London is a huge city with a population of close to 9 million. It is among the oldest of the great world’s cities. I never lived in London even though I have a family there, but I wish I could.
London is such a special city that I grow to love with each visit. This city has so much to offer – from world-class museums to old-style markets, from beautiful royal parks to local cuisine pubs.
London was always an expensive city, but in the last ten years prices went up a lot. Despite the rising prices, one of the easiest ways to explore London is to wander around and see the sights, if the weather permits, or explore via the famous double decker buses.
This is how I spent my perfect week visiting London in September.
City sightseeing bus tour and river cruise
I visited London several times, but never took a walking tour or sightseeing hop-on hop-off tour bus.
This time we booked online the City Sightseeing Tour Bus that covers many of London’s highlights. It was a great way to start our week in London.
This city is huge and the list of places to visit is long. That is why I really loved to see London’s most iconic sights on a hop-on-hop-off city tour aboard a double-decker red bus. It was so easy to get on and off the bus at any stop. And I really enjoyed the flexibility of exploring the sights at our own pace.
In addition to that, we bought the 48-hour tickets so we could enjoy a free cruise along the river Thames at night. The river cruise along the Thames is the cheapest way to see London from the water.
I would recommend taking a sightseeing bus or walking tour to get a good overview of London before heading off to explore on your own.
The West End live shows
London is world-famous for its theaters, concerts, and live shows.
The West End live shows are world-known along with New York City’s Broadway shows. Over 30 theaters around West End offer a wide variety of musicals and plays. But the tickets can be expensive.
One way to see a West End show on a budget is to buy tickets at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for half-price on the day of the performance or buy them online at a discount price. We bought our tickets for Mamma Mia show at the Novello Theater. It was the best show I have seen in years.
Interesting fact – the London production of Mamma Mia show has seen over 9 million people and played over 8,500 performances.
Buckingham Palace Tour
Buckingham Palace is a world-famous palace in the UK because it served as the primary London residence for the Queen of England (before she passed away).
The royal palace was originally built as a townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 but later was acquired by King George III. Then Queen Victoria had chosen the palace as her official residence.
Most tourists just come to get a look at the palace and then go to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. This ceremony takes place on most days (with no rain) at around 11 in the morning and lasts about 45 minutes. I watched it on my previous visits, so we decided to skip it and instead bought the tickets for the Buckingham Palace Tour.
We were lucky to visit London in September because we had a rare chance to get inside the Buckingham Palace which only opens its doors to visitors for two months a year.
I recommend taking this tour if you want to glimpse into the lives of the royal family. I had an unforgettable experience seeing the place where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II extends the royal welcome to her visitors and learning about the palace residents, history, and traditions.
During the tour, we visited the magnificent state rooms of the royal palace – the grand hall, the grand staircase, the throne room, the picture gallery, the ballroom, the state dining room, and a few others.
Sadly, Queen Elizabeth died on the same day when we visited the palace.
The Tower of London
The Tower of London is a historic place you do not want to miss.
For nearly 1000 years this place has served as a royal palace, prison, place of execution for fallen monarchs, and the ultimate symbol of the monarchy in England.
If you want to learn about the history of England this place is a must-visit destination in London. It was built by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century. This is a place where Anne Boleyn awaited her execution after falling out of Henry VIII’s favor.
Lines to enter the Tower of London are typically long during the summer months. But we were lucky to visit London in September, so the crowds were smaller. Also, we decided to avoid the crowds altogether by arriving at the Tower by 9 a.m. and making this visit the first activity of our day.
Westminster Abbey is one of my favorite places to visit in London. It looks impressive and rich in history. The Abbey is a popular place and if you do not want to wait in line, you can book online the fast-track entry.
Westminster Abbey dates to 1245 and was built in the magnificent Gothic style. When you get inside it takes time to explore this glorious and rich in history place.
This place has been used for all English and British coronations since the times of William the Conqueror in 1066. Also, it is a world-known place for royal weddings including the weddings of Prince Charles and Lady Diana as well as Prince William and Kate Middleton.
The British Museum is the oldest public museum in the world and holds one of the world’s greatest collections of historical and cultural artifacts. It documents the story of human culture from its beginning to the present times.
It was established in 1753 to house books, antiquities, and plant specimens. Then it rapidly expanded during the 19th century. The British Museum is unique because it brings together under one roof the cultures of the world. No other museums in the world have collections of the same depth, beauty, and significance.
The British Museum is huge, but my favorite part is the Ancient Egypt collection.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral is an iconic feature of the London skyline.
St. Paul’s Cathedral dates back to 1697. The medieval church was badly destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and then rebuilt by architect Christopher Wren in the English Baroque style. The cathedral was a site of many grand events including the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and Jubilee services for Queen Elizabeth II.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a great architectural masterpiece with majestic interiors. The cathedral’s dome is one of the largest in the world. You can visit the main parts of the cathedral, the dome, and the crypt.
We saw a long line to visit the dome because you have to climb 528 steps to the top and only a certain number of visitors can climb those steps. We decided to skip the climb to the dome and come back later but we never did. We will do it on our next visit to London!
Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus
Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus are two iconic places I do not want to miss on any of my visits to London. It’s always bustling with life, energy, and crowds of tourists and locals at any time of the day and late at night.
Trafalgar Square is London’s main venue for outdoor public meetings. It has a 169 feet column in the center dedicated to Admiral Lord Nelson who died heroically at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
The north side of the square is taken by the National Gallery. There is no entry fee, so you can visit the gallery and spend hours enjoying the world’s most famous paintings by masters such as Rubens, Velazquez, Monet, Van Gogh, and more.
Piccadilly Circus is a famous circular road junction where several roads come together and is well-known for its neon signs and advertising. This spot is similar to Times Square in New York City. The huge curved digital advertising screen indicates the entrance to the city’s entertainment district with its cinemas, theaters, nightclubs, pubs, and restaurants.
Shopping in London
Oxford Street is the ultimate shopping paradise and Europe’s busiest shopping street.
It has around 300 shops and it stretches from the corner of Hyde Park all the way down to Tottenham Court Road. Every time I visit London, I try to find time to go there. You will be always surrounded by crowds of people who spend time shopping or just browsing.
If you like to shop, go there and you can find everything from more budget-friendly international brands like Zara, H&M, and Mango to high-end luxury department stores like Selfridges.
Food in London
British pubs are the most popular place for people to get together and enjoy food, drinks, and a relaxing atmosphere. Whether you are in a park, on the river, or a busy street, there will be a pub just around the corner.
Fish and chips are classic British food, and you can find them at any pub.
London’s markets are another popular place to enjoy all kinds of food. I spent a few hours at the Borough Market. This market is one of the oldest markets in London where you can find fresh produce, baked goods, flowers, spices, and other foodstuffs.
There are many food stalls selling ready-to-eat foods, food demonstration stalls, cafes, and restaurants. You can find all kinds of street foods here from beef stew to vegetarian pastries. This is a great place for a snack or a full meal!
Have you been to London? What is the best time to visit London?
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