For a first trip or a short trip to London here are my top picks for the basic things that you cannot go home without seeing or experiencing.
1. Big Ben: You need to get near enough to this icon to get a good photo, but it will be the photo that says you were in London! Go to the Westminster (Houses of Parliament) tube station. The Houses of Parliament have tours inside and you can even see the politicians at work, but a view from the outside is good enough.
2. London Tower: Over 900 years old, this fortress, Palace, arsenal and prison contains the Crown Jewels and is guarded by Beefeaters, in their colorful uniforms. See the web site.
3. London Bridge: Of “is falling down….” fame is actually Tower Bridge, and is an exquisite draw bridge with towers. You can walk across the bridge and reach the London Tower.
4. These are a few of the most famous traffic circles (squares) in London. Yoou don’t have to plan to see them as your path will definitely cross them during your meanderings around the city. Piccadilly Circle: A busy intersection, with large neon signs. Be sure to take a photo of the archer statue, in the center known as Eros. Leicester Square: The center of theatre land in London. Trafalgar Square: A pedestrian junction with Nelson’s column in the center. Mostly famous for the pigeons. If the pigeons are there hold out some bread and get a photo with the pigeons all over you!
5. Double Decker bus: Catch any one of the public transport buses or get a hop-on-hop-off open top bus with commentary, which will take you around to all the sites. The two companies which do this are The Big Bus Company, and the Original Tour.
6. The London Eye: This large modern Ferris wheel on the South Bank will give you the best view of London’s skyline in a 30 minute ride. Web site.
7. This is some of the “must try” English grub. Fish and Chips: There is nothing like fish and chips wrapped in newspaper and eaten on a park bench, street corner or in a pub. English Tea of scones topped with cream and strawberry jam, tea – with milk -, and cucumber sandwiches. Get “High Tea” or “Afternoon Tea” in fancy looking tearooms. Other English temptations include Cadbury’s chocolate, salt and vinegar chips.
8. Pubs: England has some of the best pubs, even if you’re not a drinker, try having your lunch in one. Kids are welcome in most English pubs during the day. Try a few pubs to really get the feel for English pub life!
9. Buckingham Palace: Home to the queen. In summer there are guided tours within the palace, but seeing the changing of the guard outside is good enough if you’re on a tight time schedule. The changing of the guard takes place outside the palace at 11:30 and lasts about 30 minutes. Check the “changing of the Guard” web site for dates.
10. Hyde Park/St. James Park: Experience one of the Royal Parks. Beautiful old trees, and wide open spaces of green.
11. London shopping starts with Oxford Street: London’s most famous shopping street, full of all the big name brands. If you are with kids continue off from Oxford circle to Regence Street and see Hamleys, the seven floor toy shop. Harrods: London’s most famous store is a posh fancy expensive store, not really one to buy things in, more just for looking. Check out the Harrods. Site. Camden Lock Market: or one of the other London markets, try Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Portobello or Covent Garden. for alternative shopping. This is no Oxford Street, and the items you find will be more unique, Bohemian or home grown.
12. West end theatre: Buy your half-price tickets from TKTS in the middle of Leicester Square. Just the experience of being in the audience of one of these grand old and ornate theatres is enough to make it worth while.
13. Madame Tussauds: The famous wax museum is considered the best in the world. You will see likenesses of all the famous and infamous. The major drawback is the line to get in, so perhaps this site is worth buying tickets for on line.
14. Albert and Victoria/Tate Museum: London has some of the best museums in the world, and although you probably won’t get to see all of them, you should try to see at least one, you know, to prove you have some culture! If you are with kids don’t miss the Natural History Museum. What’s more nearly all London Museums are free!
Of course I could keep adding to this list endlessly, but by my calculations you could see and do everything on this list during a 3 day trip, so long as you are prepared to do a lot of walking.