London (The Real One!) Travel Tips and Advice

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by kylet3, Jul 11, 2011.

  1. kylet3

    kylet3 Well-Known Member

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    Hi All,

    I'm going to be heading to London (and Paris) on a Contiki Tour. I have about three (or so) days in London. I land at 2 PM and I'm hoping I won't be jet lagged (plan to sleep on the plane as much as possible)because I really want to get out and see all I can of course. I plan to tour Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London, Big Ben, Harrods, Maybe Hyde Park? There's also a side trip to Stonehenge but I think I'll skip that and go to Windsor Castle instead.

    Does anythone think this can all be done in that time frame? Is this all accessible by subway/bus? Is it difficult to get around? I don't have much time before I depart off to Paris for about 5 days. Any help of course would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks a bunch!

    Kyle
  2. PDilemma

    PDilemma Well-Known Member

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    My friend and I spent about three and a half days of our ten day England trip in London. We did Buckingham, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben the first day after arriving about two p.m. The Tower for a morning and Harrods and few other sights that afternoon. So you certainly have time for Windsor and a bit more.

    The subway is easy to use and if you aren't afraid of walking a bit, things are even easier. You can easily walk the area around the Abbey and Parliament, and even from there to the Palace, Trafalgar and go by 10 Downing on the way.

    We didn't go to Windsor, but I believe you will have to take a train to get there.
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  3. JasperBoy

    JasperBoy Well-Known Member

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    I was just in London for a week and did very different things this time. Saw parts of London that I had never seen before. But for a first-timer, you want to see the main attractions.

    I imagine your ConTiki tour will include a half day bus tour of London at some point. That might be enough to view Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, since you really can't get inside them anyway.

    How about a Hop On Hop Off bus? It will take you to many tourist highlights and you can jump off at the ones you want to see. There seems to be a bus every 20 to 60 mins, depending on the route. That's better for a first-timer than using the tube, where you won't see anything.

    The Tower is a good distance from most of the other landmarks. You can rent a self-guided audio tour at the gate or join a Beefeater tour (if you can understand him!) I don't know what to say about Stonehenge vs Windsor Castle. It all depends on your interests. Stonehenge was a bit of a letdown, but it is still very significant. Windsor Castle is very crowded but thrilling.

    Oh, and don't forget Trafalgar Square. There are so many important buildings and memorials there. It will be on every bus tour and is a beehive of activity.

    Two other suggestions: Take the London Eye (a HopOn HopOff stop). Walk across the Millennium Bridge from St Paul's to Bankside. It's a bit out of the way on the transportation link, however.

    Have fun.
  4. kylet3

    kylet3 Well-Known Member

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    Actually I have plans to tour the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace since it will be open to the Public at that time while Liz is up at Balmoral... :shuffle:
  5. Cheylana

    Cheylana Well-Known Member

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    Love, love, love London! A few thoughts off the top of my head:

    Try to find out which spots in London your Contiki tour will focus on, so you don't spend a bunch of time seeing something that you'll repeat on the tour.

    I cannot recommend The Tower of London enough -- great fun!! Though I love English royal history (have read several Alison Weir books) and love seeing where famous English people were kept locked up.

    Westminster Abbey is also worthwhile IMO (but again I love English royal history).

    Hyde Park is beautiful and worth a walk-through. Rivals Central Park, IMO.

    Harrod's is also fun for a stroll. (Although they have a weird Princess Diana shrine that I thought was a little :scream:)

    If Buckingham Palace is open for tours when you go (it's only open during certain parts of the year), do it; the interior is beautiful. ETA - Oh, I see you already have this covered! You'll love it! :)

    Thought the London Eye was overrated -- nice view of the city but glass is cloudy so unless you have a state of the art camera, I wouldn't expect to take amazing photos from up there. Especially if you go at night. And it's mad expensive (IMO)! :slinkaway

    All of this is definitely accessible by train (Tube). Strangers are very friendly and helpful in my experience.

    If you have time for a junket outside London and you are so inclined, I recommend a day trip to Bath. Love Bath. Not sure how much the train ticket would cost, and I'm assuming this isn't already part of your Contiki tour.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2011
  6. pollyanna

    pollyanna Don't blink

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    St. Paul's Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Princess Diana wed, is also breathtaking. I believe the cathedral just underwent a massive restoration project, so it should be quite a sight this summer.
  7. Allskate

    Allskate Well-Known Member

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    Try to go to Evensong when you go to Westminster Abbey. The choir is wonderful.

    If you like good theatre, you might check into what plays are going to be on while you're in London.
  8. Cheylana

    Cheylana Well-Known Member

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    Second this. You can climb the stairs to the top, which is a bit of a workout but worthwhile.
  9. Marge_Simpson

    Marge_Simpson Well-Known Member

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    My very first trip to Europe was on a Contiki tour, in 1985 - I had no idea they still existed. Of course I am WAY past their age limits now. :lol:
  10. StarshineXavier

    StarshineXavier Member

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    I'd also add the Natural History Museum and Science Museum to the list if you're into that. They've got great collections and interactive exhibits. They're free too!

    There is a bus tour that goes to Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Bath all in one day. I've done the tour myself and thoroughly enjoyed it. Here's a link to one of the companies that run the tour: http://www.sightseeingtourslondon.com/windsor-stonehenge-bath-tour-p-38.html

    If you're going to be taking the tube/busses a lot, get a daily travel card. You can select the travel card for the zones of your preference and have unlimited travel for that day. Zone 1-2 daily travel card is 8 pounds. Not bad when a single trip paying cash is 4 pounds.

    Another shopping place to visit is Westfields. It's a huge mall with designer stores just off of the Shepherd's Bush tube station.

    I live in London, so if you have any questions, feel free to pm me. :)
  11. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    Harrods has a nice food court so if you are going, don't miss it. I second a day trip to Bath. Loved it.
  12. millyskate

    millyskate Well-Known Member

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  13. Cheylana

    Cheylana Well-Known Member

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    Ok, one more thing on Bath and then I'll shut up (maybe). If you go, consider taking your tea at Sally Lunn's tea house. Go one flight up to the Jane Austen tea room and treat yourself to some of their delicious tea and one of their amazing buns! You won't be sorry! :swoon:
  14. Artemis@BC

    Artemis@BC Well-Known Member

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    Wow, 3 days isn't very long, you probably won't have time for much more than the top tourist spots.

    For Westminster vs. Stonehenge, they're so different it's hard to compare, but it does depend a lot on your tastes. The disadvantage of Stonehenge for you is the time it takes to travel there.

    If you do have some gaps in your schedule, here are some of my favourite things that might not be on the obvious top 10 list:
    ~ At least one London Walk. They're mostly "off the beaten path" tours of neighbourhoods, led by enthusiastic guides, and very reasonable. The evening ghost or Jack the Ripper ones are fun too. Esp. the ones that end in a pub. ;)
    ~ A Thames river cruise -- nicer than a bus tour IMO. And if you don't get to go into the Tower of London, the cruise will at least take you by it.
    ~ If you really want to splurge, treat yourself to a tea at Clariges, Harrods, or Fortnum & Mason's.
    ~ Do at least one market. Portabello Road is good for the classic market experience, or Camden.
    ~ All the public museums and art galleries are great, plus they're free! (donations requested) My faves are The British, V&A, Museum of the City of London, and the Tate Modern.
    ~ Go to Evensong at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's. Beautiful.
    ~ Go to Highgate Cemetery on a Sunday afternoon for a tour of the west cemetery. Amazing.

    And I personally like The London Eye. It's touristy, but everyone should do it once. Buy your ticket in advance to save the lineup (well, one of the lineups anyway).
  15. victoriajh

    victoriajh Well-Known Member

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    i have been in - it is FABULOUS!!! the throne room was such a dream come true for me :)
    I love love love london-

    I alwasy go to oxford circus and have a boo down the shops- I also really like carnby street- super cute boutiques and irregular choice (which is the BEST shoes ever)

    knightsbridge is also lovely to windwo shop in ( monsson down there is the best one in london)

    victoria station is lovely and if you are a harrry potter fan then you gotta go there

    I aslo highly reccemnd wicked at the victoria apollo ( rachel tucker is amazing as elphaba)

    if you are a royal fan-then you gotta go to westminster abbey it is fantastic (elizabeth the first is worth the price of admission right there)
  16. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    Absolutely! I love that place. The famous Sally Lunn's buns rock.
  17. CarolineL

    CarolineL Member

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    I am doing two weeks in England in August. For our London days, we have The Tower, Westminster Abbey, Windsor, St Paul's, the Globe Theatre, and Hampton Court. This is over three days though. Then we are doing a silly day in London and seeing the Dr Who Experience, Madame Tussauds, the Aquarium and the London Dungeon, followed by a Medieval Times dinner near the Tower. I always get a London Pass which I find really reduces the cost of everything, and there are coupons and on line savings everywhere.

    We are doing a full day in Bath with four hours in the Thermae spa. I will need it after my London days. And we have already decided what we are doing for dinner at Sally Lunn!
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  18. UMBS Go Blue

    UMBS Go Blue KWEEN 2016! YES WE KWAN!

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    If you have a free day where you plan on hopping around London but plan to stick within central London (zone 1 on the tube):

    * Try avoiding the tube as much as possible - you will otherwise waste too much time going down to / moseying about / waiting for trains / coming out of deep tunnels and passageways. It's also hot and un-air conditioned in the summer.
    * Grab a tourist map (or, better yet, the A-Z map books sold in stationery shops and convenience stores) and just walk everywhere - so much to see at street level, and so many unexpected things you could discover in nooks and crannies here and there
    * If you have an iPhone/iPod, try using free wi-fi or consider getting an international data roaming plan just so you can have access to GPS/Google maps so that you can easily figure out the most direct/fastest walking route, or quickly Google the precise address of something you want to go to. Even if you're overwhelmed with looking up a printed map, a Google map can show you a surprisingly straight route that avoids having to zig zag your way through major arteries or the Tube. Again, going the most direct route down some smaller side streets can lead you to some unexpected window shopping or historical markers/discoveries here and there.
    * For example, the Apple stores on Regent Street and in Covent Garden, and a select few coffee shops/fast food places/public plazas, have free wi-fi, which when combined with Skype for iPhone was invaluable to me when I had to spend hours on the phone with the airlines this past March. By the way, calling an 800 number using Skype for iPhone is completely free, and I also put a few dollars into my Skype account if I needed to call any local/international number - no more payphones, roaming charges, or calling cards.
    * If you need to do public transit and are good with bus shelter maps and locating the correct bus shelter at the correct street corner/direction, hop on/off a bus for a generally much faster ride than the Tube.

    Get an Oyster card if you need to use the tube or the bus - there is a refundable 5 pound deposit - it saves you up to 50% off the standard fare, and there is a built-in daily limit to the amount you can spend (6.30 within Zone 1 and 2 last I remember).

    All that having been said, if you plan on traveling outside zone 1, the Tube is a surprisingly fast and economical way to go. For example, if you're staying in central London, if you're flying into Heathrow (not Gatwick), and don't mind hauling your luggage around lots of steps and elevators, taking the Tube straight from Heathrow to the station nearest your hotel will be much, much cheaper than Heathrow Express (20? pounds round trip) and much faster too. Look at it this way: you're getting lots of exercise.

    Heathrow Express stops at Paddington, which is on the western fringe of central London and may not be anywhere near your final destination (hotel/hostel/friend). In that case, you'd still need to switch to the Tube or to a taxi at Paddington anyway - necessitating extra transfer time and an extra fare - to get where you want to go, so why not just take the Tube all the way anyway, minimize the extra steps that negate any time advantage you'd get from the faster Heathrow Express train, and save lots of money too?

    If you do have to take Heathrow Express to Paddington, just take Heathrow Connect (same platform) instead. The trip is ~30 minutes as opposed to 15 minutes, but the fare is also ~50% less. Heathrow Connect is also empty outside of rush hour, so you will get more room for yourself and your luggage than on the sometimes-crowded Heathrow Express with its annoying in-train ads and announcements.
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2011
  19. Reuven

    Reuven Official FSU Alte Kacher

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    Don’t forget the British Museum and/or The Victoria & Albert museums. If you go to the Tower, get there early. We did by happenstance and just about had the place to ourselves. The guards at the Crown Jewels even let us go past twice (you move by them on a people mover). Hop on/Off bus is a very good way to survey London. Ticket’s good for 24 hours.
  20. Artemis@BC

    Artemis@BC Well-Known Member

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    Or even better, HopStop. I used this in New York and it was invaluable. Type in where you are and where you're going, and it will give you walking routes/times (and calories burned, LOL), transit routes/times, taxi times/rates, etc.

    (And for when you hit Paris, HopStop Paris).
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  21. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa Port de bras!!!

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    Shopping on King's Road in Chelsea is fun. You can find stores favored by the Duchess of Cambridge, like the Warehouse. :p
  22. victoriajh

    victoriajh Well-Known Member

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    yes or go later- we did the same thing rigth before closing time! no cue at all- otherwise when you see a cue outside and if it is down the road you have A LONG wait-once in the building it is like 20 min or so more from there-
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  23. kylet3

    kylet3 Well-Known Member

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    Oh No this is all Excellent, keep up with as much as you all can think of! I appreciate it all.

    So far I think I'm going to do (if I can) Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Tower of London, Tower Bridge (for pictures) Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Harrods, Camden Markets, what's the other tourist stuff I'm missing? but I think that about covers it for now. Picadailly Circus! Doing that my first night. SoHo?
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  24. Christina

    Christina Well-Known Member

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    Hampton Court is nice, but a bit of a train ride. I second getting to the Tower early - it's much less crowded. St. Martin in the Fields is off of Trafalgar Square and has a nice evensong service. The cafe in the crypt had yummy apple crumble with custard!

    If you go to Harrods, run across the way to Harvey Nichols and check out the foodstuffs on the 4th(?) floor - neat stuff there.

    I'll second the British museum, and Covent Garden is a short walk from there.
  25. JasperBoy

    JasperBoy Well-Known Member

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    I just spent a week at Camden Town and saw a lot of the market and Regent's Canal. It is very unusual. The Stables Market and Horse Tunnel Market are in an huge old building formerly used as a horse barn. There are bronze statues of horses everywhere. We went at 8 AM before anything opened and were able to see the details. Once the market opens it is wall to wall people.
    You can have any part of your body "modified" in any way you wish at on Camden High Street.

    Nice of Liz to head out of town so you will be able to see the Palace!
  26. BrokenAnkle

    BrokenAnkle Active Member

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    When we were in London some years ago, we really were fascinated by the Cabinet War Rooms. It's like stepping back into the past. Given a choice of all the museums, I would choose the National Gallery, The British Library (the Magna Carta and other amazing manuscripts and print materials) and perhaps the Tate Modern. Loved Hampton Court but it does take a while to get there.
  27. allezfred

    allezfred Prick Admin Staff Member

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    Nobody says "the Warehouse". It's just "Warehouse". ;)
  28. Tinami Amori

    Tinami Amori Well-Known Member

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    3 days is tight. But can be done. You will need to bundle the attractions you want to see by districts in London.

    Here is the attractions map of London.
    http://www.londonpass.com/london-tourist-map/index.php

    From your list + few more:

    A) Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament – 3 hrs.
    Westminster Abbey is not always open to public for walk in visits. Check times for casual visits and services. http://www.westminster-abbey.org/

    Big Ben/Clock Tower is NOT open to public for visits. Enjoy the view from the side walk.
    Parliament – check website if you want to sit in on a session for “pro-forma”
    http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/overseasvisitors/

    B) Tower of London, Tower Bridge – 3-5 hrs – buy tickets in advance.
    http://www.hrp.org.uk/

    C) Buckingham Palace – buy ticks in advance. Allocate 3 hours to visit.
    http://www.viator.com/London-attractions/Buckingham-Palace-tours-tickets/d737-a84

    D) Harrods, Hyde Park/Kensington Park – Park 2-3 hours, Harrods….. who knows.
    There is also Kensington Palace in the Park, with Royal Dress collection – 2 hrs.
    Harrods is on Brompton Road, 4 blocks from the park, walk north east to Knightsbridge road, turn left, walk 6 blocks, cross the street going north: entrance into the Park.

    E) Windsor Castle – realistically, takes full day including travel there and back to London.
    Can be done in 4-6 hours. Check the site.
    http://www.windsor.gov.uk/site/things-to-do/tours-and-trails

    Now you’re “up to your neck” with tours for the 3 days you plan to be there.

    Few recommendations:
    - British Museum - http://www.britishmuseum.org/
    - St. Paul’s Cathedral: http://www.stpauls.co.uk/
    - Hampton Court (instead of Windsor Castle, because it has more history we know from literature and movies, fully accessible in all rooms and sections, unlike Windsor Palace, which is currently a functioning Royal residence, and most of it is blocked off to public, and if you take a boat ex London centre to Hampton Court, you get to see the river banks of Thames). http://www.londonpass.com/london-attractions/hampton-court-palace.html

    Bob's your Uncle……..And if you’re not a useless knob and can manage all this without going off your trolley …… here is the map of London Tube…….. that IS your friend.
    http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/standard-tube-map.pdf
    http://www.tfl.gov.uk/modalpages/2625.aspx
  29. Bev Johnston

    Bev Johnston New Member

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    I see no one's mentioned Kensington Gardens. I have to say this was one of my favorite things when I visited London. We toured the palace and saw Diana's dress collection, had tea at The Orangery, and ran around the park, enjoying the weather on a very nice day. It took a long time, but we found the Peter Pan statue and left scraps of paper with wishes.

    Awww... I want to go back!

    ETA: Oops! I see that Tinami DID mention Kensington! Don't know how I missed that.
  30. Bev Johnston

    Bev Johnston New Member

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  31. kylet3

    kylet3 Well-Known Member

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    Hi All,

    This is awesome and I've decided to add a little 2 day extension on to my trip! That way i'll have close to 5 days and I really won't be rushed to get EVERYTHING in, so this way I know I'll have the time I want to do everything I want, get it all done and then be on to the lights and the glitz of Paris. Thanks again and keep up! I love this thread!

    Kyle
  32. pollyanna

    pollyanna Don't blink

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    Not always, but now and then they make an exception. ;)
  33. UMBS Go Blue

    UMBS Go Blue KWEEN 2016! YES WE KWAN!

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    Just a little note: I went to Kensington Palace in March and it's under renovation until 2012. There's a much-downscaled "mystery house"/scavenger hunt exhibit inside that's generally unrelated to Diana if Diana is the only purpose of your visit.

    Kensington Gardens and adjacent Hyde Park, as well as nearby St. James's Park, are very lovely parks though. There's a Diana memorial fountain in the middle of Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park just northwest of the Serpentine Restaurant.

    Since we're on the subject of Diana, there's the Egyptian escalator staircase in the middle of Harrods, at the bottom of which is a shrine to Diana and Dodi al Fayed. It crystallizes the lipstick-smeared champagne glasses they shared over dinner just before that fateful car ride in Paris, and it also crystallizes the engagement ring Dodi supposedly was to have given Diana that week. More tacky than touching, but there is sometimes a live singer singing "Aida" arias from a balcony up above, and of course it's a trip to see random old ladies weeping inconsolably over the Diana/Dodi memorial even after all these years. ;)
  34. Nan

    Nan Just me

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    And the food at the Serpentine (eaten out on the patio) is quite good.
  35. *Jen*

    *Jen* Well-Known Member

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    Which I wouldn't rely on in a 3 day visit ;)
  36. kylet3

    kylet3 Well-Known Member

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    I don't want to go in Big Ben, I know it's not open to the public, but more for the photo opportunities. I may tour parliament if I'm feeling geeky enough lol.
  37. kylet3

    kylet3 Well-Known Member

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    Wow... Does that sound as bad as I think it does??? :lol:
  38. JumpinBug

    JumpinBug New Member

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    And I third, when going to the Tower of London, be there right for opening, and boot it to the crown jewels. It's lovely being able to take your time, go around twice, or walk backwards on the moving platforms. :D

    And a second to a London Walk... loved almost all of them that I took.

    Instead of the London Eye, consider The Monument. 3 pounds, tiny spiral staircase, and a lovely, lovely view. My favourite picture from all of my trips is the view towards Tower Bridge. Lovely!

    My top list... British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, V&A, Cabinet Rooms and Churchill Museum, and seeing a play at the Globe. Be warned, even groundling tickets can sell out WELL in advance.

    Other enjoys... eating lunch in Trafalgar Square, walking along the Thames, browsing the myriad of charity shops, buying dinner at Simply Food (cheap, mmm!), buying tea at the Twinings shop, and seeing a play every night.
  39. Reuven

    Reuven Official FSU Alte Kacher

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    Just wanted to second Bev Johnston’s Orangery recommendation. We did high tea there, very lovely. And adding the National Gallery. Besides the art, the building is amazing!
  40. UMBS Go Blue

    UMBS Go Blue KWEEN 2016! YES WE KWAN!

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    Oh, and check out Time Out London for all the latest event/nightlife listings - many of which are free if cost is a concern.