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London

Three Days in London:

Day 1:  Walking tour of Piccadilly and Mayfair; Changing of the Guard; National Gallery; Trafalgar Square; Bus tour; Westminster Abbey; St. Paul’s.

Day 2:  Tower of London; British Museum; Bloomsbury;

Oxford St.; Tottenham Ct. Rd.; Soho; Leicester Square; Covent Garden.

Day 3:  Tube to South Kensington; Victoria & Albert and Natural History Museums; Harrods; South Bank.

We also have many videos about London.

London is an enormous challenge to visit in three days, but it can be done!  It is my favorite city in the world, and the most-searched for travel destination in google. Number one! We shall steer you to all the important highlights and help you navigate this incredibly wonderful place.  One century ago London was the world’s largest city, controlling the globe’s most powerful empire.  Today it is still one of the major urban centers, playing a dominant role in banking, commerce and culture, offering the visitor many stimulating things to see and do.  The city covers a vast area consisting of separate villages that grew over time into a megalopolis twice as big as Paris or New York -- but the most interesting part of town is squeezed into a small package in the middle a one-half-mile square that can easily be covered on foot, while the rest of London’s highlights can conveniently be reached by public transit.

You like history? Theater?  London ranks with New York at the top.  Fine arts?  Cutting edge to Old Masters, no problem.  Dining out?  It’s not just meat and potatoes anymore.   History?  On full display in all its glory.  Shopping?  A nation of shopkeepers.  Getting around?  Comfortable shoes, excellent taxis and the “tube” are all you need.  Architecture?  All periods represented.  Communicating?  They invented your language.  Friendly?  Visit some of the 7,000 pubs.  Anything else?  London has it all.

DAY ONE:  

PICCADILLY CIRCUS

Piccadilly Circus was “center of the universe” during the days of Empire and is today a major intersection from which several busy streets radiate.  Filled with both tourists and locals, there is always something going on here.  Merely the size of one block, with the graceful aluminum statue of Eros in the middle, this busy crossroad offers many choices for your first route through town -- and you will certainly come back through a few times as your path curls back through this busy hub.  Piccadilly is a special place in the early evening after a light rain, with glistening sidewalks reflecting the Times Square-like lights from the giant neon billboards, so take advantage if those conditions come together for you. 

There are some shops, restaurants, theaters and amusement attractions to consider at Piccadilly Circus such as Lillywhites, a large casual clothing store, a wax museum of pop music stars, and Trocadero. Adjacent is one of London’s many stage venues, the Criterion Theater, the only underground auditorium in town, one of the exciting London activities to place at the top of your list, so consider the possibilities. 

Piccadilly Circus is on the west edge of the theater district, with about 40 plays going on at any one time in a six block-wide neighborhood called the West End.  Comedies, musicals and dramas are all available every night you are in town, so take advantage and go for it.  There are another 100 smaller venues scattered around town with fringe theater and cabaret revues.  If you hope to get into one of the dozen smash hits, you should plan well in advance and call the theater or a booking agent six months ahead of time. 

There are some handy tricks for getting into a sold-out show.  You can wait on the return ticket line where a dozen people might be able to buy tickets that customers have sold back to the box office, but this takes hours and could be a big waste since you probably won’t succeed.  Alternatively, check with your hotel desk or a ticket agency, which can usually score difficult tickets for a hefty mark-up of 50 percent over regular price.  Similarly, you could pay an extra fee to the ubiquitous scalpers who stand in front of every sold-out show, but be aware their seats may be way up in the balcony with restricted views.  One devious trick we stumbled upon is to casually stroll by a desired show one minute before curtain time when scalpers are sometimes desperate to dump their soon-to-be-useless tickets, whereupon you can turn the tables and get a discount below list price -- but you need a lot of luck to pull that one off.

REGENT STREET and MAYFAIR

The best itinerary for your first day should consider timing to get to the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, so the following two-hour walking route is planned with the end-goal of arriving near the palace at 11:00am.  The Guards change every day, May through July, and alternate days the remainder of the year, except when it rains.

Save Soho for later, for it is dull first thing in the morning and Covent Garden pulls you in the wrong direction.  The most interesting option is to walk north to Oxford Street, then back down through Mayfair and St. James, arriving at the Palace on schedule. 

Starting from Piccadilly, walk along the curved section of Regent Street, one of the most majestic promenades in town offering a sweeping urban vista that is particularly impressive when you stop after three blocks and look back from the corner of Vigo Street.  The sleek oval building across Regent Street is the flagship of Aquascutum, an elegant clothing store with superb displays and service.  Garrard, jewelers to the crown, is adjacent, as is Austin Reed, another major clothing store, and all the way up Regent Street major retailers continue for nine blocks, including Europe’s largest toy store, Hamleys, and Liberty, a designer department store. 

This famous stretch of Regent Street was designed at the beginning of the 19th century by John Nash, one of England’s most important architects.  While it is still impressive, most of his original buildings were replaced by structures twice as large, so much of the original character was lost.  The upper section of Regent Street continues to Oxford Street as a big, wide, busy thoroughfare that is a bit much for peaceful strolling, so we leave that to the hard-core shopaholics who are eager to see nine more blocks of retail.  Instead, leave Regent Street at this point, taking a left on Vigo, which soon becomes Burlington Gardens. 

Streets sometimes change names every few blocks, and are occasionally labeled as Row, Garden, Court, Path, Yard, Field, Hill or Mews rather than Street.  Ye olde terminology is part of the ancient heritage of London, which was founded by Romans 2,000 years before automobiles gave birth to modern streets.  The narrow twisted lanes are another reason you do not want to drive in this town.  And of course, the British drive on the “wrong” side, which you need to keep in mind as a pedestrian because when you cross the street, you must look right instead of left.  This gets confusing, so the safest strategy is to look both ways and keep looking back and forth all the way across.  Drivers will only stop for you if you are in a crossing guarded by a blinking orange light -- and there are not many of those around, so be careful.  Defensive pedestrian strategies are important in your travels because there will be times when cutting across a street in the middle of a block can be faster and safer than using an intersection, where a car could hit you from four different directions rather than one or two in mid-block.  Just don’t take any chances.

BOND STREET  9:00am

Burlington Gardens is just three blocks long, with Saville Row on the right, famous for custom tailoring, and Burlington Arcade on the left, the city’s best example of a covered shopping passage that our route will return to in an hour when the shops open.  Take a right on Old Bond Street into the most expensive shopping turf in town.  Before 10:00am is the least expensive time to see it, because the fancy jewelry and accessory shops are not yet open and the window displays are just being set up.  Compared to busy Regent Street, this is a more peaceful route to walk and the buildings here are each unique.  Pay attention to the upper floors as you walk along and notice the fine sculptural details in the terra cotta cladding on many of the facades, some of which look vaguely Dutch with their fanciful gables.  Like most of London, the buildings here are old and just six floors high, so there is a real human scale and sense of history on this street and throughout the city. 

The exclusive shops on Old Bond include Tiffany, David Morris, Bulgari, Patek Philippe, Georg Jensen, Asprey and four dozen more in the first three blocks, assembled as the biggest concentration of high-end retail in the nation.  Walk on by, not buying but browsing, to the slightly less lofty northern stretch called New Bond Street.  Stop for a photo at the funny statue of Churchill and FDR sitting on a wooden bench.  There are more beautiful shops for clothing, shoes, jewels and designer goods all the way to Oxford Street, but your watch should read about 9:30am so the shops are still not open.  Window-shopping is great fun and provides something useful to do in that hour between breakfast and the 10:00am opening bell for stores and most attractions.

Oxford Street is the busiest shopping boulevard for locals, one mile long and loaded with 60 shoe stores, as many clothing outlets, the huge department store Selfridges (second in size to Harrods), giant record shops, many jewelers, sporting goods stores and much more, but there is actually not much here of interest to the visitor, unless you are primarily on a shopping trip.  The crowds at afternoon rush hour, around 5:00pm, are absolutely the thickest pedestrian concentration in town, so if you enjoy people watching, come back then.  Otherwise, have a brief look this morning, walk along for a couple blocks to get a quick feel, and then skip it.

TO BERKELEY SQUARE

From Bond Street take a left on Oxford and walk two blocks, turning left on Davies Street.  Notice the Hog in Pound pub on the narrow pie-shaped slice at the corner, which come to life later in the day as one of the busier watering holes in town.  Davies has a more peaceful residential character, with hardly any shops at all and quaint side streets called “Mews” because they were formerly lined with stables for the horses of the upper crust but have since been transformed into very exclusive townhouses.  If you want to see Grosvenor Square and the American Embassy, detour right on Brook Street for a block, deeper into Mayfair; otherwise keep walking south on Davies.

In a few blocks you reach the very pleasant patch of greenery called Berkeley Square (pronounced bark-lee, of course), which is typical of the many small parks, the size of one block, scattered around town.  Take a load off and rest on a comfortable bench in the cool shade of the giant plane trees, watching squirrels scamper about.  It is important to rest for 5 or 10 minutes every hour while on your walking tours, so this is a perfect spot to do it.   You have already accomplished a lot in your first early morning, and now things are going to pick up even more.

From Berkeley Square exit the park on the southeast end, returning three blocks over to Bond Street via the Royal Arcade, and continue to the Burlington Arcade.  Along the way you will pass Brown’s Hotel, at 30 Albemarle Street, one of the swankiest places in town for afternoon tea.

The Burlington Arcade is one block long and has 40 small shops with exquisite, expensive merchandise.  London’s covered 19th-century malls were copied from the Parisian glass-covered passages that had become the rage, and are early inspirations for our modern shopping centers.  While presenting the standard range of clothing, antiques and jewelry, each shop is unique with only the highest quality items on display, and they are just starting to open, as your watch should now read 10:00am.  Take some time to browse, but don’t run, chew gum or make loud noises, lest you be stopped by the beadle, a traditional uniformed security gentleman on duty to maintain a proper sense of decorum.

Emerging on busy Piccadilly, turn left and pass the Royal Academy, peering into the elegant courtyard for a look at how the aristocracy lived 200 years ago.  Now a major art museum with changing special exhibits, make note of what is on in case you are interested for a visit later in your stay. 

Take some time for a thorough visit to a very special food store across the street, Fortnum and Mason, founded three hundred years ago and going strong in their recently expanded department store.  It is the most famous gourmet shop in town with an elegant atmosphere of crystal chandeliers, mahogany counters and tuxedoed clerks.  The ground floor is foodie heaven, stocked with teas, caviar, pastries, meats, biscuits, wines, perfect produce, pasta, chocolates (free samples), soups, condiments, jams, and this list goes on all day, so take 30 minutes to buy something that says Fortnum and Mason, making a nice present for those less fortunate back home.  Best of all, you can have tea in their Fountain Restaurant, perhaps with a strawberry tart.  Convenient restrooms are another plus.  There are four levels of clothing and general items upstairs, but that is not the main attraction.  Properly fortified, you are now ready for the palace guards, just five short blocks away, so leave the store by 10:50am.

ST. JAMES

Behind Fortnum and Mason you will find another elegant small shopping street tucked away, Jermyn Street, with a couple of aromatic interiors worthy of a sniff -- Floris, for soaps and perfumes, and then Paxton and Whitfields, with 300 different kinds of cheese on offer.  You can smell a couple of divine odiferous centuries here.  Look into St. James, one of Christopher Wren’s magnificent parish churches, with a serene simple interior flooded with light shining through the large clear windows.  The church also has a sidewalk market and café out front.

Walk a block down Duke of York Street to the centerpiece of this district, St. James' Square, a small public park like Berkeley Square, with green lawns, flower beds, inviting benches and many tall trees.  Pass through to the other side and continue to Pall Mall, a fancy street lined with gentlemen’s clubs.  This will lead you over a couple of blocks to St. James Palace and the first phase of the Changing of the Guard.

CHANGING THE GUARD

What follows is a formula to help you avoid the crowds and get the most out of the colorful changing ceremony.  The pomp and circumstance of this ritual is great fun, with the redcoat soldiers in their tall black hats parading to the bouncy rhythm of a marching brass band.  You want to get to St. James Palace at 11:10am and wait along the curb on Marlborough Road for the first phase.  There will already be a small crowd there, so just walk along the block until you are able to find a clearing and stand right at the curb, which will give you an unobstructed view.  In a few minutes the guards will emerge with a small band and assemble in formation in the courtyard of the Tudor-style palace, which is currently home to Prince Charles and was home to English monarchs for 300 years, starting with Henry XIII, until Buckingham Palace replaced it in 1837.

The small squad of soldiers and a marching band will walk past you quickly, so have your camera ready for the shot with a nice palace backdrop.  Then you want to catch the next phase by walking across St. James Park, enjoying a very pleasant stroll, crossing the footbridge over the lake, which delivers nice views of Buckingham Palace and Whitehall in the other direction.  After the bridge turn right and follow the path along the lake, looking for swans, pelicans, ducks and squirrels along the way, heading towards the corner exit at Birdcage Walk and the Wellington Barracks, where the main troops and marching band are assembling. 

Rather than dashing over to the fence for a closer look at the soldiers, you want to walk right around the corner heading towards Buckingham Palace, finding another clear spot by the curb for a good view.  In a few minutes the troops will come marching by in all their glory with the big band sounding off wonderfully, then disappearing behind the palace gates.  That’s it for the main event, but you can also catch the impressive mounted guards coming through, if you walk to the right along the curved path behind the flower beds to The Mall, where you get a perfect view of Buckingham Palace, and in a couple minutes the soldiers will ride by on their big black horses.  Don’t bother hanging around for the next 30 minutes waiting for the band to come out again -- it’s time for lunch.

TRAFALGAR SQUARE

This afternoon is going to be very busy, with a major museum and a bus tour.  Walk through beautiful St. James Park ¾ of a mile to Trafalgar Square, another great landmark surrounded by majestic buildings, with Lord Nelson towering above it all on his soaring column.  At the northeast corner you’ll see the classic church spire of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, which became the model for thousands of later churches.  There is a nice café in the basement with a lot of inexpensive choices, and free concerts in the church on Monday, Tuesday and Fridays at 1:00pm.

The National Gallery, one the world’s great art museums, is on the north side of Trafalgar Square.  Even if you are not a major art fan, you owe it to yourself to have a look, and for those who appreciate the great masters, you could stay for a few hours in total rapture.  Admission is free and there is a cafeteria downstairs for a quick wholesome meal that will also give you a chance to sit down and rest.  The museum has a complete collection of all the important European painters, from the Gothic through Impressionism, displayed in beautiful galleries that were recently renovated.  This art museum ranks in the world’s top four, along with the Louvre, Hermitage and New York’s Met, so go see it.

BUS TOUR

In front of the National Gallery is a great place to catch a tour bus, which is your next big adventure.  You will be tired after the busy morning and the museum, so the tour will enable you to sit down for two hours and relax while the sights glide by.  Several companies offer similar tours with open top double-decker buses winding through town in a two-hour route that shows you a nice overview of the important landmarks.  You definitely want to sit upstairs in the open for the best view, so if this is a rainy day, postpone the tour for better weather.  You can hop off and hop back on a later bus at places that catch your interest.  The tour takes you by the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, through the West End, across Tower Bridge and into the downtown financial center.  Even when you are stuck in London’s heavy traffic or waiting at the bus stop for more passengers, you will always have an eyeful of fascinating sights, accompanied by live commentary from the guide.

There are two places along the tour route especially worth entering:  Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  These are two of the grandest structures ever built, and even if you are not religious you will be extremely impressed by their majestic beauty, representing two great periods of architectural history.  Westminster Abbey is one of the finest Gothic churches in the world, impressive as Notre Dame in Paris (if not more so).  Edward the Confessor began the building around 1050 and large-scale expansion commenced in 1245, with major additions made during the next 500 years, resulting in this astonishing harmonious complex.  St. Paul’s Cathedral was built by the great Christopher Wren between 1675 and 1708 in the Baroque style with many Renaissance influences.  The Abbey is open until 5:00pm, while St. Paul’s closes at 4:00pm and then reopens at 5:00pm for the free “evensong” service, with a choir singing heavenly music.  Admission to each church costs about $7 and is well worth it.

By the end of the bus tour it will be time to return to your hotel to freshen up and rest a bit before heading out for an evening of dinner and theater.

DAY TWO:  Tower of London, British Museum, Soho, Covent Garden, Leicester Square

TAKE THE TUBE

With today’s busy schedule you’ll want to get around by tube, the underground rail service that is the quickest way to travel from one part of town to another. 

TOWER OF LONDON

Start your day with a visit to the Tower of London, the city’s premier attraction, arriving by tube at the Tower Hill station.  This huge castle on the Thames is the oldest building in London, dating back to 1078 when William the Conqueror began construction.  It is a complete delight, not only for the Crown Jewels, but for the entire experience.  The lines to enter get very long by mid-day when all of the morning bus tours finish, so you should come in the morning to avoid the crowds.  The Tower opens at 9:00am, but arriving just after 9:30 would be perfect because by then all of the costumed guides will be at their posts giving their interesting presentations about life in old England.

The Yeoman Warders (or “Beefeaters”) are the most famous Tower guides of all, with their Elizabethan costumes and fascinating stories about the history of torture, imprisonment, ghosts and intrigue surrounding this royal fortress.  You can follow them from one part of the complex to another for a complete one-hour tour, or more likely, catch some of the stories and then continue on your own.  Presentations by other guides in period costumes on the Tower grounds are also entertaining, with demonstrations of various household utensils, tools and artifacts used in the residence.  These guides are happy to talk with you and answer your questions, offering a very personal experience.

Of course the Crown Jewels are the main attraction, so get to the Jewel House early in your visit before the lines start forming.  Enjoy the video presentations in the two lobbies, but skip ahead if you don’t feel like watching it all.  The jewels display room is well-designed, with moving sidewalks along both sides of the cases that you are welcome to ride several times to see both sides.  Look for the world’s largest diamond, the Cullinan stone, in the royal scepter.

 

The White Tower is the oldest building of the castle and has a spectacular, multi-level display that has just been completed after many years of renovation, featuring suits of armor and historic weapons, with informative signs and video displays.  The Tower Green was site of many executions, including that of Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded for her inability to have a male child, even though she did give birth to a great monarch, Elizabeth I.  She played an indirect role in creating the Church of England because Henry VIII broke with Rome to marry her.  Not good enough -- off with her head.  You can also walk along sections of the outer wall for nice views of Tower Bridge and the castle complex.  The Tower visit can easily be completed in 90 minutes, or 2 hours if you stay with the Yeoman Warder for his entire tour. 

Maintaining a sense of history, continue on to the British Museum, via tube, changing trains at Liverpool Station.  If this happens to be a Sunday, you might consider a detour to the lively street market at Petticoat Lane, just two blocks from the Liverpool Station.  It goes for a mile and is packed with locals looking for cheap clothing, hardware, accessories and all kinds of junk.  You probably won’t buy anything but the raunchy atmosphere is appealing to some.  London’s other famous street market happens on Saturdays at Portobello Road in Notting Hill, with more of an emphasis on antiques along with plenty of cheap goods.

BRITISH MUSEUM

Continue on the tube to Holbron and stroll a few blocks through Bloomsbury, a noted intellectual neighborhood that is home to the University of London and the British Museum.  Emerging from the tube you will find a confusing tangle of streets, but bear right on New Oxford Street as it forks from High Holbron, and then turn right on Museum Street.  This is a pleasant two-block stretch of bookstores and old-fashioned shops, with a couple of great eating choices.  The Museum Tavern is one of the most traditional pubs in town and always serves a delicious hot lunch from its buffet table, or you could try Wagamama, an extremely popular Asian noodle restaurant a block west at 40 Streatham Street.

The British Museum is one of the oldest museums in the world.  It opened in 1759, and has the huge indoor Great Court and special exhibition galleries.  The ancient Greek and Egyptian collections are the main treasures, especially the Elgin Marble statues from the Parthenon in Athens and the vast number of mummies, colossal statues and jewelry from the ancient civilization of the Nile.  You will also find interesting displays about the Romans in Britain, ancient Assyrians, Celtic prehistoric life, and the Middle Ages.  A good visit could be completed in 90 minutes, and admission is free, so this is a very attractive activity.  The museum is open daily from 10:00 am until 5:30pm, and till 8:30pm on Thursday and Friday.

SOME LIVELY NEIGHBORHOODS

After the museum you will be back on the busy shopping streets of Central London with several tempting destinations on hand.  Two blocks west you will find the lively intersection of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, which is shopping central.  For the electronic gadget fans you can find all the latest on these three blocks of Tottenham Court, while those looking for shoes or clothing might have a go at Oxford Street.  Once you have the shopping under control, resume your walking tour by heading south through this same intersection where Tottenham Court changes name and character to become Charing Cross Road, a famous literary street with many bookshops, including Foyles, the largest in town.  This wonderful street for strolling leads into London’s most interesting neighborhoods -- Soho, Covent Garden and Leicester Square -- which are in full swing by mid-afternoon and stay lively all night.

SOHO

Just 1/4 mile south you will arrive at the busy intersection called Cambridge Circus, which is in the center of this afternoon’s exploratory zone.  Plunge into Soho by walking down Old Compton Street, and meander through the fascinating side streets, Greek, Frith and Dean.  You will see lots of people having a great time standing on the sidewalks drinking, talking and carrying on in a big party scene.  This action gets especially busy from 5:00pm on through the night, so you might want to come back here again later to hang out if it is your style of fun.  There are many excellent restaurants here, especially Soho Soho, L’Escargot and Mezzo.

Next stop, Chinatown.  Cross over the busy theater street, Shaftsbury Avenue, and walk one block south to Gerrard Street, the center of  London’s Chinatown.  It’s a small neighborhood, just four square blocks, but it has about 40 Chinese restaurants and lots of Asians hanging out and shopping.  Greater London has several other Asian neighborhoods where people live and work, but this original Chinatown is still the busiest of all.  Another block south you’ll find one of the city’s busiest squares.

LEICESTER SQUARE

Leicester Square (pronounced Lester) is the one of the most exciting centers of London, so have a look around and soak in the energy that is always flowing here.  Mobs of people coming and going, youths lounging on the grass having a party, bench-sitters lining the paths that cut through the square, all surrounded by huge movie complexes and mediocre restaurants.  Better meals can be had elsewhere, but there are a couple of watering holes to consider.  The action picks up in the afternoon and carries on till midnight, with a steady supply of street performers (called buskers here) to keep you entertained.

The sure thing for theater discounts is found at the half price “tkts” ticket booth, open from 10:00am – 7:00pm, Monday through Saturday, and noon-3:30pm on Sunday when only a few theaters are open.  You can usually get good seats for half the shows in town, but not the most popular ones.  The most desirable seats are in the section called “Stalls” which is equivalent to our ground level orchestra, and their balcony is termed the “Circle.”   Treat yourself to the best seats available as close to the stage as possible, even if you are off to the side. 

A note of warning about the half-price theater booth:  be sure you go to the right one, because there are some pirate store-front operations here with big signs that proclaim “Half Price Tickets,” but they are frauds.  Look for the freestanding clock tower building in the square to get the real deal.  When the ticket booth opens in the morning, there is often a long line that you can avoid by shopping in the afternoon.  More seats become available throughout the day, so you can find many good deals right up until 7:00pm closing.

Exit the square out the northeast corner, in the direction of the tube station next to the Hippodrome club.  Now you are heading for the day’s final attraction, Covent Garden.

COVENT GARDEN

You can easily get to the center of the action at the Piazza by walking from Leicester Square along Long Acre, passing the world’s largest travel bookstore, Stanford, reaching the Covent Garden tube station, then taking a right down busy James Street, always filled with pedestrians and oddballs.  Alternatively, and more fun but a bit confusing, exit Leicester Square on the diagonal that cuts by Burger King, called Bear Street, then cross the road and disappear into the little pedestrian alleys that lead over to the Piazza.  These few blocks of narrow passageways lined with shops are so quaint it feels like you have slipped back a few centuries.  Salisbury Pub, Brown’s and Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant are three of the best eateries in this neighborhood.  St. Martins Court, New Row and King Street lead right into the Piazza.  Refer to your map and you can’t get lost. 

There is no garden at Covent Garden, but you will find many attractions that could turn this into your favorite part of town, because it is filled with unique shops, numerous restaurants, lots of sidewalk entertainment, marvelous buildings and vast pedestrian zones.  For many people this is the heart of London.

 

In the middle of the Covent Garden Piazza is the Central Market, made famous because Eliza Doolittle sold flowers here in My Fair Lady.  The area used to be the main food distribution market for London, but that was all moved out in 1974 and the shops came in, converting this into a daily street festival.  You can usually find three or four sidewalk entertainers in various parts of this large public plaza, especially in front of St. Paul’s Church, the neoclassical creation of Inigo Jones, who designed the entire piazza in the Italian style back in 1631.  Street performers have been a tradition ever since.  It was the first residential square in London and was an instant hit, with high society moving right in and turning the Piazza into one of the most fashionable parts of town. 

Covent Garden became a cultural center with the opening of the Theater Royal in 1663 and the Royal Opera in 1732.  Both theaters are still in operation today, with the latest Opera reconstruction just finished in a grand scheme that has finally completed the Piazza with the northeast colonnade.  Live performances from the Opera’s stage are projected on a giant outdoor video screen in the Piazza on many summer evenings.

The covered market building in the center is a grand old structure from the 19th century, built of metal and glass in the early industrial style that looks like a giant open greenhouse, with three arched atriums that shelter open-air merchant stalls.  Craft fairs are held every day with a frequent rotation of sellers that gives you a reason to come back again tomorrow.  Classical string quartet performances by students from the London College of Music are often happening in the outdoor lower level of the South Hall, or maybe you’ll catch the Chinese ensemble on James Street by the tube station. 

The area for several blocks around the Piazza is also called Covent Garden, and has many nooks and crannies for you to explore.  Rules, London’s oldest restaurant founded in 1798, is a block away on Maiden Lane, still serving traditional English food in a comfortable cozy atmosphere.  Another attraction is the London Transport Museum, if you would like to see dozens of old buses, cars, bicycles and rail cars.  You could wander further down towards The Strand and drop into the elegant Savoy Hotel for tea, and then continue on to Waterloo Bridge for the best views along the Thames.  Art lovers might continue another block to the Cortauld Institute to admire their fine Impressionist collection.

A favorite walk from the Piazza is to head north a few blocks along Neal Street, a pedestrian lane that has more pubs, shops and restaurants, especially Food for Thought, a wonderful little vegetarian place in a basement, offering delicious healthy food at low prices, with small communal tables.  Thomas Neal’s is an old warehouse converted into a chic shopping complex that retains the original brick architecture, with Belgo Centraal in the adjacent basement, for mussels and Belgian beer.  Wandering back through Soho would be a good way to end the day.  Find a great dinner and get ready for tonight’s play.

DAY THREE:  SOUTH KENSINGTON, MUSEUMS, HARRODS, SOUTH BANK

By now you have already seen most of the significant attractions of the city, but there are some more fascinating museums to experience, and Harrods, perhaps the world’s greatest store.  The best suggestion for this morning is take the tube to South Kensington and visit the two big museums here, the Natural History and the Victoria and Albert.  They open at 10:00am, so if you are early, take a stroll around South Kensington and soak up its village atmosphere.  Tea and scones at a sidewalk cafe can help pass the time while you wait for the museums to open.  The museums are an easy one-block walk from the village center.  Avoid the boring pedestrian tunnel from the tube station unless it is raining.

In the old days you had to pay admission to enter each museum, but now they are free.  These are big, big buildings.  The Victoria and Albert is the world’s largest decorative arts museum, with 4.5 million objects in 170 galleries spread over 12 acres on six levels, with 7 miles of corridors to follow, so you are not going to see it all.  There are rooms for every taste, including sculpture, furniture, clothing, musical instruments, jewelry, tapestries, architecture, paintings, silver, porcelain, photography and graphic design.  A personal favorite is the large collection of “Fakes and Forgeries,” full-size copies of the greatest statues of Europe.  Asian cultures are also represented, with sections devoted Japan, Korea and China.

When you have absorbed as much as you can, walk next door to the Natural History Museum, which is half as large, filled with stuffed animals, bugs, dinosaurs, plants, metal ores, gemstones, and other vivid displays that tell the story of nature and survival.  It is worth going here just to see the soaring brick lobby, 100 feet wide and 170 feet long with dinosaur models 85 feet long representing some of the largest creatures who ever lived.  Behind it is the Science Museum, also free, if you must see more, with a focus on technology and hands on for the kids. 

HARRODS

The next major goal today is Harrods, which is just ½ mile along Brompton Road, so you could walk.  Or, if you are feeling worn down by the museums, hail a taxi.  There are certain key times when a quick taxi ride comes in handy, and this is one of them.  You could take the tube to Knightsbridge, but it is only one stop, and by the time you walk over to the station, get down to the platform, wait for the train, and finally get there, you might as well have walked.  If you are getting hungry, keep your eyes open for the little restaurants along the way, sometimes down the side streets like Beauchamp Place, or if you don’t mind paying a little more, you can eat in one of Harrods 22 restaurants.  For the ultimate luncheon splurge, indulge in the $48 buffet in the Georgian Restaurant to enjoy a devastatingly delicious meal fit for a king.  The flamboyant storeowner, Mohamed Al Fayed, lavishes such a personal priority on this spread that he inspects it daily and promises “there really is nothing else on earth that can compare with Harrods.”

Paradise for shoppers, this largest store in the UK has 300 departments that sell nearly everything.  It covers 20 acres on seven different levels, and while it can be confusing to navigate, the staff is always ready to assist.  Unlike most modern stores, the many sales clerks here are actually experts in their areas.  Be sure to experience the elaborate temple motif of the Egyptian Hall on the ground floor, which leads directly into the most famous section, the Food Halls, where you can purchase teas, jams, cookies and chocolates that say Harrods. 

When you are done, there could be extended shopping thrills along Brompton Road, with its many boutiques, leading to another big department store of high quality, Harvey Nichols, especially for the ladies.  The Nichols cocktail lounge is yuppie central for networking and hooking up after work.

SOUTH BANK

One final major neighborhood of the city beckons, especially for the art lover, on the south side of the Thames. Dubbed the South Bank, this district has really come into prominence in the last few years with completion of several major attractions:  the Tate Modern with an excellent 20th century art collection, the Globe Theater, and the Eye of London, the world’s largest Ferris wheel offering a spectacular view over the entire city.  This “left bank” of London has been a cultural center for many years with concerts, events and exhibits offered at the Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, Royal National Theater, Bankside Gallery, and other attractions like Oxo Tower, London Aquarium and Vinopolis, but the renewed artistic spirit is something to see -- so if you have time at the end of your three days, come on over and take a walk along the newly-opened river walkway that connects these cultural landmarks, and top off your visit with a ride on the extremely popular Eye of London at twilight.

That covers many of the important angles for three days in London, but if you are game for more you could easily spend another week -- or an entire lifetime -- exploring the other fascinating neighborhoods, museums, and outlying districts of one of the world’s greatest cities.   You could also take day-trips out of town, picking from many great choices like Hampton Court, Windsor, Greenwich, Stonehenge, Bath or Cambridge.  Your hotel desk can easily arrange a bus tour for you, or you could wing it on your own by train.  It would even be possible to take the fast train in two hours to York, a medieval walled town in the north, and continue from there to explore the rest of England.