OK, Monkey Mama, here we go:
First, get an Oyster card for transportation at Heathrow or Gatwick. The tube station at Heathrow has them, and you will be happy you did. They can be used on the bus, tube, and various other places. ‘ You’re probably planning on walking a lot, but your feet will get tired. And people walk VERY fast except for tourists who stop at the bottom of the escalator and in other inopportune places. When they say stand on the right on the escalator, they mean it.
The tube is easy, but crowded and you don’t see much except people’s armpits. I much prefer the bus when you have time. The site tfl.gov.uk is your friend for all transportation planning. Black cabs are expensive and don’t get in the non-licensed minicabs. Uber is around, but the bus in non-rush hour is great. I’d skip the tourist buses and try one of these. http://www.londonforfree.net/bus-tour/ or http://londonist.com/2016/02/london-s-10-best-bus-routes. That “Londonist” site is great for daily things happening.
The biggies for me are
• Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament—come out of the Westminster tube station for maximum (AH!) effect. Then walk along the river after that.
• Trafalgar Square. It’s the geographical epicenter of London. Best bus there is the #24 or Charing Cross tube. The steps to the National Gallery are “my spot.” Look down across the square and you can see the river and Big Ben. I saw them filming Wonder Woman there last year. Go to the National Gallery if art is your thing and say hi to my Caravaggio. Free tours frequently—check out their site. Next door is the fun National Portrait Gallery, also free. Everything from authors, to rock stars, royalty, and a beautiful portrait of David Beckham Both have cafes and fancier restaurants—including a rooftop one. Expensive for my budget so I eat at Pret a Manger across the street or at St Martin’s for lunch. They often have a free lunchtime concert too. The Chandos pub has lunch upstairs and nice beer as does the Sherlock Holmes on Northumberland Avenue.
• The Eye is worth it, I think, but book ahead. For views I’d skip the Shard and book ahead at the Skygarden. They have a normal priced coffee shop in the morning and it’s got a nice vibe in the evening for cocktails. But you have to book. It’s near the Bank of England, and the morning rush hour in Bank station is my idea of hell. But I think you’re staying close by? Walk over. It’s also close to Leadenhall Market—Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
• It’s probably worth watching the Changing of the Guard once at Buckingham Palace. Watch your wallets etc in those crowded spots and on the tube. I have never had a problem, but summer is full of tourists and offers more chances for pickpockets.
• I love the Southbank—the Globe Theatre (tours!), the National Theater—heaven—and they all have food available. Sit outside, walk, have a beer. I also like the George—from the book Shakespeare’s Local. It’s not far from Borough Market and Southwark Bridge. Despite the recent tragedy, I’d still go to Borough Market. It’s fun.
• The British Museum and all those Museums. They can be overwhelming. Go to the tours at the British Museum. My favorite wine place is just around the corner.
• The Green Spaces—London is justifiably proud of its parks. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are lovely. I also like Regents Park and you can walk along the canals.
• I like Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms, but we are history geeks. I spent two years at the imperial War Museum and they’ve done an excellent job remodeling it. Good-ish café there too and Lambeth is different.
• Do go to the Museum of London in the Barbican. Free and very interesting.
• I like London Walks company for guided walks, or just buy a book on walks. Also good wlaking podcasts.
• I know this is strange, but I love St Pancras station. Good bookstore and good architecture. It’s just atmospheric. I also like Lambs Conduit—good places to eat and my favorite feminist bookstore.
• For more out of the way things, I’d recommend Greenwich or Hampstead for Sunday lunch. When I win the lottery, that’s my new home.
Breakfast where you live. Take advantage of your own tea and coffee. Lunch can be economically done with the supermarket takeaways. There are great options at all the central grocery stores. I like Waitrose (too expensive though) and dream of the M and S bean salad. All of them have sandwiches, wraps, salads, fruit, crisps, to take away. And do take away from Eat, Pret, and all those places saving yourself the steep 18-20% VAT and eating in the park.
I’m not a fancy eater, especially in London, but do have favorite pubs out aways or off the beaten tourist track. Non-touristy pubs have the best food options. Especially ones with outside seating. Or eat at the theater cafeterias. There are lots of good dinner places by Charlotte Street off Tottenham Court Road. Don’t eat Mexican, just don’t.
This is a big restaurant area: http://www.stchristophersplace.com/
Not sure what else you’re particularly interested in. We do lots of history and literary things, but happy to help in any way I can.
Random London Tips for Monkey Mama
OK, Monkey Mama, here we go: