I had dreamt about seeing some of London’s tourist spots. Buckingham Palace was top of the list along with Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. And I wasn’t disappointed either when I finally got to see them. A good thing about many of the tourist sights in London is they are clumped together. This means the things to see and do in London are easy to get to and you can spend a whole day exploring the one area. Without further ado, here is my suggested 5 day itinerary for first timers to London.
Accommodation in London – Where to stay
London has loads of accommodation on offer. Ranging from hostels to B&Bs to 5-star hotels found on the Monopoly Board. If this is your first time in London I recommend you stay in the centre of London. This way you are close to the tourist attractions and can easily get around on the local public transport.
If hostels are your choice then you are in luck because London has around 150 of them. I recommend checking out HostelWorld to help you make your choice cause hostels range in comforts. They have varying number of beds in rooms ranging from single rooms, double and/or twin rooms to a bed in a dorm of 21 people, so have it in your mind what you would prefer. Here are some I have stayed in.
If you are wanting a budget hotel then consider:
Earls Court Garden Hotel which is in Earls Court and is easy to reach from the airport and has lots of transport into central London.
Mayflower Hotel and Apartments
Or check out the accommodation booking websites such as Booking.com.
Getting around London
London is serviced by London Underground (The Tube), London Red Buses and taxis. To use the The Tube and the buses get yourself an Opal Card and get going. If you are limited for time or want to see London’s sights quickly then consider going on the hop-on hop-off tourist buses. They will take you to all the major attractions. There is London’s Big Bus or the Hop-on Hop-Off Bus. Click on the link following to book your ticket.
TIP: I suggest you have a broken in pair of good walking shoes to wear as you will be on your feet a lot.
Your London adventures start today when you alight at Hyde Park Corner Tube Station. Hyde Park Corner is one of the busiest corners in London. Walk by Wellington Arch which was built as an original entrance to Buckingham Palace. It later became a victory arch after Wellington defeated Napoleon. You can climb to its balconies for views over London. Then proceed down Constitution Hill which is a very pleasant walk with Green Park on your left and high Buckingham Palace walls with their spikes and barbed wire on the right. At the end of Constitution Hill you will come to the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. If the flag is flying, the Queen’s home!
During summer you may tour some of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. You could also see the changing of the guard which occurs at 11.00am but check the times if you really want to see it. If you continue walking around the palace you will come to the Queen’s Gallery which is an art gallery and the Royal Mews, which is where the carriages and horses are.
If you back-track (or ‘turn back on yourself’ as they say in the UK) from Buckingham Palace and walk up The Mall, you will see St James’s Palace. On your right and in the distance, there is Westminster Abbey and the Horse Guards (which is on tomorrow’s suggested day). To your left you will pass Clarence House, once the residence of the Queen Mother and now the London home of Prince Charles. Almost at the end of The Mall you will encounter the Duke of York statue at the top of some stairs. If you climb the stairs and continue walking up the street you will reach Piccadilly Circus, home of the Eros Statue and perpetually buzzing with activity.
You may wish to end Day 1 in a nice restaurant or eatery in this exciting area. If your feet are tired you may want to head back to your accommodation. Or spend the evening in a bar in the area.
Today on your what things to see and do in London you could take the Tube or bus to Westminster. Here you will find Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
From here you could walk across the Westminster Bridge to Southbank where you will find the London Eye or Millenium Wheel. This wheel is the largest observation wheel in the world standing some 135 metres high. You could take a ride on The Eye which offers stunning views over London.
Leaving the wheel you could return over the Westminster Bridge to Westminster Abbey which is across the road from Big Ben. Westminster Abbey is where many a royal wedding and coronation has taken place. The most recent being that of Prince William to Kate. Since the 11th century this abbey has been steeped in history and you may find yourself spending hours walking around inside. I know I did. If you do go inside you will see the burial site and Coronation Chair of Edward the Confessor, founder of the abbey. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is there, along with the graves of poets, playwrights, and many kings and queens.
After leaving the abbey, walk around Parliament Square and see the statues. If you’re hungry, head along Victoria Street where there are many eateries. You could also visit Westminster Cathedral. Alternatively, after viewing Parliament Square turn up Parliament Street and follow the signs to the Cabinet War Rooms. At the underground wartime headquarters visit the rooms used by Winston Churchill during WWII. The War Rooms are very interesting and have been recreated to look how they looked during the war.
Returning to Parliament Street, turn left and continue to 10 Downing Street, which is unfortunately cordoned off from the public by a large wrought-iron fence. You will have to crane your neck to see anything worthwhile. This is the London residence of the Prime Minister. Continuing along the street The Cenotaph is located in the middle of the street where you could pay your respects to the fallen. You could then visit the Horse Guards. Watch for the changing of the guard and take a photo of those who protect the Queen.
Parliament Street becomes Whitehall and along here you will find Trafalgar Square with Nelson’s Column taking pride of place. You might want to feed the pigeons. Perhaps visit the St Martin-in-the-Fields Church or the National Gallery (which some say takes a day or more to explore). You could also walk through the magnificent Admiralty Arch and glimpse Buckingham Palace in the distance.
So after 2 days of sightseeing you will have discovered there is plenty to see and do in London. And there is still plenty more. Today take the Tube to Tower Hill Tube Station, situated on the Circle and District Tube lines. By following the signs you will find yourself stepping back in time to macabre English history. You will discover areas of London Wall dating back to Roman times. Across the road from Tower Hill is the Tower of London where you’ll see Traitor’s Gate. You’ll also be able to visit the Bloody Tower where two princes, Edward V and his brother, were murdered. it’s also the place where King Henry VIII had a couple of his wives beheaded. If you love history, you could spend many hours in this place. These days you will find friendly Beefeaters conducting tours and you will be able to view the Queen’s priceless Crown Jewels.
Leaving the Tower of London, you could cross the Thames via Tower Bridge. There are plenty of photo opportunities as you walk across this famous landmark often seen on the tourist brochures. You can walk this Gothic structure, which gives great views of London. Or you can climb parts of it for fabulous views.
Once across the bridge, turn right into Tooley Street. If you are interested in battleships, board the HMS Belfast or continue up this street to the London Dungeon. Here your senses will work overtime as you see, hear and smell the gruesome tortures that were practised throughout England’s long history.
If you have had enough touring after London Dungeon, London Bridge Station is there to take you home. If you haven’t had enough, visit Southwark Cathedral or cross over the Thames via London Bridge, (which is near the site of the original medieval bridge). Once across, you will arrive at a really tall, 202Ft to be exact, column structure known as The Monument. This structure was built as a reminder of the Great Fire of London of 1666, which apparently started in a bakery not far away in Pudding Lane. The fire burnt a great deal of London and is a significant event in London’s history as London had to be rebuilt. The Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr Robert Hooke. You can climb to the top via the spiral staircase inside. Be warned, the spiral staircase consists of 311 stone steps, which I found a little scary at times, but the view is worth it.
From The Monument either head up King William Street to the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange or head along Cannon Street to Ludgate Hill. Here you will find St Pauls Cathedral, which was made famous by Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding in 1981. I worked in the area for a while and would often sit on the steps of the cathedral to have my lunch.
Today is day 4 on our what things to see and do in London. I suggest you head to Knightsbridge for some shopping at Harrods. You might spend the morning here or possibly longer depending on how long you like to shop. Then catch a bus up Kensington High Street or walk through Hyde Park and in to Kensington Gardens. Whilst strolling through the parks see the squirrels. Visit the Princess Diana Memorial and then take a tour of Kensington Palace where you can see the State Apartments.
Kensington also has a lot of shops to visit. If you don’t feel like shopping, head along Cromwell Road to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History and Science Museum. Both are worth a visit. To see everything may take a few hours or even a full day.
I haven’t given an itinerary for today of things to see and do in London. Use it as a day to go back to the places you want to see again or other things to see. Here are some other possibilities.
Alighting from the Tube or bus at Baker Street Station, you could visit Madame Tussauds wax museum. See many famous people immortalised in wax including the Royal Family. Also in this area discover the haunts of Sherlock Holmes, or take a pleasant walk through Regents Park to London Zoo.
Harry Potter fans may wish to visit Kings Cross Station and go to Platform 9 and 3/4. Or take a day tour to Warner Brothers Studios to see many of sets used for the movies.
You will see and do many things in London on my 5-day itinerary for first timers to London. I hope I haven’t worn you out! I do hope you enjoy London. It is a fabulous city to live, work and play in.
Sharyn has travelled most of her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. In her 20’s she went overseas and spent 4 years living, working, playing and travelling through many countries. Her travels inspire her ‘Live Work and Play’ series of working holiday guides and LiveWorkPlayTravel where she shares her knowledge of travel, being a digital nomad and blogging. Sharyn continues to travel and currently calls Melbourne home.