What are the must sees for the first timers in London for just three days? and, does it matter if we stay right in the heart of city center?
Judy: There are plenty of B & Bs services for London. For $100 a day you can stay in nice townhouse in Bayswater, etc. My must sees for first timers: The Tower, Big Ben and Westminster, Boat ride on Thames, Greenwich, The Tate Modern, The National Art Gallery, British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, The Library, Kew Gardens, Harrods, Flea Markets...as you can see you really need a week. Some of these are free. Good Luck.
Google "Transport for London". The first site will be the official site of the outfit that runs London's Tube, buses, etc. A very good site to know about. Troll through the maps it offers looking for the famous map of the entire Tube system. You'll see a route for the Circle Line (it will be red). It's called that because it loops around central London. Any place you stay within that area will be happily convenient to all the usual sites. (The map isn't drawn to scale, so don't judge distance by it.) We all have our own must sees, according to our interests. I'd suggest a walk across Westminster Bridge from Parliament and then a left turn for a stroll along the South Bank. If you're there in the summer. when the sun stays up late, this is a pleasant after-dinner activity. If you are partial to art, the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square can easily consume an entire day. The British Museum is huge and fascinating and can trap me for a couple of days. When I try to decide where to visit, I find books and sites with photos to be the most useful. Reading about something is fine, but nothing beats photographs for deciding if you want to spend time there.
If you listen to everybody's "must Sees" you will come up with enough to fill 100 days. You need to do some reading to figure out what you want to do. However the traditional list would probably include: Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus; Tower of London and Tower Bridge (NOT London Bridge), St Pauls, Changing of Guard (Horse guards), walks past Buckingham Palace, the parks- St James, Green, Hyde and Regents. The Museums- National Gallery on trafalgar square can be done in small doses. Generally hotel within the Circle Line (which on my map is Yellow, not Red). You want to be somewhere where you can walk to a lot of the sights- West End is best but also most expensive. Oh and of course at night it is the Theatre and any time- the traditional pubs
Judy, I agree with Brian. You may want to do some reading in order to choose your own must-see list. It would be a shame to miss something of special interest to you just because you didn't know about it. "Rick Steves' London" is a great guidebook. If you don't already have it, I recommend that you get it and read it from cover to cover. I agree with all the "must-see" lists posted here, but might include Windsor Castle if you have time for it.
I agree with other posters who recommend reading a good guidebook and deciding what interests you. Here is what has interested me in London... if you want some specific suggestions. 1. seeing a West End play 2. tea at the Ritz hotel both of the above are very pricey, but excellent 1. touring Westminster cathederal 2. changing of the guard at Buckingham palace 3. Covent Garden - strolling, eating, shopping 4. Tower of London 5. Trafalgar Square / National Gallery 6. Harrod's - particularly the food court 7. Victoria & Albert Museum 8. St. Paul's cathederal (take the hop on hop off bus and you can get off at most of these sites) 9. and more shopping!
10. you may want to go on the London Eye -- I don't like heights that much, so haven't done it. 11. Tate Modern -- if you like modern art. I'm planning to revisit London in Sept. and plan to do: British museum; pub walk; a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath (you may not want to do with only 3 days)
I would suggest doing a hop on hop off bus on your first day as it gives you a great overview of the city. They have several loops available. We used the Original Bus Tour ( they give you a discount if you show them Rick's book). Take the red or yellow loop first, try to stay on it the entire loop, it'll take you thru Buckingham Palace to Parliament/Big Ben back and forth several bridges over the Thames all the way to Tower of London. Try to take advantage and do all the loops you can plus the free Thames River cruise, you will see alot of London! This may take you all day if you stick with the HOHO bus, so plan on maybe seeing a play that night or a great night walk. That leaves you 2 whole days to focus on museums, etc. I would recommend staying within the city to cut down on transportation time.
does it matter if we stay right in the heart of city center? It is a matter of personal preference. London has good public transportation and you can get around pretty easily on the tube and buses if you stay in zones 1 and 2. I recommend that first-time visitors stay closer in, particularly if they are only going to be in London for a few days. It just simplifies things. However, a lot of people stay further out in Paddington, Bayswater, and Earl's Court and don't mind transiting in. So it depends.
My personal preference would be to stay somewhere next to a major underground/train station and see the following sites (in order of my own personal preference): British Museum National Gallery Westminster Cathedral (tour) St. Paul's Cathedral Tower of London London Eye Harrod's (only if you like to shop) Things worth a walk by, but where I wouldn't spend a lot of time: Buckingham Palace (I wasn't thrilled by the guard) Piccadilly Circus Big Ben & Palace of Westminster Tower Bridge
Trafalgar Square Certain sites are clustered around each other. So if you organize your time wisely, you can actually see a lot in 3 days in London (if your willing for those 3 days to be a bit frantic, that is). Most sites close early in the evening. However, many of the museums have certain nights of the week they are open late. If it were me, I would try to use my nights nights at those museums with late nights or seeing west end shows. -Mark
For a 1st London visit, especially a 3 day visit, you don't need a bunch of books. Just read the R.S. London. Hightlight things that really sound interesting, not just things you feel that you OUGHT to see. R.S. tells you where each thing is located and approximately how much time it takes to see it. Group the things on your "interesting" list - Which things are close together. Divide the list into 3 days. Add one "ought" to see to each group. You're done. When someone at home asks you if you saw the snarfelback
exhibit at the gallery/museum/cultural hotspot, tell them, "Well, of course". The questioner will then rave on about his great love of snarfelback collection. You won't get another word in...and no one will know you did just what you wanted to do. The end. Have a good time
Miff...LOL..Snarfelback Exhibit!!! Judy, When you first get to London, pay attention to the three-day forecast on the T.V. If one of your 3 days is forecast to be pouring down rain, mark that as your museum day. You can spend all day long on a rainy day in one museum (British Museum!) or do one before lunch, and go to the second museum on your list after lunch. Once you know the forecast, you can plan to be outside, walking the riverside and doing the sights and the markets on your sunny days. The three sights that would top my list would be: First day, Tower of London, be there in the morning when they open the entrance. After lunch, St. Paul's, do the walk to the top where you have a view all over London! Then Westminster Abbey (tour). Second day, do the hop-on hop-off bus tour, so you will pass by most of the sights, and for some, a good look is all you need. The bus tour will help you decide what looks good to you. Also do not miss the British Museum and the National Gallery. You've already gotten good advice from all the others, so I'll stop now.
I would add to the other great ideas the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London, but you must plan for it as far ahead of time as possible (see website or guide book for how to get tickets), but it will give you a great night activity. And we highly recommend the best orange cake ever at The Orangery near Kensington Palace. We will make our second trip to London in August for 3 1/2 days, and I've just put our tentative itinerary together today. It is hard to decide what goes on the list and what has to be skipped. As they say, assume you'll be back!