Exploring London: Top Highlights to Experience with Family

3 days in London England

I began a must-see list when I learned we were stationed in Europe. And London sat prominently at the top of that list. It’s a phenomenal city that can be visited over a long weekend anywhere in Europe. London is a large city. The Romans, plague, fires, and aerial raids leveled London. And still, London thrives, growing and rebuilding upon the ashes. However, with a plan, you can enjoy exploring London and its highlights in 3 days.

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7 Exploring London: Top Highlights to Experience with Family

Explore London Over a Long Weekend

London has a recorded historical record that goes back more than 2,000 years. During that time, many events have contributed to its landscape and architecture. The Romans, the plague, devastating fires, and aerial raids have leveled the city. But time and time again, it rose from the ashes to become one of the most iconic capitals in the world.

How-to-Explore-London-in-3-Days Exploring London: Top Highlights to Experience with Family

And a Short History

We’ve bopped the Beatles, stayed up late for the royal weddings, and lost ourselves in the poetry. London is fish and chips, My Fair Lady and bobbies— all rolled into one gigantic goody bag. It’s a city of extremes, where dives and luxury coexist almost side-by-side; where modern and medieval know no boundaries and where the indifferent chimes of time ring eternal.

The Queens English

The island of Great Britain lies in the northwest corner of Europe in the North Sea. And London sits in the southeast on the Thames River. The English Channel separates Great Britain from continental Europe and its closest neighbor France and is accessible by both ferry and train. London covers an area of over 600 square miles with 7.5 million people from 270 nations who speak more than 250 languages; more than any other city in the world. Yes, English is one of them, however, it’s not your English, it’s the Queens English and you’ll see that makes all the difference.

Possible Itineraries

The following itinerary is merely a blueprint. Some people would rather get a root canal rather than spend a day wandering the shops on Carnaby, Oxford and Regents Streets but for others, a day of shopping for antiques or bone china would rank as the highlight of their trip. The same goes for cramming a dozen churches and museums into a single day—heaven for some not so much for others. Double-decker bus tours also offer hop-on-hop-off tours that are reasonably priced and offer an alternative to a lot of walking.

When exploring London, remember that you might need to adjust your itinerary. This is particularly important if you visit on a Monday when most museums are closed, or on a Sunday when many attractions have limited operating hours. The iconic changing of the guard takes place daily at 11:30 from April to July. For the rest of the year, it occurs on alternate days.

Need to Know

The United Kingdom has not adopted the Euro and continues to use the Pound Sterling (also known as the British pound) shown by the £ symbol.  ATMs offer the best exchange rates. Remember, vehicles drive and enter traffic circles from the left rather than the right in the UK and London and the cars and buses will be on the “wrong side” of the road. So look to the right before stepping off the curb. Look down, many London intersections have directional markings that read, “look left” or “look right”.

Driving in the City

Congestion charging came into effect in 2003 and was intended to decrease traffic on the city’s roads and encourage people to use public transportation. The charge applies 7 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays), costs £8, and can be paid at shops, garages, via telephone, online, or SMS texting. For more information on the Congestion Charge and how to pay log on to the official website go to http://www.cclondon.com.

The London Underground or tube has stops at all the popular tourist attractions. An oyster card allows for multiple day use and can be topped off at any station on a pay as you go basis. Traffic is ridiculous during the morning and evening commutes, so plan accordingly.

September and the beginning of October is a great time to visit London. It is off-season, and hard winter would not have kicked in yet. This is the time when you will get the best deals and fewer crowds.

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Getting Around the City

People seem accustomed to walking; about a 30 -45 minute walk is nothing. On my first day in London, right around the corner was really a 30-45 minute walk. Want to attempt the impossible and see London in a day? You’ll definitely need a guide.

Trust in London’s famous black cab drivers; these super-cabbies are licensed by the city and given an exhaustive test to assure intimate knowledge with London’s labyrinth-like lanes.

Things to Do in London

London Travel Pass comes in handy. It covers the free entrance to many London attractions as well as transportation. Check out the link here:  http://www.londonpass.com/. With Prince William and Kate’s marriage out of the way, London is now preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and construction and renovation projects are everywhere, so be prepared for delays.

London’s West End is the theatre district. One of the best places to find discounted tickets is the tkts booth in Leicester Square but shop around in Piccadilly Square before you actually commit.

Remember there are limited entries allowed every day at places like Buckingham Palace. So if you are sure you do not want to miss the place while you are in London for a short time, make sure to get there early in the morning or purchase them online.

Day 1 in London

Go for the Free Stuff

Take a 45-minute walk along the Thames from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge. You’ll stroll past Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye and St. Paul’s Cathedral and end up at the Tower of London

Stop by Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard ceremony in the forecourt every morning at 11:30. The ceremony, officially called the “Guard Mounting,” lasts about 45 minutes, does not occur during extremely wet weather, and has an alternate schedule during the winter months.

Take a break and enjoy a traditional English Tea Time complete with crumpets, strawberries, and clotted cream. If you like to visit museums, you’re in for a cheap treat, as many of London’s top museums are absolutely free.

London Museums are Free

The National History and Science Museum, which are side by side, on Exhibition Road. The Victoria and Albert Museum which is just around the corner on Cromwell Road has many national treasures. And the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square showcases masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh. The Tate Modern on the Millennium Bridge and The British Museum (my absolute favorite) on Great Russell Street are great ways to spend an afternoon, especially in inclement weather. And did I tell you they were free?

Day 2: Shopping and Touring

London doesn’t acquire the title of the World’s Financial Centre and playground for the fashionista elite for nothing. Harrods’s (OMG… it’s a tourist destination in itself). Oxford and Piccadilly Circuses are all postcard-perfect London, with all the glamour and high price-tags that go along with it.

But if you’re looking for something with a more local flavor, try one of the many exciting local markets. Portobello Road, famous for antiques and quirky odds ‘n’ ends (Saturdays).

The Borough Market, a Saturday must-do for foodies, and Camden Markets, open every day, with bargains galore in fashions and hand-made crafts, are a few of my favorites. The neighborhoods also offer distinct personalities of their own.

Go to Soho for the nightlife and Covent Gardens for trendy shops and restaurants; Camden has a small-town feel with numerous markets, alternative clothing shops, and tattoo parlors. In Nodding Hill, you can visit the bookshop made famous by the movie of the same name.

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Oxford and Cambridge Universities

Or visit the famous universities at Oxford and Cambridge. I studied there during college, and you can read all about my adventures

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London Parks

And if the hustle and bustle of the city start to get to you, and it’s a nice day, a rarity to be exploited, go for a leisurely walk along the Southbank of the Thames or in one of London’s beautiful parks. Regent’s Park, St. James (across from Buckingham Palace), Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill (breathtaking views of the city), and Hyde Park, the home of Speakers Corner, where every single Sunday, people come to boisterously, yet politely, speak their mind on all topics from A-Z.

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Enjoy the Countryside

Day 3: Day Trips Beyond

London could keep you occupied for weeks, but there are plenty of things to see and do beyond city limits, too. Head from London to Windsor Castle (continuously occupied for a record 1,000 years.) Visit the mysterious Stonehenge or the Roman spas of genteel Bath. Make a pilgrimage to Canterbury, Dover, or Leeds Castle. Head east to Brighton or west to Penzance

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English Riviera

The City of Torquay

Or take a drive to the English Riviera and visit Torquay’s balmy weather. We wore sweaters instead of winter coats. Admiring the beautiful flowers and palm trees. Yes, palm trees in Great Britain. We stayed at the Victorian Grand Dame. The Grand Hotel is a majestic throwback to the elegance of the Victorian Age. By the way, you’ll drive right by Stonehenge (bonus points) if you do. For information on hours of operation, maps, special events, festivals, hotels, and reputable tour operator information, visit the official Guide to London website at http://www.visitlondon.com

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