London is a city that no matter how many times I’ve been, I always end up discovering something new with each visit. Similar to my home in NYC, London is filled with so many mini-neighborhoods that have distinct and vibrant personalities that are always evolving. A few weeks ago, I traveled to London with my boyfriend who had never been to the UK capital before. In planning our days there, I wanted to be sure to hit the top sights to check off his bucket list while still venturing through some local neighborhoods and restaurants. My research led me to this post: the top 10 things to do in London, especially for a first-timer!
London is well-known for its parks, and Hyde Park remains my favorite. The largest of the eight Royal Parks, Hyde Park covers 350 acres in central London. Hyde Park is my go-to for a run or bike ride to see more of the greenery and sights within. Some of my favorite stops include the Kensington Palace and the Italian Gardens situated right on Serpentine Lake.
I don’t drink coffee and opt for breakfast tea every morning, so any chance to celebrate one of my favorite drinks is a must! Afternoon tea usually runs between 3-6pm and is best when accompanied by a glass of champagne. The Ritz is the most famous and traditional experience but be sure to book in advance and bring fancy clothes (jackets are required for men). I recently went to Dean Street Townhouse in Soho and had a fantastic time.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Sitting at the highest point in the city on Ludgate Hill, St. Paul’s Cathedral is a big part of the London skyline. Regardless of your religious affiliation, St. Paul’s makes the list because of its place in the national identity and history of London. You can visit any day except Sunday for a fee of £18 or attend one of their prayer services for free. Nearby, pop in for a drink or tapas at Madison for some great views of St. Paul’s.
Big Ben & Palace of Westminster
Sir Charles Barry is responsible for the Gothic Revival style of the Palace of Westminster, housing the Parliament of the United Kingdom and you can book a guided tour online to wander the houses. Big Ben sits on the north end of the Palace and refers to the tower (officially called the Elizabeth Tower), the clock and the bell. UNESCO has named the Palace of Westminster as a World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, Big Ben is currently undergoing conservation efforts from now until 2021 so the view is a bit obstructed.
Nearby the Palace is Westminster Abbey, a Gothic style church that is host to the famous royal weddings. For £20, you can visit the coronation church of England and receive a free audio guide. This site is also the resting place for some of the most iconic English figures, including Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
London is a food market haven, and Borough Market is the oldest in the city sitting on the south side of the River Thames. Open every day, Borough Market is a great place for a fresh produce, a bite or a drink. Check out my full post on the best of Borough Market.
Buckingham Palace is home to Queen Elizabeth and has been the official residence of the monarchy since 1837. With 775 rooms, Buckingham Palace is an impressive building that will have you pining for noble status. The Palace is open to tours during the summer months and few in December and January. Or try to visit during the famous Changing of the Guard.
What can’t you find at Harrods?! The well-known luxury department store on Brompton Road has over 330 departments that cover one million square feet of retail space! Not only can you spend hours on hours crafting your latest wardrobe, but be sure to also check out the food hall or have afternoon tea at The Georgian.
River Thames & Tower Bridge
The River Thames (pronounced Temz) flows through London and is the longest river in England. While I have done the boat tours that mostly leave from Victoria Embankment, the best way is to go for a run or a leisurely walk along the riverbank to take in the architectural prowess of London. You will pass the many bridges and will view the picturesque Tower Bridge. You can walk across the bridge free of charge or pay less than £10 to enter the Exhibition.
Trafalgar Square & National Portrait Gallery
Trafalgar Square is a large public square in Central London with the 169-foot Nelson’s Column at the center. This tall column is a monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar and is surrounded by four bronzed lions that numerous tourists try to climb. Today, Trafalgar Square is home to many demonstrations and gatherings and is a popular site during the holidays for its Christmas tree. On the north end connected to the Square is the National Portrait Gallery. Housing a collection of portraits of famous British people, the NPG is open daily and free to enter.
Have you ever been to London? What was your favorite part? Did I miss anything?
I’d love to hear from you!
xx Jet Set Steph