Our first full day in London had us crossing off the most obvious tourist-y things on our list. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, the Christmas Market on the Waterloo Pier, Trafalgar Square, and the National Gallery.
My criteria when planning was to squeeze in a local event (Christmas markets happening all over town made that simple), add in one museum or art gallery a day paired with site-seeing. The goal with that combo was to see much and experience and be present even more.
These attractions were within walking distance of each other, granted we walked all day, and we ended up bumping into other sites along the way, crossing them off as we went.
Buckingham Palace was nice, but there was no change of the guards to watch that day, so we soon moved on to the gift shop. I mention the gift shop because we stayed there for almost an hour. There were so many little things to look at and books to pour over. The gift shop is actually at the entrance of the Queen’s Gallery. You need to pay to get in. I’m sure it’s worth it, but we didn’t have time to visit all the free galleries and museums as it was. So we kept going.
We walked to Westminster Abbey, which I erroneously thought was the venue for the royal weddings and was so confused when it didn’t look like the photos. So, yes, obviously I’m an expert on the royal family.
Anyways, the Abbey was lovely, but we enjoyed sitting in St. Margaret’s right next to the Abbey and listening to the prayers over the speakers. It was a quiet few minutes of reflection that I hadn’t planned into our day, but I was so glad we had time to allow for it.
We walked on, the sound of bagpipes from the street musician at the Abbey lingering in our ears. There are so many sites near the church. We walked past the Parliament Building, saw the CBC reporter and others from around the world covering the Brexit developments, as well as walked by the protestors from both sides. Funny how we were surrounded by history past and walking right by history present and future. Look into visiting the Parliament building! It’s open on holidays and Saturdays, I believe.
Walking across the London Bridge, we went right past Big Ben (still undergoing renovations), over the bridge where the bagpipes from the Abbey still reaching us was tuned out by the bagpipe player on the bridge. The London Eye in the background, a bagpiper, black cabs and red double-decker buses passing by, why yes, we’re in London Town!
We decided to forgo the lines to get on the London Eye and instead spent an hour exploring the Southbank Centre Winter Market right under it. We bought some lunch, caught some live music, explored the pier, and crossed the Hungerford Bridge to get to Trafalgar Square.
Trafalgar Square is right in front of the National Gallery. There are street artists, musicians, always lots to see. But let me tell you about the National Gallery. You enter for free or by donation unless you want to see the featured exhibition, but you really don’t need to.
I could’ve spent all, and I truly mean all, day in the gallery. You can, and should, get lost there. There’s something for every taste. I personally spent too much time looking at Proto-Renaissance art only to find there’s room after room after room of paintings from the 16th–> centuries. I do not pretend to be any more knowledgeable than the average person concerning art, obviously, but as I remember the rooms there’s this painful urge to go back. The hours in those spaces fed me. I learned so much. I know you will too.
There are so many fantastic resources on the National Gallery website, including a word glossary and more for those who visit, as well as just lots of cool stuff to look at from home too. I also think this is a place where it’s worth buying the audio tour.
But first things first. THERE’S A FREE PUBLIC BATHROOM AND YOU SHOULD USE IT. Go as soon as you get in, and find it before you leave (if you’re staying until closing, set a reminder to go find the bathroom half an hour before closing. It’s that important.) This brings us to:
Things to note:
I think Iceland is probably one of the few countries that are even less crowded than Canada. Everywhere else in the world has such a larger population, which translates to extremely busy streets, heavier traffic, smaller and more crowded housing, and just more in less space. This isn’t inherently bad, it’s just good to be aware of. There’s less personal space. Don’t be shocked at brushing up against people on the street or public transportation.
Do be aware of your surrounds and your belongings. Keep your backpack/purse close. I loved and recommend carrying a backpack purse (?). I could feel it on me and carry it hands-free. If you ever feel like you want to be particularly careful, just swing it to the front and voila. In both Paris and London, we had people on the street tell us to watch out for pick-pocketers/backpackers. Carry only what you need, add a dash of common sense, and let’s go. Don’t get paranoid. Do get smart.
Speaking of carrying only what you need, let’s talk about the importance of loose change. Here’s the tie in to the National Gallery bathroom. Public bathrooms are hard to come by. When you do see one, you have to pay. Carry coins for bathroom emergencies. Any and all times you stop to purchase something, use the washroom! Grabbed a drink? Use the washroom. Bought some lunch? Use the washroom! In the National Gallery? Use. the. washroom. You get the idea.
After the gallery we went back to the hotel. After packing so much into a day, we were beat by the time we got back to Clapham.
One of the most valuable resources I used to plan our trip was FreeToursByFoot. I mentioned them when I posted about our trip to Chicago last summer, and they were just spectacular for planning for London and Paris. They’re the reason our days were so packed. So much to see. Check them out, I’ll be here in two hours when you finish making an itinerary 80 pages long.
Some other websites I used to find local happenings, etc. were:
- Skygarden.london (we ended up running out of time, but look into it!)
- HappyCow.net (for vegetarian/vegan restaurants)
- Royal Collge of Music (check for concerts during your stay)
- And check out the #london on Instagram!
Friends, thank you for letting me share a little more about our first full day in London. I hope you have a wonderful time on your trip whenever it may be and that these tips help you enjoy it even more.