24 Hours in London
by Sue Reddel
Business travel is often envied by people who don't have to experience it. Those of us who travel frequently know that business travel is often neither fun nor glamourous. Quick business trips in and out of cities often make the destination unimportant as all the traveler may see are meeting rooms, hotels and airport waiting areas. However, if the business traveler is determined to make the most of each trip, there are many ways to discover the highlights of your destination even on very short trips. If you're one of those people be sure to check out our top tips on how to maximize in the shortest stays.
I've had the opportunity to travel to London several times on business and each time it was for a short visit. You know the drill: arrive for a meeting, attend the meeting and leave the next morning, with little time to distinguish where you're actually visiting. If you were actually planning a vacation to London, it's likely you would visit for at least a week or more to experience everything this wonderful city has to offer. However, if you're crunched for time and still want to get a taste of this wonderful city, here are a few ideas for what I consider to be some "must-sees".
Sightseeeing Tour Bus
While very touristy, I've found that paying the inflated bus price is well worth it when you don't have a lot of time or don't want to hire a private car and driver to take you around the city. These bus tours often include a headset that provides a running commentary of all the city highlights. Most often you can even buy the tickets right from the conceriege at your hotel. I took one of these tour buses in London and really made the most of it. Some of the bus tours have several different routes, so be sure to find the areas you really want to see and start there. I took the longest route and stayed on the bus almost the whole route. The good news is that you can get on and off as many times as you like and the ticket at most of these services is good for 24 hours. I got off near Harrod's, the world's most famous luxury department store, and did some shopping. Then I jumped back on the bus and saw some more sights. If the weather is good, you'll want to ride on the top level of the bus where you can take some great pictures, if you're so inclined.
There's plenty of historic sites to see in London, but to hit some of the highlights, you'll want to check out Buckingham Palace, home to British royal family. If the flag is flying at the palace, the royals are at home. The changing of the guards at the palace is an event filled with color and tradition. If you want to see the changing of the guard be sure to check the times and get there early to have a good photo opportunity. It's typically 10am each morning and 11am on Sunday, but the hours do change by the seasons. The "Big Ben" clock tower and the Westminster Abbey cathedral are close to Buckingham Palace so be sure to visit them as well.
If you're interested in learning more about Princess Diana you can check out the Princess of Wales Memorial Walk. It's a 7-mile walking trail that covers Kensington Gardens, Green Park, Hyde Park and St. James's Park. The walk passes five important sites associated with her life: Kensington Palace, Spencer House, Buckingham Palace, St. James's Place and Clarence House. The path is marked with 90 plaques etched with a heraldic rose.
The British Airways London Eye is another great way to see all of London on a clear day. The second largest observation ferris wheel in the world is across from the Houses of Parliament. A trip all the way around the wheel is about a half-hour and worth it to catch a quick look of London from an exceptional vantage point - this is another great photo opportunity.
If the weather is cooperating, there are many beautiful parks in which to relax and enjoy. Hyde Park and Regent's Park are two of the larger ones. They both have beautiful gardens and sculptures to view. Regent's Park also has the London Zoo and an open air theatre. Don't miss the Queen Mary's Rose Garden if you're a garden lover.
Many people like Madame Tussauds where you can find the eerily identical wax figures of historical figures and pop celebrities. Be warned that as you see above the lines are long - so those of us with limited time either need to buy tickets in advance and skip the line or pass on this all together. Full disclosure - I did not include this on any of my visits. There are several other Madame Tussaud museums around the world in places from Bangkok to Vienna, so if you miss it in London, you might be able to catch one somewhere else in your travels.
If you're an art lover London won't disappoint. The world famous Tate Britain and Tate Modern have excellent permanent and visiting collections. Both of these offer free admission.
If you want something a little more intimate, consider the exquisite Wallace Collection. This huge family collection and the elegant Victorian mansion of Sir Richard Wallace and family were left to the nation in 1897. The 25 beautifully furnished rooms are filled with Sevres porcelain, a vast collection of armour and diverse paintings by English, Dutch and French old masters. And again admission is free.
The Royal Academy of Art is lovely and if you're short on time you can just breeze through the courtyard and enjoy the sculpture exhibits and beautiful building exterior on your way to Picadilly Circus.
Shopping seems to be a neverending source of fascination and a favorite pastime for visitors and locals alike. Shops on London's famed Oxford Street range from the high-end brands like Cartier, Prada and Ferragamo to moderately-priced department stores, and everything in between. You can literally shop till you drop on this long strip. Be sure to check out the architecture and gardens along the way.
If you venture off the beaten path, the side streets are full of boutiques and speciality shops that aren't as crowded and noisy. If you check out Marylebone High Street shops be sure to stop by Daunt Books. It's a beautiful old store that features travel books from around the world. If you love travel - this is a must see stop. You will not leave without buying at least one book.
Eating & Drinking
Just down the street from Daunt Books are several restaurants that are fun. If you're looking for authentic fish and chips, check out the Golden Hind. Just about every foodie has heard of this place. They only serve fish and chips and it is simply delicious. Generous portions abound. This is not your typical greasy fried fare. Everything is fried in fresh ground nut oil that is changed every day. The batter is light and crispy and the chips are fantastic. Be warned that the Golden Hind is BYOB, so if you want to imbibe you'll want to grab a pint or what you choose from a liquor store right down the street. They're busy but they turn the tables quickly so there's rarely a wait.
Right across the street from the Golden Hind is Relais L'Entrecote. This location offers the same delicious steak frites and has the familiar line outside that you will find in the Parisian restaurants of the same name and fame. If you're in the mood for a little touch of France, this will hit the spot. Don't be surprised when your server brings out your second helping of steak and fresh fries. Second helpings come with your meal. This style of service lets them keep your food warm and fresh - and will undoubtedly leave you stuffed. But do yourself a favor and leave at least a little room for the profiteroles - they are divine.
Pubs are on most corners so pick one or more along your journey and join in the fun. On warm evenings pub crowds spill out onto the streets for lively conversation so it's easy to become part of the crowd.
Another great stop is Heathrow Airport. If your trip is really short on time there's a lot of shopping available on your way out. If you missed Harrod's - not to worry. They have a store in the airport to pick up some last minute souvenirs, teas or cookies. There are also many other retailers ready to serve all your shopping needs.
My favorite last place to eat in London is Chez Gerard, which boasts that it has the best steak frites this side of Paris. I can't personally vouch for the steak frites but the Croque Monsieur and the croissants always put me in a good mood prior to my flight.
You can't see everything in London that there is to see in 24 hours, but if you know what you want to see, get a map and create a plan you're half way there. Why spend even a few hours laying around your hotel room or in the hotel restaurant or bar? Get out and spend the few extra hours you have and see the sights. You can always sleep on the plane on your way back. Travel is all about experiencing new worlds, even if you only get to do so for a short time. The memories you make will be worth the little effort that it takes and you'll be glad you did.
Let us know if you have any other spots in London that you like. Safe travels!