July 16-18, 2016
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
We were greeted by a surprisingly bright blue sky when our plane landed at Heathrow at 10:30 a.m. We hopped on a train to Central London, and, since our Airbnb wasn't quite ready yet, we settled down nearby in the gardens of St. Paul's Cathedral. When the weather is nice, the parks are full of sun-deprived Londoners. We found a little space under a tree and inadvertently ended up taking a long, much-needed nap!
Once we got settled into our cozy flat (just a stone's throw from the cathedral), we set out to do Rick Steves' Westminster Walk audio tour (if you ever go to Europe, Rick Steves will be your best friend).
We started on Westminster Bridge, from which we were able to see Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Statue of Boadicea, the London Eye, and of course the River Thames.
The streets were absolutely packed with people, and sharing a headphone jack with a 6'4" man (i.e. Tyler) was no easy feat.
We walked along Whitehall Road and saw Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, the Cenotaph, #10 Downing Street, the Banqueting House, and the Horse Guards, before ending in Trafalgar Square.
It was unusually hot and sunny for London, and we were relieved that we had packed shorts last minute just in case, though we wished we had been wearing them...
DINNER IN COVENT GARDEN
In the evening we met one of my closest friends, Emilie, and her boyfriend, Peter, in Covent Garden for dinner. Emilie and I have been best friends since first grade. We always talked of moving to London one day, and I am proud of her for making the leap and doing it last year! ...Now to figure out how to join her!
The line for Dishoom extended all the way down the street, so we settled on Wildwood Kitchen, a lively little Italian place.
Afterwards we went to a pub down the street. Tyler and I quickly learned that you can only stand outside the pub with your drink in a very particular area. A security guard nearby will tell you if you're out of line (although the expression on their face suggests they know how comical it is too).
We began our day with a full English breakfast at The Happenstance, to power the 528-step walk to the Golden Gallery at the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.
ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL
We lucked out because the cathedral is typically closed on Sundays, but the walk up to the Golden Gallery is open on select Sundays - including that day!
We were able to see the orchestral mass inside afterwards, which was epic. The orchestra and choir in that setting was truly magical. Check their schedule and try to align your visit with when it's going on!
Afterwards we headed over to East London to spend the afternoon with Emilie and Peter in their neighborhood of Haggerston.
We went to the Columbia Road Flower Market, which was a bustling affair, full of fragrant flowers, jolly salesmen, and live folk music.
Afterwards we walked through Haggerston Park, where Tyler and I were delighted to find sheep grazing (Emilie and Peter were less intrigued), and spent ten minutes taking photographs of them.
We stopped for a coffee along the canal.
What else to do at teatime but have afternoon tea?! We went to Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel. It was a lovely, quiet patio with string lights and ivy. Add cakes and scones and tea, and I was in heaven.
The menu included - among many, many tasty things - lemon meringue mousse, freshly baked buttermilk scones with Devonshire clotted cream and homemade preserves, and chocolate éclairs. I believe that loading up gluten and sugar is a totally legitimate meal when it's this tasty.
WALKING ACROSS LONDON
With full bellies, we ambled through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and Green Park to Buckingham Palace, where we sat for a while, soaking in the sunshine and our first two days of adventures (also, our feet felt like they were going to fall off - note to self: bring legit walking shoes next time!).
If you like good views, wonderful service, and amazing waffles, you should probably visit them.
I love London for the Brits, the diversity, the greenery, the incredible history (and the Indian food!). Whenever I hear about the influence the people from this tiny island had on the world, it makes me proud to be British.
For now we said goodbye to London and made our way to the city of love - Paris!
What is your favorite place to go to in London?
Houses of Parliament: Made up of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Monarchy.
Westminster Abbey: Gothic abbey church that is the final resting place of 17 monarchs.
#10 Downing Street: The prime minister's office.
Trafalgar Square: Public square in the City of Westminster surrounded by museums and galleries.
St. Paul's Cathedral and the Golden Gallery: Check that they are open for when you plan to visit!
Millennium Bridge: Steel suspension bridge for pedestrians.
Tower Bridge: The iconic symbol of London!
Columbia Road Flower Market: Open Sundays 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Piccadilly Circus: Public space of London's West End in the City of Westminster.
Soho: Center of London entertainment.
Green Park: One of the eight Royal Parks, situated next to Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace: Administrative headquarters of the monarch.
Covent Garden: Food and shopping center.
Borough Market: I was disappointed we didn't get to go here this trip (closed Sundays!), but I absolutely loved this market the last time I visited London.
Harrods: We weren't able to squeeze this in during this trip, but this high-end shopping mall is quite a sight to see.
Satchi Gallery: Contemporary art gallery.
Somerset House: Arts and cultural center.
Villiers: You must try their espresso martini (non-alcoholic - just great coffee)!
Wildwood Kitchen: Small Italian restaurant in Covent Garden with good food and ambience.
Dalloway Terrace: The perfect spot for an affordable afternoon tea (30 pounds ($40) per person).
Dishoom: Tried to eat here twice, but the wait was over an hour and a half each time! Came highly recommended from friends for good Indian food. The ambience of the Shoreditch location looked especially awesome.
The Happenstance: Upscale interior, surprisingly cheap food.
Albion: Restaurant in Shoreditch, with a store of food goodies attached.
Duck and Waffle: For over-the-top waffles and a view of London from the 40th floor!
We stayed near St. Paul's Cathedral, which was a great homebase because of its central location. However it's a business district and many shops and restaurants are closed on weekends, so it's not the liveliest of areas (but it is quiet at night if that's a concern).
The Tube was essential for getting around. The city does a great job of making the Tube system quite easy to grasp, but if you don't have experience with subways, it might be helpful to familiarize yourself with the system before you leave.
We used Oyster cards to hop on and off the Tube. If the card runs out, it's easy to top it up at a machine at the station entrance.
Check open and closing times of the places you plan to visit. I naively assumed St. Paul's Cathedral and Borough Market would be open on Sunday - we got lucky with St. Paul's...not so much with the market!
Make reservations if there's a popular restaurant you really want to go to.
I like to read up on my travel destination a bit before I visit, so I began reading a British history book my dad got me for my birthday, The Story of Britain from the Norman Conquest to the European Union by Patrick Dillon. The chapters are only a couple of pages long and easy to read.