Fun Things to do in London While Avoiding the Crowds
I hate crowds. I hate crowds so much that I do anything (within reason) to avoid them, and I know that there are others out there who share my sentiments. I also know that as a tourist, crowds are sometimes an inevitable part of traveling, especially in a major city like London.
Our family visited London this summer and had some of its major attractions on our list, like the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and the Tower of London. I thought that I had mentally prepared for the crowds, but I hadn’t — London is crowded in June!
If you REALLY want to avoid the crowds, here are some fun things to do in London that will allow you to experience the best parts of the city and British culture, while limiting your exposure to the masses. Here are four alternative London attractions that will keep you away from the crowds:
Instead of the Changing of the Guards, Go See the Household Cavalry
Talk about crowds! Upon seeing the throngs of tourists, we thought there was something special going on at Buckingham Palace on the day we arrived in London. Apparently, it was just the changing of the Queen’s Life Guards ceremony, which happens daily at 11 am (10 am on Sundays).
I realize that for some people, it might be important to see THE Buckingham Palace ceremony. For our family, we didn’t want to wait for an hour in advance to watch something that we still couldn’t see very well without binoculars.
By luck, we happened to walk through the Horse Guards building in time to watch the 4 pm inspection of the cavalry guards in the Front Yard of Whitehall. It is a smaller-scale version of the changing of the Queen’s Life Guards ceremony, but at a much closer proximity. We were very close to the action and captured some great photos. My daughters even had the opportunity to make faces at the guards in hopes that they would react (it didn’t work).
Instead of Westminster Abbey, Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral
The day we attempted to visit Westminster Abbey, we had planned to arrive early and miss the crowds, but that didn’t happen. When we arrived around 10 am, there was a 45-minute queue outside the Gothic 10th century church. I did want to tour the inside of the church where Prince William and Princess Kate married in 2009, but I did not want to listen to my kids complain about the long wait.
We left with the intent of returning when the line was shorter later in the day. However, by luck yet again, we ended up at St. Paul’s Cathedral, near the London Wall area of town. This beautiful church also has royal historical significance; it is where Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married and where Margaret Thatcher’s memorial service was held.
Online tickets can be purchased in advance which entitle you to fast-track entry (cost is £40/family). The Whispering Gallery offers a fun opportunity for kids to conduct acoustical experiments. Although we never made it to Westminster Abbey, one iconic church visit was sufficient for me.
Instead of the London Eye, Visit Other London Heights
If it’s city views you are seeking, there are multiple options, not just the London Eye, which I’m not convinced is worth the price or the wait. Yes, on a clear day, I can imagine that the city views from the Eye are fantastic, but that said, we felt that the prices (from £18 to £32 per adult) were somewhat steep for a 30-minute ride. Others might feel the views are worth the price, but we decided to skip it.
Instead, we found a bird’s eye view of London at the Tate Modern Art Gallery. Located on the Thames River, the museum provides a clear view of the Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral across the river. The best views are to be had from the espresso bar on the museum’s third floor, or its restaurant on the sixth floor.
Another option for great views is from the dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is quite a climb, but at half the price of the London Eye, the panoramic views of old London city are worth it.
Instead of the London Zoo, Visit Regents Park
We like to visit zoos in whatever town we’re visiting. As the London Zoo is a distance from the other London sites, we could not include it in our itinerary on this trip. However, we did see some wildlife during our walks through Regents Park and St. James’ Park, which we did several times during our stay at London Hilton on Park Lane. There were dozens of types of birds, including the “Queen’s swans” and squirrels, both of which you could hand-feed. They are very friendly. My wildlife-loving daughter listed that as one of her favorite memories of our London visit. To each her own, I say!
London Hilton on Park Lane is located in Mayfair and is very convenient for sightseeing on foot. Just a short walk from Buckingham Palace and Regents and St. James’ Parks, we were able to walk through some beautiful, vehicle-free areas en route to our destinations. In addition, the Mayfair neighborhood offers a variety of pubs and restaurants close to the hotel.
You may also enjoy:
- Planning a Trip to London with Kids
- Scary London – Ghost Tours, Haunted Houses, and Jack the Ripper
- South Bank of London with Kids
- Tips to Avoid Standing in Line
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Erin is a native Floridian who has resided in Atlanta since 1995. Her husband Mike and she have two funny, smart, active girls and two cats.