What to see in London in a day, if you have been there a couple of times before.
January 14, 2006 7:53 PM   Subscribe

What to see in London if you only had a day, and have already seen the obvious places.

What are your favorite places in London? I am open to just about anything, and will have about a day to burn.

I am going to London on business next month. I go about once a year, and have been 3 times already. I have seen what I think are the obvious places in London, and was interested in going somewhere more esoteric.

I have been to:

- Tower of London
- Windsor Castle
- Trafalgar Square
- Cabinet War Rooms
- Imperial War Museum
- Parliament Square
- Westminster Abbey
- St Pauls
- Hyde Park
- Buckingham Palace/Changing of the Guards
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- British Museum
- I also took a bus tour the first time I was there.

I have reviewed a previous related thread, but since it is almost 2 years old, I wanted a second set of opinions, focused on the less well known.

I was thinking about the Tate Museum or the National Gallery, but I am not that sophisticated, and dont really appreciate much art created after about 1914.

I am:

- travelling alone
- not much of a shopper
- have a degree in, and a fascination with, history
- dont like to eat at fancy restraunts
- married, and don't drink
posted by stupidcomputernickname to Travel & Transportation around London, England (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I know you say that you dont appreciate much art after 1914 but you really should check out the tate modern. I loved it. Fantastic building, and some beautiful pieces inside. There was an exhibition on Communist propaganda graphic art when I was there - fascinating.
posted by twistedonion at 8:00 PM on January 14, 2006

Greenwich Naval Museum
posted by frogan at 8:09 PM on January 14, 2006

I adore the London Transport Museum but, alas, it is closed for renovation until spring of next year.
posted by bradlands at 8:11 PM on January 14, 2006

Second on Greenwich,and the Royal Observatory there is fun to visit as well (and you can play "hop the line")

I think the Museum of Science and Natural History Museum are both worth a visit -- both are next to each other, right next to the V&A.
posted by eriko at 8:13 PM on January 14, 2006

I second the Tate Modern. Start on the north bank, walk over the Millennium Bridge, visit the Tate Modern, have a curry.

Also yes, Greenwhich is great and you can easily spend a day there. Visit the Cutty Sark, the observatory, the Maritime Museum...
posted by Decani at 8:24 PM on January 14, 2006

Greenwhich? Greenwhat? Lordy. GREENWICH.
posted by Decani at 8:24 PM on January 14, 2006

Another nice thing to do is visit the Regents Park zoo and then take a canal trip from Little Venice to Camden Lock. Eat in one of the funky restaurants in Camden, check out the cliched but fun Camden scene and then tube it back central for dinner. Well, I'd like that, anyway.

Shame it's not summer. You could go see one of the open air concerts with fireworks at Kenwood in Hampstead. That's great fun.

God, so many possibilities... I lived in London for over twenty years and there are still things I never got around to doing.
posted by Decani at 8:30 PM on January 14, 2006

Ooh! Good question! I'm planning on going back in April to visit friends and have done the usual suspects to death. :) Thanks for the q&a.
posted by phoenixc at 8:36 PM on January 14, 2006

Highgate cemetery. Sounds like it would suit you. Has many famous people buried there (Marx, Rosetti family, Faraday, George Eliot). Much of it is beautifully overgrown- it's where Bram Stoker supposedly was inspired to write Dracula.
I think it's ideal as long as it isn't raining. I would suggest visiting both sides- East and West, West is by guided tour only.
posted by cushie at 8:41 PM on January 14, 2006

For extra fun if you're going to visit Greenwich - has anyone mentioned the view from the Royal Observatory yet? - take the Docklands Light Railway to Island Gardens and from there you can walk the Greenwich Foot Tunnel under the Thames to the Cutty Sark:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
posted by forallmankind at 9:12 PM on January 14, 2006

If it's a clear day and not a public holiday, London Eye.

No question. I've lived in London for a 6 mo. stint and been there >50 times, but until you see* the city from the heights of the worlds largest ferry wheel, you haven't seen the city at all. I recommend it to newbies and jaded London-ites alike. Its just frikkin cool. Go!

* I've always known London's topology for some time becuase of the Tube, but I never got it's topography until I went on the Eye.
Don't go if its cloudy or a holiday, the views will be ruined by lack of visibility or mewling brats biting yer ankles.

posted by lalochezia at 9:13 PM on January 14, 2006

Go to Westminister Abbey during vespers. The singing is really beautiful and no one goes so you can sit right behind the chorus.
posted by zia at 9:21 PM on January 14, 2006

Do the blood and tears walk! It's cheap, fascinating, and will show you tons of little unknown spots around London like the site of the Sweeny Todd murders, the site of the old London gallows or the copy shop where David Bowie worked. The tour guide is really great and there are day and night time versions.
posted by Alison at 9:29 PM on January 14, 2006

I guess if I just had one day I'd do a tour of the sites that Gull and Netley visited in From Hell.
posted by Hildago at 9:39 PM on January 14, 2006

Go check out that door.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:44 PM on January 14, 2006

Hampton Court Palace.
posted by turbodog at 10:12 PM on January 14, 2006

If you like movies, and there's something on that you want to see, go and watch something at the wonderful Electric Cinema.
posted by ascullion at 11:38 PM on January 14, 2006

The Florence Nightingale Museum or The Cabinet war rooms.
posted by brujita at 12:47 AM on January 15, 2006

I wanted to recommend Museum of the Moving Image, but it seems that it's been closed and won't be replaced by a new museum until autumn 2006.
posted by bering at 2:08 AM on January 15, 2006

posted by normy at 2:42 AM on January 15, 2006

Museum of London, not easy to find (it's in the middle of a roundabout) but worth it if you feel like digging into the history of the city. I've not been yet, but I've heard Sir John Soane's museum is fascinating.

There's so much history and culture concentrated in the centre that you just need to pick a central spot, start walking and looking and listening. No need to use the tube.
posted by amestoy at 2:43 AM on January 15, 2006

If you're there on a Saturday or Sunday, go see a football match. It's very different from watching sports in the U.S. I've found that even people who don't like football appreciate going to see a live match in England at least once.
posted by einarorn at 3:03 AM on January 15, 2006

A few suggestions from another history graduate:

- explore the Inns of Court, Covent Garden, and the Temple area, for a sense of what 17th and 18th century London would have been like. Check out the John Soane Museum en route, it's fantastic. Here's a walk map to get you going.

- wander round the City, which is London's historic financial district. Check out the Bank of England, the Guildhall and the Stock Exchange. (Unfortunately the museum at the first of the three is shut until May). Go to Mansion House and see the monument to the Fire of London in 1666. A bit further north is the excellent Museum of London. Walk south across London Bridge and visit the Clink Prison Museum and HMS Belfast. Stop off at Borough Market for lunch or try the London Dungeon after that. You might want to go to the Old Operating Theatre Museum too. Or if you head west from the City up Fleet Street, you'll be in the old centre of journalism and print from the eighteenth century onwards until Rupert Murdoch destroyed it all - check out Dr Johnson's house.

- do a walk round Roman London.

- go to St James's park and feed the ducks, some of the birds there are descended from James I's pet collection. Check out the street of beautiful Queen Anne houses called Queen Anne's gate just to the south, birth places of many Victorian politicians like Palmerston. Head north and check out London's "gentlemen's clubs" - in the old-fashioned sense of the word! - like White's, Pratt's and the Athenaeum. These were once the focus of political life in the days when Britain was still governed by the aristocracy. Head further up to Piccadilly and visit the Royal Academy and Apsley House (home of the Duke of Wellington, with the best address ever - No 1, London) and then into the streets around theatreland and Soho for a different take on London.

- go to the National Archives Centre in Kew (bit out of the centre but not too far by tube). Or try the Family Records Centre in Islington - no museum but if you have family or friends whose ancestors you might track down in the UK, it's a fascinating place to spend a few hours browsing.

- explore the area around Brick Lane, which is a centre for the Bangladeshi community - check out the market and have a curry while you're there.
posted by greycap at 3:14 AM on January 15, 2006

Firstly, check these two threads, they're a month old.

If you want older art, the National has a huge collection, but the Tate Modern is not what you want. The Tate Britain is wonderful if you like Turner (I do), but it sounds like you might be against going to see art in general?

Have you done much walking around different areas? I find that the best way to get to know a city (rather than the tourist attractions) is to just wander around. Greenwich is a great idea (you must walk under the river in the foot tunnel if you go), they also have a lovely market on the weekend, but Camden, Notting Hill and the City are also worth a visit. If your day is Friday or Saturday, definitely head over to Borough Market for lunch.

And what about doing a walking tour? I've never been, but I often walk past the start of the Jack the Ripper one, and I've always been impressed by what the walk leader is saying. And you say you've been to the Tower, but did you go to the Ceremony of the Keys? It's happened every night for 700 years, and being in the Tower in a small group at night is great. You do need to be organised and book as early as you can, but I really enjoyed it.
posted by quiet at 3:22 AM on January 15, 2006

The National Gallery is definitely worth a visit, especially if you're not that keen on modern art, it's almost entirely older, and the collection includes Constable, Van Gogh and Picasso, it's also a lovely building, which was just refurbished. The National Portrait Gallery, just next door, might appeal to your historical interests, as it is a collection of portraits of the great and the good (from Richard III to the present day).

Also, I just wanted to add that all museums are free in the UK (though there is often a fee for 'special' exhibitions), I was really surprised to have to pay to see art when I was in the States.
posted by featherboa at 3:31 AM on January 15, 2006

The above recommendations are all great. I especially second the Tate Modern--I didn't think I had the slightest bit of interest in modern art until I visited the Tate Modern. And even if the collection leaves you cold, the building is great, and the south bank of the Thames is my absolutely favorite part of London.

I thought the Soane museum was pretty good, but not quite as amazing as I had heard it made out to be. I would definitely recommend the Tate Modern and the Museum of London over the Soane. (Bonus: you can start at the Museum of London and then walk down across the Thames to the Tate. Or vice-versa.)

Finally--and I think I need a macro to paste the following phrase in, because I've used it in every AskMe ever made about London--my favorite guidebook to the city is the sadly out-of-print LondonWalks, which offers some really interesting and very detailed self-guided walking tours around the city.
posted by yankeefog at 4:24 AM on January 15, 2006

i was als going to suggest the tate modern, you ignorant philistine, you. instead, try the turner collection in the "old" tate. the national protrait museum is interesting, but maybe less so if you don't know so much about dead brits.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:49 AM on January 15, 2006

I second doing a visit to Highgate Cemetary (or maybe Kensal Green Cemetary?) Both do guided tours which are worth going on. Even though you say you don't like shopping, a visit to Borough Market would be a treat for one Saturday lunchtime - lots of interesting and delicious food samples to try.
It might also be worthwhile taking a walk along the banks of the Thames: how about taking the tube out to Richmond, walking along the river to Kew Gardens (paying a visit to see the place) before heading back into town from there?
posted by jonesor at 4:49 AM on January 15, 2006

Depending on day of the week, you can go to a trial, and watch people in gowns and wigs refer to one another as "my learned opponent." Whatever your hobby or work specialty, you could probably write ahead and get a visit to a related facility and have a really interesting time.

London is great for walking. Take a historic or architectural walking tour.
posted by theora55 at 6:52 AM on January 15, 2006

I have used Walking London by Andrew Duncan. All the walks have a lot of history in them ("If you look down the alley to your left you will see a mulberry tree said to have been planted by Queen Elizabeth I when she was 14"). My favorite walk is from Kew to Hammersmith along the Thames. It's way off the beaten path for tourists, but beautiful and fascinating.

There is also a walk which begins in Highgate and ends in Hampstead.

Trust me, you should get that book!

(However if I only had one day I would go to the Tate Modern)
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2006

Just a note on the Andrew Duncan recommendation. I have one of his books ("Andrew Duncan's Favorite London Walks") and, while it's very good, it takes a different approach from the Henry Holt Londonwalks book that I always recommend.

Duncan's walks (at least in the book I have) take you through some really pretty and interesting areas, but he'll have you walk for two or three blocks, and then he'll point out one or two interesting facts, and then he'll have you walk a few more blocks before he next points something out.

LondonWalks, by contrast, is almost obsessively detailed; it will point out a several interesting small facts for each block, and then every few blocks, it will go into tremendous detail about one particular site.

Each approach his its strengths and weaknesses. The advantage of the LondonWalks approach is that you really feel like you've learned a huge amount about the area you've walked through. The disadvantage is that you spend as much time reading as you do walking--and perhaps on a cold day, this disadvantage will seem even greater!

The advantage of the Andrew Duncan approach is that it lets him have a far wider variety of walks in each book--since each walk requires less text, he can fit a lot more of them in.

They're both great books, but they'll give you slightly different experiences. Obsessive trivia buff that I am, I tend to prefer the Henry Holt approach, but of course your kilometrage may vary...
posted by yankeefog at 11:01 AM on January 15, 2006

I nth the Museum of London (great for local archaeology), and the Highgate cemetery (especially the catacombs). Also going to a football game -- as noted, it makes North American spectator sports seem incredibly passive. If you can't get into one of the big clubs like Arsenal (reccomended), Chelsea or Tottenham, then you should have bbetter luck with a smaller club like West Ham or Millwall.

The Museum of Childhood is closed until August but is fun and nostalgic. There is also the Freud Museum

There are some good waterside pubs and historic shipping attractions on the Isle of Dogs. Also consider going to view the incredible Thames flood barriers

Two of my favorite pubs are the Lamb and Flag in Covent garden and the Narrow Boat on the Regent's canal, near the Angel (also near the Angel, Camden Passage has a flea market and good antique shops)
posted by Rumple at 11:10 AM on January 15, 2006

Also, it is very easy to daytrip somewhere like Portsmout (70 minutes direct on train), and see the Victory or Winchester (55 minutes) and see the cathedral and do the bookshops. That way you also get the chance to see some countryside, etc. Other places within an hour of London include Oxford, Cambridge, and Brighton.
posted by Rumple at 11:13 AM on January 15, 2006

If you're there on a Saturday or Sunday, go see a football match.

That's a GREAT idea right there! Museums can be kind of stuffy.
posted by frogan at 1:41 PM on January 15, 2006

You might want to save this for the Spring, but Kew Gardens is absolutely gorgeous. While you're out there, stop for tea at the Maids of Honour and have some of their signature pastries.
posted by MsMolly at 2:33 PM on January 15, 2006

I love Pollock's Toy Museum in Bloomsbury -- hundreds of years worth of toy collections stuffed into the teetering rooms of an 18th century house. Call ahead, though, if you're interested -- they've been having problems with the lease in recent years, I believe, though they were still open when I was there in October.
posted by scody at 2:33 PM on January 15, 2006

If you like older art, esp. 18th-c French stuff, the Wallace Collection is your friend. It is also one of London's quietest museums.

If you're there during the week, I'd definitely try strolling through 'legal London': the gates to the Inns of Court are open. And that brings you near the Soane house, which truly is amazing.

Eltham Palace is also interesting from a historical perspective, though out of the way.

then you should have bbetter luck with a smaller club like West Ham or Millwall.

Hmm. I'd lean towards Charlton or Fulham, both of which are slightly more welcoming to non-regulars. Fulham's easy to reach on the Tube, as well.
posted by holgate at 4:17 PM on January 15, 2006

In the warmer weather you might want to check the Chelsea Physic Garden.
It's such a peaceful and fragrant place. They have tea and refreshments, lots of benches and you can walk about at whim.
posted by clon7 at 2:31 PM on January 16, 2006

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