Recently I did a Paris Travel Blog, and though I have frequented Paris many more times than London, still I wanted to make London my next featured European City in this travel blogging sequence. I have been to London three times, the most recent visit being June, 2015 with my daughter Shelby in honor of her high school graduation. Shelby’s favorite European city is without a doubt London. And I can see why. The shows at the West End and all around the city are spectacular. And it’s just dang fun to roam the streets of London while recalling our own American roots. We declared our independence from this nation in 1776 and much blood and tears were to be lost in the ensuing battle. But we grew to be strong allies in both of the great wars and since. My favorite WWII leader of all time perhaps is Winston Churchill who was the Prime Minister of Great Britain during WWII. Perhaps it is with his memory and a thankful heart that I write this blog about a city that continues to beckon us over the Atlantic Ocean and across the English Channel to enjoy all that this island country has to offer. I love traveling to London, and in the eternal words of Winston Churchill, I will Never! Never! Quit!
1 Fat Bike Tours (AGAIN!) Each time I have done this tour in Paris, Barcelona, Berlin and London, I have never ever been disappointed. Shelby and I did the Royal London Tour. There is also the Thames River tour which I am eager to conquer on our next trip! The guides are usually extraordinary, funny, and love their jobs which translates to fun for us.
2. Shakespeare Globe Theatre is a reconstruction of the first Globe Theatre in which Shakespeare worked. The original location is only about 200 meters from the current location and is marked with a plaque and information placards. It is an open air theatre. Theatre performance season is from mid-April to mid-October. We did not watch a performance there but thoroughly enjoyed the tour.
3. Churchill War Rooms was one of my absolutely favorite sites in London. I am a huge WWII buff. I love history, and I appreciate its place in my history, and I love to share it. One of the best things about living in Europe for 4 years was being able to discover and uncover so many facts about WWII and how our freedom was preserved in that time. Winston Churchill’s war rooms, essentially a bunker, lies under the street of Westminster and contains both the Cabinet War rooms that protected the staff and secrets of Britain’s’ government during the war, as well as a permanent museum on the life and legacy of Winston Churchill.
4. Imperial War Museum. And don’t forget the IWM which tells the stories of people’s experience of modern war dating from WWI to preset conflicts.
5. Southwark Borough is my favorite Borough in London. It has plenty of cobblestone paved pedestrian walkways, open markets, a beautiful must see cathedral and the famed Clinks Prison. My girls loved touring the prison and seeing all the ghoulish forms of medieval torture from back in the day. Southwark is both beautiful and charming. Don’t miss this London gem when you visit.
6. Westminster Abbey is certainly known for its Royal weddings of course, but it has also been the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and British monarchs beginning in 1066 when Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror were crowned. Among cathedrals and churches I have toured in Europe, Westminster is not the most stunning, but certainly it is lovely and the history as usual is incredible. Located just at the North end of Westminster is Big Ben, the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock whose clock tower was completed in 1859. Unlike its portrayal in Chevy Chase’s movie European Vacation, there is no roundabout at Big Ben’s location. In fact it sits on the Thames River and the Westminster Bridge. It is a beautiful place for photo shoots as well.
7. Tower Bridge is often mistaken for the London Bridge. Ironically, London Bridge is just an obscure bridge crossing the Thames. On the other hand, Tower Bridge is anything but obscure. You can’t miss it. It is large and looming over the river adjacent to “The Tower of London,” (Number 8 on this list). Tower Bridge was built between 1886-1894. It consists of two bridge towers tied together at the upper level by two horizontal walkways. It is a suspension and a draw bridge. It is freely accessible to both pedestrians and cars. There is also an exhibition housed in the bridge’s twin towers, the high level walkways, and the Victorian engine rooms.
8. The London Tower is not a bridge. It is essentially a fortress. The oldest part of London Tower is the White Tower, a castle that was built to keep the Londoners in fear and under control as well as to deter foreign invaders. Henry VIII can be found in the history of this tower, and his legacy and harsh reputation still echoes the great rooms. Many prisoners were tortured and killed here in this tower, not the least of which was one of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn. Also inside the Tower of London, tour the Fortress along the wall walk and find the battle placements. The Crown Jewels are also housed in the Tower of London. There is a fun group called “The Beefeaters” who do daily tours at the Tower of London. We were a part of that group, but it was so big, we had a difficult time hearing the guide. We did a self tour of the Tower and its grounds, with book in hand and headphones where they were available, and found this to be sufficient. I have heard the Beefeaters tour is a lot of fun. I encourage you to do it IF it is not a busy day when you visit.
9. Covent Gardens is a lovely little cove Shelby and I ran upon while in London on our most recent visit in June, 2015. We were on our way to watch the show Matilda, and wondered into this area. It is just one of those places you are so excited that you found. Visit. Grab a table, have a coffee and rest your feet.
10. St Paul’s Cathedral is one of my top three favorite cathedrals in all of Europe. It is simply stunning. Be sure to check the opening hours before you make your trip to London. You don’t want to miss visiting and touring this historical cathedral and see its famous dome. If you make it all the way to the top-level of the cathedral, the views are unbelievable. The climb to the top though is always the best part. Just ask my kids!
11. If you have avid Harry Potter fans in your household like I do, a visit to London will surely include one of the many Potter tours available. We did an easy walking tour. Here are just a few pics from that tour, including Platform 9 3/4 as well as Harry’s London School.
12. London Shows. Well it goes without saying if you visit NYC, you really should take in a Broadway Show. Well, the same is true of London. If you visit London, be sure to take in a show on the West End or in a number of other areas of the city. My personal favorite is Les Miserables. It truly moved me emotionally. Bring your box of Kleenex. We have also seen Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Matilda, and finally McQueen. So many shows to choose from and so many genre. And tickets are usually very reasonably priced unless you are trying to get the best seats in the house.
13. London Parks are another must see and “must stay and relax in” place to go in London. The parks are absolutely lush and it would take a week alone to get through all of them. Some of our favorites are Hyde, St. James, and Kensington Park.
14. Fortnum & Mason Grocers & Hamleys Toy Store are two completely different places in London but are both famous and fun. Fortnum and Masons is a specialty grocery store which takes the word specially to a new level. Hamleys Toy Store of course is in the busy and famous shopping district of London. Think the intersection of Oxford and Regents Streets. Be prepared for crowds in this latter district. It’s sort of fun to say you’ve been to Hamleys even if you know you’ll never go back. Fortnum and Mason is just really cool, beautiful and fun to peruse. And sure you can buy some pretty delicious items as well.
15. London fun. Trafalgar Square; The Vista at the Trafalgar Hotel, Skyview restaurant overlooking Trafalgar Square is a blast. And don’t forget Buckingham Palace. It is well worth the money for the tour. BUT be sure to buy your tickets online ahead of time. That is paramount. Also, a trip to Hillsong church for worship service will refresh you and satisfy your soul. What a wonderful treat. Enjoy the WWI and WWII memorials as well as that of Florence Nightingale. I know that many of you have visited London as well and would love to share your favorite sites AND tips. Please leave comments galore to that end. The fun is endless in this iconic city. Enjoy it and go back. Never. Never. Quit Going back!