A Weekender’s Guide to London

by Robin Turnipseed

“Wait! You’re going to London for how many days?” Since December, when we announced our brief jaunt across the pond, this question has appeared in every conversation the moment that people discovered our travels to England encompassed only a few days.

Their eyes would widen, a slightly curious shake of a head would occur, and then the following two questions would inevitably come rushing out, one right behind the other. “Why?” would be asked first, with “What can anyone do in London in only three days?” shortly behind.

The answer to the first question is simple enough.

“Why such a short trip?”

Well, first, because we are parents. That should be enough said, but let’s add in the availability of childcare, not to mention that we chose to travel in April, a month fraught with end-of-the-year school activities. Also, we love to travel with our children and consider these quick trips more scouting in nature. If we love a place and deem it safe enough, we return home and carve out the makings of a more extensive family trip in the future.

As for the second question, “What can one possibly do in London in four days?”

The simple answer is “quite a bit” as long as you are organized and prioritize your list of activities.

Creating A Plan

In planning this trip, we decided to rely on the experiences of others, so we asked a few of our well-traveled friends to help us with recommendations. These suggestions aided us in drafting a list of what we both wanted to see so we were ready to attack the city with a laser-like focus the moment the plane landed. I am pretty pleased with how much we covered in such a short time frame.

Listed below is a brief overview of our itinerary and a few tips that may help you plan a weekend trip if you ever head in that direction, and I highly suggest that, if at all possible, it be added to your places to visit.

Our Curated Itinerary

Day One

We arrived in the city early that morning, and instead of grabbing an Uber, we opted for a black cab, which proved to be the best decision since our driver graciously gifted us with a tour of all the prestigious buildings we pass along the way. He even pointed out the home of Alfred Hitchcock, which delighted me to no end!

Knowing that our room at the St. Ermin’s Hotel would not be ready, we caffeinated and powered through the jet lag. We grabbed the obligatory fish and chips from The Feathers and visited Buckingham Palace and St. James Park. I am so thankful that we pushed ourselves!

Little did we know that our travel weekend coincided with the London Marathon, an enormous demonstration for climate change, and the initial setup for the upcoming coronation. Had we not rallied, barricades would have surrounded the only view of the palace we would’ve witnessed. However, since we were there early, we were allowed to walk up to the palace gates.

After a few pictures around the palace and the park and a brief visit to Picadilly Circus, we head back to the hotel to rest for our evening plans- a seven o’clock showing of Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theater

Day Two

Following breakfast the next morning, we grabbed another black cab and started towards Portobello Road, the only priority on my London “to-do” list. This market is near the suburb of Nottinghill and offers a variety of antiques and vintage shops.

NOTE: The vast market can prove overwhelming, so I created a guide for what to expect when visiting this famous London landmark for those looking to include this hotspot in their travels. 

After spending a few hours browsing the marketplace, we snap a picture at the famous blue door and the bookshop from Notting Hill and walk to our next stopPaddington Station made the itinerary mainly out of my desire to visit the Paddington Store and snag the signature bear for our girl.

After a quick lunch, we visited Harrods, where my charming husband tried his best, yet failed, to secure a tea time at the famed department store, so we ventured back to the hotel to rest up before we attempted that night’s agenda.

Our evening plans included riding the London Eye; however, jet lag won, and we arrived at the Eye well-past closing time. However, the sunset walk across Westminster Bridge awarded us beautiful views of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben on our return walk. While exploring the area around the eye, we discover THE STRINGS, a lovely Italian and Spanish restaurant where the owner, a skilled classical guitarist, performs every thirty minutes. Seriously, some of the best tiramisu I have ever tasted.

We finished after the sun went down and strolled back to our hotel, watching as Big Ben lit up for the night. It was stunning and did not seem real. I half expected to see Tinker Bell dart across his face.   

Day Three

When we booked our trip, we knew an in-depth tour of Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London was a priority. We chose The Tour Guy for our full-day tour and will use them for every international trip we take from here on out. Our experience with this company is a highlight of our time in London.

Upon arrival at Westminster Abbey, our guide, Karen, began by delivering an in-depth history lesson about each ruling monarchy while guiding us through the critical elements of the Abbey. One of the serendipities of our morning tour was the 10 o’clock prayer offered by a presiding priest.

When our morning session concluded, our small group loaded a ferry headed down the River Thames directed at the Tower of London, where we spent the afternoon hearing the fascinating history of the bridge, the tower, and the life lived within those walls. Four hours is insufficient to grasp the tower’s rich history, but it gave us a solid overview.

We wrapped up our time by viewing the crown jewels, sailing back down the river, and making one final stop to enjoy a ride on the London Eye before our trip concluded the next day. I am not a fan of heights, but those panoramic views were worth taming every nervous butterfly I encountered.

A Few Final Tips

1. Take the black taxi cabs if at all possible. While it is easy to rely on Uber, as we do here in the States, forgo the temptation and experience the black cab service firsthand. With a rich history that dates back to the 1800s, it requires dedication to obtain a black cab license. They must pass “the Knowledge,” a comprehensive exam that often takes over three years to complete, which makes them skilled craftsmen in navigating the maze of London streets and backroads. They are exceptional, not to mention highly entertaining. 

2. Plan and Book a tea time in advance. Learn from our mistake and schedule a time before you leave.

3. Book simple plans for the evening of your arrival. Jet lag does not play fair. 

4. Be aware of city activities before you plan your trip. When we started planning, checking to see the city’s schedule of events didn’t cross our minds. We knew about the upcoming coronation, but the London Marathon and the extra 50,000 people who flooded the city for the climate demonstration surprised us. So I highly recommend checking to see what significant events are scheduled before you begin drafting your travel plans.

5. Book a Tour. The Tour Guy operates in multiple countries and provides excellent service! Also, ensure tip money is available- in the correct currency. Please take my word for it; you will want to leave a hefty tip at the end of the day. They are incredible! 

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