Anyone who keeps up with this blog, or who knows me will know how much I love London! If you didn’t know, well, now you do. I could babble on and on about London all day and night long. I touch on why this beautiful city holds a very large part of my heart in a previous blog post, In Love with London, but I never went into full detail about the ins and outs of seeing the sights, and surprisingly, I get asked about this quite often.
What do you recommend seeing? How do you get to this certain place? What is the Underground like? I’ve been asked questions like these on numerous occasions, and I’m not an expert, but I do have experience and I love talking about it, so that makes me qualified enough, right? This post will answer most of these questions, but first, a little bit of backstory!
I had a week alone in England. That’s all. One small week and there was so much I wanted to see! Although I stayed in the city of London that week and did day trips out, I only spent one full day in London sightseeing. Yep, I did all the big London attractions in one day, and I’m going to tell you how.
I did Contiki tours whilst I was on my euro-trip so I spent my extra week in the same hotel that Contiki recommends for its travellers, the Royal National Hotel. The hotel is nothing fancy, but I had no troubles. The rooms were cleaned every day, the WiFi was impeccable, and all I did whilst I was at the hotel was sleep. So listen up fellow Contiki-goers, this post will be very helpful for you!
I set my alarm for 6AM and I was out of my hotel door by 6:45. Luckily enough, there is an Underground station that is about a four-minute walk from the Royal National Hotel called Russell Square station. I whipped out my Oyster Card, which is a train card you load money onto to pay for the Underground (I cannot stress enough how important it is to buy one, you’ll need it), and jumped on the Piccadilly line headed westbound, then jumped off again at the next stop, Holborn. From Holborn I switched to the Central Line and took the train eastbound to Bank Station; my first stop was going to be the Tower of London.
Looking back, I probably could have caught the Underground to Monument station, or Tower Hill Station, but I also wanted to walk as much as I could because the more you walk the more you see of London. So if you don’t mind walking 15 minutes or so, get off at Bank station, whip out an app called Citymapper for London, and head towards the Tower of London.
I want to make note of two important points here. One, I don’t know if it’s just me but Bank Station is the most confusing Underground station I went to. I tried to find the ‘Fish Street Hill’ exit and I got so lost, so be prepared for that. Secondly, Citymapper is a lifesaver! My sister who lived in London recommended it to me and it’s 100% more helpful than Google Maps is. The app tailors it’s navigation for the public transport systems available in a particular city. For London, it provides information regarding the Underground, Overground, Uber’s and Buses as well as providing the walk and cycle feature. It lets you know what line and direction the Tube is going (for example, the Central Line, eastbound), and it provides a detailed map taken from Google Maps and even lets you know what part of a train carriage is the best option.
Tangent over. Once you arrive at the Tower of London its up to you whether you’d like to take a tour or not. Because of my limited amount of time I did not take a tour, I just took some photos of the actual tower and spent some money at the gift shop. From the Tower of London, you’ll be able to see the Tower Bridge. It’s a 10 minute walk to the bridge and looking out across the Thames while you’re on the bridge is such a pleasant experience; you can see almost every big London landmark and the city skyline is incredible.
After walking across the Tower Bridge make your way through Southbank, along the Thames, to the London Bridge. The London Bridge is nothing special I’ll admit, but if you were or are a huge Fergie fan, like I was once upon a time, seeing the London Bridge is a must! It’s also relatively close to The Shard and Shakespeare’s Globe. From the Tower Bridge to the London Bridge I walked; it’s about 20 minutes and Southbank is beautiful to see! If you don’t fancy the walk, you can get a bus, but I found buses very confusing so I didn’t use them all that much. I also didn’t go to The Shard because I’ve heard it’s expensive. The London Bridge Underground Station is also helpfully located between the London Bridge and The Shard, and the London Bridge Experience is another recreational activity you have the choice of doing.
When I was finished at the London Bridge, I took a short 15-minute walk to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. During the time I was in London there wasn’t much happening at the theatre, so again, I just took some photos, took in the view of the Thames, and moved on.
Next up was TATE Modern. TATE Modern is an art-gallery that is free to enter and I do recommend it to anyone who has even a slight interest in art or has some free time. The walk from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to TATE Modern is literally a five-minute walk. TATE Modern is a very relaxing activity and something that I recommend doing over morning-tea or lunch-time as they have cafes and restaurants on the top level that overlooks the Thames, Millennium Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. As well as being free, TATE also has specialty exhibitions that you do need to pay for, but are also relatively cheap. I spent approximately an hour and a half at TATE Modern and then moved on to the London Eye!
Again, I walked from TATE to the London Eye and it only took around 30-minutes. There are Underground connections available to Waterloo, but walk! London’s ins and outs and back streets are even beautiful! The London Eye is positioned along the Thames in close proximity with the London Dungeons, Sea Life London Aquarium, Shrek’s Adventure, and the Florence Nightingale Museum; therefore making this area tourist crowded! I went towards the end of Winter and it was relatively busy, but I cannot imagine what it is like in the Summer time! Pre-book tickets for the London Eye! Everything will be so much easier for you and you can get some really good combination deals. Surprisingly, the line for the London Eye moved very fast! I think I was only in line for about 15 minutes and then I jumped on this massive shell-like carriage and spent about 20 minutes up in the air getting incredibly amazing views of the City of London; the phrase “incredibly amazing views” is an understatement! There are no words that will ever be enough to describe this view. It’s mind-blowing, jaw-dropping and something I’ll forever remember!
After the London Eye, I walked across Westminster Bridge towards Big Ben. This is about a 10-minute walk, but I stopped on the bridge and took 1000 photos for Instagram. Something about simply standing on this bridge is iconic. You’re looking at every postcard of London ever. You’re looking at every desktop screen saver of London ever. You’re looking at every promotional picture of London ever! The Palace of Westminster is right in front of you with Big Ben beside it, you have people walking away and towards you rugged up taking tourist photos, you have the double decker red buses whooshing past you constantly; it’s the most Londoney you’ll feel.
Sadly, Big Ben’s bell wont ring until 2021 but you’ll still feel the magic! I took some photos of both Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, and then walked ten-minutes to Westminster Abbey, took some photos, and then I had a decision to make.
At this time of the day it was around 4:00PM, I was about a 40-minute walk away from my hotel, and it was starting to get dark. The only landmark I had not seen that I wanted to see was Buckingham Palace, but it was around a 20-minute walk from Westminster Abbey if I did not get lost on the way. There was the option of the tube, or buses, but at this point, I fell in love with walking everywhere; I felt like a real Londoner by now so I wanted to continue to feel the blissfulness and happiness I was feeling in that moment, and a Tube journey or bus journey with business people trying to get home, or tourists, was not going to sustain those emotions.
I had two choices. One was to start walking back to my hotel and sacrifice seeing Buckingham Palace. The second was to say ‘fuck it’ let’s do it Rac, and head off into the setting darkness of the night; I chose the latter. I thought to myself, I might not ever get the chance to come back to this city, and imagine getting home and realising that I was in London and didn’t see Buckingham Palace? How ridiculous. If you ever have a choice to make like that, choose the option that will let you explore more; because you wont regret it. I stopped at a Starbucks on the way and picked up a coffee to get some caffeine running through my bloodstream, and set off for Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace is amazing! Sure there are lots of people there, but it’s just such a pretty setting. The Palace is, of course, a work of art, but it’s so interesting seeing the little things that you don’t realize you want to see until you get there; for example, the guards marching back and forth with their guns, the gold trim of aspects of the Palace, the massive roundabout surrounded with green spaces. I don’t regret it.
At around 5:15 I decided I should probably try to get back to my hotel. I walked 10-minutes through Green Park to Green Park Underground Station. Green Park Underground Station has services running along the Victoria, Piccadilly and Jubilee lines. I jumped on the Piccadilly Line heading eastbound to Russell Square, and was back in my hotel room having a shower and getting ready to head back into the city to Oxford Street for dinner with friends by 6PM.
If you have more than one day in London, spread things out and take your time! But if you only have one day, like I did, just know that it is in fact possible to do it all!