Amaris, our chocolate ambassador, just returned from London! Here are her recommendations for top spots to check out if you find yourself across the pond.
Day One: The British Museum + Afternoon Tea
The British Museum has one of the world's largest and most comprehensive collections of Greek antiquities, but its fairly extensive collections of African, Japanese, and Celtic antiquities make it a must for any trip to London. Make a list of your “must see” exhibits, and see those first before you exhaust yourself in this truly massive museum. We recommend the excellent Parthenon Galleries, the Rosetta Stone, and the Egyptian mummies. It will take an entire day (or even two) if you’d like to see everything.
They also have special exhibits, like this summer’s amazing Hokusai & The Great Wave- tickets usually sell out about a week in advance, so plan ahead and buy tickets online at www.britishmuseum.org.
Give your feet a rest after a few hours, and go outside the museum for a lovely Afternoon Tea at Tea & Tattle. A quaint old-fashioned teashop just across the road from the British Museum, Tea & Tattle is nice and quiet – a great way to escape the bustle of tourists in the area. Re-entry into the museum is allowed, so feel free to dive back in after your tea!
Day Two: Shakespeare’s Globe + Lunch + Millennium Bridge + St Paul’s Cathedral
The rebuilt Globe Theatre is a fantastic stop for anyone who loves theatre and wants to know a little more about how shows were performed in Shakespeare’s day. The tour is very high quality, with enthused guides who clearly love their work. The tour is only about an hour, but you can spend more time in the Globe- it’s a functioning theatre, putting on regular shows of Shakespeare plays. Tickets are inexpensive, and the performances are great. Check them out at www.shakespearesglobe.com.
Just a few minutes’ walk down the river is a modern pub, The Founder’s Arms. After ordering inside, you’ll be able the settle in at a riverside table with a draft beer and a delicious board of fish & chips while watching boats chug along. You can also take in St. Paul’s Cathedral settled amongst the buildings on the other side of the river.
After lunch, head across the famous Millennium Bridge, the footbridge originally opened for the turn of the century. The Millennium Bridge directly connects the Tate Modern, a fantastic modern art museum (that requires a day all its own to explore its extensive collection), with St. Paul’s Cathedral, a center of Renaissance art and culture.
After taking this symbolic walk into the past and enjoying the views over the river, you’ll arrive practically on the cathedral’s doorstep. Take an audio guide and hear more about its three centuries of history, then head upstairs to the Whispering Gallery. Known for its perfectly spherical design that carries sound all the way across the massive dome, the Whispering Gallery is one of the greatest feats in London architecture. Continue up to the Golden Gallery, a whopping 528 steps up from the ground floor, for a beautiful 360-degree view of London.
Day Three: Royal Opera House Tour + Covent Garden + Big Ben
The Royal Opera House, home to the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet, has had a tumultuous history, including a fire and multiple rebuilds. Now it’s one of the premier theatres in the world, and they open their doors during the day for intimate tours that reveal the history and inner workings of the theatre. You’ll have to buy tickets in advance at the theatre or at www.roh.org.uk/tours.
The tours, lasting about an hour and a half, bring you into the labyrinth where the real work is done. You’ll pass by costuming rooms, see seamstresses bringing beautiful costumes to life, learn about staging and lighting, and see video of their unique rotating stage rigs. Perhaps most special of all is the chance to watch the Royal Ballet –some of the world’s most accomplished dancers- in morning practice.
After the tour, feel free to wander about Covent Garden with its varied shops, restaurants, and street performances going on all day. There are too many great lunch picks in the area to name them all, but meat lovers will enjoy Flat Iron, a restaurant that serves perfectly cooked and mouth-watering steaks alongside simple salads and craft beers.
Do some shopping as well, or take a fifteen-minute walk down to the river to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. In the area are a number of tours departing that will allow you to see London by river, or you can take a stroll across Westminster Bridge to soar above London on the London Eye.
Day Four: National Portrait Gallery + Buckingham Palace
Exactly as it sounds, the National Portrait Gallery is a collection of portraiture from around the globe – the largest collection in the world. The gallery includes portraits in every style imaginable: paintings, drawings, photographs, silhouettes, and more, while each exhibit displays a different worldview through the portraits within. Even after multiple visits, the gallery is immensely enjoyable and there’s always something new to see or notice- even in portraits you’ve seen before. There’s also a rooftop restaurant with elegant dining and lovely views.
Head down the mall to the gates of Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard, an ages old and always entertaining attraction, particularly when the band plays something fun (I had the joy of being there the day they played a number of James Bond titles, including Shirley Bassey’s wonderful Goldfinger).
Enter the palace to see the state and private residence rooms open to the public. The interior of the palace is astonishing- full of opulent staterooms and with displays of gifts given to the Queen; it can take a few hours to see it all. Check in advance to see if the palace is open to the public and which rooms are available to see, as the opening times can vary.
Day Five: Breakfast at Fernandez & Wells + V&A Museum
Enjoy an expertly brewed caffé latte right outside of South Kensington Tube Station at Fernandez & Wells along with one of their many Spanish pastries for breakfast. Sit outside and watch tourists and Londoners alike stream by on the busy street before heading over to the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The V&A is another extensive museum, but focuses primarily on the various disciplines of art. Some of their permanent installations include paintings, sculpture, historic fashions, jewelry, architecture, and even furniture. Each exhibit has work spanning centuries and immense amounts of information on each era and style throughout the ages.
They also have special exhibits on a variety of subjects. This summer’s Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion was a retrospective on the work of Balenciaga and included the original Trapeze and Envelope dresses, perhaps his most famous works. However, the more popular exhibit this summer was Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, an audiovisual experience chronicling the band’s design, music, and staging. Every season at the V&A brings similarly interesting special exhibits, so make sure to check well in advance for what you might like to see.
Hopefully, you’ll spend more than five days in London and can properly experience one of the world’s greatest cities. I’ve only listed above some of the attractions I found most worthwhile but perhaps most difficult to navigate without familiarity with London.
Below are a few suggestions for other great things to do in London
History buff? Go to the British Library to see their permanent exhibit “Treasures of the British Library,” which includes original portions of the Magna Carta and other famous documents.
Art lover? The Tate Modern is one of the world’s largest collections of modern art, and much like the British Library, requires a whole day to see everything.
Want shopping? Camden Market is a quirky place, lined with stalls selling a multitude of hats, accessories, and vintage clothing. There are also a number of more modern places to shop nearby and several well-rated restaurants.
Have kids? Bring them with you to see the Tower of London. You’ll all love hearing about the gruesome torture devices and getting to see the dungeons. The kids will be entertained for the whole day with the interactive exhibits, and will be learning a little history too.