Arrive London — Meet the London Connection driver after clearing UK Passport Control. DO NOT TAKE TIME TO SHOP; YOUR DRIVER WILL BE WAITING FOR YOU. They meet you as you come out of Customs next to the Travelex in the Arrival Hall and exchange friendly greetings. The driver will have a sign with the arriving party’s name, help with the luggage, and then take you directly to your accommodation — alerting the let-in people that you have arrived and are on your way to the reserved property. One of our London team will meet you and orient you to the flat and to the neighborhood where you are staying. If you have questions, please ask. Pay special attention to the washer/dryer in most properties, the keys and locking up the flat, the supplies that are provided, the flat contact card, trash, and building details. Be sure you know which Tube Station is most convenient to the flat where you are living — ABSOLUTELY IMPORTANT.
Arriving guests usually are adjusting to a time change. Canadians and Americans will come to London which is 5-8 hours ahead. I suggest a short nap, a quick shower, a light snack, and an enthusiastic walk. Find your local market and obtain your breakfast supplies which might consist of bread, butter, jam, coffee, tea, eggs, rolls, sausages, bacon, fruit. Shopping is a wonderful part of a first visit to London.
Another option is a bus or Tube ride. May as well get used to the London public transportation the first day. Orient yourself to this magnificent city. Our team likes to use Google Maps to navigate their way to the nearest station or bus stop. You can decide which is more convenient for that time of day. It may also help to refer to a Tube Map; they are available at all Tube Stations or you can download the Tube Map App in advance. If you haven't already purchased your Visitor Oyster Card ahead of time (which I highly suggest), you can buy your OYSTER CARD at the tube station. The cost of a week’s travel is about 35 pounds and can be purchased with your credit/debit card. (Never leave for England without notifying your bank that you will be in the United Kingdom, or your card will not be honored in the UK by your bank at home — and then the trouble begins. Avoid this situation at all costs!) If the weather permits, I suggest a ride on the Open Top Bus which gives a great overview of London. You can hop of and on as you wish. I prefer to stay on the bus to get a complete picture of what is where. Besides, if the weather is warm, it is a fun ride.
Return back home to your vacation apartment. A good night’s sleep is essential, knowing that you will wake up at 3:00 in the morning due to the body time change. That’s normal.
Why not start your first full day to the Royal City with Royalty? 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. Be sure your camera batteries are charged because you will be like every first-time visit and take pictures after pictures. Why not? 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; the Palace is open for the public to visit during those weeks. 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. I suggest you buy tickets ahead of time online.
While at the Palace, the Royal Mews is fascinating. 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 is always a destination for me because there is 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.
If you want the best deal and the chance to see the Queen's Gallery, Royal Mews, and State Rooms, purchase the Royal Day Out. THE ROYAL VISIT AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE IS WITHOUT EQUAL: Palace, stables, carriages, limousines, the Queen's Gallery, Royal Gift Shop, on and on. It is the experience you will remember all your lives.
What about lunch? I don’t wander far from the Palace. Sometimes I eat at the pub BAG OF NAILS just a short distance away. Other times, I eat at the little Italian restaurant just across the street from the Royal Mews. I know the people in the restaurant; they are friendly, and they serve good sandwiches, pizza, lasagna, etc. — not gourmet, but an OK lunch. On the corner of Buckingham Palace Road and Palace Street, there is another Royal Gift Shop. Just two doors down Palace Street from the Gift Shop, there is a small sandwich shop which I think is wonderful. It is just a little shop, not very much seating, but it is good, and very reasonable. That is where I like to go for lunch most often.
ARE YOU STILL ON YOUR FEET? I hope so for just one more visit while you are near the Palace. Pass in front of the Palace, cross into GREEN PARK, through the magnificent Canada gates and proceed to Piccadilly Street. Turn left and proceed down this famous street, past the Hard Rock Cafe, to APSLEY HOUSE, the residence of the Duke of Wellington, now the WATERLOO MUSEUM. This small museum housed in the Grand Old Duke’s 18th century mansion is a must. You will find the Duke’s swords, gifts for his defeat of Napoleon I at the Battle of Waterloo, and his magnificent art collection. It brings history alive. I take guests here every opportunity I have.
I suggest visitors, after such a busy first day, return home for a short nap. Keeping warm and dry, having the occasional nap, and having good nutrition are essential for a demanding and successful trip to London.
The first evening should be unscheduled for individual interests: theater, evening photography, dining in a special restaurant, or a wonderful walk from Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, over Westminster Bridge to the South Bank, to the London Eye: Europe's largest ferris wheel. If you are scheduling the London Eye, purchase your tickets online and enjoy the most amazing views of London. It is wonderful.
After the London Eye experience, continue walking down the South Bank where you find numerous restaurants where you can dine with views over the River Thames. Beautiful evening. After dinner — I prefer an Italian restaurant — continue your walk to the Millennium Bridge which you can cross to make your way back to Trafalgar Square.
HOME FOR A GOOD NIGHT’S REST.
I have suggested that tickets to big events like a visit to the Tower of London should be purchased online before your visit OR you will possibly suffer long lines which become very irritating. So, with confirmation of tickets and with credit cards which purchased those tickets, take the Tube to Tower Hill Station, and walk the short distance to the entrance. Look for the sign which indicates you already have your tickets.
I strongly recommend that you arrive at the Tower of London no later than 9:00 AM to avoid those summer tourists who can be annoying if you get caught in a touring group who is talking around you, who are only half interested in the tour guide. When you walk through the entrance to the Tower of London, join a group with a Beef Eater guide. They are witty, informative, and have creative memories. One of the highlights of a visit to this amazing site is the Jewel Hall where some of the most historic and beautiful State crowns are kept. I strongly recommend a study of these crowns before you come to the Tower. These jewels are so incredible and their stories are the history of England. Avoid a quick walk through so as not to miss all these great jewels represent.
After a tremendous experience in the Tower of London, take the short walk to Tower Bridge — the bridge which seems to be the iconic symbol of London. There is a small tour and a walkway over the top of the Bridge which is really wonderful. The perspective is exciting.
There are several places to snack and eat around the Tower of London. Often in the summer, the “hot dog stand” is fun and offers a hot dog in bun, covered with cooked onions. After a good snack, let’s head back to central London on the red double decker bus by way of St Paul’s Cathedral.
For me, St. Paul’s is one of the great experiences in London. Don’t cut the visit short. Sir Christopher Wren was the great architect of this amazing structure; he lived just across the river and kept a close eye on every part of its construction. If the organ is being played, have a seat in one of the chairs and just listen and look. Again, if you are prepared for your visit, you will enjoy your visit much more.
NOW, let’s see who is fit. Everyone must walk to the Whispering Gallery to whisper and communicate while looking up at the most amazing dome, modeled on Michelangelo’s glorious dome on St Peter’s in Rome. THEN, for those who are ready for the fun hike, take the staircase through the dome to the top of the building and out on the Lantern where all London awaits you below. It is my favorite view in this amazing city. Actually, people who have gone to London years before still remember this experience.
Return to the main floor and go into the basement of this glorious building. The tomb of the Duke of Wellington of Waterloo fame and the tomb of Horatio Lord Nelson of the Battle of Trafalgar are found. Also the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren will be found with a tombstone which states that this great architect’s marker is the cathedral itself. This is a religious destination, and visitors should show respect for what it means on so many levels. The wedding of Diana Spencer and Charles Prince of Wales took place here. The funeral of Winston Churchill, for me the great man of the 20th century was held here. Many national celebrations including important milestones in the life the Queen take place in this great monument.
By now, even a fit visitor will want a rest. Take the local double decker bus (using your same Oyster Card) to Trafalgar Square and proceed to one of the many restaurants nearby. Walk up Upper St Martin’s past Cobb’s famous church ST MARTIN’S IN THE FIELDS and enjoy wonderful restaurants, shops, clubs, vintage shops until you reach Covent Garden. Don’t plan; just walk and enjoy the serendipities that will happen.
You are now in the Covent Garden / Shaftesbury area, near all the theaters. I could go on and on about obtaining theater tickets, but here is my recommendation. If there is a particular show you MUST SEE, buy your ticket at home on the internet. You will pay top dollar, but you will see what you have to see — live or die! But, if you know of several plays you would like to see, wait until you get to London when you can go to all the discount shops around Leicester Square. I have used all the little shops selling tickets, and I have received great discounts. Another recommendation, if you have had a long and busy day, don’t plan on a serious play that takes your full attention because YOU WILL FALL ASLEEP. Choose a musical or a “light” feature where you will tap your heel and perhaps whistle. Save the serious play for a day when you have had a nap.
For me, our best hours are after a play, sitting on Trafalgar Square, listening to all the buskers playing their instruments from all over the world. This is when I get my favorite camera candids. Head home for a great night’s sleep. Remember, get your sleep and don’t get chilled; it will ruin your trip.
Let’s be to Westminster Abbey as soon as the Abbey is open to avoid the lines. This is one of the great and important destinations in a visit to London. Again, please check out the Westminster Abbey website before you come to London. There is so much to see, so please be prepared for such an experience. After this wonderful experience, walk around the Houses of Parliament and listen to Big Ben as it strikes the hour. Then, walk over to the Thames River Boats for a half day river trip to Greenwich. Or, you can go as far as Canary Wharf which will give you an amazing perspective of this magnificent river and all the development along its banks.
Return to central London for another night of theater or a performance of classical music at St Martin’s in the Fields. These concerts are wonderful, and the evening is enhanced by a candlelight performance. Certainly I would see the HARRY POTTER play at the Palace Theater. These performances began in July 2016, and you will have to get tickets long before your arrival. Be sure you have a copy of TIME OUT MAGAZINE which will tell you everything that is happening in London, including the plays that are in the West End.
Hampton Court Palace is another day-out-London experience. If you have the entire day during summer and early fall, take the pleasure boat from Westminster pier near the Houses of Parliament and enjoy the banks of the River Thames all the way to Hampton Court. The Palace is a spectacular piece of Tudor architecture as well as a splendid example of the court life during the reign of King William II and Queen Mary. It is spectacular.
Another suggestion is a train ride to OXFORD to see the beautiful buildings of Oxford College and explore the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest public museum in Europe. Stephanie and I had not been to the Ashmolean for years, so last spring we hopped on the train for Oxford. We took the open top bus for a tour, and enjoyed a beautiful morning riding around Oxford and Eaton College. THEN INSIDE THE ASHMOLEAN: Classical sculpture, all classes of historical objects, and of course one of the finest 18th century Chelsea Porcelain collections anywhere. I must say, Oxford would easily qualify to be in my 3 favorite day trips from London.
Visitors to London have heard about the excitement of exploring London Markets. TIME OUT MAGAZINE gives a great list of markets which are exciting and entertaining. I have found markets up and down Covent Garden streets every day of the week. Camden Market is certainly exciting, and you can take a boat ride up the Regent Canal while you are there. But for me, if you are in London on a Saturday morning, PORTOBELLO ROAD is the place to be. There is a Tube station nearby, and there are taxis to return you to your accommodation if your feet are exhausted or if you have purchased that oversized treasure.
I have friends up and down the market, and I find all kinds of little and big treasures which I have cherished all my life. Stop by and chat with Hilary and Michael Kashden who have been in the Portobello Market for three generations. If you like jewelry, stop by the BAMYAN JEWELRY at 165-169 Portobello Road. The stalls these days are filled with antiques, collectibles, reproductions, new merchandise, and designer shops. For me, it is the best market in London.
On a Monday, I am always at the Jubilee Market in Covent Garden Square. It is much smaller than Portobello Rd, but I find wonderful objects I need to decorate our London flats in this market. I have my favorite dealers offering antiques, jewelry, clothing, silver, on and on. London is a market city where the streets come alive with trading, sharing, and exploring. Click here for more details: 8 Open Air Markets in London
The word museum seems to bring “gloom” to some London visitors. It is always a puzzle to me. I love to wander through the galleries, one after another, learning and exploring, enjoying and pondering.
These magnificent galleries keep me in awe. There has to be one day in a visit where museums play a major part.
Airports can be crazy these days so I leave at least 3 hours prior to my scheduled departure. David (our driver) will advise you, and you can rely on him. He and his drivers are the best. Be sure your passport and ticket are not packed in your checked luggage. If you are turning in your VAT slips, don’t forget to ask at the airport where these receipts are to be stamped and deposited. HAVE A GREAT TRIP HOME and drop us an email telling us about your visit to London staying in one of LONDON CONNECTION’s vacation apartments. Please let us know about special places you have found during your visit that we can share with others. Travel well.
I would love to hear your favorite London activities. Feel free to contact me directly:
Thomas Moore, Sr.
+1 (801) 791-9918