I was asked recently by a couple of friends on this side of the Atlantic about suggestions regarding London — as they were planning their London trip. I put together an email with basic pointers and sent it to my first friend. Shortly after it turns out another one decides he wants to visit Blighty and asks me for the same. At this point I dig out the original email, I add a few extras to it and send it. And behold, just yesterday, another friend asks me for the same 🙂
At which point I’m thinking: “time for a blog post” 🙂 So here it is: Liv’s (very succinct) guide to visiting London — and a few other parts of the UK. Work in progress as they say and likely I’ll add more to this as the same question pops up and I think of more things and places. (You will find out that most of this is focused on London itself, but there are a few pointers for other areas — including Scotland.)
Look at www.londonpass.com , they have all sorts of deals going including “all museums pass” for the small museums which charge entry (like Churchill War Rooms) and other offers which you might like (cruises on river thames and so on).
- National History Museum — this is in South Kensington (in West London) and easily walkable if you get accommodation in that part. They have dinosaurs and all sorts: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/
- Science Museum is 2-3 minutes walk from there http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/
- Also Victoria and Albert Museum : https://www.vam.ac.uk/ in the same area (all are within 5-10 minutes walk of each other)
While in Kensington, there are a few parks you can walk around — and pretty much going from one to another you can end up by Buckingham Palace — though the full walk is probably more like an hour, as the last one is Hyde Park which gets you right by Buckingham Palace and it’s normally an attraction for tourists. (Depending when you get there you might want to check out speaker’s corner in hyde park where people turn up randomly to give a speech and swear at the government and the queen 🙂 sometime it’s quite entertaining.) You will find some of the alleyways or some of the things built in the park named after royal family members and all sorts of small interesting details that often triggers the tourists attention.
There is also Kensington Palace in Kensington though not sure you can visit it just look at it.
Buckingham Palace as I said is not far from Kensington — and in fact if you walk it you will walk past Knightsbridge, where a lot of the fashion in London and other big names reside. Harrods is there and you can just go have a look and have a cup of tea at their upstairs bar/cafeteria if that’s on your map.
From Buckingham Palace you can walk to Pall Mall and Park Lane, another landmark in London (mostly because of the Monopoly game) — but there’s fancy hotels and bars around there if you fancy a drink and what-not.
Worth visiting Trafalgar Square — a bit of a walk from Kensington (I’d personally take the tube or a cab) but sometimes worth it if the weather is nice. However, if you venture to Buckingham Palace and Pall Mall/Park Lane area, this is 5-10 minute walk from there. And again, in that walk you will go through Green Park which is pretty nice. Right behind the Square and prominently visible are the National Galleries with a lot of classical pieces of art.
Once in Trafalgar Square you are next to SoHo which is a vibrant part of the city — you can walk to Covent Garden (another tourist attraction) and Leicester Square and you will be surrounded by a lot of mix architecture, as Londoners preserved a lot of the old architectonics. Due to the high number of tourists there I’d guard my pockets btw 🙂 but it’s a huge commercial district, you are a few steps away from Oxford Street too and Regent Street where most of the big brand names are if you are into shopping and the likes.
Close to Trafalgar Square is Piccadilly Square (Piccadilly Circus station on the tube) which is the “local Time Square” for London 🙂
If you don’t decide to go towards Piccadilly and Oxford Street (north from Trafalgar Square) you can head south on the big street right in front of Nelson’s Column (street is called Whitehall). This will take you to Westminster (Big Ben) and en route you will pass Downing Street, the British Prime Minister and a bunch of other museums.
Around Westminster there are some of the old buildings which host various ministries and such — including parts of MI5 (MI6 is towards Victoria on the south bank you can see the famous building which features in James Bond where he jumps out from flaming explosions 🙂 )
If you go to Victoria around there you can find the Battersea Power Station, which featured on one of the Pink Floyd’s album covers.
Also on Whitehall / Trafalgar Square are a lot of theaters etc if you want to check out that scene.
If you get to Westminster, worth crossing the Westminster Bridge south and on the other side you have the London Eye (the big wheel) which offers some nice views — worth looking to buy tickets in advance as it might save you some money but not sure how much the difference is. Typically a lot of the cruises can be booked around that area, though I’d also look online see if you can get a combined ticket for all.
Worth getting to baker Street as there is Madame Tussaud’s there, there is a (small but popular) Sherlock Holmes museum in the area. (If you got all the way to Westminster I wouldn’t walk to Baker Street, jump in a cab it’s probably 10 minutes drive and shouldn’t be more than £15-20 — or use Uber.)
Also in Baker Street, across the street from the tube station there is an old English pub called The Globe which has some links to Charles Dickens — he used to own it or lived there or something upon those lines, all sorts of stories and stuff around there. Next to Baker Street there’s also Regent Park — there’s all sorts of activities going on there if the weather is nice, if you’re into football/soccer, cricket etc you can often find a team there welcoming players for a friendly game 🙂 Head to the Inner Circle where there might be more things going on.
From Regent’s Park you are next to Camden Town which is a hipster, busy, crowded, funky part of London. Lots of pubs where the likes of Chris Martin (Coldplay) and Amy Winehouse started, so you get that kind of crowd.
Also close to Regents Park is King’s Cross and you have the British Library there too. Close to Regents Park / Baker Street (relatively) is also British Museum — though walk south towards Russel Square.
Further East, but still in central London is St Paul’s Cathedral. That area there is dominated by people working in finance so there’s all sorts of fancy bars and what-not around there. From St Paul’s you can walk to Tower Bridge, the iconic bridge of London and next to it it’s the Tower of London. On the other side there’s the City Hall which has some funky architecture which seems appealing to tourists often.
Other museums worth checking out:
- Tate Modern Art — this is on the south bank of the river Thames. The South Bank is a pretty nice walk and you encounter all sorts of other architecture and things to do / visit/eat/drink at. The main part of south bank is really from Westminster to Tower Bridge and it was designed for strolling and looking around. If you visit Tate Modern be prepared for all sorts of funky art 🙂
- Tate Classic Art — this is south west London, close to Pimlico / Victoria station— it’s on the north bank of Thames and if you find yourself there again you can easily walk on the north bank of the river and you will find yourself in in westminster in about 20-30 minutes
If you walk on the south bank, close to Westminster there is the “OXO Tower” — they have a nice bar at the top with good views (and drinks!) . Btw it’s called OXO Tower because it has an O, an X and an O in red under each other on the side of the building facing the Thames 🙂 all sorts of stories and legends around it 🙂
Also on the south bank is Shakespeare’s Globe — next to Tate Modern, it’s where Shakespeare’s Globe opened initially.
On the north side of the river, around Tower Bridge, there’s the St Katherine’s Docks which are some old docks that preserve some of the original architecture and offers a mix of old and new bars .
If you’re into walking around and admiring architecture, the Strand is the area to be. If you find yourself there, worth stepping in the Savoy Hotel, it’s pretty swanky and their American Bar used to be very classy (live piano , jazz , wicked cocktails etc) — might have to make a reservation though.
I’ve mentioned a couple above but here’s some more:
- Check out Nobu restaurant in Park Lane, their black cod is legendary!
- The Ivy is another fancy restaurant where often celebrities turn up.
- The Volunteer pub around Baker Street is some sort of old landmark and popular with tourists — though personally I don’t get what’s what about it, it’s just an old english pub 🙂
- Pretty much most of the pubs / bars in West London are safe — though as with all touristy places there are occasionally pick-picketers so just be a bit more vigilant than you would normally in California 🙂 Same applies on the London Underground — similar to New York City and other big places like that, you won’t be mugged, don’t worry, but if you make it easy for someone to pick-pocket you they will 🙂
As I said, if you head to Oxford I’d recommend visiting the Blenheim Palace — and the surrounding estate. (You can get tickets online or there on the spot you will have to check i don’t know what the difference is.)
For Edinburgh I suggest head to the castle, that’s very central and most of the “happening” in Edinburgh is in that area. Again, safe to walk in central Edinburgh — though dead cold at times 🙂 You will get there all sorts of maps to give you ideas what to do around. There are typically some scotch tours of Scotland organized in some of the places right outside the castle if you’re into scotch tasting. (Oh, from what I remember Scotland license means they close the pubs at 2am not 11pm like in England , and being a University town, the night life at the weekend is pretty buzzing!) There are lot of scotch producers which offer tours, for me my favorite was Glemorangie — that’s a bit further north from Inverness as I understand you’re venturing that way. By the way, close to Edinburgh is St Andrews — where they have some famous golfing and such. I’m not a big fan but I know my friends have been a few time — though you might have to book it in advance being a fancy golf place and popular.
While you CAN drive in London I would advise against it as it’s dead busy and also there is no grid-like system in UK for streets, which means that if you take the wrong turning and find yourself on a one way system it might easily be a few miles before you can get out. Up to you but in London I would recommend public transport and/or cabs/Uber. Scotland is easier but again in the bigger cities expect more traffic and similar problems.
Getting to London
The easiest and fastest way to get to Central London from Heathrow Airport is the Heathrow Express train. Do NOT use cabs (they cost an arm and a leg and take forever) and unless really counting your pennies don’t use the Tube (there is a London Underground train that takes you from Heathrow to Central London but it takes forever, though, it is indeed cheaper than Heathrow Express). Heathrow Express trains leave every 15 minutes and take 30 minutes to get you in Central London (West of Central London in Paddington which has tube connections to rest of London or use a cab/Uber from there).