A Few of My Favourite Things to Do in London
At the end of my seven days in London I had really only skimmed the surface of the city. You could spend a month and still not run out of things to do in London, especially when you account for all of the easy day trips with London as a base.
In my original plans I’d thought I’d only spend five days in the city and then two days doing day trips to Oxford and to Stonehenge and Bath. But instead I didn’t even leave the city and that still wasn’t enough time to see everything I had planned. It certainly didn’t help that New Years Eve and New Years Day were sacrificed to drinking and being hung over (totally worth it but it meant two less days in London).
But I did still manage to see a fair bit of London, and especially explore the historical side of this city which is what interests me the most. London is a city full of history and it’s one of the reasons I love it so much.
So here are a few of my favourite things from my time in London!
Without the recommendation of my friend, Sam, I never would have discovered this hidden gem. And I’m still kind of relectuant to share it with you, as it remains one of the few places in London you don’t have to worry about the crowds.
Apsley House is the London home of the Duke of Wellington. Whilst the house itself is pretty remarkable, the main reason for a visit to Apsley House is to see the amazing collection of Spanish Art that is on display here.
Most of these pieces were stolen by Napoleon and liberated by the Duke of Wellington when he defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, one of Britain’s most famous military victories and the reason the Duke of Wellington became such a revered figure in society at the time.
As a reward the Spanish gifted the art to the Duke. And most of it is on display. It’s one of the best collections of Spanish art outside of the Sofia Museum in Madrid, and it’s right in the middle of London.
Here you’ll find priceless pieces like the ‘Waterseller of Seville’ and ‘Pope Innocent 1650’ by Velazquez, and Jan Steen’s ‘The Physician’s Visit’.
But my favourite displays were the elaborate dinner settings that were gifted to the Duke of Wellington by various European royalty.
Like most places in London, the audio guide is extremely good and informative. And at Apsley House it comes included in the entrance fee.
Opening Hours- From April 2016 Apsley House will be open Wednesday-Sunday from 11am to 5pm.
Entrance- £8.30, £7.50 for students
Metro Stop- Hyde Park Corner
No visit to London is complete without a visit to the Queen. Just don’t expect that you’ll be the only one wanting to knock on her door. At any time of the year Buckingham Palace is covered in tourists.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t great to look upon the Palace and have some fun trying to make the stone-faced guards laugh.
Metro Stop- St James Park or Hyde Park Corner
Between Apsley House and Buckingham Palace is Hyde Park. Even in winter I loved strolling through it. But I can’t wait until I return to London in summer and can set up a picnic in the park!
As always, I browsed the UNESCO World Heritage list before arriving in London and on it I found Maritime Greenwich.
The area of Maritime Greenwich, including the Royal Obervatory was inscribed on the list because of its historical significance in the many scientific endeavours. In particular, Maritime Greenwich was the site of many scientific development in astrology and horology (the study of time).
You might have heard the expression ‘Greenwich Mean Time’. Here you’ll find the exact line from which all other time zones are shaped. Greenwich Mean Time is 0 and all the other time zones are + or – it.
It’s funny how travel is subjective because a couple of days later I overheard some girls talking about how lame the Royal Observatory was. But I found it to be super interesting.
It provides brilliant information on the need for an accurate measure of time to adequately navigate at sea, the different methods that were used to tell the time, and the different developments that came out of that question. The audio guide is again included in the entrance and is also very good.
Opening Hours- Everyday from 10am-5pm
Entrance Fees- £9.50, £7.50 for students
Metro Stop- Cutty Sark or Greenwich
The Tower of London
For Christmas, my Nan bought me a ticket for the Tower of London.
The first thing I have to say about the Tower of London is you need a full day to fully experience it. There is no use entering two hours before closing and hoping you’ll see everything. The Tower of London is a museum of its own, actually it is more like five museums rolled into one.
Every different part of the fortress has a different story to tell. I would highly recommend paying the extra to borrow the audio guide from the gift shop at the entrance. Otherwise the size of the place can be very overwhelming and it can be difficult to know where to start.
Firstly, upon the advice of my Auntie I headed straight to the Royal Jewels. The lines get much longer in the afternoon as more people enter the Tower, so given I was at the tower almost at opening I saved lots of waiting time by seeing these first.
Photos inside are strictly forbidden so you’ll just have to take my word that the royal jewels are phenomenal. The size of some of the diamonds in some of the crowns is insane, I’d hate to think about much they are worth! And also how heavy they would be to wear!
The tour of the rest of the Tower of London tells a story of the Tower itself. From the White Keep, the main tower that was the first building erected here, to the outside fortifications that were built later.
The Tower of London was also home to plenty of key events in British History including the alleged murder of the two princes in the Bloody Tower, the imprisonment of political prisoners including (find name) and of course the beheading of Anne Boleyn which happened in the square of the Tower.
You’ll find torture rooms, old bedrooms, ravens that are kept here because of an old superstition that when the ravens leave the Tower will fall, a museum full of historical pieces of armour, drawbridges and even engravings by prisoners that were made hundreds of years ago.
If like me, you are a history buff, you’ll be a heaven. Even the terrible weather couldn’t stop me from enjoying my day here! It’s an absolute must do for any visit to London.
Make sure to book online to avoid the long waits for tickets (and it is cheaper!).
Opening Hours- Everyday from 9am-4.30pm, except on Sunday and Monday where they open at 10am.
Entrance fee (Online Rates) – £23.10, £17.60 students
Metro Stop- Tower Hill
Often mistakenly labelled ‘London Bridge’, Tower Bridge is the bridge located just outside the Tower of London. It’s truly stunning and you can get an awesome viewpoint from on top of the walls of the Tower of London.
Hampton Court Palace
Another lesser known Royal Palace is Hampton Court Palace which is located in the suburbs of London. And it’s my number one favourite place in all of London.
Hampton Court was the holiday home of the royal family and was home to the courts of Tudor and then in the following century to King William III.
What makes Hampton Court so unique is the combination of domestic Tudor and Baroque architecture, as different parts of the Palace were built by different monarchs in different periods of architectural design.
This is another palace you’ll also need a full day to explore. The visit to Hampton Court is made even more fun by the addition of old fashioned clothes that you can put on, an extremely good audio guide and some great-guided tours. All of which are included in the entrance fee.
I spent the day exploring the different rooms of the palace and learnt so much about the history of the English monarchy. Each part of the palace tells a different story of the monarchy. It’s very informative.
My favourite part of the palace was actually the Tudor kitchens which I found super fascinating. From the explanations on the audio guide I also discovered my dream job.
The experimental food historians who work at the Palace actually recreate dishes using produce and facilities that would have existed at the time in order to prove theories about the find of food that was produced at the time. If you are lucky you might even find one of them roasting a pig over the fire. You can even go in to eat on certain days, unfortunately not the day I was there.
I finished my visit with a stroll through the gardens. I was lucky enough to have an unseasonably warm and sunny day for London in December. But I’m sure the gardens are even more beautiful in the Spring.
Opening Hours- Everyday from 10am-4.30pm
Entrance fee (Online Rates)- £19.80, £16 for students
Metro Stop- Hampton Court
Big Ben/Westminster Tower
You can’t leave London without seeing this iconic tower. Technically ‘Big Ben’ refers to the bell inside the Westminster Tower. So you’ll only hear Big Ben and not actually see it.
Nothing will beat the experience of listening to Big Ben chime twelve times at midnight as the sky exploded in fireworks on New Years Eve. Out of the must see buildings and monuments in London, Big Ben is my favourite!
Metro Stop- Westminster
Westminster Abbey is one of London’s UNESCO listed buildings and it is truly beautiful.
I’ve never actually gone inside though, as like everything in London it’s pretty experience. And I’ve found with most churches the highlight is usually the exterior anyways which can be seen from the street for free.
I love how white Westminster Abbey remains. Unlike other churches I have visited in Germany, the City of London makes sure the abbey stays clean and doesn’t go black!
Opening Hours- Constantly changing but usually 9.30am-3.30pm, check their website for accurate opening times for your visit.
Entrance fee- £20, £17 for students
Metro stop- Westminster
Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament are the old buildings that line the Thames, directly adjacent to the Big Ben and behind Westminster Abbey.
If Parliament isn’t in session you can go visit inside for a guided tour which I think would be amazing. Unfortunately this was one of those things that I wanted to do but didn’t have the chance. Hopefully on my next visit to London.
They are pretty formidable from the outside.
Opening Hours- Only on certain dates, check here.
Entrance Fee- £18.50 for audioguided version, £16 students
The London Eye
The London Eye is now just as part of the London skyline as Big Ben or Westminster Abbey. I rode the Eye back in 2009 when I visited London with my grandmother, so I decided not to go again on this trip to London. Particularly given my limited time.
But if you are not too afraid of heights I highly recommend it, it’s one of the best views of the London Skyline.
Opening Hours- 10am-8.30pm or 9.30pm depending on the season, ticket office opens at 9.30am
Entrance Fee- Standard tickets booked online in advance start at £21.30
Metro Stop- Westminster
I’ve written before about how obsessed with musical theatre I am, so a show on the west end was one of my bucket list items for London.
My mum bought me a ticket for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and it was incredible. The set design was insanely good and it’s one of the best musicals I’ve seen. I’m planning on a return trip to London just to watch as much musical theatre as I can!
Tickets can be quite pricey but there are ways to find cheap tickets as outlined here.
Harry Potter Studios
As you’ll know from my last post, my day at Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studios just outside of London was incredible!
Things On My List That I Didn’t Get Time to Do This Time
The Walkie Talkie
But if you don’t fancy paying for a great view of London, the walkie talkie is London’s best kept secret.
You need to book a spot but you can go up to their skydeck for completely free. Unfortunately it wasn’t something I could do while I was there as they were closed over Christmas/New Years Eve and didn’t reopen until the day I left. But I’m definitely adding it to my list.
Opening Hours- Everyday from 10am-6pm (Open until 9pm on weekends)
Cost- Book a free visit here https://skygardentickets.com/
Metro Stop- Monument
St Paul’s Cathedral
This is another one of London’s famous churches, and it has an equally pricey entrance fee to go with it.
I actually didn’t visit the Cathedral this time, as I was still feeling the church fatigue from Germany. But from what I can remember back in 2009, it’s a pretty stunning spot.
Opening Hours- Monday to Saturday from 8.30am-4.30pm
Entrance Fee (Online Rates)- £16, £14 for students
Metro Stop- St Paul’s
The British Museum and National Gallery
These museums are always free and come highly recommended by almost everyone I’ve met that has gone. I had a plan to visit these on New Years Eve, but then I was hungover. They’ll just have to wait for next time.
Opening Hours- The British Museum is open everyday from 10am-5.30pm (open until 8.30pm on Fridays), while the National Gallery is open everyday from 10am-6pm (and 9pm on Fridays).
Entrance Fee- Free!
Metro Stop- Charing Cross for the National Gallery and Holborn for the British Museum
Day Trips from London
There are many easy day trips from London. I had planned to do Stonehenge, Bath, Windsor Castle, Oxford and maybe even Cambridge. Clearly I was crazy when I first planned my time in London.
But if you find yourself with extended time in London, or are returning to London for the second time and looking for something different to do, hopping on a bus (usually cheaper than a train) to some of these places could be a great idea!
You’ll definitely leave London with a lighter wallet, and perhaps a bit of anxiety over how much you’ve blown the travel budget in just a couple of days. But it is still a city that I can’t help but love!