Our latest adventure took us to London with a quick pit stop over in Norfolk to attend a wedding of Marte’s good friend from her study abroad days.
Part 1 – Over the Pond and to the Wedding
We took a red eye flight with Virgin Atlantic to Heathrow which overall was a very pleasant experience. Passport control at Heathrow took roughly 1.5 hours, which ended up being a theme for most of the trip. The British love their queues!
Renting a car with a Nav system is clutch if you’re driving but be prepared to learn how to use it. The UK GPS system uses a series of letters and numbers instead of street addresses to navigate. The most nerve-racking part of driving was the country roads being so narrow they would barely pass as a one-way road here in the states.
The wedding was beautiful and everyone there was friendly and quintessentially British/Scottish. It took 5 minutes or less for any one of them to bring up our current state of politics in the states. Despite that, the conversations were remarkably pleasant. All and all it was a great way to acclimate to the culture. Guide books are great but there’s no better source of information than the locals themselves!
Part 2 – London from a Public Transit Point of View
After two nights in Hunstanton, we left Norfolk and made a quick pit stop in Ely (pronounced “ee-lee”) to see a Cathedral on the recommendation of people we met at the wedding. The Cathedral was massive and beautiful and had an amazing kids’ science exhibit inside. Science and religion co-mingling in peace… if only.
We dropped the car back at Heathrow and took the tube into the city. The London Tube system is complex and while lines are color coded they are referred to by line name and end destination i.e. Piccadilly Line to Cockfosters. Its a tap-in/tap-out system with rates based on distance traveled so if you’re staying a while, a multi-day Oyster card is the way to go. We also highly recommend the Moovit app. It made directions via public transit easy with accurate realtime updates on bus/train arrivals.
The apartment we rented was in Chelsea, a young, vibrant and “posh” community outside the city center enough to get away but close enough via public transit to go anywhere of interest inside of 40 minutes.
The sun sets much later in the UK so we went out to see Big Ben and Parliament as well as find our meeting spot (no easy feat!) for the Stonehenge tour we were taking the next day. Dinner was at World’s End Distillery in Chelsea. Great food but awful service. London is not a tipping culture so tip is often included in the price of the meal.
Part 3 – The London Itinerary
Day 1 in London – Two hour bus trip to Stonehenge with Golden Tours. Quick pop into the Victoria & Albert Museum then back home to the grocery store to stock up.
Day 2 – Long train ride to Hampton Court. The site was beautiful with grounds as massive as the palace itself. Once back we went to Abbey Lane to take some Beatles pictures and with some time left to burn a quick tour around the London Zoo. Great cocktails and atmosphere at Cahoots in lively Soho area and dinner at a shady restaurant called Shakespear’s Hand.
Day 3 a.k.a. “Plan B Day” – First stop was the Churchill War Rooms then Westminster Abbey where we changed plans after seeing the giant queue. Instead we walked by Buckingham Palace and also went in to Harrods to kill time until our appointment for a very fancy afternoon high tea at the Berkley Hotel. Reservation required and it is pricey but well worth it!
Change of plans #2 to burn time taking a turn on the London Eye which led to change of plans #3 during cocktails which were supposed to be at Duke’s bar but we couldn’t get in after 35 minutes of waiting. We found the America’s Bar and had decent albeit pricey cocktail until our late dinner reservation at Murano’s Italian Restaurant.
Day 4 – Breakfast at home and headed to Westminster Abbey. This time we got in and toured it for an hour or so. From the Abbey we went to the Tower of London and got to see the crown jewels and a torture chamber (Yikes!).
Long walk over the famed Tower Bridge into Borough Market and then to the Globe Theater to see the raunchiest version of Romeo and Juliette. Quick cocktail after the show at Swan Bar and finally back to Chelsea for dinner at home.
Day 5 – Big trip day! Tube ride to Baker Street for the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Really cool to see but overpriced. From there we caught another bus from Golden Tours to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Martha couldn’t stop smiling at the massive complex full of the original clothing, set pieces, props and special effects from the Harry Potter movies. Well worth seeing.
Once back at Baker Street we conned our way into a Speakeasy called Bart’s despite not having a password for some watered down cocktails. Dinner at PJ’s which we were horrendously underdressed for and then off to home.
Day 6 – Our travel day back to the states. Chelsea apparently doesn’t do breakfast. No diner was open for blocks and it was 9AM! We did finally find Mona Lisa’s Smile. They had a great english breakfast and were cheap!
Off to the airport with plenty of time for security to give Martha a headache about her medical devices. Is no one in London diabetic?! After that was done it was easy on easy off the plane and cab ride back home in Boston.
Part 4 – General Tips
- Public Transit is quick and frequent but takes getting used to. Lots of criss crossing lines. Well worth and Oyster multi-day pass if you’re staying and traveling around a lot.
- London Pass is 50/50. You really have to spend a good couple days and be mindful about using it fully to get your money’s worth. Not all places you’ll want to see take it.
- The queues, dear lord, the queues. No matter how early you plan to get into a place plan for extra time. They are everywhere!
- Speaking of extra time, plan for extra time at meals and drinks. This is a culture that takes it time during meals and in general is not as go go go as American culture.
- Fun fact… It doesn’t get dark until well after 9pm in the Spring/Summer.
- Just because a bunch of people are outside a pub drinking that in no way means the inside is full or doesn’t have a table. Quite the opposite!