How many days for a first trip to London?
At least 6! I’m counting the first day I’m there as a blur of overnight jet lag. We get off the plane in the morning, and every time we’ve gone, we’ve been able to check in to our hotel early. We stay awake until 3 p.m., then sleep for one hour. That’s it. Then dinner and a loud show!
“Location Location Location”: We stay in the Covent Garden area as we like to walk to West End theatre at night. Most are an easy walk, for dinner and then to the theatre. Covent Garden’s also superbly convenient for the galleries, museums and shopping.
Our daily routine or My Simple Plan: 1. Do one Educational Activity. 2. Another chunk of time to shop. 3. Then dinner and a show. The day flies by. The museums are all free and have audio guides or phone guides. Our favorite experience our last trip was taking a London Walk (www.walks.com). They’re 2 hour walking tours on a special area or subject of London life, led by entertaining guides. Here’s our ‘Life of Shakespeare’ guide playing his lute.
My favorite stores are fun because they’re kind of like our department stores, only different: Marks & Spencer for affordable department store type items and food. Fortnum & Mason to feel like a princess. Liberty’s off Regent Street, for beautiful things. If you like book stores, Hatchards and Daunt books are the best. The store experience is delightful. And there’s Waterstones… and Foyle’s. London is a book lovers’ paradise.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a must see, which can be done with a London Walks Guide.
Westminster Abbey. See it. For free, on Sunday morning. Be at the front gate by 9:30 a.m. and you will be the first into the Abbey,
for seats in the choir (or ‘quire’ as originally spelled) directly behind the darling choir boys in their ruffled collars and red robes, singing “Matins” at 10:30. Worth the short wait. Or, attend All Soul’s Church Langham Place for a meaningful service; check out times online. After either, have a reservation at Balthazar’s in Covent Garden for brunch and order their full English breakfast. Balthazarlondon.com.
Where we stay: We like apartments in London which means we have a kitchen with refrigerator and washer/dryer (very slow but hey we’re out all day). That means the added daily tasks of stopping in at Marks & Spencer Food Halls for their fantastic fresh squeezed OJ, milk, and cereal. Or Tesco, Or Sainsbury, or Waitrose. Apartments are only worth it if you’re in London for a week at least. This last trip we rented from a new company as several others we’ve used went out of business over the covid years. We rented from plumguide.com.
For shorter stays, we book at Citadine’s Trafalgar Square, or their hotel on Holborn. Last trip we splurged on Henrietta Hotel, a small boutique hotel in Covent Garden. A bit pricey but great location and they had a breakfast/dining room which was an extra charge but worth it. It’s really nice to get up and have breakfast before heading out for all day touristing, especially in brisk weather, which is my favorite for London. We’ve also stayed at the Duchess of Duke Street’s (great old BBC TV show) hotel which is The Cavendish. However, cannot recommend their breakfast room as the food quality and elegant experience of the morning meal is gone. They are located just behind Fortnum & Mason.
People always ask us where we like to eat. We are not big foodies. We eat breakfast in the room, grab a sandwich/cookie at Marks & Spencer late morning, (their fresh baked area at their Green Park Simply Food shop)
or Pret A Manger. Or, here’s a great Swedish bakery in the Covent Garden area on Rose Place, “Bageriet.” Each day fresh rolls and desserts (closed Sundays) ! I’m seeing more bakeries with ‘sweet rolls’ – this is an American Thing. I eat while walking in London as there’s just so much to see I cannot stop…
We dine early …either in our apartment or there are a multitude of appealing small restaurants, especially in the Covent Garden and Soho area. We’ve eaten at a French Bistro called ‘Cote Brasserie.’ We got a seat at the Indian restaurant ‘Dishoom’ because we walked in at 4:45. Otherwise there’s always a long line out the door. They don’t take reservations, but for most places you need them. I’ve loved The Wolsey, which is next door to the Ritz on Picadilly. It’s so British. Eat a hearty lunch there… and then have a bowl of soup at Pret later, to save the pennies.
Afternoon Tea: Do it! It’s RIDICULOUS expensive, but a once in a lifetime experience. London is about Living Well. Favorite tea places: Fortnum & Mason’s fifth floor tea room. Or, Brown’s hotel. I dream of having tea at Claridges, which I’ve heard is above and beyond. Besides the money, it’s just so much sugar… but do it.
Theatre: We love musicals and most anything done well. Watch out for shows that have politically correct/depressing topics shoved down one’s throat. And these can often garner five star reviews. Just know the kind of evening you would like to have. Our favorite shows in London are, especially, the British popular shows, like “Matilda” and “The Play Gone Wrong.” British and clever funny. Also “Six,” which is British Bawdy. There are web sites where you can buy same day tickets for these shows at reduced prices. We’re also seeing more opera, at The Coliseum.
Check out Londontheatre.co.uk to find out about your choices. Next, look for the discount sites, like todaystix.com, which you have to buy, over your phone, the day of the show. If there’s a show you’re dying to see and you can see online that there aren’t many seats left, don’t wait. Buy the tickets through the theatre right away. Smart phones have changed how we buy theatre tickets in London.
The best things about London are the little surprises on top of my Simple Daily Plan:
The little girl in her Elsa costume at the Frozen show, her mom taking her picture on the Grand Staircase,
Trying orange marmalade at Balthazar, because Nana Mitchell loved it, and maybe I’ll love it now, too, that I’m grown up. (Nope.)
Finding out one of the first Dean’s of St. Paul’s Cathedral was named ‘Wulfstan.’
Oh, another must see in London! (This could go on and on!): Kensington Palace, where Queen Victoria lived for a while… among other royals. It’s on the edge of Hyde Park, where Peter Pan’s statue is. A holy place for me. The parks’ green trees and blooming flowers are more of the unfolding surprises of a day in London. The park pictured, St. James, is only open Monday through Friday, so catch it during the week on your way to Fortnum & Mason.
And then there’s the Food Hall at Harrods….
there’s always more in London.