It’s been more than two months since we boarded a plane to London for our first of many trips to Europe.
Well… maybe I should say we waited in line to board a plane, waited in line to be re-booked, changed gates, waited in line to be re-booked (again), waited in line to board a plane (again), finally boarded a plane, de-boarded a plane, waited in line to be re-booked (for the third time), exited security and ran for dear life to the next terminal, waited in line to go through security, ran to the gate, waited in line to board a plane, and finally took flight.
Phew. That was a mouthful.
This all happened on the first day of our trip before we had even left Boston. Needless to say, after arriving at the airport at 4:30am and finally taking off at 8:55am, we were sweaty, spent, and ready for a nap on our six-hour flight to London. We were KO’d not soon after locking in our seat belts and arrived at Heathrow Airport in what seemed like the blink of an eye. We’re so used to the long haul flight across the Pacific by now that a six-hour flight to get to another continent seemed totally bizarre to us. Brain cannot compute.
From the day we stepped on British soil till the day we left, there was one thing that just never seemed to want to leave us and was constantly hanging over our heads… Literally. It was cold, foggy, and rainy. It was the stereotypical London weather you’d expect but refuse to believe. Luckily there was the occasional, short-lived relief from the downpours (perfect time for a photo op!), but we weren’t going to let it rain on our parade (HA! Get it? I can be funny sometimes..) and made the most of it.
Our days were jam packed. We were up by 8 AM and weren’t back at the hotel until 9 PM or later, with a short pit stop at our hotel to rest our feet a little before dinner. My motto for the trip: We’ll sleep when we’re dead. Yeah.. We stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton London in Westminster, which I highly recommend to anyone traveling to London. The price was more than reasonable for the location, which was only a 10 minute walk or less from Westminster Abbey and Houses of Parliament.
Here is what was on the agenda for our two and a half days in London, accompanied by some photos of the sites:
DAY 1: Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Houses of Parliament & Big Ben, & London Eye
The Tower of London is a historic castle complex that has served a number of functions historically, ranging from a prison for high profile prisoners, including Elizabeth I, to a permanent home for the Crown Jewels of England. We easily spent four hours at the TOL and could have spent another hour of two had we not pre-booked our visit to Tower Bridge.
Tower Bridge, one of London’s most infamous landmarks, was just a short 5 – 10 minute walk from TOL and provides spectacular 360° views of the city from the top, as well as some insight on the history of the bridge and its architecture. It was a bit of a foggy day the day we visited, which caused some obstruction to our views, but it was still an amazing, unique experience that everyone should make time for. And it doesn’t cost much!
From there, we took the Tube to the Monument to the Great Fire of London, but that’s when the rain started to pick up again. It’s in a very unusual spot; when The Monument was originally built to celebrate the re-building of London, it was a free standing column in the middle of a square, but the development of the city has caused everything to be built up around the Monument, so it can get lost in the London skyline. We climbed all 311 steps up the narrow spiral staircase to the top, but by the time we reached the top, it was raining again. That means no photos from the summit. Boo.
Before heading to dinner, we decided to kick off our shoes and have a rest at the hotel for a little bit. The best part about staying in Westminster was convenience. It was pretty central to everything, so a stop at the hotel to recharge our batteries wasn’t a big deal. It also gave me a lot of opportunities to take (way too many) photos of Big Ben and Houses of Parliament during the day, as well as at night.
The London Eye was a bit, um, scary for me. And by a bit, I mean terrifying. I have a horrible fear of heights, so being 443 feet up in the air gave me a lot of anxiety, but I knew I had to get over it because I wouldn’t have many opportunities to take a ride on the London Eye. I may have sat down on a bench with white knuckles way far away from the windows almost the entire time, but I could still see out and take in all the views. It was absolutely stunning, even on a wet, dreary day. The photos don’t do it justice…
DAY 2: National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Wellington Arch, Piccadilly Circus, & St. Paul’s Cathedral
We spent the better part of the day in the National Gallery, which is a massive art museum that houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. I don’t remember much from my Humanities class in high school, but you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate all the beauty they have squeezed under one, albeit huge, roof. We just took our time, looked at the highlights of the collection, and soaked it all in.
The Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square, and the entire time I couldn’t stop thinking of Mary Poppins and “Feed the Birds.” Even though the scene in the movie takes place on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, there were many seed sellers in the square. “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag” … or just don’t feed them and save your tuppence. Birds are gross. If I know you and see you doing it, I will smack those seeds out of your hand and chase the pigeons away like a lunatic. *rant over*
From Trafalgar Square, we took the Tube to Buckingham Palace even though it was less than a mile away. Stupid back pain and fog. All that walking around the Tower of London had already done me in, only one day into our holiday. Sadly, we didn’t have any Royal Family or corgi sightings while we were there, but there’s always next time.
Next, we walked to Hyde Park to check out Wellington Arch, which was originally built to commemorate Britain’s victories in the Napoleonic Wars. I thought it was a famous landmark, but Rich had never heard of it. Yet another moment where I thought I had gone mad. Next to the Arch are various war memorials built to honor a few Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, and their service men and women. It was quiet, and there weren’t many people around because of the weather, so we took our time and enjoyed the sites peacefully.
From there, we took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus, which is close to a major shopping and entertainment district in the West End. It reminded me of Times Square but on a much smaller scale. We walked around a bit and stopped for awhile for afternoon tea. It was refreshing to just sit down and people watch after doing so much mad, crazy walking the last day and a half.
Before dinner, we went back to the hotel in Westminster for another refresher before heading to Southbank. On our way to dinner, we made a pit stop at St. Paul’s Cathedral even though it was closed, but the views were just as stunning. I wish we had just a little more time to explore inside before it closed.
DAY 3: Westminster Abbey
Our original itinerary had us visiting Westminster Abbey on day two, but unfortunately, the Abbey was only open for one hour that entire day due to a private event. We had to change our schedule on our last day in London a little bit because we knew we couldn’t visit London and not tour the Abbey. It would be like going to New York and not seeing the Statue of Liberty. We spent a good 2.5 hours here, and it was another time I wished I had paid a little more attention in World History class and actually retained some information.
Sadly, I don’t have photos of everything we saw; a few of the places we visited didn’t allow for photos inside, like Westminster Abbey, the Crown Jewels, and the National Gallery, so we were good little tourists and actually abided by the house rules. There were times I wanted to follow the crowd and snap a few pictures illegally, but we wanted to be respectful. For me, it’s all about quality and not quantity.
After wrapping up our tour of Westminster Abbey, we headed to St. Pancras International station to catch the high speed train to Paris. For all you Potter-heads, it’s where Harry and his school mates board the Hogwarts Express. In the film, they board at King’s Cross Station, but it was actually filmed at St. Pancras. I haven’t actually seen the films, but that’s what the internet tells me. Haha
My friend Christine, who blogs over at Diary of a Dashing Fashionista, suggested a very special way to end our trip to London while at St. Pancras: with a glass of champagne at Searcy’s Champagne Bar. It was a great way to end three wonderful, albeit very rainy, days in London as we departed for our next adventure…. in Paris!