but really awesome sites all along the way!), or you could split it up. 

  • start at trafalgar square (charing cross tube station) - pop in the national gallery if you want, because it's free and the impressionist galleries are one of my favourite spots of art in the world, look past nelson's column to big ben, take some photos with the lions, admire st. martin's in the field and appreciate it's history.
  • then walk down the mall to buckingham palace (time this for 11am if you want to see the changing of the guard, which i think is cool but not a total 100% london must). 
  • stroll back towards the river through st. james’ park to westminster abbey (i think going inside is a big must, but if you want to just do a walk by first, that's cool!) and then around big ben and the houses of parliament. 
  • cross lambeth bridge and walk along the southbank (right along the thames on the south side) under the london eye (ride now, or later) and down to waterloo bridge, which has amazing views on both sides. 
  • grab some lunch at one of london's awesome chain healthy fast food options: pret, eat, pod, pure, tossed...you'll see some along the way. 
  • head back to southbank from waterloo bridge and continue down the south side of the thames to the tate modern (it's free if you want to peek in and they usually have really cool exhibits in the main super tall gallery) and then check out globe theater, which is right next door. 
  • if you want, continue walking to borough market (which you should go to no matter what, but as part of this walk only if you're not exhausted!). 
  • from the tate modern (return there if you've gone to borough market) and then cross millennium bridge, which leads right to st. paul’s cathedral. it costs to go in, but entrance fees include a trip to the top of the dome, which is really, really cool (so do that as part of this walk or later). you can also enter for free for the evensong service, which starts at 5pm monday-saturday and is a really cool experience. 
  • there's a nando's close to st. paul's at the one new change shopping center, and that's a great option for dinner after this walk. we love nando's - it's certainly not the very best and most awesome food london has to offer, but it is seriously good and should be tried at least once by every visitor in my opinion! while you're at one new change, make sure to go to the top floor for awesome views of st. paul's and over london. 

another fun, shorter walk that hits some neat places: (this is a bit more girlie with pretty stores, etc)

  • start at leicester square and walk up to picadilly circus. the energy there is just always so great. 
  • walk down picadilly street and admire all the beautiful buildings and shops. i suggest popping in to hatchard's bookstore and especially fortnum & mason, likely the world's most lovely department store (i absolutely like it better than harrod's - but it's much smaller). there is a "parlour" in fortnum & mason where you can get ice cream, cakes, scones with clotted cream, soda, and small savory bites. it's adorable. 
  • walk up burlington arcade and then wind along the charming streets of mayfair. your destination should be liberty london, which, okay, is maybe an even more lovely department store than fortnum & mason. it's a wonderland to explore. 
  • from there you can meander down regent's street or head up to oxford street (or both) - london's premiere shopping streets. they're just fun to window shop along and have a very distinct london feel to me. 

other things i'd suggest definitely doing in london:

first, a few from the walking tour that, if you did only a walk-by on the tour, i suggest you return to:

  • visit the national gallery (and the national portrait gallery) - amazing art in a stunning building, free entrance. 
  • visit westminister abbey - order tickets online in advance and be prepared to wait in line when you go. this is the one paid attraction in london that i recommend without any reservation to all visitors. it’s absolutely incredible.
  • ride the london eye - it is a bit pricey but quite fun and a great way to get a feel for the layout of the city. this isn't as much of a must to me as westminster, but it's pretty awesome in my opinion
  • explore borough market - go at breakfast time and get a donut from the bread ahead stand, or go at lunchtime and sample amazing foods from the plethora of different prepared food carts. and just explore - it's amazing. 
  • go inside st. paul's cathedral (climb all the stairs to the top!)

and some other things not from the walking tour (i've tried to put things that are next to each other geographically next to each other in this list):

  • visit the tower of london and tower bridge. going inside the tower of london is pricey, and it's not a must, must, must to me - but most people really enjoy it. if you do go inside, make sure you go on a yeoman's tour. just seeing it without going inside though is very cool. walk across tower bridge (and if you want to pay, go to the top and walk on the glass floor!). it's got to be one of the world's most magnificent structures, and the views to the skyscrapers of east london are really great. 
  • go to notting hill and meander around the portobello road market (check the times for when the market is open first because it's not always open every day). there are lots of cute hidden corners in notting hill - i suggest just wandering if you have the time. the market is awesome, and you'll want to go with at least a bit of an appetite so you can try different foods that are being sold. 
  • spend a bit of time in the british museum, which houses some of the most important historical artifacts in the world. since it’s free and a really neat building too, i suggest all london visitors check it out at least for a short while. if you love art, i also highly recommend the tate gallery (different from the tate modern, on the other side of the city) – it is a really, really fantastic museum.
  • go to covent garden and just enjoy the different shops and lively vibe. there are usually a good handful of street performers about, and some of them are really fun to watch. while you're there, i suggest walking up through the seven dials neighborhood, which is really fun, and getting some pizza at homeslice (my favourite london food find) in neal's yard (the most colourful corner in london, perhaps). 
  • visit the museums in south kensington. i particularly love the natural history museum (the building itself is just to die for so make sure you go to the central atrium) and the victoria & albert museum (the courtyard and cafe are incredibly beautiful). the science museum is also cool if you're into that stuff! all are free!! while you're in south kensington, you may want to walk up exhibition road to see the church of jesus christ of latter-day saints building - it's pretty cool right there in the middle of london. around the corner is royal albert hall, which is just a gorgeous structure. 
  • explore hyde park/kensington gardens. i haven't spent much time there since the weather has been cold, but there's so much to see. i really like the albert memorial (right in front of royal albert hall) and kensington palace is fun to see (that's where will, kate, george and charlotte live!). the orangerie at kensington palace is a wonderful place to have afternoon tea, and the ground are pretty. you can also go inside the palace - i never have, so i can't say if it's a must-do or not! 
  • have a picnic or just spend some time in regent's park - in my opinion a better destination than hyde park! don't miss the rose garden with all kinds of different roses labeled with the most delightful names or trekking to the top of nearby primrose hill, which affords wonderful views over the city. 
  • speaking of views, the sky garden is the top of the "walkie talkie" building and it's free to go up there - you just need to book tickets online in advance. it's a fun thing to do if you are in east london and want a birds-eye view. you can also go to the top of the shard - we never have but i'm sure the views are spectacular. 
  • in east london: spitalfields market, brick lane (where the best curry houses are) and the shoreditch area are interesting to explore if you want to see a less touristy, more gritty side of london.  
  • there are so, so many unique and darling neighborhoods around london that are just delightful to wander around. i haven't gotten to enough to make solid recommendations, but this list would be majorly flawed if i didn’t mention that one really great thing about london is just the beautiful buildings and streets unconnected to any tourist sights. 

day trips from london:

  • greenwich - a darling little town with an awesome market and home to the royal observatory and the prime meridian of the world. you can get there by tube, but i suggest you take the commuter boat along the thames, because it's fun :)
  • cambridge and/or oxford - both are quick and easy to reach by train from london and then explore on foot. i am partial to cambridge if you have to chose between the two - but both are totally awesome.
  • bath - such a lovely city also accessible by train and explorable by foot (although a bit further away from london). climbing to the top of the cathedral, seeing the royal crescent, and visiting the roman baths are all really neat, and you'll see a lot of english countryside on the journey there.
  • stonehenge - you'll need a car to get there, but it's pretty amazing to see in real life. it is near bath so you could couple those two together.
  • beachy head/eastbourne - again, you'll need a car to get there, but the white cliffs at beachy head/seven sisters are completely spectacular (much better than dover in my opinion), and eastbourne is a really cute seaside town.
  • hampton court and/or windsor caste - fun to visit if you are into the castle/palace/monarchy stuff. i believe both are accessible by train - i've never been to hampton but have been to windsor twice and the castle and town are really delightful.
  • stratford-upon-avon is really kitschy with shakespeare stuff, but it's pretty neat to visit. it's technically in the cotswolds, which is a lovely place to experience some rural england with medieval villages and old manors and the like - so that could be a fun little road trip (i haven't spent much time there - yet!)

i’m excited to update this guide after i’ve done more exploring! i adore this city and hope every visitor will fall in love with it like i have!

{artwork by loose petals}

9 comments :

  1. Charity,

    I grew up near Stratford-Upon-Avon and April is the bestest time to visit (this year on April 23rd, they're celebrating 400 years). They do celebrations for Shakespeare's birthday and you can take a canal boat ride to see Trinity Church where he was buried.

    Warwickshire has a lot of other amazing places to visit - Warwick Castle, Kenilworth Castle (perfect on bonfire night) and Stoneleigh Abbey which are about 30-40 minutes north of Stratford-Upon-Avon.

    Hope y'all get to visit.
    ~Kiki~

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  2. Hi Charity,

    Great list! If you don't already have a copy, you might be interested in eat.shop.london (first or second edition), filled with unique shops and small restaurants/cafes - I haven't hit a bad recommendation yet.

    Also, the Church of St. Martin In the Field has wonderful concerts (I think the midday ones are still free), and their Cafe in the Crypt has really good food, very handy if you want to make sure you aren't late for an evening concert - just duck back up the stairs and find your seat.

    I am delighted to have found your blog, so fun to read about your fun journeys in and around London! Best wishes on the baby news, I'll be very interested to read posts about wonderful spots for little ones in the future...

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  3. Thanks for the great recommendations! I went to London in November and I wish I would have had this info then. Congrats on your pregnancy!!!

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  5. Hi Charity, we are planning a London vacation in September, so this was a great post!! What do you think about us Americans renting a car? Is it hard to drive on the opposite side? We really want to spend some time exploring Jane Austen sites as well as Bronte sites!!

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    1. in our experience, you get used to driving on the other side pretty quickly. i would definitely go for it! just be vigilant at the big roundabouts :) and do not, under any circumstances, drive in london - get the car before or after your time in the city. i would love to hear about your austen and bronte explorations!

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  6. Great tips.

    One thing I don't get tho is why so many American visitors aren't willing to pay to go & visit somewhere, like the London Eye. Surely that's part of being on holiday.

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  7. Can't wait to put this to use!

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  8. Hi - My husband and I are travelling to London in late April/early May, and I came across this post - very helpful, thanks! Do you have any recommendations for hotels in areas that are convenient to these awesome walking tours? We're looking for simpler (aka inexpensive, haha) accommodations, somewhere around $150 (US Dollars) a night. Thanks!

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