London Attractions-Time Crunch Edition
Updated: Jan 18
The Big Smoke, London's nickname is fitting, although it's not smoke but fog and rain that plague the sky and give the city a constant damp smell. If you're not afraid of a little rain I would recommend visiting the city for the fashion and architecture, November may not be the best time to visit, but you'll avoid many of the tourists.
We road tripped across the UK and it gave us the opportunity to see area's we never would have otherwise. From London to Conwy was about a 5 hour drive and from Conwy to Kelso, Scotland was another 5. This post just covers our quick stay in England, but I'll touch on what you must see and do in those countries in another post. We spent 4 days in London and here's what I would add to the must see and do list:
Take a couple hours to go see a show, honestly go see any show while you're here. We're not big theater people, but the show we saw in London changed that. We booked last minute and weren't thrilled the only show we could get tickets for was Mary Poppins. The Prince Edwards Theater isn't as grand as some of the other London theaters, but it was cozy, and the show could not have been better. Cameron Mackintosh co-created this masterpiece. The sets, the acting, and the singing were all beautifully done! Although it wasn't the show we originally wanted to see, we weren't sorry it was the one we ended up attending.
There are so many shows performed in London it should be possible for anyone to find something they'll love.
Tours and Attractions
Like most major tourist attractions that receive a lot of promotion it was actually a bit underwhelming. I do recommend seeing it, but don't spend a whole day here. A half hour is more than enough to take some pictures and move on. The most intriguing thing about it is the history, and the surrounding structures. A tour guide is worth paying for in this circumstance. Look into doing a tour that combines Stonehenge with other attractions. We did a full day tour with Viator that included Oxford and Windsor Castle and it felt like a better use of our time. Viator is well known for their tours, and the tour guides are usually excellent.
One of the reason's we visited the UK was for the castles and Windsor didn't disappoint. Seeing the rural home of the royals was impressive. Even though people flocked here in droves somehow the castle didn't seem as touristy as some of the other attractions on our list. If you're not going with a tour I recommend getting here early, people line up before the gates open to get in and I've heard the line can take several hours to get through if you go at the wrong time.
Tours of Buckingham Palace are limited on what sections of the palace you can access. I would recommend visiting the palace but unless you're obsessed with the royals it's probably not worth paying for a tour. You can watch the changing of the guards from outside the gate and visit the gift shop for souvenirs without paying for a ticket. If you wait long enough, you might also see palace carriages practicing on the streets surrounding the palace.
Call me a nerd but I love visiting historic college campuses, and Oxford is so different from Harvard or Yale that I was glad we went out of our way to see it. Started in 1096 the college is one of the oldest colleges in the world, although surprisingly there are 6 other colleges that pre-date Oxford. Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world though.
The campus is a hodge-podge of different architectural styles, and unless someone were to tell you that you were standing in the middle of a college campus you probably wouldn't know it. I was surprised to learn that the college is made up of 39 individual colleges. Three of which were where some of the scenes in the Harry Potter movies were filmed: Christ Church College, Bodleian Library and New College.
I try to do this tour in every city especially if I'm limited on time. This company offers tours in most major cities, if you're into history and/or architecture they offer a cheap and convenient way to learn a lot about the city for a very low price. We did the redline tour which covered most of the major landmarks but there are three separate tour routes you can take in London. Look into which covers the majority of the landmarks on your list or buy a ticket for each line. The onboard audio guides are offered in 11 languages.