I wish London weren’t so far away. It is one of my all-time favorite cities, and it’s not just because they have delicious bangers and mash, pubs around every corner, or use fun words like dodgy, knackered, and rubbish. I love London because it has a rich history, the city is easily navigable by foot and public transport, the museums are top-notch, and the locals are genuinely friendly. There is no shortage of things to see or do, and even if you go on a simple walk through the city I’m sure you will find it enjoyable. I spent five days in London, but I could have easily spent a few more.
Day 1 – A Royal Start
Hyde Park – With a massive 350 acres of green space tucked between Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park is the largest public park in London. This serene and picturesque environment is a great place to escape the busy city.
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – Watch as one regiment of the Guard takes over for the other. This tradition goes back hundreds of years and is packed with pride, pomp, and circumstance, and definitely shouldn’t be missed.
The Mall and St. James Park – Walk along The Mall, a road that goes straight from Buckingham palace to Trafalgar Square and is bordered to the south by St. James Park. Wander into this royal park to capture that perfect picture of the London Eye.
Trafalgar Square – This Square is a gathering place that’s loaded with fountains and monuments. It’s a great place for photos with the giant lion statues and to people watch.
National Gallery – This art museum sits on Trafalgar Square and houses a collection of over 2,000 paintings from the mid 1200’s to 1900. Their famous pieces include Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, and unfinished works by Michelangelo.
Piccadilly Circus – This Circus really isn’t a circus, but a traffic circle that is vibrant like Times Square. Giant billboards illuminate the night and the entire area is filled with retail and tourist shops, restaurants and people.
Day 2 – Two Towers of London
Tower of London – This fortress that was built from the 10th to the 14th centuries most famously is where Anne Boleyn was executed, where the Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters) live, and also holds the astounding crown jewels.
Tower Bridge – Not to be confused with the boring London Bridge, this is the bridge with towers on each side. You can catch a glimpse from the walls of the Tower of London, or a perfect photo on the less impressive London Bridge.
St. Paul’s Cathedral – One of the largest churches in the world, St. Paul’s Cathedral is absolutely beautiful on the inside and monumental on the outside. Climb the spiral stairs in this 300 year old cathedral to visit the Whispering Gallery and get a great view of the city from the top of the dome.
Millennium Bridge – A suspension bridge with a unique design that is the only pedestrian bridge in London. It crosses the river Thames between St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern Art Museum and was featured in the film Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
Covent Garden Market – This cheerful market originated by selling fruit and vegetables, but has grown to include trinkets, antiques, and funky crafts. There are also numerous cafes and restaurants in the area.
London Eye – The biggest Ferris wheel in Europe can hold 25 people in its 32 enclosed pods. A ride on the London Eye provides great views of the river Thames, Big Ben, and the London skyline.
Day 3 – The Heart of British Culture
British Museum – This museum was established in 1753, specializes in world cultures, and contains over 8 million works in their collection. The Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon are only two of their famous artifacts.
Parliament– Go inside the stunning Palace of Westminster to see where the legislative body for the United Kingdom meets. Queue outside to watch the House of Lords or House of Commons debate and don’t miss Big Ben chiming every quarter hour.
Westminster Abbey – This beautiful Gothic church has seen each Coronation since 1066, 16 royal weddings, and death of many famous Brits. Over 3,000 people are buried or memorialized here, and it’s packed with over 400 fascinating tombs and monuments.
10 Downing Street – To catch a glimpse of where the Prime Minister has lived for over 100 years, peer around guards and through iron bars to a black door with white pillars on each side.
Day 4 – Day trip from London
Stonehenge – This mysterious site dates back about 5,000 years. The purpose of the famous stone ring is still unknown, but it must have been really important to the builders to transport several rocks, each weighing over 4 tons, all the way from Wales.
Bath – A delightfully preserved Victorian village lies a short drive from London. In addition to walking around the pleasant town, visit the ingenious Roman baths where Victorian elite vacationed for many years due to the soothing mineral waters.
Day 5 – Harry Potter Extravaganza
British Library – This library has the largest collection of any library in the world. There is also a wonderful Treasures of the British Library exhibit that displays over 200 items including some of the oldest Bibles in existence, an original Magna Carta, an original DaVinci notebook, and original lyrics written by The Beatles.
King’s Cross Station – Begin your Harry Potter sightseeing at King’s Cross Station. Visit Platform 9 ¾ for a photo opportunity and get your ticket to Hogwarts.
WB Studio Tour – Book your tickets in advance to tour the Studio where the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Visitors can walk through full sets of the Great Hall and Diagon Alley in addition to drinking a butterbeer and ogling over an incredible amount of original props from the movies.
Besides the major sights to fill your day, be sure to experience another key part of the culture by getting your fill of English fare. Order a full fry up for breakfast to start your day with a hearty meal that includes ham, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, toast, and an egg. It will probably hold you over until afternoon tea! By the way, afternoon tea isn’t just for grandmas wearing gloves and fancy hats. It can be more like a simple snack to curb hunger between lunch and dinner. Also, going to a pub is a fun way to end your evening. Don’t pass up this quintessential British experience thinking that it will be too rowdy because some can actually be quite cozy. Scope out a table and make your way to the bar to order your food and drinks because there likely won’t be table service.
This itinerary is so full that you won’t have any trouble falling asleep at night, even with a significant time change. It provides a well-rounded glimpse into the lives of Londoners and will make you want to return again and again. Depending on your taste, you might swap out a couple of items for the Churchill War Rooms, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern Art Museum, or Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Whatever you choose, you are going to love London!
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