Cheerio, it’s LONDON, England! Home to Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, The Tower Bridge, The London Bridge (not falling down), Charles Dickens, James Bond, fish n’ chips, the Underground, William & Kate!
London attracts more than 15 million international tourists per year and Mike and I happily joined that list. Because of the cold weather during our trip, we decided the best way to efficiently see the city was to travel via the “Hop On, Hop Off” city tour bus. These buses are actually a great way to see London, especially if it’s your first time. The city is sprawling and the immensity of the Tube (underground) can be difficult to manage.
Anyone traveling to London for the first time should consider allotting more than 3 days. If however, you find yourself strapped for time, here is my list of must-sees.
Sites to see in London
- Buckingham Palace: Originally built in 1705 for the Duke of Buckingham, it is now the Queens’ official residence in London. The state rooms, ballroom and gardens are open to the public on select dates only in August and September, so make sure to plan ahead if this is part of your itinerary. You can also see the Changing the Guard here at 11:30 am everyday in summer and every other day in winter. While this event is free to watch, it does get incredibly crowded, so if waiting among the thousands of other tourists is not your thing, I would recommend skipping this.
- Westminster Abbey: A must-see and one of Britain’s most significant structures, this beautiful Gothic church and UNESCO World Heritage site has over a thousand years of history. It’s been the nation’s Coronation church since the crowning of William the Conqueror in 1066 as well as the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. In 2011 it was the venue for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
- Trafalgar Square: Landmark square and home to Nelson’s Column, stone lions and a multitude of cultural events and activities.
- Big Ben & Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster): Among London’s most iconic landmarks, the Houses of Parliament was built in the 1840’s and is most recognizable from its impressive clock tower, known as Big Ben.
- Tower Bridge: This magnificent bridge was completed in 1894 and took 8 years, 5 major contractors and 432 construction workers to build. The Tower Bridge Exhibition lets you discover more about the history of the bridge and take in stunning panoramic views of the city.
- Tower of London: One of the world’s most famous fortresses. Over its thousand year history, it has been a royal palace, a treasury, a prison and an armory. The Tower is still home to her Majesty’s Crown Jewels, on display for visitors to see.
- British Museum: This remarkable and FREE to enter museum was founded in 1753 and has an impressive collection spanning over 2 million years of human history. You’ll see everything from Egyptian mummies to the Rosetta Stone. Even if you’re not a huge fan of museums, this one is definitely worth a visit.
- Borough Market: Stop by this awesome food market for a taste of great eateries and you’ll wipe away any preconceived notions you might have about bad British food.
- Don’t forget to try some fish n’ chips!
Tips for London:
- Power adapters and electrical converters – double check the devices you need to charge during your trip. The voltage from the UK wall sockets is about 220 volts. Most electrical devices are now dual voltage, meaning you can probably use it as long as you have an adapter. Note that the plugs in the UK however, are large and have three, substantial, flat prongs. This is different than anywhere else in Europe so make sure your power adapter looks like this:
- Consider the Hop On, Hop Off Bus (or equivalent bus company) to efficiently see the city if it’s your first time in London. These buses will take you to all the big tourist attractions. I highly recommend them in a big city because you can cover a lot of ground quickly without having to navigate around. If you decide to take the public transportation, getting an Oyster Card will help save you money and time.