London Baby! (I may or may not have said this a few times in the duration of our time in London.) Don’t know what that means? Watch here!We began and ended our trip in London. London Baby! Okay, that was the last time.
We spent 3 days in London and, while it was not nearly enough to experience everything, we were able to get a good , albeit brief, taste of the city.
London is wonderful. It’s busy and diverse in a way that no U.S. city is.
We were fortunate enough to have been gifted the London Pass by some generous friends of ours (thanks guys!!) before our trip and it was awesome! I would definitely recommend it if you are trying to squeeze a lot into a short period of time. The Pass lasts for 2 full days and there are no limits on how much you can use it. It will get you free admission in many locations, and will allow you to completely skip waiting in the queue in certain locations.
The London Pass allowed us to visit the Tower of London, walk the Tower Bridge Experience, go on a Thames River Boat Cruise, explore inside Westminster Abbey (with an audio guide) and visit the Churchill War Rooms.
The Tower of London was recommended to me by several friend and, being married to a lover of History, it was the first thing we did. It didn’t disappoint. We went on a guided tour with a Beefeater, more formally known as a “Yeomen Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London”.
I’m sorry to say most of my knowledge about the Elizabethan times is from Phillipa Gregory historical fiction novels, but I found it quite interesting. We also saw the Crown Jewels (holy diamonds!) and toured the armory where we were able to see many old artifacts – like ancient Royal suits of armor worn.
We went on the Tower Bridge Exhibition– getting to walk across the building spanning the two towers. The views of the city were lovely! The Shard, the newest addition to the London skyline and soon-to-be tallest building in Europe, is nearly complete!
Funny anecdote. It rained frequently throughout our time in London. On the first day we rushed into a (very crowded) coffee shop to escape the rain. While we were sitting down a man backed into Moose (again, it was crowded) and knocked the mug of coffee out of his hands… and all over my pants. It was the first day and one of our three pants I packed for our entire trip was drenched in coffee. (Only a backpack, remember?) It’s funnier now. : )
From there we went on the Thames River Boat Cruise to take us from Tower Bridge to another port near the House of Parliament.
While I’m sure this is a lovely boat ride, it was raining buckets at this point. We stood by a crowded doorway to watch most of the destinations from the dry indoor cabin!
And of course we did the mainstays – we walked everywhere. I used this walking tour and it was great!
This walking tour took us about 6 hours – including the time we spent inside Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms and some food breaks. We saw all the historic sites, including Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and the Mall, St. James Park, Jermyn Street, Big Ben, House of Parliament and visited the National Portrait Gallery.
Westminster Abbey is beautiful. Once you get inside there are free audio guides that give an excellent tour. I hadn’t realized the Abbey was so extensive – waaaay beyond the part you saw in the Royal Wedding!
My favorite part was Lady Chapel. (I have no photos from inside Westminster Abbey. I must not have been allowed to take any.) So beautiful! Check out the ceiling:
One of my favorite things we did was the Churchill War Rooms. I won’t lie. I thought this was going to be super lame and I only went because my husband really wanted to go. I stand corrected – it was awesome and one of my favorite things we did in London.
A lesser known London Attraction, this is a museum inside the underground complex that was Winston Churchill’s command center in World War II. Not only was it the command center, but it included the underground bedrooms provided for many people, from the Churchills down to the staff members. When the war ended the rooms were left untouched until the 1980s.
The site became a museum in 2005. There was even a wartime themed cafe in the old switchboard room. It was here we first tried the British sweet “flapjacks”. I can only best describe it as a maple syrupy granola bar you eat with a fork.
After feeling mercilessly tempted by all the photos on Pinterest, I went to Laduree! We got vanilla bean, salted caramel and raspberry macarons. Let’s just say it’s a good thing there is no Laduree in Boston! Divine.
I’m now just realizing I am missing all my photos from that afternoon! Let’s hope they got misplaced in another folder and not accidentally deleted!
Our last afternoon in London was spent in Regent’s Park. We walked there on a whim and we were pleasantly surprised. I had no idea Regent’s Park was so enormous!
Definitely go check it out. And then get croissants and the Chive and Onion cheddar cheese from the Food Cooperative (a chain market). It will change your world.
Lastly, we spent our final hours at the WB Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Amazing! I won’t go into depth because this topic will get it’s own post. It was magical.
Pret a Manger, a chain on-the-go cafe that makes homemade and all-natural (and delicious) food, is amazing! When are we getting one in Boston? We went to Pret a Manger regularly for a mid-day snack. They have an amazing array of healthy and affordable sandwiches and snacks.
During our time in London we stayed in two locations: we got a private room at Clink 78 Hostel (formerly a courthouse that employed Charles Dickens) and the Travelodge near Euston Station. They were both fairly underwhelming, but quite affordable. Although I should warn you, Clink78 feels a bit sketchy. Finding affordable housing in London was a bit challenging – it turns out we were there the weekend of the London Marathon, which I’m sure greatly contributed to this problem!
Looking back, we would have saved the money taking the fast train from Heathrow to downtown London and would have just taken the bus. The Express Train takes 20 minutes, but is pricey. On our way home we took the bus. It took an hour, but only cost three pounds.
By far the largest misconception (budget-wise) we went in with was the price of the underground. In Boston you can get on the subway and go virtually anywhere for $3. The underground was surprisingly expensive. We walked as often as we could.
Phew, if you are still reading… congratulations!
London was great! Next is on to Scotland!