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December trip - Advice, suggestions please

I will be in London, traveling solo, from 12/28 thru 1/3. I have been reading guide books, websites, and previous posts here. I have a basic plan but would love any insights to help fill out my days. Basically, I have 1 main sight planned for each day and then hope to wander and get a feel for different areas of the city, maybe doing some of the walks from the RS London guide. I have booked a few things based on advice from a previous post and from my research. Please let me know any thoughts, ideas for neighborhoods to explore that connect well with each sight, places to eat, really any nuggets of wisdom you can add. Here is my tentative plan:

SUNDAY - Tower of London - I planned on joining London Walks. I think the tube line from my hotel near St. James park may be closed this day. Is the bus doable or should I switch this to another day?

MONDAY- Westminster Abbey - Is a tour recommended or can I do this using my guidebook info?

TUESDAY - St. Paul's in the AM, The Play That Went Wrong in the PM (booked based on lots of recs on this site!)

WED - New Year's - I have booked Tea at 1:00 and then Kew Gardens in the evening for the lights (thanks Claudia for the recommendation) . Is the tube the best way to reach Kew Gardens from the St. James area? I am hoping the main transport lines are running.

THURS - matinee of Mary Poppins

This is my first time in London but I hope to return at some point in summer. I am a frequent traveler to Italy and am fairly comfortable on trains, buses and public transportation. I enjoy architecture, history, and local culture. Any thoughts would be welcome.

One last thing. I plan on taking the tube to my first night hotel on arrival as it is near St. Pancras station (going onward to Bavaria before returning for time in London). I was planning on taking tube from St. James station to Paddington to catch the Heathrow Express to the airport for departure. Does this make sense?

Posted by
6349 posts

A few thoughts:

Great to plan for 1 major attraction per day. Sun will set early, weather might be a factor, and most sites don’t open till 10am. Be certain to confirm holiday opening hours of all the places on your itinerary!

Did you pre book tickets for Kew? You may not be able to get them now. As far as getting there the London Overground train to Kew Gardens Station is how you should go. 5 -10 minute walk from it to Kew’s Victoria Gate.

To confirm all transport while you are there check the site on a daily basis. Absolutely confirm the tube is running on your arrival date as it will take close to an hour via the tube into London. In all honesty getting through immigration could take hours and walking to the Underground isn’t a short distance. Be prepared mentally for that reality.
Or reconsider and book a car hire in advance. Sometimes best to splurge for comfort and convenience but only you can make that decision.

As far as nuggets of wisdom:
Don’t jay walk.
Get your Oyster Card at Heathrow.
Check and recheck opening times for the sites.
If weather is good spend time walking along the Thames Path at Sunset.
Look for discounts on boxes of Christmas Cards at museum gift shops.
Look for meal deals on sidewalk sign boards in front of pubs. Had a fantastic bowl of pumpkin and sage soup at the Dove in Hammersmith.
Wear comfortable shoes with Smart Wool socks.
Make certain your coat is 100% water proof.
Review the London Walks website. I’ve never been on a bad London Walk!
Peruse the Timeout London website.
For a splurge enjoy a meal or cocktail at the Booking Office in the St Pancras Renaissance
Or try the venerable Lord John Russell pub which shouldn’t be far from where you are staying the first night.

Don’t try to do everything....meander, relax, you are on vacation!

Posted by
690 posts

I went to London last year at the holidays, but before Christmas, so I can't advise you on transit availability. But I do have some feedback on some of your other questions.

  • St. James Park to Tower has a number of options: You will need to check on specific time tables for the date you are in town.
  • Westminster: last year we found there was limited hours prior to Christmas for tours. I would highly recommend the Verger's tour. I have been to Westminster several times, but this last year took the verger's tour and learned more about the Abbey that I ever did on my own. With a verger, you’ll get to see special parts of the Abbey, such as the Tomb of St Edward the Confessor, not accessible to general visitors. The verger will also take you to see Poets' Corner, royal tombs, the Lady Chapel and the nave – and provide an expert commentary. Here is the link: If you have time, I would also recommend the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Gallery.
  • Kew Garden's light show is amazing. We took the tube and it was a short walk to the gardens.
  • If you have time WinterWonderland at Hyde Park is fun--part Christmas market, part carnival. It can get really crowded in the evening, but it is a nice way to spend a holiday evening.
  • I would also recommend a visit to Borough market: for a nice meal. You can also check out their special events.

Hope this helps, enjoy your trip.


Posted by
958 posts

Hi bj84. I love your unrushed itinerary.

The Tower of London with London Walks was my favorite out of six walks that we did with LW over a two week period. It was fabulous and if I could only do one tour in London that would be it. You pay the guide your tour fee and she runs up and buys the tickets for entrance after giving you a superb tour outside. You are led inside and given a little bit more tour and then released to finish touring on your own. Our whole time with the guide was between 1.5-2 hrs and it was just excellent. The only thing I would do differently with that tour is to come back and catch a beefeater's tour after release to see the crown jewels. You'll probably want to ride the conveyor belt past the crown jewels at least twice. Go ahead and go straight to the crown jewels after the London Walk ends but come back to traitor's gate to catch a beefeater's tour. They can take you a few places you are not allowed to view on your own. Hubby and I spent a good bit of time inside the white tower - very interesting.

Sandy O's advice about the verger tour at Westminster Abbey is right on. We used LW for that one but our group was large and split and we got a trainee for our group. It was surprisingly disappointing and a very poor walk (booooring) - the only sub-standard walk out of half a dozen. Next time I will take the verger tour.

It appears you have prebooked your Kew Garden tickets for New Year's Eve but if something falls through, London Walks has a tour where they take you out to Hampstead to pub walk and view the fireworks from a hillside. London Walks Dec 31

tfl has a travelbot on facebook messenger. I tried asking it about your plans to travel from St. James to Tower Hill Underground but it gave me current disruptions, not for Dec 29th. tfl had this for closure:
Circle Sun 29 Dec Entire line
District Sun 29 Dec South Kensington to East Ham

Nigel, Emma, or a few others can best advise on your needed route.

Any extra time? Maybe check out Sir John Soane's museum. Free timed tickets including special exhibits must be pre-booked and you cannot book on the day of visit. You could visit after the New Year. Here's info: Soane's museum

Leaving London: It appears there is no construction to hamper your exit on January 3 but you want to keep checking for additional disruptions. I would more likely take the tube from St. James to South Kensington station and transfer to the Picadilly line out to LHR. It's cheaper but takes longer so plan accordingly. Once again, Nigel, Emma, or others will surely chime in with the best advice.

Have a fabulous visit to London!

Posted by
1232 posts

The Tower of London with London Walks was amazing. The guide quickly saw she had a group of history nerds so she tailored the trip to go deep into the history of the Tower. It’s well worth the money, others on this forum will disagree, but I was impressed.

All Hallows by the Tower church is nearby and well worth a visit. Beheaded bodies from the Tower of London were taken there, President John Quincy Adams was married there as well. There are also some Roman ruins there. Well worth a short visit.

Unless you’re right at Paddington, I wouldn’t bother with the Heathrow Express.

Be prepared for cold and short days. The temperature may not seem extreme, but I’m from Chicago and I was cold.

Posted by
56 posts

Thank you all for the helpful information! I will be rethinking and rechecking my transportation options.

Claudia - thanks for the tips and website suggestions. I do have a ticket for Kew Gardens so hope I can figure out transportation to and from.

SandyO - you have convinced me to take the Verger tour. It sounds like it will be well worth it.

Nance - I will definitely go ahead with the London Walks tour of the Tower. And if the weather is okay, I will take your suggestion to do a Beefeater tour as well.

Emma - thanks for the bus info and New Years Eve info. I will keep checking so I can plan accordingly to get back from the theater. Sounds like it may be an interesting evening! And thanks for the heads up about the stairs at St. James Park station. I usually just have a carry on size suitcase and backpack but may use one if the other stations if I don't feel up to the stairs.

Dale - I will check into All Hallows by the Tower. I hadn't run across that yet in my research but it sounds interesting. I am used to damp, coldish winter weather but will definitely plan layers and warm socks.

Thank you all again for your help. I truly appreciate it!

Posted by
56 posts

Just checking in with another thanks to all of you who gave advice. I am back from a successful visit to London! I was able to get around without difficulty using the tfl website and Citymapper app. New Year's eve was a bit challenging but worked out - I couldn't believe all the people cramming into the fireworks area. Both shows I saw were great. I managed to do one tour with London Walks (Tower) which was fantastic! I couldn't make the verger tour fit into my schedule at Westminster Abbey but I did feel the RS tour from the guidebook was adequate for me. Again, thank you all for taking the time to give me the benefit of your wisdom.

Posted by
690 posts

Glad you enjoyed your trip. Thank you for sharing.