Our 3-Day London Highlights Tour
Many of our houseguests pass through London on their European excursions. Often it is for as little as 3 days. They say, “We have 3 days in London; is that enough time?” At which point we laugh and say that we have been here over 10 years and have not seen it all yet. So rest assured that no matter how long you stay there will still be things left to see the next time and the time after that.
If our guests have no expressed special interests, here’s what we do. Go to Trafalgar Square (or any of the many stops) and hop on the Big Bus London Hop-On Hop-Off Tour. This bus is a double decker narrated tour bus hitting all of the major sites. It gives you the flexibility to get on and off at the sites you want to see in more detail and it runs into the evening (check with bus on times as they vary with the seasons). We make sure we do the whole route but also use this mode of travel to stop at many of the famous London sites. Admission to many locations is included with The London Pass.
Day 1 is your chance to take a trip through almost a thousand years of history at the Tower of London, and you do it with a Beefeater as your guide. The tours go very regularly so be sure to wait for one of these before you explore on your own. It is not only informative but dramatically entertaining. You will also see the crown jewels, tour the white tower with a variety of exhibits, see the Chapel of St. John, and view the cells where many famous prisoners were held prior to their execution. After the tower, cross the street going east, you will come upon a charming area called St. Catherine’s dock. The Dickens Inn there is a great stopping point for lunch. If you haven’t finished in the Tower you can get your hand stamped and go back in after lunch. If the weather is good we may hop on a boat from the docks (included in the BIG BUS tour price) and take it back to Westminster where we resume our bus tour. Seeing London from the River Thames is an interesting perspective. If the weather’s bad, stick with the bus. Depending on when you get started, you may be able to include a quick trip into St. Paul’s (London Pass includes this site, as well) this day as well. Depending on your zest to see things, some of the museums are open one evening a week, check for times or ask your concierge. (For evening restaurants check back later – we’re working on a new restaurant suggestion section.)
Day 2 starts at Westminster Abbey. If you have only time for one church, this is the one to see. This church witnessed numerous coronations and many other important events such as royal weddings and most recently, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. It has an exceptionally diverse array of architectural styles and is the final resting place of countless monarchs and famous public figures ranging from politicians to poets. There is an audio tour of this national treasure, which will give you the most comprehensive tour. If you are ready for a low cost, quick lunch, stop at one of our favorites, Pret a Manger. They pride themselves on the freshest ingredients in their sandwiches and their cappuccino is better than Starbucks! If it’s August or September, we now head to Buckingham Palace for a spectacular tour of one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe, full of the finest art, architecture and antiques in the world. Be sure to book ahead at Buckingham Palace for it’s only open for 6 weeks a year!
From here we head to Covent Garden where that famous flower girl from ‘My Fair Lady” Eliza Doolittle sold her flowers. Also in this area are the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Courtauld Gallery/Somerset House are all worthy of a stop if art is of interest to you. (And, these latter two are also included with London Pass!). See our museum section for more details. Covent Garden is chock full of shops and restaurants as well as a famous piazza and central market open during the day and surrounded by many entertaining street performers. You are now in the heart of the theatre district and the royal opera house. Every trip to London should include a trip to one of those venues. In order not to miss your selected play, you should consider reserving in advance at Tickets or LoveTheatre.
Day 3 starts at the finest archaeological museum in the world, the British Museum. You can easily spend a day here (and it’s free!), so if time is limited do take a look at the free museum layout available at information and be sure to go to your places of interest first. But make sure you stop in the Reading Room, recently restored to its original splendor, it is an architect’s dream. The British Museum has everything from the ancient world right through the North American Indian and a fine collection of oriental art as well. We usually start at the library, then proceed to Greece to see the Elgin Marbles, going on to Egypt to see the mummies and the Rosetta Stone. Along the way, you will see many of the artifacts and even pieces of buildings and temples from the ancient world. Lunch above the library is a good bet.
The next stop is Harrods for the ultimate London shopping experience. Even our son, who hates to shop, loves it there. Harrods has something for everyone; it’s a fun place to shop. The food halls alone are worth the trip. You will see food of every type with mini restaurants and eating bars set up to sample your favorites for lunch. We particularly like the tapas bar set up on the lowest level down the escalator from the pizza bar. Be sure to also take in the Egyptian Room. Their floor dedicated to every kind of sporting clothing is great for your sports enthusiasts and there’s a super toy floor as well. If you’ve never done it before, go to the Georgian Room and have high tea. We’ve found that one order often satisfies the two of us, unless we haven’t eaten during the day. On your way back down be sure to take the Egyptian Escalator and stop on the antiques floor if you like antiques – these are some of the best quality you will ever see! Harrods is open untill 7 pm most nights, but they are only open on Sunday for a few weeks in July and before Christmas, so check times. When you leave Harrods, you are in walking distance of Hyde Park. This is a lovely spot and if the weather is good and the gardens are blooming you couldn’t have a more tranquil respite from the buzzing city around you.
If the thought of a department store really turns you off, here’s another fun alternative, incorporating boating, sightseeing, shopping and great seafood. If it’s the weekend in the summer, head to London’s Little Venice and lunch at Summerhouse, located on Blomfield Rd. Call ahead for a lunch reservation+44 20 7286 6752 or open table. (it’s also a great place for dinner); the seafood is outstanding, and the atmosphere is fun. You will be at the wharf where the long boat canal trips run up the Regent Canal. It’s a scenic and relaxing trip past the London Zoo and many beautiful residential homes in the area. Take the boat after lunch to Camden Lock, an eclectic multi-story market. And if you bought a London Pass, the ride is included!
If you like classical music many of the churches like St. Paul’s and St. Martin of the Fields on Trafalgar Square to name a few offer recitals in the Churches at night, sometimes for free or for a small charge. They are truly excellent and the atmosphere is beyond compare.