TOP TEN IDEAS FOR YOUR FIRST VISIT TO LONDON
Planning your first trip to London can be a bit of a challenge, because, with so many things to see and do, it can be difficult to decide where to start. Not only is London, or even Central London, very big, but there are hundreds of museums, attractions, landmarks and historic buildings, and, as much as one can try to see and do it all, that’s not going to happen.
Which is why we put together a top ten list of ideas that will make planning your first trip to London a breeze.
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1. Use public transport for sightseeing
We’ll kick off our list with a very practical tip that will definitely start your time in London on the right foot and will benefit you for the entire time you spend in London.
Get an Oyster card with enough credit for the amount of time you are in London, as this allows you to travel on the red double-decker buses and also on the Underground, which is the fastest and most convenient means of transport around London.
A lot of Central London bus routes go past popular tourist attractions and landmarks, so you can just get on the upper deck of the bus and enjoy the ride.
Bus routes 11, 15 or 23 are just a few of these popular routes.
2. See the Changing of the Guard
Probably the most famous performance in the world, the changing of the guard, which takes place in front of the Buckingham Palace is by far, the London experience that gets the biggest attention from the crowds.
A centuries-old British tradition which involves the guards who have finished their duty to perform a ceremonial march when being relieved, usually accompanied by a fanfare, is made even more attractive by their famous red uniforms and bearskin hats, which really look like they were taken right from the pages of a book.
Make sure you check the schedule, as it only happens on certain days and make sure you are in front of Buckingham Palace at least half an hour before it starts, as there are usually large crowds.
3. Take a walk along the Thames
An hour’s long leisurely walk on the south bank of the River Thames, between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge, is one of the most pleasant and most relaxing things you can do in London, and not just on your first trip.
Not only does this section of the river have a very wide footpath, which means no traffic worries whatsoever, but there is an abundance of landmarks, historic buildings and popular attractions, not to mention the view over to the opposite bank, the City of London with its skyscrapers in particular, which makes it all worth it.
Just make sure you pack your comfy shoes.
View over the Thames and the Houses of Parliament from the south bank near Waterloo Bridge
4. Have afternoon tea
One of the most popular experiences for a memorable trip to London is to have afternoon tea, or high-tea as it is also known as, in one of London’s exquisite venues.
Places all over the city, from high street cafes to the most luxurious hotels and restaurants, from the most traditional to the most modern settings, compete in trying to get people’s attention with their tea offering.
The speciality tea selection is usually accompanied by a colourful display of minuscule sweet and savoury delights, neatly arranged on a tiered cake stand, making you wonder for a minute whether they are just for decoration.
A lot of places require advance booking but there are plenty where you can just turn up, like some hotels or high street cafes or make it as an add on to another experience (try the café inside Victoria and Albert Museum or the British Museum after your visit there)
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5. Visit the South Kensington Museums
Museumland, as it is known by the locals, includes three of the most popular museums in London – Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.
They are all free of charge for their permanent collections (although they usually display amazing paid temporary exhibitions) and are true magnets for visitors and locals alike, and especially popular for families or school groups (with groups in mind, you may want to check if any school holidays coincide with your trip to London, as this means crowds and long queues at most venues).
6. Visit the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels
Tower of London is one of the most special and iconic landmarks in London, having witnessed close to a thousand years of the capital’s history, as a royal palace, a fortress and also a prison.
You have a fantastic opportunity to join a Beefeater tour inside the Tower and they have plenty of stories and legends to share, for sure.
The collection of Crown Jewels is also inside the Tower of London, so prepare for a majestic display of grandeur, with over a hundred ceremonial pieces of jewellery and coronation objects worn or used by British Kings and Queens over the years.
Buy your tickets in advance as that will cut off significantly your waiting time at the entrance.
Tower of London
6. Spend an afternoon in a London Market
There is nothing that gives that local London vibe than a good market and there are loads of them that you can visit, while in London.
From food and flowers to vintage fashion and antiques, the London markets are the perfect idea for an afternoon out.
Head to Borough Market for an abundance of local foods and delicatessen from around the globe or to Camden Market if fashion is your thing, where hundreds of stalls sell everything from vintage to alternative fashion, music and film memorabilia and art.
Portobello Road Market, as one of the world’s largest antique markets, is the best place to go treasure hunting.
7. Walk across Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge, apart from being one of the most famous London landmarks, recognisable all over the world, is also a bridge over the Thames, used by traffic and pedestrians every day.
So, if you want to be impressed by the amazing Victorian engineering and find some great photo opportunities, get your walking shoes ready.
It sits at the edge of City of London, right next to the Tower of London, the perfect place for a wonderful view over the Thames and over the attractions and impressive buildings on the river banks, including some of London’s best modern architecture.
To learn more about the Bridge and how it works, you can get a ticket for the Tower Bridge Experience and access the Engine Rooms and the high-level walkways with a glass floor.
View over the City of London from Tower Bridge
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9. Visit St James' Park
A beautiful place to visit any time of the year, the oldest Royal Park in London, St James’ Park, is one of the most popular green spaces in the capital.
Easy to walk around, with access from every direction, the park is very well maintained and has a large lake right in the middle, which is a true wildlife sanctuary, with a huge variety of water birds, ducks, swans, geese and even pelicans.
In the summer months, decking chairs are available for everyone to enjoy the sunshine and it is the go-to destination for picnic lovers.
The viewing bridge over the lake is also a favourite spot and the nearby picture-perfect ceremonial route, The Mall, which is also part of the park, is the perfect location for your next best selfie.
10. Take a boat ride on the Thames
An all-time favourite activity in London, a boat ride on the Thames offers you some of the best views ever, as a huge variety of landmarks and impressive buildings are along the banks of the river, from the Houses of Parliament to St Paul’s Cathedral or Tower of London.
Choose between a Thames river bus ride, a leisurely hop-on hop-off cruise or even a speedboat ride, for those of you in search of excitement.
For something more special look for the fine dining riverboat experiences with live music and entertainment.
Thames river boat going under the Millennium Bridge