If you missed the past couple of posts and are looking for itinerary ideas for you first (or next) trip to London you’ll want to hop to either day one where I shared ideas for the City & East London or day two with ideas in the Westminster and Southbank area.
Today is the third and final day and we’re headed out on …
Day 3: A Royal Day Out
10:00 AM | Buckingham Palace
In 1761, King George III bought Buckingham Palace, and in 1828 King George IV asked architect John Nash (of Bath, UK fame) to make it into a palace. Did he ever do an amazing job. It is stunning. Even though it wasn’t quite finished in 1837 when Victoria became queen, she moved in anyway and it has been the official London residence of the monarch ever since. It’s really quite modern, relatively speaking, in terms of palaces and castles and very much worth a visit.
With lots of gilding, gorgeous chandeliers, Old Master paintings, and furniture and porcelain from the Royal Collection, all set on an understated palate of yellows and creams to match Queen Elizabeth II’ s mild tastes, you’ll have a hard time knowing which way to turn next and which detail to examine. Take your time to take it all in because, unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take any photos inside and it is a one-way stroll through the palace.
Although there are 775 rooms (that’s insane!), only 19 of them – the State Rooms– are open to the public each August and September (sometimes a little later in to the season so double check their website) when the Queen is away for her summer holiday. Because of the limited availability I highly recommend purchasing your tickets well in advance to ensure you’ll be able to get one. Even the tickets are posh and could easily be a souvenir of your visit themselves.
The tickets are timed and they have a well organized system at the Palace to get people in their timed group, through security screening, and pick up the audio guide as quickly as possible. You will definitely want to get the audio guide (it’s included in the ticket price) as it is a wealth of information about the rooms you’ll visit and the artifacts within them.
A few of the State Rooms visited on the tour are the Picture Gallery, Ballroom (which both times I’ve been has had a different temporary exhibit), Music Room, the White Drawing Room, and …the Throne Room. If you are at all into the Royal Family like I am I think you’ll have one of those ‘pinch me’ moments when you enter the Throne Room, the site of so many famous wedding portraits over the years. When you are finished the tour inside you’ll be guided out into the gardens to follow the path that leads back to the streets of London.
Save Time and Money:
- Because the tickets are timed there isn’t any need to show up and wait in line for a long time before your tour. When you arrive, check with the person monitoring the head of the queue to see if it is time for your group to enter. If it is, they will let you in, but if a few minutes early you can join the queue and you’ll be let in promptly.
- Buckingham Palace is not available for savings on either the London Pass nor the 2For1 offers through National Rail. If you are interested in the Royal Family and want to visit the palace don’t let the price deter you. I think you’ll find it is well worth the admission price. It is very well organised and a first-rate attraction in London.
12:00 PM | Picnic Lunch in St. James’s Park
Founded as a deer park for the Royals living at St. James’s Palace, the park was also remodeled by James Nash at the request of George IV. The central lake is home to many species of waterfowl including pelicans!
There are concerts in the summer, it has fantastic views of Buckingham Palace to take photos, and it is a wonderfully peaceful place for a picnic lunch. If you didn’t bring a picnic lunch there is a good little pub nearby where you can order some lunch to have in the park.
To find this pub go to the edge of the park to cross Birdcage Walk and head straight on Queen Anne’s Gate until you come to a pub called The Old Star on the corner of Queen Anne’s Gate and Broadway. At the pub you’ll find lots of items to choose from (just ask if you can take it out). I recommend their sliders and fries- four little burgers and a small order of fries. If you add another side of fries it’ll likely be enough for two for lunch. While you wait for your lunch to cook you can take advantage of the free Wifi to post some on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. that you’re dying to share with everyone back home.
Once you’ve got your lunch head straight back to the spot under the tree you’ve already picked out and just enjoy a few quiet moments and a picnic you’ll remember for quite some time. Lay back after lunch on the grass, look up toward the sky, and just daydream. Does lunch get any better than this?
1:00 PM | Walk Around St. James’ Park to See Lots of Sights
After a rest and lunch it is time to head out for a walk around the park to see lots of great sights. You can really start anywhere you like that is close to where you chose your picnic spot but for the sake of guiding you around the park I’ll start at the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace as it is hard to miss.
The Victoria Memorial was dedicated in 1911 by George V and his cousin Wilhelm II of Germany, the two senior grandsons of Queen Victoria. The memorial has a large statue of Queen Victoria facing north-east, a bronze statue of the Angel of Justice facing north-west, the Angel of Truth facing south-east, and Charity facing the Palace.
From here head south towards Birdcage Walk, turn left onto that street and walk along. Along your walk you’ll pass the Guard’s Museum which is a military museum located in Wellington Barracks, home to the five regiments of Foot Guards. The museum is fairly new, only having been open since 1988, but it gives the history of the regiments from the 17th century to present day. A recent addition to it in 2014 is the Flanders Field 1914-2014 Memorial Garden that honours all those who fought and died in the Great War, along with being a symbol of hope and a better future for all. Designed by a Belgian architect, Piet Blanckaert, one of the most special things about this garden is that it was created with soil from the Flanders Fields battlefield cemeteries.
At Horse Guards Road turn left again and you’ll walk along in front of Her Majesty’s Treasury, which houses the Churchill War Rooms in the same building. This underground bunker is where Sir Winston Churchill and his cabinet directed military operations during World War II and is very worth a visit. Past this you’ll come to the Horse Guards Parade which, once an old palace’s jousting yard, is now the site used for ceremonies such as the Trooping the Colour to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.
At the Mall you can take a right for a quick pop up that street to Admiralty Arch and then turn around to head down the Mall, past the Institute of Contemporary Arts to Marlborough Road where you will take a right. At this point you’ll be leaving the perimeter of the park to start making your way toward Fortnum and Mason.
Walk along in front of St. James’s Palace, take a left then a quick right on to St. James’s Street to walk the few blocks to Piccadilly Street. At Piccadilly Street turn right and you’ll find Fortnum and Mason on your right a little walk up the street.
2:30 PM | Shopping and Afternoon Tea at Fortnum and Mason
Sipping afternoon tea while nibbling on scones with clotted cream and jam (raspberry is the best!) is a quintessential British experience that I’d highly recommend while in the city. There are lots of places you can enjoy a cream tea (Patisserie Valerie is good- but busy- if you’re out and about) but if you’d like a more posh experience then Fortnum and Mason is a great option.
Established in 1707, many would deem it the finest grocery story in the Mayfair neighborhood (the Queen even stocks her pantry from here) with wines produced only for Fortnum’s, their own colony of bees on the rooftop to make their signature honey, and over 100 types of tea available. Yes it’s a bit expensive, but what a treat to roam through and find the perfect little edible souvenir to take home. We’ve visited as part of a chocolate tour and you could easily while away a half hour browsing and tasting their truffles and other sweet treats.
On the hour take a few minutes to pop outside to see the famous Fortnum’s clock, with bells from the same foundry as Big Ben. The bells play every fifteen minutes but on the hour you’ll also see Fortnum and Mason figures come out to check that all is well.
4:00 PM | Leicester Square for Theatre Tickets and Pre-Theatre Dinner
Leicester (pronounced like “Lester”) Square is the place to go if you want to catch a glimpse of your favourite stars at a premier for their new movie. There are many theatres around the square- like the Empire that was once a Victorian music hall and now houses several movie theatres and the MTV UK studios. It’s also a pedestrianised area that is buzzing with activity every day with people just out and about, checking out the handprints of movie stars on the sidewalks, or looking to buy tickets to a show for the evening.
After you’ve picked up your tickets and strolled around the area doing lots of people watching, you may want to get some pre-theatre drinks or dinner. Right in the area is Browns Brasserie & Bar which would be a great place to do either, or both! I’d recommend one of their classics- cod and chips. Delicious and so very British.
- For discounted tickets on same-day theatre seats visit TKTS which is the official London theatre ticket booth. There can be several other booths in the area so it’s good to check out their website to see exactly what their booth looks like to avoid any issues.
7:30 PM | Evening at the Theatre
There really are no end to the shows you can see in London and there is bound to be something to suit everyone’s taste. Musicals, dramas, family friendly, comedy, and the quirky and off-beat- you’re sure to find a show that you’ll love to top off your visit to London. London Theatre offers tons of information on what’s playing and reviews of the shows. If you’re hoping to score discounted tickets at TKTS it would be a good idea to have a few options in mind, just in case your first choice is sold out.
Website: London Theatre
So what do you think? In the past three posts we’ve visited great architecture, royal fun and tradition, iconic landmarks, beautiful places of worship, great views, parks just made for strolling, and all that history that London is known for. Are you itching to visit London yet? I know I’m ready to head back.
Please feel free to click and save this map as it marks all the spots on the itinerary. Green Pins are for Day 1, Blue Pins are Day 2, Pink Pins are for Day 3 and the Black Pins are transportation options.
Have more than three days to visit the London area and want to head out of the city?
Here are two fun options to try:
Next week I’ll be digging a little deeper into London with lots of ideas for free things to see and do- including many sights and attractions that even multi-time visitors to London may not have visited or even heard of! I’m convinced there is no end to the fun that can be had in London and I’m making it my mission to share as much as I can with you.
This post is part of my London Love series.
For more information on common (and some not so common) sights in London, as well as itineraries to help you plan your time, please visit my growing collection of posts in London Love.