If you don’t have much time to see London, don’t waste it by travelling between all the highlights. Stick to one area of the city and you’ll find it much more rewarding. Here’s what to see in one spot in half a day – and, best of all, most of the attractions are free…
The British Museum and Covent Garden
Take a short Tube ride on the Central Line from the hotel to Holborn station. Close by is the British Museum, famous for its Egyptian mummy collection. Other highlights include the controversial Elgin Marbles, taken from the Parthenon in Athens, or the prehistoric ‘Lindow Man’, a body so well preserved in a peat bog that his skin, hair and organs are still intact. If you still have an appetite after that, head to the tranquil Russell Square Gardens for a picnic – they date back to the 1800s. Nearby is Bedford Square, worth checking out for its Georgian architecture. Then hop round to Covent Garden, the old market area, which is now full of restaurants and street entertainment.
See which famous residents lived near the museum
Attend a virtual autopsy of a British Museum mummy
The National Gallery and Whitehall
Take the Tube to Charing Cross, then pass through Trafalgar Square, home to the iconic stone lions, and on to the National Gallery where you can see over 2,000 pictures for free. It’s a treasure trove of famous works by artists including Titian, van Gogh, Monet and Seurat. The gallery was part of the action in the latest 007 movie, with James Bond heading to Room 34, home to Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire. On Sundays, a ‘magic carpet’ lands in front of a painting for an interactive story session for the under-fives. When you have had your art fix, wander down Whitehall to the Churchill War Rooms (£17), the bunker that sheltered the government during World War II. Then chill for a while in St James’s Park.
Find out more about the square and the gallery
What to see at the gallery if you are short of time
St Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern
St Paul’s Tube is a quick trip from the hotel on the Central Line. Start your tour at St Paul’s Cathedral (£16) and don’t miss the Whispering Gallery – whisper into the curved wall and someone on the other side of the gallery can hear what you say. Then make your way to the river and the Millennium Bridge. It may have wobbled when it first opened but this pedestrianised blade is now one of London’s most stunning ways to cross the Thames. Take in the views as you wander towards the old power station that has now been turned into the Tate Modern, a fantastic free gallery. Check out the likes of Picasso and Pollock, join a tour or sit and contemplate the moody works of Rothko.
Take a look at the bridge
Check how the Tube is running before you set off
Three of the cities most famous – and free – museums can all be found in one spot. So take a Tube to South Kensington or Gloucester Road and start at The Natural History Museum, home to the dinosaurs exhibition, with its impressive animatronics. It does get busy – during school holidays you can buy free tickets in advance. If dinosaurs aren’t your thing, other highlights include the Treasures Gallery with exhibits that all have a fascinating story such as Guy the Gorilla, a gentle giant of London Zoo, now stuffed for posterity, who would hold sparrows that flew into his cage, look at them, and let them go. The Science Museum explores space (kids will love the rockets), medicine and technology. The Victoria & Albert Museum, meanwhile, delves into the history of fashion and furniture, and sculpture and photography. Finish the day in Kensington Gardens.
Check queuing times at the Natural History Museum on Twitter
Listen to the stories behind the objects in the Treasures Gallery