Just like Tokyo, New York, Singapore, Dubai and Paris, London always seemed out of reach for me. It seemed to be fictional, existing only in books and movies. I’ve always had the impression that these places are where dreams are made of. That these places shine the brightest from space. Imagine, being given the chance to visit it twice.
My first love story in London lasted for less than 24 hours only. It was back in 2013 when it welcomed me in the most British way possible, raining and gloomy. We traversed through the city, wet and shivering. Because of that, I took it upon myself, that next time I visit London, it should be days and with the sun shining! Luckily for me, I was given the chance to visit the city again this year and with more time! I reserved 6 days for London alone.
As much as I want to talk about each tourist spot I visited, I feel like I’ve already covered that here. So instead, I want to share with you an itinerary of what I feel like first time visitors must see and experience!
I learned, and you’ll observe, that most of London’s famous scenes are nearby River Thames. We’ll start at…
Tower of London and Tower Bridge
Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London
Walk around the Tower towards the Tower Pier (see map below) and have a good view of the Tower Bridge. Back in 2013, we took a cruise from the Tower Pier to the London Eye which basically covers most of what I’m talking about in this post, but I prefer walking and stopping in each site!
Heavens forbid that you call this one as the London Bridge. No, that’s actually the next bridge after this. This one is the great Tower Bridge.
You may then walk a minute or two towards the Tower Bridge and experience walking on it.
The Shard and London Bridge
The Shard and a plane
The Shard’s shadow and the Tower Bridge
The Shard aptly named as it looks like a shard of glass in the middle of London, standing as the tallest building in the United Kingdom.
The views from London Bridge.
They apparently have no idea why and how the London Bridge nursery rhyme came about.
Sky Garden and Monument of the Great Fire of London
You will need to queue for this one, so book your reservations in advance (though, it’s free) and give it an hour! Sky Garden is in between Tower Bridge and London Eye, so you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of the River Thames and the sites you’re going to visit.
Walking from London Bridge to Sky Garden, you’ll pass by The Monument. It also has a viewing platform at the top, if you want another panoramic view of London. However, I believe, you’ll have to go through hundreds of steps via stairs.
Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral
If you are a Harry Potter fan, like me, you’ll enjoy this one. The Millennium Bridge was destroyed by the Death Eaters in Deathly Hallows Part 1. Of course, it wasn’t really. I mean, I’m still standing on it. So, suck it death eaters! It is a pedestrians-only bridge and nicknamed the “Wobbly Bridge” which I think is suitable. Behind me is St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana were married. It is also one of the most iconic views of London, this bridge and cathedral combo.
London Eye, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey
London Eye also needs queueing and tickets, do book that in advance to avoid delays.
From London Eye, walk on the Westminster Bridge to have this view of the Big Ben. Behind it is the Westminster Abbey. Where Prince William and Kate Middleton got married, as well as, where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation took place.
Trafalgar Square, The Mall, and Buckingham Palace
There’s an easier way to get from the Abbey to Buckingham Palace, but I suggest that you start from Trafalgar Square and walk The Mall to the Palace. To see more of Trafalgar and The Mall, do read my 2013 trip after this. But do take note of the lions, the fountain and the column you’ll see in the square (no witch and wardrobe). On the other hand, The Mall has always been that long strip of road where the carriages for the royal family travel before going to the Buckingham Palace during major events.
Victoria Memorial, the same Queen Victoria commemorated in Kensington Palace, if you remember from my previous post here. It is located in the middle of the roundabout in front of the reigning monarch’s residence.
The gates of Buckingham Palace is similar to that of Kensington Palace. This one above, however, is the Canada Gate and behind it is Green Park.
It is only right to end the day with good food. After all the walks and underground rush, send yourself to Covent Garden where a lot of restaurants, cafés, pubs and even high street stores can be found. I personally recommend Busaba Eathai. The best pad thai with the best squid calamari I’ve ever had in my life. It rocked my world so much that I insisted to the boyfriend that we return within the trip.
Leicester Square, Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus or SoHo
If you still have ample time and would like to continue and experience London’s night life. A walk around either of these 4 is great. Grab a milk tea or have chinese food in Chinatown, walk in the biggest M&M store in Leicester Square and get excited over the theaters around it playing the classics of West End, stand in the middle of Piccadilly Circus and experience London’s version of New York’s Time Square or discover a great pub and or hole-in-the-wall in SoHo.
During the day, you’ll see Londoners rushing about in their crisp suits but by this time, when you walk through either of the 4 I mentioned above, you’ll see the massive change of vibe around the city. Their suits wrinkled and chats loud, you’ll experience a more raw and happier side of London.
For your convenience, here’s the list. I’ve grouped together those that are walking distance of each other. Moreover, my boyfriend prepared some notes on how to get from one chapter to another. Thanks, P!
- Tower Bridge, Tower of London
- Get on the circle line train (westbound) from TOWER HILL station and alight at MOORGATE station, from here get on the northern line train (southbound) and alight at LONDON BRIDGE station. Travel duration is 19 mins.
- The Shard, London Bridge, Monument of the Great Fire of London, Sky Garden
- Get on the circle line train (westbound) from MONUMENT station and alight at BLACKFRIARS station. Travel duration is 4 mins.
- Millenium Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral
- Get on the central line train (eastbound) from ST. PAUL’s station and alight at BANK station, from here get on the Waterloo & City line train (westbound) and alight at WATERLOO station. Travel duration is 12 mins.
- London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey
- Get on the |District Line| train (eastbound) from WESTMINSTER station and alight at EMBANKMENT station. Change to the |Northern Line| train (southbound) at this station and alight at CHARING CROSS station. Travel duration is 9 mins with 1 change.
- Trafalgar Square, The Mall, Buckingham Palace
- Get on |Piccadilly Line| train (eastbound) from GREEN PARK station at this station and alight at COVENT GARDEN station. Travel duration is 4 mins.
- Covent Garden
- Covent Garden to Leicester Square is 7 mins walk which would be advisable in order to digest the Pad Thai. However, if you are still inclined to ride the tube then hop on the |Piccadilly Line| train (westbound) from COVENT GARDEN station and alight at LEICESTER SQUARE station. Travel duration is 1 min.
- Leicester Square
- From Leicester square you can walk towards Chinatown, SoHo and Piccadilly Circus as their respective nearest stations are both Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
- Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus, SoHo
You can download the App, “Tube Map London Underground” by Mapway which is available for free. You may also use this custom map I created as reference. If the map below doesn’t display properly, click here instead.
So that’s 19 spots in 12 hours! There’s going to be a lot of walking, and picture-taking and squeezing yourself inside the tube. And there will come a point where you’ll get real tired but endure it and prepare yourself properly beforehand because a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this, is something you’d look back on in the future. The diversity, culture and adrenaline rush you experience is worth every minute that you spend there, even for just 12 hours!