A Trip To London
When I decided to write a blog post about London all of these ideas swirled around in my head. I wrote and researched and read and reread what I had written and it just wasn’t what I wanted to share. You see, London is very special to me. I have traveled a lot; experienced big cities, national parks, and beautiful countryside. I have loved each unique adventure. However, I have never felt the way I felt the first time I visited London. This trip was just the four of us; my husband, me and our two daughters, who were 12 and 10 at the time. The year was 2009 and we were on our biggest adventure yet. We flew to Ireland and spent 5 days driving all over southeast Ireland. We saw castles, beaches, thatched roof houses, and crystal. From there we flew to London to spend 5 days. Our focus was primarily on history and all of the famous London Icons. The most memorable experience for me was surfacing at street level form the tube station and being met right in the face with the icon of all icons, Big Ben. I hadn’t realized until that moment how much I desired to see this famous landmark in person. I was in complete awe of a tower attached to a government building. I actually teared up a little and just stood there and took in the moment. I will always remember that moment and I will forever love the great city of London.
While preparing for our time in London our daughters did several relevant historical studies that helped to guide what we wanted to see in our time there. Their largest interest at the time was King Henry the VIII and his numerous wives. The drama surrounding this King and his methods and ideologies was quite interesting and deserved to be discovered. We started this journey with a 45-minute train ride outside of town to the beautiful Hampton Court Palace. This was the primary residence of King Henry and his wives. This vast property includes a castle that dates to the 15th century. The castle is open to tourists and has many areas that were built throughout the years. The weather was fantastic, so we took a leisurely stroll around the award-winning gardens. Back inside the palace, we were surprised to run into the King (literally). After a quick photo with him, we couldn’t help but wonder if he was roaming the halls in search of his next wife. Visiting Hampton Court took the entire day, so we were glad we hadn’t planned anything else for that day. We did leave the property for lunch and walked to a great local restaurant called Blue Becker’s across the street from the property. This was probably the best meal we had on our trip. We could have bought our tickets online and not visited the ticket window, but we like to save the stubs as souvenirs for our scrapbooks. Plus, we found that there was some great age appropriate material for the children that helped make the visit more engaging for our daughters. We found that this tended to be true for all the historical sites we visited.
The Tower of London located along the River Thames was our next destination. Founded in 1066 this beautiful castle consists of many buildings, 2 towers, and is completely walled. We were able to secure a personal tour with the famous Yeoman Warders. They filled us in on all of the history surrounding this ever-important fortress. We learned about torture methods, famous people that were imprisoned here, what everyday life was like for those living here, how she survived WWII, and why ravens will always have a home at the castle. There is a great memorial set up for those that were beheaded, including Henry’s second wife Ann Boleyn. The Crown Jewels are kept here and yes, we got to see them. We had to look fast because they didn’t let anyone just hang around them. They do not allow photography or stopping to admire a particular piece of jewelry. We spent half a day here before walking along the River Thames and taking in the breathtaking view of the Tower Bridge. There is a pedestrian walkway crossing the bridge to help get a unique view of the city.
Shakespeare was another subject we studied in depth before our trip. Our oldest daughter requested a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater which also sits along the River Thames. This is a reproduction of what the original theater would have looked like. The original theater burned down and was replaced with an identical one that also did not survive. There are guided tours and many performance options to attend. We also got to visit the museum with displays of costumes and scripts. We enjoyed seeing how detailed the makeup would have been for performers and the amount of time that went into the costumes they wore. The gift shop was quirky but well worth your time.
We really enjoy photography even though none of us could label ourselves as photographers. In large cities we like to find some place to get a bird’s eye view and hopefully get great pictures of the city. After researching we decided to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1673, so we could continue our history path and get a great view. Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral took place here in 1965 and the stunning royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana captivated the world from St Paul’s Cathedral in 1981. This particular day the weather was beautiful so heading to the roof was not an issue. We spent about 30 minutes viewing the city and learning more about how the city is organized. There was no crowd and the entire experience was quite relaxing. Touring the interior of the cathedral took us about an hour and was very relaxing. There were plenty of other tourists there, but most people were very respectful and quiet.
Next on our itinerary was viewing Buckingham Palace. On our first visit we were there in the month of May, so the Queen was in residence. In September of 2018 we returned to London for 4 days, this time it was me and my husband with my parents. The queen resides in her summer residence for 3 months of the year and September is one of those months. This was great news for us because the palace was open for visitors. This was the highlight of our London trip for my mom. We knew tickets would sell out fast so, being a travel concierge, I was able to pre-book our tickets. The tour was self-guided and took us about an hour and a half. They didn’t allow photography inside the palace so we were a bit bummed that we couldn’t get any pictures. We saw the grand main entrance used by world leaders and was the entrance Prince William and Princess Kate used after their wedding. The entrance was magnificent and gave us a peek into how the royals live. There are great works of art, amazing furniture, and beautifully decorated rooms. The living areas of the royals were off limits. After your tour there is a huge gift shop and a café serving coffee, tea, snacks, and delicious ice cream.
We had a little extra time, so we opted for another quick trip outside of the city and visited Greenwich. On our 2009 trip we took our girls to see where the east meets the west. There is an observatory and a small science museum to tour before standing on the Prime Meridian. The town of Greenwich is very small and has some local eateries to enjoy before catching the train back into the city. Shopping was on the agenda for the second part of the day so a trip to Harrods was necessary. Harrods is a large department store that has a vast assortment of shopping options. We were more interested in checking out the food and snacks as well as being on the hunt for any unique souvenirs. Harrods does carry their own brand of wine, chocolate, almonds, and toffee. Many of these items are boxed and ready to gift to friends and family back home. We bought cute little tea tins with iconic London landmarks on them to gift. My mom keeps hers in her kitchen to this day. Covent Garden is also an ideal shopping area. They have antiques, small coffee shops, theater, and funky street performers.
While this is a small sampling of activities we enjoyed in London, I hope it helps you in making London a destination that tops your list of must do experiences. Here at 101-Vacations we are available to help you make this destination a reality. We help you with custom itineraries for the museum junkie, the foodie, or the history buff. Learning the Tube takes a little effort and we are here to help you understand the best ways to purchase tickets and navigate the underground transportation system. We are currently offering a Girls Guide to London trip for September of 2019. Contact your 101-Vacations agent for the itinerary and to book.
Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.