As Christmas & New Year’s are approaching, and London is a city favorited by all Egyptians, it’s not surprising that England ranks as the 8th most visited country in the world.
As cloudy -“ghastly” as the Brits say- as it could get, London is without doubt one of the most impressive cities in the world, loved by everyone for so many different reasons, very diverse, a true cosmopolitan I’d say, offering a unique experience to all taste buds.
Speaking of things to do or places to go to, London has it all, from warm summer days with a variety of outdoors activities to enjoy be it in the city or not too far from it, to cold and rainy winters with a stunning festive “Christmas is in the air” feeling.
Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
London’s biggest highlights are markets, musicals, parks and nightlife, but since I am not a party animal, so please note that all my nightlife suggestions will be based on research, not on on the ground experience, and note that you can still enjoy London without doing any nightlife ;).
Before heading to London make sure to check the weather forecast, so you’d pack the right clothing, as the weather in Europe is usually crazy, hourly unpredictable, and London is no exception. One thing I learned about traveling to Europe, is that whichever season it is you should always pack a heavy jacket or a wind breaker.
Once you arrive to London first thing to do is getting an Oyster Card -before departing from London don’t forget to return it to get all your credit back, in addition to the 5 British Pounds that you deposited to have the card-, which is your pass to using public transports in Greater London. Even if you love walking you can’t get around London without public transports as the city is huge, and has lots of attractions that you really don’t want to miss.
This itinerary is tailored for insanely active people, those who go to London as if never going back again -which I bet will never be the case :D. Since we Egyptians are shopaholics, let me start by telling you where to shop.
Where to shop?
Harrods at night by raghavvidiya
- Westfield Shopping Center
- Bicester Village
- Oxford Street (better early in the morning)
- Regent & Knightsbridge for branded stuff
- The Seven Dials
- Covent Garden
- All aforementioned Street Markets (please note that in most cases street markets are located at shopping streets).
- For more details on shopping in London, visit this link.
Itinerary for one week
Day 1 : Get a Taste of England’s Royalty
First thing is getting yourself a latte, mocha or cappuccino and fresh sandwiches or cakes from Prêt à Manger, it’s everywhere, head to Hyde Park and lose track of time. St. James Park, Green Park & Kensington Parks are all part of Hyde Park, so you can now imagine how huge it is.
You can start with this free-tour or follow my suggestion.
- Green Park & St. James Park: Start your walk from Green Park station, to explore the vast greenery of London’s parks, all open to public for free, and stop to get a glance of Buckingham Palace.
- The Changing of Guards at Buckingham Palace: Check their schedule to make sure to be there when the changing of guards occurs, there is also the changing of horse guards which is even more interesting at Whitehall near the famous 10 Downing St. which is on your way when heading from St. James Park to Big Ben, and this is their schedule.
- Houses of Parliament & Big Ben: You don’t have to enter any of those places to get a feeling of how beautiful they are.
- Westminster Abbey: Get there early because queuing there is a nightmare, and make sure to check their website to make sure it’s open.
- A walk or a bike ride by River Thames, Millenium Bridge, Tower Bridge, & London Bridge.
- Take a Boat ride at River Thames if you feel like it, or discover London by taking the River Bus.
- Borough Market: A food market that is open for lunch; Mon & Tue 10am-5pm; Full Market: Wed, Thur 10am-5pm; Fri 10am-6pm; Sat 8am-5pm. Grab your breakfast, lunch or dinner from there. I promise you with the freshest mouth-watering ingredients.
- Founders Arms: End your day at this stunning pub that has an outdoors area overlooking River Thames, only 8 minutes walk from Blackfriars Tube Station, that’s actually the new youth hub.
A walk from Buckingham Palace on River Thames from Google Maps
Day 2 : London’s centre of entertainment
- Intersection of the Historic 7 Dials: It’s an intersection of 7 shopping streets, lying in a very interesting area, another “heart of London” I’d say.
- Covent Garden Markets: Even if you don’t feel like buying anything you must go there and have a look -in Christmas they have the best decorations ever & a very Christmas-ey atmosphere-, in Covent Garden there are several markets and shops. London markets are so diverse in terms of products and experience as well, so make sure to go to as many as you can. The set of markets sell all types of food and goods; paintings, souvenirs, antiques, jewellery, you name it, and you’d most likely hear someone playing music. Open Monday through Saturday from 10am-7pm & Sunday from 11am-6pm.
- Lyceum Theatre: Be sure to book your tickets days in advance to attend the best musical in town The Lion King, though I am not a huge fan of the animation movie -as it breaks my heart- I truly enjoyed this musical, with all the music, decorations, costumes, it’s perfect. If you are completely broke, buy standing-tickets -meaning you’ll stand during the play. Note that this is not the only good musical in there, but one of the best.
- Leicester Square & Piccadily Circus: One of London’s most vibrant areas, home to casinos, bars, entertainment with an average of a movie premiere per week, be ready to run into a Hollywood celebrity or two. In addition to a variety of restaurants and bars to chill out. This mini replica of Times Square in NYC is most enjoyed at night when big screens are showing commercials in the most vibrant colors. Note that circus in this context means square, not circus.
- M&M’s World: Meet M&M’s characters, and take plenty of photos with them, buy your favorite souvenirs & fill up your stomach with M&M’s.
- Mr. Ripley’s Believe it or Not: That is one hell of a creepy quircky museum, named after the iconic Mr. Robert L. Ripley who traveled to 201 countries in 35 years, and collected all sorts of unusual artifacts, showcased at this museum, believe me that you’ll shiver a hundred times when seeing those collectibles.
- Soho & China Town: One thing to note about China Town is that whenever broke go get some all you can eat food for as much as 5 British pounds.
- Hamley’s Toy Store: It’s a landmark even if you are at your late 90’s, nothing more to say.
- Oxford, Bond & Regent Streets: If you haven’t already had a shopping overdose, head to Oxford, Bond & Regent Streets for the ultimate shopping experience, however be ready for huge crowds.
Map from the Seven Dials’ website
Day 3 : Hippy London
It’s totally up to you to choose from where to start the tour, but be aware that London Zoo (ZSL) is open from 10am till 4pm, and check Madame Tussaud’s opening hours before going there.
- Camden Town: If you are in for a hippy experience, this place is one of the hippiest in London, or even in the world, it has a different atmosphere with quirky shops nicely decorated, you’ll truly regret not going there.
- Camden Market & Camden Stables Market (Chalk Farm Rd): Food stalls selling street food brought to you from all corners of the world.
A mouthwatering burrito from a Mexican food stall at Camden Town (photo by me it’s my burritto served with non-alcoholic ginger beer)
- Regent Park: Not all London parks are alike, so make sure to visit Regent and London Zoo.
- London Zoo: Open daily from 10 am till 4 pm (last entry at 3 pm). It’s easier, cheaper and hassle free -no queuing- to book tickets online.
- Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum: No matter how cliche it sounds, but no visit to London is complete without Madame Tussaud. Try to go there early or to book tickets online to skip the queue & to save some cash. Madame Tussaud is not just about being a wax museum, get ready for a horror experience -that you can skip, if you are faint hearted- in addition to a 4D movie starred by your favorite superheroes.
Camden Stable Market (photo by me)
Day 4 : Taking you to another era
- Portobello Road Market: A road market selling antiques, make sure to make a stop at the shop photographed in the above photo.
- Notting Hill: Though in the movie it was believed to be one of London’s cheapest areas, truth is it’s high-end. You can start your walk from Shepherd’s bush station up to Notting Hill Gate, you will walk by Holland Park, and discover the many cafes lying there. If you are going there in August, make sure to plan your visit according to Europe’s Biggest Street Carnival of Notting Hill held each August Bank Holiday since 1966.
Twin houses in Notting Hill (photo by me)
- Kensington Gardens & Palace: this is one of London’s most stunning gardens, and palaces as well. At the park stop for a sandwich or a warm hot drink, and make sure to check the Palace’s What’s On section beforehand as there are special seasonal events that are worth attending. One thing that you must do is following this route at Kensington Garden; the Round Pond where geese and swans are waiting to be fed, the Italian fountains, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and above all Peter Pan Statue.
- Albert Memorial: Inside Kensington Park, and not far from Royal Albert Hall -the place for live music and concerts. That’s such a memorable memorial :).
- Victoria & Albert Museum: Free entry. If you are going during Christmas time, be sure to ice skate at the nearby ice rink.
- Knightsbridge District: One of London’s most expensive, and elegant districts, no-wehere else -in London- can you see so many fancy cars.
- Harrod’s: Visit, shop or even stop over high-tea at their famous tea room for a real English Tea experience served with all sorts of freshly baked English treats.
- National Geographic Store: I hear you, it’s expensive, but come on it’s National Geographic store.
Note: If at any point in time you feel homesick, head to Edgware Road.
Day 5 : Road-trips
Although London has a limitless number of things to do, but maybe after a while you’ll need time to escape its hustle and bustle, about time to discover the English Countryside. (The 2 first options will require an overnight stay, specially the Cotswolds)
- Windsor Castle: only one hour by train.
- Legoland Windsor Resort
- The Cotswolds: Hundreds of miles from north to south, bigger than most people realize, hidden are small villages and towns, and a variety of activities to enjoy at the English countryside. Check out this guide to get you started.
- Shere in Guilford, Surrey (a personal favorite): A very cosy town only an hour from London Waterloo Station, offering the ultimate English countryside experience, with cottage housing, only two English Pubs, an ice cream shop, and that’s it. This is where the Holiday movie was filmed, being there is like being at a movie location.
At the background is one of Shere’s English Pubs (photo by me)
Day 6 : A bit of history
It’s not that I do not like museums and history, but I focus on places that are truly unique, and…
- Museum of London: is one. Admission is free. This museum tells the story of England from prehistoric times until this very date.
- Bank of England & surrounding.
- Trafalgar Square, and lots of museums and art galleries around it.
- Waterloo area: a great place to enjoy a walk, and to grab a meal from one of its many restaurants.
- The London Dungeon: not for the faint-hearted, as some horror scenes are involved, those into horror movies won’t fear anything.
- Time to go to places that you did not manage to finish on day 1.
- Victoria Station: London’s main station and an interesting area to discover.
Day 7 : A totally different experience in the heart of London
Deers at Richmond Park (photo by me)
- Richmond Park: Around 45 minutes from Victoria Station lies the beautiful Richmond Park, your chance to practice all sorts of outdoors sports in a relatively remote area at the presence of deers. Cycling, running and hiking are common sports played over there, families bring their own food to enjoy picnic, or have a meal at one of the many restaurants and cafes over there.
- Bricklane: Another hippy place, home to the Bangladeshi community in London, famous for its many curry houses.
- Hindus Temple in London: the biggest Hindus Temple outside India, make sure to contact them in order for them to arrange your visit.
If you want to go outside London
Lake District by Barry
- Spaghetti House‘s Farfalle with Salmon.
- For the love of good coffee try Caffé Nero, or Costa Coffee‘s seasonal Latte and Hot Chocolate Flavors.
- Patisserie Valerie‘s Mocha.
- Prêt à Manger: Crayfish with arugula sandwich, chocolate bars, and carrot cake.
- Mr. Pretzels: cinnamon and sugar pretzel.
- The Breakfast Club: Good is Green smoothie -don’t look at the ingredients as they are some kind of weird, just order it, you’re gonna love it- with Eggs Royale.
- Fish & Chips and Eglish Breakfast from any English Pub “it’s all good”.
- Nando’s: Try their Peri-Peri Chicken.
- Le Pain Quotidien‘s scrambled eggs with salmon, and for desert go for freshly baked scones.
- Selfridge’s Salt Beef Sandwich
- Wahaca for Mexican Food – Waterloo’s restaurant has a phenomenal setting.
- Chocolates from Hotel Chocolat.
Not to Miss
The Churchill Arms English Pub (photo by me)
- English Premier League Football Games -whether in London or else.
- Attend an event at O2 Arena.
- Boxing Day: that’s when Christmas sales start -crazy sale-, which is on Dec. 26th of each year.
- London Eye: If only you can take its super slow motion pace, it offers great views of the city of London.
- Winter Wonderland: Amusement park that is free-to-enter only there during Christmas time, offering the opportunity to play and enjoy live performances. You might run into celebrities, David Beckham was once spotted over there.
- Cycling tours in London.
- Hop-On Hop-Off Bus (in case you didn’t get yourself an Oyster Card for unlimited hopping on and off public transports, then take the hop-on hop-off bus for a day to get a feeling of London, or a couple of days to enjoy lots of hopping in and hopping off).
- Musicals & Theater.
- Clubbing: find out London’s top clubs; here’s a first list, and that’s the second.
- Jack the Ripper tour: this is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
- Some New Year’s events.
- You don’t have to enter, but don’t miss passing by The Churchill Arms as it looks awesome from outside.
- Goes without saying British Museum, & Natural History Museum.
Photo of Winter Wonderland Amusement Park from visitlondon.com
Have I missed something? I am sure I did, because putting London together in one article is such a difficult task :).
Now that you have got all the tools to visit London, how about celebrating this Christmas the English way?