Should you happen to find yourself with some time to spend in London, here are a few things to see, do and experience . . . (see notes at the end for why these are in this order)
  1. * Covent Garden (the market and the district)
  2. * the Tube
  3. * walk the length of Regent Street
  4. * the marvelous Indian restaurants (I've a London friend who claims to be addicted to curry)
  5. * Westminster Abbey
  6. * The V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)
  7. * take a tube journey that starts or ends at Covent Garden tube station (you'll know why when you use the station)
  8. * Green Park
  9. * try to walk past the Maple Leaf Pub on Maiden Lane on July 1st (Canada's birthday)
  10. * the sense of history
  11. * Hyde Park
  12. * Speakers' Corner on a Sunday at 1pm (an opportunity to experience free speech in action)
  13. * the Science Museum
  14. * walk the full length of Shaftesbury Avenue
  15. * the Crown Jewels (figure out how to steal them and (for lots of bonus points) test your theory and let me know how it turns out)
  16. * Admiralty Arch
  17. * the pie shop in Greenwich (it's on your right as you exit the Cutty Sark DLR station via the entrance towards the Cutty Sark)
  18. * spend a few hours people watching (try one or more of Covent Garden market, Kensington, Soho, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, Leicester Square, anywhere near Bank station at around noon on a business day, Waterloo Station, Kings Cross Station (including the surrounding area (which is a bit seedy in places)), Heathrow (any terminal), etc)
  19. * the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben's tower (bonus points: strike up a conversation with a security guard and end up getting a half hour behind the scenes tour of the Palace)
  20. * the statue of Raoul Wallenberg just north of Marble Arch tube station
  21. * Paddington Station (make sure you check out the statue of Paddington Bear)
  22. * Saint Martin in the Fields
  23. * a concert at Saint Martin in the Fields
  24. * Cleopatra's Needle (check out the bullet damage dating back to the Second World War)
  25. * The British Museum and check out many fascinating exhibits like the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, Reading Room, the old clocks (room 44), the Egyptian area and the totem pole in one of the stairwells
  26. * the statue of a ballerina in Broad Court (near Covent Garden)
  27. * The City of London Museum
  28. * walk from Old Street tube station to Liverpool Street station (do it a few times and take a different route focusing on the narrower streets each time)
  29. * the walking stick and umbrella shop in Holborn (I think that it's on the corner of Drury Lane and High Holborn but I might be off by a block or three)
  30. * Harrods
  31. * the antique book and print shops on the side streets connecting Charing Cross Road and St. Martin's Lane (the Internet including, in particular, eBay have pretty much killed these shops off)
  32. * the statues along Embankment (road) from about Westminster Bridge to about Waterloo Bridge
  33. * the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich
  34. * take the Eurostar to Paris (get back in time for afternoon tea (grin))
  35. * Trafalgar Square
  36. * attend a live show in a West End theatre
  37. * the abandoned bridge piers next to Blackfriars Bridge
  38. * the Elephant and Castle area (make sure you walk all the way around the big traffic circle via the subways and check out the art on the subway walls)
  39. * the Cabinet War Rooms just off Whitehall on Horse Guards Road
  40. * attend something grand (like Carmina Burana presented by the Really Big Chorus) at Royal Albert Hall
  41. * the fish and chip shop near Paddington Station (head down Praed Street and turn right onto Norfolk - the shop is the second entrance on your right)
  42. * The Bank of England's museum
  43. * the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich (arrive shortly before 1PM local time to watch the red ball drop (you'll figure it out but don't be late) and get a time stamp from the atomic clock)
  44. * the London Eye
  45. * Saint Paul's Cathedral
  46. * Victoria Station
  47. * at least six different churches built by Sir Christopher Wren
  48. * the shop in Greenwich that claims to be "The First Shop In The World" at 0 degrees 0 minutes 24 seconds longitude west (it's on the corner of Nelson Road and King William Walk)
  49. * Nordic House at 26 King Street near Covent Garden (there's a photograph of it and some of the other landmarks on this list on my web site at www.bouletfermat.com/london/ (last accessed 2002/10/17))
  50. * the building at One Cheapside (it has to be seen to be believed and there's nothing "cheap" about this address; check out the view facing east from the restaurant on the roof)
  51. * Waterloo Station
  52. * read the blue plaque describing where the discovery of penicillin happened (it's on the hospital building that's on the south west corner of the intersection of Praed Street and Norfolk Street which is about two blocks north of Paddington station)
  53. * walk along Marylebone road from about Baker Street station to Euston station
  54. * watch a London Knights ice hockey game (an interesting and educational experience for a Canadian hockey fan)
  55. * visit Hamley's on Regent Street (an amazing toy store)
  56. * the Bow Church on Cheapside (while you're there, figure out what the little brass markers are for in the small yard just to the west of the church and find Ironmongers Lane) and the Bow Church a few blocks south of Bow Church station on the Docklands Light Railway|DLR] (I've had two different Cockneys with a lot of knowledge about London tell me that each of these Bow Church's is the Bow Church whose bells determine if you're a Cockney (see the Cockney writeup for details))
  57. * Manzi's restaurant (just off Leicester Square near Piccadilly Circus - really good seafood)
  58. * the sense of "room" (in a physical and a mindset sense) for all cultures
  59. * walk from Liverpool Street station to the Bank of England and then past Saint Paul's and on along Fleet Street and the Strand (take the bump along Aldwych) until you get to Trafalgar Square (it's a few miles but you'll see a lot of interesting things); turn around and walk back to Liverpool Street station but take a different route (repeat as necessary)
  60. * visit Old Spitalfields Market on a Sunday morning (bonus points: get the name and address of one of the fellows who are selling things out of the boot of their car)
  61. * take a few London taxi rides here and there (I suggest Paddington Station to Waterloo Station for a really quick look at some of the more touristy bits)
  62. * stop for tea at least once a day (note that afternoon tea is to tea as West End Theatre is to junior high school drama)
  63. * walk from Paddington Station, through Hyde Park, explore the public areas of Kensington Palace, walk along the south side of Hyde Park to Wellington Arch, along Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace, down The Mall, under Admiralty Arch to Trafalgar Square and then attend a concert at Saint Martin in the Fields before returning to your hotel via the London Underground|tube] (for maximum effect, make sure that you've just flown into London from far away and have been awake for a minimum of 35 hours when the concert starts and make sure that don't fall asleep during the quiet bits (don't do this more than once per lifetime))
  64. * Selfridges
  65. * the archway between Horse Guards Parade grounds and Whitehall (don't mess with the soldier guarding the passageway)
  66. * wander around Grosvenor Square where the American Embassy is located (you don't want to have to do this when I went there even though it was an experience not-to-be-missed - September 22, 2001 on my first trip to London after the atrocities of September 11th)
  67. * the Imperial War Museum which is located in the old Bedlam insane asylum - some might argue that the building's function hasn't changed all that much (grin)
  68. * the walkway along the south bank of the Thames near Waterloo Station
  69. * Tower Bridge
  70. * share a meal with friends at Rules (they claim to be the oldest restaurant in London and they are excellent (and reasonably priced))
  71. * the pedestrian tunnel under the Thames connecting Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs
  72. * The Tower of London
  73. * the Cutty Sark
  74. * get a reasonably good map and try to walk along where the old Roman wall was located
  75. * the South Bank Lion at the south end of Westminster Bridge (and the statue down in the park across Westminster Bridge Road from the South Bank Lion; sorry but I can't remember what it is called)
  76. * Marylebone village area
  77. * the remains of the Roman wall (there's an easy to see and touch section just outside Tower Hill tube station)
  78. * stand in the very middle of the intersection above Bank tube station in plain sight of at least a dozen police officers at 1000am and casually take photographs in all directions; leave when you're ready (there's obviously a trick involved here but I've done it)
  79. * the wall decorations at Tottenham Court Road tube station
  80. * Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
  81. * listen for the announcement for Piccadilly Circus tube station as you arrive on the Bakerloo line (pay particular attention to how the voice pronounces Piccadilly line)
  82. * the north side of St. James Palace
  83. * walk down Villier's Street from Charing Cross station to Embankment tube station
  84. * the curved bridge over a segment of water which is visible off to the east as you travel towards Greenwich on the DLR just a few blocks south of Canary Wharf
  85. * the understanding that history is important and worth spending money to preserve and document
  86. * the strange pronunciations (Southwark is south-ark, Gloucester is glostr, etc)
  87. * Fortnum & Mason
  88. * the area roughly enclosed by Covent Garden, Holborn tube station, Marble Arch, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Waterloo Station and Charing Cross (a big area but one could spend years getting to know it well)
  89. * fish and chips (the good stuff)
  90. * Cockney Rhyming slang
  91. * walk from Euston station through Marylebone and on to Paddington station via the smaller streets
  92. * the Heathrow Express
  93. * a meal at Faulkner's on Kingsland Road (an excellent fish and chips restaurant)
  94. * the entertainers in and around Covent Garden market and Leicester Square
  95. * the Canada Memorial in Green Park
  96. * Wellington Arch and the nearby memorial to one of the British artillery regiments
  97. * the London Transport Museum
  98. * the Natural History Museum
  99. * the Mad Hatter hotel (a nice place to stay at a reasonable price (for London) near Blackfriars Bridge in Southwark)
  100. * The City (i.e. the square mile)
  101. * The Lord Mayor's Parade (has to be seen to be truly appreciated) and the fireworks over the Thames that evening (stand on Waterloo Bridge facing east if I recall correctly - don't try to watch from either bank of the Thames as the view isn't anywhere near as good)
  102. * the art displays on the platform at Gloucester Road tube station
  103. * Southgate tube station
  104. * walk across the Hungerford pedestrian bridge
  105. * the walkway around the London Planetarium just north east of Waterloo Station (start at Waterloo Station and find your way to the National Theatre; a bit on the seedy side but worth the trip; check out the old hospital just east of the Planetarium on Stamford Street)
  106. * Edgware Road tube station (there are two of them and both of them are worth seeing)
  107. * the antique instruments shop on New Road just off St. Martin's Lane (this shop was permanently closed the last time I tried to visit it - probably another victim of the Internet and eBay - sigh)
  108. * the Remembrance Day ceremony on Whitehall (truly awesome - definitely worth almost missing a flight for)
  109. * the escalator at Angel tube station
  110. * take a ride on a District line train (really old) and then take a ride on a Jubilee line train (really new); exit via Canary Wharf station and ask yourself just what sort of incredible traffic volume the station seems to have been designed for; drop by at 830am or 430pm to see if you're right (grin)
  111. * get lost somewhere inside the area enclosed by the Circle Line and just wander around aimlessly for a day or a week or a month . . .
  112. tour Buckingham Palace (my wife has done this and recommends it highly)
  113. watch the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace
  114. * visit Tate Modern
  115. climb to the top of the Monument (near Monument tube station, of course)
  116. tour HMS Belfast
  117. * attend concerts at many of the other churches and concert halls in the London area (surf the 'net to find them)
  118. visit the National Postal Museum
  119. * take in an opera at the Royal Opera House (bonus points if it's Sleeping Beauty and you get REALLY good seats because you're never likely to get a chance to do this again)
  120. * visit the London Aquarium
  121. visit Regent's Park
  122. watch a cricket match
  123. watch a rugby match
  124. watch a football game
  125. visit the British Library
  126. * see how many blue plaques you can find in a day (these are plaques which are mounted on walls of buildings to mark historic events or locations)
  127. * visit Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum
  128. visit Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Green Park
  129. * spend some time (and money?) in the antique shops on Portobello Road
  130. * wander around some of the outer boroughs where the "real people" live
  131. take a walking tour of Dickens' haunts
  132. * visit the East End
  133. try some cockles and mussels
  134. * tour the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery (adjoining buildings on Trafalgar Square)
  135. * spend a day or three taking random journeys on the tube - i.e. pick a station and go there, wander around the area around the station for a while and then dive back into the tube and go somewhere else (I've spent the equivalent of days doing exactly this in the evenings and it's a great way to learn London)
  136. * see Antony Gormley's Field for the British Isles (it's on display in the British Museum until January 26th, 2003)
  137. * take photographs of the Royal Courts of Justice building at midnight (because it's lit up by some spot lights) and get a chance to convince one of London's finest that you're not up to no good
  138. (deleted - accidental duplicate)
  139. buy a coffee at the Algerian coffee shop on Old Compton Road
  140. * experience six different languages at once on a Tube platform
  141. see a gig at the 100 Club on Oxford Street
  142. check out (and maybe even use) the "pop-up" night toilets in the West end (see http://www.westminster.gov.uk/news/PR-886.cfm for details)
  143. * hire a London taxi for the day and spend the time learning the geography of this grand city (this is not cheap but well worth the price)
  144. * stay in the Ruskin Hotel on Montague Street and check out the painting in the parlour
  145. * tour Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (bonus points: hear the members of the previous tour group spontaneously burst out in song)
  146. * check out the Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee on Southwark Street
  147. * become a Freeman of the City of London
  148. * attend an open house or some other event at the Honourable Artillery Company (check out their modest sized but quite impressive museum as well as the nearby medals room and dining room)
  149. * attend a black tie dinner
  150. * take a close look at William Smith's map at the Geological Society of London in Burlington House
  151. * visit the Royal Society of Chemistry (also in Burlington House)
  152. visit the Royal Astronomical Society (also in Burlington House)
  153. visit the Linnean Society of London (also in Burlington House)
  154. visit the Society of Antiquaries (also in Burlington House)
  155. * visit the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park
/msg me or e-mail me (danny@matilda.com) if you've got a question or would like more information about something on the list.

* been there, done that.


Notes

  • I'll expand this list as I think of more things (feel free to make suggestions or add your own list to this node). I'll also always add new items to the end of the list in order to preserve the current item numbers.
  • This list has been deliberately jumbled up for two reasons:
    • I hope that by going through the list you can at least begin to get a sense of just how vast and grand a place London is.
    • I hope that someone going through the list will run across a few gotta see that items that they might have missed if the list had had some sort of structure that allowed one to focus in on what interests them.
  • Each of the items on this list is important to me in some way. Even the little things, like the statue of the ballerina in Broad Court or the escalator at Angel tube station, were significant parts of my London experience to date and are part of my perspective on London today.
  • It is not possible to see, do or experience some of the items on this list. Don't let that bother you - just see, do or experience something that's not on the list instead!
  • There are a fair number of dead links in this writeup. Each of them points at a node which should probably exist someday although I'm not sure if I should leave them here, delete the links or create nodeshells (that may not get filled in for quite a while). Suggestions?

A greatest hits list of sorts

At the risk of attempting the impossible, here's a short list of gotta see/do/experience that items. This list is hopelessly biased and should be taken with a massive grain of salt.
  1. visit the Royal Greenwich Observatory (preferably at 1pm local time to see the red ball drop); make sure that you see John Harrison's clocks
  2. spend a day at the British Museum
  3. attend a concert at Saint Martin in the Fields (spend the extra money and get a seat in the very front row - it's worth it to be able to watch the expressions on the musicians' faces)
  4. spend a day or three wandering around the area roughly bounded by Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, Holborn tube station, Waterloo bridge, Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace and Green Park tube station
  5. spend a day at the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)
  6. visit at least two of Paddington Station, Victoria Station, Kings Cross St. Pancras stations and Waterloo Station
  7. use the tube to get around and hire a London taxi for a few trips
  8. spend some time in Trafalgar Square
  9. visit the Museum of the City of London
  10. spend some time in Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul's Cathedral (treat these as museums if you're not interested in visiting churches)
  11. take a stroll along the walkway that runs along the south bank of the Thames from about Westminster Bridge to about Blackfriars Bridge
  12. visit the Tate Modern
  13. visit Harrods (even if you don't like to shop, it's an experience that shouldn't be missed)
  14. visit the Tower of London and check out the Crown Jewels (warning: long lineups are very common both to get into the Tower grounds and again to get in to see the Crown Jewels)
  15. spend at least a third of your trip somewhere else in England (there's a lot to choose from; here are some of the places that I've been to and would DEFINITELY go to again - Avebury, Bath, Canterbury, Daresbury, Dover, Durham, Glastonbury, Cambridge, Hadrian's Wall, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford (including Woodstock and Blenheim Palace), Portsmouth, Reading, Salisbury, Wells, Winchester, Windsor and Eton, and York)