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5 things you need to do in London

Updated on November 20, 2014

First trip

Other than cruises, and when I was in the military, London is my first trip to another country. We thought about it and planned for about a year. Saving money was a real focal point and, luckily, I had a very close friend who actually lives there and allowed us to take up space in her guest room for 9 days. All we needed to concern ourselves with was a good deal on plane tickets and money for souvenirs and food.

As our trip came to a close, we were still talking about some of the places and some of the tours we did earlier in the week/trip.

Here is a list of the five items I feel everyone must see/do while in London

View of the Tower Bridge from the grounds of the Tower of London
View of the Tower Bridge from the grounds of the Tower of London | Source

1. The Tower of London

If you want a history, this is the place to go. The history of the grounds date back to 1078 when the White Tower was built. The experience just walking in takes you back and you listen to the tours and see places such as the Bloody Tower and Traitor's Gate.

You can take a guided tour with one of the most iconic individuals of London that live on the grounds known as Beefeaters. They can walk you through the history of the Tower of London with stories and history you will not believe. Tour itself takes about an hour.

Among the awesome items you will be able to take in is the Royal Armory (oldest continuous attraction showing suits of armor made for kings and other items) and the Crown Jewels. The Jewel House, where the crown jewels are held, is an amazing experience of history and awe as you see the crowns and jewels that are worn by current and past monarchs. With the impending coronation of Prince William, this has an added sense of history as these items will be used and learning about the history is a great experience.

Tower of London location

A markerTower of London -
Tower of London, St Katharine's & Wapping, London EC3N 4AB, UK
get directions

2. Buckingham Palace

Obviously this was going on the list! One of the more iconic palaces in the world, this is a must see item if you are only going to be in London for one day.

We actually waited until the second to last day of our trip to experience this so that we could see the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the palace. A time is listed on a sign for the event and it is something to see. As a Marine, I thought it was interesting to see how a ceremonial changing went. Really good experience.

During the summer, you can tour some of the rooms in Buckingham Palace. Of course this would have been great, but did not coincide with our trip. There are other places to view though.

The one thing that is a must along with this is the Royal Mews. This is where they hold all forms of transportation for the British Royal Family. This includes the horses that pull the stage coaches, the stage coaches themselves and the cars used by the Royal Family. It is a self guided tour and you are given headphones and a iPhone device to walk yourself through. Among the items seen are the Coronation Coach which is so elaborate there are no words to describe it.

The Coronation Stagecoach on the Royal Mews tour at Buckingham Palace
The Coronation Stagecoach on the Royal Mews tour at Buckingham Palace | Source
Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey | Source

3. Westminster Abbey

Walking up to this building you catch yourself in a trance. The beauty and history literally grab you the moment you see it. Americans will know this as the place Prince William and Kate Middleton got married. It is a whole lot more.

Another self guided tour send you on a historic journey through the early years of England up until as recent as 1989. One of my favorite spots is the front of the church. Just the look gives you goosebumps and the design and architecture really are amazing.

The tour takes you about 90 minutes if you listen to every item. It winds you through the main part of the abbey, through the different above ground crypts and tells you the history of the individuals buried there. Individuals like Elizabeth I, William Shakespeare and Sir Isaac Newton are entombed in this grand arena and the artwork of each tomb is awe-inspiring.

You finish the tour by having the opportunity to see (no pictures) the actual coronation chair. This chair was built in 1296 for King Edward I and has been used by every monarch since 1308 on their coronation day. It is made of oak and you can see the age coming through but to know the individuals that have sat in this chair is throughout the years makes any history buff tingle inside.

Again, this chair will be used again soon and hopefully for another 700 years.

The first stop on the Dragon and Flagon pub tour
The first stop on the Dragon and Flagon pub tour | Source

4. London Food Tours

Food is an important part to anyone's day, right? When you travel, especially to another country, you do not go there to eat the foods you always eat. You have to try what that country has to offer. We did. We tried the fish and chips and we tried the bangers and mash, two staples that everyone associates with London.

Another way to do it is by going on a food tour. My friend we stayed with set up a food tour for us through a company called London Food Tours. This tour takes you to 4 'sweet' places and 4 'savory' places as our guide, and owner, Vic Norman calls them. It gives you the opportunity to try food you would have never thought of and realize what you would have missed out on. Just ask the Jamaican Patty Company restaurant I went to two more times after the tour just because I was so impressed with it.

Of course, when you go to London, you will go to a pub. Most of the time it will be on purpose and there will be times when you look at a building and say to yourself, "I have to go in there and see what this is all about!"

Let me fix this for you right now. If you plan on going to London and would like to see pubs you would never imagine, historically speaking, find a tour. And that is what we did. We were so impressed with Vic and his food tour that we were able to book one of his 7 pub tours he conducts on our last day in London. London Pub Tours offers an intricate view into the history of 5-6 pubs per tour. Along the way, Vic points out other items that offer some insight to the history of London or the tour itself.

I have been on a number of different types of food/bar tours in my time and I will tell you that Vic is the best I have seen. You feel really involved in the tour and you feel a sense of belonging. He makes it a point, even when our pub tour had 27 people in it, to come see you and speak with you to make sure you are enjoying yourself or answers any questions that you may have. The experience is something everyone should have in any type of tour.

With that being said -- always book quickly...he is a hot commodity in London.

Tea Time experience
Tea Time experience | Source

5. Tea Time

You can't be serious if you think you can get out of London without partaking in an actual tea time.

We did just that. It is an interesting experience, one that I did not think I would enjoy at all whatsoever. Looking back on it, one event I am glad I did. Tea time is a big deal around the world and especially in London. We have all seen the movies and heard the stories. Some of the most important decision in the world have been decided on a cup of tea.....right?

Anyways, the event of tea was more than I expected. It involved a bottomless glass of champagne (not offered at all establishments) and then each individual picks and gets their own pot of tea. Along with this, you receive 3 small 'courses' of food. The first are small sandwiches. Four different kinds adds up to a full sandwich.

Next is two scones each with three different types of toppers -- jam, sweet butter and some lemon concoction that was a little to sweet for this guy -- and they were delicious. It finishes up with the top of a tower with 4 sweets of assorted kinds to finish off. The tea time lasted about 90 minutes to our surprise but, as stated before, we did have the bottomless champagne.

Tea time is something that can be booked at any restaurant and hotel and usually reservations are the way to go for this.

Which item would be a must for you if you visited London?

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Wembley Stadium pre-game for the Jaguars vs. Cowboys
Wembley Stadium pre-game for the Jaguars vs. Cowboys | Source
The wife and I in front of Big Ben and Parliament
The wife and I in front of Big Ben and Parliament | Source

Have any questions?

These are the 5 things I wanted to point out and feel they are truly musts for anyone traveling to London. There are a multitude of places to go and tours to do and I just wanted to add my two cents to the travel & tourism bureau.

I know one question that will pop up is "how do I get around?" The best way to get around, and the cheapest, is the Tube. Use it and it is not as hard as you think. The lines are very user friendly and if you do not know something....ask. The locals are very friendly and super helpful to anyone.

If you have any other questions, please drop me a line and I can tell you anything you would like and help out as much as I can.

Thank you for reading and have a safe trip!

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    • Sara Jofre profile image

      Sarah 2 years ago from Portugal

      Well, If I can only have 5, I would trade the tea and the food by the Westminster Palace (with the Tower Big Ben) and the London Dungeons (or madame Tussaud if you prefer a less "scary" experience).

      Anyway, I've been to London but I did not now about the "food tour", next time (and I hope I'll have a next time), I may do it. Thank you!

    • monia saad profile image

      monia ben saad 2 years ago from In my Dream

      wonderful list and i wish to all that

    • Chris Austin profile image
      Author

      Chris Austin 2 years ago from St. Augustine, Florida

      It is going to be a blast. My friend was there for New Years last year and she said it was amazing -- crowded but still amazing.

    • Cirjan Raluca profile image

      Cirjan Raluca 2 years ago from Bucharest

      That's a good list! I'll be spending the New Year's Eve in London this year, so I find this quite useful.