London is an incredible city. I could spend weeks and months wandering, exploring, eating and taking everything in. We had two and a half days to experience as much as we could, and although that didn’t leave much time for relaxing, we had an amazing time.
We arrived midday into Kings Cross Station, and proceeded directly to Platform 9 and ¾ to totally wig out over the fictional platform where Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger magically penetrate through the brick wall to catch the Hogwarts Express to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s one relatively fast photo opportunity, but totally worth a visit for any Harry Potter fan.
We took the tube to the Cherry Court Hotel in Pimlico near Victoria Park Station. We chose this hotel because it offered a very affordable rate. Although it lacked certain comforts, and the size of our room was comparable to a small walk-in closet, the owners were helpful, and the hotel itself was clean, well-located, safe, and oozed a quirky character. The breakfast baskets they served in the morning were nothing to write home about, but I would recommend this small hotel to singles or couples travelling without children, who just need a simple roof over their head during their stay.
We ventured out to explore as much of London as we could in our first afternoon and evening. We headed straight for Buckingham Palace (because where else is more appropriate to begin a London adventure?!) On our way, we happened upon a shop that sold incredibly delicious-looking cornish pasties, meat pies, and other British meaty treats. We each bought a cornish pasty, and devoured it on our walk to the palace. Small tip… cornish pasties are delicious, and I highly recommend finding a shop and trying one for yourself in London. Great takeaway snacking!
Coming upon Buckingham Palace was like a dream coming true. The palace was regal, beautiful and everything I hoped it would be after years of seeing it through a TV. We walked through St. James’s Park and The Mall to Trafalgar Square, which hosts the National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery and St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. We didn’t have time, but I hear there is delicious breakfast to be had in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields… something to remember for next time! We walked down Whitehall, past 10 Downing Street and the Churchill War Rooms to Westminster Station, and took in the breathtaking sights of Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben, Westminster Bridge and of course, the River Thames. After waiting to see these iconic landmarks for so long, the feeling of finally seeing them through my own eyes was overwhelming. This is exactly where, and when, I fell madly in love with London.
Despite my incredible fear of heights, we knew at some point during our time in London that we were going to experience a go-around on the London Eye. We decided our first afternoon was as good of a time as any! I had read that the lines to purchase tickets could be crippling, and we didn’t get around to buying them online in advance as suggested. However, that afternoon we walked in, bought our tickets with little wait, and walked straight on. I started the rotation with serious vertigo; and ended it dashing throughout the car completely oblivious to how high I was in the air, taking in as many last views as I could. It was incredible to see London from such great heights. The eye is a definite must-do!
We continued to explore Southwark a little, before heading back over the River Thames via the Golden Jubilee Bridges. We walked up to Leicester Square, over to Piccadilly Circus and into Soho, where we found a cozy pub, the Dog & Duck, and proceeded to relax for a solid few hours over delicious British curries and beer. Soho was a fabulous neighbourhood. There were so many shops, restaurants and bars. It was difficult picking one! I highly recommend spending a couple of hours here.
On our first full day in London, we decided to wake up early, and beat the crowds at the Tower of London. This ended up being a very smart idea, as the crowds seemed overwhelming by the time we were leaving almost three hours later. Upon entering the tower, we only had to wait a few minutes for the first Yeoman Warder guided tour to begin. A Yeoman Warder tour is one of the most popular attractions for visitors to the Tower of London. These tours are included in your admission ticket cost. Yeoman Warders (popularly known as ‘Beefeaters’) entertain you with tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution and torture, all while providing you with an incredibly detailed overview of the history of the Tower of London. You learn a ton! The tours begin every 30 minutes near the main entrance and last approximately 60 minutes. We spent two additional hours inside the Tower of London after our Yeoman Warder was finished. Make sure you save a solid few hours so you don’t have to rush through. There is so much to see.
We were lucky enough to visit the Tower of London during the commemoration of the First World War. Over 850,000 ceramic poppies blanketed the outside of the tower. It was very beautiful, and very impactful.
After the Tower of London, we walked around Tower Bridge, before heading into the area in London referred to as the City of London. We found a great, half-hidden pub/chop house for lunch called Simpson’s Tavern, and relaxed over beer, sausages and steaks like the London suits do. We walked past the Bank of England, before coming up on the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral. We walked across Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern, and back across the Blackfriars Bridge to see Temple Church. From there, we jumped on the Tube at Temple Station and took it to South Kensington station. We walked up the Queen’s Gate, drooling over all the drop-dead gorgeous architecture, before finally coming to Hyde Park, and Kensington Palace – home to one of my idols, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. We explored the grounds and gardens, before walking back through Hyde Park down the Flower Walk. We finally took a rest by the Serpentine, taking in the beauty of this massive park space in the middle of London. It was worth taking the time to explore Hyde Park. It was beautiful, and, similar to Central Park in New York City, it’s amazing that such a vast green space is located in the centre of such a bustling city. We exited the park into the area of Knightsbridge, and spent a few hours wandering it’s chic and prestegious streets, admiring the incredible homes, architecture, and private squares. It’s certainly worth a trip to Knightsbridge to see how the ‘other half’ live! A girl can dream right?!
Our final day in London was more relaxed. We spent the morning in the neighbourhood of Chelsea, and found breakfast in a lovely café. I did not spot Pippa Middleton, so we did not become immediate best friends like I had imagined, but nonetheless, Chelsea was a lovely area. It is a very well-to-do neighbourhood. It just doesn’t wear it obviously on its sleeve. Certainly take the time to explore if you can!
After leaving Chelsea, we looped back through Pimlico, passing Westminster Cathedral along the way. We grabbed delicious sandwiches and bottled beer from a nearby market, and had a quiet picnic lunch in St James’s Park. I love to people-watch, and I firmly believe that when you travel, you should take some time to try and blend in with the everyday life. You get a more authentic experience this way. So even though we were in the heart of a touristy area of London, our picnic, and the time that we took to just stop and enjoy the views, felt authentic, and like something busy Londoners would do on their lunch hour.
We walked (rather slowly after lunch) up into Mayfair. I wanted to shop on Oxford Street, see Grosvenor Square and experience Selfridges. We continued up into Marylebone to visit 221b Baker Street – home to the famous Sherlock Holmes, and then wandered along the outskirts of Regent’s Park before cutting down through the University of London to visit the British Museum, home of the Rosetta Stone. Entry to the British Museum is free, which is a wonderful plus for the budget. After the museum, we explored Covent Garden, before heading back to our hotel to rest and change for dinner. We took the tube to SoHo and enjoyed a lovely Italian dinner at Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion Restaurant.
On our last night, late in the evening after dinner, we took a taxi to Westminster Bridge. I wanted to see iconic London one more time before our departure the following morning. London is magical at night. We wandered back to our hotel dreaming about one day moving to London and calling it home. You never know right?!