I get asked the question sometimes. By people I know or by readers of my blog. What to do and see when visiting London. Every time I run up a suggested itinerary. Wouldn’t it be easier to just write a blog post? Well, yes it would. So here it is. A three day whirlwind tour of London, focussed on the budget conscious. This can be a phenomenally expensive city. On the other hand, it can be done pretty cheaply.
But how to devise a three day guide? I’ve given this some thought I’ve come up with a map on Google with a load of great destinations, a suggested itinerary and I’ve included a few recommended eating spots and suggestions about what is worth paying for and what is perhaps best appreciated from the exterior. It’s a tough ask to come up with a three day guide. Because, quite frankly, even three weeks is insufficient to do much more than scratch the surface of this metropolis.
Google Maps are excellent. I started out using Bing Maps. But they have been left behind by Google’s latest mapping product. The map below really is a very integral part of this post. By clicking on the link (or on the image below) you’ll not only be able to see what is where, but by also clicking on the pins you can go on to the Google+ page and/or website of each destination.
Most people will find themselves with an evening to explore after they’ve arrived. So why not take a walk starting from Oxford Circus all the way to Big Ben to kick things off. Stop en route at trendy Carnaby Street, window shop down Regent Street, take photos of Eros an the illuminations at Piccadilly Circus before heading into Leicester Square. And then just keep walking. Trafalgar Square isn’t far now. Then a stroll down Whitehall and, if it’s open, pop into Banqueting House. It’s only a fiver, doesn’t take long and has some great bean bags to lie on whilst you stare at Reuben’s masterpiece on the ceiling. The audio guide is actually very interesting too. Then on we go again, and before you know it you’ll be standing under Big Ben. You know full well that’s what you came here to see. Timing is key. You want to hear the bells chime on the hour.
Plus, if it’s dark enough, then you’ll not only get great photos of the Palace of Westminster, but also of the river and the London Eye that sits on the other side of it. But don’t head off to the London Eye just yet. That’s for another time. Round the corner from your current location is Westminster Abbey, one of London’s most famous, and oldest, landmarks. Inside you’d find the last resting places of kings and queens going back centuries. But truth be told, it’s expensive to visit, the queues are often long and you’re constrained by both time and budget. So unless this is something you absolutely feel you must do, I suggest keeping your cash in your pocket and saving it for St Pauls.
Hungry? You need a Full English Breakfast. Garfunkels serves a pretty decent plateful at a reasonable price with unlimited coffee. There are branches all over the place, but the one in the Gloucester Arcade is my favourite. But let’s start the morning proper at Trafalgar Square. If you fancy taking in a West End show this evening, then look around for some cheap tickets – outlets are all over the place especially around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Then have a quick nose through the National Gallery. Some of the countries finest art collections are inside and it’s free to enter. Once your thirst for paint and canvas has been sated, stroll down the Mall through Admiralty Arch and on to see Buckingham Palace. During certain times of the year you can, for a hefty fee, go inside to marvel at how royalty live. Most people settle for the Changing of the Guard. Make sure you have the day and time right – it’s not performed every day, all year round. Let’s get on though. So much to see, so little time. You can cut through Green Park to return to Westminster. Because seeing Big Ben just the once, just isn’t enough.
Stroll across the river and have a ride on the London Eye. It’s not cheap but it’s worth it for the photographic opportunity. Now for a stroll along the river to explore the South Bank. If you’re really missing Mexico, then across Hungerford Bridge is a tasty and authentic taqueria called Lupitas. Alternatively, cross further down at Waterloo Bridge and see Somerset House. It’s a great piece of architecture and always has an interesting exhibition or three going on. Just a little further down the road is St Clement Danes church, which has the best set of bells in town. You might also recognise it as the starting point for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral procession.
Double back now, and head to Covent Garden. Have you got tickets booked for a performance at the Royal Opera House? They can be had pretty cheaply sometimes, it’s worth looking and booking in advance. Have a wander through Covent Garden, enjoy the market, watch the street performers and find a nice restaurant – there’s an abundance of options. Then either go into the Opera House or head off to Theatre Land and watch the show you bought tickets for earlier this morning.
Catch the Number 9 bus from Trafalgar Square. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s the most famous bus in the world. Ride for a little way until you get to Knightsbridge and jump off the back to go have a wander around Harrods. Don’t miss the food court. Back on the next number 9, which will give you a mini tour of London until you arrive at the Royal Albert Hall. Again, have you got tickets?? During the summer from July through to September, the BBC Proms are held here and tickets can be cheap. Just try and book in advance, although you can turn up on the day. Although you’ll be mightily lucky to get in to the Last Night of the Proms. There’s plenty to see nearby the Royal Albert Hall too.
The Albert Memorial is just over the road, and a short walk away are the fabulous Natural History and Victoria and Albert museums. Both of which are free and both of which are well worth a quick tour. South Kensington itself is a lovely part of London – my favourite. Definitely stop for a coffee. If you’re looking to scrimp and save where you can, and providing the weather is up for it, why not go into a Tesco supermarket and buy a picnic? Stroll back to the Albert Memorial, find a nice sunny or shaded spot in the park and eat and drink your fill before Prom time. Although there is a small, and I do mean small, little restaurant called the Oriental Canteen in South Kensington which serves up generous portions for very little dinero.
Catch the tube to St Pauls and prepare to lose the best part of one of those crisp £20 notes you got at a currency exchange. It’s well worth it. The Cathedral interior is glorious. Princess Diana got wed here. Winston Churchill’s funeral service was here. You can go up into the giant dome and practise your whispering skills. You’ll see lots of people trying, and failing to be heard by friends across the other side of the dome. Most people just start talking into the wall. The trick is to put your cheek against the side of the wall and then just whisper. Try a few rude words in your own language to see if there are any other people from your part of the world around.
You then plough on up to the top of the dome where there are two exterior viewing platforms. They are, I’m afraid, the worst views in London. Because they are the only views where you cannot see St Pauls Cathedral. Such is life. Once you’ve had all the fresh air London can give you, head back down. Down and further down. To the crypt. Where you will find the resting places of some of the most important people in our history, including the Duke of Wellington and the legendary Admiral Nelson.
Once you’ve had enough, head to the river, across the Wibbly Wobbly bridge, more properly known as the Millenium Footbridge, and into the Tate Modern. It’s another art gallery, but we’re not here for the art. We’re here for a cup of coffee, or maybe a glass of wine in the cafe. Take the escalator up. The views are wonderful. If you’re a fan of St Pauls, then they’re the best views in London. Next door, almost, to the Tate Modern is the Globe Theatre. If you have the legs for it, you can buy really cheap standing tickets. But you do need to have the legs for it – the shows can go on a bit. This call will come down to just how tight your budget is!
Let’s walk now along the river to London Bridge Station. Forget about the bridge though. It’s not the bridge you think it is. If you’re feeling rich then perhaps you’ve got tickets to go up the Shard, Europe’s tallest building. The views are spectacular. You can even see Wembley Stadium. If not then jump back on the tube. We’re heading to another of London’s oldest and most famous landmarks. The Tower of London. You’ve another call to make. Do you pay a King’s ransom to go inside the Tower of London? The worlds biggest diamonds are inside. Beefeaters too. And a thousand years of history.
Or do you part with a much more reasonable sum to see the Tower Bridge exhibition? This is the bridge you wanted to see. I’ve done both and preferred the Tower Bridge exhibition. But that’s just me. It’s quicker though, and as I mentioned, cheaper. Whichever you decide, have a wander around. There is a spot which I like to call the Plaza de las Cuatro Culturos. Mexican visitors will know what I’m on about. I see your three cultures and raise you one. You will be able to see four very distinct cultures in a single frame. The Romans with a bit of their wall. The Norman with their castle. The Victorians with their bridge. And modern Londoners, with their glass and steel buildings. It’s not, of course, officially known as the Plaza of Four Cultures. But I just thought I’d point it out.
The Liberty Bounds pub is just a little way along the road from the Tower of London and is a great place to have a reasonably priced dinner of fish and chips. With a traditional English beer, of course.
The Final Morning.
Do you have a few hours to kill before you fly out? Why not head to Portabello Market. You’ll recognise the scenes from the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts film, Notting Hill. You’ll find plenty of cheap eats and antique stalls, but this is something to do on a weekend, not a weekday. In which case, perhaps Camden Market will make do. Or a flying visit to the British Museum. Perhaps you always really, really wanted to cross a Zebra Crossing? There’s only one place to do that, outside the Abbey Road studios following in the footsteps of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Did you enjoy your whirlwind tour of the world’s greatest city? Of course you did. Yet there is still so much to see. The British Museum, Greenwich, numerous galleries and other museums, landmarks, stations, architecture. You simply can’t fit it all into just three days. Perhaps you need to extend your trip here. Speak to your bank manager about increasing that overdraft. Or better still, come back again. London’s been around for a long time, and will no doubt still be here when you have the time and money to get here.
Places To Stay
London is full of reasonably priced meal deals. Even getting around isn’t really expensive. A London Transport Travelcard gives you unlimited use of the Underground and bus service. A lot of museums and churches are free. Walking is always free. Accommodation, though, can be pricey and is not always top quality. You don’t have to pay a ridiculous fortune though. Tune Hotels are a bargain given their locations. They’re quite new too. I’ve stayed at the Paddington hotel which is the best located of the bunch. There’s also EasyHotels, with the Gloucester Road, Victoria and Earls Court hotels all being handily placed for a tourist. But….don’t expect luxury, or space. You get a bed, clean sheets, a shower and a toilet. That’s it.