It's funny how you don't realize the places you're missing out on until you start exploring.
I have always had a love for London; the historical buildings, the scandalous Tudor stories, my ancestry. When I was younger I swore to people there was an Adkins Castle, and would tell anyone who would listen about the 1500s history. Never in a million years did I think I would actually get to see the places I had read about, until I started just going, and stopped thinking about it.
Since last August I have been to Florida three times, and New Orleans. On those trips I met my friend Taylor through a mutual group of guys (another blog for another time). We decided we had to see London. We had originally planned the trip for around New Years, but, ya know, covid. The trip was rescheduled for mid February, and boy was it worth it.
We had an AirBNB right across from Hyde Park, and a short walk to Kensington Palace. It was the perfect place in the middle of streets lined with beautiful architecture and walking distance to ice cream(a must) and pubs. That was only the beginning.
Before I get into all the sites, here's a list of things to know if you plan to visit.
There's a six hour time difference from Iowa. Getting into a sleep schedule was tricky, and we had a hard time getting out of the flat before 10am. We said every night we would get up and be out the door by 8-9am to explore and that only happened on the day we flew out to come home.
All the tours stop around 3:30pm, and only run a few days out of the week. It also gets dark around 4pm this time of year, so any daylight activities need planned accordingly. There are some very cool places that are covered in lights that are definitely worth walking around after dark, but keep that in mind.
They call them toilets, not restrooms. And they do not have many (if any) public restrooms. London walks everywhere unless it's too far then there's the buses and tube. The tube stations, gas stations, and bus stops do not have toilets available to the public. I apparently have the smallest bladder on the planet so I felt like half the time I was walking around looking for a place to go and most of the time it was stopping in a pub and felt like I had to purchase a drink to justify using it (in turn fed into constantly having to go). The toilets also all operate the same way, there's a push button in the wall above the toilet. None had an automatic flush which I loved because the ones in America always flush when I'm not ready, dammit.
Speaking of tubes and buses. A tube is an underground subway if you had not caught on. There are multiple lines and fun fact, the Piccadilly line has a turn near Hyde Park and it's said that turn is built into the track because under Hyde Park is a huge mass grave and the amount of bones was so dense they could not cut through to set the tube so they built the track around it (history, man). You can pay with a credit card each time you get on the tube or bus but if you visit and plan to take those frequently you can purchase an Oyster card and load it for a week and never worry about it again.
Even if you purchase an international cellular plan, chances are it still will not work. I believe London has four zones, and if I was not in zone one I could not use my phone, it just searched for data which ran up the bill. This became really frustrating when trying to map a location or find out which bus or tube we needed to take back to the flat. If WiFi was available I had no issues, but maybe half the pubs and restaurants offer WiFi. It also never hurts to keep a portable charger if you're walking or taking a lot of pictures.
If you're planning on going out on the town, know what bus you need and have the Uber app up to date. Unless you're in Soho, some sections of London do not have buses or taxis running after certain times. Taxi services can also be reserved like an Uber, but you will not know which taxis are reserved, so you will flag down empty taxis and they will ignore you or wave you off and it's not a good time for anyone who does not like rejection ha ha.
Restaurants and pubs more than likely need a reservation. And they do not call it a reservation, it is a booking (they know you're a tourist if you say restroom or reservation). London is a busy place and a lot of the pubs are all over social media so they are sought out locations for tourists. Having an itinerary and knowing where you want to go ahead of time makes it easier.
London is a well operated machine. Everyone who lives and works there understands how to keep things moving on time. Popular observation is they drive on the right side of the car and left side of the road. Escalators and stairs work in a similar way. In the tube stations if you are not in a hurry, you stand on the right, and leave room for those rushing to pass on the left. One can also drive like a maniac there and it's fine, because so is everyone else. Do not try and drive in London yourself unless you know exactly what you're doing. If you are staying outside of London and want to go into the city take a train, because they charge almost a "border fee" for any vehicles coming into the city. They want as little cars as possible adding to the traffic and according to locals, it's not worth trying to take a personal car into the city.
Those being said, as long as you know what to be aware of it makes it easier to navigate and enjoy your time there. We loved London, and met so many new people from other countries like Scotland, Italy, and Canada. A lot of times they are just as fascinated with the American accent as we are with the British accented makes for easy aquaintances.
Now, to the good part.
The Tower of London. This was a must see. It is more known for being a prison for those who were awaiting execution than it is for being built as a home, then a zoo. Anne Boleyn, perhaps the most famous prisoner, was one of two wives of Henry VIII that he had beheaded. I could talk all day about him and his wives but I will save you the history lesson there. Two princes were also kept in the towers after their father King Edward IV died, and their uncle Richard III usurped the throne by claiming the boys illegitimate. One day they were playing in the courtyard, then never seen again. Almost 200 years later, the bones of two children were found. That specific tower is now known as The Bloody Tower. Many prisoners of the tower carved their last words or sigil into the walls, and those remain there today. Torture chambers also resided in the lower than ground level, as barbaric as you can imagine. Near the Tower of London is what many call the London Bridge, but is formally called the Tower Bridge.
Westminster Abbey was another on my list. This particular building was constructed in 1269 and is the place a number of important people are what I like to say are "married and buried" there. It is also a place many monarchs are crowned, and more recently, the place where William and Kate were married (we do not talk about Meghan). Construction began to be an honorary burial site for Henry III and was finally completed 500 years later. The crypts beneath the Abbey hold well over 3,000 corpses, including over 30 Kings and Queens. Sadly we were never on time to tour the inside of the Abbey, I guess I will have to go back.
Big Ben. Also known as the Elizabeth Tower, stands off the Thames River. It has been under restoration for a few years and was slowly being uncovered during our trip. Close by is the London Eye, one of the most popular tourist spots and one of the highest revenues in Europe. Tickets sell out every day. We did not do either but we did take a high speed boat ride on the Thames River and were able to see them both up close. The London Eye is also noted as a popular spot during holidays at night due to the light shows.
The Natural History Museum. Yet another stunning building holding the bones of all types of animals, dinosaurs, and a huge whale inside. A very busy place for families it has three stories with a mammal/dinosaur wing, birds and water creatures, and a giant room with a crap-ton of rocks (I mean...gems and minerals and meteorites). It would be easy to spend a whole day inside if you were to read every exhibit's information.
Buckingham and Kensington Palace. We first happened upon Buckingham Palace by accident after we were too late for the Abbey and started walking around. It was perfect because very few people were there and it is a place you wouldn't think to visit at night. We decided to go back during the day and saw what we think was a very important person come in behind a short caravan of security, horse and carriage, and a limo. The other, Kensington Palace sits on the one end of Hyde Park and had a gorgeous fountain dedicated to Princess Diana. Shocker we were also too late to tour the inside of that one.
The Entirety of what is London. Aside from the well known historic buildings, there are streets on streets of beautiful buildings including cathedrals, Trafalgar Square, and pubs. Mr. Fogg's has multiple locations, but this particular spot is a step through time with a toilet operated by a pull chain flush, bartenders wearing old trousers and waistcoats, and lots of antique decor. It was my favorite place to sit and relax and people watch. I also insisted doing afternoon tea at least once, and if I'm honest, I could do that a few times a week. Aside from one accidental bus ride from 2am-5am, we mostly stayed in Zone 1, which includes Kensington, Westminster, Paddington, Central London, Soho, Knightsbridge, and others I'm sure I'm missing or incorrect on.
The trip was amazing, sans the rain. I have no doubt I will go back someday during a warmer season and see more of the countryside or visit Scotland, Edinburgh in particular. I will not lie, I have the travel bug and my bank account will suffer, but it will be worth it to explore I have no doubt.
To avoid this being a thesis length blog, I will leave it at that.
Photos Taken & Edited by Mallery Adkins