Heathrow Airport reported that 30 percent of their passengers in 2013 were business travelers, and with an average of 191,200 passengers arriving and departing daily, that’s 20.7 million road warriors. Next time you head to London, reference this one-day guide we’ve put together and take in one of the world’s cultural meccas. If you’re feeling ambitious, put on your most comfortable shoes and do the entire circuit. Or pick your favorites and tour the city at a slower pace. If you are able, you should walk around London and skip the tour bus. There is nothing that can compare to the feeling of walking amongst so much history and culture.
The British Museum holds priceless artifacts from around the world, in fact they have one of the biggest collections in the world. They have changing exhibits and here you can even see the Rosetta Stone. The architecture of the building is grand with many design flairs reminiscent of ancient Rome and Greece. Admission is free and it’s the perfect place to spend a rainy day.
Tip: Just around the corner of Great Russell Street and Museum Street is a great little pub called Museum Tavern.
Located in Westminster, the Queen’s residence and office, Buckingham Palace is everyone’s curiosity. Even if you don’t want to pay the £20 ($34) for a limited tour of the palace (which is only available August through September), you’ll want to see the gold-gilded gates and stately architecture. Buckingham Palace got its name from the Duke of Buckingham, for whom the original 1705 palace was built. What you see today is an addition constructed in the early 19th century.
Tip: At 11:30 AM you can catch the changing of the guards, but this isn’t the spot to get the classic tourist picture with a guard. They stand behind the gates here.
Westminster Abbey is that gorgeous church where Prince William and Kate Middleton were wed. First established nearly a thousand years ago in 1066, Westminster Abbey is an architectural feat and cultural landmark. Inside are tombs of royalty and holy officials surrounded by gorgeous Gothic architecture.
To get to Westminster Abbey from Buckingham Palace, either go down Birdcage Walk or Buckingham Gate. If you choose Birdcage Walk, you’ll be meandering down a one way street adjacent to St. James Park. Then you’ll take a right at Storey’s Gate, which is another picturesque street with a brick laid road. If you choose the Buckingham Gate route, you’ll take a left at Victoria Street and get the chance for a photo op with an iconic red phone booth. Either way, once you hit the intersection of Storey’s Gate and Victoria Street you’ll be at Westminster Abbey.
If you choose to go inside, it costs £18 ($31). Hours vary, but normally they open at 9:30 AM and close at 3:30 PM, although Wednesday is often open as late as 6 PM. Don’t plan on coming on a Sunday, as Westminster Abbey is still a working church and will be holding service on Sundays.
Tip: Don’t take pictures inside. As with most churches in England, photographs are a no-no.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Across the street from Westminster is the Houses of Parliament. Officially known as the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament comprise the beautiful sand colored Gothic style building located on the North Bank of the River Thames. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was originally constructed in the 11th century. In the 1834 the palace build to the ground and has since been reconstructed, Big Ben was added during this process.
Tip: If you want a tourist pose with one of those somber royal guards, go to the Horse Guards building. To get there from the Palace of Westminster, take a right down the street and you’ll notice the building by the guards.
South Bank is a beautiful walkway on the south side of the River Thames. Stroll down Westminster Bridge and take a left at the river. Here you’ll find the world famous London Eye. It costs $35 to take a trip in the eye and the lines can be terribly long. Consider skipping the London Eye and wait for later in the tour to see an unobstructed sweeping view at the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. What is great about the South Bank is that you never know what you’ll see, from art exhibits to book sales. On your right you’ll see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. On your left you’ll find the modern Millennium Bridge which is reserved for pedestrians only.
Before you reach London Bridge, you can find the Borough Market. This market is worth a stop, even though it would be possible to spend an entire afternoon here. It’s a high end food market with local and independent vendors selling their tasty dishes. Opening hours vary, so check before you go. Even if you aren’t able to go there on one of the days when the market is at its height, it’s an easy stop for lunch. Vendors are usually offering free tastes of what they’re selling, and you can buy seriously delicious sandwiches to go.
Tip: If you go in Autumn, try a Christmas sandwich comprised of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on a baguette.
A common confusion amongst newbies to London is the difference between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. London Bridge is a modern, basic concrete and steel bridge built in the 1970s. The Tower Bridge is that gorgeous bridge with tower buildings on it. This one was built in the late-1800s and has two Victorian-style towers with stomach-turning walkways high above the bridge. It’s possible to go up and see the towers.
Tip: Consider skipping the tower climb and go straight on to the Tower of London across the bridge.
Tower of London
The Tower of London, unlike Buckingham Palace, is a castle. It’s amazing and huge and packed full of fascinating history. Originally established in 1066, it’s been expanded upon in the past thousand years. It’s an expensive place to visit ($37), but it would possible to spend an entire day here and not see it all. There are museums that explain the history of the place. It has served as a castle, a prison, an armory, the venue for monarch coronations, and more. Here you can see the real Crown Jewels.
Tip: Leave early enough to get to St. Paul’s Cathedral by 3 PM.
St Paul’s Cathedral
When you leave the Tower of London, head over to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Follow Lower Thames Street and keep the river on your left, then hang a right when you meet with London Bridge, take a left at Cannon Street, and follow it straight along to reach the cathedral. St. Paul’s, like Westminster, is an active church so Sundays are reserved for worship only. You can’t enter St. Paul’s Cathedral after 4 PM and they ask everyone to leave at 4:30 PM. Their admission fee is about $28 for an adult.
This cathedral has a long and interesting history. The location has been the site of churches since 604 AD, but St. Paul’s Cathedral wasn’t built until after the Great Fire of London. Inside is amazing, the vaulted ceilings and colorful décor is worth the trip. What really makes it worth your while though, is the view from the top. First you get to climb to the top of the highest part of the ceiling which is nearly 100 feet up. Then you climb higher to the top of the inner dome, a plexiglas window allows visitors to look down to the floor. Be wary if you are scared of heights. Then you climb even higher on metal stairs until you get above the dome. This is the view that is worth the trip.
Tip: While you can’t take pictures inside, you can take pictures from here. Until 1962, this was the tallest building in all of London.
Find a Pub and Covent Garden
If you want to find a quick pint before dinner, the area around St. Paul’s is a great place to do so. Wander about and find your own watering hole. If you want a wide variety of evening entertainment, make your way to Covent Garden. Located past Waterloo Bridge and up Southampton Street, Covent Garden is in the West End and chock full of restaurants, pubs, theatres, and places to shop. Mingle and enjoy.
Tip: If you’re ordering for two, make sure you only point the palm of your hand towards the bartender. In Britain, two fingers up with the back of your hand towards someone is equivalent to flipping them the bird.
8 January 2017
By Kristance Harlow