Monday, May 15, 2017

How to Spend 12 Hours in the City of London (Square Mile)

I don't know how I landed myself with only 12 hours to sightsee in London but if you're ever in London in a time crunch as well, here are my picks of some of the best things to do! My train of thought was that there was no way I was going to see everything so I had to pick my battles.

Since I knew I would have to come back to London, I decided to just explore the City of London really well as my place was in that area. 
This guide focuses on things to see, eat, and photograph mostly around the City of London which is also known as the Square Mile! I did quite a bit of research as I wanted to make sure I had a good plan and I’ll share some of the tips I wish I knew! Hope you'll feel like a friend giving you a run down of what's good and what's not!  

11:00am Gatwick Express

There are a couple of options for getting from Gatwick Airport to the center of London. I chose to go with Gatwick Express as it seemed the fastest and most hassle free as there are no transfers or stops. Oh also there's free WiFi on board! To save money, you can buy your ticket online, I did this and it was pretty easy to pick up my ticket at the platform.

If you arrive in the north terminal, first follow the signs to baggage and then through customs. From there you'll walk into the arrival hall and you'll see clear signs for the trains to south terminal. Once you are at south terminal there's also pretty clear signs for the Gatwick Express. I was really confused when I got off the plane though as there was no signage in the north terminal.


To get on the train, make sure to press the button on the door. I stood on the platform looking silly for 5 mins until I realized that's how the doors open.

Each compartment has an area to store your luggage.

Most seats are in twos although each compartment also has a few seats around a table. Your ticket is not assigned to a seat so you can pick where ever you want. I arrived on a Tuesday morning and the train was 90% empty! Also there's no point real difference in first class versus second class, so just save your money!

The Gatwick Express will end at the London Victoria station and from there you'll see signage pointing you to the Underground trains! I found the train to be a smooth ride and worth the extra money. Especially after a long flight, it's so nice to just sit and be able to use WiFi and not worry about transfers!

12:00pm Cheap Eats at Bow Lane

London is notorious for expensive food. I wanted to grab some take out so I can make the most of my time in London. There are quite a few quick serve restaurants at Bow Lane. They cater towards working professionals on their lunch break, so the service is usually really fast and you can take the food out with you on the go.

Refreshing mint water from Simple Health Kitchen
I went to Simple Health Kitchen and you can pick to have 2 salads and a protein (I got peri-peri chicken) for 6.90 pounds. Some other good choices in the area are Pull'd and Bep Haus.

It was really neat to see the hustle and bustle of a real day in the life of a professional in London. Also, I really enjoyed people watching and listening to the "British Accent". (Do I sound like an ignorant tourist yet?)

I sat on a bench outside the cathedral to have my lunch and take in the sights and sounds

You can take the food and walk 5 mins west to St.Paul’s Cathedral where there is a nice outdoors area that you can enjoy your food.

1:00pm St. Paul's Cathedral

The church was very important to society in London in history so it’s nice to learn a bit more by visiting the St.Paul’s Cathedral. You can see the cathedral dome from across the city as the top galleries are so high up and a definite landmark! Unfortunately when I was visiting, the top galleries were closed for repairs so I wasn't able to see the view from the top, but I'd imagine it to be spectacular! I was also in a rush as there was a special service that day but most of the time it is open until 5pm.

Once you get in, there’s an audio guide that is available which is helpful to learn more about the significance of the cathedral. You can also go up to the whispering gallery which is designed so acoustically you can hear whispers from all the way across the gallery!

This was the first Cathedral I stepped into in Europe so I was definitely in awe with the details on the ceilings and the sculptures. 

Photo courtesy of St.Paul's Cathedral

Afterwards, go to The Wren for a coffee. This coffee shop is set up inside a church and has a beautiful mosaic at the front and high ceilings. Unfortunately when I was going, it was also closing early and I was only able to get a coffee to go. But I'd imagine having a coffee and a break in here to be a great experience!

Such a pretty and unique place to take a break, the coffee is delicious too!
3:00pm Museum of London
I actually didn’t know much about the history of London at all, so I thought it would be helpful to pick up some facts! The Museum of London is a quick walk away and is free to enter although a 5 pound donation is suggested.

There were  a ton of artifacts and the exhibits are set up in a chronological time line. I think I just get overwhelmed in museums though as there’s so much information! I did learn about the big picture progression of settlements in this area which was enjoyable. The other fun part was seeing the remains of the Roman Wall right outside the museum.

If you are interested to learn more about the history of London, schedule an hour to visit the museum! I didn't look too in detail but at least now I have an understanding of the timeline of the city. I found the City of London to be really interesting as this is the area where the Romans settled as Londonium. 

4:00pm Find the Unique/Historic Buildings
I was interested in visiting some of the important buildings in this area. It is also interesting to see the contrast of the historic buildings with the futuristic modern buildings. There are a few landmarks and since everything is close by, it may be fun to walk around and try to spot all these buildings

-Bank of England
-London Stock Exchange
-Leadenhall Market (If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you must visit this! This is where Diagon Alley was shot)

I felt like I was in heavy! I felt the magic around me!

-Lloyd’s (This building has elevators on the outside, it also reminds me of Harry Potter hah)

As a blogger, I'm always on the lookout for cute photo opportunities. Unfortunately I was by myself so I didn’t take any photos with me in them but walking around to find cute instagrammable streets would have been fun. I was a bit disappointed with Postman’s Park and St Dunstan in the East as both are highly rated parks but there was nothing special about them.  

5:00pm Tower Bridge

Next, walk east to the place for the iconic London photo, the Tower Bridge! You can walk on the bridge itself and visit the exhibit. But I think it’s a prettier view to walk along the river. To get to it, follow the signs to the Tower of London, and you’ll see the riverside walk way. A lot of people will congregate at the beginning but if you walk further along the riverway there’s less people and you can get a good photo.

Finally asked a stranger to take a photo of me. Sightseeing alone is hard!

7:00pm Dinner + Rooftop Drinks (Canary Wharf)

My friend joined me at this point for dinner + drinks at Canary Wharf. Our main plan was to go to Bokan which is a newly opened restaurant and rooftop bar in the city.

We found a restaurant nearby, Cafe Rouge, which was only okay. There was nothing too special about it but it also wasn’t bad. Bokan however, totally lived up to my friend's recommendation. The view is gorgeous and the drinks come in such neat presentations. Make sure you make a reservation though as there's not that many seats available!

We ordered a few different ones, the Bowspirit which came in a steel tumbler and with basil on top. The Imperator which came in a wooden box. Hendrick's Teapot came with 2 sets of tea cups and the liquor in the tea pot. There was dry ice in the tea pot so it looks like it was steaming. Overall, the presentation was just spectacular!

Hendrick's Teapot which comes with two sets of tea cups and dry ice in the tea pot!

We sat on the inside as it was a bit chilly, but they have another floor where it’s outdoors and it would be amazing to go to in the summer time!

Honourable Mentions:

If your flight arrives at different time frames, it may also be possible to visit Tower of London. The most famous exhibit is the Crown’s Jewels. I would have also loved to witness the Ceremony of the Keys which requires a booking many months in advance!

It was a jam packed day and I was able to see a lot of the sights I had on my list! Hope this gave you some ideas for your next trip!

Complimentary ticket was received from St.Paul's Cathedral

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