Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Whirlwind Week in London - Touring Tuesday

The Manor was host to two of our very good college friends for a week.  They'd never been across the ocean before, so they were up for anything!
We did not spend hours in any one place.  I tried to take them in for the highlights so they could get a flavor for all that London has to offer.  I had to keep track of time to return to our borough to retrieve Youngest Kiddo, so you could actually spend more time at the venues if you so choose.  I think our itinerary proves that you can just about see it all in one week (I listed the day's starting tube station in case you want to try our itinerary).

Sunday - arrival day Tube: Westminster
Pick up at Heathrow
Lunch at home
Westminster sights (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, London Eye, River Thames)
Walk Whitehall to Trafalgar
Walk Trafalgar to Covent Garden & Seven Dials
Pub in Covent Garden 

We created a loose plan for the day since we had no idea how much (or little) sleep they had on the flight.  Luckily they had a few hours and were game to get out into the city.  I think the Westminster area is a great first stop because you see so many iconic structures in one spot.  A few drinks in the pub was a nice way to end their first day.    

Monday - Tube: Knightsbridge
Victoria & Albert Museum
Natural History Museum
Walk to Kensington Gardens (see Royal Albert Hall & Albert Memorial)
Tour Kensington Palace

We chose to spend some time in Knightsbridge & South Kensington for their first full day of touring.  I thought it would be best to start at Harrods right at opening to walk the food halls, see the Egyptian staircase, and handbag department before the other tourists even finished their coffee.  The architecture in many of the museums is part of the charm.  The main lobby of the Natural History Museum is beyond gorgeous.  We had to queue outside the museum for about 20 minutes, but that gave us the chance to see all of the different tiles, gargoyles, and motifs on the building.  

Tuesday - Tube: Green Park
Changing of the Guard
Take away Pret sandwiches in Trafalgar Square
Tour Buckingham Palace

As much as I love the royals, the Changing of the Guard is not actually something you need to do.  Prior viewings had a well choreographed entrance of the fresh guard and an amusing concert with everyone's favorite God Save the Queen (also known as My Country Tis of Thee for the Americans out there).  Sometimes they throw in a contemporary tune or even the James Bond theme.  This particular day was uncharacteristically abysmal.  The band played sporadically, and it was just a big let down.  So we chose to waste no more time on that.  However, we did get a great view of the outgoing guard as they followed us down The Mall toward Trafalgar Square.  The highlight of the day was the summer opening of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms.  This year's theme had the ballroom set up for a state banquet; I'd sure like to be invited to one of those!

Wednesday - Tube: Kings Cross
Walk through Kings Cross & St. Pancras Stations to see the architecture & Platform 9 3/4
Camden Market (big thumbs down)
Walk to Primrose Hill and pass by Regent's Canal (big thumbs up!)
Piccadilly Circus to see favorite shops (Liberty, Fortnum & Mason, etc)
Self-guided pub crawl thanks to Yelp recommendations

I never get up to North London during the week because it's not the easiest to get there and back in time to pick the kiddos up from school.  So I was happy that the guests wanted to see that part of town.  Primrose Hill's view of the city is worth the gluteus maximus work out to get to the top.  Skip Camden Market and go for the fun shops off Piccadilly & Regent Streets.

Thursday - Tube: Monument
View The Monument (climb the 311 steps if you feel adventurous)
Tour Sky Garden (prebook your FREE tickets)
Leadenhall Market (Diagon Alley scenes from Harry Potter movies)
Borough Market 
British Museum

The Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street is one of my favorite spots in the city (tickets are FREE, but you must prebook your time slot).  I highly recommend this over the London Eye due to cost and ambiance.  Then we walked to nearby Borough Market to see its lovely, historic food market with many diverse food options.  Be sure you bring cash if you go as not many stalls take cards.  We ended our day at the British Museum for my favorite must see items: Elgin Marbles (George Clooney's wife is trying to help get these returned to Greece), Egyptian Mummies, and the Room of Enlightenment.     

Friday- Tube: Tower Hill
Tower of London
Tower Bridge
Walk across Tower Bridge to St. Paul's
Pub in Richmond for dinner without the kids

We sent our guests to tour the Tower of London and met them for lunch at Wagamama Tower Hill.  Our walk from the Tower Bridge down to the Tate Modern gave a great view of the city.  Please admire the great view of St. Paul's before you cross the Millennium Bridge.  Since we spent so much time in the city during the week, we picked a pub out in Richmond for dinner so they could see another facet of Greater London.  

Saturday - Tube: Hammersmith
Fish & Chips @ Kerbisher & Malt
Bishop's Park for playtime and see and hear the Fulham stadium crowd
home for Pimms and dinner

Our guests' final day in London was certainly less eventful than the previous days.  We went for lunch at our favorite chippy (British for fish & chip shop), and ended the day with a stop at a park on the river.  Everyone took a turn playing on the equipment (although the adults realized that spinning rides aren't for us anymore) amidst the sounds of the nearby crowd as Fulham played Brighton and Hove Albion.  We spent the rest of the evening at home, eating, drinking Pimms, and laughing with our friends one last time. 

Then the week was over.  Their cab arrived at 5:30 Sunday morning to usher them back to Chicago.  It was a memorable week that I know none of us will forget.
What didn't we do?  I know it seems impossible that we missed anything.  Here's what I'd add with a few more days:
*West End show - There are always great shows in London, but I just never get around to booking tickets.
*National Gallery - Ran out of time
*River Thames boat ride - Ran out of time
*Afternoon Tea - I could have made it work, but I still can't stomach the £35+ per person at a proper spot for tiny sandwiches and a few bites of cake.  Yes there are cheaper options, but I feel you have to do this right or not at all.  
*A picnic in the park - The sun really never came out to make this a worthwhile event.  Sunny picnics in the park have the best people watching.  
*London Eye - Skipped this on purpose because the Sky Garden is free and they have snacks!


  1. Holy cow - definitely a whirlwind week! That is some impressive sight seeing!

    1. We are still exhausted! We might get back out into the city tomorrow (three days after they departed!).

  2. Wow! This is an amazing iteniarary! You are my kind of sightseer! This took some planning, but I'm guessing you enjoyed that part. I'm bookmarking this for a hopeful trip to London again. Glad to hear that you have settled in so well and have conquered your new city:)

    1. Hi Katie!! So lovely to hear from you. Yes, it was fun to plan this visit. They wanted to see all of our favorite places, so I guess you could say the whole city is our favorite :)