"A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else."
We spent a week in London and every day was great. Out of all the cities we've visited (with the exception of Paris), I could most clearly see myself living here. It doesn't hurt that our hostel was in an amazing spot. :) We splurged a bit for this one, knowing it would be worth it. Our hostel was located by Waterloo Bridge, in the city of Westminster. ("London" is divided into two cities--London and Westminster.) For nonlocals, we were across the Thames from Big Ben and the London Eye.
Our first day was a travel day and since we knew we wouldn't do anything, we planned to go see a movie. Accidentally ended up at the largest theater in the United Kingdom. If you ever have the chance to go see Jurassic World on a screen the size of six double decker buses...do it.
The second day, we got started. We did a bus tour for most of the day to help us get a sense of London! Switching countries so quickly got a little disorienting and taking tours definitely helped to get us acclimated. We learned so much about the history of the city and gave us a lot of context. Definitely recommend.
It also came with a river cruise!
The next morning, we went to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Our bus tour had a free walking tour included and it was so good! Our guide was fantastic and took us to all the relevant places. Fun fact: if you're one of the people who lines up at 8am at the palace--you miss most of the good stuff. That's just where the official change takes place. We saw the old guard leave their stations at St. James' Palace and marched along with the new guards from the guards' museum to Buckingham. It was so cool!
After the changing of the guard, we took the bus (our passes lasted for two days) over to East-ish London to see the Tower of London. We took a free tour with one of the Yeoman Warders, who live in the Tower and are the Queen's personal guards. To be a Yeoman, they must serve in the Queen's service for at least 22 years, so between the 37 current, there are over 1200 years of military service between them. There have only been 400 Yeomen in their entire history (since James I, I believe)--in comparison, 600 people have gone up into space.
The Tower was cool too. ;)
Once our bus passes ran out, we (maybe foolishly) decided not to get Oyster cards (for the Tube) and instead walk everywhere. I think we walked the entire length of London multiple times. So the next morning, we walked the 3.5 miles to Kensington Palace. The area is gorgeous and even though it was a long walk (like okay, an hour and a half) it was so fun to see London by foot!
Kensington wasn't quite what I'd expected and definitely resembled more of it's country home origin than the palace it is. The exhibits inside were wonderful though! There's one right now on the evolving fashion of the Queen and Princesses Margaret and Diana. Kensington was also Queen Victoria's home and there was a great section on her life and her relationship with Prince Albert.
On our way out, we spent some time wandering through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. If I lived in London, I think I'd be there every weekend.
Before we headed back to central London, we stopped by the Victoria and Albert Museum. I think it would have been more interesting if we a) hadn't walked so much that day and b) had tickets to the Alexander McQueen exhibit. Tickets were sold out until the next week, so if you go to London, be sure to buy them in advance! (And then take dozens of pictures for me because I will be SO jealous!)
I ended up getting separated from the group on our way back--the crowds were unreal--and took my time going back, meandering through Soho and Piccadilly. I felt bad for not being able to contact the others, but it was actually one of the nicest moments on the trip. London was so peaceful and I absolutely fell in love.
I hit Trafalgar Square and ran straight into the Pride Parade, which was a blast. The square was packed and I met the nicest American guy (he gave away his extra La Durée macaron. True kindness!). We ended up talking for a while because there were so many people around us that we literally couldn't move. There's nothing like forced friendship?
The next day, we started off at Westminster Abbey for a service. Since we'd been to one at Notre Dame, we decided to continue the tradition. :) Also, the church is free if you go for a service and £17 otherwise.
After church, we decided to walk over to the British Museum (don't be fooled--it was basically across London). Oh. My. Goodness. I wish I could have stayed in the museum for a week.
Like at the Louvre, we each picked a section to see but I think I probably could have gone to any of them and been happy. There was a neat exhibit on life and death in Native cultures around the world, one on propaganda during the time of Napoleon/just after the French Revolution, and their Modern Middle East section was amazing. If you're in London--go. It's even free!
After the museum, we stopped and got fish and chips. Of course.
Since we were more or less (mostly less) in the area, we went to King's Cross. We were going to try and get Harry Potter studio tickets while we were there, but they were sold out for the entire week before we even arrived in London. In lieu of that, Platform 9 3/4 had to do!
The next day, we took it a little bit slower (there was a lot of walking the day before!) and took a trip on the Eye first thing. Getting there around 10 was definitely the right time! We did the 4D Experience first (since it was free) and it was basically like a giant commercial for the Eye with spray foam. Eh.
The Eye gets sponsored by different countries every few years and the current sponsor is Coca Cola, which was like having a bit of home in London! Yay Coke, yay Atlanta. :)
Even though I am not the biggest fan of heights, the Eye was so worth it. It would have been nice to do it at night, but the last trip is at 9pm, so it's not dark yet. If you go during the winter, definitely do it after sunset!
After the Eye, we walked over to Covent Gardens Market, which is basically a giant antiques area. It was a really neat area. We did some shopping and watched a few street performers, as well as just wandering around and taking it all in.
From here, we went to Oxford St., in the Piccadilly area. It's got a lot of shopping and since we didn't really have anything else planned, we window-shopped and spent a while in trashy souvenir shops (they are the best), before crashing in a Starbucks for a few hours. We booked a Grim Reaper tour of East London through a new app called Whym (iPhone/Android). They sell last-minute discount tour tickets and we had spent several days talking to the developers who visited our hostel. It was fun to support a new venture for a tour we were going to do anyway!
The tour was really neat--it took us from the Tower of London to Shoreditch while the guide told us a lot of the gory history of London. There's a lot. :) We talked about everything from the beheadings to the Black Plague to Jack the Ripper and some of the lore that has evolved from it. We all really liked it because East London probably isn't a place we would have ventured on our own, so the tour forced us out of our comfort zones a little bit.
Shot these on the way back. <3
It was a long day, even though it doesn't sound like we did much. It was the longest day of the trip--we ended up walking 15 miles from 10am to 10pm and our feet ached.
Our last day, as a result of the day before and because there wasn't anything we were really dying to see, was pretty quiet. We walked past Shakespeare's Globe (and heard our favorite street performer for the second time) before slowly making our way to Buckingham Palace. We hadn't gotten a great look at it during the guard change, so we sat in the park across the street and just watched for a while.
Then, like any self-respecting visitor to London, we went and found a Nando's. I understand. the. hype. Yum.
It was the perfect ending to our time in London and just in time for us to board a flight to Iceland!
Cheers, London town.