London is an incredibly interesting and diverse city that you could spend weeks exploring and still feel like you haven't seen everything. To help make planning a trip there a little less daunting, I'm sharing a few Victineraries that focus on some specific areas that could be fun additions to your next trip!
This time I'll be focusing on some of the bigger sights that are worth the hype for new and returning visitors alike. Most of my Victineraries are step-by-step resources for planning an afternoon or a full day in a certain location. However, for this guide I'll be sharing a few different activities and information on how to incorporate them into a longer itinerary.
Where To Go if you want to learn about British history, or just see the crown jewels
- When I first visited the Tower of London, I had what I hope is the typical reaction, and got a little confused when I got through the front gate and saw lots of buildings instead of just one big tower. But hey, all the more to explore right?
- The best part of visiting the Tower is going on a tour with a Beefeater. These guides may wear some funny costumes, but they're actually all former military men who have retired into service at the Tower. They live on the grounds and provide a fun and unique look into the castle history. I had the pleasure of an hour with Billy (follow him on instagram @billybeefeater), but all of the guides do a great job.
- A few tips:
- If you're planning on going to the Tower of London, plan to go right when they open. Go on a Beefeater tour first (meet in the moat near the front gate, just look for the sign), then explore the rest of the complex.
- The biggest attraction is usually the Crown Jewels, so going straight there after the walking tour to avoid mid-day crowds is also a good idea.
- Everything else is pretty much self guided, there are a lot of informational signs to provide as much history as anyone can reasonably handle. (For you history buffs, I'm sure the gift shop can provide further reading options).
- The Details:
- Getting There: Take the tube to the Tower Hill station on the Circle and District Lines, then walk towards the castle looking buildings along the water
- Hours: Tues-Sat 9am - 5:30pm / Sun & Mon 10am - 5:30pm (Mar-Oct, only open until 4:30pm Nov-Feb)
- Admission: £21.50 (Buy ahead of time online to avoid the ticket lines, tickets are day-specific, but not time specific, so go when it fits into your schedule)
- Nearby Bonus: Tower Bridge
- You can buy a £10 ticket and actually go up inside the bridge structure, or you can enjoy the great view you get from along the walls of the Tower of London and just enjoy looking at it. After you finish with the Tower museum stuff, go out onto the waterfront promenade for another great view. There are a lot of taller vantage points around the city, so this is probably worth just snapping a keepsake picture of.
WHERE TO GO if you want to see some older history, mummies included
- The British Museum is a formidable place to try and conquer on your own. Like any major museum, there is so much to see, but just breezing through can leave you feeling like you didn't see anything at all. One way around this is to download the Rick Steves Audio Europe App and use the audioguide for this particular museum. It's interesting, it's highly informational, and the best part, it's free. You'll find a lot of great narrated walking tours of famous locations all around europe in the app, and all of them include a trusty map and key photos of where to go next, so you'll always feel like you got the most out of your listening experience. I can't recommend this app enough to have in your back pocket for any trip to Europe.
- If you follow the audio guide, or if you just grab a best-of-the-museum map, don't forget to check out the mummies, the dazzling central ceiling, and of course, the famous rosetta stone!
- Key tip: Because this museum is free (yes free) it isn't really important to make this your first priority in a day. Add this in for an hour or two if you'll be nearby for other activities.
- The Details:
- Getting There: Take the tube to the Tottenham Court Road Station on the Central & Northern lines, or to the Russell Square Station on the Piccadilly line and walk. There should be signs at major intersections pointing you in the right direction.
- Hours: Open Daily 10am - 5:30pm (Open late until 8:30pm on Fridays)
- Admission: FREE
- Nearby Bonus: Covent Garden
- There's always something going on in and around Covent Garden. From the soaring ceiling of the main hall to the surrounding streets teeming with shops and restaurants, this is a great area to just explore on foot for a while. Only a 12 minute walk from the British Museum, this would be a great place to grab lunch or dinner after touring the museum, and grab some gifts to bring home as well.
Where to go if you want to fit a few big items into one day
- The previous spots are a bit spread out, but the next few are all right next to one another, so plan on spending an entire morning and a bit of your afternoon right here in the middle of town.
- Start off the morning with the famous view of Parliament and Big Ben.
- Take the tube to Westminster Station on the Circle / District / Jubilee lines to end up next to it and cross the bridge for the view, or travel to the Lambeth North Station on the Bakerloo line to come out across the bridge for the full effect.
- Head over to Westminster Abbey
- Purchase tickets ahead of time online to save money and skip the lines to visit the famous monarchs and citizens alike within these hallowed walls.
- Hours: Mon-Sat 9:30am - 3:30pm (typical, but check for special events), Only open for worship on Sundays
- Admission: £20 Online / £22 In Person
- Audio Guide: Free with admission, pick one up at the entrance, or download the app to your phone and use it on the go. Listen as Jeremy Irons walks you through the history of the Abbey and all have been laid to rest there.
- After the Abbey, walk around the corner to the Churchill War Rooms
- This museum is hidden underground and brings you back in time to WWII when Churchill cementing himself into history. Learn about the wartime effort, and the man who defined an era, in this fascinating museum. (I am in no way a history buff, but even I found this interesting, so I would recommend it to anyone regardless of your usual museum preferences)
- Hours: 9:30am - 6pm
- Admission: £19 (For 2017, this is increasing to £21 in 2018). Buy online for a discount.
- If you want to visit the Queen, exit the War Rooms, cross through St. James Park and you'll end up at Buckingham Palace.
- You can visit the State Rooms, or on longer tours the gardens as well. Tickets prices vary by tour, but are definitely on the pricer side of things to do in London for only getting access to a few rooms.
- If you want to skip going inside, but still want to experience some of the fanfare, plan your walk-by around the Changing of the Guard. This happens at 11am some days of the week (with more days added as you go towards the summer months, check the calendar for typical times and special holidays), and lasts for 45 minutes. This can be a big tourist trap, so if you want an actual view, plan on arriving up to 45 minutes early to get a key spot along the gates.
- These activities (with the exception of the changing of the guard) should fit into a morning, so after you've finished, hop on the tube or a double decker bus to another part of town for lunch and new explorations in the afternoon.
What to do if you want SOMETHING TO ADD IN BEFORE DINNER
- Have an hour or two to spare before dinner? Consider going for a ride on the London Eye. This massive ferris wheel is located right on the Thames and gives you an amazing panoramic view of the city. You'll twirl around for half an hour, so get ready to settle in for some beautiful sights.
- Hours: 11am - 6pm most days, with some summer hours & special days expanded to 10am - 8:30pm. Check the website for your specific travel day
- Admission: Standard £26.00 / Fast Track £36.00. This is a very popular attraction, so it is highly recommended that you book your tickets ahead of time (buying online also gives you a 10% discount off of the standard ticket price). The fast track option provides a more streamlined experience for those who want to plan a packed schedule.
I hope you enjoyed this selection of big sights to visit when traveling to London, and that it inspires you to add a few to your list. If you follow my footsteps or even just use one of the suggestions, please let me know in the comment section below about your experience!
Thanks for coming along, and check back every week for a new Victinerary to help plan your next adventure!
Photos taken with: Nikon D5300, Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f3.5-4.5 Lens (Rented from BorrowLenses.com), Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f1.8 Lens, & Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-140mm f3.5-5.6 Lens