Taking my family (brother and his son, sister and her husband) on a trip to London in late April 2009.
We are there 8 days. Can you give me the top five things you recommend for first time travelers to visit while in London?
Can you also give me the top three things we need to avoid?
I have been around the world, from Amsterdam to Sydney and consider London my favorite city hands down. Next to Paris, it's one of the great walking cities of the planet, so bring comfortable walking shoes. The first stop I always make is to the Tower of London. After that walk over the Tower Bridge and then follow the Thames to the Globe Theatre. Round out that trip by continuing down to the Millennium Bridge, cross over and visit St. Paul's Cathedral.
A must see is the Cabinets War Room, which is a block from Parliament. This is the bunker where Chruchill lived and ran the affairs of the country during the war. It was sealed shortly after VE day and has never been altered, so it's exactly as it was in 1945.
I would also recommend the Imperial War Museum as well as the British Museum. I could spend hours on this but those are my favorite spots.
On my last trip I stayed at the Park Lane Marriott. The location is central to everything but the rooms are a bit tight.
Been to LON a bunch of times. Best things to do for first timers:
1. Take one of the double decker bus tours - its a great way to get around LON and see a lot of the sights. The bus stops at all the major attractions, you can get on and off at whatever ones you like. Usually you can get a one or two day pass.
2 Tower of London
3. British Airways London Eye - take it on a clear night. You can see everywhere.
4. Windsor Castle
5. Madame Tausauds (sp??) - great for the kids. Little expensive.
NOT TO DO:
1. Drive, drive, drive - LON is crazy for driving. The tubes go everywhere you need.
2. Don't take a cab from LHR into town - take either the LHR Express or the tube. LHR Express is more expensive, but in my opinion worth every penny. Cabs are very expensive and slow getting into town with traffic in the AM.
3. Avoid the travelex stands at LHR - there are ATMs right next to them where you can get cash.
Agree that taking a cab is too expensive, especially on your way in. On your way out, it may be the easiest way to handle baggage. Remember to allow PLENTY of time in the airport, the security lines are awful.
Tower of London is awesome. I tagged along with a tour and found it informative. Broke away from it to hang out in the room with all the royal jewels... really impressive. The sense of history is so deep.
Big Ben of course... and the Tower Bridge.
Walk around St. James and Hyde Park - April should be awesome for spring flowers.
Agree that the double decker bus tour is great for orienting. Try to sit upstairs if the weather is at all accomodating.
We took a boat from Tower Bridge up river - that was fun.
If you are considering a trip outside the city, I can recommend taking the bus tour to Bath and Stonehenge. Worth doing!
I've spent months there, its wonderful and there are soo many places that you'll never know are there until you ask the locals. First off, as others have said, cabs are rediculous in price from the airport. I would say fly into LHR and take the tube into the city. You can buy day passes for something like 7-10GBP per person, gets you access to all subways, buses and river taxis. You can buy it at the ticket counter for the tube at LHR, you just have to ask for it. Its the best way to get around the city for sure and can be an experience in its own right. The trick to the tube and luggage... dont bring more than you can carry/manage with two hands. There are stairs everywhere and elevators are impossible to find most times.
The others mentioned some highlights, Tower of London, probably want to go early and its not cheap but its definitely cool. Tower Bridge, dont miss it. The walk across the crystal bridge on a nice day will give you some great views of the city. Actually that entire area is great to walk around and sight see, both sides of the river. The Marriott India Quay is a very nice spot to stay and very easy to get around. Its a cat 6 place where most other london hotels are cat7 if you are using points. The Maide Vale Marriott is also very nice, but just outside of the "downtown" area. Its a 10min tube ride into the center of the city. One thing I found on my trips there, check out the sights to see both during the day and then make a pass around at night. The city is safe enough and the key sight seeing points are incredibly cool at night. Take a trip up in the Eye at night, its totally different.
If you are into shopping, you'll need to stop by Harrods. They have an amazing grocery section and a few places to eat and they literally sell just about everything there, its a several hour trip if you walk the entire place. While you are on that side of town you can see Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Buckingham Palace. The changing of the guard is cool to see, get there early.
Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster and the London Eye are all right in the same area, very cool and you can certainly spend some time checking out the sights. Westminster isnt always open to the public, if you are going there, check first to see if you can get in. Tickets for the London Eye can be bought online ahead of time....its the better way to go from my experience. Its a nice walk down the river from the tower area, but its not a short walk if you have younger kids take the tube.
Take at least one or two days to leave the city and see some other places. As mentioned below, stonehenge and bath are great. Stonehenge was crazy busy each time we went but its on the list of places to see. I found a few places a little more accessible and very impressive up northwest of the city. Take a train or rent a car and drive up to Oxfordshire and check out Blenheim Palace (www.blenheimpalace.com/). Its Churchill's birthplace and one of the World Heritage sites. I included a picture I took below. You can also run up to Warwick Castle, Oxford University, Coventry & Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespear's house) while in the area.
You can also head out towards Cambridgeshire. Cambridge university (very cool to see) and Peterborough Cathedral are up that way, along with some other intersting sights.
Driving in London can be hellish but no worse than rush hour in NYC. You will definitely need a good GPS if you drive, its not optional. Once outside of the city, the drive is pretty easy and honestly gives you the best chance to see some of the coolest things. There are many many interesting places to see/visit within 1-2hrs drive.
One other tid bit, check with your bank and see if they have a sister company over there. For example, Bank of America is a sister of Barclays, so no transaction fees or conversion charges when I was there earlier this year. Check before you go, but that can save you a ton of hassle and not having to carry so much $$ on you. Also check with your credit card to see how/when they determine the conversion from GBP to USD. It could make a difference, might not.
Hope this helps, if you have any questions let me know, I'd be more than happy to answer anything.
Top Five in London
1. The London Eye - go early to avoid the long lines - but either way it is worth it.
2. Walk over the Millinium Bridge at Night - stunning.
3. Double-Decker Bus Tour - See a lot of the city in one day.
4. Tower of London
5. Westminster Abbey
1. Avoid the Financial/Parliament area on the weekend - its dead.
2. Bring warmer clothes than you think you need. The wind cuts right through you.
3. If you are fans of Harry Potter. Take the tube to the train station where the movies were filmed. They have made a Platform 9 3/4 with a push cart going through the wall - clever.
Worth a Day Trip
1. Hampton Court Palace - King Henry IIIV residence. The palace and the grounds are magnificent. And there is a garden maze! Great place to take kids.
2. Windsor Castle - lots of history and the chapel is a who's who in regards to being buried there.
Highly Reccommend the Marriot Park Lane. I LOVE this hotel and wish I could live there!
1. Walk from Buckingham Palace to Westminster then cross the Thames and walk along the river. See the cabinet war rooms along the way.
2. London Eye
3. Museums (generally free) - British, London City and Greenwich
4. Take a train to Bath (not London but worth it)
5. St Pauls cathedral
BTW - the Grosvenor Sq. Marriot is classic and great with a super location for walking.
There is soooo much to do there.. First of all, make sure you familiarize yourself with the subway and bus systems - they will take you everywhere and they are by far the cheapest (and often the most convenient) way of moving around town. As far as attractions are concerned, those are a must:
1. Changing of the guards at Buckingham palace - it's a cute little 30 minute affair that you can really only see over there. Well worth timing there. They post the schedule on the web, let me know if you can't find it.
2. Another MUST DO is the museum of natural history. Very rich, very very informative - you can easily spend a full day there. it's free admittance, and if the kids are between hmmm 6 and 15, make sure you find the basement where there is a hands-on lab with "scientists" assisting kids with pretty interesting hands-on experiments.
3. hanging around the marble arch and oxford street areas. If you are into middle eastern food, there are a number of falafel stores on Edgware road (adjacent to marble arch) - they are some of the best tasting I have had anywhere. It's very relaxing to get the food, find a quiet place either around the arch or in the adjacent Hyde park and have a relaxed meal in the middle of a crazy and busy metropolis.
4. this is a bit (ok A LOT) out of the way but it makes for a fantastic day trip. So, turns out that Stonehenge is about just barely over an hour drive from downtown london. you WILL have to find a way to drive there - so if you feel adventurous, rent a car - there are numerous tours, but they are all more expensive than they need to be. All you really need is a car of a friend with a car. The pictures you will take there are priceless. Once you are done, head to Oxford - spend the day on the Oxford university campus (about 40 miutes from Stonehenge)- nice atmosphere, good lunch, visit Harry Potter's church, get some Oxford T-shirts and if the weather is cooperating take a lazy stroll around one of the oldest universiy campuses in the world. Then head back to London (around 40 minutes from Oxford depending on traffic)
5. Dedicate a half day to just hop around the underground and bus system to get to interesting places - where there really isn't much to do beyond the romanticizing of the "I was here" feeling - so go to Baker Street, with the huge Sherlock Holmes bronze statue, and see the house where he supposedly lived. Clearly, make a stop at (or as close to as you can get) 10 downing street - you used to be able to take pictures but not anymore I bet. you might want to make a stop at the very first Madame Tussaud wax museum. Do visit Soho and the surrounding residential area - very upscale - some of the nicest cars you will see just parked on the street anywhere in the world.
There is a ton more.....
Hope this helps. Have fun, and bring umbrellas. it WILL rain.
I would do afew things.
1. The Tower of London. A good time, take the blood and guts tour
2. The British Museum. It is free and it is amazing
3. There is a company called London Walks and they do walking tours all over town covering almost every interest. I'd suggest the Jack the Ripper walk.
4. The Tower Bridge
5. If you have the time take a day trip to Winsor or Bath.
DO NOT skip the pubs. Try the mushy peas.
1. If you take the tube, remember to keep the ticket you need it to get out.
2. LHR is HUGH, get a cart for your luggage. Unless it is completely out of the way of your hotel take the Heathrow Express. Do not take a cab unless you feel rich.
3. You do not tip and if you must tips are small.
4. Get you money at an ATM not the airport.
Remember "A Man who is tired of London is tired of life". It's a great town with so much to do, a few day can't do it justice, but it can be a really fun time.
After many trips to London I recommend the following:
1: If you are into castles take the train ride to both Windsor and Hampton Court . Also don't miss the tour and exhibits at Kensington Palace. Banqueting House and of course Buckingham and the Changing of the guard. Cool to watch from the eye also!!
2: If you are into food use the website Toptable.co.uk and make all of your resto reservations prior to arraival. Some recommendations are: The Ivey, Christophers, Joe Allen, The Prospect of Whitby.
3: If doing the eye book your flight on the BA web sight and do a combo with a meal included. Saves time and money.
4: Theater is huge here. See a show or two.
5: Day trips can be fun, Cotswolds or Stonehenge are good ones but do kill an entire day.
Enjoy London it is a great city!!
I took my family to London in June this year. This is my third time. The weather was cool in June so it should ibe also cool in April. Visit Westminster Abbey and the London Eye (a must for a panoramic view of the city on a clear day). They are close by both can be done in one day. next day visit Tower of London, walk along the Tower bridge to get a good view of the Themes. Take a tour (Goldentours offered by Grayline) to see Stonehenge or take a train from Waterlool to Windsor Castle. The grounds is only short hike from the train station. Didn't do anything I regret so can not help you with this one. Enjoy!
After dozens of trips to London on business and many a vacation, on own and with the family (2 teenage kids) my recommendation is to check out www.walks.com. The "London Walks" company provides a daily schedule of all kinds of walks, mostly in the 2 hour range, by local professional, knowledgeable and typically fun guides. Good walks for all interests, including kids, young adults, adults, whether it's about ghosts, architecture, history, Sherlock Holmes, Beatles, Jack the ripper etc etc. And of course the occasional pub. Have a look at their schedule; they're like 5-6 pounds per walk, meeting at Tube stations, easy to find. Look for the guides holding their original black/white leaflet (which is available at big stations like Victoria and most hotels too) as there are imitators. The original London Walks is definitely the best.