London has been on my bucket list for a long time. So iconic is this city that I named my youngest daughter after it. Yes, that’s right, before I ever visited the city, I named my child after it. An avid reader of historic fiction and fan of period pieces in cinema, I’ve admired the rich culture and history that has made London arguably one of if not the top visited city on Earth. This whirlwind trip was a bit of a surpise. I was only in the city two nights, so we made it as meaningful as possible. In addition, a random snowstorm blew in unexpectedly so we catered our trip to mainly indoor destinations to avoid the inclement weather. Here’s what ground we covered during our 48 hours in London.
Tea at Shakespeare’s Globe
It’s tough to pick only a few things to do in a city that’s as rich in art, culture, and foodie delights as London is. For me however, there was no second guessing the fact that I had to take in afternoon tea during our visit. I researched all the top tea destinations and many of them were difficult to book with less than two weeks notice. Upon searching Yelp for places nearby our hotel, I was pleasantly surprised to find Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe. This casually hip restaurant not only had a tasty and affordable afternoon tea, it was also at one of the sites we wanted to visit. Killing two birds with one stone, we happily reserved our tea time.
The restaurant enjoyed a lovely view of the River Thames, and sat right next to the iconic Shakespeare’s Globe theatre complex. As mentioned above, tea service at Swan was much more affordable than some (by half in some cases). In addition the quality of food and service was sublime. Tea-goers enjoyed the choice between a Mid Summer Night’s Tea, or the Gentleman’s Tea. Naturally, we ordered both. The Mid Summer Night’s Tea was a bit daintier with more traditional small sandwiches and sweet treats. By comparison the Gentleman’s Tea was heartier and included larger, and more savory selections. While the blizzard swirled around outside, we thoroughly enjoyed every morsel of our delicious tea service all the way through receiving our check which was delivered in a Romeo & Juliet playbook. How A’Propos!
Travel Tip: Book your reservation as far in advance as possible. We choose a 3pm tea time knowing we would be catching up to the time change. It gave us time for a quick nap after our red eye flight, and left us refreshed and famished in time for tea.
The British Museum
With more than 8 million objects in its collection the British Museum is one of the oldest and most prestigious museums of it’s kind. Established more than two hundred years ago, the collection grew and expanded with the growth of British colonization. A celebration of humanity, the museum houses priceless and rare artifacts from around the world. As we explored its galleries we browsed ruins of ancient Greece, laid eyes on the iconic “Thinker” sculpture, and marveled at Egyptian mummies still intact in their burial robes. We spent several hours exploring and we were just getting started. The British Museum is a place you can visit over and over again, and always discover something new.
Travel Tip: Like all British National Museums, admission is free, however there is a suggested donation. This was a great place to spend time if you get in from a flight and can’t check into your room yet. For a small fee you can check your luggage at the coat check.
Inside London’s Chinatown
A popular tourist attraction and hub for entertainment, Piccadilly Circus can be compared to NYC’s Times Square. Here you’ll find shopping, entertainment (from the nearby theatre district), nightlife, and well known dining destinations. We swung by Piccadilly Circus on the evening of our first night for a quick visit. Not easily impressed by major touristy hot spots, we found pretty much what we expected. Plenty of neon lights, tall video screens, brightly lit stores pitching their wares to the tourists passing by, and the enticing draw of the world’s best stage performances tempting us to buy a ticket. I was also surprised when we stumbled upon London’s Chinatown. There’s plenty to keep you busy when you spend an afternoon or evening at Piccadilly Circus. Our visit was short lived thanks to the cold, but I’m still glad we got to see this legendary destination in person.
Travel Tip: To book last-minute London theatre tickets, visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. It offers half-price and discounted theatre tickets on the day of the show, and up to a week in advance! I’ve done this in NYC and it’s the best way to go! Be prepared to wait in line.
We did not get to ride the London Eye, but we walked by it at night and enjoyed the view.
The London Pass
If you want to make the most of your time, and money in London, then the London Pass is for you. We’ve used Passes like these in several of the cities we’ve visited and it’s always the best value. For one price you can purchase a one or two day pass that includes admission into some of the city’s most popular attractions. To make even more of your time you can purchase a pass with travel included. We choose to purchase a one day pass including travel with a plan to visit several spots on our list such as Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, & the Tower of London. We had a bit of a late start as we got caught up to the time change, and we spent more time at each spot than planned which ultimately limited how many attractions we visited. In hind-site I think the pass was worth it, but we should not have purchased the version with travel. We didn’t use any of the hop on and off passes for the double decker buses, because most of the places we ultimately visited were within walking distance or a quick tube ride.
Travel Tip: The London Pass has a great app to help you navigate all attractions and tour bus lines.
The Nation’s coronation church since William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066, Westminster Abbey is literally overflowing with history. It’s hard to choose a favorite destination from our visit but Westminster Abbey is definitely one of our top two. Upon entry you can opt to receive a complimentary audio tour on a smart device. The tour was so helpful in understanding exactly what you were looking at during your walk through. Over 450 tombs and monuments rest throughout the Abbey including some of England’s most notable monarch’s such as Queen Elizabeth the first, her sister Queen Mary, and her grandfather King Henry the seventh. As I mentioned above, I’m a huge fan of Historic Fiction, and Cinema. To see the burial place of the real life figures depicted in my favorite novels, movies, and tv shows was remarkable. We thoughtfully meandered through the Abbey reflecting on the historic figures in this one building alone, who moved history and influenced the way so many of us think, believe, and worship. It was a humbling experience to say the least, especially the Poet’s corner where some of the country’s most famous writers were memorialized for all to see. As a writer… this was extremely touching.
Travel Tip: Arrive early as a line does form pretty quickly. Also, as you exit don’t miss the Coronation chair on which every British monarch since 1308 has been crowned on.
Not to be confused with the London Bridge, Tower Bridge is one of London’s most recognized landmarks and one of the most famous bridges in the world. Where many bridges and landmarks were damaged or destroyed in WWII, Tower Bridge was left intact as a navigational beacon for enemy air craft. A short walk from the Tower of London, the bridge was a fun site to visit. We took the elevator to the top and walked the high level walkways for an epic view of the River Thames and London’s other iconic landmarks.
Travel Tip: As you exit, tour the engine rooms and learn what it took to keep this bridge operating during the industrial age.
Tower of London
At the top of my list of spots I absolutely had to see while in London, was the Tower of London. Immortalized throughout the archives of history for its dark past, the Tower of London definitely exceeded my expectations. More than just the prison where Anne Boleyn was executed, more than the place two royal princes mysteriously disappeared from, the Tower of London has served many roles. To this day it is still home to the vault where the Crown Jewels are kept. It was at one time the home of the Royal Armory, the Royal Mint, the Royal Menagerie, and it was the original Royal Palace dating back to William the Conqueror. We decided to take the guided tour by one of the Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters as they are traditionally called, and found the tour incredibly insightful. The Tower was definitely tied for our top attraction with to Westminster Abbey. Really it was several attractions in one and we could have spent a lot more time there if we hadn’t run out of time.
Travel Tip: Sold out months in advance, the hot ticket to get at the Tower of London is to the Ceremony of the Keys. We did not hear about this until we got back, but we’ll definitely be booking this next time we go.
This glass pillow serves as a memorial to the royals who were executed inside the Tower of London including Queen Anne Boleyn
There are many forms of public transport in and around London. Below I included some helpful apps we used to navigate the city. We decided to avoid getting a rental car and use the Tube for most of our trip. We did utilize Uber to get us to tea on our first day, but aside from the that we chose to walk and use the Tube.
Tube Map Underground London
Lauded is the #1 Map App for London’s Underground transit system. This works on and off line so you wont be lost without Wifi. Bonus! You can even compare other types of transit like Uber, and the Bus to see which will be fastest and most cost effective. Love it!