Travel Diary: London Tour

I've lived in London for 10 years this year.  That's kind of huge - I spent all of my teens wanting to live here and I've only gone and lived here for 10 whole years without really stopping to process because who has time to do that when you live in London. I take so much of this city for granted - between rushing to work and sleeping all weekend I tend to find every now and then I am standing somewhere I dreamed about escaping to as a teenager and suddenly realise - I live in London. I'm an actual Londoner.

My parents are coming over in a few weeks and I'll be spending 10 days in full tourist mode - something I have not once done since I moved here. Sure I've taken time to pop to the Tower of London when I've had a friend in town, I spend most of my weekends in one museum or another but I've never spent time walking around the city with the kind of wide-eyed awe I expect to experience with my family - my Dad who has never really experienced a city like London before, and my teenage brother who has never been outside of New Zealand - I cannot imagine how bizarre this is going to be, for both them and myself.

Have you ever tried to plan 10 days in London before for your family? Its a nightmare. I made a spreadsheet - its quite glorious, but of course, Dad doesn't care about "old pieces of art" or going to see any plays (actually I'm not sure exactly what he wants to get out of London as a city I guess we'll go to a city farm and leave him there) and my Mum wants to do absolutely everything. My brother just wants to go to Harry Potter Studios and buy some form of hat young people are wearing these days (a "snap back?"). Here are some of the things we have planned, which I wanted to share because... well I'm quite looking forward to it.
The first thing on the agenda is blatantly a day in Greenwich. The great thing about Greenwich is there is lots of good things there, and there are 2 fun methods of transport that take you there - you can get the DLR there, thus experiencing the novel "I'm driving the train!" sensation of the DLR - and a boat back up the river (no trip to LDN is complete without a trip up the river.) This exact plan is actually a replica of my very first full day in London 11 years ago and I've never forgotten it.
Here is how to really do Greenwich. Get off at Mudchute, and go and pat the animals at the city farm. There are goats - you'd be mad not to. Then, walk along to Island Gardens where you get a good view of the Naval College in all of its glory. And you get to walk through a terrifying tunnel to get to the other side of the river. Once there, commence enjoyment on-board the Cutty Sark, then head to the Pie & Mash shop for lunch on your way to the Naval College where you will take in the Painted Hall and Chapel (both delightful) and stand in this one magical spot where you can hear everyone in the music college practicing their instruments which is one of my favourite secret places in London. Then obviously you have to visit the Queen's House and Maritime Museum, walk up the hill and go "ooh city" at the view before enjoying hopping from one side to the other of this line on the ground in the Observatory going MEAN TIME, NOT MEAN TIME, MEAN TIME, NOT MEAN TIME.

Greenwich really is my favourite place. Can you tell? A whole day of fun.
South Kensington. So many museums! I recommend starting early in the V&A (not to miss - the wedding dress exhibition they have at the moment) because that place is magical when you get there before anyone else and feel like you have the place to yourself. Then of course there is the Natural History Museum ( also not to miss - the mammoth exhibition which has just opened) and then the Science Museum (which shock horror I think I have only ever been to once in 10 years because I always run out of time at the first two).
My Dad really wants to spend a lot of time "hanging out in parks" - which is a bit baffling to me given that it essentially is what he does full time at home. On the list of parks I have - Hampstead Heath - blatantly going to lose a day up there wandering the wilderness, followed by a few jars at The Spaniards; St James's Park - because I made the mistake of telling Dad that the pelicans there eat pigeons so he wants to go and watch it "in action"; Richmond Park "because there are deer there" so why not. The basic theme is "lots of parks which are a bit different to each other" I think. All of them are good as well so its fine.
Hampton Court Palace is an absolute must see. We'll probably give the maze a miss (no one likes maze rage) but you can lose a whole glorious day wandering the palace and gardens and you absolutely should.
While we are out west there is also of course Kew Gardens & Kew Palace, the perfect spot for a wander and a picnic.
In Bloomsbury we have the British Museum of course, which has an excellent Vikings exhibition on until the end of June. St Paul's is within walking distance - I'm super excited to finally have an excuse to hit this up (shockingly I've been able to see it from my desk at work since October but have never been inside - for shame Dianne Tanner, for shame.)
Obviously there is loads to do in Central London. I plan to dump my Dad at St James' Park via Buckingham Palace for a spot of aforementioned pelican watching, and take Mum to both the National and National Portrait Galleries, maybe having a cheeky apricot beer in the Chandos, then picking Dad back up and wandering down to the river to look at the Houses of Parliament (lots of looking at things from the outside and going "ooohh thats old isn't it") then popping into Westminster Abbey, a beautiful hall of tranquility that I haven't been to in many years but love love love.
I really love London Zoo. I think its a great way to spend the day (and they have a baby sloth now,) followed by a meander around Regent's Park and up to Primrose Hill to get a view of the city.
Let's talk markets. There are so many in London I never know where to start. Portobello and Spitalfields are the two that have made it onto my spreadsheet for parental visits, mostly because my Mum loves tat. Borough Market absolutely must get a mention and some time on the schedule, if only for the amazing toasted sandwiches (you know the ones I mean - and if you do not, you have not lived). Also then there is a walk along the river, maybe the Tate Modern, a stop at that pub whose name I can never remember next to the Golden Hind.
Phew. Do you see? There is so much to do. I'm not sure we're going to fit all of this into 10 days. There is also the Tower of London, and the Namco Centre (we are tourisiting with a teenage boy after all, and the Trocadero shut down), and the Transport Museum, and then there are day trips out of London to Hastings or Brighton or Woburn Safari Park. And lunches at fun places like Duck and Waffle and things we don't really want to do like the London Eye... and all the good ye olde pubs and secret quiet places...

Why don't I do any of these things any other time? London you are awesome and I'm looking forward to spending 2 weeks exploring you.

Have I missed anything?! Let me know in the comments below, or on twitter!


  1. Great post! Thank you for all these tips, I'll definitely bookmark this for my next travel to London. I can understand what you mean when you say you feel like you never really are going wide-eyed, touristically through London. I live in Berlin now for 10 years, also a city I yearned for in my teens. And I also always feel like I have to make more out of it, if you know what I mean. What I always love doing in London is a long walk from the National Theatre (through the Graffity Spot at the Themse, you know?), ending at the Tate Modern Cafè, from where you have a wonderful view across the Themse to St. Pauls.

    PS: I loved the story about your Dad, the parks and the Pelicans :-D

    1. OH thats such a good idea, totally going to go to the Tate then. My parents aren't really into art, so I hadn't put it on the list.

      Also, I love Berlin!!! I have wanted to go back for so long.

  2. The Royal Naval College looked so much nicer before those damn aliens came and blew it up.

  3. Replies
    1. THANKS I was going to do one for Scotland as well but then emailed it to you instead.

  4. You're a better Londoner than me, I haven't been to loads of these places. AND YOU NEVER LET ME GET MAZE RAGE!

  5. What a lovely post! Your family should be thrilled at all the effort you are going through to make sure they get the most out of this amazing city. I am ashamed to admit that in the 15 years I previously lived around London I never did anything like it for my visitors. By the way, if you plan to do the markets on a Sunday I also highly recommend Columbia Rd Flower Market, you no doubt know it. I've been going there for nearly 23 years and although it has become more commercial it has hardly changed in so many other ways. And thank you for the tips re Greenwich, my brother arrives tomorrow and I am meeting him in town where he wants to do 'something'. I've never really been to Greenwich so this might just be a great place for both of us to see. Enjoy your family's visit!