Free Time in London on England/Scotland/Wales tour
We are not spending any extra days in London after our England/Scotland/Wales tour ends on July2nd so we have to make the very best use of our time there. If you have been on this tour, please let me know what you think should be our top priorities of things to see and do in our free time. Tauck tells me that we have no more than about 4 hours of free time on each day of 3 days that we are in London. Thanks!
Rick Steves website has some great suggestions. Very good at helping you narrow down the choices and planning walking tours. I like my comfort too much to take one of his tours, but his website has great information and I like his pocket guide series of books. I found the Paris and Amsterdam guides small and useful.
As for my personal choices in London. I've been to London a few times and go back again next year at the end of the Seine river cruise. The British Museum is very good and I enjoyed the Tower of London tour. If you like decorative arts (like costumes) the Victoria and Albert is great - I plan to go again next year. The Big Eye wasn't there my last trip so that's definitely on the list for next year. You might also consider one of the hop on hop off bus tours - double decker red buses. You can buy tickets on line beforehand or I'm sure the concierge can help. Of course there is shopping choices galore - Harrods and Selfridges come to mind. I still have some inexpensive souvenirs from a Harrods visit 20 years ago. The food halls alone are worth the visit.
Check the ESW archives, I posted a number of things to do. The tour has changed some since we went in 2013, but we stayed an extra day- should have stayed at least two extra days! In addition to what Claudia suggests here are a few items just off the top of my head:
We had enough time after arriving in London from Windsor and prior to dinner to ride the Eye. It was just over the Golden Jubilee foot bridge from our hotel, the Royal Horseguards, so were a bit closer. Google maps says the Eye is still just a short, 13 min. walk from the Savoy- alongside and across the river.
After touring Westminster, our TD arranged for our local guide to take a bunch of us to Churchill's war room- nicely done- and just a short walk away. I see you also have a free afternoon on Day 13 after touring Westminster.
You can spend a day or more at the British Museum, it is that good and that extensive! If you are short on time, however, the museum supplies various handouts that recommend top attractions if you only have one, two, three, etc. hours. The handout includes a keyed map with route to help you. I think we did the "top 40" list. There is some really iconic stuff there!- like the Rosetta Stone.
Tower of London
Tower Bridge and museum (history and mechanism.)
On Saturday (July 2) the big Portobello Road street market will be in full swing in the Notting Hill area (we took the tube there).
Just Google "London Sightseeing", make yourself a list, plot them on a map or Google maps etc.
I went on this tour in 2012 and don't remember the exact free times and days. There wasn't a lot, I don't think.
In London there are a wide range of choices. Claudia gives you some good ones. I would add my favorite place, The Winston Churchill War Rooms. I've been to London five times. All but the last ones were with my wife. The 2012 E/S/W was our last one. She died in 2013. Since then i have been on several solo Tauck tours...Africa, Yellowstone in Winter, and Antarctica. Last year I went to London for two months and had a chance to see things on a much less hectic schedule. I still didn't see all I wanted to. I am going again this year for another two months. Having made a number of friends there, I am seeing some things the locals enjoy...soccer...oops, football, cricket (I just don't get that game, but a friend is going to go and he'll explain the rules to me), a couple of concerts (yes, dates), some LSO free lunch concerts, Wimbledon, etc.
I will go back to the War Rooms. They are upgrading the technical options and it makes the visit amazing, when added to the preserved rooms and artifacts already there.
You will probably not have enough time for the on-off buses. Remember also, that there will be long queues for many of these venues. You might want to go online and get the tickets before you arrive, once you compile your list. I'd call Tauck and see if they can give you specific dates and times for free time. The caveat here is that things change on the tours and if a venue has a specific time on your ticket, it could become useless (The London Eye comes to mind).
Across the street from the Victoria and Albert Museum is the National History Museum and National Science Museum. They are close to the South Kennington Tube Station and there are a number of restaurants/pubs there with outdoor seating for some people watching lunches.....sans rain, obviously.
I had very little rain last year (I just jinxed myself for this year, I am sure). But it is London, there is usually more rain that I saw (two days that kept me in my flat and maybe four days where it sprinkled out of 60 days).
Visit the pubs in the evening. The people are friendly and always interested in talking to Americans. I figure Donald Trump will be the center of political conversations this year. You can walk anywhere, or for faster transportation use the buses and Tube. Cabs are expensive, but a ride in a London cab is always a must for your first visit.
The Tate Museum is a great museum. It is one the west side of town, on the Thames. The Tate Modern is on the east side and also on the Thames. I am not a modern art fan, so I have never been to that one. If I think a piece of art could be done by my eight and nine year old grandchildren I don't see much value in it.
Covent Garden is a good place, especially on a Saturday or Sunday when more vendors are available. There are musicians performing, especially at the Italian restaurant (classical music and opera). They are very entertaining. They will work on getting you to buy their CD's and give tips.
Theatre is always available in the evenings, if you have time. Concerts too.
Again, I know this is overwhelming. I am just throwing some wet spaghetti against the wall to see what will stick for you.
A number of parks (Green, Hyde, St. James, and Regent come to mind--they are four of the eight Royal Parks). Buckingham Palace will not be open for tours in late June and early July. That happens most often in late July when the Queen is off on holiday. Lunch in Harrods or Selfridge's is good, as suggested by Claudia. There are a lot of bakeries to stop for some breakfast fare. You'll find the food, which was a focus of complaints in earlier years, has really improved.
Hope this helps. I'll be there the same time you are. I hope we have good weather. I am taking a side trip to visit some friends in Brussels and going to either Paris or Rome before spending some time Prague. It is pretty cheap to fly around London. I am working on taking the train to Brussels, through the Chunnel, but it is much more expensive than flying. The experience would be interesting though. I don't know when they will happen yet. I have to wait to see when a local traveling companion can schedule her vacation/holiday for that one.
I think you'll love this trip. It is too bad that you'll miss the Tattoo in Edinburgh. That is a great experience.