With any vacation, choosing what you will and will not see is one of the more challenging parts with planning. This decision is based on who you’re traveling with, the amount of time you have, and the distance between attractions. This summer, my family and I had three full days in London and had to narrow down the places we wanted to go. Obviously, London has some amazing attractions, including those of historical, educational, and entertaining interest. My favorite sights, listed below, are just HALF of my favorites and definitely some of the best things to see. Be sure to come back next week to read about the rest. Here they are, in no particular order:
Kensington Palace and Gardens
Palace hours: 10am – 4 pm (Nov. 1 – Feb. 28), 10am – 6 pm (March 1 – Oct. 31)
Palace admission: £15.50 for adults over 16, under 16 is free
Garden hours: 6am – dusk
Garden admission: free
At the west end of Kensington Gardens, you’ll find Kensington Palace. Despite it being the official home of Prince William and Princess Kate (as well as other royals), tours are available here seven days a week. TIP: It is recommended to purchase your tickets online due to the popularity of the palace and its inside exhibits. You will not only save a bit of money, but you’ll spend less time waiting in line. When touring inside, you’ll see the King’s Staircase, the King’s Gallery, and the King’s State Apartments.
Walk the gardens around Kensington Palace. Not only can you walk the beautiful Sunken Garden and Formal Gardens behind the palace, but you can also walk the gardens outside the palace’s main boundaries. Within these gardens, you’ll find the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, as well as other memorials, large pathways, and landscape accents. Wear good walking shoes, as there is a lot of walking that can be done in this area. Click here to visit the Kensington Palace website.
Hyde Park and Gardens
Open: 5am until midnight every day
Located right next to Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park is the largest Royal Park in London. Here, you’ll find several memorials and sculptures, including the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, London’s Holocaust Memorial, and the 7 July memorial which honors the victims of the July 7th, 2005 terrorist attack. At the southeastern end of the Serpentine Lake, you can find Serpentine Bar and Kitchen.
TIP: Wear good walking shoes if trekking through Hyde Park! The perimeter of the park measures about 3 miles.
There are bike paths, horse trails, a playground, boating and swimming available, soccer fields, gardens, and much more. Personally, I found myself in awe of the rose garden and some of the exquisite landscaping seen around the park.
First planted in 1994, the Rose Garden within Hyde Park is planted with gorgeous roses and fragrant annuals and perennials. There are also fountains to see here. Be sure to keep an eye out for any large events happening here or at Speakers’ Corner. Events happen year round within Hyde Park. Click here for more information.
Palace: Open only in late July – September. Admission times vary. See website for more information.
Royal Mews: 10am – 4pm (all of February, March, and November), 10am – 5pm (April through October), closed December 1 through the end of January
Queen’s Gallery: 10am – 5:30 pm (9:30-5:30pm, mid July – end of September)
Palace: £24 for adults (includes a multimedia tour)
Royal Mews: £10 for adults
Queens’s Gallery: £11 for adults
For a combo ticket with the State Rooms, Buckingham Place, Royal Mews, and Queen’s Gallery, the total price is £42.30 for adults.
See website for more ticketing information (including discount pricing for children and seniors) and hours of opening.
Home to 775 rooms, Buckingham Palace is the current home and office of Queen Elizabeth and her husband Price Philip. As it is the official home to the royal monarch, Buckingham Palace is usually just a ‘walk by’ attraction. However, if you are visiting London in late July, August, or September, you can get tickets for a tour of the inside of the palace (while the Queen takes her vacation). Check their official website for tickets, tours, and information.
Every month of the year, both the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery of Buckingham Palace are open to the public. At the Royal Mews, you will see the stables and where her livery are stationed. You’ll also visit the Queen’s horses and see historic carriages, cars, and uniforms worn by liverymen. Get more information on the Royal Mews here.
If you enjoy art, be sure to stop by the Queen’s Gallery. This is a permanent space that contains temporary artistic exhibitions owned by the monarchy, including collected treasures, furnishings, paintings, and sculptures. Click here to go to the Queen’s Gallery website.
TIP: If you’re at Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, be sure to get your spot well before 11:00am, when the ceremony starts (especially during the high touring season). In the summer, it’s recommended to get in your viewing spot an hour before the changing of the guard begins.
Due to recent changes in security, it’s always best to check the schedule to see if the changing of the guard will even occur. As of this posting, the ceremony will occur on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays until the April 2018 schedule is released. The changing of the guard is weather permitting and lasts around 45 minutes. Find more information on the changing of the guard at FreeToursbyFoot.com and Changing-Guard.com.
Open: Daily except on Christmas Day. Usually open from 11:00am until evening hours. Hours vary due to maintenance and time of year so check the website for accurate hours.
Admission: Rates start around £23 and vary based on waiting time, online purchase (vs. in person), and time of ride.
It seems like every visit to a big city involves getting a glimpse of the city from above. Opened in 2000, the London Eye is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the city. As of 2015, the London Eye has been advertised as the Coca-Cola London Eye. When you walk into your capsule or pod, you will be fighting for window space with 25 other people. If you don’t want to stand, there are a couple of benches in the middle of the capsule. Each ride on the London Eye lasts about 30 minutes. Try to visit on a clear day for maximum visibility. For more information on Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel, click here to go to the London Eye’s webpage.
TIP: If you’re visiting at peak times, I’d recommend buying your tickets online. We visited at 5:00pm on a Sunday in early June and had a short ten minute wait (without pre-purchasing tickets), but prime hours can see long waits.
Open: Monday through Saturday, usually 9:30am – 3:30pm (check website for hours)
Admission: Adults – £22 (£20 online), 60+ and students – £17 , children 6-16 – £9, under 5 – free. Family rates are as follows: 2 adults and 1 child – £40, 2 adults and 2 children – £45.
In 1245, construction on the present day Westminster Abbey was begun. However, the church had already been the official coronation church since 1066. For me personally, few places have touched me as much as my visit to Westminster Abbey did, due to its historical significance. Approximately 3,300 historically significant people are buried here, including Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and many kings and queens of Great Britain. Very few buildings remain standing with so much history!
If you chose to tour on your own, you will walk around the abbey in a preset direction (to avoid congestion). You will pass by chapels, tombs of notable monarchs, and see the infamous high altar. Keep in mind that no photographs are allowed inside the abbey. Be sure to see the Grave of the Unknown Warrior and the 700 year old Coronation Chair.
If you prefer to take a guided tour, verger guided tours cost an additional £5, last 90 minutes, and are only available at certain times. Reserve your tour online ahead of time if you prefer a guided tour.
TIP: If you want to save yourself a few pounds, instead of taking a guided tour, take a self-guided tour of the church with your smartphone. Download the Westminster Abbey audio tour (from Google Play or iTunes) onto your phone and be sure to bring headphones to listen while you sightsee.
Come back next week to read the second half of my favorite attractions in London. Be sure to let me know in the comments which attractions are your favorite. What’s on your “must see” list for London?
sources: royalcollection.org.uk, wikipedia.org, freetoursbyfoot.com, changing-guard.com, londoneye.com, royalparks.org.uk, westminster-abbey.org