It sounds a little hokey but one of our favorites things to do when first exploring a new city is to take an open top bus tour around the city. We started doing this back in 2004 when one of Hope's friends recommended that doing that around Washington, DC(1) was the best way to feel like you were able to see everything. Afterwards (or during, since the tours are "hop on, hop off") you can pick which sites where you to actually spend significant time.
We quickly found several and chose "The Big Bus Tour". This tour definitely impressed; it included funny and knowledgable tour guides, a free river cruise on the Thames and your choice of walking tours.
One of the tour guides pointed out that London had it's own September 11th Memorial. I was a little surprised by this (does the US have memorials to disasters in other countries?) and we decided to check it out. It's specific to the Brits who died in the World Trade Center but we were still moved that they had erected it. It included actual steel that had been removed from the wreckage. It's also in Grosvenor Park, an area with lots of American connections. The least of which is the US Embassy.
We toured most of the morning then stopped in a pub for lunch and had angus burgers and cask ale. We tried burgers once or twice in Ireland and they were terrible. However, the English (Scottish?) angus burgers were excellent.
We had the first of many visits to Picadilly Circus (the Times Square of London, pictured below behind Hope) and Trafalgar Square.
In the latter we spent some time in the National Gallery (the only free attraction in London). We took The Big Bus Company's "Beatles' Walk" showcasing unmarked London landmarks of the band including the first club they played after coming to the big city from Liverpool:
We then went to Leicester Square to do something I had planned from the minute we figured out the timing of this trip: see the Harry Potter movie in London. What could be more British? We purchased tickets (for way too many pounds) at the Odeon Leicester Square which turns out to be the theatre(2) where they've premiered each Potter film. It wasn't a big cinema multiplex like what we go to here in Indianapolis but more like a stage theatre with assigned seating (at different prices) and only one movie playing.
We killed time before the show with dinner, where we were served the best nachos that I've ever had (in London, who'd have guessed?) from a non-English speaking (I think he might have been a Viking) waiter in a pub called "The Crooked Surgeon".
After the movie we went back to our hotel and hung out in the bar drinking the one beer on tap, Carlsberg, which seemed a steal at 2 pounds 20 until I did the math and realized that each pint was $4.40.
We met two young travelers staying at the adjacent hostel: Drew a 19 year old Coloradoan who was living off his Grandmother's money for six months and Madelaine 25 year old DC native who didn't have a visa but was using up what little cash she had while she tried to get paid under the table while serving drinks or walking dogs. They were both drinking well vodka and 7UP since it was the cheapest drink the bar served (2 lbs : $4). Expensive town.
1. We endorse the Old Town Trolley tours in Washington, DC. We've done the daytime one twice and the "Monuments at Night" tour once. 2. A British word.