If you have the chance to visit London anytime of the year, seize the opportunity! Whether you are a college student or newly retired, this royal city has something to interest everyone. Sometimes when traveling, your budget can make a difference in what activities you choose. Finances can even determine how many days or the places you may be able to stay. Or perhaps London is just a portion of your travel plans. But no matter the size of your bank balance, we all like to save money when we can.
Free museums, parks, and markets allow London visitors to save money each day
Save the time in lines, English afternoon tea, and visit royal sites
HYDE PARK is the largest park in London; it covers the area from Park Lane on the east end to Kensington Palace on the west end. This very beautiful central London park contains formal gardens, a boating lake, and large spaces of lawn, filled with daffodils in the early spring. In the early morning, those who walk or run find Hyde Park the ideal location for their early activity. Later in the day, horses will be spotted on the famous horse path called Rotten Row, or individuals who are learning to ride horses will be seen exercising their horses while understanding the skills needed for this equestrian sport. The large “green” spaces in the middle of one of the largest cities on earth give reprieve to a sometimes hectic city. The Italian Gardens close to Kensington Palace is one of the most beautiful flower gardens in London and is often thought of as Kensington Palace’s garden. All the summer flowers are brilliant in the warmer months, and the fountains and pond are perfect for the photographers in the city. The gothic Memorial to Prince Albert is splendid and will dazzle your eyes, while the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground and the Diana Memorial Fountain will bring those who wish to pay respect to one of the most famous past Royal inhabitants of this great park. Enjoy flowers, squirrels, horses, trees, lawns, birds, lakes, and PEACE. In many ways, this park and its many planted gardens are a piece of heaven. What about an afternoon picnic under an ancient sprawling oak tree? PERFECT
The Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s leading museum of art and design. You will find artifacts from the past 5000 YEARS including architecture, glass, jewelry, photography, sculpture, textiles, and more. There is no admission fee and it’s open every day of the year except December 24-26. This is one of those flexible destinations on your agenda — perfect for a rainy day in London. There is no way you will see even a portion of the 2.3 million permanent objects housed here. Download a map before you leave home or use the interactive map on their website. There is an audio tour if you bring your own headphones. Try their lovely cafe, or bring your own packed lunch; there is a lunchroom provided on the 3rd floor or a lovely outdoor area in the garden.
There are good reasons for the long lines you will find at the London’s Natural History Museum. Besides being FREE, it has 80 MILLION artifacts — including specimens collected by Charles Darwin, dinosaur skeletons and ornate architecture. Truly SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE. Focusing on life and earth science, the five main collections are divided into botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. Download the map or visitor App in advance to preview which might catch your interest. Although admission is FREE, there is a charge for some of the temporary exhibits. The Natural History Museum is recognized as the pre-eminent center of natural history and research of related fields. Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:50 pm, it is closed only on July 13 and December 24-26. Located at the intersection of Cromwell Road and Exhibition Road in South Kensington, it is directly across the street from the Victoria & Albert Museum. You can see why this area of London is known as the “museum district.”
Shopping for souvenirs and memorabilia can be fun, even on a budget. And there are so many options for finding fresh produce and prepared foods in London. Fresh pastries and sandwiches, berries fresh from the farm, green beans galore, and those vine-ripened tomatoes — delicious! Begin the week with Jubilee Market in Covent Garden every Monday. It is much smaller than Portobello Road, but you can find wonderful objects in this market. Borough Market is in full swing Wednesday through Saturday each week, except holidays. There you will find amazing foods from around the world. You’ll be salivating as you stroll past all the delectable and exotic aromas. Camden Market which is open daily is certainly exciting, and you can take a boat ride up the Regent Canal while you are there. And Saturday morning at Portobello Road Market is a must! These exciting markets are also filled with antiques, lace, silver, hats, and all kinds of other vendors. London is a market city where the streets come alive with trading, sharing, and exploring.
The world gathers in Trafalgar Square during the days, taking pictures and meeting friends. Trafalgar Square is the absolute center of London. The large space is filled with fountains, the Nelson Column, and equestrian monuments to England’s heroes. It is always busy and very filled with photographers who seek their finest images from the steps of the National Gallery to Big Ben. Check out St Martin’s concerts which take place in Gibbs’s 18th century church, the model for the American 18th century churches all over North America.
At the edge of Trafalgar Square, the picturesque National Gallery sits in splendor. This location was chosen in the early 1800’s so all social classes could easily access the art—the wealthy from their west end estates and the poor from their humble abodes in the East End. Like the V & A, this massive space includes more than you can possibly see in a single visit. Priceless paintings are on display without cost, and open 361 days each year. Hours are from 10am to 6pm, and until 9pm on Friday. The paintings in this gallery are organized by the eras they were created. If you want to visit the art chronologically, you can easily do that — or perhaps you will choose to start wandering and find where you are drawn. Maybe you have one style of painting you will choose to focus on this visit. Guided tours will help you understand a few of the paintings in depth. You will see murals, tapestries, altarpieces, sculpture, religious art, contemporary — so much to soak in! Podcasts and audio tours can be downloaded to your device ahead of time. Interactive workshops for all ages are held during the holidays. The gift shop will print a poster of your favorite painting while you wait for a nominal fee.
Covent Garden seems to be the place where everyone loves to gather these days. This very popular venue offers excellent restaurants, shops, Monday’s antique market, bakeries, music, jewelry, and lots of socializing. The dealers in the Apple Market change daily. The Apple Store is one of the most popular destinations in this area of London. A pastry from PAUL is a thrill and deserves the belief that this French pastry shop is the best in London. London Transportation Museum is very exciting and is located at the southeast end of Covent Garden Square. Covent Garden will offer activities to fill one of your days in London. And you won’t be disappointed!
The Tower of London is an absolutely must-see part of every itinerary. It has been a royal palace, a prison, a zoo, a museum, a site of execution, and a jewel house. Because of such a history over a thousand years, the stories are almost unending. Be sure to take the FREE TOUR with the Beef Eaters who gather groups at the entrance and walk you through the Tower, telling you stories with all their gruesome details. You will roar with laughter, you will stand amazed at the beautiful architecture, you will see jewels—the Crown Jewels—that will dazzle your eyes. Buy online tickets ahead or you will spend the day in very, very long lines. One of the most interesting sites anywhere in Europe: THE TOWER OF LONDON. Really, really exciting.
As soon as you arrive at your accommodation, you might want to spend the rest of the day sleeping. DON’T DO IT! Delay your snoozing by coming alive again on the top of tour bus with lots of sunshine and fresh air, soaking in London from above street level. Even if you know London very well, being on the top of the bus as you fly through all of London, seeing all the sites and hearing all the sounds, will help you adapt very quickly to the city that is loved so much. It is fantastic seeing monuments from the top of a bus where there is no traffic to clutter your view. The best parts of the ride are the views of St Paul’s Cathedral and riding over London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Taking photographs up and down the River Thames is a very exciting moment. With some of the bus tours, you have the option of riding the Hop On Hop Off Bus again the next day on the same ticket. You can hop off at a monument you want to visit and then hop back on the bus taking you to the next site on your itinerary. This experience has improved significantly over the years, and some of the guides on the buses are professional Blue Badge Guides. You will find tour bus companies on many street corners where you can that will have a map and can sell you a ticket. It is a great experience, and all on board are always enjoying the ride. FUN.
The London Theaters are renowned, and are comparable to productions found on Broadway in New York City. Performances of “Wicked” on Broadway and in London are equally wonderful! If you have a particular production you absolutely don’t want to miss, buy tickets in advance directly from the theater, or online for a discount. However, if you are open to options, there are discount tickets available at Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) Square. The best deals are usually for same-day purchases, so arrive early (before 11 am) and you will have the best options for matinees and evening performances. BEWARE: there are poachers that try to convince you they have the tickets you need. Some visitors to London have fallen for these fast-talkers, only to find at the theater entrance that the tickets are not valid. DON’T RUIN YOUR TRIP. Stick with the established ticket outlets in Leicester Square such as TKTS that has been in business for almost 40 years.
The Shakespeare Globe Theatre has options for year round theater, exhibitions, and tours. And where better to view fine dramas such as the passion of “Romeo and Juliet” or the tragedy of “Hamlet” than at the open-air Shakespeare Globe? Tickets can be purchased online well in advance or the day before.
London’s venues are phenomenal — excellent theaters to see the best opera, musicals, plays, and ballet. During the summer, think outside the box and see a play under the stars at Regents Park. Their line-up is diverse and well reviewed. The perfect London memory.
The London Eye has become a part of London’s imposing skyline, attracting people from all over the world who want to see London from above. You will have an impressive view and become oriented to the layout of this very large city. The wheel is made up of gondolas which allow visitors to see London in all directions; there are usually 20-25 riders in each gondola, or as they say at the London Eye “CAPSULE." By early morning, there are long lines waiting for their LONDON EYE experience, so I urge those planning on visiting this site to be at the ticket window as soon as possible in the morning. Tickets can be purchased online which saves a visitor the agony of the long wait. The London Eye is a photographer’s paradise especially in late evening with a London sunset up the Thames can be spectacular. Certainly the best aspect of visiting the Eye is seeing London from above; the skyline is stunning snuggling the Thames River. Fabulous experience in the day and at night.
The English love their tea time, and as a visitor to London you can have the same tradition. Try at least one proper afternoon tea. The Ritz is an elegant setting for this “finer slice of life.”
It is that subtle British smile and beautiful English voice that first greet us. We suddenly know the celebration has begun. The elegant ambience is complemented by a musical ensemble, a pianist and harpist. Afternoon tea is served daily at 11:30, 1:30, 3:30,, 5:30 and 7:30.
A great guide is critical for making your days in London memorable — our favorite is Marilyn Collis. When the US team from London Connection traveled to London in 2018, Marilyn was the highlight of our trip! She can center your tour around the area surrounding St. Paul’s, or other interests (Sherlock Holmes, Rock and Roll, etc.) or just show you the city from an insider’s perspective.
St Paul’s Cathedral in the very heart of London has been the scene of great events since it was built. The cathedral replaced a previous building which was destroyed during the Great Fire of London and became the jewel of London’s skyline. Sir Christopher Wren, the architect, was inspired by Michelangelo’s “ St Peter’s design of dome within a dome” and offers a whispering Gallery and stairway to the lantern atop the majestic dome for an incredible view of all London. Churchill put a fire watch on the building in case it was hit during the war, making this building the symbol of England's endurance and determination. Churchill's State Funeral was held in this building; Prince Charles and Diana Spencer chose this location for their glorious wedding. Both Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington are buried here. There are services in the building on Sundays and special concerts and events during the week, so be sure you check St Paul’s website before you schedule your visit. This is a must-see part of every visitor’s itinerary to London. If the organ is playing, you will feel as close to heaven as you may possibly get in this life!
THE ROYAL VISIT AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE IS WITHOUT EQUAL: Palace, stables, carriages, limousines, the Queen's Gallery, Royal Gift Shop, on and on. If you are interested in seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the guard change starts at Clarence House the residence of Charles Prince of Wales at 10:00 and then continues the short distance up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The crowds will be waiting, but pay no attention — just find a spot and snuggle in. The bands are playing, the horses are magnificent, and the Guard ceremony is very impressive. While there, look up the flagpole. If the Union Jack is flying, the Queen is not in residence; if the Queen’s STANDARD is flying, send her a kiss. By 11:00, the Guard Change has ended.
During August and September, the Queen and the Royal Family move to the Queen’s Scottish estate at Balmoral. So, the Palace is open for the public to visit. If you go to the Palace before the Guard Change, you can purchase an entrance to the Palace ticket after the Changing of the Guard. But remember, everyone else is thinking about doing the same thing, so move quickly. The longer you delay to purchase entrance, the later in the day you will be able to visit the Palace.
While at the Palace, the Royal Mews is fascinating. A visitor can purchase a ticket which allows entrance to the Palace, the Royal Mews, and the Queen’s Gallery. The Royal Mews displays several of the Queen’s carriages and a few of the Royal cars. This entire visit is fascinating. Have your cameras ready. The Queen’s Gallery has a wonderful gift shop following a display of magnificent objects from the Royal Collection: furniture, paintings, porcelain, sculpture, engravings, silver. The Queen’s Gallery is the way the Queen has to share one of the finest art collections in the world with her visitors.
You might also enjoy a tour and the special collections at Kensington Palace or a day trip to Windsor Castle. Don’t leave London without having at least one ROYAL experience; it is the experience you will remember all your lives.
No matter what your budget is, don’t scrimp on your London accommodations. You want to be safe and know you are staying where you will feel at home. London Connection vacation apartments are perfect for all visitors. They aren’t a room in someone else’s home where you will be moving their toothbrush. These are carefully selected flats in the best London neighborhoods. Each is uniquely and beautifully decorated with your comfort in mind. Save money by having breakfast in your own kitchen. All properties are non-smoking and free Wifi is included. Having a good rest each night will make your London experience ABSOLUTELY PERFECT.
For a more detailed itinerary, visit London Connection’s Anglophile blog where you will find a Family Friendly Itinerary. Whether you are traveling alone or with a group, this popular guide will help you to experience the perfect 5 days in London, whatever your interests and budget will include. ENJOY.