Recently after a Fantastic 12 Night British Isles Cruise we stayed in London, England for a 4 day exploration. (FYI, London is a popular port on British Isles, Transatlantic & Norway Cruises and even for some Baltic Sea & Mediterranean Cruises)
And although prices for gifts, tours, food, etc. make New York City look inexpensive (and that’s saying something) it certainly is well worth a visit to this world class British City before or after your Cruise.
London’s rich history smacks you in the face as soon as you enter the city because the architecture is so grand. Just by looking at the building designs alone, if that’s ALL you did and then flew home, you would feel 100% satisfied…
…but of course there is so much more to see and do, so in no particular order here is a list of things to do while visiting London, England for the first time and awesome tips to make your visit even more memorable.
1. Visit a Pub or two! You know how London is famous for pubs? It’s for good reason. Seriously, there is a pub on every corner! But not just run of the mill pubs either. Several have been around since the early 1500’s where even novelist Charles Dickens himself would frequent… and if you would like to visit the oldest pub in the city while visiting, here is their website to help guide you there: Ye Olde Mitre
2. Free Attractions: London is home to some of the best museums and galleries in the world – many of which are free. Spend a few hours at no cost in the British Museum, Tate Modern, Natural History Museum or the Science Museum. TIP: Put “reviews” at the end when Googling them (Example: “British Museum reviews”) to hear what visitors are saying about their experiences before you go.
3. View the City from Above! Get some of the best views of London from above in the London Eye. Be sure to get your tickets online first to avoid the long line up at the ticket booth! Plus, inside the building nest to “The Eye” they have a free 4D movie experience that is quite fun, so be sure to check that out too… we really enjoyed it!
4. Visit the Queen’s Residence. A visit to London without seeing the inside walls of Buckingham Palace would not be complete. And once you’ve been inside THIS Palace- all others will not suffice, no kidding! If you’re lucky enough as we were to visit while the Queen is away (August-September each year) you can view the State Rooms along with the regular viewings of the Queen’s Gallery & Royal Mews (stables). We opted just to tour the state rooms as we had seen the horses during the Changing of the guard and the gallery of paintings is not a big interest of ours… but that’s just us.
5. Changing of The Guard. It is Free but we wanted to address this separately and give you a few tips. You really do NOT need to show up 1-2 hours early as most suggest to experience it. Show up 15-20 minutes prior to its start time and first stand at the back of the monument facing “The Mall” road to watch the parade (which you cannot see if you are up at the gate). THEN make your way to the front of the monument where it will be busy, but stay put and edge your way to the front as people clear out (and they will because a lot of the show is watching the guards standing in still position for long periods of time so people start to clear out) you can then watch the ending which is a spectacle in itself. We showed up 1 hour before hand and really, we didn’t need to- we should have done exactly what we suggest above.
6. Go see a Show! London has one of the best theater scenes in the world with almost 50 theaters,so you have your pick of world class productions to choose from! TIP: We bought our tickets to Stomp (if you haven’t see it, GO! It’s awesome) at TKTS which is the “official” ticketing booth created by the Society of London Theater… so we recommend you go there too just to be safe. They have tickets up to 50% off the ticket price, both on the day of the performance and up to a week in advance. Just make your way to Leicester Square and you will see the booth.
7. Take it easy on a Double Decker Bus Tour. Our first day in the city we were wiped and knew that we would be, so we planned this Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour to get the lay of the land before we explored on foot the next day. This way we were able to figure out what we wanted to go check out further- it was a good plan! Included in the ticket is a Thames River cruise, which is recommended as it runs through the heart of the city with amazing views of London’s bridges and city!
8. Check out Harry Potter! If you are a fan of Harry Potter, don’t expect to be wowed just by walking about the city to see the “what once was” production sites. Instead, take a 1/2 day and do a Warner Brothers Studio Tour of The making of Harry Potter. We did it with Golden Tours who provided us with transportation to and from the studio. It was AMAZING and we would highly recommend it if you are a Harry fan.
9. Take a “Selfie” with Big Ben & the Parliament Buildings. Tip: To grab a picture from here, walk 1/3 the way onto the bridge to get the better views and picture. For the “very best” pictures without obstructions, walk to the other side of the bridge (opposite side of Big Ben) and walk down the steps to the right at water level. Here you will get the very best pictures without street lamps, buses and people blocking you AND it’s a nice to spot to hang out and enjoy the views as most people don’t know about this secret spot! (check out the picture at the very top of this blog to see what the view is like from here)
Where to stay?
We loved our hotel and even more it’s location. We were approximately 5 minutes of brisk walking away from Buckingham Palace, St. James Park & Westminster Abbey. So we would highly recommend it! It’s called: St. Ermin’s Hotel... a Marriott “Autograph” Hotel.
There you have it!
Great Tips & Things to do and see while in London, England. Please feel free to share these tips with your family & friends if they are traveling there as well.
Nancy & Shawn
Your Trusted Cruise Experts!