London is one of the most vibrant and exciting capital cities in the Western world. As the official home of the royal family, with centuries of history, and a lively restaurant and bar scene, London is a place where you will find something different around every corner.
Your ship will likely dock in the port of Dover, which is about a two-hour train ride from London, so be sure to plan ahead to maximize your time in London if you’re not booking with a shore excursion with the cruise line.
Here, London-based travel blogger Angie Silver shares how you can make the most of your short time in London with these centrally located things to do.
A trip to the city wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Queen Elizabeth II’s official London home. Year-round you can witness the changing of the guard, which takes place just outside the palace at 11:30 a.m. The ceremony is daily from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year. If you’re coming to London during the summer months, be sure to buy tickets ahead of time to tour Buckingham Palace, where you’ll see the state rooms and hear more about the history of the monarchy.
There are eight official Royal Parks in London, all of which are free to visit. My favorite is St. James’s Park, which is located adjacent to Buckingham Palace and includes The Mall and Horse Guards Parade. Here, you can enjoy a quiet walk through the park, crossing Blue Bridge and taking in the views of The London Eye and Big Ben. If you want to stop for a snack, Inn the Park is the perfect place for refreshments.
Most people will flock to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, but Westminster Cathedral is rather a hidden gem. Located on Francis Street, the cathedral is the seat of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and London’s largest Catholic church. The viewing tower is 210 feet above street level and provides a sweeping view of the city. If you have time, you may want to listen to the choir, which performs every day at 5 p.m.
The Goring is one of the most special hotels in London; it’s where Kate Middleton spent the night before the royal wedding. If you’re enjoying the historic sights of Westminster, it’s the perfect place to rest by the fireplace or to have afternoon tea. Built by Otto Goring in 1910, the beautiful historic hotel still remains in his family today.
London is home to several beautiful grand department stores, some of which are hundreds of years old. I would suggest bypassing Harrods, the most famous of them all, as the vast space and crowds can be a little overwhelming. Instead, head to Fortnum and Mason, a store that has been established on Piccadilly since 1707.
You’ll feel like a kid in a candy store on the first floor. It is filled with the most luxurious food offerings in London, including some incredible sweet treats. Upstairs, you’ll find glamorous fashion, housewares and gifts. In 2012 the queen, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge made their first official joint visit to the store, and Her Majesty opened the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on the fourth floor.
Afternoon tea is a well-established ritual in the UK, and most of London’s top luxury hotels and department stores offer a take on the classic. Of course, the best-known afternoon teas in London are at the five-star deluxe hotels such as The Ritz-Carlton, Claridge’s and The Dorchester; but if you want something a little different, COMO The Halkin hotel offers a Spanish-themed afternoon tea. Here, you start with a selection of tapas and follow with delicious pastries while enjoying a glass of cava.
London is a walkable city, and one of the best ways to explore the historical city is on foot and with a local.
- London Unravelled has amazing tour options. Choose a food-tasting tour that will have you sampling the best macarons and concessions this side of Paris. Or consider a street-corner photo tour that will take you to some of London’s poshest neighborhoods as you learn about popular photography techniques, such as taking abstract images and street images (you must have your own camera).
- An alternative is to follow noted historian Dr. Matthew Green on a tour of London’s historical coffeehouses; find out more on his website, Unreal City Audio.
Borough Market is London’s best-known gourmet food market, with hundreds of stalls selling artisan cheeses, bread, coffee, cake, etc. It’s heaven for foodies and people who love excellent-quality food. If you prefer a market that’s smaller and you’re in London on a Saturday, check out the Fine Food Market at Duke of York Square in Chelsea. It sells gorgeous locally produced food.
Along with incredible musicals showing in London’s famous West End, you can see some fantastic productions in some of the city’s smaller venues. St. James Theatre is a great place to see small-scale musicals, revues, plays and cabarets; plus, it’s conveniently located near Buckingham Palace making it easy to explore both places.
If you’re staying a night in London before or after your cruise, try out a silent disco. On Friday and Saturday nights, head to The Shard and admire panoramic view of London whilst dancing along with your own set of headphones and enjoying a glass of bubbles.