London – Itinerary and Tips
The first question that anyone has to answer while planning a vacation is the number of days one has to set aside for a destination. How many days are not too few or too many? Will I be able to cover every tourist spot? Will I have enough time for shopping? We read guidebooks and internet articles like “Itinerary for 2 days in London” to find an answer.
Let me share how I went about this aspect of my planning.
First I froze the time of my entry into and exit from London. We were landing at a very odd time – 1 PM GMT. I was sure we would not be able to start sightseeing on that day itself. So I kept it as a rest day and catching-up-with-friend day (we were staying with friends of MH). We were to fly to Inverness from London via an early morning flight, so that had to be a separate day. Now it remained to decide the number of days in between when I was free to go sightseeing.
Everyone knows what are the must-see sights, but I still googled and made a list. I independently noted the places I did not want to miss.
Then I googled “free sights in London” and “free things to do in London”. It threw up hundreds of articles! Now I was excited 😉 There are over 100 free things to do and see; so I was like a child in a candy store. With my list done, I needed to figure out how to fit them best. Now the articles giving perfect itineraries for 2 days/3 days/4 days came handy and I decided on 3 days for London.
Of course, things went wrong and my plan went haywire but there’s a lesson in my story for you.
We lost half a day trying to activate my EE sim card. I was shocked to learn that some shops in London open late and shut down fast! I am talking of 10 AM – 5 PM!!! And God forbid you arrive on a holiday, which we did – some of the shops opened at 12!!!! I don’t know whether Kolkata has become London or not, but London is definitely a sister of Kolkata in this regard at least.
Tip #1 If you have work in shops or want to go shopping, google the store name and find out the opening hours; or be prepared to waste tons of time like us.
Transportation in London is a cakewalk. Not only you have the Tube, but also Dockland Rail, London Overground, National Rail and buses! With so many options for public transport, one need never take a cab. We landed at Heathrow Airport, recharged our Visitor Oyster Cards and hopped into the Tube with our luggage. Two train-change later, we were sipping tea at our friends’ place. The website for Transport for London or TFL has a journey planner section which is very handy in figuring out which line to take and where to change. There are maps available in all stations and direction markers present everywhere; so you have to be genius to get lost.
Tip #2 Get a Visitor Oyster Card, keep on topping up with 5 or 10 pounds and travel the length and breadth of the city.
mmeThere are tons of bus tour options in London, but we did not take any. On the first day, we landed up at Hyde Park (because it’s central and on Sunday one can enjoy the Speaker’s Corner), opened Google Maps and started walking. We walked through the Park into the Kensington Gardens, posed infront of Kensington Palace, looked at the Royal Albert Hall and Imperial College, spent time at the Natural History Museum, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, observed how underwhelming Buckingham Palace was, walked down the Mall towards Trafalgar Square and felt indignant at the pillars commemorating 5 million “volunteers’ from the Indian Sub-continent who fought for Britain in the two world wars, jostled with the crowd at Covent Garden and Leicester Square, caught a glimpse of Westminster and the Big Ben and called it a day.
Tip #3 If you want to wheeze past all the sights, then take a Hop on-Hop off bus tour. But in this age of internet and Google Maps, you will be able to enjoy any place best on foot.
While we were walking, we admired the beautiful architecture of normal buildings, spotted people riding rented bikes, exclaimed at the super-high parking fees, stopped to admire street performers, checked out Harrods (and felt happy to see an Indian brand Amrapali), read the menus of all the restaurants on their windows and compared prices and greatly enjoyed discovering London. We did not care about how much time it took cos we decided to take things as they came. Yes, it went against my grain to not zip from one sight to another ticking off boxes, but I discovered something new about me – that I can enjoy a vacation as it should be enjoyed.
On our second day, we went to Greenwich, which was of course my choice. I could not be in London and not see the Prime Meridian and take a cruise down Thames! This was the only ticketed place we went in whole of London! One can spend an entire day here, walking on the grounds, listening to the audio guide and enjoying the view from the top. Then there is the Greenwich Market, famous for mouth-watering food. I found Greenwich so pretty that if I ever have to live in London, I decided that it would be at Greenwich 😉
We bought tickets at the Greenwich Pier and cruised down Thames to reach Westminster, passing under the Tower Bridge. Beautiful buildings lay on both sides and you will be more interested in them than the Shard. Well, I was. Give me buildings with heritage facade any day over tall, glass monuments. If you are interested, you can climb to the top of the Shard (at a fee, of course) and see a nice view of the city.
The third day brought rains and dampened our travelling spirits. I had set aside the Tate Modern, Baker Street Museum, Hamsptead Heath and the Borough Market for this day but had to make do with only the British Museum. One has to visit the British Museum to believe how large and varied it is! It is the perfect place to satiate your history loving, exploratory soul.
We missed out tons of places this time. We deliberately missed some places like the London Eye (found it too pricey for a merry-go-round!) and Tower of London (my patriotic heart forbade me to look at the Kohinoor). I could not make a day trip to Oxford and Statford-upon-Avon as planned due to paucity of time. But we caught up with both our friends over fabulous dinners at their places. We spent our days more leisurely than usual and on hindsight, that set the tone and pace of the rest of our vacation. I was happy that there were places left for which I would love to make a second trip to London, whenever that happens.
Tip #4 If you want to cover the mains sights of London by public transportation and foot, keep 3 days so as to not tire yourselves out. All the good museums in London are free, so you can cover a lot without spending much. Add more days to your itinerary if you want to visit the Stonehenge and Bath or Oxford and Cotswold or other nearby places.
Tip #5 I did not shop for anything in London! But you are, of course free to. 🙂 The main shopping places are in Oxford Street, Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road, all centrally located. Just get down at one of these tube stations and explore. Keep few of your pounds for checking out the Borough Market, Camden Market and Greenwich Market.
Tip #6 London is a gastronomer’s delight. From Middle-eastern to Peruvian, you will get all sorts of cuisine at all sorts of budget here. Menus are pasted on the restaurant window, so it’s easy to choose a place. Be prepared to shell minimum 10-15 pounds for one meal per person at a reasonable place. Or else, there’s Burger King 🙂
Tip #7 I really wanted to do a Harry Potter and a Downton Abbey tour while I was in London. But MH is not a HP or a DA fan and it didn’t feel right to drag him to the Warner Bros Studio or the Highclere Castle. In the process, I learnt a new side of me – that I was willing to adjust my travel goals for my spouse! To be fair to him, he did accompany me in my Harry Potter quest in Edinburgh. But you can totally plan your trips around your favourite Jane Austen novel or the Harry Potter series or TV drama like Downton Abbey (or Outlander in Scotland).
Tip #8 Enjoy at a slow pace. I can’t believe I am saying this but you will love the walks down crowded London streets and long journeys in the tube more than rushing to different sights, standing in queues and buying over-priced tickets just to show on Facebook that you were there.
After all, the memories of a trip last long after you have forgotten the password to your Facebook profile.