No list of in-demand travel destinations is complete without London, the iconic capital of both England the United Kingdom. London is in many ways a gateway between the western world and the rest of the world – including Europe, but also the rest of the world. It is for this reason that London is commonly a first site sought out for international travel, especially for travelers leaving the United States for the first time. This is true for longer or shorter excursions, including if only for a long weekend.
Your first trip to London, however, can be daunting. Understand that London is a massive city, and numerous visits to such a ubiquitous location that offers so much is never conquered with one visit, five, or even ten. The amount of possibilities in London does much to offer its travelers, but a little guidance is useful the first time you visit the city.
Keeping those challenges in mind, London is also easy to conquer when done correctly and planning a trip to London can be done in a much less daunting manner. With so much to do, you need a place to start in narrowing down your list of things to do in London over a long weekend. Here’s how to make it happen in London!
What You Need To Know
As we mentioned, London is utterly huge. Not only in population, but London is also wide and takes forever to transverse in most manners. Traffic is unconquerable, so renting a car or cabbing isn’t the way to get around the city. Not only is the traffic dense, but the pure cost of getting around London via cab makes it undoable.
The solution to getting around London actually doesn’t lie above ground, but rather in what locals call “The Tube”. The Tube is London’s Metro System, which operates much the same as any underground system found in cities such as New York (the Subway) or Paris (Metro).
You can individually pay for fares in London, but this is a longer process that also adds unnecessary cost. Instead, look ahead of your trip for a three-day Tube pass called the London Oyster Card. You can “load” this card with a pre-set amount (normally $5-10 per day suffices), and “top up” as you go along. The London Oyster Card makes Tube travel fast, easy, and affordable! This is going to be of even greater importance as the traffic picks up on the Friday streets in London, and will remain bustling through the weekend.
It also helps to know what’s near these individual Tube Stations. If this is something you’re interested, there are guides with all of the major tube stops, and the primary attractions and pubs near them.
Where To Stay
There are a daunting number of options when traveling to London, as you can stay virtually anywhere in the city and enjoy yourself. There are a few favored “boroughs” in London, however, given their proximity to famous tourist attractions and general livability of the area.
Wherever you stay, we recommend avoiding a major hotel chain. They’re typically cookie-cutter, expensive, and more likely to have “hidden charges” that you won’t find out until you leave the city. With that being said, London has an impressive number of boutique hotels in these same areas that will offer a more charming stay for no more than or so per night.
Our favorite area for staying in London is Bayswater, in West London close to Notting Hill (famous from the movie of the same name). Bayswater offers Notting Hill-quality establishments at a reasonable price, and access to nearby Tube stations, yet without the crowding that you might have in some areas at night.
Friday: Westminster and Soho
Depending on the city in which we’re traveling, we like to either travel with a theme in mind, or with the idea of visiting certain area/s in a given day. We always like to first head to Westminster, the area of London popular for containing all of the major stars of the city. These include Big Ben, the Thames River (pronounced Tims River), the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, and the Foreign Office Building – known for being not only a primary governmental building, but also where the Prime Minister lives. Additionally, once the weekend crowd starts to break free from work, the pubs and streets overflow with laughter, suds, and locals.
Getting to Westminster is simple via The Underground. From the Bayswater Station, for example, it’s a direct line on the “Circle” line (one of the several lines that criss-cross under London), and heading east you’ll arrive at Westminster Station. We’ll never forget walking out of Westminster Station for the first time, and being greeting by Big Ben as soon as we exited from the underground station.
Westminster is also a central area for art and history lovers, and in following have one of the best selections of various historical and artistic museums. Some of our favorites in the area include the British Museum, The Tate Gallery, and Churchill’s War Rooms – the rooms where he famously directed Britain’s part of the Allied victory in World War II.
Once the day ends and evening nears, you’ll want to check out Soho. Not only one of the more famous shopping districts in London, Soho is a hip area with numerous great pubs, and excellent food – all the things you’ll want to do on a Friday night in London. Additionally, for those same art lovers, you can visit the Queen’s Theatre and perhaps take in a play such as Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables.
Saturday: East End, Tower Hill and Parks
Some of our favorite areas in London include the East End and Tower Hill. Historically rich areas, these areas include a bit deeper look at the city, its origins, and some of the incredible tales that make London unique. They’re also excellent places to people watch and enjoy the unique London vibe on a Saturday.
East London, while also includes the Whitechapel area, is one of our favorites when it comes to food variety and great pubs. The come upon you quickly in this area, as it seems that as soon as you walk out of one great establishment there’s another beautiful pub, four-star restaurant, or classic eatery!
The one place you have to go, if nowhere else, is The Ten Bells. Famous as the site where Jack the Ripper hunted his victims, the Ten Bells has remained virtually unchanged in its more than 150 year-old existence. The area itself is excellent, as the Ten Bells is located across from the Old Spitalfields Market. Old Spitalfields is an open market area with various vendors and self-made artisans selling their goods. These are often hand-made items that you simply can’t find anywhere else including not only clothing, but maps, globes, wood carvings, and various other artistic items.
One of the things we love about not only London’s East End, but in fact all of London, are the preponderance of beautiful barks. In fact, the actual city of London officially is classified as a park due to the sheer volume of trees! London is, legally, the largest park in the world!
In this area, be sure to check out the King Edward VII Memorial Park in Shadwell or Stepney Green Park, which is just north of the Thames River.
Some of London’s heavy hitters are also in East London, more specifically in the Tower Hill area. Here you can visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – the replica of the original which burned down in the early 17th century – as well as Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, and London Bridge.
Day Three: Museums and Kensington
Two of the best museums in the world exist in London, and they’re directly next to each other. The best part is that the perfect day to visit them is on a Sunday, when the city is just a bit sleepier.
In Kensington stand two academic behemoths of London culture – the British Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. The Natural History Museum is like a time capsule of the area we know today as the United Kingdom, and comes complete with ancient fossils, interactive exhibits, and one of the most interest educational experiences in London. Next door, the Science Museum is the perfect place for science-lovers, and is known as one of the best science museums in the world.
No visit to London is complete, however, without a visit to Hyde Park. Everything from boroughs in other major cities to sandwiches have been named for this iconic district in London, which includes the actual park that shares its name. Vast and expansive, Hyde Park is one of the most idyllic locations in all of London.
London is equally impressive, daunting, beautiful, and enthralling. You don’t have to spend weeks in the city or visit numerous times to fall in love with it. In fact, if you’re planning a short trip the right way, you can have an authentic experience in London over only a few days!