London is one of most popular destinations in Europe, luring travelers year round. Steeped in history, this enormous capital city has so much to offer with its world-class galleries, phenomenal shopping and an amazing culinary scene. The sheer size and scope of London can make it overwhelming to first time visitors — so here’s a roundup of what you can’t miss- even if you have only 48 hours to explore London.
Ten centuries ago, Benedictine Monks first came to the Westminster Abbey site and established a tradition of daily worship. It continues to this day as thousands of visitors and locals alike continue to attend the daily services or flock here to simply take in its beauty. This Gothic building has been the coronation church of the English Monarchy since 1066, and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs among other notable scientists, writers and artists. It houses a treasure of paintings, stained glass, textiles and artifacts and is open to the public from Monday to Saturday.
The British Museum is dedicated to human history, art and culture with a permanent collection numbering some 8 million works. It was established in 1753 and opened to the public in 1759 on the same site as the current building. Its expansion over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of the expanding British colonial footprint. The collection, one of the finest in existence, spans two million years of human history. The Museum is located in the Bloomsbury area of London and access is free, making it an essential pit-stop during your visit to London.
This beautifully-restored Leadenhall Market with its cobbled walkways has a history dating back to the fourteenth century although its iconic gallery was added much later in the nineteenth century. Today under the Victorian iron and glass roof there are stalls, restaurants and pubs full of locals enjoying a quick bite and a draft in the afternoon. The intriguing atmosphere and historic architecture makes this a popular film and photo shoot location — in fact part of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was shot here.
View from the Shard
‘The View from The Shard’ is spectacular. Made of high quality clear-blue glass and built to resemble the many church spires that dot the London skyline, the Shard structure houses bars, restaurants and even a luxurious hotel – the Shangri-La. The Shard was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, to reflect the sky, clouds and sunlight; on a sunny day, the building will ‘shimmer on the London skyline like a Shard of glass’.
The Coca-Cola London Eye
The Coca-Cola London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel sitting on the South Bank of the River Thames. The entire structure is 135 meters tall and currently boasts the title of Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel and, until recently, offered the highest public viewing of London until it was superseded by the observation deck on the 72nd floor of The Shard. One complete rotation takes 15 minutes and gives a lovely bird’s eye view of London in all directions.
Tower of London
High on most visitors’ lists is ‘Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress,’ more commonly known as the Tower of London. This historic castle is located on the north bank of the River Thames, a short jaunt from the iconic Tower Bridge. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and today it is home to the Crown Jewels of England. It was used as a prison during the 16th and 17th centuries and during the Tower tour you’ll be able to visit the torture chamber, complete with replicas of the original instruments and devices used to force confessions from prisoners like Guy Fawkes.
What better way to see a city than a walking tour? There are plenty in London, like the walk from Blackfriars to Borough Market. Starting on the north side of the Thames, you’ll see St. Paul’s Cathedral, and crossing Millennium Bridge you pass galleries like the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Finally, you’ll reach Borough Market where you can shop and eat at any of the incredible gourmet food stalls –a well deserved treat after all that walking! I recommend both Mind The Gap tours as well as the Alternative Tour of London for guided walks.
London is one of the world’s premier shopping destinations with thousands upon thousands of shops dotting streets all around the city. From fashion boutiques and the bustling markets of Camden, Portobello and Spitalfields, world famous department stores such as the iconic Harrods and Selfridges to the flagship retail stores on Oxford Street, Regent Street and Covent Garden
London is a shopaholics dream.
Harrods is a luxury department store located on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge. This store has 330 departments covering one million square feet of retail space, making it the largest department store in Europe. The Harrods motto is ‘All Things for All People, Everywhere.‘ Be sure to visit the seasonal Christmas department and you also can’t miss the remarkable Food Halls.
Selfridges — where the basement is chock-full of hip home accessories and practical kitchen equipment and the ground floor boasts over 9,000 square feet of luxury brands. However most shoppers make a beeline for Selfridges’ excellent fashion floors. They have edgy labels, smarter high street labels as well as mid- and high-end brands. This is the largest store on Oxford Street and an absolute Mecca for shoppers.
Liberty, on Regent Street in the West End, carries a wide range of luxury goods and is one of my favorite destinations for their beautiful bags, scarves and accessories adorned with their famous prints. The classic Liberty prints are timeless and make wonderful souvenirs from your trip to London.
Fortnum Mason is a unique and beautiful store right in the middle of Mayfair. It’s world-renowned as purveyors of fine foods, hampers, teas and wine. Aside from their comfortable ladies and men’s departments, it has five restaurants including an award-winning wine bar and a wonderful ice cream parlor.
Running from Trafalgar Square to St. Giles’ Circus (where it turns into Tottenham Court Road) is Charing Cross Road, where you will find yourself amongst a myriad of second-hand and new bookshops specializing in everything from titles on art to science fiction and crime dramas. Further down Charing Cross Road is Denmark Street, affectionately dubbed Tin Pan Alley, which is home to a number of music shops as well as the legendary concert venue the London Astoria.
About the Author: A consummate traveler from an early age, Parm Parmar lives to explore the world. Anything to do with history, culture and food peeks her interest. Her stories appear on her blog Planet Blue Adventure, in print and on popular online travel sites. Parm is a member of the North America Travel Journalists Association and Travel Massive.
More European travel inspiration from trivago magazine: