When I first stepped off the plane in Gatwick and attempted to find my way around the airport to the train station, I was slightly stressed out. But I knew I didn’t have long in London and I wanted to make the most of it. So, after managing to navigate my way through the train and the tube and the buses, I managed to make it to my hostel and start my 24 hours of London exploration! Continue reading below for all my tips and must see places if you’re going to be in London, and how to squeeze them into a short visit!
First, a few tips for visiting London:
Oyster Card: All I can say is BUY AN OYSTER CARD! Especially if you’re Canadian (continue reading to see why).
When I got to London, I was told that all the buses accept credit cards if they have a “tap” option, which all my cards do! I was like YAY perfect this is so handy I can just use my visa for all buses and trains. Well, when I got onto the bus, I was standing there, exhausted after flying all day and night, and of course NONE of my cards would work. Luckily, the bus driver saw that I was about to have a meltdown and let me on for free (THANK YOU KIND SIR), but I needed to sort out a way to pay for transportation while in London.
Enter the Oyster Card. It costs 5£ to buy the card and then you load up as much as you want onto it. It works on all the buses, trains, and the tube and you can refill it at any tube station! The only catch is that if you’re there for less than 48 hours, you can’t get the refund on the 5£ when you’re done with the card. I was luckily coming back through London to fly home, so I got my refund 10 days later on my way back through.
Google Maps: I didn’t bother picking up any actual maps for London because I was relying on good ol’ Google to help me out while I was abroad. Well, of course right when I got to London as I was trying to find the bus stop where (as mentioned earlier) my cards wouldn’t work, my Google Maps was acting CRAZY.
It kept pointing me in weird directions and just wasn’t working right. I’m not sure if it’s the sheer volume of people using it in London or what, but after hearing from a few other people that it can be super glitchy, I knew it wasn’t just my phone.
So, be prepared to use a real map, or ask people for directions because Google Maps is not 100% reliable in London.
Bring a Water Bottle: Fun fact about Europe, the water ain’t free. If you go into a restaurant and order a water, you’ll likely have to pay for it, and unfortunately most places wont give you tap water. Your best bet if you don’t want to have to pay for water is to either smuggle your water bottle into the restaurants, or hydrate with beer.
Where to Stay:
While I was in London I stayed at Wombats City Hostel London.
I really loved this hostel and it was perfect for my first 2 nights in London (and in Europe). The rooms were clean, the lockers were very secure, and there was a restaurant and complimentary breakfast! It was also a 10 minute walk from the closest tube station where you can get to pretty much anywhere in London, and a 10 minute walk the opposite direction takes you to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
If you are interested in staying at Wombats City Hostel, click here.
What to Do:
Explore Platform 9 3/4 and King’s Cross Station: Incase you don’t know, I’m a massive Harry Potter fan. So as you can guess, Platform 9 3/4 and the Harry Potter Store were high on my list of activities in London. Luckily, on your way to do virtually all of the list below of attractions, King’s Cross Station is a great starting point.
My first pro tip about Platform 9 3/4 is get there early. I was there both times on a Sunday afternoon and I could barely even see the platform through the crowd. They actually have a massive line you need to stand in and people there who dress you up and give you a wand for the photo-op. I didn’t bother standing in line for the photo, but I did wait a few minutes in order to get into the Harry Potter Store.
I would HIGHLY recommend the Harry Potter Store. There’s literally everything you could ever imagine in there from the movies and books. You can get your own personalized Hogwarts Acceptance Letter and your own wand too!
Buckingham Palace: After checking out King’s Cross, I tubed to Green Park Station on the Piccadilly Line to see the Queen! We just did a quick walk-by of Buckingham Palace, but as it’s a walking distance of all the rest of the places on my list, it was a must see!
If you want to see the Changing of the Guard, make sure you check the schedule online, as it only happens on certain days at certain times (we missed it).
Hyde Park: After Buckingham Palace, you can take a casual stroll through Hyde Park. If you’re around in the warmer months, this is the perfect place to stop and have a little picnic lunch. If you’re visiting near Christmas, they have an awesome Christmas Market you can explore (ice skating and hot chocolate are a must!).
London Eye: After your stroll through Hyde Park, you can check out Big Ben and the London Eye (they’re like right next to eachother). I definitely didn’t bother going up the London Eye (£40.00 to ride on a ferris wheel? Thats $70.00 CAD!). But it was fun to walk by and see all the tourists lining up to giver a whirl.
Big Ben: Unfortunately for me, Big Ben was under construction when I got to visit him (and he’ll remain under the scaffolding until 2021!). But it was still a cool sight to see as it was one of those places I’ve seen a million times in photos.
Find a Red Telephone Booth: You can’t really go to London without taking a photo in a red phone booth… So of course, the only photo I got of me was this terrible one posted above… Hopefully yours turns out better than mine did.
Ride a Double Decker Bus: The double decker bus thing isn’t very novel to me because in Victoria, BC where I went to university, they have a bunch of double decker buses. But, I know they’re fun for most people so I’ll add them to this list. It’ll be easy enough to hop on a bus with your Oyster Card and skip a bit of the walk too or from any of the attractions in this list!
National History Museum: Okay this was by far my favourite attraction I got to see in London. The National History Museum is amazing and FREE. Yes, I said FREE. There are like 7 exhibits and they are all free and soooooo interesting. After strolling around London and taking in the sights, I’d recommend grabbing a bit to eat and then heading into the museum!
We stayed for hours and walked through every exhibit. It was super cool and the perfect way to spend the evening before heading to dinner!
Where to Eat:
The best bet for breakfast, especially if you’re only in London for a short amount of time, would have to be at your hotel or hostel. They’re normally perfect for fuelling you for the adventures ahead, but if you want to grab something somewhere, there seemed to be plenty of cafes and bakeries to choose from!
Grab a beer at a pub: While you’re walking around enjoying the sites that London has to offer, why not do like the locals do and stop in for a pint at one of the local pubs. I was exploring around with a friend who lives in London and she pretty much said that people go to pubs several times a day! So, why not grab a pint along with your food and be like a true UK resident.
Sunday Roast: If you’re in London on a Sunday, then you need to get to a pub for Sunday Roast. It will be the best thing ever, trust me on this one. We went to a pub called The Minories and they had the best yorkshire pudding I’ve ever tasted. Sunday roast is a massive thing in England, so virtually all pubs will have one, and there’s pretty much a pub on every street, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one. We went to The Minories after exploring for hours in the National History Museum, so it’s not too far to get to if you want to give it a try!
Maison du Mezze: We don’t have a decent middle eastern restaurant in the Yukon, so you bet that whenever I travel anywhere, I try to find one. Well, let me say Maison du Mezze hit the spot perfectly!
Café Rouge: I ended up walking here my very first night in London after arriving from the airport. It’s about a 10 minute walk from Wombats City Hostel and although the route may look like it takes you through some weird back alleys and plazas, its totally fine.
The food was delicious and the staff were all great. I had a cocktail and shared a few appetizers with a friend and it was a lovely way to spend my first night in London. If you end up here, you can easily take a walk after dinner and check out Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
The Medieval Banquet: Okay so I didn’t actually eat here, but I walked by on my way back to the hostel one night and it looked SO FUN! I want to go back so I can pretend I’m from the medieval times and have jokers dancing around while I chew on a whole drumstick…
Although I didn’t get to spend a ton of time in London, I think I made the time I did have very worth it! I managed to see (almost) all the sites and managed to leave London understanding the transportation systems, which is always a plus!
Hopefully this guide has been helpful and has given you some insight into how to spend 24 hours in London!
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