London is the perfect city for the city-minded girl. It is full of beautiful architecture, trendy restaurants and boutiques, and a lots of history and culture. It has just the right amount of urban sophistication combined with history, making a city-lover like me fall in love.
As amazing as London is, it can be an overwhelming place to travel to. There are so many sites to see (and so little time likely). It can be expensive. It can be crowded. It can be rainy and cold (if you go in the Fall like I did). That’s why I’m sharing my itinerary here as a guide for getting the most of your trip to London.
Everyone should know before traveling to London, that it is a very expensive city! Below are some tips that can save you some money:
- If you are going to be in London for more than a few days, I suggest purchasing an Oyster Card for use on public transport. You’ll save money this way on each fare.
- Avoid travelling during rush hour, the Underground actually raises its fares during rush hour. We left the house at about 9:15-9:30 every morning, skipping the crowds and the increased fare.
- Try to limit your meals out to 1 or 2 a day. We stuck to breakfast and dinner at home almost everyday and ate lunch out. If you can get accommodation with a kitchen, you will end up saving money… (Try AirBnB). Note: eating out in London is super pricey, we once paid $20 each for sandwiches!
- Pick 2-3 main sights you want to see. Yes, it’s true, a lot of attractions are free (almost all the museums), however, there are plenty that are not free. (like the London Eye, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, etc.). We focused on spending money on the ones we really wanted to see and spent our cash on those. I’ve also heard that purchasing a London Pass, will get you access to over 32 attractions and save you a lot of money (though we didn’t go this route, so I can’t vouch for it). I knew I would be back in London one day, so doing this was okay to me since I knew I’d have the chance to see others another time.
Our Day-to-day Plan
Day 1: Trafalgar Square (National Gallery), Buckingham Palace (Changing of the Guards), Walk around London, Big Ben Tower, Westminster Abbey
On the first day, we headed out in the morning and took the Underground train to Trafalgar Square. Take the underground to Charring Cross and you will arrive in this beautiful public square that is the perfect place to begin your trip in London! In most of the London travel books, this is the starting point.
Trafalgar Square has been a landmark site since the 13th century. The column in the middle is called Nelson’s Column and it is surrounded by 4 lion statues. Nelson’s Column commemorates Admiral Nelson who fought in the Battle of Trafalgar which the square is named for.
At the back of Trafalgar Square, you will see the National Gallery. The National Gallery is an art museum that has been around since the mid-1800’s! It has over 2,300 paintings which is pretty impressive. My favorites included: Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting, and Hans Holebin’s The Ambassadors. You can also find some Leonardo Da Vinci work, more of Van Gogh’s work and a ton of other famous paintings. It is free to go in too!
After exploring the National Gallery, head down the street in front to Buckingham Palace, it’s close by and only takes about 10 minutes to walk to. We timed our visit perfectly to fall on the Changing of the Guards ceremony which happens around 11:15, be sure to check what day it falls on since in the Fall/Winter, it happens every other day. Also, on the day that we went there was some special guests arriving at the palace and we had several of these carriages go by! You just never know what you’ll see there!
Once we finally made our way through the crowds to leave, we walked towards Big Ben passing lots of sights on the way. We walked past the Parliament buildings which are worth seeing. We walked towards Westminster Abbey and wandered around the building. We decided to not go inside, since the line-up was long but this is one sight, I regret not having gone inside. So I would recommend checking it out.
As we were leaving Westminster Abbey, it started to pour rain! Lesson: always have an umbrella on you in London. I wanted to get closer to Big Ben so I could get some different photographs of it, but, typical of London weather… it RANDOMLY started to hail! That’s right, pieces of ice began to fall from the sky, when just 10 minutes earlier, it had been sunny (see proof in these pics!).
After it started hailing, we ran for cover into the nearest tube station and hopped on the train literally just find refuge from the weather. We decided it was time to stop for lunch, I don’t even remember what station we got off at or what the restaurant we ate at was was called, all I remember is it was hideously expensive (but pretty trendy), and I warmed up with a delicious and beautiful-looking latte. I love how this photograph turned out!!
Our first day was our longest, I would say! As you can see, we packed a lot into that one day.
Day 2: Notting Hill, Portobello Market, Kensington Gardens, Knightsbridge (Harrods)
On Day 2, I couldn’t wait to get out to Notting Hill! I had seen all my favorite bloggers and instagrammers post the most beautiful pictures of the pastel-colored houses that I had to see it for myself… unfortunately it was pouring rain and it was hard to get great pics! On top of that it was a Saturday and so, so crowded! My recommendation? Go on a weekday in the morning, especially if you are looking to score good pics. I hate shooting around crowds.
Despite the weather and crowds, Notting Hill really is as beautiful as it looks in the photos. There are so many little kiosks and shops along the way to find some unique souvenirs or antiques. My favorites? The vintage maps and vintage cameras.
After exploring and finally working our way through the crowd, we decided to head to Kensington Gardens.
Kensington Gardens is one of the eight Royal Gardens located in London. It was once the private gardens of Kensington Palace. If you walk the whole length of the garden, you end up near Knightsbride – the posh and exclusive residential and retail district where money obviously lives. The architecture is beautiful, and the shops high-end and luxurious. You’ll want to check out Harrods – the high-end and extravagantly decorated department store. Its food hall is amazing…it’s literally a dream of food. Oysters, fresh fish, caviar, Champagne, any extravagant food you can think of is here.
Day 3: Southbank (Big Ben again), London Eye, St. Pauls Cathedral
I felt like I hadn’t had a chance to see Big Ben that clearly, since London had delivered it’s unpredictable weather to us on the first day and decided to freaking hail on us while we were checking out the Big Ben tower. So we decided to head down in the same direction on this day and check out Big Ben from another angle – Southbank.
Southbank is full of entertainment. It’s basically a sea wall walkway that goes all around the river. And along the wall, there is so much to see. There are street performers everywhere; little pop-up shops/kiosks selling, again my favorite thing: vintage maps; and a ton of museums and other sites such as the Shakesphere Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, the London Eye, an aquarium and the National Theatre.
There are also cafes, restaurants and places to eat along the wall. It’s really lively and busy and a great place to spend the day. We walked along the river, stopping at a cafe for a hot chocolate and warm sandwhiches and then continued on our way to the Tower Bridge. This area makes the perfect photo opp to capture the historic and famous Tower Bridge in the background. We didn’t take this day to walk across the tower bridge though as we knew we would be returning when we visited the Tower of London.
Instead, we crossed the pedestrian bridge to St. Pauls Cathedral, which is pretty impressive. If you are interested in architecture, you will enjoy seeing this Baroque-style church designed by Christopher Wren in 1673. St. Pauls Cathedral is an iconic building that is a prominent feature of London’s skyline.
After all the entertainment and walking, we were pretty exhausted after St. Pauls Cathedral and decided to head home to a glass of white wine!
Day 4: Royal Observatory/Greenwich
As a Geography student in university, I was excited to go to the Royal Observatory and see the historic location where the Prime Meridian line is marked. This place played a large role in the study of astronomy and navigation which led explorers to discovery and which led us to the creation of maps – the geography nerd in me was freaking out.
We took the Clipper to Greenwich. The Clipper is a small ferry boat that is part of the public transport network in London. You can use your Oyster card to get on and you can get on downtown at several locations. We got on it near Big Ben. It’s cheap compared to taking one of those boat tours and you get to ride down the river and see London from the water and all its sites. I would highly recommend this! Don’t bother buying a boat tour, you can take this and get the same sights. We got off at Greenwich which is one of the last stops.
Even if you are not a geography geek like myself, you will enjoy the stunning view of London that is found on top of the observatory. It’s a small hike up (but not hard at all). You do have to pay to get into the observatory and to be able to stand on the Prime Meridian line, which I thought was pretty ridiculous and I’m not sure it is worth it unless you are interested in astronomy/history/navigation/maritime history. However, it was neat to get a photo of myself on the Prime meridian line.
We spent the whole day here pretty much, checking out the National Maritime Musuem, the Royal Observatory and the neighborhood of Greenwich.
Day 5: Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Covent Gardens (Neals Yard)
This was one of my favorite days in our trip. The Tower of London was a sight I knew I had to see and would enjoy. I think no trip to London would be complete without a trip to the Tower of London – where you experience the site of royalty, execution, crown jewels, and history.
This is one of the sites that is so worth the $$$$. You’ll be blown away by it. I recommend arriving early so you can beat the lines. When you get in, wait for the Beefeater tour and make sure you take that tour. The beefeaters are hilarious, and will walk you through the history and main points of interest, such as the spot where Anne Boleyn was executed. After the beefeater tour, check out the buildings and Crown Jewels, yourself. You will probably spend the whole day here.
After our visit to the tower of london, we walked across the Tower Bridge.
The rest of the day was pretty low-key. We sort of just found ourselves ending up in Covent Gardens which was something on my list. We just walked around a lot and grabbed a really nice lunch in this warm, toasty restaurant.
London was absolutely fabulous and didn’t fall short of my expectations. It’s a city I can see myself coming back to multiple times and even living in.
The key to exploring any place to me is: to walk. We walked so much, I was clocking in so many miles by the end of the day. And the best way to explore is to just keep on walking. By walking, you find yourself stumbling into unique, off-the-beaten path places. We had our plan of course to see the “beaten-path” sights, but we allowed ourselves to wander as well (ensuring we had an umbrella with us at all times).
By the end of our trip in London (around 6 or 7 days), I felt like we had seen all the “must-sees”. Things I wish we had done: 1) Gone to a theatre performance in Leicester Square 2) Gone inside Westminster Abby 3) Gone into a few more free museaums and 4) Gone to Cambridge Market.
But hey, you can’t do everything! I’m pretty happy with what we did see and our time in London.
If you have any suggestions or questions about my trip to London, please share with me! What did you think of London? How did you keep the costs low?
Thanks for reading this super long post today!