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One Perfect Day in London

20 September 2010

As the cultural, political and business center of the United Kingdom, London is like LA, DC, and NYC all rolled into one. You’ll enjoy discovering this vibrant, multi-faceted city, even if you only have one day.         

Morning

Big Ben

Big Ben

8:30 am – Beat the crowds to Parliament Square and snap pictures at leisure of Big Ben – the world’s most famous clock – and the Houses of Parliament.

Tip: Some of London’s biggest attractions like the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace are only open to tourists seasonally. Check before you go to see if you can reserve tickets online. 

9:15 am – Join the “queue” for tickets at Westminster Abbey. 

9:30 am – Walk through Westminster Abbey, the coronation place of royalty and burial place of the famous. Take the 60-minute audio tour included with the entrance fee. You’ll hate to leave after only an hour but will have gotten an excellent overview. 

10:35 am – Walk to St. James’s Park. As you turn right onto Horse Guards St. and walk past the War Rooms & Churchill Museum, glance to the right at No. 10 Downing Street.

10:45am – Grab a coffee and snack “to go” at Inn the Park or one of four refreshment points in St. James’s Park, then head towards Buckingham Palace.  

Changing of the Guard11:15 am – Secure a good viewing point for the Changing of the Guard and shoot pictures of Buckingham Palace as you wait for the ceremony to begin. 

Tip: The Changing of the Guard takes place daily in the summer but alternate days outside of summer. Check online schedule to avoid disappointment. 

11:30 am – Witness the Changing of the Guard, an ageless pageant full of color, sound, and drama. The ceremony lasts about 40 minutes.  

12:10 pm – Walk up the Mall towards Admiralty Arch. Hang a left and you’ll see Nelson’s Column across the way. That’s Trafalgar Square.  

12:20 pm – It’s lunchtime. Fortunately, you’re in Trafalgar Square and choices abound. Look around the square for appealing restaurants or consider eating in the National Gallery itself.

Tip: For additional choices, including fast food and Italian, walk up the road between the National Gallery and St-Martin-in-the-Fields to Leicester Square.   

Afternoon

1:00 pm After lunch, browse the National Gallery with the help of the complimentary Highlights audio tour. Admission is free. 

2:00 pm – Take a left just past the National Gallery. A few steps after the National Portrait Gallery turn into Irving Street and walk through Little Italy to Leicester Square.   

2:05 pm – Wander through Leicester Square where red carpet events and London premieres are held with royalty and movie stars in attendance. Notice the ticket booth on one side of the park: ”Tkts” offers half-priced tickets to the evening’s shows on a first-come, first-served basis.  

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's

2:20 pm  – Take a taxi, subway, or walk to St. Paul’s Cathedral. At St. Paul’s be sure to allot enough time to see not only the nave and the Whispering Gallery, but also to climb up the dome for some outstanding views of London. 

Tip: If you’ve invested in the London Pass you can jump the line at St. Paul’s and save time, as the queue seems to get quite long. At £40 for one day, however, the pass may not be worth the money. 

 4:00 pm – Enjoy a leisurely and stylish afternoon tea at the Restaurant in St. Paul’s

5:00 pm – Take a taxi, subway, or walk to the London Eye, near the Houses of Parliament but on the other side of the river. 

5:30 pm – The “flight” on the London Eye takes 30 minutes, but allow an hour to an hour and a half because of wait times. Be prepared for spectacular views of places you’ve seen throughout the day. 

Tip: You can book tickets for the London Eye in advance on their website, even if you don’t know the exact time you’ll arrive. 

Evening

7:00 pm Head for Piccadilly Circus and Trocadero, London’s equivalent of New York’s Time Square, for a dizzying taste of the city’s nightlife. Nearby Chinatown offers a multitude of delicious options for a quick pre-theatre dinner. 

7:30 pm – Take in a favorite musical performed on the London stage in the famous West End district. Alternatively, attend an unforgettable performance of a Shakespearian play at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in the Southwark District.   

10:00 pm – Congratulations! You’ve seen the highlights of London! Your feet are killing you, your mind is spinning, but don’t forget to plan another trip to London: there is still much more to see!

For other perfect days, see Paris and Beijing.

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