While ago I had my family and family friends coming over to visit me and my boyfriend in London. So not to be greedy I decided to share of what we did on these two and a half days, to give ideas to others of how to plan their city break in London.
For the background information, my family have visited me several times in London already before, and our friends had been here once as well. So there was no major need to go and see every single sight that is famous and recommended (we had done that already – Tower of London, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the change of guards, etc.) That said, my brother has made a picture with Big Ben in the background probably every single time that he has been in London – and most likely will continue doing it in the future as well…
For a long weekend, when coming from Estonia it is best to use an Estonian Air flight that arrives Thursday evening and returns on Sunday at 18.00. This makes probably the best use of time – just one day off but plenty of time to enjoy this exciting city. My recommendation is that you should not try to cram in as much as you can. Make a choice and leave plenty of time for just wondering around, sitting in the cafes, watching people and really getting a feel of the city.
Transport wise, I love walking and encourage to walk as much as you can. The distances are not that huge really and you see so much more and get a good hang of the city. For the daring ones bicycle is a great way to get around the city (Barclays Cycle Hire). This is what I prefer and use the most, probably. It might seem crazy at first glance, but it is much safer than it seems. The next choice would be a bus. And lastly I would not recommend using tube – but only when you need to travel longer distances. Taxi is always very convenient, but quite expensive as well.
As the plane arrives only in the evening, we have usually gone to the hotel, put down our stuff and headed off for a dinner.
There is this really exciting place in Soho (another branch is near St James Park), where we usually take people visiting the first time. It is called Inamo and they serve Oriental cuisine. The food is excellent and surely everybody can find something they like. The service has been very good most of the times. The concept they use however is why we take people in there. They use an interactive ordering system. Diners place orders from an illustrated food and drinks menu projected on to their table surface. One can set the mood, discover the local neighborhood, play games and even order a taxi home. It is lots of fun and just something different from your usual average dining experience. Make sure to book the table in advance though.
For the hotel, there is one main thing we always look at – the location. If the hotel is located centrally it saves so much time and hassle and makes everything a lot easier (transport). Near Oxford Street, Soho and Covent Garden is always good. We have usually booked the hotel through www.booking.com, where you can be sure to get a good deal (the earlier you book the better as always :). If you are booking well in advance it could be useful to check out www.onefinestay.com as well, specially if a bigger group of people is coming. They have some brilliant housing around London.
A nice English breakfast in the hotel or a quick Starbucks on the go. Whatever you prefer.
Last time we started the morning with a visit to National Gallery by the Trafalgar Sq., definitely one of the most famous of the London’s many museums. The great thing is that it is for free, like most museums in London, and even if you are not the biggest art fan, it’s always nice to see Trafalgar square with its famous lion sculptures and fountains – and take some mandatory photos while posing between them and Olympic clock. The gallery building itself is grand and it would be worth even taking just a quick glance at that.
Just next to the National Gallery is the National Portrait Gallery, which is not that well known, but really really interesting. In fact, I prefer it over its more famous peer. Then of course, you have Tate and Tate Modern, Design Museum, Natural History Museum, London Transport Museum etc. There choice is yours whichever you prefer, and if at all. Mornings are nice for sleepy walks in museums, as it is still a bit quieter.
So after a good cultural start, allow yourself a nice little relax again. A nice walk around the Piccadilly and Regent Street, and the afternoon spent shopping around Oxford street. I do find it a good place for shopping. First it is THE OXFORD STREET, that everybody has heard of and wants to see. It is packed with people but I guess that’s the part of it – you can find all the brands close by.
Topshop is just by the corner of Oxford circus with H&M across the road. Primark – the super cheap brand is in the end of the Oxford Street towards the Hyde Park. Selfridges – the posh opposite is just near Bond street station on Oxford street, half way to the Hyde Park.
After the exhausting shopping it is good idea to comfort oneself in traditional English way with a traditional English afternoon tea. It truly is brilliant. A place I can definitely recommend is Sanderson Hotel near Oxford street, where the afternoon tea is taking place in a lovely inner courtyard. Guest are invited to ‘tumble down the rabbit hole’ to enjoy a traditional British Afternoon tea in the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme with an ‘Eat me’ cake and ‘Drink me’ dessert and some more. It is quite filling and utterly nice together with a glass of bubbly.
We just sat and enjoyed the atmosphere and the food and drinks for quite some time before some of us wanted to head back to the hotel and rest for a bit, and others fancied some more shopping before going to see the musical in the evening.
We have this sweet tradition of going to see a musical every time my family come for a visit. Always an enjoyable experience. I have usually bought the tickets in advance (definitely do that), either from the theatre itself or from www.ticketmaster.co.uk. Our favorites thus far have been Mamma Mia, Lion King, Thriller and Phantom of the Opera. We were slightly disappointed only once – when seeing Chicago, otherwise we have always left with a good feeling and smile on our faces and seen brilliant acting, dancing and singing. Cannot recommend it highly enough.
A delicious fresh Saturday breakfast in the Borough market is the best start for the day. You can find all the delicacies there you would ever want. Fresh oysters and Prosecco for breakfast? Why not 🙂
From there on it is a nice walk by the river to the Tower Bridge, where it is possible to hop on a boat and have a nice stroll along the Thames back to the city centre. Hop off in Westminster and take pictures of the Big Ben and see the architectural masterpiece with your own eyes. Why not to take a ride on London Eye, if you have not done it before. The waiting line can be quite long, so be patient.
Covent Garden is a perfect place for lunch in London. You can walk around the little streets and enjoy street artists, listen to some fantastic singing from opera numbers to well-known guitar covers, while having a coffee or enjoying a glass of wine. There is also a branch of Jamie’s Italian near by (yes, the Jamie Oliver’s restaurant), which I can highly recommend. Also loads of sweet shops and cafes. So take your time and enjoy the busy ambience.
Another option would be to go to Notting Hill, to see the world-famous Portobello road market with your owneyes and have a nice stroll along the streets where Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant once captured the essence of this part of London in the famous namesake movie. You could easily spend hours there, wondering through different antique stalls, cafes and boutiques selling pretty much everything you can imagine. Saturday is the liveliest day for visiting, but it also means that it’s very crowded, be warned (They start packing togethertheir goods around 4-5pm).
When coming to London, it is always good to check whether there are any concerts taking place that would interest you – it is highly possible. However, if you cannot find what you’re looking for, there are plenty of places to go to enjoy live music in the evening, from jazz to rock and electro.
We have been to Pigalle club, which is a jazz club, where you can enjoy listening to great jazz music, dance or watch others dance and also have a dinner. In Soho there are plenty of live music places that host gigs on weekends and are always good fun. If you prefer clubbing, the choice is as big 🙂
On Sunday, especially in a sunny weather, it might be interesting to go to Knightsbridge. For contemporary art fans Saatchi gallery is a must, otherwise it is just a very beautiful area to have a walk, stop for a coffee and buy a little something you can afford from Harrods, enjoy the nice architecture, cars, shop windows and people 🙂 The morning will probably pass quicker than one would like and it is already time to catch the plane….
Pictures from: Picture pictures www.pictures.com