At the end of January we went down to London for the weekend, after snapping up some bargain train tickets from Virgin trains Black Friday deal. We had been meaning to go for a while, and for £40 return for both of us it was too good an opportunity to miss. Also, by ‘snapping up’ I mean constantly refreshing the bloody webpage as it kept crashing due to traffic, but we got there in the end – totally worth it for a weekend of sightseeing in London!
January may not seem like the most inviting month to visit the UK capital, but actually I think I preferred it especially when it came to sightseeing. The tube wasn’t as hot (still pretty hot) and the crowds were there but a lot less overbearing. The cold weather made walking around a lot more pleasant. Our plan was to enjoy some time away the two of us, be tourists as Kieran had never seen the London sights, meet some friends for drinks and a bit of shopping too. Saturday was our sightseeing day, and rather than buy one of the overpriced hop on hop off bus tickets, or pay a for a walking tour guide I planned out a rough route that actually turned out pretty good!
Where we stayed
I suppose how much you can see and do in London in one day depends a lot on where you’re staying. We stayed at the Malmaison in Farringdon which was a great area for little local food places, and very central. Kieran also loved the fact that Fabric was just around the corner. The hotel was a couple of minutes walk to Farringdon tube station, which was ideal for both sightseeing in London, and only one stop away from Kings Cross.
Sightseeing in London Itinerary
I would definitely say this is quite a fast track guide, it doesn’t include time for actually going in to places, it’s basically just for seeing them and enjoying a days walk around the city, rather than on and off the underground. Throughout the whole day, and all the sights we saw we only got the tube twice.
We left the hotel by 9:30 and grabbed breakfast on the go. There were plenty coffee shops, a Starbucks and little eateries on the way to Farringdon tube station which was less than five minutes walk away.
My initial plan was to take the tube to Waterloo across the river, and see the London Eye and Big Ben from opposite, but this turned out to be an extra leg of the journey that we just didn’t want to spend on the tube, but you could add this in if you wanted.
It was a cold but sunny day so we wanted to see the city from above ground. We made a quick decision to get off at Charring Cross, which brought us out right on Trafalgar Square. We spent some time walking around, and taking in the National Gallery which is free of charge. From the steps outside you can see Big Ben right in the distance.
From Trafalgar Square we walked down Whitehall, passing the Admiralty Arch which is the entrance to the Mall on the right as we went. You can’t miss the big archways, but we’ll come back to the Mal later! Walking down Whitehall you will probably notice the first crowds gathering not too far along, they’ll be gathering at the entrance to Horse Guards Parade. You can get a typical tourist photo with the horse and guard stood on duty, before walking into the famous arena used for Trooping of the Colour. Once inside the arena, you can see across the open stretch to St James Park, as well as the rear of 10 Downing Street.
Once you’ve spent some time at Horse Guards Parade, come out and continue along Whitehall. You will pass the Cenotaph, the official national war memorial where the Remembrance Sunday service is held and the Queen lays the poppy wreath.
Further along Whitehall and the crowds will appear again, this time at the entrance of Downing Street. The actual street is secure, and heavily guarded, but you can see down.
Not much further along Whitehall and you will appear at the foot of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. You can also see the London Eye across the river from here.
By this point it was about 10:45am, so rather than going down to the river, we turned right and walked up towards St James Park, headed for Buckingham Palace. Here we saw the most British man I’ve ever seen in my life get out of a black cab. He was dressed head to toe in tweed, with a bowler hat, a large mens umbrella, and basically looked like Sherlock Holmes.
The park itself was beautiful, with people about but not too many as is the case in summer. While walking through the park pathways you realise how many squirrels are darting about – and they aren’t shy! Following the signs for Buckingham Palace through the park, the path leads you over the lake across the bridge. In January the lake was still and frozen, and made a very pretty picture with Somerset House in the distance.
We got to Buckingham Palace at about 11:10am, and the crowds were already firmly rooted to the spot along the iron fence ready for the changing of the guards at 11:30am. We found a spot and watched the two on duty guards for a while, but it wasn’t until about 11:45am that the troop of new guards on horseback came trotting down the Mall and swept round right in front of the palace ready to change. The famous ritual happens almost every day, and it is definitely worth seeing if you haven’t before! The guards in their bright red are so striking, and I’m sorry but I love all the pomp and royalty that comes with it for Queenie!
Once the guards had passed, we strolled slowly up the Mal. and turned left towards the end up Waterloo Place. Keep walking up here and you’ll find yourself among the carnage that is Piccadilly Circus. We had a brief nosy, but then swung left up one of my favourite streets in London – Regent Street.
I love how it curves right around, and it has some lovely shops along the way, including Hunter, Anthropologie, Jo Malone, Ralph Lauren etc…. you get the picture. If we weren’t so hungry I really would have liked to go in to the new Ralph Lauren cafe that recently opened, especially after we had such a good experience at Ralph’s restaurant in Paris. But we were too hungry for coffee and cake so found somewhere just off Regent Street for lunch.
After we fuelled up, we had planned to go straight up to Oxford Street, but we got sidetracked by Anthropologie and Skinny Dip, which took us through Carnaby. Exploring around the quirky Carnaby Street is definitely worthwhile as there’s so much to see, from ancient timbered buildings, to quirky boutiques and little side streets. We went in to a few vinyl stores, and I got a lovely haul from Skinny Dip. Following a wander around Carnaby, Oxford Street isn’t far away for the high street shops.
We didn’t stay long at Oxford Street, as we were on to the next part of our sightseeing. We got on the tube at Oxford Circus along to London Bridge to go up The Shard! We got there by 3pm, and with out time slot at 4pm we had time for a quick glance at London Bridge (boring, looks old and dated) and walk along the river.
Walking by the river gives you a great view of Heron Tower, the Gherkin and the walkie talkie building on the opposite bank. You will also come across HMS Belfast moored and open to visitors if you want to go onboard.
What I wanted to see thought was Tower Bridge, my second favourite bridge in the UK (after the Tyne Bridge obvs). It’s so impressive and right next to it is the Tower of London. I always think about the poor old sods in the past that made that final journey across Tower Bridge before being held prisoner in the Tower of London, and eventually getting their heads lopped of.
The walk along the river, and a quick stop at one of the watering holes you will find along there took up most of the hour we had before we went up The Shard.
The Shard was very impressive! It made me feel dizzy looking up to it from below, but I did enjoy a neb in the Shangri-La hotel entrance – now that looks posh! We followed the signs for the viewing platform and went inside to pass through security. It’s basically like airport security, with scanners for your bags (you can’t take anything large, or child pushchairs) and full body scanners too. Then you get your official Shard photo taken and ushered round into the lift.
I should probably mention I booked tickets for this in advance, at £25.00 each just to go up, no extras included. You can buy tickets on the day but there was queue. The lift takes you up the 95 floors, and you emerge out with a panoramic view of London city.
It really was breathtaking, and all the sights we had just spent the day seeing looked like tiny toy figures. London is massive, but all the way up there central London seems so packed in and the sights look so close to each other! Your feet however, will remind you otherwise.
We walked around each side of the Shard, and up onto the outdoor platform too, taking in the different views, from the BT Tower, to the Olympic Park, the Palace, right the way down the river to Canary Wharf. I booked for 4pm so that we could see the sun start to set which happened at 4:45pm. There were plenty bars, and champagne bars up at the top few platforms for you to buy drinks or snacks too.
We took our time up there, as there is no time limit to how long you can stay. But after a full day on our feet and walking through London we came back down after about an hour to go recharge for the evening.
That is basically my full itinerary for a day sightseeing in London! It obviously doesn’t cover everything, we didn’t go up to the Tower of London, or the London Eye, and we didn’t venture out towards Harrods, but we did see most of the major landmarks you would associate with being typical tourists in our own capital.
For another amazing view of London, and to get a close up of the Gherkin I would definitely suggest going up the Heron Tower to Sushi Samba at night. The view is worth the price of a cocktail!
Take a look at some of my other London posts
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