We arrived in London just after lunch time on a Friday. We had another time change to deal with as well as the early rise for the flight coming in, so things moved more purposefully that day. From the airport it is very easy to catch the underground into London. There isn’t much need to get an express train ticket or hire a ride to get almost anywhere in London (don’t get tricked into the express train as its offered multiple times before you exit the airport terminals). We easily purchased our oyster cards from the machines at the airport station and took the Piccadilly line into the city and then the Jubilee line to West Hampstead Station which was a few blocks from our Airbnb. We had yet to eat, so it made sense to stop at the closest pub for Fish and Chips. It was well worth the splurge on our budget for some warm food in The Railway Pub. The last task for the night was to stock up on a few groceries to continue our budget type trip. (We went to Aldi and it was much cheaper than expected…20 pounds for a week).
Saturday morning, we were excited to see all London had to offer. Exiting the underground at the Westminster station we exited to the sight of the Palace of Westminster with Big Ben, House of Parliament, and House of Commons drawing our eyes. These historic structures are incredibly detailed in their Gothic architecture and became iconic landmarks of the city. After soaking in the initial excitement of a new city we headed over to Westminster Abbey. I had insisted on touring Westminster Abbey and Whitney kindly bought the tickets online the night before and had us both download the associated App for the free audio tour. We neared the Abbey and saw a line running far down the sidewalk. As it turns out, if you buy the tickets directly from their site you can skip the line. (I overheard that the long line was for everyone that booked through a third party agency or was using the London pass.) We entered the church, connected our headphones and carried on the tour. There is so much history in this church. The most important to mention is the grave of the Unknown Warrior with its Roses surrounding the black marble…nothing else needs to be said.
From there we split a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches sitting in Parliament Square, then set off on quite a trek through London. We walked way too much our first full day…here’s the list of sights we saw and in what order we passed each one (I used the free app Ulman for London and found it to be extremely helpful; there’s a screenshot below).
- Palace of Westminster
- Big Ben
- Westminster Abbey
- Trafalgar Square
- Piccadilly Circus
- Green Park
- Buckingham Palace
- Wellington Arch
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Kensington Palace and Gardens
Somehow we managed to see nearly all these highlights on our first full day. I forgot that we were taking it easy and in the excitement we went all out. Needless to say, we were a little burned out and wanted to take it easy on day 2.
Waking up on day 2, we had only one thing set which was afternoon tea. Aside from the fish and chips we checked off on arrival, the other ‘British’ thing to do was enjoy an afternoon tea…Tea Time. So Whitney made a reservation at Dean Street Townhouse at 3pm. That would give us most of the day to slow down, see a few sights and gradually make our way to the restaurant later. At the recommendation of Nicole, a new friend from Iceland, we headed to Columbia Road Flower Market for our Sunday morning. There was a bit of a crowd, but it was still a good time. We wandered through the market, checking out all the brightly colored fresh flowers. Multiple musicians were scattered through the area playing some soft Sunday morning tunes for the crowds. Following a little rain shower we grabbed a couple cappuccinos to go from one of the small restaurants to warm up on the cool breezy morning. All in all a perfect Sunday morning.
After sipping the last of our cappuccinos, we decided to walk back into downtown London. (I would not suggest this, it was way too far to walk.)
We followed a few other maps saved in my iPhone and eventually walked up to the Tower of London followed by the Tower Bridge. (I recommend opening google maps when you have Wi-Fi keeping the app open in the background with the local maps loaded and GPS will continue to work even without signal). The sun slowly started to peek through the clouds after we crossed the Tower Bridge and traveled down the south bank of the River Thames. There were numerous restaurants along the way, many with outdoor seating that offered a great view. We also passed through Borough Market, which is a large food market that was bustling with visitors. The food everywhere smelled amazing, but we were on track for afternoon tea and only wafted the savory scents as we took in the sights.
The Shakespeare’s Globe Theater (a replica of the original) was not far from the foot of the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian only bridge, that took us across the River Thames to view St Paul’s Cathedral. We only viewed both of these from the outside this time. However, I was interested in taking a tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral, but decided against it as we were running out of time. From here we caught the underground to the SOHO neighborhood of London. Wandering briefly in this neighborhood, we found it to be reminiscent of neighborhoods in New York City with a smaller Chinatown bordering Little Italy and numerous bars and restaurants throughout.
We finally made it to Dean Street Townhouse right on time for our reservation. We were seated immediately and able to finally sit down and relax. We sipped tea and enjoyed the scrumptious afternoon tea setup. The entire atmosphere accompanied with hot tea was quite soothing. The scones certainly complimented the tea and were the best part in my opinion. It was a great afternoon tea that I’d recommend to the next traveler, but sort of a splurge at 50pounds (63USD) for the two of us attempting a budget trip.
Afterward, we got a little overzealous and decided to walk to Hyde Park. Again, it was way too far to be walking, but the sun was shining and the day had finally warmed up. The British Summer Time Music Festival happened to be going on so we sat back on the grass far outside the gates of the festival and listened to the music in the distance…and people watched of course, which is always entertaining.
Our third day in London we decided to take a trip out of the city. See Our London Day Trip: Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge.
On our last full day in London we wanted to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, a must see for anyone traveling here. We made our way to Buckingham Palace at just about 11am. The crowds were quite large when we arrived, so we decided to position ourselves on the steps of the Victoria Memorial looking toward the castle. This gave Whitney just a few more inches to see over some of the spectators. We watched the well-disciplined Queen’s Guards hand off the duty of protecting the palace.
Next, just as the ceremony ended, the rain started. Slowly it increased until it was absolutely pouring. We hid under the leaves of a tree for a while but there seemed to be no end in sight forcing a quick trip back home for rain coats. Whitney had insisted on going to the London Eye and booked the combo tickets for us that included the London Eye and a 1hr river cruise. Again we splurged for a cost of 28.80pounds each (about 75USD for two). So tickets in hand we couldn’t give up due to rain. The queue for the London Eye went fairly quickly and next thing we knew we were high above the river. The pictures were not the best with the rainwater on the windows, but with the naked eye it was still worth it. I’d recommend it again on a sunny day, but then again its London so rain is likely in the forecast.
The final adventure was the London Eye River Cruise. The kind staff welcomed us to the boat even with the pouring rain and offered a great guided cruise along the river with an entertaining description of the buildings and bridges that line the waterway. After this, we were essentially done for the day and headed home to take it easy and dry out for the rest of the evening.
On our last day we took our time sleeping in, made breakfast and packed up. We bought our train tickets to Paris through Eurostar for about 70 USD each and were scheduled to leave London at 3:30pm. Once we got to the train station, we met our Paris Airbnb hosts as they just happened to be traveling into London (for the day). We got a quick intro to Paris, a few tips for our stay, grabbed our keys and waited to board the train.
The excitement continued to Paris!!