through a touristic track (part one)
Welcome to the first part of Day One walk through key touristic attractions. Most of my friends want to see London through my eyes as well as explore some unknown places. However, almost all of them want to start with main touristic spots. Therefore, I chose to start our walk through most of the famous spots that everyone wants to see in London. London has a great underground system and plenty of buses, however, I strongly encourage you to walk on foot. If you follow my plan (click here to see a map), you will notice that there is no need to take public transport as each location is maximum 15 minute walk from the previous one. As a result by end of the day you may realise that you actually walked 10 miles, if not more! But hey, what a great workout?
Starting point – Trafalgar Square
The ideal place to start your tour of London is Trafalgar Square, which is located right in the middle of many attractions. You can get there by bus or subway (Charing Cross station – not to be confused with the street, which is a few hundred meters away). Standing in the middle of this square you will find yourself next to a remarkable column that is Nelson’s column, built in the 19th century. The square is located next to a roundabout, its each street directs to another attraction. Nevertheless, it is worth stopping here for a picture of the fountain with a sculpture or a seasonal figure on the left side of the column. The National Gallery is right behind them. The entrance, as in most museums and art galleries, is free of charge (there are large transparent boxes in the museums where you can throw in donations to maintain the place). In this gallery you can admire European art by artists such as: Claude Monet, Anthony Van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh and many others.
Trafalgar Sq is located near other famous squares, but we will return to them later! Back to our starting point, there are plenty of cafes, typical British pubs, restaurants and fast food – although I would advise to drop the last option. Personally, I always take here coffee to go – we have a choice of well-known chain cafes such as Café Nero, but also Pret A Manger – it’s a British chain café that, in addition to good coffee and other drinks, also serves a wide range of breakfast and lunch offer: sandwiches, wraps, salads, ready pasta and many more, their range will cover everyone needs from carnivore, vegetarian to vegan version. Their prices are also affordable, so this is certainly a place to consider.
- An average price for coffee is between £2.50 – £4 (most cafés charge around 40p for plant-based milk)
- Most cafes give a discount when you buy your coffee in your own cup
- Pret’s sandwiches and wraps cost about £5, salads and hot meals up to £6
A walk on the red carpet – The Mall
Supplied with a drink as we see fit (in my case it would be a latte on coconut milk) we head towards an impressive arch called Admiralty Arch, which was created in the 20th century. It is a link between The Mall – a street covered with red tarmac (which I personally call the red carpet) and Trafalgar Sq. In front of us there is a fifteen-minute walk along St. James’s Park on the left and on the right we will be accompanied by the old headquarters of the Art Institute, the Royal Society and other residences of the royal family. The Mall often hosts marathons and sport events, as well as parades and national events. After walking a kilometre (or 0.7 mile if you’d like), on the right side of the street we will find ourselves at the edge of Green Park. If you take a closer peek, you can notice beautiful residential houses with high windows and amazingly preserved facades. This park is a perfect place for a short break or a shelter from the sun. Green Park also leads to Hyde Park (which deserves a separate post!).
Pay a visit to the Queen in Buckingham Palace
At the end of The Mall you can find a roundabout, with Queen Victoria Memorial, who reigned for over 63 years. Her statue faces The Mall, with angel-shaped sculptures at its base. On top of the whole monument there are golden figures. Just behind the statue you can see in all its glory the key attraction of this street, Buckingham Palace. Dating from the 18th century, the palace was the residence of many monarchs, and for us it is known as Queen Elizabeth II’s house. In fact, the Queen lives in Windsor Castle on a daily basis. However, for most people, it is Buckingham Palace that is considered to be the home of the royal family. It is often recognised by its famous balcony from which people are greeted by the royals during state or royal celebrations. The entire property is surrounded by a high gate and fence and is guarded by the Royal Guard known by a distinctive red uniform and a tall black cap. The change of guards is definitely worth seeing – it takes place on selected days at 10:45 a.m. (I suggest to check the time on the Internet, in case the time changes).
Whitehall and 10 Downing St
Slowly we say goodbye to the queen and head towards further attractions. Go around the roundabout towards St. James’s Park. I remember the times when I occasionally visited London as a tourist – I always had to pay a visit to this place. Walking through numbers of paths of this seemingly small park, I promised myself that when I would live in London I would come to this park with a blanket and a book, just like the people I always passed by.
In the middle of the park there is a bridge over the pond – it’s a great spot to take pictures of the neighbouring government buildings that look from the distance like small castles. It is easy to guess that the next point on our map is the Prime Minister’s house. No matter what we think of the current politician, it is worth seeing the famous house. Returning to our path, we head towards King Charles St, where we pass the Imperial War Museum. We have the opportunity to walk between the government buildings and the museum, what is even better, the street itself should be very quiet despite its location. You certainly don’t feel the hustle of the city.
From the quiet street we reach the main Whitehall street, a home to ministries, associations and, as I mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister’s house, the famous 10 Downing St. Although access to this street is completely restricted due to security measures, you can still see the famous door with number 10. Continue the walk along Whitehall, and pay attention to numerous monuments commemorating, for example, women fighting during the war.
Going further towards Nelson’s column we come across Horse Guards – a famous point where you will find a royal guard on his horse. While being in this area, keep your eyes wide open, as you may spot here some old red double-deckers parked on one of the side streets, which nowadays serve only for tourist purposes.
Big Ben, what a bell!
Our next point is Elizabeth Tower. Did you know that Big Ben is the name of the bell, but the tower was named after Elizabeth? If you are planning your trip in the near future, remember that Big Ben is currently being renovated, so the whole tower is now under construction. Leave the Horse Guard and turn back to the Prime Minister’s house and continue the walk to towards the Westminster.
The House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey
Opposite the Parliament there is a square with monuments of famous British leaders, including Winston Churchill. I suggest we take a walk around this garden and then head towards St Margaret Church and the Gothic Westminster Abbey. In November you will see a garden with poppies in memory of those who died during the war, and the proceeds from the sale of artificial poppies are donated to support the veterans. Westminster Abbey itself is well known for numerous events of the royal family, such as the wedding of the future heir, William and Kate Middleton.
We can now return to the Parliament, which is the oldest royal building in London. Walking down the Abingdon St we can admire the high walls of this building. The building we see now has been rebuilt after a great fire in the 19th century, and its original version was built about a thousand years ago. It is a place that certainly impresses with its craftsmanship and incredible care for details. For those who dream to explore the House of Parliament from he inside, it is possible, but it is good to book in advance online (the price of a guided ticket is about £27 for an adult).
When I show someone this area, I often take them for a short detour to see beautiful, typical terraced houses with their famous colourful doors. If you also want to see them go to Great College St and turn into the nearby streets until you reach St John’s Smith Square. Remember to go back to Big Ben as the route continues there.
Westminster Bridge and Thames Path
Personally, Westminster Bridge is not my favourite (I will reveal my favourite in a second post when we talk about Thames Path) – always full of local souvenir vendors, random musicians and an endless stream of tourists. Nevertheless, the bridge itself fits in perfectly with its surroundings, as it is in style with the neighbouring government buildings and is the perfect place to capture the picturesque view of the London Eye. After crossing to the other side of the bridge, we go down to The Queen’s Walk. Here, apart from the crowds, we can find numerous attractions waiting for us such as Sea Life, Shrek Adventures, London Dungeons and above all the London Eye.
I’ll share with you my secret, which few people know about. Whether you decide to go on the London Eye (the price per adult is about £27 – there is also a more expensive fast track option, which will certainly save a few hours in the queue during the season!), it’s worth going inside and following the signs “4D Experience”. This is a few-minute taster of what you will see on the London Eye. Thanks to 3D glasses you will be in the centre of London, on the roof of the Parliament or St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the 4D format will let you experience more thanks to soap bubbles, wind and even snowflakes! This is one of those places where I can go number of times and yet not be bored by it. I simply love this video and I watch it every time I am near the London Eye!
Time for food!
At this stage of the journey it’s time to eat and Southbank, where we are now, is the perfect place for that. Regardless of the time of year or day, there are several options here. Right under Jubilee bridge there are Food Trucks with options for everyone: typical fish & chips with craft beer, Turkish wraps, Asian dishes and sometimes even Polish ones. Prices may differ from £5 to £10 per portion. For fans of more traditional restaurants, Southbank offers well-known chain stores such as Las Iguanas with South American cuisine, Wagamama with Japanese cuisine and others (for a meal with a drink you may pay between £15-25). There are also cafes available to help you charge up your energy level. Apart from food, there is a big open market with used books, vinyls or occasional cards that are not available in shops – make sure to check it out.
I hope this first part of the plan has encouraged you to explore London, and it’s not over yet! This is just a taster of what London has to offer. It’s worth keeping in mind that depending on how much you want to explore the area, the above plan should take about 2-3 hours. The rest of the day will be features in the second post, so I strongly encourage you to follow my blog! I am curious to hear your opinions on my London guide. Let me know your thoughts in comments!