From Heathrow you can reach central London by underground commonly referred to as ‘The Tube’, the journey takes approximately 50 mins depending on destination. Heathrow Express will take you to Paddington Station in just 15 mins but it’s more expensive. Express trains operate 24/7 from all London airports (Gatwick to Victoria, Luton to King’s Cross and Stansted to Liverpool Street). Don’t hail a black cab – that will cost you a fortune and you’re subject to traffic. If you do need a taxi, call an Uber.
History, art and culture — whatever your passion, the British Museum has it all. With millions of artefacts on display, from all the remote corners of the Great British Empire and beyond, it’s surely one of the largest and most comprehensive collections. The absolute must-see items are the iconic Rosetta Stone which helped decipher Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script and the exquisite Parthenon Marbles. As with most museums in London admission is free for general public.
There’s a lot of eateries within a 10-minute walk from the museum, for all tastes and budgets — from McDonald’s at Tottenham Court Road station to the posh Michelin star Gauthier restaurant in Soho (make sure you have a booking). If you fancy a traditional British pub experience though you can pop in at the Shakespeare’s Head next to Holborn station (check their Beer and Burger deal menu). On you way there, make sure you pass through Sicilian Avenue, a lovely little street built to impress the visitor with some fine examples of Renaissance-style Italian architecture.
From Holborn, take a nice short walk through Covent Garden where every building has witnessed most extraordinary cultural events. You’ll pass by the freemason’s Grand Lodge of London (they do guided tours, too), by the picturesque Royal Opera House (note the sky bridge connecting it to the Royal Ballet School, also know as the Bridge of Aspiration), and by a dozen of West End musical theatres where you can choose a performance for the evening.
The world’s fourth most visited art museum (and definitely a must-see for any true art lover), National Gallery is the only European comprehensive assortment of paintings which was not formed by nationalising an existing royal collection but instead bought specifically for the public. It covers the period of mid-13th century to 1900 and is absolutely encyclopaedic in scope so whatever artist you fancy or are in the mood for, you’ll find them here. National Portrait Gallery is situated just around the corner, adjoining the NG, and exhibits a marvellous collection of portraits of historically important and famous Brits including members of the Royal family.
Digest the high dosage of art consumed within one day with a drink of your choice, be it a cuppa (that’s a very British way to call tea), a coffee or a pint. You’ll find a dozen of cafes, restaurants and pubs at Leicester Square (pronounced ‘LESS-ter’), just behind the National Gallery. It is also there where you can find discounted theatre tickets for any West End show. Pick one, all theatres are located within a walking distance so you’ve got plenty of time. Important tip: most musical theatres also sell half-price tickets for the night just before the show.
Dozens of musicals are performed nightly in London. If still undecided go for a time-tested classics like ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Aladdin’, ‘Mamma Mia’ or ‘Lion King’.
Weather-permitting, start your day with a walk or a bike ride to South Kensington where you can find as many as three top-rated museums situated literally a stone’s throw from each other.
Pick Natural History Museum if you’re a fan of Charles Darwin’s evolution theory, want to know more about our prehistoric ancestors or just fancy watching some life-size dinosaurs. Opt for Science Museum instead if you are thrilled by the Universe and outer space, want to better understand how common things work like your keys or bicycle, can’t wait to experience what it feels like to be caught by an earthquake in the shopping mall (yep, there’s a special room for that, too) or just generally feel geeky. Both museums are free of charge but you can leave a small donation.
There’s a number of cafes and restaurants around South Kensington tube station to meet any budget, from a cheap French creperie to chain fast-food outlets, to posh restaurants.
V&A is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design which makes it an ultimate must-see for any culture connoisseur. Like with the Louvre or the Hermitage, its vast collection housing over 4.5 million objects is way too big to browse in one day so you can spend there as long as you feel like or until you’ve walked your legs off. Viewing the permanent collection is free of charge and temporary exhibitions are usually well worth the small entry fee.
Five o’clock tea is one of the finest British traditions, and taking it at the posh Ritz hotel can turn into a once in a lifetime experience as it’s served in the spectacular Palm Court, with glittering chandeliers and elegant mirrors, complimented by a musical ensemble from their resident pianist and harpist. As always, traditional English afternoon tea is not just a cup of drink (at Ritz you can choose from 18 types of loose-leaf tea) but rather a proper meal as it comes with a selection of sandwiches, fresh scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam as well as savoury pastries and teacakes. If you’re feeling a little peculiar you can always add some extra sparkle to the occasion and ask for a glass of champagne.
A true experience of cultural London can never feel complete unless you’ve visited a performance at the exquisite Royal Opera House in the hearth of West End. Tickets are usually quite expensive and sold out long before the actual show but even last-minute you can always find yourself a couple of very reasonably priced seats with the help of Friday Rush. You can swap the evenings with Day 1 Musical if you fancy something particular but, whatever the show, you’re guaranteed to finish your cultural programme in style.