Article Summary:Sites to see when touring London, England.
A birthday present from my husband was a trip to London, England.
Our whirlwind ten day excursion to London started at the Vancouver International Airport on British Airways and some seventeen hours later we touched down at London's Heathrow Airport. Somewhat weary, we boarded the bus that was waiting at the curbside as we left the airport. However, we weren't going far, the bus was broken down which probably explains why we were the only tourists sitting on the bus. After a short wait, another bus came along and we were on our way.
The double-decker red buses were everywhere; some had a roof on the top deck while others were open to the elements but definitely made it easier for sightseeing. There were no doors to close, just an opening where an attendant would stand and call out major stops as we came to them. We didn't know which stop was ours; however, a lady sitting across from us had a hotel brochure for the same hotel as ours so we just followed her off the bus. Thank goodness she didn't take a detour first.
The Millennium Gloucester Hotel is located in the very fashionable neighborhood of Kensington in Central London. The hotel was massive, it covered an entire block. The lobby was like I had expected for an upscale English Hotel, very comfortable but also luxurious with its elegant furnishings; high-back tapestry chairs, oversized wood tables and huge bouquets of fresh flowers. Beautiful heavy, framed pictures hung on the walls in every available space. The staff was very friendly and so helpful and I loved their English accent, it sounded so sophisticated, I was envious that I didn't have an accent.
We were eager to start investigating London since ten days go by pretty fast. We purchased a Bus Pass with unlimited travel which allowed us to get on and off any bus, as often as we wanted; it was the perfect solution for us as we found ourselves lost many times.
Visiting Buckingham Palace was the highlight of our trip. I have always been a Royal Watcher so I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. The massive Palace stood tall and stately with its many columns, arches and windows, to me, it was the most beautiful building I had ever seen. The top of the iron fence that surrounds the 40 acres of Palace grounds resembled gold lace, the carved cement posts at each arched gateway, the statues, and all the crests left me awestruck.
Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh as well as being the administrative headquarters of the Monarchy. The Palace is surrounded by St. James Park, Green Park and Hyde Park.; The Queen's residence overlooks Green Park. We had arrived at the Palace in time to watch the Changing of the Guards that takes place in front of the Palace, outside the fenced area. We were just one of thousands that had the same idea that morning. If you want to tour the inside of the Palace, you need to book a time and purchase a ticket, we didn't do either consequently, tickets were sold when we were ready for our tour.
I was more than satisfied that we had achieved what at least I had gone to London for however, if we were going to travel all the way to England, we needed to visit at least some of the other highlights of London. Maybe the next time we visit Buckingham Palace the Queen will invite us in for tea!
Our next stop was Westminster Abbey, originally named The Collegiate Church of St. Peter; relatively easy to find especially if you have a Bus Pass that allowed us to get off the wrong bus and get on the right bus, etc. The Abbey is different from other churches in England because it does not fall within any diocese; instead it is under the jurisdiction of the Crown. It was interesting to read the names and view the tombs of over 3000 Kings, Queens and Unknown Warriors who were either buried or memorialized in the Abbey.
A cruise on the River Thames was a welcome break from walking. The River Boat left from the Westminster Millennium Pier near Westminster Abbey and lasted some two and half hours. We quietly cruised past the Millennium Wheel; British Airways London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, the Festival Hall, the Tate Gallery, the Tower Bridge, the Cannery Wharf and the Royal Naval College to mention just some of the highlights. It was a relaxing, peaceful and very educational way to see London from a different view.
Big Ben is also a very well known landmark in London. The name does not refer to the clock tower but instead, the bell that hangs inside the tower. The clock is located in The Houses of Parliament and although the tower was not open to the public, the clock could be seen and heard all over London. We didn't have any trouble finding Big Ben.
The Tower of London, located on the River Thames, built by William the Conqueror was also a "must see". We were able to tour some of the rooms and of special interest to me were the Crown Jewels, the Imperial State Crown and the world's largest top quality cut diamond. When we were finished our tour, we browsed through the Gift Store where we could purchase replicas of the Crown Jewels as souvenirs. They were reasonably priced and make wonderful gifts for family and friends back home.
I think everyone has heard of Piccadilly Circus in London. It is actually the junction of five very busy city streets. An aluminum statue of EROS, the pagan god of love stands above a bronze fountain in the centre of Piccadilly Circus. The cement steps leading up to the statue was an ideal place to sit and rest before going on to other landmarks on our list.
Shopping in London was both exciting and tiring. Deciding where to shop was frustrating because the list was endless and we wanted to see as much as we could. The more popular shopping areas like Oxford Street and Knightsbridge Street were perfect streets to just window-shop or to people watch. The streets were always busy. The most famous shop in London is Harrods. The store was massive. As we entered the building, we were met by a security guard who handed us a plastic bag to secure our camera in. No picture taking allowed! The four acre building boasts 300 different departments, bars, restaurants and pubs. Every display in the store was picture perfect, not an item out of place. I especially enjoyed looking at the bakery items. Each cake was decorated with a theme like a Carousel for a Birthday cake or a Stork carrying a baby wrapped in a blanket to welcome a new arrival in the family. I have never before seen such elaborately decorated items that one could also eat. It was a great way to spend an afternoon browsing, especially on a rainy day. Even purchasing a pen was too expensive for the average person however it didn't cost anything to look.
Eating out in London was definitely an experience. First we had to decide what kind of food we wanted, and then where to find it, since that list was endless too. The number of multicultural communities in London allows for every type of cuisine and every price range from budget take-outs to the most posh, upscale revolving restaurants. My favorite however was fish and chips in one of the many corner pubs; the food was always well prepared, tasted good, the prices were reasonable and the atmosphere was usually friendly and fun. Be sure to try some real English food like "mushy peas" or "chicken and leek pie" or "steak and kidney pie".
Our trip to London was a fabulous birthday present to me; I didn't even care that I had to turn a half century old to get such a gift. I would love to go back to London and visit the surrounding areas, yet another endless list of places to visit.
Lori's Final Comments:
London is the largest city in England. If you don't plan to re-visit the city, make your first trip longer than 10 days. You will never run out of places to visit, places to shop or places to eat so make sure you have comfortable walking shoes, a camera and a bus pass.
Lori Guretzki lives in Abbotsford, B.C. with her husband of 23 years. By day, she is an Administrative Assistant in a large high school in Abbotsford, by night she has a home based business called Lori's Canine Creations and in her off times, she shares her love of traveling to all corners of the world with her husband. Lori's latest accomplishment is her book, soon to be published, The Reluctant Traveller, about holidaying in Peru, South America.