London Tourist

I've been to London many times, but I enjoy something different every time I go.  There is simply too much to experience in one vacation.  This time my husband was busy visiting an aunt at a London hospital so we had to entertain ourselves.

Getting around is easy once you figure out the underground and buses.  If you really have no idea what to do, a good place to get information is the London Tourist Office near St. Paul's Cathedral. They can answer questions, set up tours, and put you in the right direction. You can opt for a self guided walking tour or even hire a private guide for the day. Maybe you want to buy a London Pass to see the big name tourist attractions. You should definitely get an oyster card for the cheapest travel while you see the city.  Taxis are available, but unless you have 3 people going to the same place, it isn't cost effective. You can also buy paper tickets for just a single ride using the kiosk at most underground stations.  If you're not sure what to buy, bring your credit card to an attendant and ask for help.  They can give you the options and show you how to use the machines, if that's your desire.  If you're used to using a smart phone to get around, you can download apps for London, which include off line maps.  Some I used are Tube Map- London Underground, and the Tripadvisor City Guide, but there are a number of free apps.  Riding the Tube is an experience.  You may run into entertainers at the stations, if you're lucky.  They are selected through the arts council and appreciate tips.  We met a harpist who let Omar "pet" the strings.
You may see performers in the Tube Stations- this one a classical harpist
The Underground stations are easy to spot by the signage

City of London Tourist Information Office

Seeing a show there is a MUST!  Though tickets can be pricey, the quality of the shows are stupendous.  You can buy in advance through a number of agencies, and usually they charge a fee for the convenience.  Try Theatre People, Box office, or call the theatre if you know where the show is playing.  On the day of a performance, you can stop by the Leicester Square TKTS booth and pick up the cheapest tickets, if you aren't fussy about what you see.  I have never seen a bad show, so I'm sure whatever you see will be good.  We had preordered tickets to see the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical, based on youtube previews our son had seen...daily...for the past 6 months or so.  He was so hyped up to go that he'd been telling everyone he was going to see it before we even planned a trip to London.  It was incredible in so many ways.  The special effects and the talent of the children cast members was the highpoint, but the story was also good.  Even if you've never seen the movies or read the Roald Dahl books, you'd enjoy it.  They even sold Wonka bars in the lobby.  We also saw Thriller at the Lyric Theatre, which had some talented dancers and singers in a tribute to Michael Jackson.
Royal Drury Lane Theatre
You should probably see a church and a castle.  Most people do.  But unless you're crazy about that style of architecture, see some modern buildings too.  St. Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey would be high on my list for churches.  Buckingham Palace or a trip out to Windsor Castle will fill the bill for castles. If you can be there for the changing of the guard , it is quite regal and interesting.  We have nothing like it in comparison.  If you aren't able to go inside, you can still enjoy the grounds and parks surrounding these buildings.
St. Paul's Cathedral

Buckingham Palace
Changing of the guard at Windsor Palace
Shopping is fun if you are looking for something in particular, or even if you just want to "window shop".  There are a few parts of the city with pedestrian zones.  Most busy crosswalks are marked to remind you to look for traffic in the opposite direction you are probably used to.  You should visit a market too, if for no other reason to see the local foods, maybe catch a free performance, and people watch.  I especially like the area around Covent Garden.  Stop at the Covent Garden market and you can walk to Hotel Chocolat (via mostly pedestrian streets) for a pick me up.  My husband likes Vivo Barefoot shoes and they have a flagship store on Neal street in this area.  There are also about a dozen other shoe stores on the same block.  The area in the market and also near St. Paul's Church at Covent Garden is a great place to catch a street performer.  You may see harpists, classical music, opera, or jugglers.  Anything is possible.

Simply so many chocolate varieties in this shop

Covent Garden Market

The market has shops plus fresh foods in and outdoors

String quartet playing at Covent Garden Market
Visit at least one museum...or more if it's raining.  They are often free and it's not only the displays you'll find interesting, but the architecture of the building and the live performances.  We went to the Victoria & Albert Museum, just 5 minutes walk from South Kensington tube station. Admission was free, though you can donate.  After viewing about one third of the exhibits, we went to the cafe for scones and tea (delicious and so British!).  Afterwards Omar found a group of artists sketching and wanted to join them so we quickly bought a sketch pad, in the gift shop by the wedding dress and fashion exhibit, and he sat down for 20 minutes.  What an impromptu adventure!  The courtyard is a nice place to take your coffee, sketchpad and scones if weather is nicer.  The Science Museum and Natural History Museums are within walking distance of this one, and they are also free.  Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are nearby and if weather is nice, you should go see what's blooming or pick up a sandwich and enjoy it on a bench while you people watch. You could spend an entire day just in this neighborhood without spending anything.
V&A courtyard
So many choices in the cafe- lovely scones!

The artist sketching
Of course this only covered a small amount of what you can do in London, but it gives you a taste.  Some other ideas: Eat fish & chips, ride in a taxi, sit in the top of a double decker bus, ride the London Eye, do the zoo, take a boat ride on the Thames, or borrow a bike for a few hours.  We always enjoy the city!


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