As it turns out quite a lot can be seen in a thirty-six hour period, and although London is expensive, with a bit of planning there are lots of attractions that allow you to see some of the best spots in London free of charge. Keen to see some of the royal traditions but not so keen to pay the £17.50 student entrance fee to Buckingham Palace (and it’s a summer palace so is not open until July) we still headed in that direction, and instead watched the Changing of the Guard. A foot guard soldier stationed in a sentry box with a scarlet tunic and tall bearskin cap have become iconic of Buckingham palace, the British monarchy and British character. The Changing of the Guard ceremony occurs at 11.30 everyday from May to the end of July and alternate days throughout the rest of the year – the sea of red and the sound of the band is well worth a visit.
From Buckingham palace we headed to Hyde Park, as it was one of those relatively rare instances where there was not rain. Covering 142 hectares Hyde Park can provide the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. If it’s a nice day you can find the perfect spot for a picnic but there are also two restaurants there, which can be enjoyed. If you are looking for something amusing or have some opinions of your own that you want to share with the world head to Speaker’s Corner, where every Sunday since 1872 people have gathered to listen and to heckle speeches about anything. This spot has been used by the likes of Marx and Orwell, but ordinarily the speakers are not quite so high profile. A visit to speaker’s corner can make for some pretty amusing street theatre.
There is a good chance that you may have had enough of politics after Speaker’s Corner (where speakers can now be found throughout the week), but if you are not completely frustrated at the idea of anything remotely political then head for the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. If you are willingly to queue then you can sit in the public galleries in both the Commons and the Lords. When you’ve exhausted Westminster you are not far from Downing Street, and although you can no longer have a picture taken outside the door of Number 10 you can still get a picture of the street. Plus it is not unusual for some of the news to be shot here, so if you are really lucky (or unlucky depending on your view) you might make it into the background on the TV.
From Westminster head for the South Bank, you can walk over the bridge but it might be kinder on the feet to jump on the bus or a tube to Waterloo station. There is always something to see here, from second hand book sales to the famous Globe Theatre. Also there are so many restaurants and cafés along this stretch that it is the perfect spot to refuel.
An evening in London is when the theatres come to life, but a trip to Leicester Square ticket booth can prove the ideal way of getting some cheap tickets (and some good seats) for various shows and plays. There is always something worth seeing and the huge variety means that there is something for everyone.
Your second day in London can be the perfect time to head to a museum, entrance for which tends to be free. There is so much to choose from it might be worth picking one in advance; from the V&A, to the Science Museum to the Imperial War Museum, you will always find something of interest. Also, if it turns out you are just too knackered to look around them properly then museum cafés are a great place for a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake.
The London underground is convenient and easy to use but so are the buses, and outside the tunnels you get to see the parts of London you are actually travelling through. Also, if after your 36 hours, you are heading for a station at a busy time of day bear in mind the public transport can be packed and almost impossible to get on, so it might be worth leaving a little early so as not to miss your train.
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