Itinerary Ideas: What to Do with Five Days in London

July 26, 2012 by

Europe, Suggested Itineraries, Things to Do

With just 3-5 days to spend in England it’s easy to get overwhelmed with options so take your time to plan out a trip that suits your interests rather than getting caught up in ticking off all the sights. You could easily spend all your time in the capital, but adding a change of pace and exploring one or two nearby towns will give you a feel for rural England, too.

Two Days in London

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Tourists visiting London, take a tour of Buckingham Palace to catch a glimpse of Royal life and this year the spotlight will be firmly glued to the monarchy as the country celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Even if you’re not in town to catch the Jubilee events, take advantage of the celebrations by checking out one of the exhibitions held in the Queen’s honor. ‘The Queen: Art and Image’ at the National Portrait Gallery; a display of Cecil Beaton’s photographs of the Queen through the ages at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the ‘Life and Reign of Queen Victoria’ at Kensington Palace are all worth a look, but most memorable will be the special exhibition of the Queen’s diamonds at Buckingham palace itself. ‘Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration’ will showcase jaw-dropping jewels passed down through generations of Royalty—it’s sure to be a popular event so book ahead.

This is a perfect time to tour the Royal buildings too—Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Queen’s House in Greenwich are all worth a visit. If you head to Buckingham Palace, arrive early to see the changing of the guards and take along a picnic to enjoy afterwards in the surrounding St. James’s Park, where a picture-perfect backdrop of the Palace and the park’s stunning lake offer a moment of tranquility before you hit the tourist trail again.

Windsor Castle Gardens

Windsor Castle Gardens

Tourism in 2012 will be all about celebrating old-English heritage and it would be rude not to sample one of the longest standing British traditions of afternoon tea. Whilst tourists flock to the Ritz and The Dorchester for good reason, there are a plethora of other places offering everything from the simplest scone and cuppa from a local café to the lavish and slightly nutty Mad Hatter Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson Hotel, so there’s no reason not to try something different. Head to The Tea Rooms in Stoke Newington for a reasonably priced spread of homemade miniature cakes and pastries served on vintage china, don your literary cap and be serenaded by poetry whilst enjoying the indulgent Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Chesterfield Mayfair or if you find yourself too busy for a leisurely tea break, hunt down the mobile Braithwaite’s Cream Tea van for decadent Cornish clotted cream scones and apparently the best jam in the city.

Read more about things to do in London

Two Days in Cambridge

Cambridge Backs at dawn

Cambridge Backs at dawn. Photo credit: Alex Brown via Flickr.

Famous for its rich British heritage as well as its world renowned University, the picturesque city of Cambridge, set on the river Cam, makes a welcome change of pace from the commotion of London. While Cambridge University—a medieval building and the seventh oldest university in the world—is one of the city’s principal attractions, there are another 30 colleges in the city, each with their own unique architectural attractions. The college buildings form an impressive array running along the riverbank, a popular stretch of the city known as the ‘Backs’ and although it’s not possible to walk the length of the Backs on foot, a river tour offers some great photo opportunities. For a real flavor of old English culture, take a punting tour along the river and allow your punt guide to fill you in on the history while you float peacefully downstream—you can also give punting a go yourself, but be warned, as many over-enthusiastic tourists have toppled overboard! If you decide to visit some of the college grounds, make sure you check out the famous King’s Chapel at King’s College, the Bridge of Sighs at St.John’s and the Great Court and Wren Library at Trinity College.

Cambridge’s small and flat center makes walking around the sights a breeze, but those hoping to explore a little further can hire bicycles or take a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Cambridge. You could head out to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Europe’s leading aviation museum where the summer months offer a schedule of dramatic air displays, or take in a winery tour at Chilford Hall’s vineyard.

Two Days in Dover

White cliffs of Dover

White cliffs of Dover. Photo credit: Hans Splinter via Flickr.

If you have time, another great day trip is the coastal port of Dover, famed for its white chalk cliffs and immortalized in Vera Lynn’s wartime song, “Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover.” This impressive stretch of coastline is not only one of England’s most iconic landmarks (even Shakespeare mentioned it in King Lear), but it’s also one of the most popular coastal walks for both locals and tourists alike. The cliffs make a scenic walkway and visitors can explore the lighthouse and ponder the impressive cliff-top views whilst soaking up the fresh sea air. If you prefer just to sit back and enjoy the view, boat tours offer great photo opportunities with the imposing cliffs looming overhead.

Dover’s ferry port pays homage to its rich naval history at the Dover Museum, where history buffs can discover the port from which the first cross-channel ferry set sail. A trip to the Dover castle and the wartime tunnels that run under the white cliffs—the secret location from where the Dunkirk evacuation was plotted—are also of great historical interest.

- Zoë Smith

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