This is often the first destination people travel to when going to Europe. It had not been on my list. I did watch and enjoy Downton Abbey, The Crown, Tudors, The Spanish Princess and many other historical dramas based in London and England but knew London would only be a short stop on another trip.
I made the trip to London and did 2 days of exploring before heading north to Scotland and then on to Ireland (see those pages separately). It was definitely worthwhile and I’m glad I’ve crossed it off my list.
The following overview was from my trip to London in June 2016.
Rick Steves Audio Europe
This trip was made so much easier and richer because I used Rick Steves guide books and audio tours extensively during my two days in London. If you are not familiar with Rick Steves guide books or the Audio Europe app, click the image below to learn more. You can also click here to buy “Rick Steves London” on Amazon.
Getting There/Where To Stay
London has several airports, the largest and most intimidating of which is Heathrow. It is wise to check all London airports for the best price and schedule. I ended up finding a better deal to arrive in Gatwick and then took the train into the city.
Literally thousands of options to choose from for accommodations. Couple things to consider – hotel rooms are for sleeping and safe keeping of your stuff. Rooms are tight and hopefully you won’t be spending much time in one so its all about location, location, location. NOTE: Many older inns and hotels do not have central air conditioning. If you travel in summer, keep this in mind and get a room with windows or a lower floor.
Having no idea where to start, I turned to Rick. His guide books helped me decide where to stay in the city and also gave some great recommendations.
Things To Do
Figuring out what to do and where to start can be a daunting task….unless you have Uncle Rick who has done all the work for you.
Download Rick’s “Historic London City Walk”. This walking tour took me a full day including several stops for food and picture taking. I think I walked almost 15 miles. I was exhausted at the end but grateful for all the history I’d been able to squeeze in and more appreciative of what I’d seen with Rick’s help.
This tour narrates you through places that don’t have recognizable names and ends at London Bridge. I had a blast on this tour which included the building used as Gringots in Harry Potter and Cheshire Cheese, an iconic old restaurant that is a must do.
A second walking tour available on the app is the Westminster Walk which begins at Big Ben, visits the Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, #10 Downing Street (the prime minister’s residence) and ends in Trafalgar Square. From there you can make a quick hop to Piccadilly Circus, the famous intersection comparable to Times Square in New York.
I did the Westminster walk after lunch one day and finished in Piccadilly around dinnertime. There were lots of international restaurants in the Piccadilly area so treat yourself to a great meal!
I managed to squeeze Camden Market in on my last morning. This market is in Camden Town on the Regeant’s Canal. There were all kinds of eccentric shops (including one of my favorite ecclectic shoe brands – Irregular Choices) and a menagerie of outdoor food stands with tempting aromas wafting about.
There is a working lock here that is cool to see and a warehouse bizarre called the Horse Tunnel Market – be sure to take a spin through there.
From its humble beginnings in 1849 as a small London shop with just 2 employees to its current reputation as one of the most famous luxury department stores in the world, no trip to London would be complete without browsing Harrod’s.
It’s like Disney World meets department store. It’s a massive, multi-story complex complete with restaurants and I believe they offer their own tours. It’s located in the wealthy Knightbridge neighborhood, so be sure to check out the surrounding architecture and do some real estate shopping.
Buckingham Palace is not on Rick’s walking tours, but you can catch it during the Westminster Walk by taking a short detour after stop #5 at Parliament Square. Give a royal wave!
Eating in London
Not known for its cuisine, this is a town where pubs are king. I took advantage and had hearty fare and cold beer when the stomach called.
There is something for everyone. I did eat in an upscale pub near Harrod’s called Thomas Curbitt that was excellent. Also had a great indian meal in Piccadilly.
This ends my overview of London. If you want to see London but also want to see more of Europe, check out my itineraries for Scotland and Ireland, links below.
I flew from London to Edinburgh, Scotland for a few days of exploration in the Highlands then continued on to Ireland where Rick guided me on a journey of most of the country, from Belfast to Dublin. Great way to fit London in to a multi-stop trip!