We arrived at our hotel, checked in and immediately headed to the British Museum nearby. Dedicated to human history, art and culture it was not where one would want to go for British history but world collections and they have an impressive amount of works. There is no entrance fee to see the museum and they do house the Rosetta Stone, which was worth the visit. If interested in the story of human culture, a definite must do.
Finishing our visit to the museum we walked to Covent Garden. Covent Garden is a district in the west end of London within the Westminster and Camden borough’s filled with shops, restaurants, pubs and entertainment. In fact, it is one of the few areas in London licensed for street entertainment. The area is filled with locals and we enjoyed the ambiance and variety of what the area had to offer. Walking around we stopped at the Harp Pub. Great ambiance and pricing and would definitely come back as we enjoyed the local pub experience.
After our pub experience we left Covent Garden and took the tube to Hyde Park. We enjoyed a casual walk through the park to the Princess Diana memorial, the iconic Peter Pan statue and Victoria’s Gardens before jumping on the tube to SoHo. Arriving into SoHo, I could immediately see the attraction of the popular shops and eclectic dining experiences. Eager for a local experience without all the tourists and homeless, we headed back toward Covent Garden stopping at Angel Pub for dinner. Off the beaten path and another local tavern, the fish and chips were decent and the quirky and yet authentic old world British vibe were perfect. The service was terrible. Not sure if we were there on an off night, but could be worth a visit if you’re in the area.
The following morning after breakfast and a much needed nights sleep, we visited the tube again to get to Trafalgar Square and then along the Jubilee route. We had heard that Trafalgar was the best spot to see the changing of the guards and the sites of the area did not disappoint. We got ourselves there with time to spare however it seemed that we were the only ones who got the memo as there was no sign of guards, horses or a royal band. So we headed further along the Jubilee trail and past St. James Park toward Buckingham Palace. Closed to through traffic this is the best photo spot for selfies in front of the palace or full palace shots. We caught a glimpse of the changing of the guards at St. James Palace consisting of a couple of guards riding horseback accompanied by a small group of marching guards. We arrived to the mall area of the palace where thousands of eager tourists awaited the daily guard ritual. On a schedule we walked past the tourists and the gates and kept on toward our first timed ticket stop, Westminster Abbey. We did get to see the Royal band crossing to the Guard building adjacent to Buckingham Palace, in case you were wondering.
The priority tickets were perfect at Westminster Abbey. We got quick access in and it included an audio tour of The Who’s who of the burials. The 1.5 hour time that we slotted was the right amount of time before our next stop, St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is next to the London financial district. When exiting the tube trotting across the cobblestone streets headed to St. Paul’s there are some great local restaurants, pubs and shops that you pass as you see the dome of the Cathedral gloating in the background. The inside of the cathedral was beautiful you could picture the future King and Queen walking the aisles on their wedding day. Again we had timed tickets which also included iPods for audio tours. The crypt was small in comparison to what we saw at Westminster, so we were in and out within an hour.
Our last planned stop for the day was the Tower of London. We pre-purchased tickets which the website stated their closing hours were 6pm. However, upon arriving at the entrance we were told that the hours for that day had been changed and were now 4pm. They would make exception and reissue tickets for another day but as this was our last day in London, we had to make due with an hour. We sure packed it all into 1 hour. The White Tower was amazing, filled with collections from William the Conqueror (who built the tower) to Queen Elizabeth I. Definitely where you want to come for British Royal history. For lack of time and a very long line, we skipped the Crown Jewels but we saw everything else and wow, amazing! Wish we had more time and one of the Beefeater guides which is included in admission, but we missed the last tour by 15 minutes.
From the tower grounds you could see The Shard peeking out from across the Thames. We decided we needed to investigate and walked across the London Bridge, to the Shard. After a thorough security check, we headed to the 32nd floor to the Hulong restaurant, where we enjoyed a beverage and fantastic views of London, the Thames, the Tower of London and the London Bridge. It was like the dessert to finish off a fine meal. Perfect ending to a great day in London.
Overall thoughts; 2 days is not enough time to take in all that London has to offer. We missed some of highlights like the Old Globe theatre, Borough Market and the Galley at Trafalgar. A good reason for us to return to London in the future. The tube was great, very easy to use. In the future I would recommend purchasing the Oyster card before leaving home as it does save you time and money from purchasing fare. A private tour guide is recommended for Westminster Abbey. There is so much history and information that you don’t get from just the audio guides.
Highlight of the day; walking the Jubilee trail past St. James Park where film crews were in town filming the next James Bond movie. We did not see any key actors, just background shots, but something to be said about the James Bond experience in London. Almost (almost) made me want a dry martini!