A Weekend in London
What could be better than spending a long weekend in London? Honestly, not much. London is one of those cities that just steals your heart; the blend of history, culture, food, art and the modern life. James and I are fortunate to have visited this city once before, however this time around we got to be tour guides to his parents.
Mr. and Mrs. D, or G and Papa as we call them, decided to do a stint abroad. They planned to visit us in England, and fulfill their dream trip to Spain. Obviously I immediately started planning our trip to London and looking up all the free things we could do!
James and I boarded a train from Exeter St. David’s to London Paddington early Thursday afternoon to check into our hotel (thanks G and Papa) before his parents flew back from Spain later that night.
When we got to Paddington Station, I obviously made it my mission to find the Paddington Bench and take a photo. Can you tell how excited I am?
Transportation from Heathrow to Hotel
Next we had to figure out how to get ourselves from London to our hotel the Sheraton Skyline, located just outside Heathrow Airport. If you are unfamiliar with London, Heathrow is pretty much outside of the city center.
Fortunately G and Papa had James and I to blunder through it all and make the mistakes beforehand, so we could text them and tell them what NOT to do. We hopped on a tube directly to Heathrow airport, which was fairly simple. Using our railcard, we purchased an off-peak zone 1-6 day pass on the tube and paid £8 ea. as opposed to £18 ea. and took the Picadilly Line to Heathrow Airport.
The difficulty came in figuring out how to get out of Heathrow Airport and to the hotel, without paying for a cab – because we’re cheap. We thought we could just walk out…WRONG. There is literally no way to simply walk out of Heathrow Airport.
Your butt must be planted on some mode of transportation. A kind gentleman who worked for the bus system informed me that there is a local bus that operates at Heathrow Airport for FREE within certain zones and luckily our hotel was located in the free zone. I could see the wave of relief on James when we found out a way to get out of the airport without spending any money – yes we are that broke.
Platform 9 3/4
We took the free bus (Bus 285, 423, or 555) to the nearest Tube station (Hatton Cross) to ride back into London. First stop, Kings Cross, A.K.A location of Platform 9 3/4 in Harry Potter. Kings Cross has actually created a little area between Platforms 9 and 10, dedicated to Harry Potter. They even have staff that give you props and take professional photos that you can purchase. However, you can still take photos for free on your own mobile device or camera. I took all my photos in the cliche, generic ways, whereas James always unique, took his photo as if he was struggling to get his cart through the barrier.
After our journey to the Magical World of Harry Potter, we took a pit stop at Leicester Square and walked over to Picadilly Circus. Essentially these areas are the equivalent of Time Square, NYC. Bright lights, street performers, tourists at every corner. Nonetheless it was still nice to walk around and see the nightlife of London.
This day will forever be marked as Papa’s record day on his fit bit – 17 miles of walking. If James and I ever break up I will never be forgotten that’s for sure.
By 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning we are all sitting on the top deck of the double-decker bus – a first for us all. Our first stop once in London was Kensington Palace. If you want to see a Palace while in London and not deal with crowds – Kensington is the way to go.
The Palace itself was a bit underwhelming from the outside, but the gates around it were ornate and beautiful. I made a comment at how cool it was that you could see the ceiling through the window from the outdoors. Cue Mrs. D yapping at the guy in the window to move over so she could see the ceiling. James, his dad and I quickly walked away and pretended that we didn’t the know her. By the way if you really want to see the inside of Kensington Palace, you can for a fee.
Mazes, arches, and statues all leading up to a massive pond filled with elegant swans and ducks floating about. The pictures I have can’t even do it justice.
Just twenty minutes from Kensington Palace is Notting Hill. No I haven’t seen the movie, I don’t get any of the references, and we did not find the bookstore (mainly because I did not know there was a bookstore to begin with). With that said, the area is beautiful, and the houses and suburbs are perfect for a stroll. Fortunately for us we did venture across the Portobello Market on Portobello road. It was filled with local independent stores, selling artisanal, handmade products. From the latest fashion trends, to cashmere, to antique souvenirs – head to Alice’s.
Tower of London & Tower Bridge
Following Notting Hill we decided to head over to see the Tower of London. The tower is more castle, than it is tower, and is actually quite historic. From what I gathered from brochures it was once a Royal Residence, a prison for many including Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh, a controlling point of power for London, and home of the Crown Jewels. You can pay to take a tour inside of the tower, or you can enter it for free by reserving a spot (well in advance) to view the Ceremony of the Keys. The traditional locking up of the tower that has been done without fail for the past 700 years.
Right next to the Tower of London is the famed Tower Bridge, most often mistaken by foreigners as London Bridge. We walked across the Tower Bridge, along with tons of other tourists. You can actually pay to climb to the top of the bridge- but again in the spirit of free we opted to just cross over to the South Bank.
Have you really been to London if you haven’t seen the famed London Bridge? While yes, the bridge was not what I expected, since I mistook Tower Bridge for it – it’s still pretty cool to see the focus of the famed nursery rhyme.
Before crossing London Bridge, we took a pit stop at Borough Market, which is situated below rail tracks, and smells absolutely delicious the minute you walk into the busy market. Foods from all walks of the world can be found here, New Orleans style, to Ethiopian entrees, to drunken cheeses, and French Meringue. We opted for delicious cookies.
The Sky Garden
After crossing London Bridge you come across the Monument of Fire, which commemorates the Great Fire of London that burned for three days. At this point, Mr. D’s bad knee and left foot literally fell apart. Cue James blaming Eric for hurting their dad while playing football and throwing such a bad pass that his dad stepped in a hole and twisted his ankle. He was limping at this point. Moral of the story, walking 17 miles doesn’t help a bad ankle. Thankfully we were at the Walkie Talkie building (a building literally shaped like a walkie talkie) where we had reservations to the Sky Garden to view the London Skyline. For FREE. Reservations must be made in advance as it is very popular.
Half an hour, 35 floors higher, Mr. D was able to sit and relax for a bit and ease the pain in his leg. The views are impressive – to the left you can see the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge, directly in the middle you can see the Shard, and the London Eye far off to the right in the distance.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
By this point it was after 5 and the Cathedral was closed, so we could only look from the outside. The Cathedral is massive, and really needs to be appreciated a bit further back so you can take it all in. A popular spot is the Millennium Bridge which has views of the Cathedral in one direction, and views of Tate Modern in the other direction. We crossed over the bridge and went back to the South Bank, so that James and I can could go down to the shore of the river and collect a rock before the high tide came in. I have to say it’s really cool to know that I’ve stepped on the shoreline of the River Thames. How many people can say that?
Food & Pints
Now at this point we were all starving and decided we needed food. Thank you random Italian guy for drawing us into the restaurant and helping us decide what to eat. After a delicious dinner we decided the best way to top of the night was with a pint in a pub. We ended up at a pub in front Big Ben.
If you don’t know Mrs. D, she is an extrovert 100%. I kid you not I went to the bathroom for all of one minute and came back to find she had a made a friend just as chatty as herself. It was a battle of words between the two, and who could talk more about their kids. ‘My son went to Germany, my daughter has a 4.0 blahblahblah’. This lady’s husband and Mr. D both had the face of “good lord here we go again”. It was absolutely hysterical to watch.
After our pints we crossed Westminster Bridge to get a view of House of Parliament from the South Bank and the London Eye. If you want an uninterrupted, tourist free view, you must go at night.
After this we decided to call it a night and attempted to find Waterloo Station, but got lost, then we tried to take Lambert North but turned out it was closed for reparations, and the next nearest station was Elephant and Castle. After three failed attempts and thirty minutes both mine and Mr. D’s bladders were about to pop and thus our one pub turned into a pub crawl as we hopped into the nearest place in site with a bathroom. Thank goodness for Flowers in the Forest, the random pub we found in our need to pee.
Back to the Hotel
Low and behold about 10 stops into the tube ride Papa’s bladder kicked in again. Unfortunately there aren’t any toilets on the tubes, and the tubes close at midnight so we were battling both time and bladder. A gentleman sitting next to G and I overhead us saying we needed a restroom and offered to take us to his restaurant located just outside one of the stations. However, we needed to wait a few more stops to get there. Poor Papa – the train got delayed five or six times, and crawled due to “signaling” problems. What should’ve been a 5 minute journey turned into 20 minutes. Once we finally reached the station you could see the relief on Mr. D’s face as he was escorted to the restaurant and allowed to pee.
We quickly got back on the tube, and then bus back to the hotel. 30,000 + steps, 17 miles, and many catastrophic pee incidents later we had somehow made it through Day 2 of our trip and James jokingly accusing me of trying to kill his parents. I’m pretty sure they’re sore in places they didn’t even know they had. I promise I didn’t try to kill you both.
At about noon we made it to London, where our first stop was the London Eye and Houses of Parliament, with a quick walk across Westminster Bridge so we could see the views in daylight. I really do not recommend going to tourist sites in the smack middle of a day, it was swarmed. Though there was a really cool Scottish guy in a kilt playing the bagpipes while we crossed the bridge, so it did add to the atmosphere.
Immediately behind Big Ben is Westminster Abbey. It’s pretty cool to think that I was now standing in the same spot that I watched on television during the Royal Wedding(Will and Kate).
St. James Park
We were starving because we skipped breakfast and we were on the hunt for a Pasty. James remembered that there were cafes in St. James Park on the walk to Buckingham Palace so we decided to head there for a pasty. St. James Park is very interesting because it is a sanctuary to a variety of birds, and the walk to the Palace is dubbed “Birdcage Walk.” It is without a doubt a great way to spend an afternoon if you’re a nature lover.
Buckingham Palace is swarmed with tourists, and to get to the actual Palace you need to walk around a massive roundabout. However, once you get to the Palace you can peer at it through the gates and see the guards. If you’re there at 11:00 you can see the changing of the guards ceremony, though in winter it’s done every other day. Next stop: Stroll down The Mall (the red road leading to Buckingham Palace) down to Trafalgar Square and find lunch. We found a tapa-esque restaurant that consisted of small plates, and meals meant to share. It was delicious. Though almost everything I eat I find delicious so I may be biased.
After lunch, we opted for Abbey Road to see the famed crosswalk. There wasn’t that many people there at the road, however it is still a functioning roadway. In England drivers actually stop and allow pedestrians to cross the crosswalk when they’re standing by it. I could tell how infuriating it was for drivers to stop, expecting pedestrians to cross, and ultimately they didn’t cross. All because tourists need a photo crossing the street. I tried to take a video of James and I crossing, to find after the fact I never hit the record button…typical. Once we crossed over we signed our names on the wall in front of Abbey Studios.
Indian food in England is a must. After we had gotten back to the hotel and recovered we opted to do Indian food for dinner. James insisted on dressing up, while the rest of us were dressed down. Regardless it was a delicious dinner, filled with great conversation.
At 6:30 am we walked Mr. and Mrs. D to the bus stop to the airport and said our see you laters. In just a few short months we would see them again!
Two hours later and a cat nap, James and I were off to spend our last day in London before heading back to Exeter. First on the agenda was Harrods because I am my mother’s daughter. Sadly Harrods didn’t open till 11 and we were there at 10. I took it as a sign that my suitcase couldn’t afford to have one more item in it, so we were off to our next destination, Hyde Park.
We were lucky enough that just as we got to Hyde Park the Queen’s men rode by on their horses. The parks are all the same, in one very important way, you can always count on their being dogs to pet. If you can’t tell James and I love dogs, and we admired them all as we strolled down “Lover’s Walk” to the Marble Arch (modeled after the Arc de Triomphe). Unfortunately the Marble Arch was swarmed with tourists like us making it impossible to get a photo without tourists.
Big Ben & Trafalgar Square
The next stop on our destination was back to Big Ben so we could take more photos. Sadly it was a bit foggy today and everything just looked gray and dreary. We then trekked to Trafalgar Square in hopes to enter St. Martin-in-the-fields, but it was closed to visitors as it was in service. It became clear that about now was a good time for breakfast/lunch. What do two broke college students eat for breakfast/lunch? McDonalds of course. You can always count on it being around. Three pounds later, and one and a half sandwiches each we were filled and onto our next stop.
I think this is a London secret, tucked away in the middle of Covent Garden, filled with vibrant colored shops and locals. Or so it seemed at least.
We then visited Leadenhall Market, famous for the film location of Diagon Alley. It is no surprise that I am a Potterhead so I was thrilled to stand in the actual location of Diagon Alley. Unfortunately the market was closed on Sundays, but I think I prefer it this way because there really wasn’t that many people there.
The Royal Observatory
Our next stop, was way out in Greenwich, to see the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian line. It is pretty cool to say you’ve stood at 0 degrees Longitude.
Pro Tip: Bring a walking stick to hike up to the Royal Observatory.
Maybe it was because we walked almost 50 miles, or that I was carrying a heavy backpack all day, but to get to the Royal Observatory from the Greenwich park involves a massive and steep hill. On the flip side, the view of the Queen’s house (she has houses all over this country it seems), from the top of the hill is impressive.
For our last and final stop of London, we opted to go to Little Venice. However, I have to say I think it’s more of a Little Amsterdam than a Venice. We ended our day at Paddington station where our lunch menu made a comeback, McDonald’s for dinner. A whopping £5 later got us three sandwiches and a large order of fries. All in all, it was a quite lovely, yet tiring weekend in London.
All in all, I would say it was quite the successful weekend in London. How about you, have you had any great weekend trips to London?
Total Cost: £136
- Transportation: £128
- Rail – Round trip Exeter St. Davids to London Paddington: £40 per person = £80 total
- Tube – 6 Zone 1-6 Off Peak Tickets: £8 ea = £48 total
- Food: £8
- McDonald’s Sandwiches: £8
- Rest of food covered graciously by G&Papa!
- Hotel: £0
- This one goes to G and Papa again…thanks!
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