London by Michael Flatt

One Weekend in London: What to Do?

Throughout my time in London several friends visited me for weekend trips and I only had a limited amount of time to show them this amazing city. From these experiences, I have created a fun filled weekend walking tour. The highlights of the tour include: all the main sights, visiting Chinatown, watching street performers in Covent Garden, going to a comedy club, and riding the London Eye. You may choose to do all of these activities or only a select few of your interest.

NOTE: This tour is not designed for the leisure traveler.

Friday

Get up, eat breakfast, and leave around 11 AM. Don't forget to bring your camera! The first thing you should do is purchase a three day Oyster card from the nearest Tube station (unless you have one already). While the majority of the weekend will involve walking, it is almost impossible to get around London without taking the Tube at some point. After you have bought an Oyster card, take the Tube to the Piccadilly Circus Underground station. Piccadilly Circus is a famous street junction in central London. It is a great place to start your tour because of its proximity to the main shopping, entertainment, and nightlife areas of the city. Furthermore, Piccadilly Circus is known for its neon billboard signs that mirror Times Square in New York.

From Piccadilly Circus walk to Chinatown. It is a few minutes walk east, starting on Shaftesbury Avenue and a right on Wardour Street. Chinatown is known for its excellent Chinese restaurants and its Chinese New Year party every January. This area of London is different than anywhere else and is a must-see.

After visiting Chinatown, walk to Leicester Square. The square is host to all of London's high-profile movie premiers and is the place to go to buy cheap theatre tickets. There are also a lot of nice restaurants in the square. Once you have finished spending time in Leicester Square, exit through the park and make your way south down St. Martin's Street until you reach Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square is in the heart of London and is the most popular venue for political demonstrations. It is named after the Battle of Trafalgar, which was the battle that destroyed Napoleon's Empire. The square was featured in the classic "Mary Poppins" movie when the main character (Julie Andrews) is shown feeding some of the hundreds of pigeons that flock to the area everyday. While walking around Trafalgar Square, be sure to visit the National Gallery. The National Gallery is a free art museum that has paintings from many famous artists, such as Da Vinci and Rembrandt.

You will now want to exit Trafalgar Square to the south and proceed on Whitehall Street towards Big Ben. By now it will be lunch time and I suggest trying Pret A Manger, which is on the left side of the street. Pret is a sandwich store that makes fresh sandwiches everyday along with offering fruit, salads, soup, coffee, and desserts. It is a great company all-around. After you have had lunch, walk down Whitehall until you see Downing Street on the right. It will be the one with guards on horses surrounding its gated entrance. The most famous address on Downing Street is 10 Downing Street, which is the official residence of the Prime Minister in the UK (currently Gordon Brown). The street is not accessible to the public but you can cross the road to take pictures. Once you have done this, continue south on Whitehall Street (which will change its name to Parliament Street) until you reach the famous, "Big Ben." Big Ben is probably associated with London more than any other major sight. Most people don't realize that Big Ben is just the bell in the clock, not the clock tower itself.

At this point in the tour there is an optional detour to take. If you have time, walk across the Westminster Bridge to see the Thames River. The London Eye, the biggest Ferris wheel in Europe, is on the east side of the river and there are benches with great views of Big Ben at night. I recommend going to the London Eye on Sunday night.

 After you have completed the detour, there is still Westminster Abbey, St. James's Park, and Buckingham Palace to visit. Go back across the Westminster Bridge and Westminster Abbey will be on your left. There will be plenty of signage to follow. Westminster Abbey is a church where royalty is married and buried. There is a £15.00 admission charge for adults and if you are not interested in history or architecture it may not be worth the money. From here, walk northwest until you reach St. James's Park. St. James's Park is the oldest park in London and is on the way to Buckingham Palace. In the park walk west and follow the signs until you reach Buckingham Palace. The Palace is the official residence of the British Monarch, which is currently Queen Elizabeth II. After you have finished walking around and taking pictures, walk west on Constitution Hill until you reach the Hyde Park Corner tube station and you will be back in time for dinner.

Saturday

There is a lot less to do today. You can wake up late. There are only two items on the agenda: 1) Covent Garden, and 2) going to a comedy club. Begin the day by taking the Tube to Covent Garden Underground station. I suggest taking the elevator out of the underground as there are 193 steps to the top. On busy summer days this Tube stop is sometimes inaccessible; if that is the case, take the Leicester Square stop and walk to Covent Garden.

 Covent Garden is an affluent area of London known for its shopping and street performers on the weekends. There are plenty of high-end clothing stores to do some window shopping and be sure to visit the local market, which is near the entrance of the Royal Opera House. My friends were always interested in buying souvenirs from their London trip and this market was one of the two places (the other being Portobello Road Market) I would take them. While you may see at least one street performer everyday in Covent Garden, the weekend always has a better atmosphere. Have your picture sketched and enjoy all the different acts! Trust me when I say that you can spend hours watching the different shows.

 At night go back to Covent Garden and see a comedy show at The Funny Side Comedy Club. The shows usually start at 8 PM. For a Saturday night, you will want to book tickets by the previous Tuesday or Wednesday. The Funny Side is in the basement of The Corner Store bar and provides a good atmosphere for a night out.

Sunday

Most of my guests were tired by Sunday and you will probably be too. For that reason, I suggest you take it easy in the morning. Go out and find a café where you can have a traditional English breakfast. Although London is not known for its food, it does have good breakfast. Then, around lunch time make your way to Camden Market. It is accessible via the Tube at the Camden Town Underground station. Camden Market is the largest street market in the U.K., attracting over 100,000 visitors every weekend. Here you can shop for souvenirs, find old music records, buy jewelry and clothing, and eat lunch, among many other things.

I usually spent about 2 hours in Camden Market. While some shops and stalls are open during the week, it is during the weekend when the market comes to life and draws its biggest crowds. On Sunday entry to the Camden Town Underground station is prohibited to prevent overcrowding, so when you leave take the bus back to your accommodation. You can use your Oyster card on the bus and there are plenty of bus stops close to the market.

After relaxing for awhile in your accommodation, I suggest that your final stop for the weekend is a ride on the London Eye. In order to do this, take the Tube to the Westminster Underground station. The Tube station is across the street from Big Ben, so if you are staying around this area you can just walk. With that said, you will then cross the Westminster Bridge until you reach the London Eye on the east side of the river. You can't miss it.

The London Eye is fairly pricey at £17, but I do recommend riding it at least once because the ride lasts for a full 30 minutes and provides a great view of the sights you just visited. Also, going on it at night is much better in my opinion because the views are clearer and the buildings are illuminated. A ride on the London Eye concludes the weekend tour of London and you will now have covered a majority of the city. I hope this guide has been helpful and that you are motivated to one day return to the city!