There are so many things to see and do in London that doing research on them tends to turn rather quickly into travel planning quicksand. The secret, they say, is to not even try to do everything in one visit. This list is less about ticking off the “must-sees” and more about immersion — trying to live like a frugal local, experiencing time-honored traditions, and indulging in personal whimsies (like seeing MI6 and Scotland Yard headquarters, just because!).
Hampstead Heath‘s magnificent views of the London cityscape, coupled with extensive grassland and ancient woodland, has everyone singing its praises.
Hyde Park, considered one of the greatest city parks in the world, is centrally located and boasts magnificent trees, a royal palace, and a chance to go boating. Also, the beautiful Kensington Palace and Kensington Gardens are right next door.
Richmond Park is “home to 650 deer” and has a “pastoral landscape of hills and woodlands set amongst ancient trees, with plants, animals and butterflies.” (Visit London)
Bushy Park is a “parkland with grassland, ancient trees, woodlands, ponds and streams” that is “home to around 320 free-roaming deer.” (Visit London)
Markets / Shopping
Borough Market, a gourmet food market with numerous stalls selling meat, cheese, bread, coffee, cakes and other prime eats, has become a little too crowded and touristy in recent years but is still probably worth a visit nonetheless.
Maltby Street Market is a less-known, cozier version of Borough Market and is beloved by locals.
Portobello Road Market — antiques, secondhand clothes, and whatnot.
Camden Markets — bric-à-brac, food, clothes, and, yes, whatnot.
Primark, a well-known budget department store, had seriously good wares in Zaandam — to be honest, it was one of the highlights of my Amsterdam trip — and I really want to visit the London branch, as this may be the only store in London where I can afford to buy something. (Or maybe not even?)
Fiction in Real Life
221B Baker Street — home of the greatest detective that ever lived.
King’s Cross Platform 9 ¾ — the closest us Muggles can get to Hogwarts.
Cambridge Circus — the intersection that lent its name to John Le Carré’s fictional nickname for MI6.
MI6 — actually, the Secret Intelligence Service — headquarters is at Vauxhall Cross, a mile or so from Big Ben down the Thames, and is known as “Legoland” or “Babylon-on-Thames” for not-so-secret reasons.
Scotland Yard — that is, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service — is now known as New Scotland Yard, after the Met moved from its headquarters’ previous location, which was known as Great Scotland Yard. In 2015, the headquarters will move to another location on the Victoria Embankment, where it will then be known as just Scotland Yard, and the current New Scotland Yard will, I guess, be known as the old Scotland Yard. #It’sComplicated. Trivia: New Scotland Yard houses the Met’s crime database that “uses a national computer system developed for major crime enquiries by all British forces, called Home Office Large Major Enquiry System, more commonly referred to by its acronym HOLMES.”
The site of royal coronations, funerals, and weddings, including that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Admission £18. Free to attend services.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
The old cathedral was burned down during the Great Fire of London and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. Filming and photography is not allowed inside the cathedral. Admission £16.50.
These attractions are so iconic, they don’t really need further description.
Admission (standard ticket) £20.95 (£17.96 if booked online)
Tower of London
Admission £20 (with voluntary donation: £22 / £20.90 if booked online)
At the risk of sounding like a hick, I’ll go ahead and admit it: I’m not a museum person. I’ve been to a number of them and genuinely enjoyed the experience but I usually don’t have the attention span required to fully appreciate everything inside. That said, museums are weatherproof and many London museums are free! Here’s a quick list:
- National Gallery — Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks, Claude Monet’s The Water Lily Pond, Johannes Vermeer’s Lady Seated at a Virginal, Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers and A Wheatfield with Cypresses
- British Museum — Round Reading Room, Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles
- Tate Modern — Monet, Picasso, Dali, Warhol
- Victoria & Albert — “The greatest museum of applied arts in the world”
Other items in my personal London bucket list
- See the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (or Windsor Castle).
- Join a free tour by the Yeoman Warders (known as Beefeaters) and attend the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London.
- Walk along Regent’s Canal.
- Have high tea at the Ritz and/or buy food/stuff from Fortnum and Mason. (But, um, I have to check if I can afford it. Which means I probably can’t?)
- Listen to a free lunchtime concert in St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square.
Day trips to consider
- Windsor & Eton
- Dover Castle
I’m pretty sure this list hasn’t covered even half of the sights worth seeing and things worth doing in London. For a traveler with limited time and an even more limited budget, though, this will probably have to do. (In fact, for the same reasons, I don’t intend to go up the London Eye or go inside St. Paul’s or the Tower Bridge. I’m just going to take a look at them and — alright, I admit it — take the requisite selfie.) Do you have a personal favorite that hasn’t been included here? Let me know what and why in the comments section.
Next up: let’s try looking for accommodations. Couchsurf at Buckingham Palace — ah, there’s one for the bucket list.
“The London List” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.
Thank you! And thanks for dropping by. 🙂
This looks like a great list! The UK is next on my list!
Yay! Here’s hoping we get to travel there soon!
So many things to do! A day trip to Brighton is only 10 pounds on the train, and vintage clothes heaven exists at Spitalfields Market and the shops around Brick Lane like Blitz (even if it is a bit pricey). Also, even for non-museum people, the Victoria and Albert was one of my favourites 🙂
Thank you for the recommendations! I initially wrote off Brighton because I’m surrounded by the sea where I live but now that I think about it, it’ll probably have a different atmosphere and worth visiting. I’ll have to add Spitalfields Market to my list too. Thanks again. 🙂
There are so many things I didn’t do when I visited London … Definitely makes me want to go back!
I hope you get to go back. I think London is one of those cities that one never gets enough of, like Paris. There’s always something new to do or somewhere new to explore.
I wish I had this list before I went to London. This is fantastic 🙂
Oh, yay! Thanks! I hope this is useful for others going there too. What was your favorite when you were there?
Great blog post!
Thank you! I have just been over to your blog. I loved The Little Drummer Girl and A Delicate Truth too. TTSS is a favorite, of course, and I find I get more from it with each re-reading. And I also love The Secret Pilgrim. 🙂
Thanks for dropping by my reading blog. I haven’t updated it for quite a while. I’ve got seven or eight novels that I want to write about but I just haven’t got around to do it yet. LeCarre is definitely one of my favourite authors.
I have been to London several times already, but you make me look at it with new curiosity and delight !!! Thanks for that 🙂
Oh, yay! It seems like a place with something for everyone and always something new to discover. 🙂 Happy travels! 🙂
Thanks for this list! I head to Europe in 6 days and have two days in London. I know I can’t fit in half of what I want to do but I’m determined to try!
Oh, gosh, that’s so exciting! Enjoy your trip to Europe! 🙂
Thank you! I’ll definitely blog about it, I hope I’ll have interesting things to report! =)
I like all the emphasis on the parks. London is a bit grimy and crowded so it’s nice to direct travelers to the greener bits. Lovely trivia and commentary.
Thank you! It sounds weird but I think the parks are probably what I’m looking forward to the most. 🙂
Actually that’s what I would search out. I grew so tired of cathedrals and museums while in Germany and joyfully embraced our time in the country. There is only so much architecture a person can absorb.
Right?! Paris was near the end of our last European trip and when we got there, we were like, “I don’t really feel like seeing another church or museum.” If it hadn’t rained we might never have stopped by Notre Dame at all.
Baker Street and Borough Market. Awesome! I think you should include West End. I know watching play is a bit expensive, but for me is an experience.
Oh, I would love to see a play if I get the chance. Thank you!
You’re welcome. 😀
I wanted to do an afternoon tea while I was there but no one wanted to go with me. I believe it costs about $50 a few years back.
Yikes. Still…if I was ever going to spend that much on tea, it might as well be in London, right? 🙂
Yes exactly. How long are you there for? Do you live in the Philippines? You have an interesting life traveling around. Buti ka pa 😉
Actually, I’m just kind of wish-planning right now hehe. I’ll work on a budget next and see if I can afford the trip. My travel fund got burned through on the last trip, so I’m still here in the Philippines, reminiscing-writing and wishing-planning my travels instead of actually doing it. Uy ikaw ang may interesting life ha! 🙂 You’re always somewhere and you go to such interesting places! 🙂
Saan ka sa Pinas. I know you’ve written about some places there. I need to know the Philippines better so in two years I plan to explore it. Naku I’d love to travel more internationally but for now we are exploring the USA and glad that we are. I love what you write about! I enjoy reading them. Ingat!
Ah wait sorry Cebu pala. I forgot so I had to reread your about lol! One day we will meet there. I have never been to Cebu!
Sige, let me know if you’re coming to Cebu. 🙂
I would definitely recommend Brighton as well, it’s not your typical seaside town and a must see if you’re in the UK, if you decide to go to Dover you should stop at Canterbury on the way, the cathedral there is spectacular and the town pretty special too 🙂
Ooooh yes, I totally remember that Canterbury photo of yours that I loved! Okay, I’ll add both to the list. There’s this book I found that outlined a 2-day walk from Charing to Canterbury — do you think that’s a good idea?
I haven’t heard about that walk before but anything that takes you through the kent countryside will be pretty spectacular and so very English haha
“So very English” somehow makes me think of rain. 😀
Hahaha you’re probably right! All part of the quintessential experience 😉
Oh my goodness, I cannot get enough of your blog 🙂 The pictures are amazing and it sounds like you are quite adventurous! Love all the tips too! I am still looking forward to the day when I end up in Europe but you just gave me plenty to add to the bucket list!
Aww, thank you! I am keeping my fingers crossed that you’ll find yourself in Europe someday with someone you love and have a grand time. 🙂
This is great! I adore Camden and the addition of the stuffed Hedwig at Platform 9 3/4. Love London 🙂
Yay! I look forward to seeing Camden for myself as I’ve had many people telling me they love it. 🙂
Cool list, Gay! Will use this as reference when I get to go to London hehe =)
Puhon Dais! 😉
Reblogged this on James' World 2.
I moved to London in June, this is such a great list! Going to make sure I tick them all off 🙂
Yay! I can live vicariously through you. 🙂 But I’m hoping I get to go to London eventually. 🙂 And yay we have the same WordPress theme. 🙂