We’re coming up four years in Londontown. Hard to believe we’ve been stomping around these cobbled, narrow little streets for so long! Like most places I call home, there are things that really bug me about this city and there are things I really love. Luckily the really love bits far outweigh the bug bearers. For a first time visitor to London, the city can be quite daunting. Obviously, you have to take a picture of Big Ben, see the Tower of London and go for a ride on the London Eye or up the Shard (if the weather is good) but there are loads of other (cheaper) options to consider as well.
Some of my favourite places – Covent Garden, Southbank and Hyde Park are all free to visit and are in some ways so much better than a 25 quid ride in a big glass dome on the Southbank. After some careful consideration, here are what I consider to be the top 10 things you must do when you visit London.
Experience London Transport
Ride the river, a big red bus, the tube or take a black cab. Every one of London’s transport methods are iconic and photo worthy. Some of my favorite views of London are from the river or from a big red bus. The best bus routes for sightseeing (IMHO) are the RV1 from Covent Garden – which includes the London Eye, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London and the 9 (which uses an old Routemaster) and stops by Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Museums, Harrods and Hyde Park Corner.
Join a Walking Tour
There are so many walking tours in this city. Street art ones, pub crawl ones, historical ones, spooky ones. Some of them are free or donation only, others are less than a tenner. I totally recommend the Jack the Ripper tour and any of the London Walks ones.
Drink a Pint in a Pub
Sometimes it feels like London has more pubs than people. You can’t go a block without passing one and all of them are totally unique. Some of my favourites are Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (off Fleet Street), the Rising Sun (in Farringdon) and the Coat & Badge (Blackfriars Bridge).
Evening Mass at St. Pauls
Second only in size to St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Pauls is one of the biggest churches in the world. Be sure to time your visit with one of the evening mass sessions. You’ll get to experience a beautiful service and you won’t have to pay the £17 entrance fee.
Wander along the Southbank
There’s always loads to do at Southbank, home to the London Dungeon, London Eye, IMAX, BFI and the Aquarium, it’s also the best place to take pictures of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. In the summer there’s a pop-up beach, alfresco dining and the Lord Mayer’s parade, in Winter there’s a comedy festival and Christmas markets.
Visit Covent Garden
Covent Garden is the perfect place to hangout in the West End. There’s shopping, street theater, dining and some great pubs – like the Punch & Judy, which overlooks the square. Pimms on the balcony in summer. Win.
See A Show
Things might not be so rosy on Broadway, but the theatre business is booming in Londontown. Last year 14.7M people attended a theatre performance in the city and whilst it’s not really my thing I have enjoyed the ones I’ve been convinced to see. If you can get hold of some cheap tickets or you want to splash out I definitely recommend The Lion King. If you’re looking for something a bit more old school, try to see a performance at The Globe Theatre over the summer.
- Feed the Squirrels in Hyde Park
Created in 1536 by Henry VIII, it’s one of the largest parks in London and a great place to spot squirrels. In the summer it hosts a bunch of concerts and in the winter it transforms into Winter Wonderland. Shopping, ice skating and mulled wine.
Check out a Market
Like most big cities there are markets everywhere – food markets, antique markets, local car boot markets. The best ones in the city (IMHO) are Portobello Rd (flowers), Notting Hill (antiques), Spitalfields (shopping and eating) and Borough (food).
Shop on the High Street
Shopping on Oxford Street is not for the faint of heart. It’s busy at any time of day but that’s because it’s one of the best places to shop the British High Street brands. River Island, New Look, H&M, Top Shop. If it’s a high street store you’ll find it on Oxford Street and/or Regent Street. It’s also home to three of the best department stores in the world – John Lewis, House of Fraser and Selfridges.
What are your must do’s in London? Add your suggestions in the comments below.