London… one of my favorite cities in the whole world. I have walked through the cobbled streets in my dreams, daydreamed alongside the Thames, listened to Big Ben’s chimes while sipping on a cappuccino from Caffé Nero, wandered the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace, retraced the steps of Queen Victoria in Kensington Palace… I have never tired of this city. Samuel Johnson was correct when he stated: “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” I have gone to London on three separate occasions and already have a fourth trip planned in the very near future; so, with that on my mind, I have compiled a list of my favorite things to do in London (in no particular order).
The State Rooms, Buckingham Palace
My love for London only rivals my love for the Royal Family — yes, I am one of those who reads nearly every update on them, and I have no shame about it! On my second trip to London, I was lucky enough to get tickets to see the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace; I say lucky because this opportunity is only available from July-September when the Queen retires to her residence at Balmoral in Scotland. Some of the exquisite rooms you get to see along your tour include: the White Drawing Room, the Throne Room, the Picture Gallery (which includes paintings from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Poussin, and more), the Ballroom, the Grand Staircase, and the Palace Gardens. While walking through the rooms, I felt like a giddy school girl being able to walk in the same room the beloved Queen Elizabeth II does. Lunching in the Garden Cafe was probably my second favorite thing to do there, as my travel buddy and I were graced with a (rare) beautiful day. If you’re visiting in late summer, the State Rooms should be high on your list of things to do!
Colombia Road Flower Market, Shoreditch
Nestled in East London on Sunday afternoons, Colombia Road bursts to life in a colorful sea of flowers and plants of every type. The street is composed of sixty independent shops, small art galleries, and the cutest places to dine in as well. It’s a bit off the beaten path of your average tourist spots in London, but it’s an incredible way to get to know the local side of London. Often times you can also find buskers entertaining among the potent smell of flowers and flower sellers competing for your attention. While I visited in the summer, they’re open all year around, and the market blooms in winter with wreaths, poinsettias, fresh mistletoe, and real Christmas trees (which I hope to experience for myself on my next trip!)
Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Sanderson Hotel, Fitzrovia
So, an absolute must-do thing in London is having a proper afternoon tea! After shopping along Oxford Street, take a moment to fall down the rabbit hole with Sanderson Hotel’s themed afternoon tea: the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Each tea selection is Alice in Wonderland-inspired, as are each of the delectable savories and sweeties. My personal favorites include the Cheshire Cat tea, White Rabbit cucumber and cream cheese sandwich, Alice’s exotic fruits “Drink Me” potion, and the King of Hearts ham and parmesan roque-monsieur. The crockery is even Wonderland themed with King and Queen teapots, birdcage plates and tea saucers, and a whimsical cake stand for all of your treats; the best part is: you can purchase this crockery at Luna & Curious is you love it as much as I did!
Kensington Palace and Gardens, Kensington
You cannot visit London without paying a visit to the royal residence of Kensington Palace. Currently home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their adorable family as well as the newly wed’s the Duke and Duchess of Sussex; previous residence include Princess Margaret, sister to the beloved Queen Elizabeth II, with the Earl of Snowdon, Prince Charles and Princess Diana of Wales, who remained their after their divorce with the Princes William and Harry until her death, and even the notable Queen Victoria prior to her reign, until she moved to Buckingham Palace. The Palace itself is host to two of my favorite exhibits in London: Victoria Revealed, an exhibit about the Queen’s long life and romance with Prince Albert in her own words, and Diana: Her Fashion Story, an exhibit of the extraordinary Princess Diana that includes some of her most infamous fashion outfits.
The Shard, Southwark
As the tallest building in the United Kingdom, the tallest building in the European Union, the fifth-tallest building in Europe and the 96th-tallest building in the world, the Shard stands at 309.7 meters and provides some of the most stunning views of the city. The highest level the public can visit is the 72 floor at 244 meters, which is a viewing gallery that is partially open-air. At the top, you can indulge in a glass of champagne and spectacular views of the city of London; there are also 6 restaurants and bars throughout the Shard and the Shangri-La Hotel. This is probably one of my favorite views of the city, and, in my (unpopular?) opinion, tops that of the London Eye experience.
Palace of Westminster, Westminster
You’ve explored off the beaten path places, had your afternoon tea, and visited the iconic palaces of London, but your trip is never complete without a trip to the iconic Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament. My favorite view is a short stroll across the Westminster Bridge and near the St. Thomas Hospital Gardens; each time I’ve strolled along the Thames, I’ve gotten an outstanding view of Big Ben with minimal tourists around. Grab yourself a cappuccino from Caffé Nero in the nearby Westminster Tube Station, stroll along the bridge, sit yourself along the wall, and enjoy the bells chiming for a truly outstanding experience.
Café Godiva, Harrods, Knightsbridge
Nestled inside the luxury department store, Harrods, that spans 5-acres with 330 different departments is Café Godiva. I, for one, am not a huge fan of chocolate — I know, a sinful statement — but the Café is a must-go for anyone, especially chocolate lovers! Between fondue, truffles, shots of chocolate, and baked goods of every type, this is truly a spectacular chocolate experience. After a long day of exploring the magical departments in Harrods — they have a truly spectacular Christmas display that makes even the Scrooge’s in the world feel holly jolly — you’ll certainly be dying for a snack of a bite to eat, and this is definitely the place to go!
Camden Lock, Camden Town
Famous for quirky fashion, a bustling market, and some of the most wild storefronts, Camden Town in general is a borough of London that is a must visit. The beautiful lock provides stunning photo ops, the storefronts are completely stunning, and the food options are unlimited. Amy Winehouse, Charles Dickens, and AC/DC’s lead singer Bon Scott are all known to have lived — or died — here; Bob Cratchet from A Christmas Carol — one of my all-time favorite novels/plays — was a resident here, Amy — the documentary on Amy Winehouse’s life — was partially filmed here, and even Morissey has a song titled, “Come Back to Camden.” Camden Town is an epicenter of culture in London and an absolute must-see.
Westminster Abbey, Westminster
This Gothic Abbey has seen coronations, weddings, and funerals of some of the most important people in history. Queen Elizabeth II was both wed and coronated here, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were wed here, every monarch from the year 1066 has been coronated here, Queen Elizabeth I is buried here with her half-sister Mary I, Mary, Queen of Scots, is buried here, and even non-royals have memorials in the Abbey: Jane Austen, Lord Byron, the Bronte sisters, Winston Churchill, C. S. Lewis, and William Shakespeare, just to name a few. The Abbey is a gorgeous place to wander around, as is the Dean’s Yard, nearby.
Tower of London, City of London
And last on the list, but certainly not least, is the Tower of London, a medieval castle situated right along the Thames with a very bloody history and home to the Crown Jewels. The castle was founded in 1066 during the Norman Invasion, by William the Conqueror, and is home to one of the most infamous prisons: the Bloody Tower. The Bloody Tower is most known for the imprisonment and murder of 12-year-old Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, in 1483, as well as the imprisonment of Sir Walter Raleigh for 13 years. The Tower of London is infamous for the execution of Anne Boleyn, the imprisonment of Queen Elizabeth I by her sister Mary I, the torture of Guy Fawkes following the Gunpowder Plot — remember, remember, the fifth of November — and the imprisonment of Lady Jane Grey after a nine-day rule following Edward VI’s death. It’s a castle filled with history and an utterly beautiful place to walk around in on a nice day in London, it’s a must not miss.
If you’d like a full itinerary on what to do on a weekend in London, I have a full post written about that!
What are some of your favorite spots in London? Do you disagree with some of my choices? I’d love to hear your opinions, so pop a comment below!