I’m convinced that London is a city that never grows old, never gets tired, and never loses its charm. I am in love with this city, but when I’m asked why, I can never give a direct answer. I love my memories, I love the energy, I love my favorite places, I love the history. I just love London. I didn’t always though. For the first six weeks of living there for a study abroad program, I didn’t like it, which is why I tell people who have visited for a few days that you have to give yourself time to “get” it in order to love it.
A week is nowhere near enough time to fully appreciate the city, but if that is all you have, you need to make the most of it. Here are my top suggestions for so little time in the city :
(Day 1) Touristy Things
- If you are up early enough, go to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard at 11AM (sometimes it’s at 2PM, so check online beforehand). I would suggest getting there at least 30 minutes early– it gets crowded quickly.
- Once you’ve seen it, walk down to the river (Thames, pronounced tehms) and get your touristy pictures by at Parliament/Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the Eye. Go up into the Eye for the view (if you want– I never have been up there) and definitely go inside Westminster Abbey. If you’re there in the evening, you can enter the Abbey for the Evensong choral service at 5:00PM. Admission is free, but space is limited, and you won’t be able to wander around the church before or after.
- If you’re up for it, walk 15 minutes to Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery for a picture with the lion statues. The National Gallery is free to enter and is worth going into if you like art– Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, and so many iconic artist have their work housed there!
Fun fact: Big Ben is actually the bell within the tower, so what you actually see is just the clock tower, named the Elizabeth Tower after Queen Elizabeth II.
(Day 2) Touristy Things Continued
- Continue with the tourist attractions and make your way out to Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge) by tube and get off at the Tower Hill station.
- From here I would either walk across the bridge and then come back, or visit the Tower of London and then head over to the bridge. The Tower of London houses the Crown Jewels and torture instruments from the 16th and 17th century.
- From there, walk down to Millennium Bridge (you might recognize it from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), past the London Bridge (you are guaranteed to be disappointed by that one).
- If you don’t care about the bridges, take the tube up to St. Paul’s Cathedral. At the very top, you can sit up in the dome and inside of the “Whispering Gallery”, where you can whisper on one side of the gallery and be heard clearly on the other. You can also go out to the lookout for a good view of the city.
Fun fact: The original London Bridge resides in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
(Day 3) West London
- If you’re a fan of the Beatles, a trip to Abbey Road is a must. Take the tube out to the St. John’s Wood stop and get your iconic picture walking across the road, but please keep an eye out for cars– it is a busy road, even if drivers are used to dodging tourists.
- Once you’re done there, head south to the Marble Arch tube stop and take a walk around Hyde Park. Wander around until you find the Peter Pan statue or Speaker’s Corner, where open-air speaking and debate takes place. If it’s a nice day, you can rent a chair on the lawn and relax in the sunshine.
- Walk to the opposite end of the park to Kensington Gardens, where you can see Kensington Palace and have afternoon tea at the Orangery. I probably wouldn’t have gone had a friend not suggested it, but it is a good way to get a “full English tea” experience and it will make you feel so fancy (unless you’re wearing a jean jacket and rubber Chelsea boots and haven’t washed your hair in days).
(Day 4) Shopping
- Head out to Notting Hill off of the Notting Hill Gate or Ladbroke Grove tube stop and walk toward the Portobello Road Market where you can buy anything you can imagine, from jewelry to fresh fish. *This is the place to be if you have souvenirs to buy for loved ones back home.*
- You could easily spend the entire day wandering around, but if you finish up and have the energy to check out more of London, continue the day of shopping and head to the iconic Harrods off of the Knightsbridge tube stop. Chances are slim that you’d want/be able to afford much in the store if you’re reading my posts, buuut it is kinda fun to look around and pretend for a bit. That store has everything you could imagine– more than Portobello Road, I imagine, but it is known for its luxurious merchandise. If Harrods isn’t your thing, there are many more ritzy stores off of Brompton Road that you can check out.
Fun fact(s): Harrods actually has a dress code, which can be found here. It also sold cocaine until 1916.
(Day 5) Greenwich
- Just outside of central London is a borough called Greenwich, which is easy to get to by tube (get off at Greenwich Station). One of the most notable attractions is the Royal Observatory, where you can straddle the Prime Meridian and be in both the Eastern and Western hemisphere at one time. The Observatory also has a planetarium and a 4.5 billion year old meteorite (that you can touch!).
- Another historical monument that can be found in Greenwich is the Cutty Sark, a tea clipper that was built in 1869 and the fastest ship at the time. The ship can be admired just outside of the station without paying admission.
- Finally, step inside Queen’s House, known to be haunted by ghosts by the tulip staircase (the first self-supporting staircase in Britain). The history and significance was lost on me when I visited in 2013, and I spent most of my time wandering around the house taking pictures in the fireplaces as if I were in Harry Potter *cue embarrassed face palm*.
(Day 6) Windsor
- If you’re a fan of the royals, visiting Windsor Castle is a must, and it is easy to get there by train (London Paddington to Windsor Central). I was once told that this is one of the queen’s favorite places to get away– if you’re lucky, you might be able to see her and/or her corgis roaming the gardens. Even if the queen isn’t there, touring the castle is an experience in itself.
- Once the tour is over you can take the “Long Walk” away from the castle and through Windsor Great Park.
- Once you’re done, take a walk through the town of Windsor and try to find the Crooked House of Windsor.
(Day 7) East End
- No matter what day you’ve arrive, visiting East London should take place on a Sunday. Get off the tube at Aldgate East or take the overground to Shoreditch High Street and make your way to Brick Lane, where there is a market every Sunday Morning. There you can try authentic foods from all over the world while also shopping for some vintage clothing.
- If you don’t make it for the market, be sure to visit Brick Lane for a meal and take your pick of any restaurant to enjoy some curry.
- My personal favorite food stop in the area is a beigel shop, actually shops, that sit next to each other. For a few pounds you can pick up a “stuffed bagel” with salmon, cream cheese, or beef. I’m not sure if the shops are competitors or if they just want us to think they are, but they’re both incredible and I think I ate at one or the other every day for two weeks while I was staying in the area.
- The best part about the bagel (beigel?) shops is that they’re open 24 hours a day, so they’re the perfect snack after a night out at my favorite spot, Big Chill Bar. I’m not sure what it was about it, but every time my friend and I went there, something magical happened. We’ll see if you have the same luck!
- The east end is the perfect place for tours. My favorites are the Shoreditch Street Art and Jack the Ripper tours. Shoreditch is known both for its street art and dodgy past and neither disappoint.
(Not So) Fun Fact: More than 1,000 bodies are buried under Aldgate tube station. They died from a plague in 1665.
I hope this is helpful and gives a basis for planning your trip to London– if you’re on a budget, check out my other post about saving money while in the city here: London on a Dime (or Ten Pence).