London is one of the world’s most visited cities – its famous landmarks such as Big Ben, the Tower of London and Nelson’s Column being recognisable across the world. For centuries, England’s capital has been an international leader in cultural, technical and commercial innovation, making it a city of immense relevance on the world stage, as well as one with a rich and fascinating history. London’s wealth of attractions and iconic landmarks attract approximately 20 million people a year, many of whom have already visited the city multiple times before. However, with 32 boroughs covering over 600sq miles, London is also a big city – the biggest capital in Europe actually. This poses something of a challenge for those visitors who may be short on time – perhaps those needing to work during their visit or who may be travelling on to other parts of the country. With this in mind, what follows is a list of the must-see attractions, that can all be seen within just five hours.
The attractions on the list have been selected according to their proximity to one another, thus minimising the amount of time spent in transit between each one. They are also all in and around one of the most popular places to stay in London, making them perfect for those not wishing to travel too far from the city centre. It is also possible to walk between all the places on the list, with the time between each location ranging from 20 – 30 minutes. However, those looking to save time also have the option of taking a cab, and Uber or even a “Boris bike” -public hire bicycles which can be hired for as little as £2 per day. Of course, the list is just a suggestion of attractions, but visitors to the area are advised to research nearby attractions to see what else there is to do locally.
Here are five things you must do with only five hours in London:
1: Walk over Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is often referred to as London’s defining landmark: a feat of Victorian engineering that has been a symbol of the city since the height of the British Empire. The famous bridge appears first on the list because by crossing it from the South Bank, visitors will find themselves within close proximity to several of London’s other famous landmarks and attractions, which makes it the ideal starting point for anyone trying to organise an itinerary whilst pushed for time. The bridge deck is a busy byway and free to walk across. However, the tower walkways, which also contain a museum dedicated to the bridge’s construction, as well as a chance to view the original mechanism of the bascules, require a ticket to be purchased. A single adult ticket is £8.80 if booked in advance via the Tower Bridge website, or £9.80 on the day.
Estimated time at attraction: 30 minutes
2: Visit the Tower of London
The ideal thing about starting with Tower Bridge is that it is just a short walk from the attraction that lends it its name: The Tower of London. This means that visitors trying to see London in a short space of time can tick off two major landmarks in a single location.
The Tower of London has been an enduring symbol of England’s capital since its construction under William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Over the years, the complex has been a royal residence, an armoury and it was for centuries a notorious prison for high-status traitors and threats to the country – even being used to house potential spies during the Second World War. Today, it is a fascinating interactive museum, known across the world for three things: Beefeaters, ravens and, of course, the location of the Crown Jewels.
Admission to the Tower of London is £24.70 for adults. Whilst it is possible to spend an entire day seeing all the exhibitions and buildings, those pushed for time will need to create an itinerary of what they want to see within the tower grounds. The Crown Jewels are the most popular attraction and it is recommended that visitors allow for around an hour to see them – especially during busy periods. This can be coupled with the Yeoman Warder tour, during which one of the legendary Beefeaters takes guests on a 30 – 45 minute tour involving the key locations and giving a colourful background on some famous residents of the tower.
Estimated time at attraction: 1.5 hours
3: Visit St Paul’s Cathedral
Walking westwards from the Tower of London, along the north bank of the Thames, will lead visitors to the vicinity of the awe-inspiring St Paul’s Cathederal – Sir Christopher Wren’s 18th-century masterpiece on Ludgate Hill, the highest point of the City of London. The building is one of London’s most impressive sights – both the exterior and interior are architectural marvels, drawing millions of visitors each year. Those making an express stop will find that they can explore the grounds and interior in an hour if they book tickets in advance, thus saving time on queueing. Entry to the Cathedral is £20, with last entry being at 4pm. The ticket includes entry into the cathedral floor and crypt, as well as the three galleries in the dome. The dome is highly recommended, as it affords incredible views of the surrounding cityscape. When visiting St Paul’s, it is also important to remember that it is still a place of worship that is used for daily services, therefore observing the noise and behaviour rules is essential.
Estimated time at attraction: 1 hour
4: Have Lunch in Covent Garden
Covent Garden is one of the West End’s most popular places for bars, cafes and restaurants, with a bustling, genial atmosphere that makes it an exciting place to be all year round. The market piazza, in particular, is a vibrant area that boasts plenty of fantastic places to eat and is overlooked by the famous Royal Opera House. The piazza often has entertainments and outdoor theatre in the summer months – making the area an attraction in itself. For the purposes of this list, Covent Garden is also the perfect place to pick up a quick bite to eat, allowing visitors to soak up the atmosphere without sacrificing on sightseeing. Pepe Italian Street Food, On The Bab Covent Garden, Flat Iron and by CHLOE are just some of the great places in Covent Garden to pick up simple and quick street-style food. Alternatively, those looking to spend a little longer in the area can enjoy afternoon tea in the Royal Opera House’s stunning piazza terrace bar, with prices starting at £35 per person.
Of course, the other great thing about Covent Garden is that it is perfectly situated between several famous landmarks and makes a perfect stop off on the way to the final landmark on this list…
Estimated time at attraction: half an hour
5: See Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
If there was one landmark or sight that defines London in the international public’s conscious, then it is the famous spires of the houses of parliament, along with its Elizabeth Tower – better known as Big Ben. As tours of the famous tower are currently suspended due to renovation works, it is perfectly feasible to see much of the available sights at Britain’s political heart in just one hour. Of course, the biggest attraction is simply the building itself, with its striking Gothic aesthetic. However, the House of Lords is open to the public and visitors can even watch business in the chamber and select committees for free. It is also possible to tour the Houses of Parliament as a guest of a member (for free) or as a visitor on Saturdays and during the summer months. However, due to the nature of the landmark, it is important to check ahead to find out exactly what access will be permitted on a given day, to avoid disappointment. Tours of Elizabeth Tower are expected to reopen in 2021, following the completion of renovation works.
Estimated time at attraction: 1 hour
The above list is just one way of spending five hours in London. Of course, the capital’s streets are full of famous landmarks and points of interest, meaning there are untold combinations of attractions to be made for those short on time. This also means that accommodation in London will have particular significance when it comes to planning an itinerary as choosing to stay somewhere with attractions closeby will significantly reduce transit time. The being said, London has one of the most extensive public transport systems anywhere in the world, so those looking to explore the capital in minimal time will find that getting from one area to another will not have too much of an impact on time. Finally, London is a city that begs to be explored, so whilst the major sights are truly something to behold, it is also easy to find many hidden gems within the various boroughs of the capital.