Three Days In London Without Exhaustion

August 21, 2011

It’s always such a treat to visit London. My first overseas trip began in the grand city and this visit was my third. All I really remembered was how big it was and with only three full days to explore we wanted to make the most of our time. The last time we came to London we stayed with friends and our sightseeing efforts were thwarted by pouring rain. This time we hoped to see a few things and eat some good food along the way. We accomplished both.

Westminster Abbey Big Ben

View of Westminster Abbey and the River Thames

The key to exploring London efficiently is to make use of the Underground trains (also known as the “Tube”). Tickets aren’t cheap, but considering how far the distances can be, it’s a better bet than trying to walk everywhere and wearing oneself out. Currently a one-way ticket within zone one costs £4. A better value is the £6.60 zones one and two travel card, which allows unlimited travel for one day. Travel one way to/from Heathrow airport and zone one costs £5. Get an Oyster Card and pay even less (see Matt’s comment below – thanks, Matt!)

Visitors who want to go hard can opt for my alternate ‘exhaustion itineraries’ below, otherwise here is how we spent our time. Since we had so many nice meals, I’ve included the details of some great places to refuel along the way.

Day 1

We began in the popular tourist area alongside the river at the Westminster stop. We’ve seen Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye before but it’s always nice to visit these icons on a trip to London.

London Eye

The London Eye towers over the river and city of London, offering passengers 360° views.

After lunch we took the tube to the SoHo shopping district for a look around (Oxford Circus or Tottenham Court Road stops). The area bordering Regent Street is packed with expensive shops but as we headed towards Covent Garden things got a little edgier with a red-light district and more independent shops. We had a pint at a pub featuring summer ales and watched the crowds go by.

In the early evening we met fellow bloggers, Christy and Kali of Technosyncratic and Christina of Jandal Road for drinks at Waxy O’Connors, a huge Irish pub near Leicester Square. For dinner we took a short walk to Covent Garden, which is full of nice places to eat. We chose Palm Court Brasserie (38 King Street,, Covent Garden stop) for a delicious meal of lamb and chicken.

Add exhaustion

If you really want to tire yourself out, try visiting Westminster Abbey or take a ride on the London Eye (from £16.74, save 10 per cent by booking online). Afterwards, shop for something specific in SoHo and take in a West End show after dinner.

Tower Bridge London

The waters around the Tower Bridge are as busy as the city itself.

Day 2

It may seem silly to spend precious sightseeing time in a department store, but Harrods must be seen to be believed. It’s so big we had to take advantage of the store’s information booklet, which maps the departments over 7 levels and 4.5 acres. We started at the gourmet food halls and then took the escalators to the pet department. This was a little disappointing because they had so few animals but checking out all the over-the-top pet accessories was interesting (four-poster bed for your cat or little dog anyone?) We moved on to the electronics department where we checked out 3D televisions and the latest gadgets. The toy department kept us busy as well. With 32 restaurants, the massive store is designed so a person could spend an entire afternoon there and it’s fun to poke around in the departments if conspicuous consumption doesn’t bother you too much (Knightsbridge stop).

Next we headed to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, which don’t compare to New York’s Central Park for me but are still worth a wander. Afterwards we dined on yummy pizzas in Kensington at Da Mario (15 Gloucester Road,, Gloucester Rd stop). The smells emanating from the kitchen of this busy eatery drew us in and the food and service did not disappoint.

Add exhaustion

Get to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard (arrive by 11.15 am on scheduled days) and then go shopping at not only Harrods but also the other posh Knightsbridge stores. Pick up a public bike and ride around Hyde and Kensington parks or go paddleboating in the former. Venture to Notting Hill for a walk around before dinner and then eat there.

John and Andrea London Bridge

Having fun on the London Bridge

Day 3

We headed to the Camden Market area, getting off at the Chalk Farm stop so we’re closer to the Stable Markets. Never mind the kitsch and crowds at the Camden Markets, this is the place to be for clothing, accessories, fun items for the home and a plethora of other lifestyle items.

Stables Market camden london

Dig for treasures at the Stables Market.

We had trouble choosing from among the many international food options but settled on lunch at a fresh, delicious Lebanese cafe. We then made our way over to the more touristy part of Camden: the main street off the Camden Town stop is packed with souvenir shops and crowds but it’s worth a quick look for the variety of things being sold and, if you’re into alternative music, perhaps a look through the CD and vinyl bins.

Lebanese food stables market

A delicious Lebanese mixed plate at the Camden Stables Market

We then caught the tube to the London Bridge stop for great views of the Tower Bridge. We happened to be there at the end of the business day as the post-work crowds covered the bridges and flocked to tube entrances around the city. But this area offers a great atmosphere any time of day with boats cruising along the river beneath. Just over the bridge we found a bar with Happy Hour specials where we waited out the traffic and worked up our appetite for dinner.

motorcycle bar stools

Fun eatery seats at the Camden Markets

Some people might say the national dish of the UK is a nice bowl of curry. The Indian restaurants along the famous Brick Lane (Aldgate East stop) can be hit or miss with promoters hounding you every two steps with deals for their restaurants. We booked ahead before arriving, which makes it easier to focus and brush off the touts. Aladin relies less on touts and more on word-of-mouth referrals, which it deserves. The service was friendly and attentive, without being annoying and the staff seemed to be having as much fun as the patrons. As our waiter explained, “the customers are like family.” We trusted their recommendations and had some of the best curry we’ve ever tasted, including what our waiter, Sam, promised would be a “mind-blowing curry.” Known as the Chicken Tikka Blast, it was unlike any Tikka Masala we’d had before – Sam asked us how we liked our curry and then delivered perfection. We received a 20 per cent discount for booking our table online via their website.

chicken tikka blast aladin

Finish your day with a mind-blowing curry.

Add exhaustion

Visit Camden early in the day and then head to Tower Bridge. Take in the Tower Bridge Exhibition and see the crown jewels at the Tower of London or visit one of London’s outstanding museums instead (many are free!)

What’s your favourite thing to do in London?

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  • Hecktic Travels

    Ooh – can’t wait for all the curry!  (We just secured a 3 week housesit somewhere around Chalk Farm/Camden – can’t wait!)

    • Andrea and John

      I can’t recommend Aladin enough – best curry we’ve had in ages! And Chalk Farm is an awesome place to have a house-sit. It’s very chill out there and you have such great inexpensive shopping at the Stables Market…great food too. Congrats on the house-sit! I’m so jealous that you’ll have three weeks in London. Get an Oyster card for travelling around (see Matt’s tip in the comments above)

    • Piotr

      Hi. You don’t need a capital ‘H’ in Soho;) I would swap Hyde Park for Regents Park and Camden for Greenwich with its market. The best real curry is in the East End, Commercial Road or Whotechappel, but it’s place where tourists don’t dare to visit…cheers

    • Andrea and John

      Ah – the New Yorker in me didn’t realize the difference in capitalization on Soho =) Thanks so much for the tips – always love to hear about places we missed out on. Will have to try those curry haunts next time!

    • Piotr

      Yes, 3 days are definitely not enough for London. I live here for 3 years and still discover new places…have a nice trip. By the way, you should visit York in Northern England. Not so new, but very charming…

    • Andrea and John

      I completely agree – this was my third trip but I only ever get there for a few days at a time…not enough! And we went to York =) Charming town…we loved the Minstrel

  • Emily

    I LOVE London and cannot wait to go back. Both Harrod’s and Brick Lane are on my list for this trip…Rodolfo’s never seen the amazing food halls, so I think we’ll do lunch there one day, and I can’t wait for a good curry. Thanks for the tip on where to go, we may well take advantage of the 20% off deal and book there.

    • Andrea and John

      The food halls at Harrod’s are awesome but it’s so expensive to eat at the counters there (and crowded) that I’d suggest making a little ‘posh picnic’ and taking it to Hyde Park. Pretty sure I saw a wine cellar there too. Or one of the restaurants inside the store might be good – there are so many! Definitely try Aladin for curry – you’ll love it and the menu is huge. The waiters are so nice…be sure to mention about the 20% discount. We saw them touting people on the way in and I asked why no deals for the people who bothered to book ahead – the waiter said for us we got the biggest discount because we booked online =) So that’s how I found out about it!

  • Kris Koeller

    That’s a great itinerary, and lovely photos.  Such a fun town. 

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks, Kris! It is so fun…every time we’re there it’s different

  • Matt

    The tube is very expensive if you buy paper tickets, but pay £3 for a pay as you go Oyster card and most journeys in central London costs around £1.60 and it automatically maxes out at the price of a one day travel card if you make a few trips. It also turns £2 bus journeys into 90p. And you don’t waste time buying new tickets all the time. 

    • Andrea and John

      Wow – we saw the Oyster card advertised but wish we had known this! Thanks so much for sharing this info, Matt.

    • Matt

      Shame you didn’t know before! It really is a good system. The idea is that no matter where you travel, the oyster card will automatically ensure that it’s the cheapest option. I think the trip from heathrow to central London is £1.90 with it and single trips within the same zone are £1.10 I seem to recall. You’ll know for next time!

    • Andrea and John

      Oh well – I’ve integrated your suggestion into our post so others don’t make the same mistake! Really appreciate the heads up =)

  • Natalie

    You have seen and done more than me in London and it is the capital of my home country! Great pictures

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks, Natalie! That’s hard to believe… =)

  • Open Your Mind Doof Doof Doof

    Oh my beloved London, how I miss you!

    • Andrea and John

      You can always go back 😉

  • Lenche2

    Excellent use of 3 days in London!  And great photos (as usual :))

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks, Lenche =) xo

  • Eurotrip Tips

    Glad you liked your visit, it was indeed pretty packed but you seemed to have enjoyed it – and that’s the most important part!

    • Andrea and John

      So much fun! Wish we had more time…

  • Andi Perullo

    You did so much in 3 days, awesome!!!  I love visiting Harrods haha.

    • Andrea and John

      Would SO love to have a girlie shopping spree there with you =)

  • Kyle

    Yummm, so much good ethnic foods in London, that’s for sure. 

    And OMG, I cannot believe there’s a huge pet section in Harrod’s! We went to the store but didn’t see that and since we have dogs that would’ve been the best part!

    Sounds like the riots didn’t get the way too much of your visit to London after all, I’m glad.

    • Andrea and John

      It’s on the 4th floor (I think) – they even have a doggie spa and we saw some cute little pooches coming out with bows on their heads. I’m a sucker for that stuff!

      As for the riots, they didn’t affect us much and that’s why I didn’t even mention them. The first night we got there we went to buy water at the Sainsbury’s in South Kensington and it was closed early out of fear that something would happen. We stayed in that night, more because we were tired than because we were afraid but we also thought it best just in case. That night they flooded the streets with police and nothing else major happened in London. And from there all was calm, unfortunately not for the rest of England, though.

  • Sophie

    London is my fave city in the world. Looks like you had fun and did heaps.

    • Andrea and John

      We did, Sophie – it was great! =)

  • Jade

    Since I lived in London, my favorite thing really is just walking around the city. I love it. I also LOVE wagamamas and eat it about four times everytime I am there! I can’t get enough. I’m so happy to hear you guys enjoyed the city so much!

    • Andrea and John

      We have Wagamamas in Australia too and I couldn’t figure out whether it was an English or Aussie place…I’ve only eaten there once, though!

  • Emily @ Maiden Voyage

    Ohhh how I love London…this post makes me miss it! I agree that the Tube is incredibly helpful! I hate how packed it can get, but it really does the trick of getting you where you need to go in such a massive city. Westminster Abbey is one of my favorite buildings on earth. I also loved the Tower of London. The amount of history that took place there is mindblowing!

    • Andrea and John

      I haven’t been to the Tower of London since I was a teenager – probably worth another look as I don’t really remember it! We probably should have gone into Westminster Abbey as well but we were a bit short on time that day…oh well, next time! =)

  • Joe

    My first trip to another country (not counting Canada) was to London. I used to live about thirty minutes from London, I would visit every chance I got. Now that I’m not living in England anymore are really miss it :(

    This really makes me want to take a trip back!

    • Andrea and John

      London was my first “overseas” city as well, Joe! Hope you are able to get back soon for a visit =)

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    London is really hard to see in 3 days.  I went for a week, and it was still exhausting.  This post brought back so many good memories.

    I am not a fan of shopping, especially malls and department stores, but Harrod’s is a must-see.

    • Andrea and John

      I know! I wish we had more time in London – will have to go back soon for sure =)

  • Christy & Kali

    Ooh, you captured some lovely photos!  We also love Camden and have discovered that Aladin is definitely one of the best places for Indian food on Brick Lane.  Still haven’t ventured into Harrod’s though… to be honest I’m a little intimidated/overwhelmed by the prospect.  😛

    It was great meeting you two!

    • Andrea and John

      So great to meet you guys too – thanks for suggesting we give Camden a look! =) Enjoy the rest of your time in London

  • Sherry

    Indeed it is always such a treat to visit London. You guys are rock stars for doing so much in such little amount of time. I especially love that you visited Harrods since so many travelers I know skip it. I’ve spent hours there just looking at their products. And, its the only place I was able to have a champagne lunch inside a deli department. London is so much fun!

    • Andrea and John

      As much as I feel like we did, there is SO much we missed. Oh well, you can’t see everything. I had never seen Harrod’s so this time we had to go. That’s a very posh lunch you had =)

  • Mehmet Nariçi

    Photo shoot known locations. but I’ve never seen so many bright and London. seems quite gravy dishes. again an example of a social photography. Congratulations.

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much Mehmet! =)

  • Robin

    Reall enjoyed this post and am looking forward to a walk down memory lane in London sometime around Christmas – it will probably just be a day trip so I think we will limit ourselves to the area arund Covent Garden. A fantastic place, London.

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks, Robin! We loved Covent Garden…they have a Porterhouse Brewing Company there so you can enjoy some Irish beers while you’re there =)

  • Angelene Orth

    You did all this and you weren’t exhausted?! Bravo!!!

    • Andrea and John

      Not at all – I thought we were quite lazy! =)

  • Natasha C

    Great photos of London, I will have to check out Aladin – Brick Lane can be so overwhelming with choices at times that it’s so hard to choose. Your curry looks delish! 

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Natasha =) So delish – we’re really picky about Indian food too! A must-try

  • Sailor

    You guys have some amazing pictures of London. Interesting to see that you found some exotic food apart from Fish n’ Chips 😀

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much! I think London’s food scene has come a long way since I was first there in 1999 =)

  • beach holidays blog

    i’ve lived just 50 miles away my whole life and i’ve still not done half this stuff!

    • Andrea and John

      That’s always the way, isn’t it! Ah well, there’s still time =)

  • flexicover

    london is lovely – but i can only take it in small doses lol! very busy!

  • Jandal Road

    Wow, you guys covered quite a lot of stuff! I’m glad you found a good restaurant in Covent Garden that night, and it was so lovely meeting you both!

    • Andrea and John

      It was so nice meeting you as well, Christina – best of luck with your London adventures =)

  • Andrea and John

    I’m a big-city lover so it was ok for me…though I’d rather not be there in August, haha

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t been to London for a long time, but I remember just being amazed by its appearance as a kid. The architecture and grandeur of the buildings I think is an attraction in itself.

    • Andrea and John

      I agree, Suzy, the buildings are fantastic!

  • Sabina

    Hey, London was the first city I traveled to on my first trip overseas too, and I also stayed for three days!  My trip, however, wasn’t thwarted by rain.  I just love London.  So much that I traveled back for another three days a few years later.

    • Andrea and John

      It’s a great city! I want to go back and spend a lot more time there…

  • Anonymous

    Great recommendations and I love that you added the exhaustion factor if someone does so choose to be exhausted. I have to admit, Dave and I tend to be the ones exhausted all the time. We love seeing everything!

    • Andrea and John

      While we choose the lazier path, haha =) Thanks so much, guys!

  • Cole and Adela (fourjandals)

    Damn that’s a yum looking Lebanese dish! I like London, but prefer Edinburgh.  London is just toop damn big

    • Andrea and John

      Edinburgh was so nice – cold though! We were there in early August for the Fringe Festival but it rained a lot and was very crowded. I need to go back and have another look =)

  • Shanna

    Thanks!  This gives me some ideas about what to do next time we go back to London, now that we have gotten some of the first time tourist stuff checked off the list.  Thanks for the great tip about the bike rentals…I will look into that next time (I think I over-planned the first time we were there, underestimating how large it was and planning too much into each day.  Your itinerary sounds much more sane!)

    • Andrea and John

      Glad you found the post helpful, Shanna! London is such a massive city that it’s impossible to fit “everything” into a short trip. We just moved a very short flight from London so I can’t wait to get back there to explore some more.

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