Today and tomorrow we have duelling plans, as the two everydaydream holiday founders compete over their perfect London day. Did you know these two met while they were both living in London? Which one – Jacob or Chris – would make the best guide?
Onto your first perfect day – London’s Best Walk, Cruise, Dinner and Show, by Jacob Aldridge
And when you want to watch the world wake up, the best place to do it is right here, atop Primrose Hill. We’ve come (having flown in yesterday from Canada) prepared with picnic blankets, a basket of food goodies, and supermarket bubbly – Tesco’s Finest Prosecco at £12 a bottle is actually one of the best don’t-call-it-champagne options around.
Don’t believe me? Have another glass, and take in this view that stretches around from Canary Wharf at the east end of the city, across St Paul’s and the original Square Mile, out to the London Eye and Houses of Parliament. It’s a famous view, most recently punctuated by the Shard, London’s newest (and Europe’s tallest) skyscraper. 3.7 million people are heading to work here right now – ten percent of them are in Banking – and from this height it’s hard to believe they’ll all fit.
From the bottom of the hill we wander across Regent’s Park to Great Portland St, and catch the C2 bus toward Victoria. No trip to London is complete without riding on an iconic London double-decker bus. And of course we’re going to sit upstairs – it’s also a great way to see the city as we drive through.
Is the Queen at Home?
We depart the bus at Piccadilly, and walk through Green Park to see if the Queen is home at Buckingham Palace. The royal standard isn’t flying today – anybody hoping to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II through the curtains will be disappointed.
There’s still lots to appreciate at the front of the palace. The balcony where Charles and Diana – and 30 years later, their son William and his bride Kate – had their famous wedding kiss. The statue in front is Queen Victoria, who was the first monarch to reside here after 75 years of remodelling work concluded in 1837. If she looks fresh, it’s thanks to the nose job she received just before last year’s Olympics.
Buckingham Palace sits at the top of The Mall – which rhymes with Al, Hal, and Val, not All, Hall and Tall.
For William and Kate’s wedding (we still struggle to call her Catherine, only because it makes their monogram WC) 500,000 of their closest friends and fans lined the Mall to watch them heading to and from Westminster Abbey.
In 2012 Stephen Kiprotich from Uganda won the Olympic marathon right here.
Today, it’s much quieter as we walk down the broad avenue. To our left is St James’s Park – like so many of London’s best parks, this was originally a royal reserve (back when Buckingham Palace was considered ‘away from the city’) and is now park of the park system that makes London so liveable.
To our right, we pass Clarence House – former home of the Queen Mother, and now residence to Prince Charles and Camilla. Tempting as it is to drop in for tea…
At the far end of The Mall, we pass under a grand arch, and suddenly Nelson’s Column comes into view. Trafalgar Square used to be a roundabout! Now the fountains, the famous lions, and Nelson himself 52 metres (169 feet) up create a public space that seamlessly connects this history of that 200 year old naval battle with modern London, and its future brand.
Take a look at the Fourth Plinth. The city of London has not yet a new hero to immortalise on this space, so it currently forms a combination of display space and performance art stage. Needless to say, 2012’s bronze rocking horse and 2013’s giant blue cockerel were selected to … mixed … reviews. Behind it, above the Square, is the National Gallery – a fabulous free destination for lovers of art, and those who find themselves nearby when London’s notorious weather kicks in.
From Trafalgar Square we could head up Charing Cross to the West End, along The Strand toward Fleet Street, or down Whitehall towards the Westminster Parliament. We choose the latter – Whitehall is a microcosm of British History: the window upstairs of Banqueting House on the left is where King Charles I was beheaded; across the road is London’s most famous address, 10 Downing Street. You can also be photographed with one of the Queen’s Guard at the Horse Guards’ Palace.
At the far end is Westminster, and our free walk ends at Parliament Square, between the statues of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, beneath the flags of the Commonwealth, and across the road from the Houses of Parliament.
From here, the inside options for tourists include a tour of Parliament and a visit to Westminster Abbey – where kings and queens are married, crowned, and also buried. It is also possible to climb the Queen Elizabeth Tower and see Big Ben, arguably the world’s most famous bell.
My favourite thing to do in London is a ferry cruise up the Thames from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. Not only is this the easiest way to see so many of the key sites – from the London Eye past St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, out to Greenwich – but the boat crew also make some of the best guides in the city!
Head upstairs, and hear them point out everything from the point where Queen Elizabeth I entered the Thames on her way to motivate the forces against the Spanish Armada, to the specific buildings they believe have the best (and worst!) architecture in the current city.
Greenwich can make a day trip in its own right; when we have half a day there are two highlights we want to focus on.
The first is the Maritime Museum – seeing the coat Nelson was wearing when he was killed is worth the cost of entry alone! (Well, entry is free so really it’s all a bonus.)
If you’ve heard of Greenwich, it’s not just because we ate in New York’s Greenwich Village last week. Greenwich Mean Time is all calculated from the Prime Meridian at the Greenwich Observatory. So we climb the hill…photograph ourselves straddling the zero point of modern communication … and then turn to take it another expansive view of London city, this time looking back toward Primrose Hill.
Though closed on Mondays, I recommend ending your Greenwich exploration with a tour of the Cutty Sark, once the fastest ship in the world- and now reopened after a 2007 fire almost destroyed all of that history.
We head back into the city using a combination of the Docklands Light Rail, and then the famous London Underground. Specifically, we’re taking the Central Line from Bank to Tottenham Court Road. Our destination is the Cambridge Theatre on London’s West End and London’s best theatre production right now: Matilda.
Matilda has become the hottest theatre ticket in town since its world premiere here in late 2011, and it deserves to be. A combination of Roald Dahl’s famous children’s book with modern day maestro Tim Minchin writing the songs means this production is the creation of two storytellers at the height of their artform.
The theatre district is known for late-opening restaurants. And we could stay close by … but a perfect day in London needs to end with dinner in its most famous restaurant strip, the row of indian cuisine options on Brick Lane.
If you’ve never been accosted by spruikers outside every restaurant, all offering you ‘the best deal’ at ‘an award-winning restaurant’, then you’re in for a surprise. All we can say is be prepared to haggle – tonight, we’ve managed to secure free entrees and free drinks for our whole party!
Champagne breakfast and Curry for tea. Both are fit for the Kings and Queens we’ve witnessed in between.
Want to go? Need to know!
- If you want to see London at its finest, here is a high-resolution, pre-recession summer photo from the top of Primrose Hill – look for the netting to the right, that’s the aviary at London Zoo.
- Did you know that the top of the double decker buses is white? They’re only red on the parts that can be seen from street level.
- London really is almost as damp as its reputation. However its most famous weather phenomenon – the Pea Souper London Fog, when you can’t see the hand at the end of your arm – is actually a relic of the industrial revolution. The coal dust and factory smoke created that atmosphere; their departure from the city also took away the pea souper.
- Climbing up to Big Ben is free, but requires pre-planning – you need to write to ‘your’ Member of Parliament to organise a time.
- Transport for London ensures the same card – the Oyster Card, which is worth buying even for a short trip because the deposit is refundable – can be used on all London buses, the Underground, the DLR, and even trains inside the city.
- Earlier this year, everydaydream holiday was invited as celebrity contributors to Posse.com and asked about our favourite London places – check them all out here.
- If you can’t get tickets to Matilda, we also recommend We Will Rock You, or those classics of the West End Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera.
Calling all Londoners and London Lovers: What would you fit into the best day in London? Let us know in the comments below, or come start a discussion on our Facebook page.