When my dad and I first booked my plane ticket to England, I wasn’t expecting to be doing anything my first weekend there besides spending time with my grandparents and sleeping away my jetlag. After all, I would be arriving mid-December, so I was expecting it to be freezing cold with lots of snow. You know, like one of those Christmas TV specials. Beautiful, but not exactly the kind of weather you’d want to go out in.
(Ironically it never snowed while I was there.)
On top of never getting any snow, something else unexpected happened during my trip: a coach trip to London! When I found out that my grandmother had booked this trip for my aunt and I, I was absolutely ecstatic. I mean, London in Christmastime?! Could there be anything better than that?!
However, the trip would be very short, and I would have less than 24 hours in London to see and experience as much as I could. So even though I didn’t get to see/do everything on my bucket list, touring such a large and famous city under such a small time restriction (especially in the Christmas crowds) taught me a lot about how to do as much as possible in the little time I had! This is what I learned:
1) Know Your Starting and Ending Point
No matter which method of transportation you are using to get to London, the best way to plan your route through the city is to know your starting and ending points. Planning a route of all the things you want to do and see between these two points will help save you time and prevent having to backtrack!
The best way to plan your route? Grab a map, circle everything you want to do on it, and then plan your route between all of those places. This was one of the first things we did once arriving at our hotel, especially since we would only have 6 hours to explore the city the next day. (We arrived in the early evening on the first day, and spent it at the Christmas market in Hyde Park.) Having a route planned was extremely helpful in figuring out which landmarks we wanted to see on our trip. Since we would only have about 6 hours to actually tour the city, we found this to be extremely helpful in planning our trip.
2) Have a Schedule…
Since we were on a coach (a.k.a bus) trip, we had a specific time that we would be dropped off and picked up in London. On our first day, we were dropped off in London at 7 pm and picked up at 10:30 pm (so we visited the Christmas festival in Hyde Park), and on the second day we were dropped off at 10:30 am and picked up at 4:30 pm. Because of these times, we knew we had a certain schedule that we had to work around, and we took that into consideration when touring the city.
Our first stop was King’s Cross Station to see Platform 9 ¾, especially since I grew up reading the Harry Potter series (Go Hufflepuff!) and there’s a gift shop and photo opportunity there. However, the line for the picture was 2+ hours long, which would take up about a third of our day in London…just for a picture! Plus, it would sacrifice many of the other places we wanted to see. Because of this, we just couldn’t stick around for the photo opportunity.
(When my sister visited in March, the line was only 30 minutes long.)
In the end, it’s just a matter of how much time you’re willing to sacrifice for each thing you want to do.
Even if you’re not on a coach trip, you may still have to stick with a specific schedule. You may have to arrive back to your car by a certain time, or you may have to catch a train. That all has to be taken into consideration when making your schedule.
3) …But don’t have the schedule be too stiff
London is an amazing city with beauty around every corner, and if you’re too focused on touring a specific location or going somewhere, you may miss a valuable opportunity.
For example, on our way from Buckingham Palace to Trifalgar Square, my aunt and I stumbled upon some pretty cool monuments and streets that made for some great photo opportunities. But if we had focused on only seeing what was on our schedule, we would have missed out on a great opportunity!
4) Travel by the London Underground
I’ve been to some pretty big cities before (I’m looking at you NYC), but I’ve never seen a city that was as busy as London. Maybe it was the Christmas crowds, or maybe that’s just how London is all the time, but my aunt and I wouldn’t even think about taking a cab from one destination to another. Talk about traffic! Instead, we went for the faster, cheaper option that let us arrive places within mere minutes: the London Underground.
This is by far the best way to travel around London, especially when you’re there for under 24 hours. When we went (December 2017), an adult pass cost just £12.50 each, and we could ride the subway as much as we wanted to throughout the day. With all of the traffic happening above ground, it was by far the fastest way to get around the city, and the system was very easy to understand.
(If you want some amazing tips for the Tube, just check out Caitlyn’s post here!)
5) Take Snacks/Drinks
Everything in London is much more expensive, and the lines to buy food are so much longer. Although I did buy some drinks and snacks while I was there (I’m pretty sure hot chocolate is 1000x better in Europe), it’s good to take a water bottle and a few light snacks with you in case you get hungry throughout the day. Taking these with you also means that you won’t have to stop as much throughout the day, which can save you a lot of time and money throughout the day!
6) Prepare for Crowds
Like I said before: I’ve been to big cities: New York City, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C….the list goes on and on. But never before have I seen a city as busy as London. The traffic was an absolute nightmare, and there were lines and crowds for everything. It probably didn’t make it any easier for us visiting in the middle of December, the peak of holiday shopping.
That being said, be prepared for a lot of crowds, and take that into consideration when scheduling your day around London. Even something that would usually have a little-to-no wait at home, like ordering food at a fast food restaurant or waiting for the restroom, can take 10x longer in London.
7) Buy tickets ahead of time
If you plan on doing anything that will require a ticket, I highly suggest you book it ahead of time. We spent our first day in London at the Christmas festival in Hyde Park, and purchasing our tickets ahead of time for the Magical Ice Kingdom made a world of difference getting in. (And I mean the difference between walking right up to the gate or waiting in a line that looked 1-2 hours long.) Buying a ticket ahead of time might also score you a cheaper price, which is an extra bonus.
Related Post: Exploring Castle Ruins in England
What We Accomplished in Less than 24 Hours in London
Remember, my aunt and I only had a total of 9 ½ hours in London, and we went during the extremely busy Christmas season. But by following these tips, this is everything we were able to accomplish:
- Christmas festival at Hyde Park (3 ½ hours)
- Travel the London Underground
- Visit Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station
- Visit Trafalgar Square
- See Buckingham Palace
- Walk through Green park
- Shop at Harrods
- Eat at Café Nerro (and at one other place I can’t remember the name of)
- See the Marble Arch
- Shop at stereotypical tourist shops (Don’t judge me 😉 )
However, this list only covers what we stopped by! We walked by embassies (I was just feet away from being in Canada), got a tour of London from our coach driver as we drove into the city, saw the London eye, and so much more. Without a doubt, I cannot wait to visit London again. So to help both you and me on our future London trips, I have gathered some blog posts from some amazing bloggers:
- How to Navigate London’s Underground – College with Caitlyn
- Top 10 Things You Must Do in London, England – A Wanderer’s Adventures
- 48 Hours in London: The Ultimate Guide to the City – Living in Full Bloom
- Travel with Hannah: London Part I – Gabby in the City
- A Week in London at Christmas: Sites and Advice – Espresso and Ambition
- London Travel Guide: My Trip, Travel Tips & Favorite Places to Visit – Eyeliner Wings and Pretty Things