(A) Shop at Harrods
Harrods is the ultimate shopping destination. It is rumored to have anything and everyone anyone can ever ask for (this included an elephant at one point in time). Regardless if you're into shopping or not, the interior and exterior architecture is incredible. During the Christmas season, Harrods exterior is outlined in thousands and thousands of lights. Its windows feature the must-have gifts of the season, and make sure you take a picture with the beautifully decorated tree outside.
[credit: Visit London]
The Egyptian escalator banks in the center of the department store is also a must. The Harrods Dodi and Diana memorials can be found at the base of this escalator. For souvenirs, make sure you stop by the Harrods gift shop, where you can pick up tea sets, toys, and accessories with the Harrods bear.
While at Harrods - you simply cannot miss its Food Halls on the ground floor. There's something for everyone within its 4 food halls! Swing by and pick up a few things for a picnic lunch. I highly recommend their pastry selection!
[credit: Drinks Business, Harrods]
(B) Have a picnic at Green Park and watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace
There are multiple ways to "visit" the Buckingham Palace. You can buy tickets and do a tour of the state rooms inside (make sure you buy tickets in advance). The garden is open to walk through at the end of your visit during the summer in the day (evening tours do not include the garden). There's a Garden Café which also provides beautiful views over the Palace lawns. The 16-hectare garden includes the summer house, rose garden, the enormous Waterloo Vase as well as the Palace tennis court. For a more in-depth view of the garden, you can book a Garden Highlights Tour.
[credit: Visit London]
Even if you don't do the full state room tour, make sure you watch the changing of the guard at the front of the Palace. During the Changing the Guard ceremony, also known as ‘Guard Mounting’, one regiment takes over from another. The Queen’s Guard is made up of the St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace detachments. The New Guard, who during the course of the ceremony become The Queen’s Guard, march to Buckingham Palace from the Wellington Barracks with musical accompaniment. The ceremony takes place, weather permitting, at 11.00 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday and daily in the summer.
Buckingham Palace is located in between Green Park and St. James Park - which means there are plenty of places to picnic and enjoy the goodies you picked up from Harrods. A great spot to picnic at is towards the north end of the park, where you have a view of Buckingham Palace. There are plenty of other scenic spots along the long pond at St. James' Park as well.
[credit: Britain Express, Duke's]
(C) See Westminster Abbey
Only a 10 min walk from the Buckingham Palace is the famous Westminster Abbey. This is the location for countless important events in English history - including the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. While it most certainly is one of London's most visited tourist spots, it is also an active site of worship. The royal church offers daily services for all. There are two popular attractions inside: the Royal Tombs and the Poet’s Corner sections.
Some logistics for you all... Visitors are kindly asked to dress in a “respectful manner” during their visit to the Abbey, especially if they wish to sit in on worship services. Visitors will not be allowed to enter the Abbey with large or bulky items. There are normally long waits during holidays, weekends, and peak afternoon hours.
(D) Take a picture of Big Ben from the bridge
Across from Westminster Abbey is the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower). Big Ben is the name given to the massive bell inside the clock tower, which weighs more than 13 tons. The four clock faces are illuminated at night. To visit the inside of Big Ben, you can join a tour on the Elizabeth Tower or take a tour of the Houses of Parliament next to the Elizabeth Tower.
Perhaps you've done more than your fair share of line-waiting and inside tours, and all you want to do is admire the outside architecture and take a few good pictures. Here is my pro-tip for you: the best spot for photos is on the sidewalk of the Westminster Bridge. Head towards the London Eye... pause half way... and snap a selfie. Directly across the Thames is also a great spot - you can see the entire Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben. It's also quieter - so you have more time to take that perfect picture!
(E) Swing by the London Eye You can't miss the next stop... the London Eye. Originally designed as a temporary attraction to celebrate the new Millennium, the London Eye has long surpassed its intended five-year shelf life. You can buy tickets to ride the London Eye - which gives you a 360-degree view spanning the length and breadth of London. The capsules fit up to 25 people, and you'll be able to walk around in it. If you want a bit of privacy (or a little champagne with your ride), you can book a "Cupid's Capsule" for two.
(F) Have drinks at the Aqua Shard
If seeing London from the top is your thing... I'd actually suggest you skip the London Eye. Also skip The View from The Shard. And spend the ticket money on a happy hour drink at the Aqua Shard. Located on the 31st floor of The Shard, the restaurant and bar offer panoramic view of London (make sure you check out the view from the bathroom). You can get dinner here, afternoon tea... or my favorite - a happy hour cocktail (in particular their pear and blue cheese martini... sounds weird, but tastes divine!). If you're worried about not being let in or having a seat - then make a reservations in advance. Be careful - they do have a bit of a dress code (no shorts, sneakers allowed). And you will have to go through a metal detector before entering the building.
[credit: the drinks business, the Shard]
(G) Dinner at the Borough Market
After a day of visiting ALL of London's most famous landmark - it's time to sit down for a delicious meal. You can most certainly eat at one of the fancy dinner options at the Aqua Shard... or you can head over to Borough Market (right across the street). While the market is closed in the evening, there are still plenty of great restaurant options. Here are some of my tried and true favorites (if helpful... know that I lived by the market for a while, and I can tell you these restaurants are consistently good):
Padella: Padella is one of my favorite restaurants in all of London. Padella offers a simple menu of eight seasonal pasta dishes, combining traditional Italian techniques and flavor combinations with quality British produce. The pasta is all freshly made on site (you can watch it being rolled out by hand in the window of the restaurant). Sit at the counter if you can. What can be better than a simple bowl of pasta and a nice glass of red on a cold foggy London night?
Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House: Wright Brothers is my favorite place to go for British seafood (particularly oysters). It is relaxing, and all their fantastic seafood and oyster selection are sourced from around the British Isles, Ireland and France. The small dining room is made up of a long oyster bar and high tables, and in the summer, sit outside on a barrel to people watch and take in the bustling market atmosphere.
Fish!: Fish! is another great place for seafood - particularly, fish (what did you think, this was a steak house?!?). This ever-popular restaurant serves simple seafood dishes, offering a wide range of grilled or pan-fried fish served with a sauce of your choice. My favorite is the grilled Dover Sole. I get it every. single. time.
Flor: If you enjoy wine and snacking... you MUST head to Flor. Flor is the second site from the pair behind Michelin-starred Lyle’s (also incredible, also recommended on another London post). You can come here anytime really... it is a bakery, a wine bar, a dinner spot. Any time, good all the time. The dinner menu sees plates of carefully put together, creative modern European dishes, made with ingredients sourced with the utmost attention to quality.
[credit - top, counter clockwise: Fish!, Financial Times, Padella, Wright Brothers]