Other than questions about travelling in London on a shoestring budget, I have receive a couple of emails asking me about London attractions. A number of them are planning to spend a few days in the capital while there are a small handful who are in transit and has just a day to spare in London. After replying to their emails, I thought I would write a post on this.
Though it is impossible to cover London in one day, you might just get a taste of what London has to offer. In this 'London in one day" guide, I would assume that you arrive in central London in the morning at about 9am and has taken a light breakfast. If that's not the case for you, please adjust the itinerary accordingly.
In any event, always purchase a 1 day Oyster Travelcard (Zones 1-2) before travelling. These travelcards are valid for travels for all Tube lines within Zone 1-2 and all buses. At £7.20 for adults and £3.60 for children, they will cost even lesser during off peak hours. For more information, visit Transport for London.
Tower of London, accessible by Tower Hill Tube station (Circle / District Line) is definitely the first attraction in London that you should visit. The Tower, which illustrious history associated with William the Conqueror in the 9th century all the way to Queen Elizabeth in the early 15th century, is literally the cradle of English history. It's a pity the many visitors are detered by the admission prices and choose to give this London icon a miss while content with just taking pictures outside its walls.
Be sure to go for the tours guided by the Beefeaters. The red uniformed Beefeaters (or Yeoman Warders) have been the traditional Royal Guards since the early 14th century. Jovial, charming and highly entertaining, the Beefeaters' guide hugely popular with the visitors. What's better is that the 1 hour tour guide departs regularly at 30min intervals and is included in your ticket to Tower of London.
After the Beefeaters guided tour, do take a walk around the Tower grounds not forgetting to visit the Tower itself where an extensive exhibition of armoury and weapons awaits. Also, catch a glimpse of the Crown Jewels housed under armed guards at the Jewel House.
Consider having an early lunch at the nearby eateries. Remember, time is of the essence here. If weather's fine, follow the crowd for a good o' fish and chips at the stalls just next to the ticket booth - you can't miss that. Otherwise, try Wagamama, a Asian fusion chain eatery just behind the ticket booth. Or if you are into hearty cuisine, look no further than Bodean's BBQ that is just across the road.
If you have not already, take some photo shots by the Tower Bridge (often mistaken as the London Bridge) and you might just be able to catch it go up to allow ships to pass under it. Head back towards Tower Hill Tube station, next stop: St. Paul's Cathedral.
St. Paul's Cathedral, which is a stone's throw away from St. Paul's Tube station (Central Line), is one architecture marvel designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1668 to replace a similarly domineering structure, which was gutted in the Great Fire of 1666. Be sure to check out the Whispering Dome - ask your mate to press her face onto the side of the dome before whispering to you. You would be able to hear her quite clearly on the opposite side of the dome on a quiet day.
If time allows, continue to head up towards the tip of the dome where you would be duely rewarded by a commanding view of the City of London. Take care as it can get a tad too windy up there.
Head towards Covent Garden, one of the oldest piazza marketplace in Europe that tracks its origins back to the early 17th century. The place is bustling with activities during weekends with scores of crowds entertaining buskers and budding musicians, some of whom are play a mean tune. Covent Garden is accessible by Covent Garden Tube station (Piccadilly Line)
If you are planning to go for a West End musical or drama the very same evening, you could get the tickets at the stalls prominently located at the entrance to the square. Be warned that some of this deals are not as good as they are made out to be. I personally recommend TKTS ticket counter at Leicester Square, which is your next stop.
Leicester (pronounced as "Lester") Square, which is also synonymous with world movie premiers, is also known as Gerrard Street where the main thoroughfare of Chinese restaurants and provision shops. Although Leicester Square is accessible by Leicester Square Tube station (Northern / Piccadilly Line), I would suggest that you walk west from Covent Garden, which is less than 300m away.
For some afternoon snack, try Jen Café's dumplings. It goes quite well with Chinese tea and a dash of soy sauce. For a heavier meal, head towards Noodle Bar across Charing Cross Road. Take a stroll towards the TKTS ticket counter strategically located at the south side of the square to get your tickets for the evening's show. TKTS essentially sells the top end tickets (essentially stall seats) of available shows for half price. If you are not quite sure where the theatre is, do check with the counter staff.
Head south along Charing Cross road towards Trafalgar Square. Here lies the statue of Lord Nelson (Nelson Column) who was fatally injured in the Battle of Trafalgar but was able to put an end to Napoleon's ambition to dominate Europe. Notice that the statue faces south along Whitehall where his fleet harboured before the fatal battle.
If time allows, you might want to pop by the National Gallery (closes at 6pm except Fri when it closes at 9pm) just behind Lord Nelson's statue. Founded in the early 19th century, the National Gallery houses thousands of paintings from the 13th to the 20th century.
Head south along Whitehall towards the Big Ben, which looms in the horizon. "Big Ben" actually refers to the huge bell that houses within the great clock tower. The Parliament House of Commons and House of Lords are adjacent to the Big Ben and the Westminster Abbey, where the wedding between Prince Charles and Princess Diana took place, lies just across the street.
The London Eye can be seen across River Thames. The best photospot for Big Ben and the Parliament House would be at the junction of Parliament Street and Bridge Street. Better still, pose with a police officer. They are rather obliging in this aspect.
Head back towards Shaftesbury Avenue where the theatre is most likely to be. For a quick hearty pre-theatre dinner, I recommend the Hamburger Union at the intersection between Charing Cross Road and Irving Street before the show starts at 7.30pm.
There you go, a whirlwind tour of London in just one day. However, if you are staying any longer than a day, consider getting the London Pass, which will allow you free entry to 56 London major attractions (inclusive of Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, Shakespeare Globe Theatre), free transport and best of all, jump the queues. Else, get a head-start with London Lonely Planet City Guide.
If you are in London for a couple of days, check out my London in a Weekend Guide. Even better still, consider a day trip to Paris and here's how to get from London to Paris the fuss free way.
Enjoy your trip and a very warm welcome to London!