This past December I spent two weeks enjoying life as a local in London, one of my favorite cities in the world. And even though I loved my slow non-travel days, one of the highlights of my visit was the crazed rushed action-packed day in which I was given a London Pass (retail price 49 British Pounds) to enter each and every single cultural attraction of the city of London.
“So Raphael, what do you do when you’re given 24 hours to explore London’s top attractions?” You try to gotta go and catch them all of course! Here’s the The Quintessentially British Guide to London, enjoy it my friends!
How to see the best of London in 24 Hours
I’m a firm believer of waking up early to make the most of natural daylight (especially in the winter when it gets really dark at 16:00) so after eating a healthy British full-breakfast at my hostel, I embarked on the first attraction of the day: The Monument to the Great Fire of London (entrance fee 4 British Pounds), one of the finest viewpoints of the city.
That special feeling of jogging and climbing 311 steps at 09:30 am is definitely a good way to start a very healthy and busy day, player! At the end you will get a certificate for bragging rights so you can tell your friends that you climbed up and down 622 steps in total just to take that perfect London photo!
Afterwards (and after drinking a lot of water) I rushed along the Thames river to reach the Tower of London (entrance fee 22 British Pounds), place of royal executions and political intrigue. You need at least six hours to explore all of it but if you’re short on time, you definitely need to see the two most essential attractions of the Tower complex:
The White Tower with the Line of Kings (collection of armors of past British monarchs) plus the Crown Jewels of the Monarchy.
Yes, be prepared to be shocked when staring at the armors of Henry the VIII…let’s just say that his own crown jewels made his six wives very happy and leave it at that.
The next stop after the Tower of London was the nearby Tower Bridge (which most people confuse with the London Bridge thanks to that popular Fergie song). You can actually go to the top of the Tower Bridge (entrance fee 9 British Pounds) and do the walk of awesomeness on the new glass walkway. No vertigo allowed!
You can also visit the ancient engine rooms but I would suggest you to rush to the next attractions by taking the Thames River Cruise (retail price 18 British Pounds) from Tower Pier to Westminster Pier (an unlimited 24 hour cruise ticket is free to holders of the London Pass).
Enjoy the 30 minute journey as a British guide in a thick accent educates you on the many landmarks of the Thames river and remember to tip him for some beer money after leaving the cruise. Ready for exploring the attractions near Westminster?
Sadly, it was way too late to pay a visit Westminster Abbey (no relation with Downton Abbey) since it closed down very early on the day I visited so instead I opted for going straight to the last three attractions of the day.
However, I definitely recommend you to visit Westminster Abbey (entrance fee 18 British Pounds) when/if you have the time since inside you will find the tombs of most British Monarchs plus some of the most talented playwrights and scientists that have been born in the British Isles.
So anyways, our next stop of the day is the Churchill War Rooms, an underground bunker where the man himself led the war efforts and yes, that is indeed a Paddington bear waiting outside trying to find home. Cute little fellow, uh?
I gotta be hones with you, I was kind of disappointed with the Churchill War Rooms (entrance fee 18 British Pounds) but that’s maybe because I’m not exactly a big fan of WW2 History. Inside you will find many conference rooms and bedrooms with tidbits about life in the bunker during the war…and that’s pretty much it.
Luckily, our next attraction was a very nice unknown gem: The Household Calvary Museum (entrance fee 7 British Pounds). Inside you shall find the history of the Royal Calvary plus some nice displays and exhibitions of uniforms and banners of the House Guards.
And yes, there is a special stable where you can dress up as one (fancy helmet included!) to take that awesome selfie!
The last attraction of the day was a very special place that I’ve been wanting to visit for some time now: The Banqueting Hall of the former Whitehall Palace. The Whitehall Palace was the masterpiece of Henry the VIII during the era of the Tudors and the Banqueting Hall, developed by James I.
The history of the Banqueting Hall (entrance fee 6.60 British Pounds) is a very complex one. In one hand, we have the magnificent ceiling painting by Rubens. This immense set of paintings was commissioned by Charles I to represent the Divine Power of Kings.
It was ironically this same ideology the one that caused Charles I to dissolve the Parliament, thus starting the English Civil War that ended with the execution of Charles I in 1649 outside of the Banqueting Hall that he loved so much. Decades later, the Whitehall Palace was consumed by an accidental fire…but the Banqueting Hall remained.
What a crazy action packed day filled with British History, uh? Believe or not, I still had the energy to go to a nearby food stall to get some takeaway food in order to enjoy a late lunch at Hyde Park, one of my favorite spots of the city to enjoy watching the sunset.
Isn’t that a perfect ending to a perfect day? But wait, there’s more! If you have more than 24 hours in London, I definitely recommend you to visit some of the city’s free of charge attractions such as parks and public spaces.
Are you ready for part 2 of the The Quintessentially British Guide to London?
The British Guide to London. Yes, there’s still more!
In a city like London, location is everything (have you read my Budget Guide to London?) and that is why you ideally should be staying in either in the area near Victoria or the area near Tower Bridge. During my most recent visit to London I was invited to stay at St. Christopher’s Inn Village which is a few meters away from London Bridge and one of the best spots for partying and meeting up with like minded travelers.
The next day after my crazed London Pass adventure, I had the pleasure of returning to the Tower of London, this time by the helping hand of the Historic Royal Palaces of London. Did you know you can get a year-long membership for only 36 British Pounds to enter unlimited times to the 5 palaces they manage? That’s a real money saver if you’re a medieval history buff like me!
The highlight of the day? Meeting the only female Yeoman Warder (known as beefeaters because they got paid in beef while the rest of the guards got paid in bread), the charming Moira Cameron, a true example for gender equality and empowerment.
Last (but certainly not least) be sure to visit London’s free museums such as the Museum of the City of London, the Tate Modern, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum. Of course, a donation is always welcome, you stingy fella! Plus, you can always enjoy the Changing of the Guard outside of Buckingham Palace, just remember to arrive early to secure the best viewing spots!
Have you ever been to London? Would you like to? What are some of your favorite things to do while in the city? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think!