London: an itinerary for first time visitors

As Samuel Johnson once said: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”…and he was right, London indeed offers endless possibilities for both locals and visitors.

View of Tower Bridge and St.Katharine's Pier in London

A first time visit to this cosmopolitan city will only scratch the surface and many people will come back time and time again as there is always something new to see or do: a new show, new shops, restaurants and attractions opening.

Bus driving through Piccadilly Circus
Looking up at Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus
Lights reflecting in the rain at Piccadilly Circus

A good starting point to begin to get to know London is probably Piccadilly Circus: sitting on the steps under Eros statue watching the world go by in the shadow of the bright lights of those famous neon signs (now replaced by more modern LED displays).

View of Regent Street from Piccadilly Circus

From here there are a number of options: the shopaholics will probably walk up Regent Street; trendy shops like Hollister, Burberry and the world’s famous Hamleys toy store are all located along this street. It crosses Oxford Street at the very busy Oxford Circus. London main shopping street, Oxford Street is busy all year round but particularly in the run up to Christmas when the big department stores like Selfridges and John Lewis unveil their sumptuously decorated windows.

View of Hamleys Toy Store on Regent Street in London

For those looking for a respite from the crowded shops and traffic, it is just a short walk to Marble Arch and Hyde Park one of the many green spaces in London.

View of London's Marble Arch

It is like moving from the city to the countryside in an instant, mingling with the roller skaters, the joggers and families feeding the ducks in the Serpentine; this popular boating lake in the middle of the park can be crossed by boarding a solar-powered boat; the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is also nearby. A popular activity on Sundays, is the chance for anyone to express their opinions (within the law) to crowds who gather to hear from them at Speakers’ Corner, an area of Hyde Park near March Arch.

View of a solar powered boat on the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park
View of Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in London's Hyde Park
View of the Serpentine Bridge in London's Hyde Park

London is famous for its ethnic neighborhoods: Brick Lane home of the Bangladeshi community is a street lined with curry restaurants and in recent years edgy art galleries; on Sundays, market stalls selling clothes, bags and jewelry can be found all along this street.

View of Brick Lane many restaurants in London

On Edgware Road, the aromas of perfumes and spices mix with the smoke coming from shisha cafes in this mainly Middle Eastern neighborhood, with a vast array of restaurants serving the best of Lebanese dishes among other delicacies from the Middle East.

Chinese New Year paper lantern and arch in London's Chinatown
Hello Kitty shaped cakes in London's Chinatown
Chinese Dragon on parade in Chinatown, London

London’s Chinatown is another neighborhood worth a visit where good quality and inexpensive meals can be enjoyed at all hours, popular with the post-theater crowds and the late night revelers, its window displays include roasted ducks and intricately decorated sweets. It is here that every here the Chinese New Year is celebrated with a colorful parade.

Red stop button on a London bus

A swipe of the Oyster card (a rechargeable travel card very useful to travel around London), and a short bus ride (depending on traffic!) will take you to Trafalgar Square, a pedestrianized space with fountains, lions statues and Nelson’s Column topped with a statue of Horatio Nelson, the famous Admiral who died heroically in the Battle of Trafalgar.

View of Trafalgar Square in London
View of one of the two fountains in Trafalgar Square
View of one of the lion statues and the National Gallery in London's Trafalgar Square
Statue of Admiral Nelson on top of Nelson's Column in London

On the north side of the square it’s the National Gallery and St.Martin-in-the-Fields church with the adjacent Cafe in the Crypt providing a welcome respite from walking around the city.

View of the Portico Entrance of the National Gallery in London
View of St.Martin-in-the-Fields church in London
View of the entrance to Cafe in the Crypt in London

From the Portico Entrance of the National Gallery there are good views of the square below and the Elizabeth Tower in the distance.

People in London's Trafalgar Square

Before getting a closer look of the most famous clock tower in the world, it is better to leave Trafalgar Square through Admiralty Arch and walk along the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The monument in front of the palace is the Victoria Memorial, marble statues around a central pylon with a gilded Winged Victory at the top, it commemorates Queen Victoria.

View of the Admiralty Arch on the Mall in London
Looking down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace
View of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace
Gilded statue on top of the Victoria Memorial in London

Buckingham Palace is open to the public in summer when the Royal Family is away to Balmoral on holiday. The famous ceremony of the Changing of the Guard is held outside the Palace to the delight of tourists who crowd the area to get a glimpse of the guards and their horses.

Flowers in front of Buckingham Palace in London
Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family
Blue board with Changing of the Guard schedule at Buckingham Palace
Horses and guards on a rare snowy day in London

St.James’ Park opposite the Palace is another oasis in the city; home to swans, pelicans and the ubiquitous camera-friendly squirrels it is a popular spot especially on a sunny day.

Camera friendly squirrel in London
Fountain and pelicans in London's St.James's Park

From the Blue Bridge in the middle of the park there are beautiful views towards Buckingham Palace on one side and Horse Guards Parade on the other.

View of St.James's Park's Blue Bridge
View from the Blue Bridge in St.James's Park in London

From St.James’s Park, on the other side of Horse Guards Parade (the site of the Trooping the Color ceremony which marks the Queen’s official birthday), is Whitehall where a number of Government buildings can be found.

View of Horse Guards Parade and the London Eye

The Prime Minister’s residence is at Number 10 Downing Street off Whitehall; the street is not accessible to the general public but, people are allowed to stand at the gates and try to catch a glimpse of politicians getting in and out of Downing Street.

Looking up at Downing Street sign

The south end of Whitehall becomes Parliament Street, leading to Parliament Square where a number of statues in memory of great men like Winston Churchill and the much loved Nelson Mandela can be seen.

Westminster Underground Station sign
View of the statue of Nelson Mandela in London

On one side of the square, is the imposing Westminster Abbey where Princess Diana funeral and the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took place.

View of London's Westminster Abbey

On the other side is what is left of the ancient Palace of Westminster,now housing the Houses of Parliament home to the British Government. The Queen makes the trip from Buckingham Palace to the Parliament on the day of the State Opening of Parliament when crowds gather to enjoy the pomp and ceremony and get the chance to see the monarch up close.

Aerial view of London's Houses of Parliament
The Queen in her carriage in London

A good view of the building and Elizabeth Tower can be enjoyed day or night by crossing Westminster Bridge.

The Houses of Parliament and Elizabeth Tower in London

Evening at Westminster in London

And it’s on the South Bank where we find one of the city’s main attractions: The London Eye. A Ferris wheel that offers views of London from the top, stretching all the way to Windsor and its castle on a clear day.

View of the London Eye
Evening on London's Southbank

For a different perspective, a boat trip on the river Thames is highly recommended; there are piers at Westminster and by the London Eye from where boats depart to Tower Bridge and Greenwich.

View of the Elizabeth Tower and London Eye Pier
A boat by Tower Bridge in London

Alighting at Tower Bridge, the Tower Bridge Exhibition offers the chance to learn more about the history of Tower Bridge, the lifting mechanism and to enjoy a beautiful view from the high-level walkways.

Tower Bridge opening
View inside Tower Bridge Engine Room
View of one of Tower Bridge's walkways

The nearby Tower of London houses the world-famous Crown Jewels. Six ravens live on the grounds within the Tower and the legend says “If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it”…maybe that is the reason why each one of them had one of their wings clipped!

Looking up at the Tower of London
Crown Jewels rooms entrance in London
A raven in the grounds of the Tower of London
Panoramic view of the Tower of London

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