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Three Days in London
How to spend 3 days in London
Like most people I love to spend time in London on my infrequent visits to the UK. However, London is very expensive, so unless you have someone to stay with we all normally only have a few days to explore this great city. Over the past 15 years I have been to London several times, visiting the main attractions of the Tower of London, British Museum and the Imperial War Museum, but also lesser attractions that are dotted around the city. The following is my tips of some of the places that I have seen and what I recommend you can cover in just three days eg Friday to Sunday. Feel free to add in your views and places that you would visit if you had just 3 days in London.
Firstly, you need somewhere to stay, but don’t pay too much. London is a busy city and you just really want somewhere to crash at the end of a long day doing ‘tourist’ work. If you have family or friends then this is the best way. My wife’s family have all moved out of London so if I need central London I stay in a Holiday Inn or The Thistle Grosvenor near Buckingham Palace (around £169 per night). Recently we stayed at the Travelodge at Heathrow before departing to the USA and paid just £15 for the night. We commuted into the city by Tube and had a great day sightseeing. The reason for the low rate is that we paid about 6 months in advance. Travelodge is a good way to save across the UK providing that you know your itinerary and can stick to it.
With the accommodation sorted it’s time to plan what you want to see. Get a copy of the London Lonely Planet and start making plans. With just 3 days you need to develop a tight schedule, know opening times and make a list of the top attractions that you want to see. Before you arrive make sure that you have a light day pack, good walking shoes & comfortable clothes. Each morning pack a bottle of water and some snacks into your day pack along with a raincoat or umbrella to help you cope with London’s unpredictable weather.
I’m an early riser, so at 6am I’m off to the local newsagency to buy papers and water before breakfast. If this day is a weekday then I want to ensure that the morning commuter rush has ended and to make my way into the city. First stop is Trafalgar Square followed by Piccadilly Circus, so that I get a feel for the city and its vibe. Next stop is to join the queue for the Tower of London (£19.80) and to take the guide tour as well as poking around the site myself.
After 3-4 hours at the Tower grab a light lunch such as a BLT sandwich or a piece of pizza and then take the tube towards the Admiralty Building to visit the fascinating Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms (£15.95). This area was closed off after WW2 and only recently re-opened in its original state. It almost feels as if Churchill had just won the war and left this bunker. After this visit walk to the Houses of Parliament in the Westminster district and take in the history of this area.
After a quiet beer in one of the many pubs head back into the city for a bit of retail therapy. Some suggestions for shopping include:
· Pick up a sportswear bargain at Lillywhites at Piccadilly Circus
· Wander Old Bond Street and visit Tiffany’s jewellers (hint go to the first floor where the stock is actually affordable!)
· Take a walk down on of the most famous shopping streets in the world – Oxford Street
· Don’t forget to find a Boots Chemist famous for their range of beauty products and their surprisingly cheap perfumes and after shaves
· Visit a Waterstones bookshop
At the end of the day you will have earned a few beers in a local pub before heading out to dinner.
Another day of sightseeing awaits! Presuming that this is a Saturday I recommend that you start at Westminster Abbey (£16). Get to the Abbey around 8.30am so that you will one of the first in the queue. Take a paper or a book with you as it doesn’t open until 9:30am. Also take the entrance that takes cash only as this is faster to be processed and you will need to have enough in cash to cover the entry fee. With any luck you will within the first 20 or so people to enter the abbey and you can then see the abbey without the distraction of other people with no need to queue! Without having to wait you will be through the Abbey in a couple of hours and not be too frustrated!
After the Abbey head across the Thames to the Imperial War Museum (free). This is a great museum with lots of interesting and free exhibitions. The WW1 trench experience is very realistic and well made, but you may want to skip the WW2 experience. There is a very confronting Holocaust exhibition as well as many old vehicles, planes, ships and bombs.
After the museum stop for lunch in one of the nice pubs nearby or head back into the city for lunch in one of the many cafes.
The afternoon is best spent in the art galleries. Start with the National Portrait Gallery (FREE) at Trafalgar Square. There are many of fine paintings that you could almost spend a whole week exploring. Prior to visiting check the web site and make a list of the paintings or exhibitions that you really want to see. Once you have finished at the National Portrait Gallery head next door to the National Gallery (FREE) and take in paintings by famous artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Cezanne, Monet, Rubens and Rembrandt among others.
Time after all this tourist work to find a quiet pub for a couple of pints and to read through a newly acquired book or guide from your visits today. For dinner you might want to head off to a Gordon Ramsey restaurant, one of the quality Indian restaurants that are everywhere in London or The Ivy. The Ivy is one of London’s famous restaurants where you will see the rich and famous on any given night. We were seated next to a soapie star! There are many delights on the menu, but I can recommend the delightful Ivy Burger...the house specialty.
One of the best things about Sunday is the chance to head off to a church to take in another part of the English culture. I recommend you to the Temple Church located just off Fleet Street. This church is an old templar knight building and you can still see the original section that is round in shape. Inside the church there are several graves of the Knights Templar. While it can be very difficult and expensive to get access to the church by visiting for the service it is free and takes just 30 minutes. An interesting part of the service is when the congregation faces towards Jerusalem, an element of the service that dates back to the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages. While you are waiting to say farewell to the priest take the opportunity to walk around the church to see the medieval graves.
After church head to the British Museum (FREE). If you arrive by 11am expect to spend 3-4 hours to explore it all. This is a massive collection, but once again do your research so that you can spend the most amount of time in areas that interest you. I personally am interested in Ancient, Biblical and Medieval history, so most of my time was spent here.
After the British Museum I recommend that you wander down Oxford Street towards Hyde Park and then pass Buckingham Palace. This will give you another chance to shop, buy souvenirs and to see other free parts of London. An interest side visit is the Speakers Corner area of Hyde Park. This is where anyone can make a speech on anything that they want. Concerning for me was that on the day I visited most of the speeches where about fundamentalist religion (both Christian and Moslem) so I made a fast exit towards Buckingham palace.
A great way to end three great days of sightseeing in London is the English tradition of having a pint or two to reflect on your experience. In summary my three days in London include:
Day One – Tower of London, Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, Go Shopping
Day Two – Westminster Abbey, Imperial War Museum, National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery
Day Three – Temple Church, British Museum, Shopping, Speakers Corner, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace