We arrived in London the evening of Thursday, 20 December, a bit worn out from the long train ride. We managed to transform our enthusiasm for being in a new city into just enough energy to make it to the hotel and head out for dinner. We picked a fairly touristy location for our stay (Tower Hotel), but overall we were all pleased with the hotel. It was moderately priced, accessible to many of the spots we wanted to see, the rooms were spacious enough and clean, the hotel staff was friendly and helpful, and the views were pretty amazing. The hotel is situated right on the Thames near the Tower Bridge. My parents had the above view from their room.
After a nutritious dinner of fish, chips, and beer at a pub called The Bridge House just across the river, we retired back to our rooms for the evening. Friday would be our only full day in London, and we knew part of it would involve my mother shopping, so we all needed rest. Pleasantly buzzed on the beer, I actually fell asleep around 10, which is completely unheard of for me.
The next day we opted for a tour bus–yes, one of those red double-decker things. After a decent breakfast near Trafalgar Square and some shopping in Piccadilly, we boarded the red bus and took the circuit. The travel snobs can scoff if they must, but I would strongly suggest these tours for first time visitors who may feel overwhelmed by all there is to do. The tours are relatively cheap, the busses are on regular schedules, the wait for the busses is never long, travelers can hop on or off wherever they need to, and–best of all–the narration was informative and fun. You are easily able to determine what you really want to do, and plan accordingly. Best of all, you have a general idea of how far apart everything is and where the landmarks are in reference to one another. So–all in all–it is well worth it. Now if that pretentious American girl attending University there and showing her parents around with an affected Madonna-like accent wouldn’t have spoken over the tour guide, things would have been even better. But if you end up with someone like that on the bus, you can get off, see a landmark, and catch the next one that comes along.
So with the tour bus, we were able to see Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey all in the same day. It was unfortunate that Westminster Abbey was closed by the time we arrived there, but it was lovely to walk around in the early evening. The building is breathtaking. Here are some of the highlights of the day’s tour:
Unequivocally, my favorite part of our time there was the Tower of London tour, which we did the next day (Saturday) before our departure. We may have had room for more in depth tours of other places had we had more time, but everyone agreed that we made the right choice to spend a good chunk of time here. The tour really is magnificent. Though it may seem a little pricey at 20 pounds (about $30) per person, it is well worth it. There are both guided tours or audio tours (provided in several languages). We chose the audio tour, as it allows you to stroll around independently and do things at your own speed in whatever order you desire. Here are some photographic highlights from this informative if slightly spooky tour:
So definitely make this a destination if you’re planning a trip to London. It will not disappoint. The tower has been around for nearly 1000 years. You can stand on the same ground where kings once stood, see the room where Anne Boleyn both prepared for her coronation and her execution, see armor worn by royalty, and be inches away from the crown jewels of England. It will blow you away, even if you’re not an Anglophile or typically interested in history. If you are those things, well–wear an extra pair of underpants. It’s that awesome.
The last item on the agenda was a boat tour on the Thames. It was quite a comfortable boat and the tour guide did an adequate job, but it had gotten a tad foggy outside at that point (it being London and all), so the views were not as great as they could have been. It was still enjoyable, though we did feel a bit rushed to get back to our train to head home (our fault, not theirs). I would recommend it to people who have more time than we did. Here are some final shots of London taken from the boat:
So that was our lightning fast tour of London. I feel we adequately covered a lot of basic ground given we only had two days. I had been looking forward to the permanent Doctor Who exhibit, but that has been moved to Cardiff, Wales, and it would have eaten up a lot of time. Not to worry, we’ll definitely be back for a more prolonged stay.
Up next: Christmas in Paris.