WHEN TIME IS TIGHT...
London is expensive - if you've only got a short
time here then it's best to do some careful planning
- either using our itinerary
page for walks that connect major sights (and some
amazing minor ones), our planning
page, for grouping nearby attractions together, or
this page where we attempt to make recommendations
for visits of certain lengths.
A weekend in London A week in London.
THE MAIN GIGSONE DAY IN LONDON: If you've the money (it can prove quite expensive) do a hop-on hop-off double-decker bus tour (it'll pass the main sights and as soon as you get to something you like, hop off, then rejoin the tour until you get to the next one...), however the cost can be prohibitive - in which case buy a one day travelcard Zones 1 + 2 (about £6 per person - if you're in London for any longer, buy an Oystercard, see Transport page for details) at any tube or rail station, or at some newsagents, and take the bus everywhere, always sitting on the top deck. Avoid travelling in the rush hours 07:30-09:30 & 17:00-18:30.
Start at the Tower of London [Open summer 0900-1700, winter until 1600], which you should visit as soon as it opens to avoid the monstrous queues (if you ask at the tube station you should be able to buy a combined entrance ticket for the tower and travelcard. We'd advise crossing Tower Bridge (don't bother to go inside - the best photos are from the approach, the frontage of the ugly thistle hotel or from halfway across London Bridge) and have a quick look at the docks on the other side (see our walk one) and follow the walk as far along the south bank as Westminster Bridge, and visit Westminster Abbey.
On the way you'll see the Shakespeare's Globe, the Tate Modern (you can do it in 30 minutes - worth at least looking inside), the London Eye (takes an hour - you may not have the time), Somerset House, The Houses of Parliament, St Paul's and the city skyline on the way. If you want a shortcut the Jubilee line runs from London Bridge (just next to the London Dungeon) to Westminster station.
From Westminster Station take bus #3, 12, 88 or 159 up to Oxford Circus - you'll pass 10 Downing Street, Horseguards, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street on the way (hop off/on at will) - and take the Bakerloo Line of the Tube to Baker Street for Madame Tussaud's, [ Open 0900-17:30 Summer, from 1000 in winter] the Planetarium and Sherlock Holmes territory. Once you're done up here take a #2 from Baker St (the terminus is Marylebone St Station which may be easier)or #82 bus back down past Marble Arch, Park Lane (Hyde park) through Belgravia to the Royal Mews (ask the conductor). This is at the back of Buckingham Palace and it's a quick walk round to the front.
The Changing of the Guard takes place at about 11am. As you might have guessed this day schedule is a loop and you can join at any point so as long as you're at Buckingham Palace by 11:15 (at the latest) you're OK. In which case start out your day at Madame Tussaud's. When you get to St Pauls you can either take a #15 bus or a Circle line tube to the Tower.
The Queen's Life Guard changes daily (Monday to Saturday at 1100 hours and 1000 hours on Sundays) at Horse Guards, Whitehall and alternates between The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals except for one month in late summer when The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery takes over from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. To see this walk up from Parliament square (or take any bus up Whitehall) to Horseguards.
The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace takes place at 1130 hours on alternate days from August to April and daily in all other months. It doesn't happen in very wet weather & on certain Ceremonial Days - you'll need to get there early to get a good place. See the Army's Website for full details of this and other ceremonials.
Once you've seen Buck House/The Changing of the Guard then walk up the Mall and take the first left at the traffic lights to get to St James' Palace. There you can get a good photo of yourself next to a Sentry in full costume, including Busbee - unless you're unlucky and it's the Ghurka regiment on duty.... They change the guards here in a minor ceremony at about 16:00 - though it's a bit irregular.
Walk up St James to Piccadilly and jump on a number 9 bus which'll take you to the National Gallery - but it's not far to walk back down Piccadilly, through Leicester Square (if you fancy a show now's the time to get tickets, preferably from the TKTS - formerly the official half price ticket booth - in Leicester Square itself) then and down to the National Gallery which is 200 metres south of Leicester Square, overlooking Trafalgar square.
Just east of Leicester Sq is Covent Garden, which is best explored at about 17:30 pm - 18:30pm. Better are Soho and Chinatown - north of Leicester Square. Or alternatively, follow Shaftsbury Avenue all the way up (away from the theatres) up to the British Museum (or take a #24 or 29 bus up to Great Russell St) for a quick look at the African, Egyptian and Babylonian galleries and the Great Court.
You'll want to eat (see our food page) before you go see a show. Soho, Chinatown and around Leicester Square are good for quick,
good value meals.
We think St Paul's is best viewed when floodlit, in which case take a #11 or 15 bus from the Strand or Trafalgar Square to see it at night.
It's been a full day - but you've seen the best of London - congratulations! Points to watch out for: As our route is a circuit you can start off either at the Tower if you want to avoid queues and the crush or at Madame Tussaud's if you don't mind crowds and want to see the Changing of the Guard, when it's on. Remember Mme Tussauds closes at 17:30 and the Tower at 17:00 (16:00 in winter) so plan your trip accordingly.
A CULTURE VULTURE'S DAY OUT
Buy a One day travelcard Zones 1 + 2 (about
£6 per person if you're in London for any
longer, buy an Oystercard, see Transport page for
details) at any tube or rail station, or at some
newsagents, and take the bus everywhere, always
sitting on the top deck. Avoid travelling in the
rush hours 07:30-09:30 & 17:00-18:30.