It’s impossible to see all of London in a few days, but we worked to discover as much as possible on our trip to Northwestern Europe.
London is the dynamic capital of the United Kingdom. Located in England, the metropolis of Greater London is divided into 33 boroughs. These smaller districts create manageable areas within which to focus. In an effort to uncover the sights and qualities of these boroughs, we discovered just a few in Inner London during our time there.
Utilizing the Tube to transport us to key points of interest, we planned to walk as much as possible, focusing exploration on the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, the City of Westminster, and the City of London; we would visit parts of Camden and Islington, as well as the northwestern portion of Southwark (pronounced “suth-ak”) and the western-most portion of Greenwich (pronounced “gren-ich”), along the south bank of the Thames River (pronounced “tems”).
The London Underground, aka. the Tube, is the subway rail system that is very accessible throughout the city. Although we planned to primarily explore zone 1 and parts of zone 2, we wanted an unrestricted option. We purchased Oyster cards from a machine (located in any Tube station) for £5 each to be used in all zones, and which deduct a fare upon each journey.
Usage fees are determined by the distance traveled—touching the card to the yellow reader at start and end point gates of the journey ensures the correct fare is charged. Since we planned to use the cards on at least 6 days, we loaded each card with £20. For remaining funds no longer needed, “If your remaining credit is £10 or less, you can get a refund for the credit, and any deposit, from a Tube station ticket machine.”
We also asked the attendant (present in each station) to apply the “Young Visitor’s discount” onto the cards of our two teenage boys for 1/2 price fare (which had to be re-applied upon our return to London, since the feature only lasts 2 weeks). There is a maximum daily debit charge of £6.40 for adult cards, £3.20 for young visitors (ages 11-15).
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, part of the historically affluent West End, extends from Notting Hill in the north; through Kensington, where Kensington Palace (bordered by Kensington Gardens to its east) sits among the estates of international ambassadors; and South Kensington, where Prince Albert Hall, Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, Science Museum and Natural History Museum are located on the south side of Kensington Garden; to Chelsea in the south, the affluent residential area along the Thames River.
City of Westminster
The West End also includes the municipality and borough of the City of Westminster, which is full of parks, governments buildings, palaces and shopping. With so many amazing sights to explore, we spent much of our focus on this borough, dividing it into a few key areas: Paddington, St. James, Soho, Westminster, and Whitehall.
Paddington includes the neighborhood of Bayswater, our hotel location. The Heathrow Express provides direct access to the London Heathrow terminals from Paddington Station, located to the north of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. This combined green space sits adjacent to that of Green Park.
St. James nestles between Green Park and St. James’s Park, bordered by the Mall. This thoroughfare creates a visual link between Buckingham Palace and the Admiralty Arch, through which is Trafalgar Square. To the north of St. James, Soho has a concentration of dining, nightlife near Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, and shopping along the streets of Oxford and Bond.
Westminster, bordered by St. James’s Park to the north, sits along the Thames River and houses the seat of the British government. Whitehall, which passes the Horse Guards, connects Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square—where we visited the National Gallery. Continuing to the adjacent National Portrait Gallery leads to Leicester Square, where the only Official London Theater TKTS office sells 1/2-price show tickets.
City of London
The municipality and borough of the City of London, known by some as the “Square Mile” for its density, is the historic and financial core of Greater London. The corresponding area maintains its origins as a center for trade, dating back over 2000 years when it was conquered as a Roman colony. London also has a history as a strong economic center through the banking, finance, newspaper and legal industries.
“The City” extends along the north side of the Thames River from the west at Temple Church, built in the 12th-century by Knights Templar; past St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 (the 5th iteration since the 7th-century original); also past the Monument to the Great Fire, a column also designed by Wren; to the Tower of London on the east end, established in 1066 by William the Conqueror who built the White Tower. Other points of interest are the Museum of London and the original London Wall, built by the Romans.
Borough of Camden
The Borough of Camden offers so much more than we were able to visit, such as the British Library, Camden Market, the Bloomsbury district, and the northern heights of Hampstead Heath. We spent some time in the British Museum, but ventured around a bit more of the borough upon our return to London from the continent (read about our trip to Northwestern Europe).
Three train stations—Euston, St. Pancras and King’s Cross—are located within a 1/2-mile stretch along Euston Road. Taking the EuroStar out of and back into St. Pancras Station, we selected our second hotel nearby. We then use this area as a hub from which to take a day trip up north to Manchester from Easton Station. Trains traveling to Edinburgh depart from King’s Cross Station, which is next to St. Pancras.
Borough of Islington
The Borough of Islington is associated with films and theater, with notable venues, such as the Tower Theatre, Little Angel Theatre (featuring marionettes) and Sadler’s Wells Theater (famous for opera and ballet); educational instutions of City University and the University of North London; and historical buildings, including the 14th-century Charterhouse and the Armoury House from the 1730s.
Our experience with the area was during our visit to Emirates Stadium, home of the London football club, Arsenal. Arsenal is named for the Honourable Artillery Company, oldest regiment of the British Army, with its headquarters at the Armoury House. We arrived at the Tube stop, Arsenal, in Highbury where we walked through this neighborhood of homes sitting next to the stadium; then crossed the Ken Friar Bridge to the stadium for a tour.
Borough of Southwark
The Borough of Southwark, on the south side of the Thames River directly across from the City of London, has been an area of focus through regeneration projects. “The Borough,” as it became simply known, has been a market town since the early Saxon times of the 12th century.
While we were especially taken by the Borough Market and the bounty of foods within it, other sights piqued our interest: the London Eye observation wheel, a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe theater, the Tate Modern art gallery, and the Shard tower.
Borough of Greenwich
The Borough of Greenwich is located on the south bank of the Thames River. We took a “hop-on, hop-off” river cruise offered from Westminster Pier, first stopping at St. Katharine Pier next to the Tower Bridge. From there, the boat meandering down stream to the east, finally making its way to the Greenwich Pier.
From the pier, we walked through the Greenwich University to the Queen’s House, transformed from a 16th-century home, with a pastoral view to the Royal Observatory, where the Shepherd Gate Clock is located. Known as latitude 0° on the Prime Meridian, Greenwich Mean Time is the point from which the clocks around the world base their time.