As a first-time visitors to London, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. There are so many world-famous sites and hidden gems to see that you can quickly become lost in the enormity of it all. London’s public transportation system is one of the best in the world, however, and with just a bit of pre-planning it’s easy to organize an eventful, unforgettable vacation. Don’t just stay within the city itself, though. You’ll want to get out into the countryside to appreciate the full beauty of the London experience.
Portobello Road – If you enjoy antiques and flea markets, you won’t want to miss the world’s largest antiques market, the famous Portobello Road Antiques Market. In addition to shopping, there are plenty of places to stop and eat or have a cup of tea. The market is only open on Saturdays, but the surrounding shops are open six days a week. If taking the Tube, you can get off at either Ladbroke Grove or Notting Hill Gate.
Tower of London – For a big dish of history and a side order of humor, the tours at the Tower of London are informative and entertaining. Among other things, you’ll learn about the beheading of Anne Boleyn, see the Crown Jewels and witness a torture chamber up close and personal. The Tower is open seven days a week and the Tower Hill Tube station is just a five-minute walk away.
The Big Bus – This tour offers more than 50 stops throughout the city where you can get off, see the sites on your own schedule, and then get back on and go to the next stop. You’ll ride in one of London’s famous double-decker buses, and the tour is fully narrated. You can catch the Big Bus from any of the city bus stops, and buy your tickets there as well. Bring your raincoat, because views from the upper (open) deck are the best. Big Ben, Scotland Yard and Westminster Abbey are just a few of the stops you’ll have to choose from. My favorite was feeding the pigeons at Trafalgar Square.
Day Trip Guided Bus Tours from London
Oxford, Stratford and Warwick Castle – On this tour you’ll visit one of the colleges within Oxford University, walk through Shakespeare’s birthplace, and explore the 1000+ year old Warwick Castle. Be sure to check out the castle’s dungeon – it’s both interesting and gruesome.
One of the best parts of this tour was driving through the English countryside. We stopped along the way and had lunch at a little pub. Our group sampled jacket potatoes and a ploughman’s lunch, which are very authentic old-English meals. I’d recommend trying them both.
Bath, Stonehenge and Salisbury – Bath is awesome! It’s difficult to imagine that the baths were built almost 2000 years ago. Legend says that the waters had healing powers, and although I would normally dismiss such talk, when you’re there, it’s almost convincing.
The second stop was Stonehenge. I had seen it so many times before on TV, I thought I knew what to expect. When we arrived, however, the scene was truly surreal. There is a powerful energy that emanates from the site that gave me goose bumps.
The last stop on this tour was the cathedral at Salisbury. It was built in 1220. The tombs on the inside were awesome, yet a little eerie. The likenesses of the deceased were carved on the outsides of the tombs, so you felt as if you knew the person resting there.
Get a map before you go that contains subway and bus stops. Spend a little time studying it to get your bearings before you arrive.
Take your rain coat with you everywhere.
For those not accustomed to countries where they drive on the left side of the road, be careful crossing the street – the cars come from the opposite lane!
The Tube (subway) is the best way to get around in London. It’s much quicker than the buses and much less expensive than taxis.
Be brave and try some of England’s traditional cuisine. Steak and kidney pie will likely never be a favorite of mine, but at least I can say I gave it a try!