Help us make the most of our free days in London!
October 18, 2016 3:41 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I have a business trip to London in a couple of weeks and have tacked on some free time because OF COURSE. We would be so grateful if you would help us make the most of two and a half days!

The particulars:

We're landing late morning on a Saturday, time-adjusting from the US east coast. We have the rest of Saturday, all day Sunday, and most of the day Monday free.

We're staying near Soho Square. We'd love to explore the area but are not averse to heading across town. We're both fairly fit -- part of our strategy to time-shift quickly is to get up and exercise, so 3-4 mile running routes would be very helpful.

We are recovering most of our travel costs, so we have the great luxury of treating our free time as a mini-vacation. We know this is an expensive city. I wouldn't say that cost is no object, but we are happy to consider great restaurants and experiences.

We're in our 40s and 50s. Late-night stuff is not really our thing (particularly as we want to time-adjust as quickly as possible so we can be ready for our business commitments). What is more our speed: walking, people watching, gorgeous views, some tourist stuff, museums and churches (I have more appetite for this than my husband does), self-guided or custom tours, great food, shopping when it's an experience. Not so much: theater shows (I know, I am so sorry), crowded noisy places, group tours (unless they are extraordinarily unique).

We go "on the clock" on Monday evening for a dinner with our client. In the event our client doesn't have a plan -- which is possible -- I'd welcome a recommendation for a restaurant in the Soho area for an informal but nice business dinner (probably 6 or fewer people).

Thank you in advance! We are so excited for our visit to this fabulous city!
posted by woot to Travel & Transportation around London, England (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you been to London before? London is perfect for museums and churches and walking around (weather permitting and even not). You will have a great time!

Off the top of my head, if you haven't been before, I'd recommend: the tour of Buckingham Palace is great fun, if it's open; go to Westminster Abbey and wander around and look at everything and see where they've buried everyone; check out the Tate/National Portrait Gallery (there's a bar at the top of the NPG that has AN AMAZING VIEW, make a reservation and at least get a drink); I love the Churchill War Rooms, if you're into WWII history they are very special. I also love the Soane Museum, which is tiny and crammed with all kinds of weirdo stuff, if you want to go to a museum that's a bit wacky. For shopping, gosh, London has great shopping -- I'd pop into Harrods for sure, just to eyeball the food hall/see the the totally bonkers escalators. Liberty is in a LOVELY building and is my favorite place to pop into around Oxford Street. Really, you will have so much to do! Have fun!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:05 PM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Soane Museum. It is a particularly weird example of the English penchant for monomaniacal collecting. It is about five house-fulls of architectural detailing from many different eras collected and stuffed inside one house. The only thing I can think of that is more typical of that certain kind of British eccentricity is the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

It is also just a short distance away from the glass room at Huntarian Museum which is both morbidly fascinating and aesthetically pleasing (such nice presentation and lighting!)
posted by srboisvert at 4:45 PM on October 18, 2016

Take the Northern Line to the Archway tube stop and visit Highgate Cemetery

Or go in the other direction on the Northern line and have a curry in Tooting
posted by Morpeth at 6:12 PM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Audioguides are a must at the royal palaces.
posted by brujita at 10:09 PM on October 18, 2016

I second the "wierd museums" reccomendation. The soane and hunterian museums are both super fun. I would add the grant museum of zoology as another fun odball museum. All three are fairly small so should not tire your husband out too much. Of the "Big" museums I would say the British museum is most interesting. As it is so massive it does not feel as crowded as the national gallery or nat hist (unless you are trying to look at the rosetta stone). Be aware the Soane museum is closed Sundays and Mondays so you should go there on the saturday if intrigued by metafilter!

The best (free, not paying £20 to use a lift) views of london are from primrose hill in the north (as a panorama) or from the sky garden ( in central london. You need to book the sky garden in advance, but if tickets are not avaiable for your day then you can ask to visit the bar and get a walkin that way.

There are a lot of pretty churches in london but one stunning one (St Paul's Cathedral). I would reccomend you visit for Choral Evensong (free) which starts at 5pm Saturday, Monday and 3pm sunday rather than pay the £16 for the sightseeing pass. The experience of choral music in such a beautiful setting is sublime.

For running routes the best bet is to pick one of the royal parks and run around it - you are equidistant from Hyde Park and Regents Park.

For food I reccomend you download the app "Where to eat london 2016" (which is written by my favourite London food blogger) and look through his reccomendations to find something you like the look of.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:34 AM on October 19, 2016

I haven't tried to measure the distance on these but for runs I'd suggest heading down Charing Cross Road (or the side streets if you feel confident in direction finding) and then bear right at Trafalgar Square to hit St James Park and Green Park (return via Piccadilly).
Alternatively keep heading on to Charing Cross station, cross Hungerford Bridge and turn left along the South Bank. Cross back at the Millennium bridge and either come back along the Embankment (re-enact the end of the London Marathon) or Strand.

Both runs will go past loads of landmarks. You'll have a much more enjoyable run if you go pretty early to avoid the crowds.
posted by crocomancer at 2:22 AM on October 19, 2016

Soho restaurant - I ate at Mele et Pere on Brewer Street recently and had a very good meal.
posted by crocomancer at 2:26 AM on October 19, 2016

London Eye for the view.

Walk between the Royal Festival Hall and Tate Modern gallery, always things going on in that stretch.

Take a river bus boat ride from outside Embankment station to The Tower of London (which is great) - not the tourist boats, the regular scheduled ones that run by Transport for London.

Hampstead Heath is 800 acres of parkland and ponds just 20 minutes from Soho by taxi. Reward yourself after a walk with a drink at nearby The Spaniards Inn, about as authentic a pub as you will find.
posted by Coda Tronca at 3:31 AM on October 19, 2016

Some great suggestions here so seconding almost everyone! Also, since you like food, maybe pay a visit Borough Market (although you may dislike the crowds).

You may want to check smaller museums such as the Wellcome Collection and the Museum of London to see if they are having any special exhibits that are of particular interest to you.
posted by tiger tiger at 3:36 AM on October 19, 2016

I think there are some cities where you might do well to avoid the obvious touristy stuff, but in London, all the famous stuff is famous for a reason. Among the top tourist sites, based on your interests, I would highly recommend the Tate Modern and the British Museum. They are both likely to be a bit crowded on a weekend at peak hours (about 11AM to 4PM) so you may want to do them early in the day or later on.

As a general tip, Google Maps now includes a graph for "Popular Times" of most locations, so you can get a sense of what time you should go to beat the crowds.

A lovely day would be to get to the Tate Modern early, spend a few hours there, and then wander westward along the South Bank of the Thames, crossing at Westminster Bridge to see Parliament from the outside. The walk would take you about half an hour at a steady pace, although you'll probably want to linger and enjoy the views along the way. Once you're in Westminster, depending on the time, the weather, and your energy level, you could see the Churchill War Rooms, or just keep wandering around outside.

In terms of food-- you might download the TimeOut app if you have a smartphone, or look on Time Out's web page to narrow down restaurants near wherever you'll be. Personally, my all-time favorite meal in London was at L'Atelier Du Joel Rubechon. Running a close second are Helen Darroze at the Connaught, The Pollen Street Social, St. John Bread & Wine, and Bocca di Lupo. If you want fine dining at a somewhat more reasonable price, you might consider one of these weekday fixed price lunches on Monday.

If you're looking for some great self-guided walking tours, I recommend a book called LondonWalks. It's many years old and it's going to be completely out of date in terms of restaurant recommendations, opening hours, etc -- but the historical sites it references will generally still be there.

If you go to Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill has a great view of London, while the Pergola and Hill Garden is my personal vote for "most beautiful spot in London."
posted by yankeefog at 5:32 AM on October 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thank you all so much for your suggestions -- it's very helpful. My husband and I have each been to London before in college days, but this will be our first visit as adults. We can't wait. It sounds like the "touristy stuff" is worth it, so we'll plan for that (with audioguides!).

posted by woot at 6:48 AM on October 19, 2016

The good news is that Soho is so centrally located. You are close to the Portrait Gallery (art from every time) and the National Portrait Gallery (English kings and queens) and not too far from the British Museum (ancient artifacts). Best part is that all of these museums are free.

The bad news is that Soho is so centrally located. Saturday night EVERY TOURIST IN THE ENTIRE WORLD will be on Picadilly Circus and Shaftesbury Ave. It will be like Times Square crowded.

Seconding St James Park for a running route. I'm not a runner but when I was there there were plenty of runners about. After you run around the lake you can always pop into Buckingham Palace and say hi to the Queen ;)

A walk or run along the Thames, as yankeefog suggested, is really interesting. East of the Tate Modern (another free museum) is the Borough Market, which I recommend.

Finally for interesting shopping do go to Harrod's. It's 1/3 high-end boutique, 1/3 crazy escalator and 1/3 Princess Diana conspiracy theory. Alternately go to Selfridges on Oxford St. But both will be touristy busy on the weekend.

Just writing this makes me want to go back.
posted by codex99 at 12:14 PM on October 19, 2016

For walking tours, I liked the ones I did with London Walks a lot. (You don't need to book in advance, just show up, so they're also good for a "if it's nice out, this walk, if it's not, this other thing" sort of plan.)

Size varies by how many people show up, but both the ones I did were manageable sizes (10-20 people), and had plenty of info that was interesting to me in them (one was the Tower of London tour, and one was a special topic one on myths and legends of London, both topics I'm moderately to fairly well-read about in general.)

Also, there's a behind the scenes tour at the Natural History Museum I did last November, and that was totally awesome and entirely worth it. (Things in jars! Things in jars that are species types from the Beagle! Giant squid! If these sound like your thing, it is awesome.)

I also really liked my day at Hampton Court even more than I thought I would: I went in late November, so the garden stuff was not good, but it was also not terribly crowded. (I was there on a Friday) and I thought their self-guided tour stuff was really nicely done.
posted by modernhypatia at 12:40 PM on October 19, 2016

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