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  • Writer's pictureHiranmayi Narayanan

PLACES TO VISIT/THINGS TO DO IN LONDON – 3 DAYS IN SUMMER



You’ve got 3 days in London, it’s your first time in the city (or you couldn’t really explore much the last time you were here), and you don’t know where to go and what to do? Fret not, this list would help you plan the perfect short holiday in London!


A TOURISTY PLAN – MAJOR TOURIST HIGHLIGHTS


ITINERARY – DAY 1


9:30 AM: Trafalgar Square – It’ the iconic centre square of London. Enter National Art Gallery inside Trafalgar if you’d like (free entry – mostly biblical paintings by some of the world’s best artists), in that case you’d need to add 30 minutes to an hour more to the time spent at Trafalgar. If you’re not entering the gallery, 30 minutes would give you ample time to explore, feed pigeons and click plenty of pictures around Trafalgar Square.


10:00 AM: Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament), Big Ben & Westminster Abbey – There is an entrance fee to step inside Houses of Parliament (£25.50 per person when pre-booked online; otherwise £28). It isn’t going to be a tremendous loss if you don’t step in either. Churchill’s War Rooms is a recommended place to visit if war history interests you, since it’s the place where Winston Churchill lived and worked during WW II. So, this could be quite fascinating. Westminster Abbey has a hefty entrance fee (£20 per person) too. It’s marvellous on the inside, but no harm if you skip the tour and just admire it from the outside.


11:00 AM: Buckingham Palace & St. James Park –  Change of Guard at Buckingham Palace is an interesting sight to see. There are no seats, people stand outside the gates to watch it. Timings must be checked in advance. It is usually between 11-12:30 pm. Entrance to the Palace State Rooms is paid (£20/25 per person). You can either choose to go in (the tour will take around 1.5 hours) or you can skip that and proceed towards St. James Park outside the Palace to stretch your feet, which in all probability would start hurting.


1:00 PM – 2:00 PM – LUNCH


2:00 PM: Tower of London and Tower Bridge – Tower of London is a fortress of the royal family located on the Thames river, next to the Tower Bridge. It is where the crown jewels including the Kohinoor are housed (crown jewels are not open to public viewing). You can enter the fortress (£24.00 per person, when pre-booked online) if you choose to, else you can explore from the outside and proceed towards the bridge. The Tower Bridge is a must-visit. It is the most iconic bridge of London (often mistaken as the “London Bridge”). The bridge is lifted a few times a month and the timings vary. The timings can be checked online. The Tower Bridge Glass Floor Walkway is interesting too (Entry Fee – £8.30 per person) as you get to walk above the bridge on a glass floor and see the moving traffic below. You also get a good view of the surrounding sights. Once you’ve seen the bridge, you can walk alongside the river to get some good pictures with the bridge as the backdrop. You can also walk up to “The Scoop” a building shaped like an ice-cream scoop with an open amphitheatre, they have live entertainment during the summer. It’s completely worth your time. Plus, the entertainment is free! Since free events in London are so rare, you’d be crazy to miss it.


4:00 PM: Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie – This viewpoint comes with my highest recommendation. From the Tower Bridge, it’s a 13-minute walk to The Sky Garden, located on the 35th floor of 20th Fenchurch Street (building commonly known as the “Walkie Talkie”). It offers a spectacular, panoramic 360-degree view of central London. It also has restaurants, a bar and a brasserie, where you can grab something to drink or eat while you’re there. It’s a must-visit and access is free but needs to be booked in advance through their website https://skygarden.london/plan-your-visit . Carrying an ID is a must.


ITINERARY – DAY 2


9:30 AM: Greenwich – A trip to the Greenwich borough of London requires at least half a day as there is plenty to see within this area. Getting to Greenwich itself is an experience. You need to take a DLR, which is a driverless tube-train. Try getting the front seats, it’s almost like driving the train yourself. Once you reach Greenwich, proceed towards Greenwich Park, from where you can reach the Royal Observatory (opens at 10 am) housing the Prime Meridian Line (where you can stand between two hemispheres of the world) and a 4.5 billion-year-old asteroid (Entry Fee – £9.50 per person when pre-booked online; around £12 at the counter). From there, you can proceed to visit the Queen’s House, a 400-year-old royal mansion. You can also visit the Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum, Old Royal Naval College (all these sights are free to enter) and you can relax in Greenwich Park before visiting the Greenwich Market to grab lunch. You can take a detour and take a ride in the Emirates Cable Car using your oyster card as well.


Leave from Greenwich at around 1:30-2:00 PM

2:30 PM: Madame Tussauds – Wax statues of celebrities – generally a sight that almost all London tourists pay a visit. It is open till 4 pm and there is an entrance fee. It is recommended to pre-book the entry tickets as it comes slightly cheaper online when pre-booked (£29 per person). The Madame Tussauds website also has options for “combo-tickets”, i.e. tickets for Madame Tussauds + 2 or more other attractions. This is entirely up to the traveller’s personal choice. If wax statues do not interest you, you can easily give this a miss.


4:00 PM: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington and Hyde Park –  Hyde Park is massive and there is plenty to do and see inside it. If you enter through the Kensington Palace side (which is inside Hyde Park), you can stroll along the palace grounds (Entrance into the palace will cost £17.10 per person when pre-booked online, strolling outside is free). Then, you can proceed towards the Royal Albert Hall. Built in 1871, it is one of the finest most prestigious concert halls in Europe. The Kensington area is also a lovely one to walk through, if you have the time.


ITINERARY – DAY 3


10:00 AM: British Museum/Museum of London – You can include either of these museums in your itinerary for the day. The British Museum is a massive museum that houses artefacts from across the world, including mummies from Egypt, ruins from Greece etc. (basically spoils of war/colonial exploits). It hardly has anything to do with Britain itself. The Museum of London, on the other hand, is very interesting as it showcases the entire history of London in a thoroughly engaging manner.


11:30 AM: St Paul’s Cathedral – It is the most iconic building in London. An absolute must-visit for the sheer architectural brilliance. It bears a close resemblance to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican. The entrance to the cathedral has been made chargeable since 2016 (£16 per person when pre-booked online; otherwise £18) but if you’re interested in architecture, it is worth the money you pay. If you’d rather not go in, you can go around the cathedral, visit the gardens etc. There are plenty of spots for photographs.


12:30 PM – 1:30 PM – LUNCH


1:30 PM: Oxford Street – Shopping – You can reserve the remaining day to explore Oxford Street, which is a huge area exclusively for shopping. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, you can go to Regent’s Street (this is a huge by-lane inside the Oxford Street/Circus area) as they have street programmes on all Sundays during the Summer months. It will be worth visiting. Also, don’t miss the Piccadilly Circus area.


A LESS-TOURISTY, ALTERNATIVE PLAN –

This plan will have lesser known but unique spots of London.


ITINERARY – DAY 1

Day 1 will remain partially the same. I’ve taken out the options for entering various sights in this plan, unless it is truly unmissable.


9:30 AM: Trafalgar Square – It’ the iconic centre square of London. Enter National Art Gallery inside Trafalgar if you’d like (free entry – it is mostly biblical paintings by some of the world’s best artists), and in that case you’d need to add 0.5 hour-1 hour more to your time-duration in Trafalgar. If you’re not entering the gallery,0.5 hour is sufficient to look around Trafalgar Square and take plenty of pictures.


10:00 AM: Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament), Big Ben & Westminster Abbey – There is an entrance fee to step inside the Houses of Parliament (£25.50 per person when pre-booked online; otherwise £28). Nothing much to lose if you don’t step in either. ‘Churchill’s War Rooms’ is a recommended place to visit if war history interests you – as it is the place where Winston Churchill lived and worked during WW II. Westminster Abbey has a hefty entrance fee (£20 per person) too. It’s marvellous on the inside but no harm if you skip the inside tour and just admire its external exquisiteness.


11:00 AM: Buckingham Palace & St. James Park –  You can either skip the Change of Guard entirely or watch about 15 minutes of it. You can also skip entering the palace. Take a look around from the garden outside, click photographs and proceed to the next venue. You can even give St. James Park a miss, which won’t be a big loss as there is nothing extraordinary about the park.


11:45 AM: Tower of London and Tower Bridge – Tower of London is a fortress of the royal family located on the Thames river, next to the Tower Bridge. It is where the crown jewels including the Kohinoor are housed (crown jewels are not open to public viewing). You can take a look around from the outside and proceed towards the bridge. The Tower Bridge is a must-visit. It is the iconic bridge of London (often mistaken as the “London Bridge”). The bridge is lifted a few times a month and timings vary. The timings can be checked online. The Tower Bridge Glass Floor Walkway is interesting too (Entry Fee – £8.30 per person) as you get to walk above the bridge on a glass floor and get to see the moving traffic below (not recommended for the weak-hearted!). You also get a good view of the surrounding sights. Once you have seen the bridge, you can walk alongside the river to get some good pictures with the bridge as the backdrop. You can also walk up to “The Scoop” a building shaped like an ice-cream scoop with an open amphitheatre, they have live entertainment during the summer.


12:45 PM – 2:00 PM – LUNCH


2:00 PM: Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie – From the Tower Bridge, it’s a 13-minute walk to The Sky Garden, located on the 35th floor of 20th Fenchurch Street (building commonly known as the “Walkie Talkie”). It offers spectacular, panoramic 360-degree view of central London. It also has restaurants and a brasserie, where you can grab something to eat while you’re there. It’s a must-visit and access is free but needs to be booked in advance through their website https://skygarden.london/plan-your-visit . Carrying an ID is a must.


3:30 PM: Sir John Soane’s Museum – Located at Holborn, this is one of the hidden gems of London and one of my all-time favourite museums. It is the home of Sir John Soane, architect of the 19th century London. The house has been left untouched for 180 years i.e. time from his death. It houses stunning artefacts, architectural drawings and plans. It is free to visit, but closed on Mondays and Sundays.


5:00 PM: Covent Garden – This is a posh area full of fancy stores and restaurants. The highlight is a central market called the Apple Market, it’s been in existence since 1600s and is one of the oldest markets in London. The whole area is very beautiful to see, especially when it is lit (but during summer that would be at around 9 pm). Definitely worth a visit. You can also grab some early dinner here. If it seems too pricey, walk out of Covent Garden, towards Leicester Square tube station and you’d find good but more reasonably-priced restaurants.


ITINERARY – DAY 2


9:30 AM: Greenwich – A trip to the Greenwich borough of London requires at least half a day as there is plenty to see within this area. Getting to Greenwich itself is an experience. You need to take a DLR, which is a driverless tube-train. Try getting the front seats, it’s almost like driving the train yourself. Once you reach Greenwich, proceed towards Greenwich Park, from where you can reach the Royal Observatory (opens at 10 am) housing the Prime Meridian Line (where you can stand between two hemispheres of the world) and a 4.5 billion-year-old asteroid (Entry Fee – £9.50 per person when pre-booked online; around £12 at the counter). From there, you can proceed to visit the Queen’s House, a 400-year-old royal mansion. You can also visit the Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum, Old Royal Naval College (all these sights are free to enter) and you can relax in Greenwich Park before visiting the Greenwich Market to grab lunch. You can take a detour and take a ride in the Emirates Cable Car using your oyster card as well.


Leave from Greenwich at around 1:30-2:00 PM

2:30 PM: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington and Hyde Park – Hyde Park is massive and there is plenty to do and see inside it. If you enter through the Kensington Palace side (which is inside Hyde Park), you can stroll along the palace grounds (Entrance into the palace will cost £17.10 per person when pre-booked online, strolling outside is free). Then, you can proceed towards the Royal Albert Hall. Built in 1871, it is one of the finest most prestigious concert halls in Europe. The Kensington area is also a lovely one to walk through, if you have the time.


4:30 PM: Notting Hill – Everything about Notting Hill is absolutely charming. Take a walk from the tube station/bus stop till Portobello Market, which is at the end of this stretch. Notting Hill is basically an area full of shops, boutiques, street flea markets and quaint cafes. It has been portrayed in many movies and is a place that is quintessentially London.


7:30 PM: Watch a Musical – There is no place in the world that would give you an experience like watching a musical in London (except the Broadway in NYC, perhaps). Tickets are priced at an average of £50 per person. I would highly recommend The Lion King and Wicked. You must try to watch either one of the two as it is something that you’d never to get to see in most other parts of the world.


ITINERARY – DAY 3


10:00 AM: British Museum/Museum of London – You can include either of these museums in your itinerary for the day. The British Museum is a massive museum that houses artefacts from across the world, including mummies from Egypt, ruins from Greece etc. (basically spoils of war/colonial exploits). It hardly has anything to do with Britain itself. The Museum of London, on the other hand, is very interesting as it showcases the entire history of London in a thoroughly engaging manner.


11:30 AM: St Paul’s Cathedral – It is the most iconic building in London. An absolute must-visit for the sheer architectural brilliance. It bears a close resemblance to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican. The entrance to the cathedral has been made chargeable since 2016 (£16 per person when pre-booked online; otherwise £18) but if you’re interested in architecture, it is worth the money you pay. If you’d rather not go in, you can go around the cathedral, visit the gardens etc. There are plenty of spots for photographs.


12:30 PM: Guildhall, Christ Church Greyfriars, Postman’s Park and One New Change – All of these places are within the St. Paul’s area. Make a quick visit to the Guildhall Museum – it has the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre from AD 43, when London was under Roman rule (original rulers before the Anglo-Saxons) and was called “Londinium”. Then proceed to see the ruins of a church called Christ Church Greyfriars from the 1300s. It is steeped in history. From there, proceed to One New Change. This is actually a mall situated opposite the cathedral. Take the lift to the 6th floor to a public terrace. It offers stunning views of the cathedral. During Wimbledon, the terrace is reserved for viewing of the matches on a big screen, so the cathedral’s dome may not be fully visible. But, you can still relax on the beach-chairs and watch a bit of the matches on screen – this is a ‘typically London’ thing to do as well. If you have the time, you can visit Postman’s Park after reading a bit about its significance.


1:30 PM – 2:30 PM – LUNCH – You can get lunch at One New Change, which has many restaurants suiting all pockets.


2:30 PM: Oxford Street – Shopping – You can reserve the remaining day to explore Oxford Street, which is a huge area exclusively for shopping. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, you can go to Regent’s Street (this is a huge by-lane inside the Oxford Street/Circus area) as they have street programmes on all Sundays during the Summer months. It will be worth visiting. Also, don’t miss the Piccadilly Circus area.


7:30 PM: Dinner at Ting Lounge – The Shard – The Shard is the highest building in Western Europe, and therefore offers the best views. It has a viewing platform and the entry fee is about £100 per person, so I would not recommend buying a ticket. However, there is another way to get inside the building. The Shard has many restaurants. One of them is Ting Lounge (it is reasonably priced – around £30 for a meal for two) at the 35th floor. Bookings need to be made well in advance as it is always in high demand. It is a beautiful restaurant offering spectacular views. It is a good way to end your stay in London.


Once dinner is done and if you aren’t too tired, you can get to Southbank and walk along the Millennium Bridge once the sun sets. It is a brilliant sight to see. In fact, even if you don’t end up going for dinner at the Shard, you should try and fit in the Southbank area (after sunset) and the walk across Millennium Bridge on one of the days. Southbank has almost all the best spots of London clustered on either side of the bridges.


FEW GENERAL TIPS:

  • Get a travel oyster card from any major tube station. These cards are valid for travel on any public transport, tube or bus. Also, while in Central London, always try to use the bus instead of the tube. The bus lets you see the sights outside, and hence is far more interesting.

  • A must-have app is “City Mapper”. You should download it as soon as you reach London. Before heading to any place, consult this app and it will accurately inform you of the route and mode of transport you need to take. It will also tell you the timings for the next buses/tubes. Every Londoner survives on this app.

  • When you’ve pre-booked tickets online, you will have to get to those places on time (if there is a time-slot). Also, always check online if the place is open before heading to the place.

  • You can get a Lyca or a Lebara sim card. They have cheap calling rates, especially for calls to Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

  • You don’t have to always visit a restaurant to get lunch. You can get sandwiches/subs from supermarkets such as Sainsbury or Tesco. Larger outlets of these supermarkets have salad bars and hot, fresh food stalls too. It’s all reasonably priced. You can buy this and eat it in a park. There are plenty of parks and food is allowed in all parks, but not on public transport.

  • If you’re heading to The Shard for dinner, there is a ‘no-casuals’ dress code (it being a fancy place of course). Men can wear any pair of trousers except jeans/cargo pants. Women can wear anything. However, footwear is also important. So, you can carry a pair of non-casual footwear in your bag (I recommend ballerinas for women as they’re light to carry around) and change right before you head towards the Shard. There is also a cloak-room so you can leave heavy bags there, in case you’re carrying one. Also, I’ve read that the best views are from the men’s restroom – so if you’re a guy, you could perhaps make a visit to the restroom while you’re there.

  • Ensure that you reserve souvenir shopping for the last day, unless you spot something that you really think is worth buying. By the last day, you’d have a better idea of how much something should be priced, so you’d know if you’re getting overcharged. For reasonably priced shopping other than souvenirs, try Primark. It has branches in Tottenham Court Road and Marble Arch (both are on the Oxford Street stretch – but two ends of it). I prefer the Tottenham Court Road one. It’s wiser to go here on a weekday, either right when it opens or just before it closes as this store tends to get very crowded.


And that’s it! That’s my list of things to do/places to visit if you have three days in London. You can mix this list around to suit your taste, even if you have less than three days.


I hope you have a fantastic trip and enjoy London as much as I do!

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