The First Timer's Guide to London - The Curated Collective
The First Timer’s Guide to London

January 15, 2018

the first timers guide to london
Cheerio, good friends! 2018 is officially kicked into gear, and with it comes a new year of travel opportunities. I’m very excited to be headed back to Europe this Spring, it’s a work trip but I plan to take some vacation days prior to the start of our events and I couldn’t be more excited. It also got me reminiscing a bit to some of our travels last year, and one of my very favorite places we went-London. I did write a bit about this city previously, in my Muggle’s Guide to London, but I realize not everyone on the planet is as big of a Harry Potter freak as I am (I’ll forgive you for that..maybe. No promises). 

So just in case you’re not a die hard Potter Head, I’ve put together some of my must-do places to visit while in London outside of the fabled wizarding world of HP. As a side bar, we were only in London for a grand total of 48 hours, and you can absolutely spend much longer in this historical city that is buzzing with energy. London is the quintessential mix of old world and new, with a globalized marketplace and economy, and such rich history, there truly is something for everyone. We happened to visit this iconic city during the summer, and managed to escape the cliche rain that London town always seems to get, though as Seattle-ites we would have felt right at home! Regardless of the season, London is worth the visit. Whether  you have a few days, or a few hours, there are so many things you can check off your London Bucket List. Let’s dive in to a few of my can’t miss activities, sights, and delights while in this city riddled with history.

Hop on the Iconic Double Decker Bus

Before I dive too far into this, if you only have a few short days in London like Zach & I did, I can’t recommend this enough. We had never done one of these before because they felt so touristy, but I was pleasantly surprised that this was the best way to see a city in such a short amount of time. Also, who cares if they feel touristy, we are touring the city after all! Embrace it. The best thing about any of these busses is that most of them operate on a hop on/hop off schedule. Meaning you can hop on for the sights that interest you, walk around for as long as you’d like, and hop back on. Stay on the bus if some of the sights don’t tickle your fancy, and the guides on the bus give you excellent background knowledge on everything you’re seeing. It’s also likely cheaper to do this in a short amount of time rather than cabbing everywhere, and there’s no way you could see everything in such a short time span if you hopped on the tube and tried to map it out yourself. Sometimes the busses will be very full (definitely get a spot on the top!) but sometimes, you might be the lucky few and have the bus all to yourself. 

Visit Westminister Abbey

One of London’s most famous and iconic structures, Westminister Abbey. Not only is this one of the most famous spots in London, it’s one of the most well-known cathedrals in the entire world, and for good reason! Westminister Abbey has played host to nearly every royal coronation since it’s inception. It’s also served as the location for nearly every royal wedding since 1100 (!!), most recently, of course to Prince William and Kate Middleton. 

Head to Buckingham Palace

This was one of the first things we did when we arrived in London, and it was also one of the most “pinch me” moments we had while we were there. A few things about the palace: you’ll know the Queen is in if the iconic guards in red (that, don’t lie, you recognize from the Mary Kate & Ashley movie “Winning London”) are at attention outside. If they’re not, no luck. Queen is out. The other thing: there will be swarms of tourists near the palace gates (as seen above..) We decided to stay back aways from the palace and grab our spot to check it out at one of many parks across the way, including Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Green Park.

Walk the River Thames to Big Ben, The London Eye,  Parliament 

Navigating with your God given transportation (i.e. those legs of yours!) is the best way to explore any city, and London is no exception. Walking along the River Thames (which, by the way, I can’t say in my head without an English accent) is truly one of the most lovely ways to see London. There is always something happening on the Southbank, and you’ll find yourself privey to views of Big Ben, the London Eye, and the Palace of Westminister (i.e. Parliament) during your walk. Three iconic sights during one lovely stroll? I’d say that’s a win-win-win. After you’ve feasted your eyes on all of this goodness, head across the Millenium Bridge (as seen in Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince..come on, you knew I couldn’t make it this far without an HP reference) and you’ll land in our next stop.

Channel Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre 

On the opposite bank of the London Eye, steps off of the Millenium Bridge, you’ll find yourself face to face with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. While not the original structure (which burned down a total of two different times) this is a fabulous replication of the original Elizabethan Playhouse. Bonus points: it still operates as a working theatre! Meaning you can catch a show at this iconic playhouse, which I have to give kudos to for it’s authenticity. Seating in the area is much the same as it was centuries ago, the “cheap seats” are standing room only, or you can pay for a better seat much like the aristocracy of Shakepeare’s time. 

Stroll Along Charming Notting Hill

Oh Notting Hill, can any of us think about this adorable neighborhood without Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts coming to mind? No, the answer is no. Does the neighborhood live up to it’s fabled charm? The answer is a resounding yes. We almost skipped going to Notting Hill because it’s (every so slightly) out of the way and we were on such a limited timeframe, but I am SO happy that we didn’t. The pastel-hued houses lined up along the streets create an enchanting atmosphere that is unique to Notting Hill. Stroll through this neighborhood, pop into a pub for a pint, or shop in some of the local markets to round out your time in this area. 

Sip on Rooftop Cocktails

London has TONS of rooftop bars that give jaw dropping views of the city, and it’s the perfect place to gain a perspective of the city as a whole. This was the first thing we did upon arriving in London, and our first night in Europe during this trip for that matter. It was the perfect place to cheers to the unforgettable days we were about to embark on. There are so many places to do this, but we went to The Aviary, and I would highly recommend it!

Head to the Tower of London & Tower Bridge 

If you do decide to jump on the hop on/hop off double decker bus, the London Tower will undoubtedly be one of the stops along the way, and it’s worth getting off at! I’m a huge history buff, so this was so interesting to me. Next time we visit London I hope to spend more time here exploring all of the secrets this ancient castle has hidden inside its walls. The Tower Bridge is nearby as well, though it often gets confused as The London Bridge. The Tower Bridge is actually a lot more aesthetically memorable, as seen above, but both are worth the stop!

Pop in for a Pint at Leadenhall Market

Borough Market is on nearly every London “must-do” list, and it’s also worth a stop, but I was completely smitten with Leadenhall Market. And not just because it’s home to The Leaky Cauldron, though, that was a huge plus. Leadenhall Market is not only architecturally stunning, but it was buzzing with energy from the after work crowd. It seemed to be the place to grab a pint post 9-5, that’s for sure. So many fun restaurants and pubs lay within the market, it was by far one of my favorite places to see! It also helped that there was an adorable strawberry margarita airstream trailer truck right nearby, further reiterating how much I just love this city. 

There is just SO much to see and do in London, this really is only a starting point! If you only have a few days, these are absolutely things you should check off your list. Have you been to London? I’m going back in a few months and would love any and all of your recommendations! 

The comments +

  1. Heidi says:

    So many great tips and the pictures are just gorgeous!

  2. Rachel says:

    Totally agree about the open top bus tour, the best way to see a lot of London in a short time. Also agree with walking as much as possible. For me, I would also add Coventry garden to the list and seeing a West End show, always my key reason to visit the big smoke when I lived in the UK.

  3. Astrid Vinje says:

    Such beautiful pictures! I remember visiting London with my parents when I was a teenager, and visiting some of the places you guys went to. This post brought back so many fun memories!

  4. Melinda says:

    This is amazing. I love the pictures! It adds that extra touch. You defintely make me want to go to London soon!

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