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Help with itinerary for first time in London 2 -days in May 2016

Been reading this forum for a while now and I'm starting to plan out our itinerary and would like opinions and help on making my hotel and transportation choices. what are the Pro's and Cons, etc. My Wife and I are 50 and are first time Europe travelers and in good shape so we don't mind few stairs, packing light (small wheeled bags each and a backpack)
Flights are purchased and arrive at Heathrow Friday May 20 7:30am, leave on Eurostar to Paris Sunday Afternoon.
we will take the Tube to Hotel and to get around so we would like to stay within walking distance from a Tube Station. Where to stay on a budget of $300/night including breakfast. Ease and convenience of getting around is the key, also a queen sized bed, which seems more rare than it should be. I know rooms are small but come on.
Where would you stay?
South Kenisington (seems like a nice area, but is it too far from the attractions and the St. Pancras station for departure?)
Victoria? same issues as South Kensington,
Trafalgar Square - Leaning towards The Grand Trafalgar, is this a good option, seems spendy
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, another possibility, any comment on location, seems walkable,
British Museum area - Is the Russell Hotel a good option
Would you buy HOHO bus tour?
Where to eat in your preferred location.
What are the must see attractions - We will probably do some touristy things like Buckingham Palace and Tower of London, but wont spend money on the London Eye or the Shard. I know this is different for everyone, but consider WWII historical places for me, Harry Potter sites for my wife.
I know its not nearly enough time, but we want to see the highlights as efficiently as possible. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

Posted by
568 posts

We stayed near Russell Square (the Celtic, but for $300/night you will have better options) and found it very convenient. There is a tube station on the line that runs to Heathrow, and another line station just a few blocks down the street. As far as what to see, we enjoyed the Tower of London (got there early for a tour), St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and just walking along the Thames. For WWII sites, you might enjoy the Churchill War Rooms, not far from Westminster Abbey. When we visited, there was a separate exhibit on Churchill that we found interesting. Also, a must see for us was the British Museum with the Rosetta Stone. Have fun with the places you see, and plan another trip to visit the places you can't fit in this time.

Posted by
1195 posts

We once had staff at the Tavestock Hotel push 2 single beds together for lots of room. I think that Queen-size must be a US invention. We last stayed in a very nice townhouse bed & breakfast near Notting Hill at Kilroy Garden. I believe the current average price for this type of B & B is near $150. a day. The bed was plenty big but took up most of the room. The bath was just outside in the hall, but we were the only ones using it We had a view of the back garden from the very nice tub/shower combo. We were on the first floor, a half flight from the ground floor, so we could leave early to go to the Street Market (we had first sitting at breakfast) and without disturbing the other guests.

Posted by
205 posts

We don't know what kind of $ you are talking about so no idea what 300 of them means. Start thinking in real money (GBP) as that is what you will spend. No area is close to all the attractions so South Ken (as the locals have it) is excellent for the museums of Albertopolis and the tube connections are excellent. Victoria I would avoid personally as it's a building site for the foreseeable future.

The Russell Hotel is a traditional large hotel 5 minutes from the British Musuem and near Russell Square Station (Piccadilly Line from Heathrow to St Pancras), actually you could walk to St Pancras in 15 minutes if encumbered by bags. Park Plaza is also in an excellent position south of Westminster Bridge, very modern, I stay there regularly.

HOHO bus? Personally no, I would take ordinary buses and sit up top. for transport and journey planners.

Posted by
4895 posts

Think in GB £ not dollars.

A queen sized bed here is 4 ft wide, so I presume you are mixing your terminologies. Double beds are standard here. Some hotels and some homes have king sized beds.

No hotel is central for everything and with such a limited time, you aren't even going to scratch the surface. What are you doing with your luggage on the Sunday?

HOHO buses are not good value. To avoid the queues for the Tower, it is advisable to get there for opening time. Harry Potter studio is a 5 hour round trip from central London.

Posted by
7 posts

Wow, thank you for all the replies. This is just what I was looking for when I posted. I'm more than grateful for the people on here willing to share their experiences. Yes I should have set pounds as my budget, I think the exchange rate is roughly 1.5 USD to GBP so 200 GBP per night. Cost is not the primary concern however, its the efficient use of the short time we have available so your replies on location and transportation are very helpful. What to do with our luggage on Sunday is a big concern of course. We are taking the 14:01 Eurostar on Sunday so we will have time to see some things before we go. We'll just have to get back to the hotel to pick up our bags prior to making our way to St. Pancras. We are taking the approach that we will be back at some point to see the things we missed. Thanks again for your replies, looking forward to seeing more:)

Posted by
5704 posts

Absolutely brilliant post Jennifer, especially since the poster has mentioned " been reading this forum for a while now."

My thoughts as one who has traveled to London since 1972 and NEVER found a Queen Size bed even in the $300 a night Russell Hotel room in 1996. The room by the way was the size of a closest and was above the bar which played loud disco music nightly...but I digress....

Start the process by first taking to use Google maps satellite view of London. Type in Big Ben London and you'll notice how close and far iconic sites are to one another. Also how many tube stops are available. By using the tube you can maneuver seeing a good bit of London so really doesn't matter where your hotel is.

Given your preferences and the short amount of time you have in this fantastic city, on day 1 see Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey, horse Guards, Buckingham Palace and the Churchill War rooms. On Day 2, be first in line at the Tower, then walk up to the glass covered Leadenhall Market for nosh and to see Harry Potters Diagon Alley, walk over to St Paul's ( which survived The Blitz) hop on the tube to visit the Imperial War museum.

Lastly you won't find potato chips or Hersey's chocolate. You will find crisps and Cadbury though. Embrace the differences.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you to padams, David from Brisbane, and melsmith. You gave me good advise and helpful tips. Thank you Claudia for the tip about Leadenhall Market. That is the kind of tip I was looking for. I'm confused about the comments from Jennifer though. As I mentioned, this is my first trip to London so obviously I don't know a lot about the details and I am looking for some insight.

Posted by
8456 posts

You will want to be at St Pancras Station an hour ahead of your Eurostar departure. I think the website still says 30 minutes, but be there an hour ahead. St Pancras is a nice station and you might want to get some snacks for the train trip so possibly you will want to be there a bit ahead of that. Get the snacks before you go thru the turnstiles which will take you to Security and Border control (both leaving UK and then one to enter France). There are some food/beverage outlets in the Eurostar lounge but there are better ones in the main train station. There is not a liquid restriction going thru security there even though it is airline style security.

With your WWII interest, definitely make time to do the Cabinet War Rooms on Saturday. Walking thru the places Churchill walked, slept, ate and made crucial decisions was very powerful to me!

Welcome to the forum!

Posted by
1010 posts

We have stayed at the Crowne Plaza, South Kensington, three years in a row. Yes it is in South Kensington, but it is a lovely hotel in a great area. It is directly across the street from the Gloucester Tube Station. You can walk to Kensington Gardens, etc. With the Tube so close, it is a quick ride to anywhere in London. It is advisable to get an Oyster card at the station. No matter if you put too much on your Oyster card, you can get a refund at any Tube station, right before you leave London. South Kensington is a beautiful area just to walk around in and look at the beautiful architecture. The Crown Plaza is part of the IHG Hotel Group. You can join for free and earn upgrades and points for future stays at InterContinentals, Holidy Inns, Holiday Inn Express', etc. The Crown Plaza receives great reviews.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you all for the great tips everyone! I seem to have struck a nerve and certainly not my intent being a first time poster. From what I've read on these forums, I've tried to comply with the unwritten rules of posting questions;
Give us the details of your stay - check
Tell us whose travelling with you - check
Tell us what your budget is - check
Tell us what your interests are - check
Tell us specifically what you want opinions on - check
Make a self deprecating remark about the frustrations of booking exactly what you want - a little tone deaf? Possibly, but no offense was intended. I think most understood that.

David, thank you for your support and your itinerary looks very close to what we will actually do. We may just switch your Friday and Sunday activities. If we fit all those things in to our short stay, I'm sure we gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the British history and culture. As long as I can find a Starbucks to go with my bangers and mash, we'll be fine! (btw - that's a joke Claudia)

Posted by
409 posts


I know this may sound crazy but I'm 55 and I often stay in hostels. Trust me, I'm not the oldest one in the place, either! Some are now becoming "youth hostels only" so many of us grey-haired folks are using them! America seems to think hostels are for pot-smoking teens and drifters -- that can't be farther than the truth!

Most (if not all) have what they call family rooms - as its against the law to have a child under 16 in a dorm style. So, for example, a family of 2 parents & 2 kids share a room. I've stayed in the family room (though i was alone) with en-suite bathroom (which means a private bath in my room) at Parlmers Swiss Cottage Hostel that was convenient to tube stops and the Portrait Gallery - my favorite free museum. Parlmers has a nice website. I got it during high season last summer and i think it was about 40 pounds. It's where in a dorm room i met a 72 year old traveling the world with only a small day pack! Awesome!!

They have kitchen, cheap breakfast, wifi in the living rooms.... i love hostels in Europe and feel Americans miss out not considering them carefully!

Also - check out for great tips...



Posted by
26094 posts

Ps the food and coffee is much better in Pret a Manger ,which are also all over town like a rash.

agreed, in spades. But many of both are closed on Sundays (and many on Saturdays) in The City and other less touristed parts of town.

Posted by
26094 posts

If you want big American style beds, you might consider staying in American chains, and British chains like IHG - Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, et al - which make a fuss about the size of the beds.

I seem to remember that the Crowne Plaza London City across the street from Blackfriars station and a beautiful tiled pub, The Black Friar, had fairly large rooms and largish beds.

Premier Inns also put an awful lot of effort into their beds.

Posted by
1 posts

These post entries have been great. I too am going to London for the first time. I will have 5 days to see the sights.
Any recommendations are appreciated. Also I would like to go to a show/musical while there, perhaps more than one.
Where is the best place to buy tickets for shows? Should they be ordered before my trip. I leave April 18th. My adult daughter and I will be there together.

Posted by
7 posts

Ok, I went ahead an booked the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel for our stay. I think the exchange rate dropped a little bit today so the price was a little cheaper than it had been recently. We'll get the Oyster cards to Tube around the city. Thanks Emma for the reminder about St. Paul's on Sunday, well have to switch that back to a different day.

Will we have enough time to do the Tower of London and Tower Bridge on Sunday Morning, get back to the Park Plaza to pick up our bags and still make it to St. Pancreas for the 14:01 Eurostar?

Or we could visit the British Museum on Sunday. Do they have a place to store our bags? Or any lockers at the nearest Tube station? Any Lockers at St. Pancreas? We could get to the station first thing Sunday Morning and drop or bags, then do the British museum from there. Any suggestions?

Posted by
5704 posts

Why not partake in what many locals do on Sundays? Church or Sunday Market.

Get up early, check out and be at St. Pancras to store luggage here

It's pricey but convenient and I believe opens at 7am on Sundays.

With the brilliance of the tube you have loads of options:
1:) Why not go to the iconic St Paul's on a Sunday? It's a good service even if you aren't a follower. Have coffee at Paul's bakery in the courtyard and listen to the church bells peel. Visit the 10:15am mass. Then walk over to One New Change and take the elevator to the roof top for a new view of London and great view of St Paul's. From here if you didn't go to Leadenhall Market walk there (about 20 minutes), have lunch then head back to St Pancras. OR enjoy one of the many Sunday Markets? Sadly Boroughs isn't open on Sundays but never fear: 2) Spitalfield's Market and Brick Lane OR
3.) Portobello Market. It's a straight shot on the tube from Kings Cross St. Pancras to Nottinghill Gate. Less than 10 minutes. Then a lovely 10-15 minute stroll to Portobello Road. It's a large market, loads of eye candy. Coffee and pastries at Gail's Artisan Bakery are wonderful but there is marvelous street food as well. Meander, shop, stroll, and by Noon be on your way back to St Pancras to retrieve your luggage and leave on the Eurostar for the next leg of your trip. Its 25 minutes from the Ladbroke Grove station or as noted earlier barely a 10 minute ride from Nottinghill Gate.

Lastly, if you prefer to sleep in then take your luggage to St Pancras by 10:30am, then stroll over to the close by British Library (opens at 11am on Sundays) and visit the Sir John C Ritblat gallery, the Treasure Room. Walk back at the station to retrieve your luggage and bade farewell to London.

and Paul coffee doesn't really go with bangers and mash but a cup with a flies graveyard, fat rascal or scone is good for the soul.

Posted by
409 posts

Bags in tube & train stations:

Regarding a place to put your bag for the last day as you're heading out -- I'm married to a Brit so go to England OFTEN. It is VERY difficult to find a place to leave a bag near the stations due to bomb fears. I have occasionally found a coffee shop that will do it for a cash deposit, after i chat with them a bit. But sometimes (even well out of London) I've arranged ahead of time with couchsurfers or AirBNB hosts to watch my bags for a day, out.

Sad, but true.


Posted by
980 posts

I'm a yes vote for the HOHO bus. I think it's a great way to see a lot in London for a first timer. i did it on my first visit and don't regret it. If you do decide to use it, there's usually 2-3 loops available. Get on 1 loop and stay for the whole trip. Plan to get off at a site where 2 loops intersect, look around there then hop on a different loop so you can see more of London. You can actually go online and look at the routes to help plan your day out. Good luck and have fun!