London. You stole my heart from the minute I walked off the Underground. To be honest, everything about London was just so London. It was everything that I expected. The city life, the historical significance, the people (who were so nice) and the gorgeous gardens, it was perfection. It was also a week full of sunshine that I really think helped with the atmosphere. Here’s an itinerary if you’re only in the city for a couple of days.
Where to Stay:
We stayed at Victory House in Leicester Square and it was amazing. The location was perfect, it was in the heart of Leicester Square, close to China Town, Trafalgar Square, and all the Broadway Shows. It was also within walking distance to many parks, 10 Downing Street and the Churchill War Rooms. While our room was somewhat small the hospitality was amazing. We were even given a phone that had 4G data and international calling all complimentary. We took the phone everywhere with us – it was the perfect solution for getting around since it had google maps. It also provided an app that could give us discounts on attractions and shows, all in all, if I go to London again, this is where I would stay.
The Itinerary for the 4 days was jam packed. We fit everything I wanted to see into those days. This post is going to be long and I apologize in advance. To help with that, attractions will be highlighted to help you see our day to day activities.
We arrived late on Day 1, we were driving back from Cornwall. Since we arrived so late, super touristy things just weren’t happening that day, instead we walked around Leicester and Trafalgar Square. Both are a must see, as well as the lions! I’m not going to lie, at first, I was little intimidated. We had just come from this relaxing vacation on the coast to the bustling city with it’s street performers and people everywhere. It took me a bit to adjust, but once I did, and once we got to Trafalgar Square, I was in love – especially seeing Parliament in the background of the square. It was the icing on the cake.
The only downside to our short day in London was the restaurant – we had Mexican at Chiquito, my boyfriend’s meal was great (apparently) but mine was missing, well everything that would have made it an excellent meal. I wouldn’t recommend Chiquito but to try the local pubs instead (which we did later in the week).
Day 2 started out with sight-seeing and ended with a lot of walking. We bought the London Pass (more information on that in the Do’s and Don’ts of London) which was perfect for all things London attractions. With it comes a hop on hop off bus tour and an Oyster Card (if you choose that option).
Since we walked, I think we were able to see more than what we would have seen if we had taken the hop on hop off bus the first day. We walked by 10 Downing Street to start where everyone was hoping to get a glimpse of Theresa May, then by the Royal Mews where we saw the Guard and their horses, unto little governmental streets on our way to Churchill’s War Room.
This had the longest wait time of any location we visited. We waited probably an hour and a half just to get into the offices. But once in there, it was like walking back through time – this is where people worked tirelessly during WWII to win the war. I learned a lot, and being someone who is so intrigued by history, it was just cool to walk among halls that others who did so much for the war also walked through.
After Churchill War Rooms, we sat out by St James Park to rest a bit, which is right across the street from Churchill War Rooms then headed to Parliament – where you can also see Jewel Tower and Westminster Abbey.
This was the first instance when I felt like I was in true London, you had the ever-picturesque Parliament landscape with Westminster Abbey across the street. While we waited in a short line for the Abbey, we ate lunch (yes, we brought it with us – no time to stop and eat, more on that later)!
Once inside the Abbey, I felt myself immersed in the history of England. You can’t take pictures, so I don’t have any of the inside but let me tell you – it was magnificent and felt like 10 churches inside one. It was huge, and you could get lost forever in there. My recommendation is that you pay the extra (or if with the London Pass its free) for the visual aid. Here you can listen to the history of every room, who is there, why they are there, what it means – you can find the tomb of the lost princes, Prince Edward, Mary Queen of Scots, Stephen Hawking and the Tomb of Unknown Soldiers to name a few. To see the architecture and understand the history while walking through each room was amazing, it truly made me feel like I was walking through history. Royalty not only lies there but walked, breathed and lived through this Abbey. I really can’t put words into what I felt experiencing this.
We weren’t done for the day though! In fact, our day was just starting, we couldn’t have our first full day in London and not see Buckingham Palace! No, we didn’t see the changing of the Guards, and no I’m not disappointed in that, we got to see the Palace after we walked through St James Park (again) and through the Arch of Wellington (one of the best-known Generals in history). Buckingham Palace was really just a stop in the many touristy things we had to see in London.
After which, we stopped in at the Victoria and Albert Museum (free entry) and saw the Albert Memorial. The museum was gorgeous, these two people – Queen Victoria and Albert changed the way England would be forever – the Victorian Age is an amazing time of science, music and art advancement and it’s because of these two that it happened. When we were walking through the museum, I thought: “I hope they realize the legacy they left behind.”
The Albert Memorial was without a doubt the most extravagant memorial I have ever seen. Built for Albert after his untimely death – Victoria didn’t go small. Her love for her husband is evident in this masterpiece of art – something he never wanted but deserved. If you have time (we didn’t have time) head to the Royal Albert Hall which provides tours and concerts – concerts such as for Queen on her birthday!
The day ended with a trip to Kensington Palace – the birthplace and childhood home of Victoria before she became Queen. Other fun facts, Kensington is also where Prince William and Kate live and now Prince Harry and Meghan.Oh, and you can see the emerald necklace Prince Albert designed for Victoria (swoon) – where are my Victoria fans who know what I’m talking about?
We did a lot of walking on Day 2, but don’t worry, you don’t have to – you have some options like the Tube or a hop on and hop off bus, both that are convenient and easily accessible.
We used the hop on and hop off bus on Day 3 and it was the perfect mode of transportation. We got to hear a little history and see architecture that we might have missed if we had walked or taken the tube.
We took the hop on and hop off bus to St Paul’s Cathedral and then walked to all other attractions, you do not have to do this – there are stops to all attractions discussed below.
Our first stop was St Paul’s Cathedral and I’m not going to lie, it might be one of my favorite places of our entire trip. Like Westminster Abbey, we couldn’t take pictures inside but unlike Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral is known as the “people’s church” while Westminster is for Royalty. Once again, please get the visual aid if you can, it opens a whole world of information that you would miss if you didn’t have them (like the fact that the Church had some color added during the 1800’s, before where Victoria thought it was boring). The architecture and art is extraordinary. The tombs are incredible, here you can see where Wellington is laid to rest (oh remember I mentioned him as one of the best-known generals? Yeah, he helped defeat Napoleon).
But what really sets St Paul’s Cathedral apart is the fact that you can walk about 300 flights of stairs up a narrow and twisting (and sometimes scary) staircase. I’m afraid of heights so at one point I didn’t think I would make it but honestly the view is so worth it. It was an unbelievable experience – the first view is the upper half of the dome that looks down unto the church but also up to get a better view of the artwork on the ceiling, and as you climb the last of the 300 flights, you walk out to the top of the dome and the city of London in view. We stayed up there for awhile to take it all in. It was a view I’ll never forget and what really set St Paul’s Cathedral out from all other attractions.
After St Paul’s Cathedral, we walked across Millennium Bridge (Hi Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!) to the Shard. Which, in all honesty was the Sears Tower in Chicago, to me, the only difference was that part of the Shard was open, air came into the room. But other than that, the view to me was nothing like St Paul’s Cathedral and I probably wouldn’t go back there.
But one place I would go back to is picturesque Tower Bridge. Probably one of staples of London tourism (behind Big Ben). When I first saw Tower Bridge I internally squealed – this was one of the things I was waiting for, this was my childhood, this was what I remember seeing in Peter Pan and one of the structures that made me fall in love with London.
Tower Bridge was built because London Bridge couldn’t handle the traffic. Built in the 1800’s, Tower Bridge was built in a style to compliment the Tower of London. A Drawbridge that still functions (and by the way, you can watch if you know the schedule).. Through the exhibit, you can watch short video on the building of the bridge and then walk across the bridge, from above, with a glass floor so you can look down and see the cars driving under you. After which, you can go see how the engines work for the bridge to operate.
If you’re going to go to Tower Bridge, the next logical stop is Tower of London. Known as a home for Kings and Queen centuries ago, it’s also know as one of the most daunting and horrific prisons in all of England. It’s an amazing site in respect to how old the buildings are (I didn’t know there was also a town around the Tower). But the problem I had with this was that it felt like too much of an attraction for tourists, this place saw multiple deaths, be-headings, the mystery around the missing Princes, but I didn’t feel like I was walking back in time, so I was disappointed.
On a different note, you can see the Crown Jewels, yes you read that right, the Crown Jewels, like what is used during Coronation – my boyfriend didn’t think it could be possible that we were seeing them, like, these are out there for viewing? It seems odd (us Americans don’t have nice things on display) but there they were – sorry no pictures allowed!
We were done with our day at about 2pm (yes you read that right) so we hopped back on the hop on and hop off bus and just sat back, relaxed and took in the views, until it was time for dinner – first and only true British pub. The waiter was the nicest person ever and we received a delicious (and abundant) amount of food at the Salisbury.
Our mode of transportation today was the Tube/Underground and walking
Day 4 was also our last day in London – it was a day to get some random things in. I’m a Harry Potter fan, we didn’t do any tours but just had to go to Platform 9 ¾ it was silly and a little weird – but I had to do it. I mean, I’m in London and I’m a Harry Potter fan, now I can say I went to the real platform 9 ¾ and not just the one in Orlando. You get to choose a scarf and a wand for your picture and you can either take a professional picture (and pay for it in the gift shop) or just take one with your phone or camera for free. We opted for the free version, but it is nice they give you the option.
Outside of Kings Cross Station is St Pancreas where Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was filmed (when Harry and Ron take the flying car), so of course, we had to walk outside to see it!
Once done with our Harry Potter adventures, we headed to Harrod’s because everyone told us to and then to Afternoon Tea at The Marriot. I kind of planned this late so afternoon tea was off the beaten track and not one that you would find on the best afternoon tea lists but honestly it was perfect for us and affordable! The waiter was nice and gave us some free sample of the teas because I liked it so much. We were so full, we ate so much. But the other best part about where afternoon tea was the location – it was in South Kensington. I’ve seen pictures and thought it an adorable area but to be there makes all the difference. It is the cutest area, the streets and houses are perfect – bright, clean and old. I loved it.
The rest of the day was hanging out and relaxing at the many parks London has to offer – oh and of course a picture with the well-known red telephone booth!
London was without a doubt everything I imagined it would be. I’m already trying to figure out how I can get back there. I wrote this post around July 4th, this year it really put into perspective how young the United States is and how old and how much history there is in England and all other European countries. It’s remarkable how they pride themselves on that history and how it’s all still so accessible and alive.
Hopefully this itinerary of 4 days in London will help you see all the main sites to see!