A Virtual Weekend Vacation in London

double decker buses in London


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double decker buses in London

London Calling

As the travel bug makes us itch, we’re starting to dream of places far from home. Foretunately, the sounds, sights, and even tastes of London are easy to access from the comfort of your couch. No jet lag, no lines, and few worries about exchange rates. Tourism and entertainment organizations are hurting. For many, donations are appreciated as these vital institutions struggle to survive. (Thinking about visiting the Big Apple but not sure how to do it safely? Check out our Virtual Weekend Vacation in New York.)

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London Underground

Surround Yourself with the Sounds of the City

During your trip, be sure to immerse yourself in the sounds of London. The website Londontopia has culled the aural atmosphere of the London Underground, a double decker bus and a neighborhood street from the BBC’s thousands of hours of archival sound.

Walkers Prawn Crisps
State Dining Room at Buckingham Palace
Chris J Ratcliffe/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images Europe

See Inside Buckingham Palace

Time for truth: I’ve never taken the Buckingham Palace tour, because I couldn’t stomach the lines. Now you don’t have to. The palace has plenty to see on its website, including the Throne Room, which is not open to the public. 

Related: 19 Virtual Tours of Famous Homes

Queen Victoria
Wikimedia Commons

Get Personal with Queen Victoria

Buckingham Palace lets you see stately rooms, but for a deep dive, you can spend a few minutes (or weeks) plunging into the Royal Archives. Here you’ll find Queen Victoria’s journal — all 141 volumes of it. Dig into Queen Victoria’s detailed virtual scrapbook, which includes such gems as the 1844 duties of the housekeeper at Buckingham Palace (among other things, she took attendance of the household staff at morning prayers).

British Museum
Michael Mulkens/istockphoto

See the Wonders of the British Museum

The British Museum reflects the collections, or plunder, of the 23% of the Earth’s population once ruled by the British Empire. Through Google, the museum has offered a musical three-dimensional timeline that explores art and artifacts organized by century and continent.

Highclere Castle

Go Upstairs and Downstairs at Downton Abbey

It’s a 100-minute drive from London to Highclere Castle, where "Downton Abbey" was filmed. For $3, you can arrive instantly, led on a tour by Carson the Butler (actor Jim Carter). The app includes 360-degree tours, interviews with the current Lord and Lady Carnarvon, and a behind-the-scenes look at dinner at the castle. Lady Carnarvon maintains her own blog and podcast about life at the 19th-century mansion, built on the foundations of an estate that dates to the 9th century.

Gordon Ramsay
Ethan Miller/Staff/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images North America

Make a Meal with Gordon Ramsay

London has its own collection of celebrity chefs. Now you can learn to cook like Gordon Ramsay without being yelled at (although there is some cursing), if you’re willing to splurge on his Master Class for $15 a month. Ramsay teaches how to prep, cook, and plate mouth-watering-looking dishes such as crispy duck with red endive and spinach.   

Related: 11 Online Cooking Classes to Sharpen Your Skills While Stuck at Home

Hampstead Hill Garden
DK Media/istockphoto

Find Peace in an English Garden

From a modern perspective, English gardens show their meticulous planning, but when they were pioneered in the early 18th century, the rolling landscapes were a reaction to the more geometric and formal French gardens. Find your own moment of zen with a video wander through Hampstead Hill Garden and Pergola. It’s seven minutes of gentle breezes and natural sound. For an aerial view (and a New Age soundtrack), rise above it all with a drone.

Related: In Full Bloom: Photos of Gorgeous Botanical Gardens in All 50 States

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in Castleton, UK

Spout Knowledge in a Pub Quiz

The only thing better than a know-it-all is one spouting facts confidently while hoisting a beer. Pub quizzes are a London mainstay, and with pubs closed in the city, they’ve taken to the internet to continue the tradition. Americans will find themselves joining in during daytime hours. Check out Brewdog for their Friday night (London time) pub quizzes, and be sure to register early.

Covent Garden

See the Neighborhoods with an Expert Guide

Tour guides, along with other travel providers, have been hit hard by closures, but that isn’t stopping some of them. Blue Badge guide Katie offers live, in-depth tours of London each Monday on her Instagram. Catch up with the ones you’ve missed on her website. So far, she has visited well-traveled spots such as Covent Garden and uncovered little-known and sometimes sordid history in Borough and Smithfield. Kick in a donation if you can.

National Theatre

Watch a Play at the National Theatre

For nearly 60 years, the National Theatre has been home to the most prestigious actors, directors, and playwrights onstage. From its founding artistic director Laurence Olivier to recent performers Tom Hiddleston and Billie Piper, the National Theatre is the prestige stage of Great Britain. While its house has been dark since March, the theater is offering up a new full production every Thursday through July 9 on its YouTube channel.

Related: A (Virtual) Night at the Opera with Rock & Carolyn

Victoria and Albert Museum

Explore Millennia of Art Objects at the Victoria and Albert Museum

With more than 2 million objects, the Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s largest collection of applied and decorative arts. It is particularly renowned for its South Asian, East Asian, and Islamic arts collections. Already, the museum is curating artifacts related to the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re looking to escape current events, Google Arts and Culture has assembled 5,000 holdings from the museum that allow you to wander through the history of fashion.

Platform 9¾

Hop a Train to Hogwarts

London is steeped in history, and King’s Cross goes particularly deep, believed to be the location of the battle of Celtic Queen Boudica against Roman invaders. It’s said she is buried beneath Platform 9 of King’s Cross Station, and of course, at Platform 9¾, Harry Potter and friends catch their train to Hogwarts. An oral history of the area, recorded between 2004 and 2008, allows railway workers, artists, and activists, among others, to tell their stories.

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Tom Ryan-Elliott/istockphoto

Immerse Yourself in St. Paul's Cathedral

There has been a Cathedral of St. Paul at the city’s highest point for 1,400 years, but the current incarnation is decidedly revolutionary — despite being nearly 400 years old. It was designed by the renowned British architect Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London, and it was the first cathedral erected after Henry VIII divorced the Church of England from Rome. In-depth video tours let you see closer than is possible in person, and bring viewers into the details of this cornerstone of British history.

St Edward's Crown
WPA Pool/Pool/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images Europe

Marvel at the Crown Jewels' Sparkle

First the royal palace and later an infamous prison, today the Tower of London draws crowds to see the crown jewels. Learn the history of such famed diamonds as the 530-carat Cullinan I and the ill-fated Koh-i-Noor, and marvel at the 5-pound crown used in coronations.

Deep Purple in London
John Minihan/Stringer/Hulton Archive

Time Travel to the Swinging Sixties

Sixties London was all about style. Kings Road offered striped pants and miniskirts, while Twiggy, Jane Birkin and Mick Jagger set the tone for visuals. Do a little time travel through CNN’s photo album.

Want to take a tour of the United States during the same time period? Check out 29 Destinations That Defined the 1960s in America.

Abbey Road
Leon Neal/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty Images Europe
The Shard in London

Get a Bird's Eye View from The Shard

London’s newest architectural landmark is The Shard, designed by Renzo Piano and, at 1,016 feet, it's Western Europe’s tallest building. It was inspired by both the city’s church spires and the masts of tall ships. The tower also offers sweeping views of the entire city. Take in St. Paul’s, the Tate Modern, and the London Eye via Will Pearson’s gigapixel panoramic view, and zoom in close enough to see people standing on Tower Bridge.

London Eye

Ride the London Eye

The jellybean-shaped capsules of the London Eye have attracted tourists since the giant ferris wheel opened in 1999. Take a spin and try not to get dizzy as you peer into other cars and zoom in on a labeled 360-degree view.