Last Updated on January 7, 2024 by Bonnie
It isn’t often that we spend an entire week in one city. But that is quite easy to do in London, one of the largest and most-loved cities in the world! With one week in London, you can easily see the most popular tourist attractions, indulge in the global culinary scene and even take a couple of day trips outside the city.
We visited London over Spring Break 2023, leading a group of high school students with EF Tours. I (Bonnie) had previously visited London while in college, but that was more than 25 years ago. Grant had never been to London. So, it was a real treat for us to enjoy the city ourselves and provide the opportunity for students to do the same.
Our group consisted of 39 students, parents and teachers plus a tour director. When traveling with that many people, it is difficult to move quickly. Still, we managed to see quite a bit in the time we had. And, while we didn’t get to do everything that we would have done on a personal trip, we know that is just part of the deal when traveling with a school group.
So, let’s take a look at just what you can see and do with one week in London.
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Things to Do in London
There is no shortage of interesting sights in London. So, prepare yourself for several busy days filled with a wide variety of museums, historical buildings, parks and more!
What better way to start your visit to London than with a birds-eye view of the city? Of course, no matter where you add this attraction to your London itinerary, it’s sure to be a highlight, even for those who are afraid of heights. Rising to a height of 443 feet, the London Eye is not technically a Ferris wheel. Instead, it is considered a “cantilevered observation wheel.”
As someone who is not a big fan of heights, I think its unique design made it less terrifying than I expected. Yes, you ride in large glass-walled “pods” reaching dizzying heights. Still, it never really felt like we were that far off the ground, even when looking down over the city. There’s just something about the engineering and construction that made it feel safe and secure.
Each passenger capsule holds about 25 people. Inside, you’ll find a large bench and room to move around. The wheel rotates slowly, with one rotation taking about 30 minutes. As you move around the circle, the cantilevered pod adjusts to provide different views in all directions.
It should be no surprise that the London Eye is the most popular attraction in the United Kingdom. As such, the line can be extremely long. I suggest that you purchase timed-entry tickets before you arrive.
No visit to London would be complete without a visit to Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the United Kingdom’s sovereigns. You’ll likely only be able to view the palace from the outside, though tours of the State Rooms are available two months out of the year.
I would also try to time your visit to see the Changing of the Guard. Unfortunately, this does not occur every day. Sadly, we were not lucky enough to get to see this. Oh well, I guess that gives us something to look forward to when we return to London!
Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament
Westminster Abbey is an Anglican Church that dates back to at least the mid-10th century. The Abbey’s Gothic architecture makes it visually interesting. It has also hosted royal coronations, weddings and burials, making it a popular tourist attraction. It is an active church, though, offering daily services that are open to the public.
Big Ben is the nickname of the clock in Elizabeth Tower, which was previously known as Clock Tower but was renamed in 2012 during Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. The iconic clock is one of the most recognized and photographed landmarks in the world. It is often used as an establishing shot in movies and TV shows.
While we drove past Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, we did not actually stop or do a tour. That is definitely something that I would add to our itinerary on our next visit. Be sure you book tickets or tours in advance, as we witnessed just how long the lines can be!
Tower of London
The Tower of London is a historic castle, fortress and prison that dates back to the 11th century. A visit to the Tower of London allows you to explore its many different buildings and learn about its various uses over the years. As you walk back through time, you’ll see evidence of medieval palace residences, battlements, torture, exotic animals that lived on sight and much more.
Perhaps the most dazzling exhibit is the Crown Jewels, which are housed and displayed at the Tower of London. Here, you can see the collection of crowns and other jewels used by the royal family. Indeed, several items were removed during our visit in preparation for King Charles’ coronation which was just about a month after our visit.
If you do want to see the Crown Jewels, I suggest that you join the line early, as we waited approximately one hour to get inside. Thankfully, the way they have it set up keeps people moving and the line will likely move faster than you expect. Note: photography is not allowed inside the Jewel House.
I would allow at least 1-2 hours and up to a half-day to tour the Tower of London, depending on your particular interests.
Located just outside the Tower of London, Tower Bridge is the iconic bridge that crosses the River Thames. The suspension bridge consists of two towers and accommodates both drivers and pedestrians. It also is a draw bridge, opening to accommodate boats traveling on the river. Today, 24-hour notice is required for the bridge to open and a schedule is published online.
If you are a history buff, you’ll enjoy a visit to the HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy warship.
Moored right in the River Thames, the HMS Belfast is an iconic London landmark. The warship pays homage to the British Navy’s service during World War II.
The Belfast is a light cruiser. It saw service escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union, bombarding the beaches in anticipation of the Invasion of Normandy and helped sink the German battleship Scharnhorst. The Belfast was modernized following World War II and saw combat during the Korean War, serving until 1963.
The ship was turned into a museum ship in 1971 and has been in the River Thames since then. It even serves as the home to the London Sea Cadets, a group of young men and women training from a young age to enter the Royal Navy.
You can tour the HMS Belfast daily. The ship is preserved with her distinctive World War II Royal Navy camouflage pattern but is configured for her most recent refit. There are nine decks of the ship open to the public. The exhibits cover everything from the mechanical workings of the ship and fire control to the bridge and the living areas aboard the ship.
There is even an interactive event inside one of the gun turrets to simulate what it was to be a gunner during the Battle of North Cape.
If you have never toured a warship before, this is a great opportunity to see what a World War II warship would have been like. Plan on spending a couple of hours here and don’t miss the excellent views of the Tower Bridge from the top decks!
Thames River Cruise
The River Thames flows through the heart of London, with many of the above sights located on or near its bank. As such, you’re sure to spend some time strolling across or along the river at some point during your time in London. You can also book a river cruise to experience even more of this iconic river.
There are a variety of cruises available, including one-way, round trip or hop-on, hop-off options. Of course, you could also book a river cruise for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner. There are also a variety of specialty cruises with concerts, murder mysteries and more.
We enjoyed a one-way cruise from Westminster Pier (right by Elizabeth Tower/Big Ben) to Greenwich Pier with City Cruises. Along the way, a crew member provided an unofficial, informal narration. I have to admit, having the narration really was a great way to learn a little about the attractions near the river and the river itself.
Read Grant’s article on side trips from London, including Greenwich.
Personally, I think doing the one-way cruise was great in that we enjoyed the river and got to see the sights on our way to Greenwich. That was certainly much more interesting and relaxing than riding the tube (London Underground). While the outdoor seating was a little cool in early April, there was also plenty of indoor seating downstairs.
The boat traveled slowly, with plenty of time to just sit back, relax and enjoy the sights.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
If you enjoy visiting cathedrals, be sure to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. This grand Anglican cathedral sits on the highest hilltop in the City of London, dominating the surrounding skyline. (The “City of London” or, simply, “The City” refers to the 1.12 square mile central business district while “London” refers to the greater metropolitan area.)
While it is free to worship at St. Paul’s, there is a charge for tourist tickets and tours. Alternatively, you can view the outside of the cathedral from the rooftop of the shopping center across the street, which is what we did.
I will admit that we never tire of visiting grand cathedrals and would likely be willing to pay for a sightseeing ticket to enter St. Paul’s Cathedral on our next visit to London. If you have not visited many historic cathedrals, it certainly would be worth it!
Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
If you’re a Shakespeare fan, then Shakespeare’s Globe is a must-see while in London. The current structure is a modern reconstruction near the original Globe Theatre site. Unfortunately, the original theatre, built in 1599, was destroyed in a fire in 1613. A second theatre was built about a year later but closed in 1642 when Parliament ordered the closure of all London theaters.
Today, you can enjoy a guided tour of the theatre and exhibition space or enjoy a performance. Sadly, all we had time for was a quick walk past the theatre but it was still really cool to see.
One thing we love about European cities are the squares that you often find scattered around the city. Trafalgar Square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, in which the British Navy proved victorious over France and Spain in 1805. There are a number of statues, sculptures and a fountain in the square.
Most days, the square is just an informal gathering place, though it is surrounded by a number of attractions, restaurants and pubs. It also hosts events and is often used for political demonstrations.
Perhaps one of the best things to do at Trafalgar Square is to visit The National Gallery of London. The museum houses a collection of more than 2,000 paintings, generally considered to be one of the best collections in the world. Additionally, the museum is free to enter!
Some of the most well-known pieces include Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh and Bathers at Asnieres by Georges Seurat.
Allow 1-2 hours for your visit.
Natural History Museum Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum was not originally on our London itinerary. We actually ended up here when its neighbor, the Natural History Museum had a longer-than-expected entrance line. Honestly, though, this ended up being a nice hidden gem.
This massive museum includes a wide variety of art and design of all types. You’ll find sculptures, paintings, textiles, jewelry and more, from all corners of the world. From medieval and renaissance art to modern fashion to Asian and Middle Eastern art, there really is something for everyone. There is even an exhibit on theatre and performance.
I’ll admit, the V&A was a last-minute substitution that we weren’t sure would be a hit with our group. Just about everyone ended up finding something they enjoyed, though. That’s really not easy with a group of 30 teenagers! And, we were able to enter without any wait on a busy afternoon over Spring Break.
I would allow at least an hour for the V&A Museum, though you could likely easily spend 2-3 hours or more exploring. If you want to visit the Natural History Museum, we suggest that you book your free tickets ahead of time.
Unfortunately, the British Museum is another of London’s top attractions that we didn’t get to visit. We attempted to visit on Good Friday and the museum was closed for the entire Easter weekend. If visiting near Easter, be sure to check the hours of all attractions in advance as we encountered more closures than we expected.
The free museum houses a collection of eight million pieces and is Britain’s largest museum. You’ll find a wide range of galleries including pieces from all over the world with a focus on human history and culture.
I suggest that you book a timed-entry ticket in advance. Tickets are released periodically, so be sure to check back if at first there are none available. Walk-up tickets are available, depending on capacity.
One thing you might not expect is that London is home to a number of large gardens, including eight Royal Parks. Thankfully, we were able to spend part of our last night in London taking a quick stroll through Kensington Gardens. The 265-acre garden holds a variety of memorials, fountains and statues, along with the Diana Memorial Playground and, of course, Kensington Palace, a Royal residence.
We specifically were on the hunt for The Peter Pan Statue. This bronze sculpture pays homage to the fictional character and stands in the same spot where the boy landed in the story The Little White Bird.
Whether you are looking for something specific or just enjoying a quiet walk, Kensington Gardens is a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
London’s theater scene is rivaled by only a handful of cities around the world. London’s West End is the equivalent of New York’s Broadway. Here, you’ll find a wide variety of musicals, plays and other shows. Even if you are not a theatre buff, you’re sure to find a show that you will enjoy!
We were fortunate enough to see The Mousetrap, an Agatha Christie murder mystery. It currently is the longest-running show of any kind in the world! This classic murder mystery features a simple set with a small cast. Still, it was entertaining and our entire group really enjoyed it.
Since we were traveling with a group, we didn’t have total control over which show we saw. But, we did get some input and this was one of our top choices. While we recommend the show, I will warn you that seating in the historic theatre is not at all comfortable – at least not the seats we had. The rows and seats were very narrow, making it especially difficult for Grant and our other tall travelers. Still, we really enjoyed the show.
Jack the Ripper Tour
If you’re looking for other after-dark entertainment, consider a Jack the Ripper Tour. This walking tour follows in the steps of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, who killed at least five women in the late 1800s.
Our tour guide took us through the streets where Jack the Ripper was active, telling the stories of his victims along the way. Yes, some of it was quite gruesome, but it was just story-telling, so not visually graphic.
If you enjoy history and mysteries (and can handle the graphic nature of the violence), then this is certainly a unique thing to do in London. The tour takes about two hours and moves at a moderate pace, stopping periodically to tell the story.
Where to Eat in London
While English food may have a reputation for not being that great, the international food scene in London is absolutely amazing. Seriously, you can find just about any type of food here, often without having to go too far out of your way. I am still amazed at the variety of different foods that we ate throughout our week in London.
As we were traveling with a large group, we often had a pre-determined meal that was not always a standard menu item. Still, we dined in each of these restaurants and would recommend them to anyone visiting London.
Mother Mash (Soho/Carnaby Street)
Mother Mash serves a variety of meat pies made with locally sourced potatoes. Start with a classic or seasoned mashed potato blend, then layer on sausage or a savory pie and, finally, top it off with a gravy of your choice. If you go for a pie, which we had, it will essentially be a chicken pot pie (also available with steak or vegetarian).
We also got to try some of the sausage, which had a little kick but was well-prepared and delicious!
If you’re looking for something a little different from home but not too different, Mother Mash is a great option. Even a picky eater should be able to find something that they like. Meanwhile, the more adventurous eaters can try something new.
The Carnaby Street location is near a cute walkable shopping area in Soho. This area is perfect if you have a little time to kill either before or after dinner.
I have to be honest, I had never heard of BiBimBap before our visit to this restaurant named after the dish. I learned that it is simply a Korean dish of mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables. There are endless variations of the dish, with the restaurant serving a variety of chicken, beef and vegetarian options. You can also order a traditional noodle or rice entree if you prefer.
We had a chicken BiBimBap bowl that included cabbage, carrots and other vegetables.
Grant and I typically do not eat a lot of Asian food, but we both really enjoyed this meal. The dish as a whole was something different but was a nice mix of mostly familiar ingredients. There were a couple of different sauces on the table, one of which was definitely spicy. But, the bowl itself was not.
I guess you can get this dish in the States, but it was certainly something new and interesting for us. And, yes, I would definitely eat it again!
Bangalore Express (north of London Bridge)
This modern Indian restaurant, Bangalore Express, ended up being one of my favorite meals of the entire trip. We started with some chili chips (basically, seasoned French fries). From there, we had a plate of chicken curry (thankfully, not at all spicy), some sort of potato salad, rice, naan bread and a small salad. It was a large plate of food and everything was absolutely delicious!
Additionally, service was great and they served our group of 40 people with ease. They also accommodated our vegetarians and students with food allergies without any problems.
Dessert was srikhand, which was the only part of the meal that we weren’t sure we liked. It basically is an Indian dessert made of thick yogurt, powdered sugar, cardamoms, saffron and nuts. It was a very interesting blend of flavors that wasn’t bad but also wasn’t that good. Many of us kept eating simply trying to pick out the flavors, which was really difficult. Confession: I didn’t figure out what it was until I did an online search!
Overall, the restaurant served great food with great service and had a great vibe. A couple of people even returned later in the trip when they had some free time. It certainly was something different for most of our travelers, which I always enjoy!
Pizza Express (Notting Hill Gate)
Located not too far from our hotel in Shepherds Bush, Pizza Express serves a variety of classic and specialty pizzas, pastas and salads. After a long day trip to Bath and Stonehenge (where we got caught in a hail storm!), a comforting dinner of pizza was exactly what we needed.
This restaurant wasn’t anything fancy but sometimes quick and easy is all you need. They even have a few lower-calorie, vegan and gluten-free options.
Wonderville Magic & Cabaret (Haymarket)
Dinner before the theatre was at Wonderville, home to a bar, cafe and variety show. We weren’t able to catch a show here, but the meal (lasagna) and service were great. In fact, this restaurant hands-down wins as being the most cooperative and on top of handling food allergies.
Honestly, I hesitated to include them in my restaurant roundup, since we didn’t see a show and sat upstairs away from the main dining area. But, they did such a great job dealing with our large group that I hated to leave them out.
I can’t vouch for the show, but the food was good and the service was even better. And, it’s located near Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
Bay & Bracket (Westminster)
I’ll be honest, the meal we had at Bay & Bracket was not my favorite. But, the vibe of the restaurant totally made up for that. In fact, this is one restaurant that I would definitely return to so that we could fully enjoy the bar and all the tempting cocktails they serve!
Our food was just ok – gammon (pork) and egg, served with fries and peas, but the service made up for it. There was a miscommunication ahead of time regarding the needs for our vegetarians and those with food allergies. But, the staff did everything they could to get those meals prepared as quickly as possible.
If you’re looking for an upbeat, casual restaurant with a great bar, I would suggest The Bay & Bracket.
British Pubs (pretty much everywhere)
Of course, when you’re in London, you can’t miss the opportunity to eat (and drink) in a proper British pub. Since this was a school trip, we had to pass on the drinking part but we still enjoyed several pubs over the week we were there.
While each pub has its differences, most will serve fish and chips (fries), a burger, steak & ale pie and probably a couple of sandwiches. Some will have a larger menu than others. In general, expect to order your food at the bar, then a server will bring it to your table when it is ready.
The first pub we visited was Hoop and Toy, near the Natural History and Victoria & Albert museums. In addition to the standard pub fare, they also had several mix & match small plates, which was a great opportunity for us to try several different items.
Our final meal was at Prince Alfred, a cozy pub just north of the Kensington Gardens, off Queensway. The menu here was a bit more limited, but we still had a great burger and Fish & Chips and finished off the meal with an amazing Sticky Toffee Pudding. That *almost* made up for the fact that we couldn’t enjoy a proper pint.
It is worth pointing out that as we walked down Queensway looking for a place to eat, we saw a huge variety of options. Seriously, on just that one road we had our choice of Italian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese, American, Greek and more. We were very happy that we ended up at Prince Alfred, as it was fitting to end our week in London at a British pub.
Where to Stay in London
Of course, a city as big as London has seemingly endless options for where to stay. First, you’ll need to decide how close you want to be to the city center. Then, you can choose from most of traditional US chains or a local hotel.
We stayed at the Dorsett in Shepherds Bush. The location in Shepherds Bush ended up being just about perfect. It was far enough outside of town to not be too expensive but not so remote that we were in the middle of nowhere.
There were a few small markets and even a large shopping mall within easy walking distance to allow us to get snacks or do a little shopping. And, it was very well connected with a bus stop right out front and a metro station just a 10-15 minute walk.
I would certainly stay in the Shepherds Bush area if visiting London again.
The hotel itself was much more of an American-style hotel than I expected. I’m not sure if that is standard for London or if this particular hotel is somewhat unique. While there were a few quirky things in some rooms, overall it was very comfortable and the staff was great.
Breakfast at the hotel was fantastic. I often opted for the buffet, which included yogurt, cereal, pastries, fruit, cheese and meats. But we also had the option to order off a menu, with options including eggs Benedict, omelets and smoked salmon.
Getting Around London
Overall, London is a very walkable city. The only problem is that it’s a very large city, so it just isn’t practical to walk everywhere. But, the Underground (also called the tube or metro) is quite extensive and fairly easy to navigate.
Yes, we were crazy enough to take a group of 40 people on the tube. Somehow, we survived and didn’t lose anyone!
Of course, when in London, you have to ride an iconic Double Decker bus. It is worth noting that not all buses are double-deckers – ask a local if you want to be sure your planned route includes one.
Taxis are also fairly plentiful. Honesty, though, public transportation will get you pretty much everywhere.
Day Trips from London
While you can easily spend a full week just in London, our trip included two days exploring outside the city.
Top of that list simply must be Stonehenge, which is about 1.5 hours west of London. The prehistoric monument is estimated to have been built between 3000-2000 BC. There are still many questions as to the “why” and “how” of Stonehenge and visiting it in person only strengthened my curiosity.
About an hour farther west, the city of Bath provides the perfect opportunity to explore a small English town. We have always said that the small cities are where you really find the charm of a European country and Bath is no different. Plus, you can tour a traditional Roman bath… how cool!
Closer to London, you can easily visit Greenwich with only about a half-day excursion from London. The main attraction here is the Royal Observatory, home to the Prime Meridian. But, there are a few other interesting attractions that are worth the time if you have the better part of a day.
Finally, history and computer buffs alike will enjoy Bletchley Park, which was home to the Government Code & Cypher School, the famed British codebreakers who cracked the Nazi codes. From there, you can also visit the National Museum of Computing, which houses some of the earliest computers and is really pretty cool despite its unassuming exterior.
Check out Grant’s full article on these side trips from London.
Final Thoughts on London
I feel very blessed to have been able to spend a full week in London. Most trips with EF Tours take you to several different cities, spending only 2-3 days in each one. Staying in London for a full week was one of the reasons I chose to lead this particular tour and I’m very glad that I chose it!
As you can see, we got to see pretty much all of the major tourist sites. And, we had a few other experiences that were specific to our tour that I didn’t cover here. Overall, STEM Discovery: London was a great trip. If you are a teacher and want more information on this trip, please reach out and I’ll be happy to talk to you about it (or other EF trips)!
EF also runs adult tours, call Go Ahead Tours. These tours allow you to travel with a friend, your entire family or even by yourself. While we haven’t done one of these Go Ahead Tours, we can vouch for EF as a company and would love to answer any questions you have about traveling with them. Grant and I both have visited Italy and Greece with EF Tours and I traveled to Paris for a training tour.
Whether you are traveling with a group or on your own, with one week in London, you’ll have plenty of time to see all of the major attractions, take in a theatre performance and visit some additional sites outside of the city. Honestly, London has so much to offer, I can’t imagine spending much less than a week – you simply won’t have time to do the city justice.
I have to admit, London is a much more interesting city than I remember from my college days. This trip definitely reminded me how much I love international travel. Now, we just have to figure out when we will return to properly enjoy the British pubs!
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We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
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We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
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We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.
What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?
We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
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How about booking a cruise?
What if I want to rent an RV?
We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
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Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?
We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.