Author: Ben Szweda
Date of Trip: June 2014
I lived in London for a short time while I went to university, so any opportunity to return is a joyous one. I recently had such an opportunity as I returned to America from a trip to the UAE. Shared with you below is a compilation of my favourite things in London from both my most recent visit and my time as a resident four long years ago.
First, you must get to the city. While some will tell you London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) is plagued with congestion and delays, I have never had a problem and never missed a connection in or out of the city. I much prefer LHR to London’s three other main airports because of how fast you can get to the city from it.
The Heathrow Express will whisk you from LHR to Paddington Station in the heart of London in just 15 minutes. Excitement of being in London aside, after a long-haul flight, getting into the city and into your hotel will likely be a priority. With return journeys starting at just £34 you cannot beat the convenience of this service.
If you must save money, save £14 by taking the Heathrow Connect, which follows along the same tracks but makes five stops along the way. This will at worst have you into Paddington within an hour of your arrival as trains arrive each 30 minutes and the journey takes 25. If cost is of utmost concern you can take the London Underground (the Tube). At just £5 for the trip it is the most economical route, but takes the whole of an hour and may not be a stair free route depending on your destination.
If you plan to use that option, or ride the Tube at all during your stay, search online for a “Visitor Oyster Card” and order it at least 16 days ahead of your arrival date.
The location the Heathrow Express and Connection terminate is called Paddington Station. Searching for a hotel in this location is a fine idea. You will be within walking distance of two Tube stations, Hyde Park, many great restaurants and the high-end shopping of Oxford and Bond Streets. The hotel I stayed at on my most recent visit was the Hilton London Metropole. Its west tower superior rooms are spacious for London and the property is located within walking distance of Paddington and Edgware Road Rail/Tube Stations.
A good activity to partake of first is one that gives you a lay of the land. To get this in London, head for The View from the Shard, located just outside of the London Bridge Tube station. The views from this observatory deck are better than that from the London Eye. On the viewing platforms there are free to use digital telescopes that you can point at the ground below for identification and description of London’s landmarks.
To get a taste of London’s market scene, especially if visiting at the weekend, take a short walk east to Borough Market. This is a great spot for lunch. Just further east is Tate Modern, one of London’s many free museums. Since museums are free, there is no excuse to not at least pop in and scout out what you fancy most in each.
When coming out of the museum, walk north to Millennium Bridge. Keep going once across the Thames and you will be facing St Paul’s Cathedral. After touring St Paul’s, hop on the Tube and head over to Charing Cross Tube Station, the stop for Trafalgar Square. This is also the site of another wonderful free museum – The National Gallery.
This is great spot to end your first day in London. You are steps away from Covent Garden, a place for shopping and eating and theatre. If you’ve not booked a show and you prefer one more museum instead of shops, Covent Garden is still a great district to walk through and experience. If you’re just going to pass through, consider stopping in at the free British Museum. If it’s Friday, you will still be able to gain access to the museum as they currently stay open till 20.30.
On day two of your holiday, it’s time to check out another part of town. Sandemans is a brand name I’d rely on all over Europe. London is no different; their free walking tour is a great addition to any itinerary. It currently begins in an area you should be familiar with – Covent Garden. From there however you will begin to see things you haven’t yet explored. Important things like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and 10 Downing Street. The tour is scheduled to last 2.5 hours and takes off three times daily.
If you’ve caught the morning session you’ll have lots of time left to explore on your own. The tour ends at the Houses of Parliament, right near the Westminster Tube Station.
One area of London that you’ve not yet seen is Camden Town. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before so it’s something that shouldn’t be missed. It will make for a great afternoon of shopping, collecting souvenirs, and eating. It’s in the north and has a Tube Station all to itself on the Northern Line. If you go towards evening, a unique music scene begins to reveal itself that can keep you entertained well into the late evening.
If you have an extended trip in London some of my favourite longer Tube trips include visits to Kew Gardens and Wimbledon. Even if there is no tennis on at the moment, there is an excellent guided tour and museum worth a visit.