Ah, London. Sprawling and diverse, full of history and yet very modern, London is a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, London is a fascinating, very approachable city filled with some of the most important bits of our shared British and Anglo-American history. I could spend weeks there without running low on places to see or things to do. Unfortunately, most of us don't have weeks to spend when we visit London. Here are my suggestions for a visit of four days. You can pare down or bulk up this list depending on the time you have to spend.
If you wish to start your visit by knocking out a few of the larger tourist attractions in one day, I would suggest you begin in Westminster. It's here you will find famous sites like Big Ben (really the name for just the clock you see above, housed within the Elizabeth Tower), the Palace of Westminster (home to Parliament), and Westminster Abbey.
Start at Westminster Abbey as soon as it opens for tours. The ticket price is reasonably high, but it is absolutely worth it. The Abbey's architecture is stunning, and it is the final resting place for not only many of England's royals, but also poets, writers, and artists of all kinds. "Poet's Corner," the area of the Abbey where these notables were laid to rest, is one of the most humbling places I've ever found myself. Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, George Frideric Handel, Alfred Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Laurence Olivier--the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fact that Sir Issac Newton and Charles Darwin are actually buried in another section of the Abbey. Considering all of the great minds is staggering. There's a very nice audio tour you can use while you explore, and it is included in the admission price. I'd recommend that, as well.
When you're done exploring Westminster Abbey, pass by 10 Downing Street to see where the First Lord of the Treasury, who is usually also the Prime Minister, lives. This is also considered the U.K.'s government headquarters. You are also quite close to the Imperial War Museums/Churchill War Rooms, the secret underground bunker where Churchill lived and worked during World War II.
Next, take a break for a picnic lunch in nearby St. James's Park if the weather is nice. In the warmer months, you'll find this park full of workers enjoying a sandwich on the grass and children out to play with their parents. During our visit, there were a tremendous number of very friendly birds about. It was fun to look at the water and watch the birds for a bit.
After lunch, head over to Buckingham Palace. The area in front is usually very crowded, but you can get a nice look at the Beefeaters and the Victoria Memorial. Depending on the timing of your visit, you may even be able to tour the Palace's State Rooms.
If you'd like to spend more time in the world of Queen Victoria, you're not far from the Victoria and Albert Museum. This could easily take the rest of your day. If you'd prefer to move on, walk past the Wellington Arch and St. James's Palace and head toward the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben, and the London Eye.
I have never toured the Palace of Westminster, but it's a great place to stop and take photos. Both times I have visited London, there have been peaceful protests occurring nearby, as well.
Big Ben, the clock within the Elizabeth Tower, is one of London's iconic landmarks. It is hard to get unobstructed photos of either it or the Palace of Westminster.
Nearing the end of your first day in London, you have a choice. I do recommend taking a Thames boat cruise, as it allows great views of the golden expanse that are the Houses of Parliament. We took ours through a company called Thames Dinner Cruise. The food was delicious, and I really enjoyed the trip. We actually took one of their lunchtime rides, which made it easier to see the sights as we sailed. If you wished, you could opt for their dinner cruise to finish out your first day, or change the suggested schedule around and head out at lunchtime.
Root vegetable and goat cheese cake with parsnip mousse. SO SO GOOD!
Squash, asparagus, and chicken. Very tasty!
If you would prefer to take the lunch cruise so you can see the sights, I would suggest making a reservation for the London Eye on the evening of your first night in London. Be aware that the lines for the London Eye are very long, even with a reservation. (Picture an American amusement park in July. Then, make it worse.) The views are great, however. It's worth doing at least once if you can.
On your second day in London, take things a bit slower (but not too much). Head to Russell Square to see the monstrous British Museum, which is free to enter. You could easily spend days here. Instead, aim for half a day. Break for lunch and then head to St. Paul's Cathedral.
St. Paul's Cathedral might be my favorite thing to visit in London. Christopher Wren's masterpiece is surrounded by lovely gardens and is just as magnificent inside. I would recommend the audio tour here, as well. Sit and reflect in front of the altar while you listen to the tour. If you are able, take the climb to the Whispering Gallery and the Golden Gallery. The views of London from the top of the Golden Gallery are worth every step.
Once you've climbed down from the Golden Gallery, take in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral. It is the largest crypt in Europe. It is also the final resting place of many famous folk, including its architect, Christopher Wren.
If you didn't take a ride on the London Eye on day one, do this tonight.
Start off your third day in London with a trip to the Tower of London. This stronghold and symbol of some of England's darker moments is very well maintained and has many interactive exhibits to make it accessible for all guests. This visit probably will take half a day.
The bridge that London is most famous for is often mistakenly referred to as "London Bridge." Located very near the Tower of London, it is actually called "Tower Bridge." It's pretty neat to look at and is good for a few photographs.
Take the underground to Picadilly Circus and have afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. (Definitely make a reservation well in advance.) This upscale, gourmet department store is a mecca for foodies. Afternoon tea is held in a pristine Tiffany blue room with piano music so perfect we didn't even realize it was being performed live until we walked by the piano on our way out. The tea was delicious and accompanied by scones with clotted cream, jam, and lemon curd; finger sandwiches; pastries; and, if you wished, cake. I've never been so happily full in my life.
After your afternoon tea experience, you might need to rest for awhile. Head to Hyde Park and the adjacent Kensington Gardens to enjoy some relaxing people-watching. We also watched some birds, who appeared to be training for some sort of parade.
If you wish to visit Kensington Palace, you are very nearby. The Natural History Museum and Science Museums are also close. You can also swing by Paddington Station to see a statue of Paddington Bear.
If you are able to fathom eating again, head into Paddington for a delicious Italian dinner at Bizzarro. My husband and I still talk longingly about the meals we had at Bizzarro. I can say without question that this is the best Italian food I've ever had. The staff were also extremely hospitable. They encourage passers-by to dine at the restaurant by making polite (loud) conversation with potential diners on the street. When we agreed, they whisked us in and immediately sat us in the quaint, highly decorated, old-word dining room. Our food was brought quickly and was amazing. On top of it all, the prices were beyond reasonable. I will absolutely be back on my next trip to London. If you are too full on night three to have dinner, go to Bizzarro another night of your trip. Do not skip it. (I'm not really sure why it is named as it is, but perhaps on my return I will ask.)
Your time in London is sadly drawing to a close, but there's still lots to see! Start the day off at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Marylebone. This is a kitschy but fun tour at 221B Baker Street. You may have to wait awhile to enter because the house is rather small, but the tour itself shouldn't last more than an hour.
If you wish, you're very near Regents Park and the ZSL London Zoo. This is where a black bear named Winnipeg, or Winnie, once lived, partially inspiring A. A. Milne's popular Winnie the Pooh stories.
Next, head to Trafalgar Square by way of the Underground. Here, you'll see the famous monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson, as well as a lovely fountain and many, many pigeons.
If you're interested, the National Gallery is located just in front of you. A Harry Potter fan? Charring Cross, home to the books' Platform 9 3/4, has actually been set up to look as it did in fiction, and is available for photographs. I don't actually know the person in the photo; you had to wait in quite the line to get your picture taken, so I just photographed the cool set-up and left.
On our last night in London, we couldn't decide where to eat, and ultimately elected to ride the Underground, get off at a random stop, and eat at the first place we saw. This led us to The Admiralty in Trafalgar Square, and we really enjoyed our meals there. I would highly recommend it! My husband really liked the Fuller's Golden Pride he has to drink, as well as his fish and chips. I had a glass of white wine and a delicious squash and feta pie with a side salad. This restaurant should be on your list. It also has very neat nautical decor.
As you can see, cramming the best of London into just four days is nearly impossible. It can be done, but I think it would be ideal if you had a week to spend. That gives you time to explore more of the wonderful museums and theaters that London has to offer. If four days is all you have, however, you will see an immense number of amazing things, and you will go home feeling very tired yet very fulfilled. London is one of my favorite places, if you couldn't tell. I think everyone should visit at some point if they are able. Have you been? What did you like best? I'd love to hear from you!