• London Travel: Great things to See + Do on your British Adventure •
Bonjour à tous; or should I say, tally-ho to you all!
London is a bustling, lively city that is absolutely full-to-the-brim with history and architectural wonderment. There is always something new to discover around the corner. And for those who love shopping; it is fantastic as well. Even as someone who doesn’t like the shops so much, I must admit Oxford street was a cool experience!
I went to London in the wintertime, in JANUARY actually (travel agents will never tell you to go at this time), but I had a fantastic time. Yes, it was super cold and pretty rainy. For me, though, it totally added to the Harry-Potter-esque atmosphere. Plus, Londoners will tell you that it rains a lot all throughout the year, so, I don’t feel that I missed too much by not being there in summer. When I was in London, I stayed with my Mum’s beautiful cousin Jacqui, and I had a brilliant time staying at her house. We did some trips on the weekends and on some days off for her, but as she had to work I did a lot of London sightseeing on my own. It can be done, and it can be fun!
There is just so much to do there: I was there for almost three weeks and I definitely did not see it all. I saw some really awesome stuff though and now I want to share it with you!
Buckingham Palace is a delight to see. It is truly a stunning place. If you time your day right, you’ll get to see the changing of the guard, which is when the guards of the palace switch over. It commences at 10 30am when the Old Guard forms up in the palace’s forecourt. Following this, at 10 45 the Old Guard is joined by the Old Guard from St James’s Palace, and then both are replaced by the New Guard which arrives from Wellington Barracks. There is a formal ceremony accompanied by music, which is very interesting to watch – a definite must-do for visiting London!
Churchill’s War Rooms
This museum was absolutely riveting. As a major history fan, I really enjoyed learning all about Churchill’s War Rooms and what everything was truly like at that time. I don’t think it was overly cheap to get in and do a tour, but it was so worth it. We got to go through and have a look at all of the artifacts from the time, and there were a lot of cool interactive displays that you could learn from. We got to go through many of the rooms, which are all set up as they would have been at the time, complete with dummies as the people working there, and the bedrooms that they had built under there! This was a fantastic learning experience and I really recommend it to anyone with an interest in history.
On a sunny day, the view from by the Thames is quite beautiful. You can see St Paul’s cathedral, as well as many other old buildings amidst a beautiful blue sky. The Thames is the longest river in England, and has been used for a variety of purposes throughout the ages. Today, people often like to have picnics by the river in summer or go along the river on a boat.
Big Ben. What else can I say? It is part of the Palace of Westminster, and it is one of the classic symbols of London itself. It has a long history. Technically, Big Ben is actually the name of the huge bell inside the clock tower, and the tower’s true name is Elizabeth Tower. The bell rang for the first time in 1859, 15 years after it was decided that the new Palace of Westminster would also include the tower. The previous Palace of Westminster was burned down in 1844. Definitely check out this famous landmark.
National History Museum
I LOVED the Natural History Museum. First of all, it looks absolutely stunning from the outside – one of the most beautiful buildings I saw in England! Secondly, the exhibits are amazing. Definitely go there if you have kids, or if you are really interested in science and natural history, OR if you are a big kid like me! I was absolutely enthralled by the dinosaur displays (I was surrounded by children – lol – totally felt like a big kid at this point). The history and displays were so interesting. I was especially shocked when I saw the true sizes of some of the dinosaurs and their claws! That was my favourite exhibition. However, I also enjoyed the Universe display, the human body display and the minerals.
Victoria and Albert Museum
I didn’t actually get to see a huge amount of the displays at this museum, because I was trying to do three museums in one day (absolutely insane, I know). However, I really enjoyed what I did see. My favourite part was an exhibition of historical clothing throughout the ages. It is so fascinating to see how people dressed at those times. You can also see how much smaller in stature they were than us (then again, I felt like this at Harry Potter World seeing some of the actors’ costumes as well – I guess at 174cm I’m just a tall gal!). I also really enjoyed seeing the beautiful sculptures in the hall.
They had a little gift shop within the museum as well, where I bought a pencil for my own drawings – I was feeling pretty inspired – and a magazine created by the museum. I essentially chose to go there because of how romantic I find Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s love story. Founded in 1852, it was named after the two of them. If you are into art and history, I’d recommend going here.
The Science Museum is – you guessed it – the third museum I went to that day. It was SO interesting. The first display that I saw was all about the history and treatments of mental illnesses. As you can imagine, some of these artifacts were pretty damn terrifying, and it certainly made me feel glad I was born now instead of then. It also made me think about how we might one day see today’s treatments of such illnesses, and whether or not we might find them archaic and horrifying.
Next, I saw the outer space display. They had a real astronaut’s spacesuit on display, as well as lots of artifacts to show us what people eat and how they live when they’re out in space. There was a projection of Earth in the centre of the room, which shared facts with us about the planet and its inhabitants. Many other displays were there, but I only had time for a few more, so I checked out the old clocks. There is something about old clocks and ways of measuring time that is incredibly interesting and mind-boggling to me. Many of the clocks themselves are absolutely stunning, as they were made with such care and skill.
Platform 9 3/4
Harry Potter fans rejoice! You can go to Platform 9 3/4! If you’re a true fan you probably already knew this anyway, but I had to pop it on here because it is a really fun experience. It is (of course) found at King’s Cross Station. There is actually a little line of people who wait to have their own photo, and a guy on hand with scarves of all four of the houses. You can choose a scarf, pose with the trolley, and voila! You’re on your way to Hogwarts! I chose Gryffindor, of course. There’s also a little gift store nearby (of course) that sells heaps of HP paraphernalia. You can purchase your own scarf there, a wand, or even a ticket to Hogwarts.
The Camden markets have a really cool vibe. There are heaps of stalls that sell really awesome, different stuff. It was really fun to check them out. There is a lot of beautiful street art around the area, and most of the stalls are small businesses. Some of my favourite ones were selling unique t-shirts, photographs of London on thick pieces of wood, and super-cute earring designs. I actually bought a picture of two pink phone boxes with a black-and-white background, and a pair of multicoloured sparkly earrings. There were a lot of yummy foods available as well, so Jacqui and I had a tasty lunch on our day out!
We had to check out Abbey Road. If you are a fan of the Beatles, definitely check this out. The road itself was actually super busy, so it wasn’t as easy as you’d think to get that famous photo. I did feel like a bit of an annoying tourist to be honest, so I tried to wait until there were no cars coming to get my picture. Super iconic. And the little yellow light has a smiley face on it!
Do you think I’d had enough of Museums yet? Not a chance! The British Museum is full of really ancient artifacts. I saw some really interesting displays about ancient money from different types of the world. There was also ancient artwork, including pottery, sculpture, and jewelry. There were a lot of displays which gave some insight into life in ancient times, including hair brushes and teapots. This museum is also the home of the Rosetta Stone, and has been since 1802. As a budding linguist, this was SUPER exciting for me to see.
I didn’t actually hop on the London Eye this time, but I did when I was 14 with my family. It offers a fantastic view of London and I think that it should be done at least once in your life. It is kind of weird because there is only one spot to sit down in the middle of the pod, and usually there are more people than space on the seat to sit down. So, you stand up to look out at the view, which can be a little unnerving if you don’t like heights. However, I think that the view is worth it.
The London Dungeon was SO. MUCH. FUN. It may have a long wait to get in but it is super worth it. You get to go through all of these rooms to experience the history of London’s seedy underbelly. There are actors who share the history with you as the historical figures and characters themselves. We got to experience Guy Fawkes’ plot, see Jack the Ripper and one of the prostitutes he killed, observe how operations were done back in the day and why it is called an operating theatre, and we were even put in barbers chairs for Sweeney Todd! This is a must-do if you love a bit of spooky history, and the fact that it was so interactive made it an unforgettable and super-fun experience.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
This is a definite must-do for those who love drama and theatre. I didn’t actually go inside as I didn’t have the budget for it at the time (I had other things to see that were higher up on my list). However, my sister, who absolutely loves drama and acting would likely have it as one of the first things on her list! It did look pretty cool even from the outside!
See if you can spot the Prime Minister. Ha, ha. There isn’t actually too much to see here except of course the front door where the Prime Minister lives, but all that is behind gates and there are guards and that sort of thing. However, it was cool to see anyway, especially as someone who doesn’t have her Prime Minister living in her city at home.
Tower of London
I actually didn’t go to the Tower of London this time either, but I went with my family in 2014 as well. This place is full of despair and history. It is the place where many famous people were put to death, including Anne Boleyn. This is also the home of the crown jewels, which are stunningly beautiful. If you want to hear about a bit of horrible history, I’d definitely have a look at the Tower of London. And whilst you’re there, take a picture of the stunning London Bridge.
Harrods, Oxford Street & Convent Gardens
I decided to put these three together because they are both shopping-tourism experiences. Harrods is just so fancy! I had to check it out. In all honesty my favourite part was probably the food area on the bottom level. There are so many delicious fresh foods to choose from. I also bought a little Harrods pencil case which I still use today. I loved seeing all of the fashion and styles on the clothing levels.
Oxford Street was like a big mystical place to me. I was there at night-time, so whilst the sky was dark, the signs and fairy lights were all lit up. This, combined with the amount of people trying to get around at the time, created a totally magical experience. I really loved places like Topshop. This may seem weird to some readers, but in my hometown we don’t have a lot of those awesome fashion brands, so this was really special to me. I found a lot of things that I liked – and a heap of cute winter stuff! I’ve popped some super-cute Topshop items below if you want to have a little shop!
Surprisingly enough, Covent Gardens is the area where prositutes used to solicit customers from their bedroom windows. It is now a fantastic place to shop! Both times that I’ve been there (four years apart) they have had the giant paella dish there, smelling fantastic and ready to provide anyone with a delicious lunch. I loved a lot of the shops that were there and it was a really fun experience.
I hope you’ve got some fun ideas now for what to do on your trip to London. There are so many opportunities to learn about the rich history and view amazing things. I’ve got a few extra tips here for being in London, including:
- Get a tube map! In order to get around London, you will NEED to use the tube. It is important to read the map and try to get your bearings. If not, you’ll end up like me, who went to some obscure town 45 minutes from the city by accident.
- Have a Sunday Roast. Do it. It is the most British thing to do, ever. Well, maybe not the most British thing, but it is up there. And it’s delicious!
- See other parts of England, too! I also went to other places including Bournemouth and the Cotswolds. These were a lot of fun – let me know if you would like to see articles about them in the comments below!