Welcome to the second installment of The Boozy Oyster’s Guide to London. In this post, you will find my favorite places to visit, recommendations for (mostly) non-touristy things to do, and some advice on what to pack.
If you would like recommendations on where to stay, eat, or drink, make sure to check out the first part of this guide.
What to Do/See
Go to all the museums. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to most major European cities, and London has the best museums that I’ve ever been to. More importantly, except for a small donation, most of them are free. If you are an art lover, this is very good news for you. If you aren’t, London also has very interesting design museums, and kids seem to love the Natural History and Science Museums. My top three (in order of awesomeness) are: the Tate Britain, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Tate Modern. I didn’t get to visit the Natural History and Science Museums though, so this ranking is subject to change. 🙂
The Tate Museums are mostly focused on art, but the Tate Modern also has a really cool observation deck on the top floor with 360° views of London. The V&A, as it is more commonly known, includes both art and design. Their collection of historical clothes includes fashion from the 1600s to today, and they have one of the most spectacular jewelry collections I’ve ever seen.
A good tip when you are visiting museums is to make sure to check their hours in advance. They tend to be closed once a week, but that changes depending on the museum and/or the city that you are in.
Hyde Park. I’m obsessed with English gardens and parks. They are neat and orderly in ways that deeply satisfy all of my OCD tendencies. Hyde Park is not only beautiful but also full of little treasures. You can go on a leisurely walk and take in all the beautiful flowers and trees, you can visit a cool art gallery, or even stroll through a palace’s gardens. It’s a huge park though, so it might take multiple visits before you feel like you’ve really seen most of what it has to offer. If you love art, I strongly recommend that you visit the Serpentine Gallery. They have wonderful, cutting-edge exhibits year around and a really well curated art bookstore. I also loved the Italian Water Gardens and Kensington Gardens. Both would be great places to visit with little ones because there are many places to rest and eat near them.
The Tower of London. I don’t really like tourist spots, so I didn’t do the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, or Big Ben. I’m not saying that they are not beautiful places or that you shouldn’t visit them; I just don’t like crowds. The one exception I made was the Tower of London, and I did not regret a single minute I spent there even though it was crowded. One of my favorite things about the UK is how much history there is everywhere, and there is perhaps no better example of London’s historical richness than the Tower of London. Did you know, for example, that they used to keep polar bears and lions there? I didn’t. This is just one of the many historical tidbits you will learn if you visit this landmark.
I strongly recommend that you plan in advance and try to make it in time for one of the free tours. It’s given by one of the Tower’s famous Beefeaters, or guardians. The Beefeater I got was hilarious in a very English way. Just a word of warning: the Beefeater tour might not be suitable for young children. There’s a lot of talk about blood and beheadings. There are plenty of other activities and tours suitable for children though.
Shakespeare’s Globe. Ok, I lied. I went to two touristy places. I love literature, so I could not skip this particular landmark. Even if you don’t like literature, you should go just to experience the history of the place. Like the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe offers really good free tours (you have to pay to get in) led by professional actors and historians. If you have the time (and the weather cooperates), you might also want to attend a play at one of their two theaters. It’s on my bucket list.
Savile Row & Mayfair. One the highlights of my trip was taking a walk down Savile Row and through Mayfair. Savile Row has been the place to go to get exquisitely tailored clothes for centuries, and you can still glance into the tailoring shops and see beautiful bespoke clothes being made. Mayfair is one of the most expensive areas in London and the world, and a great area to go shopping if you have tons of money to spend. Even if you don’t, you can spend hours window shopping and people watching. My favorite time to walk around is in the evening, when a lot of the shops are lit up from the inside and the streets are a bit more empty than during the daytime.
St. Dunstan in the East. This beautiful church dates back to 1100. 1100! Can you imagine? After the original church was severely damaged during WWII, the city of London decided to turn it into a wonderfully secluded garden. If you like architecture, nature, or silence (or a combination of all three), you should definitely check it out. I went there early in the morning and had the whole place essentially to myself.
The British Library. This building is not that “hidden,” but it tends to be overshadowed by all the other wonderful attractions in the city. I’m here to tell you that should definitely try to visit it while you are in London. It’s the second largest library in the world, and a great place to stop by if you happen to be near St. Pancras Railway Station, one of the busiest in London. You might not have time to go into the actual library to browse the stacks, but they have world-class exhibits in the lower level that change constantly. Even if you don’t like books or literature, it’s hard not to be moved by the sight of one of the original Gutenberg bibles or hand-written letters from WWII soldiers. Some of their exhibits are free and some charge an admission fee.
People watching. I love to find a comfy spot, usually outside a café, and people watch when I’m in a big city. London has, by far, the most stylish people that I’ve ever encountered (sorry, NYC!), so I had a blast doing this during my stay. Best part? It’s free, and you get to give your feet a rest while you do it.
What to Pack
As you can probably tell from the pictures in this post, the weather in London can be a bit unpredictable. I was there in the spring and we had cool, rainy days and sunny, 80°F days. From what I’ve heard, this is pretty much what you should expect during the spring and summer. In the winter, I found it to be damp and cold. I’ve never been there in the fall, but I’m assuming that you should also be prepared for some rain.
Do you see a theme here? There’s a high chance that you will encounter some rain while you are in London. I hate having to carry an umbrella around, especially because they don’t do well in the wind, so I did a lot of research beforehand to try to find a great waterproof layer that was windproof AND stylish. I know, not an easy task. I found this amazing trench from Eddie Bauer, and I can’t explain to you how useful it was. I think it wore it every single day. Not only is it great to layer over a warm sweater, it’s also windproof. Even more important, it packs really small, so I was able to stick it in my bag whenever the sun came out and I got too warm. Finally, if you buy it in black, most people won’t be able to tell that it’s a technical waterproof rather than a fashionable coat.
I would also recommend packing a comfortable, but stylish, pair of shoes. Your feet will hurt after all that sightseeing, so comfort is key. I love Nisolo shoes because they are extremely well made, comfortable, and durable. They are a bit expensive but keep in mind that they are handmade, and that Nisolo goes to great lengths to ensure that their employees are properly compensated and treated fairly. I’ve had mine for over a year, put a lot of miles on them during this trip, and they still look brand new.
I hope you found this guide useful!
Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.