Everyone talks about guides to London that avoid the “tourist traps”, that go off the beaten track, that offer seasoned business travellers who have eaten at a Park Grand Restaurant Kensington almost as often as their own dining-room table the opportunity to see and explore parts of London that they are likely to have seen before. There is a lot of value in these kinds of travel-suggestions, however, we should also remember that there are plenty of people who are visiting this wonderful, action-packed city for the first time who may want to do the more obvious trips. If you are thinking, “but there are already plenty of London Bucket List type articles out there”, don’t be so quick to assume: a lot of them will include architectural icons like Big Ben, which is under construction and therefore not available for public viewing. So, here is a 2020, up-to-date version of all the things to do and see in London for a first-timer to the city – all those things which are absolutely NB before you start tackling the “quirky things to do” or “hidden gems”.
Visit Buckingham Palace
There is probably a varied opinion on what should get the spot of number one when first visiting London, but there is no denying that this royal residence in Westminster sits in almost everyone’s top 5. Be sure to catch a glimpse of The Queen’s Foot Guards, standing loyally at attention in their postcard-perfect bearskin hats.
Take a walk through Hyde Park
Londoners have the luxury of numerous Royal parks scattered around the city, covering 5000 acres of green space over eight parks, offering a safe-haven of nature from the bustling metropolitan – and that’s just the royal parks, which don’t include the likes of the must-see Hampstead Heath (790.73 acres), Victoria Park (212.96 acres) or Battersea Park (205.09 acres). The most impressive not just in size but its centrality in inner London – it spans 350.89 acres of the city and yet is walking distance from most Central London hotspots. Take a walk through Hyde Park, admiring the luscious trees that have grown there since horse-drawn carriages were London’s primary source of transport, and perhaps hire a small boat and swan around the Serpentine Lake (waving to the royal swans as you do so!)
Ride the London Eye
Unfortunately, the reason people often make a fuss about “off the beaten track” activities is that finding yourself in a line as long as the South Bank of the River Thames is not fun for anybody. However, the all-encompassing view you get from the top of the London Eye, located across from the Houses of Parliament, is pretty breath-taking. So, wake up early, pre-buy your ticket, and make sure you tick a ride on the London Eye from your bucket list. You only have to do it once – after which you can pursue the most underrated views in the city – but you really do have to do it.
Explore the free museums
One thing that hasn’t changed from the first-timer bucket lists is the necessity of a trip to South Kensington’s free museums. After a hearty start at Park Grand London Kensington Breakfast table, head to Exhibition Road to enjoy the likes of the V&A Museum, the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum, all of which have a grand repertoire of 2020 exhibitions on for even the seasoned-veterans of London to enjoy.
Take a Tour Bus Trip
You see the hop-on hop-off buses popping up all over the city, with the most popular being The Original Tour given the implications of its namesake. In truth, it doesn’t really matter which brand of bus you pick – whichever fits best into your travel-budget will do just fine – but it is important you don’t underestimate their value. For a first-timer in London, you will come to the slightly sad realisation pretty quickly that you are not going to be able to see everything. However, these bus tours give you a rare opportunity of doing so – in bite-sized doses, of course. You see the breadth of the city and all the bucket-list style elements, from Shakespeare’s Globe to Westminster Cathedral, and hear a little bit about each. From there, you can decide which is most important to you and fit a proper explorative trip into your schedule.
Watch a show on the West End
London’s West End is the theatre-equivalent of New York’s Broadway, and is an essential pitstop to your London experience. Certain shows, like Les Miserables, will be on every travel guide since its show-run start in 1985. However, certain shows are new to the scene, like Hamilton, which hit the Victoria Theatre on 21 December 2017 and has been sell-out ever since, or Mary Poppins which started at the Prince Edward on 23 October 2019 and continues to obtain rave reviews.
Take Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea is not only a London-thing, but a British thing at large which makes you feel rather regal no matter where you take it – and yes, “taking” afternoon tea is the official terminology. Though you are always better off taking it in the hotel you are staying at – hotel-based afternoon tea’s are particularly glamourous – you could also hit up a double-whammy London-experience and take it at Harrods, the famous department store which is a must-visit for first-timers to London who are partial to a good shopping spree.
We are not suggesting that things like hidden gems aren’t important and wonderful, but rather that they are best consumed as the sprinkles on top of an already reasonably stable base of London-experiences. You don’t want to be hunting down “afternoon tea with a twist” before you have had the pleasure of a traditional Indian Afternoon Tea London at the Park Grand Kensington Hotel London, for example – you need to know what the original is before you can truly enjoy a twist! So, as a first-timer to the city, head to any and hopefully all of these must-see London spots to ensure the next time you visit, you can start deviating from the tourist paths and exploring the underbelly of the city.