Do you have a free day in London, or even more? Allow this post to serve as your guide and make the most of your limited time. It is organized by location of tube stations so no matter where you want to go, you can be efficient in each area of the city!
Getting Around In London
The London Underground, or the Tube as it is widely known, will get you just about anywhere and is one of the most convenient things known to man. The only thing it can’t do is shoot through a glass ceiling like the Wonkavator in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Arriving in London for a stay of more than a couple of days, I suggest purchasing an Oyster Card, an electronic ticket that can be loaded with a set dollar amount, to offer more ease in access as you travel around the city. Familiarizing yourself with the various lines and stops before embarking on your trip would be the smart approach. Save time by going to https://tfl.gov.uk/maps/track/tube, a one stop shop for times, fares, and updates of the London Underground.
Make certain to download the City Mapper app onto your smart phone. Providing the fastest routes and step-by-step directions for each option, it is the greatest asset of any Londoner or tourist alike. See: https://citymapper.com/london
First Stop: Westminster
You’ve made it to London! Where do you go first?
There is no better starting point than the City of Westminster. Ascending the steps out of the Westminster tube station, London will tower above on all sides greeting you with the familiar view of the Palace of Westminster and its picturesque clock (Big Ben is the bell inside of the clock tower). Unfortunately, as of this time in 2019, the clock tower is buried in scaffolding; however, the unique lighting and look still offers a staggering sight to behold. There is so much to see and do in this area so be prepared for some walking!
Take a tour of Westminster Abbey or the Houses of Parliament. Take in the statues of Parliament Square: Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and more in the surrounding area.
Interested in war? Visit the Churchill War Rooms nearby.
Itching to see Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard? Follow Birdcage Walk away from the River Thames, and you can’t miss it! Afterward make your way down The Mall leading to Trafalgar Square where you will see the Horatio Nelson Column and find the National Gallery.
River Walk on the Thames
Beginning at the Palace of Westminster, cross the River Thames via the Westminster Bridge, take your photo on the other side, and take a left to follow the river walk. Passing by the County Hall building on your right, you will find yourself at Coca-Cola’s London Eye, one of the main attractions on the river. If you want to give it a whirl, it will cost you about 30 pounds, also known as quid, but is worth doing once in your life. See https://www.londoneye.com/ for more information.
Continue along the river until you arrive at the Southbank Centre, a performing arts center where you can catch a show, view an exhibit, grab some food and drink, or overlook the river and city from an observation deck. See: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/ for current shows, exhibits, and information.
Afterward, pass the Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges as you make your way to Tate Modern, one of four collections of British National Art. Take the elevator to the 11th floor, the free skyline viewing level, where you can watch the sun set over the London skyline. See https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern for more information.
Next up on the river walk is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a replica of the original theatre that opened in 1997. This is the only building in London allowed to have a thatched roof since the fire of 1666 that burned most of the city to the ground. If you have the time, make sure to squeeze in one of the plays held here. See https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/ to book your tickets. For five pounds, you can choose to be a peasant and watch the play from standing room or you can pay the heftier price of 20 pounds or more for a seat!
At this point, you have a couple of choices. You can either continue down the river to see the London Bridge (nothing special; however, the real one is located in Arizona due to the U.S. being duped), The Shard, and the Tower Bridge. If you continue this way, paying to see the view from the top of the Shard, the tallest building in the United Kingdom, would be worth it. See https://www.the-shard.com/ for more information.
You can cross the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which I will discuss in the St. Paul’s to Tower Station section.
St. Paul’s Station to Tower Station
From the Globe Theatre, cross the Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. When the bridge was opened for public use, it was rather unstable and swayed back and forth forcing its immediate closing for two years. Although it is now completely safe, even though the Death Eaters destroyed it in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the bridge is still known as the “Wobbly Bridge”.
Explore the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral and take a tour inside; it’s worth going to the top of the dome! My favorite spot for a photo and a lesser known view- that is free!- is nearby at the One New Change Shopping Centre. Take the elevator up to the rooftop terrace where you can view much of London and the Cathedral Dome across the street. The best time to go is during the day hours when fewer people are up there!
For another good view of the city that is completely free, go to nearby Sky Garden. The only catch is that you will have to book a ticket three weeks in advance as they limit the number of people who can go up at a time. See https://skygarden.london/sky-garden for booking and more information.
Leadenhall Market, about a block away from Sky Garden and located in the center of Roman London, is a neat open-air shopping and restaurant area worth exploring. If this area seems familiar, it may be because a Harry Potter scene or two has been filmed here, particularly during scenes with the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley. See https://www.leadenhallmarket.co.uk/ for more information.
The last jaunt would be in the direction of Tower Bridge, the bridge the U.S. had intended to purchase instead of the London Bridge. In this area, explore the Tower of London and the Jack the Ripper Museum. Jump on the tube at Tower Station to continue exploring London elsewhere.
King’s Cross Station
Harry Potter Fan? King’s Cross Station is a must. Originally, young witches and wizards were able to pick up the Hogwart’s Express at Platform 9 and 3/4, which was located between platforms 9 and 10. However, with the influx of tourism, the wizarding world was forced to open a gift shop and open up a photo op entrance that does the job for photos, but little more. Enjoy meandering shoulder-to-shoulder through the store and waiting in line for your photo!
The British Library is absolutely worth the time and a short walk from King’s Cross. It holds the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and a number of other high profile items. See https://www.bl.uk/ for more information.
Afterwards, either walk or catch the tube to Baker Street.
Baker Street Station
Sherlock Holmes fan? It’s elementary, then. You must stop by 221b Baker Street, now a physical address and apartment that can be toured along with an accompanying gift shop below. See http://www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk/ for more information. A couple of paces down the street is also a nifty Beatles memorabilia shop that you can peruse before or after your Sherlock tour. The game is afoot!
Afterwards, make your way through Regent’s Park en route to Primrose Hill, a nice place to eat a convenience store meal (bring along with you) and overlook the London skyline from afar. It’s a little bit of a walk but rest is there once you peak the small hill.
Being rested and filled with a meal, finish off this area by looking through the stalls at Camden Market, also known as Camden Lock, in Camden Town. Make sure to purchase a unique trinket or two here for those back at home.
Then, jump on the tube again and head to Paddington station.
A few blocks from Paddington Station, you will enter Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, a large space that would be comparable to Central Park in New York. This is one of my favorite places anywhere to spend an afternoon. Make sure to explore the entire area, particularly the following:
Peter Pan Statue: Ever watched the film Hook where Peter Pan is played by Robin Williams? He wakes up at the base of this statue at the end of the movie! The park closes at night, but the statue was actually put in during those night hours so that Peter Pan would have magically appeared in the park for the kids that next day.
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk and Fountain; Kensington Palace; and enjoy making use of Serpentine Lake to paddleboat or enjoy a meal nearby.
This entire area is a nice place to people watch, read a book, observe the wildlife, take a walk, or, for the motivated, enjoy a morning jog. I have often walked from Paddington Station through the park and towards Buckingham Palace/Westminster.
Fulham Broadway Station
Interested in soccer? Go take a tour of Stamford Bridge, the home of the Chelsea Football Club. See https://www.chelseafc.com/en/stamford-bridge/stadium-tours-and-museum0 for information and tour booking.
Interested in tennis? Get back on the tube until you arrive at Wimbledon Park or Wimbledon, and enjoy a tour of the Wimbledon Museum and Grounds. See https://bookings.wimbledon.com/stadiumtours/booking/default.htm for information and tour booking.
You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford. -Samuel Johnson