If you follow us over on Instagram, you may have noticed that Nate and I have been out of the country. He told me he had planned a little trip over to Florida but when we showed up, the tickets-in-hand were for British Airways! Best. Husband. Ever. I thought we wouldn't make it to Europe for at least another few years. He arranged for family to take care of the kids and had the perfect hotels selected. We saw SO much, eventually making our way up to Scotland. For anyone else making the trek, here is what I'd suggest seeing if you have 36 hours in London.
We landed in Heathrow in the early afternoon, ready to hit the ground running. Grabbed a Heathrow Express ticket which dropped us in Paddington, then nabbed an Oyster card to get over to Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square on the subway (deposit money on the Oyster card and it'll auto-calculate the best daily or weekly fare based on your usage on the subways and buses throughout the city, then you can get the excess back at the station when you're done using the card). We didn't spend much time exploring here, just stood by the fountain and soaked in a ton of history. It was the perfect introduction.
We walked several blocks to our hotel, The Strand Palace. This spot was perfectly-situated smack dab in the middle of the city and very reasonably-priced. Next up, grab some traditional English fish and chips, “mashy peas” and sticky toffee pudding at a historic pub called The Wellington just down the street. We grabbed WiFi at the nearby Starbucks to map out our route and public transportation from there.
Grab a bus on over to the Museum of London. Stop in to the historic Postman's Park next door, then try to squeeze in to the museum at least half an hour before they start ushering visitors out at 5:30pm. It's free, and it'll give you some amazing context about everything you'll see in the next couple of days.
Walk from there over to Barbican Centre. This cultural venue offers a theater, restaurants, library and artistic displays…but we came mostly to people-watch and see their incredible indoor garden. It closes at 5pm, but we were able to access the top floor of the building and see down into it from there. The architecture alone was worth a stop.
Walk or hop a bus back to St. Paul's Cathedral. It's stunning, but it's getting late and you have a lot to see! Save your sightseeing time and money for Westminster Abbey tomorrow.
It's dark now, but there is still TONS to see in this area. Walk across the Millennium Bridge and on over to Shakespeare's Globe. If it had been earlier in the day, we would have run over to Borough Market, but it was closed at this point. Grab a cab or bus to GŎNG at the Shard for jaw-dropping 52nd-floor views. There will be a wait, there's a minimum per-person spend that can be covered in a single pricey drink, and there is a dress code. After drinks there, wander over to the weirdly-shaped City Hall and back over the lit-up Tower Bridge. Walk by the Tower of London and over to the ruins of St Dunstan-in-the-East, a church built around 1100 that has astonishingly withstood years of political upheaval. It will likely be closed by this time, but even peeking through the gates at night is sobering.
Hop a bus or cab back to the hotel and crash, face-first, into your pillow. Set an alarm for the morning, but not TOO early…you need some rest and nothing around here really opens until 9 or 10am anyway.
Walk from the hotel across the Waterloo Bridge.
From there, you can go through the creepy Leake Street Tunnel. Here, Nate and I encountered a man dressed in full Johnny Depp Jack Sparrow-esque pirate garb.
Make a quick right at the end of the tunnel and grab a traditional English breakfast at a diner called Barbarella's.
With a full belly, you'll have enough energy to trek on over to the London Eye. We didn't go up because the crowds were insane – I think a ground view is plenty, but be sure to book tickets ahead of time if you want to ride. Next, stroll on over past Big Ben and Parliament. Again, we didn't go in…if this spot is really important to you, book ahead of time on the website. Visiting hours can be a bit sporadic.
Westminster Abbey is where I wiled away the better part of the morning. There, you can feel the weight of history on your shoulders. You can actually get in for free by telling them that you simply want to worship, but the audio tour is incredible and well worth the price.
From there, we walked over to the Churchill War Rooms for an up-close-and-personal look at the man largely responsible for ending World War II. I'm not usually one to kill much time in museums, but this was fascinating. Next up, a stroll over to Buckingham Palace to briefly ogle the ornate exterior.
Grab a cab or bus to Churchill Arms (you can actually get a free glass of wine or beer by signing up for their email list online!). In the back of this funky pub you'll find the best Thai food in town, something that London is kind of known for. The servers are abrupt and pushy and will inform you that you're allowed to have your table for no more than 60 minutes. Go with it. After that, you can stroll on through Portobello Market (it's open every day, though the best antiques are out on Saturdays) on up to the infamous blue door from the movie Notting Hill and then walk on down to the original Melt Chocolates.
Trust me, that'll leave you stepping away from London with a sweet taste in your mouth.