Trip Report: A day of sightseeing in London


Amazingly enough this was my first time in London. I’ve flown through Heathrow many times and have technically visited the UK by going through customs instead of transferring terminals, but this was my first real visit. London was always one of those cities I assumed I would see anyway, so I guess my reasoning was something like “why ‘waste’ a trip there when I could go to places I otherwise might not visit, like New Zealand or Vietnam” (both of which I love). Of course this trip presented the perfect opportunity.

Beyond that, I’m not sure why, but my expectations weren’t that high for London. I always assumed London and New York were alike, and I’m not really a fan of New York (despite having been born there). I know almost everyone will disagree (everyone seems to love New York), but New York just ain’t that great, in my book. It’s nice to visit once in a while, but I’d never want to move back there permanently. Anyway, I’m starting to get off on a tangent, so let’s get back to London.

What can really be said? Holy cow, what a city! My perception couldn’t have been any further off. It’s easily one of the coolest major cities, and I’m already looking forward to returning. London is a combination of a bustling metropolis, a laid back city, and Disney World (based on the number of landmarks virtually everyone will recognize). It ranks up there with Hong Kong, which is currently at the top of my list for major cities.

The first thing to note is that the weather was incredible. Absolutely the nicest weather I’ve experienced in well over a year. It was sunny for most of my stay, and more importantly, it was that temperature where you don’t feel hot or cold. Simply perfect.

I didn’t get to do a whole lot the first day (between taking a nap upon arrival, taking care of some work I had to finish, going to the gym, and dinner, the day was basically over), but the second day I was exploring London from morning till evening.

Now, I should have probably taken a tour on one of those buses, but when I’m traveling alone and don’t have a lot of time, I prefer to just wander with a map and see how far I go. I realize my method doesn’t get me all the facts, figures, and statistics I could possibly want about a city, but I do find that it gives me a good overview of the city, the people, and most importantly, the vibe. When I left the InterContinental that morning at around 8AM, the only thing set in stone was that I was meeting a friend for lunch at 12:30PM.

So with a map in hand I started my stroll. While I’m no London expert, I love the location of the InterContinental. It’s near Hyde Park, Green Park, and St. James’ Park, which is how I started my walk. It’s great to be able to start a day of sightseeing with fresh air and falling leaves (especially as a Floridian). While New York might have Central Park, it can’t compare to this, in my opinion.

Ah, leaves….

The next stop was Buckingham Palace, which was on my way to the Thames River. While I was expecting lots of cops, there was some special event going on. It involved “Delhi 2010,” although I’m not sure what exactly the purpose of the ceremony was. I stopped for a few minutes to watch the guy on the big screen talking, which was rather painful to watch. There was some sort of delay issue, and he kept saying that they were talking into his ear, so they took at least a few (dozen) takes.

Buckingham Palace

Yes, I’m a tourist, and yes, I had to take a picture…. get over it 😉

I then continued my walk past Westminster Abbey, Westminster Hall, and of course Big Ben, which brought me up to the Thames.

Westminster Abbey

Big Ben and the London Eye

Big Ben and Westminster Hall from the Thames

I crossed Westminster Bridge and walked along the river towards the London Eye. My plan was to do as much walking as possible before lunch, so I was going to come back and take a ride on the London Eye after lunch (since this was close to where I was going to meet my friend for lunch).

I continued walking along the Thames towards Southwark, where I crossed the bridge to the other side. At this point the London Bridge was in sight, so my goal was to make it all the way down there before lunch.

London Bridge in the distance

Of course I got distracted on the way by what I believe is called “The Gherkin,” which I had seen pictures of but knew nothing about. I felt like I had to navigate a maze to get there as I took at least a dozen side streets, but I did eventually make it. I even walked by the Salvation Army headquarters. One thing I noticed in London is how many office buildings have offices on the first floors without blinds, so you can see the person sitting at their desk, or in many cases a meeting room filled with people.

The Gherkin

After that I walked towards the London Bridge. Since I was meeting my friend Lewis for lunch at 12:30PM, I didn’t quite make it all the way, as I wanted to leave plenty of time to get back in time. I got pretty close, though.

London Bridge

Lewis suggested a traditional British restaurant where we had — you guessed it — fish and chips! While my diet might not approve (I think I’ve worked it off in the meantime), it was delicious. He insisted we go for the brownie sundae dessert. Again, not diet approved, but excellent. 😉

In addition to discussing everything miles, points, and flying, Lewis was able to provide some suggestions for what to do in the afternoon.

Fish and chips

Brownie sundae

The first thing he suggested was taking one of the “duck tours,” which are those fancy driving boat things. We went to the “duck tour” office, but they were sold out for the day. Next he suggested the London Eye, but the line was quite long, so I passed (no, it had nothing to do with my fear of heights when there are no wings involved). 😉

Anyway, many thanks for lunch and all the tips, Lewis!

At this point it was just a ridiculously beautiful afternoon. I think the picture below speaks for itself.


I decided to cross the River and headed towards Trafalgar Square. On my way I took just about every turn possible, so it was about an hour before I made it there. I stayed there for a while and just observed, as it is an interesting place for people watching.

Trafalgar Square

After a bit more walking I found myself approaching the parks again, which were beautiful as the sun slowly began to set. I decided to head back to the hotel for the time being (it was around 5PM).

St. James’ Park maybe?

Later in the evening I headed back out to see Big Ben by night, which was incredible. Now that I’m looking at the map I’d say I walked around 10 miles or so. The above is only the highlights, mainly because there are many areas I walked through that I can’t identify every detail of.

Despite only having a full day in London, I think I did a pretty good job of maximizing my time. London is an incredible city. There’s no description I can give that would do it justice, other than to say that I can’t wait to return.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. +1 on the disinterest in New York. Having lived in London, I appreciate it for its vast diversity and amazing-ness.

  2. Oh and I forgot to add that you saw London the best way possible, by foot/public transport. It’s such an an accessible city that way you can get anywhere quickly & easily.

    When I lived there I’d take weekday/weekend walks with friends or by myself. We’d grab out A-Zed (map), pick a point and figure out how to get there. It was a great way to see the city.

  3. Dehli 2010 is a reference to the upcoming Commonwealth Games – I think they were preparing for the start of the Baton Relay (like the Olympic Torch Relay)

    Glad you enjoyed London Lucky – I was coming back into LHR that day – lets just say I wasn’t the most happiest person in the world cooped up in Row 99 of a UA7777 😉

    Next time come back – and we’ll try and arrange for Pam Ann to be available that day 😉

  4. This is an interesting post for me to read because I moved to London a little over two years ago and I absolutely HATE it here. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that I was back living in San Francisco (my favorite city in the world, with HK as a relatively close second).

    Your picture of the red telephone booth was taken literally across the street from my office! And I pass by that spot in St. James Park and walk through Trafalgar Square every day on my walk home from work.

    Also funny is that your friend’s suggestions on what to do in London are actually two of the things that I commonly use as examples of why I hate it here. I think those duck tour boat/cars look completely ridiculous as they drive around town here (and not even original! so many cities are using them now). And I think ferris wheels in cities just look silly – why would you try to take a dignified city and add something straight out of an amusement park?

    I’m not trying to offend anyone that feels differently. Different people like different things! That’s OK! We are all unique individual snowflakes! And I whole-heartedly admit that London is a nice place to visit – Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, British Museum, Camden Market, Hyde Park, and the sunset over the Thames are all nice to experience at least once. But the only nice thing I can really say about living here, is how easy and cheap London is to get out of.

    Also, you really lucked out with the weather. Try coming back on one of the roughly 250 days a year when the sky is overcast and drab and gray. (Which means that it matches all the buildings.) It’s depressing. Especially in January when the sun sets at 3:30pm….

    [OK, sorry for the rant. I just REALLY hate it here…]

  5. Re: alternate names for the Gherkin, one other — and its official name, at that — is the Swiss Re building, after the re-insurance company.

  6. You’re on a diet? While in London? Are you crazy! You don’t need a diet!

    Enjoying your trip report as always!

  7. Those are some great pictures. Makes me want to go! I have not yet been to London, but have spend some time in Germany and France. My last trip to France included Toulon and Nice. Th Mediterranean is so crystal blue!

  8. Great trip report! Yeah, the London Bridge/Tower Bridge thing is confusing to first time tourists. There actually is a London Bridge that crosses the Thames, but it is completely unremarkable. They should just go ahead and rename the Tower Bridge … except Londoners love correcting people about it. 😉

  9. Uniter, the London Bridge isn’t complete unremarkable, it does have one redemming factor for it… its about the best place to take a picture of Tower Bridge 🙂

    If you really want to blow a diet, have the English Breakfast. Hashbrowns, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, toast, fried bread, fried egg(s), sausage, back bacon, etc (most won’t include all of that but will include at least most). I’m visiting long-term and have it about once a month. Truly heart-stopping!

    Agreed about the weather, you definitely picked a good day. I do enjoy the temperature as I generally prefer cooler climes to hotter ones, but the gloominess and rain that is so often prevalent can get to you after a bit.

    Glad you enjoyed London! I’ve been having a blast in the city as well!

  10. Fun fact: some american bought the 1800s tower bridge, only he called it london bridge, and got, you guessed it, London Bridge!

    My beefeater at the Tower was quite pushy in telling us, that it was Tower bridge, not london bridge!

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