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One Aldwych Hotel window view

How to Spend 4 Spontaneous Days in London

There’s an unmistakable charm to London that captivates every traveler who sets foot in a city that effortlessly blends historic grandeur with modern sophistication. That’s what I heard over and over from my wife, who has been there many times during the last decade. I had always resisted going.

When she suggested meeting her there before my scheduled work trip to Berlin and Barcelona in February, my immediate thought was London would be boring and chilly and damp. I was wrong. It was the best vacation I’ve had in a long time combining two of my biggest reasons to travel: for art and to walk (sometimes in the rain, but mostly under sunny skies).

Imagine exploring trendy neighborhoods and losing yourself in world-class museums. With its rich history and modern allure, London offers an adventure that is sure to leave you desiring a return visit.

We were planning to stay just one day, but ended up extending our stay. Here was our spontaneous four-day itinerary, planned so we could do plenty and waste little time getting between attractions. Start your day with a stroll along the River Thames, marveling at landmarks like the Tower Bridge. Wander through the historic corridors of the British Museum, then transition seamlessly to the bustling energy of Covent Garden or the regal splendour of Buckingham Palace. Each day brings you closer to the heart of the city.

Explore, enjoy, and let the city’s magic unfold before you.

Day One: Arrival and Relaxation in the United Kingdom

Our journey began with a fantastic British Airways flight from Vancouver. The airline’s exceptional hospitality ensures a comfortable and pleasant journey, setting the tone for the days ahead.

British Airways is a full-service flying experience. Unlike with low-cost carriers, passengers onboard can expect many amenities to enhance their journey. Whether in the economy, premium economy, business, or first-class sections, the airline prides itself on offering complimentary catering on eligible flights and access to exclusive airport lounges, ensuring that your travel is as comfortable as possible.

The airline’s robust Executive Club loyalty program rewards frequent flyers with benefits beyond their flights.

Moreover, Skytrax, a leading authority on airline quality, has rated British Airways a four-star airline. While it falls just short of the maximum five-star rating, the accolade is a testament to the airline’s overall quality standards.

Once I landed, I took the Heathrow Express to Paddington station and the famed London Tube to my hotel.

Check-in at One Aldwych HotelUpon arrival, we checked in to the exquisite property, where we stayed in a suite that felt more like a private apartment. Located in the heart of London, the luxurious hotel offers stunning views of the Thames River (historically referred to as the Tamesis River). After settling in, I suggest you indulge in a rejuvenating nap to combat jet lag, and then take the rest of the day at a leisurely pace, exploring the hotel’s amenities and enjoying a peaceful stroll along the river. The gentle start ensures you will be well-rested and ready for the adventures ahead.

Day Two: Welcome to London

covent garden

Covent Garden is one of London’s leading attractions for good reason: It mixes historic beauty with fine contemporary flavors. At top, One Aldwych Hotel looks onto the inviting cityscape of the British capital, which for centuries has beckoned travelers to explore. (VacayNetwork.com file photo of Covent Garden; Hotel photo by Guillermo Serrano for VacayNetwork.com)

Are you ready to start your day with a hearty and delicious meal? Look no further than the classic English breakfast. The traditional morning meal in Britain is renowned for its combination of rich flavors and comforting ingredients. From sizzling bacon to perfectly fried eggs, buttery toast, and juicy sausages, the English breakfast at One Aldwych is a feast for kings and queens. After that we were ready to explore the leading attractions in Central London.

Big Ben: Our exploration of London started with a visit to the iconic clock tower that has become a city symbol. Despite ongoing renovations, its majestic presence remains awe-inspiring.

Trafalgar Square: Next, we headed to Trafalgar Square, a bustling public space known for its impressive monuments, fountains, and lively atmosphere. It’s an excellent spot for people-watching and soaking in the city’s vibrant energy.

Covent Garden and Lunch at the Market: A short walk from Trafalgar Square brought us to Covent Garden, a historic market area filled with boutique shops, street performers, and various dining options. We enjoyed lunch at the market, sampling a variety of local and international cuisines.

Piccadilly Circus: Our afternoon continued with a visit to London’s answer to Times Square. The vibrant lights and bustling streets create an electric atmosphere perfect for a leisurely walk and quick shopping.

Day Three: Royalty and Culture

national gallery london sculpture

Discover a world of timeless beauty and craftsmanship at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Cast Courts, showcasing replicas of Michelangelo’s David, Trajan’s Column, and Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise. (Guillermo Serrano photo for VacayNetwork.com)

Buckingham Palace

Day three began with a visit to the official residence of the British monarch. Witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, a quintessentially British experience showcasing the royal tradition’s pomp daily at 11 a.m. The St. James’s Palace guards prepare to march towards Buckingham Palace on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. During the summer, the ceremony may even occur daily. But remember, the weather holds sway over tradition.

The ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. within the historic walls of St. James’s Palace. Fifteen minutes later, the sharp, rhythmic footsteps of the procession echo through The Mall, drawing the crowd’s gaze towards Buckingham Palace. By 11 a.m., the grand event reaches its crescendo as the official Changing of the Guard takes place before the palace gates.

Spectators gather along The Mall or in front of palace, eager to witness the time-honored ritual.

The National Gallery

Art enthusiasts will delight in a visit to the National Gallery, home to an extensive collection of European paintings. The gallery offers a visual feast for art lovers, from masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci to works by Vincent van Gogh. My favorite paintings were “The Arnolfini Weeding” by Jan Van Eyck and “An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump” by Joseph Wright

Admission is free (donations are welcome) and the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (and 9 p.m. on Fridays).

Lunch at Chinatown

For lunch, we headed to a vibrant district brimming with authentic Asian eateries. Once there, you can savor dim sum, Peking duck, and other culinary delights.

Tower Bridge

Our next stop was the iconic architectural marvel. As we crossed the bridge, we learned about its history through fascinating exhibitions housed within its towers. Walking across the bridge is free, but you must buy a ticket to climb the tower and access the glass walkway. Save money by purchasing tickets online 24 hours in advance. However, you may still encounter a wait to enter the glass walkway because of crowd levels. The cost is £12.30 (approximately $15.70 USD) for an adult ticket or £6.20 ($7.90 USD) for a child’s ticket. The attraction is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 pm (last entry is at 5 p.m.).

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

We rounded off the day with a visit to the Bard’s place, which is a faithful recreation of the original Elizabethan playhouse. If time permits, catch a live performance of one of Shakespeare’s timeless plays. The Globe Theatre has a rich history, originally built in 1599 and home to many of Shakespeare’s productions. In 1997, a modern version of the Globe was constructed on the original site, offering visitors the chance to tour the historic venue or enjoy a live performance. Check the Globe’s website for the latest performance schedule and visitor information.

Day Four: Museums and High Tea

Afternoon Tea, once a private affair for the elite, is now a special indulgence to celebrate moments that unite us. Step back in time to celebrate the occasion at One Aldwych Hotel. (Photo courtesy of One Aldwych Hotel)

The British Museum

One of the world’s greatest repositories of human history and culture, the museum features marvels like the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, and countless other treasures.

Here’s a quick tip: There’s plenty to explore whether you have an hour or three. While you could spend an entire day here, a morning visit is perfect for most. For the best experience, check out the British Museum website for tips on planning your visit and keeping kids engaged.

Admission is free. Hours are daily from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. (or 8:30 p.m. on Fridays).

The nearest underground stations are Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Goodge Street, and Russell Square.

Natural History Museum

Renowned for its stunning architecture and fascinating exhibits, the Natural History Museum features dinosaur skeletons and interactive displays. It offers an educational and engaging experience for visitors of all ages. It is also free and is open until 5:45 p.m. on weekdays.

Afternoon Tea with a Literary Touch

Conclude your London adventure with an indulgent afternoon tea at the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory-themed tearoom. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s beloved book, the unique experience combines whimsical decor with delectable treats, finger sandwiches, scones, small cakes, and cotton candy.

Tip for When It’s Time to Return Home

British Airways offers several exceptional lounges at Terminal 5, known for its comfortable seating, stunning views, and delicious food and drink options. However, the main lounges can become quite crowded during peak times. An additional lounge in the B gate area is often more relaxed. Although it’s primarily for flights departing from the B and C gates, any eligible passenger can use it. Enjoy a more comfortable pre-flight experience by opting for the quieter lounge.

London is a city that offers something for everyone, and the four-day itinerary provides a balance of relaxation, exploration, and cultural enrichment. Whether you’re an art lover, a history buff, or simply seeking a luxurious escape, London’s charm and sophistication will captivate you.