London catches the eye and heart of nearly every traveller that ventures within – it’s up there with New York City; vibrant, exciting and full of history, but with the added bonus of being an easy point of entry to the rest of Europe. It would seem that London offers something to practically everyone…
“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
– Samuel Johnson
Having spent just spent four nights in London (and having visited six months ago for the first time), I’ve come away with a fresh reminder of how fantastic this vivacious English city is. I am by no means an expert on the city, rather I feel we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what London offers, but we would like to share our mini itinerary with you in the hopes that it might help you plan your first visit to this fabulous place.
All of the following activities and locations are within easy reach of one another and manageable within a day. This post is not designed as an all-inclusive list, but a starting point for you to build a fabulous day or two in the capital.
If you’re looking for more advice and details about how you could spend your time there, I suggest you check out my friend, Sara’s blog – Big World, Small Me (she’s a Kiwi living in London and is a total expert on the city). Also, Macca’s got some great suggestions, like his review of the Harry Potter walking tour.
Where To Start Your Self-Guided London Walking Tour
We caught the train and got off at London Bridge which is an easy 3 minute stroll down to our starting point, the Borough Markets. Depending on where you’re staying, you may like to reverse or play with the order of this itinerary. Have fun making it work for you for!
Whatever your culinary inclination, get yourself to the Borough Markets when you’re visiting London! These markets are full of life and excitement and the smells that emanate from the stalls are mind blowing. It feels like there’s almost every type of delicious food on offer here that you could hope for.
We tucked into the most delicious Malaysian chicken curry and followed it up with a beautifully chewy piece of chocolate brownie for dessert and wandered about admiring all of the amazing looking kai (Māori for ‘food’) on offer.
The stand out of the markets for me though are the incredible doughnuts made by Bread Ahead. Last time I was in London my friend suggested we hunt them down and on this return trip, I did exactly that again. We tried both the salted caramel honeycomb and the vanilla bean custard doughnuts and though they were both fantastic, it’s really worth mentioning the salted caramel flavour; it was incredible. Nathan doesn’t normally go crazy for sweets like I do but when he’s happy to return to the markets again to stock up on these treats, you know you’re onto a winner!
The Borough Markets are open every day (with the exception of Sunday), with their main days of operation being Wednesday to Saturday. To get there by train/tube, get off at the London Bridge station, on either the Northern or Jubilee lines. Ensure getting there is on the top of your list – you won’t be disappointed.
Seasonal Bonus: If you’re lucky enough to be passing through the city in December, you’ll want to check out the London Christmas markets, without a shadow of doubt! Sure, the Borough Markets are awesome, but Christmas markets are incredible!
London Bridge and Tower Bridge
From the Borough Markets, it’s an easy walk to the London Bridge and Tower Bridge, both spanning the River Thames. The London Bridge isn’t much to look at but has a long-standing historical importance and gives a great view of the Tower Bridge, my favourite of the two. Numerous times a day the Tower Bridge raises it’s gangways and though we didn’t manage to catch it doing so, it would be worth trying to time your visit if you can (you’ll find the timetable here).
Whilst you’re in the area, you may also like to head inside the Tower of London (£25 each) to soak up the brutal history of London and to spot the crown jewels. If it floats your boat, you can also board the HMS Belfast as you make your way from London Bridge to the Tower Bridge. Be sure to spin around and check out the towering glass building known as The Shard – if you have time, you can relax with a drink at the top whilst you enjoy panoramic views of the city too.
After you’ve soaked up the sights by the Thames, jump on the tube at Tower Hill and make your way to Westminster. From this point you’ll have access to a plethora of iconic landmarks all within an easy walk of one another.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Perhaps one of the most iconic old landmarks in London (and my favourite), Big Ben is even more impressive in person. The famous clock town joins the Houses of Parliament and both buildings have an incredible amount of shimmering gold detailing; the workmanship in both is amazing and certainly worth a visit.
Across the road from the Houses of Parliament is one of the most recognisable churches in the world. The detailing on Westminster is remarkable and its history even more so. The church is over one thousand years old and has strong ties to the English monarchy – every royal Coronation since 1066 has taken place here and it has provided the backdrop to no less than sixteen royal weddings. To learn more about the history of this stunning place of worship, you might like to check out their website (there’s far too much to do justice in this single post).
Ten Downing Street
“Number Ten” is home to the serving Prime Minster, but don’t head over expecting to catch a glimpse of David Cameron! As you would expect, the entrance to this famous address is heavily guarded and protected by indestructible gates. Regardless though, it is worth swinging past as you head to the palace. Whilst we were there the guards were surprisingly friendly and willing to pose for a selfie or two – if you’d like a shot with a traditionally dressed (and heavily armed) English policeman, this could be the spot to do so.
Buckingham Palace and Surrounds
Just down the road from Ten Downing Street, you’ll find the Horse Guards Parade to your left (look out for the mounted guards, you can’t miss them). If you turn through this building, you’ll stumble into St James’s Park before finding yourself at the gates of Buckingham Palace.
We spent a good half hour slowly wandering through St James’s Park, spotting squirrels, geese, swans and all manner of local birds. There’s nothing like a good park in the middle of a city and this is one that’s definitely worth spending some time in.
At the end of the park, you’ll find the infamous Buckingham Palace. Once a day (or every second day in the off-season) you can catch the changing of the guards; an opportunity to glimpse into royal tradition and culture.
London is a fabulous city regardless of the time of year and a perennial favourite amongst travellers.
For those of you have have visited or lived in the city before – are there any must-sees in these areas? What other parts of London would you recommend paying a visit to?
Have another day to spare? We’d definitely recommend jumping on a train and heading out to Thorpe Park, London’s premier theme park. Read more about each of the rides and our review here.