Ah, England. The land of ancient monarchies, confused politicians, and excellent rock music. It had always been on “the List,” but curiously, I was never really too interested in seeing London. Perhaps it was my inner hipster, but I figured that London was so hyped up, it couldn’t possibly be that interesting.
Thankfully, I am happy to report that I was totally wrong. In fact, I didn’t nearly have enough time to see this massive city, but I think we did a pretty good job with our limitations. So I am here today to impart a little wisdom on those fellow intrepid travelers faced with the classic big-place-to-see-and-too-little-time to see it in dilemma.
The key is not to pause…it’s to strategize. Here are some (hopefully) helpful suggestions:
Buy an Oyster card and use the Underground.
If you are used to living in a small to medium sized city, you may ambitiously believe that you can navigate London on foot.
You can’t. Don’t do it. London is unimaginably vast.
The Oyster card lets you travel from one corner of the city to the other, allowing you to maximize your time there. You can purchase these at your any old drug store/convenience shop and you can add credit to it for the Underground (the metro system). Plus, if you return it to an Underground office, you’ll get 5 pounds back! Huzzah!
Besides, it’s fun to ride in something called “The Tube,” and ruminate on why the signs say “Way Out” inside of “Exit.” (P.S. I will give my two remaining pounds and Oyster card to whoever can answer that question).
Get a physical map and circle the things you want to see.
It’s helpful to visually conceptualize what you want to see. For instance, this lets you see which points of interest are geographically close and what may not make the cut. I’m a big fan of grouping things together.. for example, Green Park/Buckingham Palace/Big Ben & Parliament are in more or less the same vicinity.
In that vein, I’d suggest checking out…
The Tower of London – You explore the impressive fortress that has been used since the 11th century and laugh at the sheer absurdity and extravagance of the Crown Jewels exhibit. (Seriously… a moving platform?) Let’s not forget your obligatory selfie with the ravens…they say that when these guys fly the nest, Britain’s in trouble. I guess no one told them about Brexit…
Picadilly Circus – I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t really sure what this was at first, but I had a feeling it didn’t have anything to do with elephants or acrobats. I was pleasantly surprised to discover “the Circus” is a busy, Times Squaresque area with theaters, shops, and lots of restaurants. It’s bustling and the architecture is lovely.
Big Ben & Parliament – *pauses for European Vacation reference*
These emblematic buildings truly are impressive. We just admired them from the outside, but they do offer tours of Parliament.
Southwark – I absolutely LOVED this riverside promenade located on the south side of the Thames. It’s lined with stores and restaurants and has lovely views of the Millennium Foot Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Not to mention…the Globe theater! That’s right, Shakespeare’s playhouse is here and even open for shows.
Free museums – the British Museum, the Science Museum, the National Gallery — just to name a few — are all FREE! Scattered throughout the city, these are great ~educational~ options for a day. Plus, if it’s raining (which it probably will be at some point), they are conveniently all located indoors.
London has just about any food you could want and while that would be amazing to eat it all but you can’t. I’m sorry. Hence the need for strategic planning.
For example, we decided that we absolutely could not leave London without eating Indian food. We headed over to Whitechapel, conveniently located with a Underground stop, is the hoppin’ neighborhood for South Asian food. When we ate Indian again the next night, it was just a bonus.
This is also a great way to budget. If you have some kind of plan, you can save up for the meals that matter.
Another great option for Indian is Dishoom in Soho. It’s got a classy, 60s vibe and delicious food.
While you’re crushing your tourism game, remember it’s also important to…
Leave a little room for spontaneity!
One of my favorite parts of the trip was the Borough Market, located right next to the (disappointing) London Bridge. Although it turns out that this is actually a popular spot (especially for eating!), we never would have found it if we didn’t let ourselves wander a bit.
So pack your umbrella, some good walking shoes, and hail Britannia!