The trip to London came up rather unexpectedly.. We had been planning a trip to South-east Asia when this trip came up through a contest! We barely had a couple of weeks to prepare for this as against the 3-4 months we generally set aside for the planning and booking! And we did as much as could in this time. It was just a week that we would be there for and we definitely wanted to make the best of it.
London does have many attractions to offer, and if you are a history lover, this will definitely be paradise for you in more ways than one! We are not really history buffs in the true sense of the term, but we discovered there is a lot to do apart from museum hopping in London.
We stayed in Earl’s Court, the side of town where the roofs of neat row houses was the view that greeted us each morning.
Travelling in London:
Now this was one of the things that took the most time whilst preparing for the trip. The train system at London is not very straight forward, we noticed, but once you get the hang of it, you will realize you fretted for nothing. It is better to read up on it before you leave, so you are not entirely lost once you leave the airport (which ironically has the first train ride into the city!) We did travel by cab and buses for shorter distances. But otherwise, we found the train lines to be well connected to the city on the whole. You can buy an oyster card (for travel) and top it up as and when required. The oyster card can get you discounted entry rates to certain attractions, do check this out while purchasing it.
Around the city:
We enjoyed walking around the city, taking in the typical London sights, like the taxis, vintage buildings, the famous red telephone booths and such.
We visited Harrods, a 182 yr old huge departmental store with 330 different departments, located on Brompton Road. We got here on the hop-on hop-off bus that we had decided on taking for 2 days of our trip, for ease of viewing the city in such a short span of time. A little trivia about Harrods that the commentator on the bus told us: when Harrods had newly opened and introduced England’s first “moving staircase” (escalator) in their stores, customers were rather apprehensive about stepping on it and were offered brandy to make up for the “terrifying” experience!
Our next stop was the Buckingham Palace, at Westminster. This place was predictably crowded, even in the afternoon. People clung to the gates, hoping for a glimpse of anyone from the royal family. The palace guards marched back and forth from their posts, solemn-faced, oblivious to many trying to catch their attention by waving and calling out to them ! There was a lot of excitement and confusion when a car escorted by a fleet of cars, sped past through the gates. It wasn’t Her Majesty or the family though!
At the north end of the Palace of Westminster is the large clock- the Big Ben, the huge clock synonymous with London in most literature, was our next stop. We walked across the bridge to the London eye. We had heard about the famous pancakes before going there, that are apparently sold at the extreme end of the bridge but didn’t get about trying it as we thought of trying it on the way back and missed that chance when we headed home a different route! We walked down to London eye, a huge ferris wheel, with 32 passenger Capsules which can accommodate around 25 people. We decided to ride it at night so that we can enjoy the night view of the city. There was a long queue for this, though the line moved along pretty fast. It took around half an hour for a whole round of the ferris wheel. You need to board and disembark carefully as the capsule does not stop but slows down for passengers to move in and out. Passengers get a 360 degree view of the city from the glass capsule, and needless to say, the view is simply amazing from the top!
Hyde park, one of London’s largest parks, was our stop during the afternoon time. The park is located in Westminster and shares a common border with Kensington Gardens which are often assumed to be part the park. However, Kensington Gardens has been separated from Hyde park since 1728, when the then Queen divided them. Depending on your time of visit, you can attend concerts or sport events held here, just walk around or relax by the pond.
Tower of London– This is a historic castle located on the banks of the River Thames in central London. You can buy tickets to the Tower either at the kiosks there on the day you plan to visit or in advance online. They do offer some benefits for group booking; don’t forget to enquire on the same the counter. There are certain fixed timings when you can join a tour with “Chief Yeoman Warder” who will give you a lowdown of the history of the tower. The tower has many interesting facets that makes it worth the visit.
Day trip to Stonehenge, Bath and Windsor castle:
While at London, do check out for day trips to nearby places that may interest you. We took a day trip and went to see the Stonehenge, Bath and Windsor castle. We left rather early in the morning since the places were quite a distance away from the city. The first stop on this tour was Windsor castle at Windsor, where the The Queen heads to for the weekend and hosts state banquets and other official entertainments. There was a long line outside the castle and it was quite a while till we got a chance to enter. We picked up the audio tour being handed out at the gate and moved around, getting a detailed tour of the palace. The pictures of the Queen leading up to the entrance marked her landmark moments as Queen. There are numerous rooms and moving around the castle was an activity in itself. We explored around till 11a.m when we witnessed the changing of guards.
Heading out from here, our next stop was Bath. Bath is a town in southwest England, known for its natural hot springs and 18th-century Georgian architecture. We found that the bathing complex built by the Romans has still been kept intact. Most of it is just ruins of the place but there are pictures in each spot which makes it easier to envision how it must have been back then.
We didn’t spend too long here and were soon off to Stonehenge. Located in Wiltshire, it took us nearly an hour from Bath to get there. On reaching, we were met with a crowd of people posing in front of this prehistoric monument. It is said that this place was probably used as a burial ground in the past. We weren’t permitted to go too close to these stones and only could click pictures from afar. You can also step inside the Neolithic Houses to experience how people lived 4500 years ago, while at this place.
A definite shopper’s heaven is the Camden Market. Clothes, shoes, bags, food joints, souvenirs- you can find them all here. We reached here at around 4pm, but it is advisable to reach earlier so you can take your time moving around, as the shops shut by 6pm. We came back with great quality stuff from this place and got all our souvenir shopping done too, all in one place! Definitely worth visiting when in London.
Apart from these, the other places we visited included the St Paul’s Cathedral, where princess Diana and Prince Charles were married, the Shard- tallest building in the U.K., Westminster Abbey (you will recall this from Friends, if you are a fan!), London bridge, Piccadilly circus and other such attractions.
You could also buy the London pass, which includes entry to certain attractions. Do check online about any offers going on while booking entry to these famous places.
The whole trip was fabulous, as expected. While dining out on one of the days, we got talking to the manager there, who was so delighted to see someone from his home country, that he landed up giving us extras with our meal! But that’s a story for another day 🙂
Oh yeah, we got a chance to watch a music festival- the Apple Music festival- the final day show..of Florence and the machine! But more on that in my next post!