London will be busy whenever you decide to visit, and rightly so. It is a world class destination that is packed to the hilt with things to see and do. I have visited several times and I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface.
My previous sight-seeing trips to London have been in May, June and October. This is the first time I have visited during the peak summer season, and stupidly it didn’t occur to me that it would be any different to my previous visits. It was. London was chaotic, hot and a little overwhelming. In spite of this, Jim & I enjoyed our day in London more through luck than any good planning, so here are my top tips for anyone else visiting London during the school summer holidays:-
1. Plan what you want to do
One of the joys of travelling is being able to be spontaneous and not having to have an agenda. If you only have a very limited time in London though (Jim and I were there for one day) it is important that you have an idea of what you want to do, and where everything is. London is a vast city, and although it is incredibly well served by public transport, shuttling back and forth across the city crammed into the tube like a sardine it is not an efficient way to spend your time. Try to group the attractions you want to visit into geographical locations and see them all in one go.
I would never advocate abandoning spontaneity completely though. If something takes your fancy that wasn’t in your original plans, then just do it.
Once you have an idea of what you want to do in London, decide what is most important to you and do that first and early. Jim & I arrived in London at 6.30am on the overnight bus from Newcastle. We knew that we wanted to visit St Paul’s, and so after having some breakfast, dropping our suitcases into luggage storage and getting caught in a brief thunderstorm, we headed straight there. We arrived just after opening, and so St Paul’s was blissfully quiet. We had beaten the large tour groups and we could wander around taking our time with the audio guide without having to jostle for position or feel as if we had to move quickly so as not to get in anyone else’s way.
We went to the Natural History Museum later in the day. This was the total opposite to St Paul’s. Outside was absolutely heaving with large groups of people. We had to queue for about 20 minutes to get inside, then queue again to get into the dinosaur exhibition (which was the first part we tried to go to). The exhibit was incredibly crowded; we were literally packed front to back with people on a boiling hot day in a room with no air conditioning.
The Natural History Museum is in an absolutely beautiful building and the atrium with the huge dinosaur skeleton is stunning.
On any other day, Jim & I would have really enjoyed our visit there and we will definitely go back in the future. It is much harder to enjoy when you feel as it you have to just point, click and move on without really looking at anything as you are being swept along by a crowd. The Natural History Museum wasn’t the priority on this trip; St Paul’s was. Next time, we will prioritise the museums and we will go first and go early to make sure that we have the best experience possible.
3. Take it easy
There is so much to see in London that it can feel like you have to charge from one sight to another to get it all in. That is an exhausting way to spend a day, so slow down and take plenty of breaks. After elbowing our way along Oxford Street, Jim & I bought a picnic lunch and sat for a couple of hours under a tree in Hyde Park. We rested our weary limbs and recharged our batteries to head out again for an afternoon sightseeing. We wanted to do the Natural History Museum and The British Library (completely ignoring my own advice about geographical locations!). In the end, because of our break we didn’t have time to do both, but if we had abandoned the break to have time for both sights, we would have ended up hot, stressed and crabby with each other. Instead, we had a lovely long walk in the sunshine through Hyde Park and into South Kensington (getting a little lost on the way!) and much preferred our afternoon as a result. Even if you have to sacrifice something from your original plans, still take the break – you will enjoy what you are doing so much more if you are well rested and relaxed. We did make it to The British Library on the return from Belgium – we were there for opening time and got to enjoy it without the crowds.
4. Visit “off the beaten path” sights
This is an obvious one. Lesser well known sights will have less tourists and you can feel like you have discovered your own little piece of London. I’m no London expert so I’m sure there is a lot that I miss every time I visit the capital. However, Jim & I did go off the beaten path when we visited Postman’s Park.
We walked there from Liverpool Street Station, right through the heart of London’s business district. There was not another tourist in sight – the streets were filled with Londoner’s in suits and ties on their way to work. Postman’s Park is very well hidden and took us a little while to find. As a park, it is quite pleasant but but the real reason for our visit was to see the wall dedicated to people who had lost their lives in saving others. The wall is covered in beautiful blue and white tiled plaques which are mainly Victorian, and tell the stories of those who died.
We stood and read them all. We loved the archaic Victorian writing, and the beautiful illustrations.
Best of all, we were the only people in the park looking at this wall. The few other people who were in the park were all hurrying through or walking their dogs and did not even cast a glance in our direction. Postman’s Park is less than a 10 minute walk from St Paul’s cathedral and can easily be combined with a visit to St Paul’s.
5. See what is important to you
There is no such thing as a “must see”. All that matters is what you want to see and what interests you. If you are not interested in Buckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey or Trafalgar Square or the Houses of Parliament, then don’t go. It is your holiday. You are using your own well earned time off from work and spending your own hard earned cash. So set your own agenda. London is guaranteed to have something that will interest you, but that doesn’t have to be the same as what interests everyone else. Spend your time wisely and make sure you have the trip you want to have and not just the one that the guidebook recommends.
I definitely plan to visit London again in the future. I probably would think twice about visiting again during August, as I did prefer my previous off-season visits when it is a little less chaotic. I’m glad that we decided to take the day in London before going to Belgium though – crowds and chaos are just part of the London experience.
- A Beginner’s Guide to Travel London along with things to do in London (henrywilliamsonn.wordpress.com)