We spent five days in London and could see quite a few things in that time. However, there were plenty of things we didn’t get to do while we were there. Some were because they were too expensive while a few others we didn’t even know about. It is such a large city, so it is impossible to do it all. London is a perfect blend of old architecture and vibrant culture. With a few days, you can get a good feel for the city and see many of its highlights.
We took a bus to London from Belgium and went through the channel tunnel which was an exciting adventure. The bus was loaded on a train and then we rode through the tunnel under the water. That was awesome! Once we arrived in London, the bustling city greeted us with double-decker buses and rain. The rain didn’t stop us from getting out to see as much as we could, but we still couldn’t do everything because the city has so much to offer. Here are 6 things we didn’t get to do while in London and what we did instead.
The iconic Tower Bridge is well known around the world. With my love for bridges, I had to see it and cross over it. The bridge was fairly crowded as 40,000 people cross it daily. We walked over the lower deck and made a loop back over the Millennium Bridge, which was wonderful. We found out later that the upper deck of Tower Bridge is accessible with a ticket. The upper deck is an exhibition that features a glass floor where you can look down at the tiny cars below. Eek! Maybe next time we can splurge and go to the top. Before our walk, we found that the best views of the bridge are near the Tower of London on the west side of the bridge.
Tower Exhibition Ticket Cost: £27.50 ($36 USD) per adult (see website for current prices)
On the south bank of the River Thames is the London Eye. I named it this because you are able to see 25 miles in all directions with a full view of the city. As we are budget travelers, this was another that was too expensive for us to do. We ate some frozen yogurt on top of a converted double-decker bus instead, which was much more affordable. On our next trip, we will find a way to get a discount so we can enjoy the expansive views of the city. It was worth looking at it from the opposite side of the river just to see how large it really is. Perhaps next time.
London Eye Ticket Cost: £40 ($52 USD) per adult (see website for current prices)
On our trip, this was a bust as Big Ben was scaffolded. Apparently, this is a large renovation project that started in 2017, but is expected to be completed by 2021. The clock tower is the main feature, and it contains a bell that weighs 13.5 tons. You can climb to the top by walking up the 334 steps but only if you are a UK citizen. Citizens can contact their MP in writing to make arrangements to climb the tower for free. Since we are overseas visitors, there is no chance we can get in, unfortunately. We have seen similar bells in many European cathedrals so it isn’t a big deal. We care more about the outside and next time we are in London we will want to see this beautifully lit up at night.
The original Globe Theatre is where William Shakespeare performed his plays and it was famous for its special effects by having several trap doors. The current version is a replica that was built in 1997 as the previous versions were burned or shut down. We stopped by the Globe Theatre but did not go inside as Brianna had already been there years ago. We wanted to see a performance there, but we went to Greenwich instead.
Globe Theatre Tour Cost: £17 ($22 USD) per adult (see website for current prices)
Royal Greenwich Observatory
The zero-degree longitude is called the Prime Meridian, and it is the divider of the two hemispheres. It is an imaginary line that a group of astronomers agreed upon in the late 1800s. It could have been placed anywhere. We went there, but we did not go into the Royal Greenwich Observatory as we didn’t want to pay for it and it was closed when we arrived. Instead, we had fun trying to get our phone compass to read 0 longitudes without success. Maybe next time.
Royal Observatory Greenwich £16 ($21 USD) per adult (see website for current prices)
The Shard is a 95-story building that has 11,000 panels of glass which cover 56,000 square meters. It is a pointy building with an observatory and stands at 1,016 feet high (310 meters), making it the tallest building in the UK. It has an entry fee with several packages that you can book online. We opted to not go there but pleasantly found two other places that didn’t cost money to enjoy the view. One was the Garden at 120 which is free to enter and has a lovely garden on top. The other was the Sky Garden which you need to book in advance but it is also free to enter. We do not regret these choices but if we can visit the Shard at a reasonable price, we will next time.
The Shard Tickets: £25-39 depending on the package ($32-50 USD) per adult (see website for current prices)
Free Things We Did Instead
Changing of the Guard
The changing of the guard is one of those quintessentially British ceremonies to watch. We knew it would be very crowded with spectators, so we sought ways to see them without the people. We opted to watch them set up instead of the full ceremony. This was good enough for us and a way to get our fill of fuzzy hats and even enjoy a few songs as they practiced.
If you want to see some of the best street art in the city, then Shoreditch is the place to be. We enjoyed walking the streets and seeing the colorful artwork. It was well worth spending a morning just wandering around enjoying the murals. There are also many trendy restaurants and coffee shops in the area.
Known for its many shops, restaurants, and even a filming location in Harry Potter, Leadenhall Market was fun to visit. It is a beautiful indoor market that was built in the 14th century. If you catch yourself on a rainy day in London, this makes for a great stop. We ate at a wonderful fish ‘n’ chips restaurant as it is one of my favorite dishes. The rest of the time there we were photographing the place and looking for the entrance to Diagon Alley.
Platform 9 and 3/4
Speaking of Harry Potter, there is a touristy Platform 9 3/4 at the Kings Cross station. There, you can wait in line to have your picture taken with a luggage cart that appears to be halfway through the wall. The photos will cost you, but they do allow you to take a picture with your own camera. You are handed a scarf for your choice of house and then they fling the scarf up in the air to provide the illusion that you are going through. It was a fun place for a quick photo and to geek out on Harry Potter.
St. Dunstan in the East
This was an off-the-beaten-trail thing to do where we met one of our native London followers who had never heard of this place. St. Dunstan in the East was formerly a church that was demolished in WWII. The remaining ruins are now a free park and garden. The garden is definitely more off the tourist path and a great place to relax, take photos, or meet friends.
Windsor Castle, Leeds Castle, and White Cliffs of Dover
If you have extra time in London, there are many day-trips you can do. Some that we missed include Windsor Castle, Leeds Castle, and the White Cliffs of Dover. These three will be priorities for our next visit.
With a simple one-hour train ride, Windsor castle is the easiest to get to from Paddington Station. Brianna had been there before so it wasn’t a high priority.
Next time we will go to Leeds Castle and the White Cliffs of Dover in one day. This trip would be best by car as it is about an hour and a half drive to Leeds Castle and then another 30 minutes to get to the Cliffs of Dover. It is possible to do this with trains and buses, but at that point, you might as well stay closer to them.
Stonehenge and Bath
While we missed a few possible day-trips, we did manage to go to Stonehenge and Bath, which can be visited from London as well. These were both fantastic places to go to.
Even though we were there for 5 days, we could not possibly see it all in that time. We are not disappointed in what we did not do, and this allows us to go visit a second time. We seem to run into this all the time as you can’t possibly see everything.
What places did you miss in your last trip that are worthy of a revisit?
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