I’ve only been to London once for not much more than 48 hours, but it was easily one of my favorite places that I’ve traveled to so far. There’s a reason it’s such a popular destination spot for people from all over the world, whether for business, study, or leisure. London combines being a huge, modern fashion capital with being full of culture, history, royalty, and charm. Of course, not everyone has the time or the money to experience this place for an extended amount of time, but no need to worry! You can easily get to know what the city has to offer in just two days if you do it right. (Keep in mind that such a big place will be divided up into different areas. The area I stayed in was Westminster.)
The very first thing I did (besides almost getting lost on the way to check into our hotel) was see the Buckingham Palace. This is where the king and queen of the United Kingdom live, as well as the place where you can see London’s famous royal guards. I didn’t actually go on a tour of the inside, but if that’s something you’re interested in I strongly suggest looking into this before you go, as it is only open for tours at certain times of the year. However, seeing it from the outside is a must have experience in itself…and it’s free! I also recommend going into the gift shop, even if you don’t buy anything. They have everything from fragrances for your home to corgi plushies (I didn’t know the Queen’s dogs were such a big deal until I visited London…they’re everywhere). One thing I didn’t know beforehand and ended up figuring out myself is that you don’t actually meet the royal guards outside the Buckingham Palace, since there’s a massive gate between you and the entrance of the palace. If you’re interested in taking pictures with them, you should go to Horse Guards Parade, which I wrote more about later in this post.
St. James Park
Just a 10 minute walk from Buckingham Palace is one of my favorite spots in London, the beautiful St. James Park, which is the oldest royal park in the capital. St. James Park is the perfect place for a peaceful stroll, solo or with company. From the park you can see two of London’s most famous landmarks; Big Ben and the London Eye. It also has a small lake full of different types of birds, from pelicans to geese to several types of ducks, to the swans owned by the Queen herself. You can feed them (I bought a bag of nuts from a corner shop a few blocks away), just keep in mind that geese and swans are pretty aggressive. You can also feed and pet the squirrels, they’re extremely friendly here if you have food for them. (Side note: Make sure you’re just feeding the animals nuts or bread, as other things may be bad for them). This is definitely a great place for an animal and nature lover like myself. Besides that, the park is a great photography spot and just generally a very pleasant place to be. I wouldn’t go to London without checking this place out.
Obviously, seeing Big Ben up close is a must (by the way, Big Ben is actually the name of the clock inside the tower. The tower itself is called the Elizabeth Tower, but everyone calls it Big Ben anyway). I don’t believe you can go inside the tower, but everyone who visits London needs a picture with it! You can see Big Ben from all over the city, although one the best spots is on the way to and standing on the Westminster Bridge.
A ticket to ride the London Eye costs about 20 pound, which is a little expensive for a Ferris wheel, but this is one of the biggest and most famous Ferris wheels there is. I rode it at night, which is probably more impressive than during the day because Big Ben is lit up down below and you can see city lights all around you. Pictures are probably better quality during the day though, so that’s something to take into consideration. The London Eye is 443 feet high, but it goes up slowly and has seats in each car, so even if you’re afraid of heights you don’t have to back out on this opportunity.
There are a few attractions right by the London Eye (London Dungeon, wax museum, Shrek adventure, aquarium) and they all cost about 20 pound each so I chose the one I thought I would enjoy the most, which was the London Aquarium. While this isn’t the biggest aquarium I’ve been to, I had a great time here. They have sharks, tropical fish, penguins, and even crocodiles. There were a few educational lectures going on about different species of fish and an exhibit where I got to touch starfish and an anemone. I wouldn’t put this as a first priority of things to do in London, simply because you can have a similar experience in a lot of cities, but if you want to kill some time before getting on the Eye, this is a great way to do it.
Horse Guards Parade
You can watch the guards change (switch places with a new guard while marching) every morning at the Horse Guards Parade. Another interesting thing to do there is “meet” the guards. As many people know, you won’t actually get to speak with them because the guards on duty aren’t allowed to speak to you, smile, or interact with you in anyway unless it’s to yell at you for doing something you aren’t supposed to. A lot of people like to try to make them break this rule by telling them jokes or making faces at them, but almost no one succeeds. It doesn’t hurt to try, though! Plus, how often do you get to pose with a royal guard?
Westminster Abbey, a cathedral that is over 700 years old, holds so much British history. It has been the home of many coronations and royal weddings since it was built. It really blew my mind to be standing in front of such a physically breathtaking piece of architecture that had so much take place in it. It is possible to go inside, but it costs 20 pound (that seems to be the average cost of the big attractions in London). You can actually get in for free on Sundays if you say you’re going for worship, although keep in mind it will be very crowded, so it’s probably not the most enjoyable way to experience the cathedral.
These things are barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to London, but they’ll make for a weekend you’ll never forget. One thing I don’t regret, however, is walking everywhere! Even though my feet were absolutely killing me by the end of the trip, I got to see a lot of London in between walking from one main attraction to another. There are plenty of pubs, places to eat, statues, and red telephone booths to see on the way to pretty much anywhere in Westminster, so I highly recommend saving some extra money and getting some exercise by spending your two days walking as much as you possibly can (Google maps and Starbucks wifi will be your best friends while doing this).