Here are the best bits of the second half of our trip to the UK–four days in London. Travel tips & pictures for wanderlust fulfillment included! It’s been almost two weeks now since my husband and I returned from our amazing whirlwind trip to the UK. The jet lag is gone (thank goodness), and we’re settling back into normal life as the parents of two kids (with number three increasingly making us aware that he’s on his way).
We don’t have anything else major planned before our baby is due in September, and I’m really glad to have some time to focus on being together as a family and getting everything in order to welcome a new bundle of crazy boy energy into the family.
As glad as I am to be home, I’m still SOOO grateful that we got to go on our trip. Before the memories fade too much into dreamland, I want to share some of the highlights of the second half of our trip…partly for my mom who is always asking for more pictures, and partly for any of you who may find yourself planning a trip of your own to my favorite big city in the world: London!
Here are the highlights of the four days we spent in London, England.
Reuniting with London
In college, I was blessed to spend seven amazing weeks in London and the surrounding areas studying art and art history as part of a university study abroad. The experience was life-changing. I have never found a big city I loved as much as London–the history, the culture, the beautiful green spaces, the respect for tradition, the accents–and I have wanted to return ever since I stepped on the plane to leave twelve years ago.
Needless to say, I was excited to come back. After spending the first half of our trip in chilly Scotland (which I loved despite the 50 degree weather), I was looking forward to the warmer, sunnier weather that London was promising. We took a train from Glasgow to Euston station in London.
Side note: trains are brilliant. They are so much faster than traveling by car, less hassle than flying, and you get to enjoy looking out the window at endless hillsides dotted with sheep. I highly recommend it.
Once we got to Euston, we hopped on the Tube to Victoria station and checked into our hotel. I have to give a shout out to the hotel we stayed at in London: The Nadler Victoria. It completely exceeded my expectations. The location was perfect…just a few minutes from Victoria Station and Buckingham Palace. It was also only a 10-15 minute walk to Hyde Park one direction and to Westminster the other way.
The room itself wasn’t particularly large (I have yet to find a large hotel room in the UK), but it was one of the most intelligently designed hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in. It even had a mini kitchen with fridge, microwave, sink, and dishes. That made it so nice to keep breakfast food and snacks in our room and save money on food.
I was also super impressed by the concierge (whose name I never could figure out how to pronounce) who gave us great restaurant recommendations, provided extra pillows, and even gave us some hotel rubber ducks to take home to our boys. All in all, I would stay there again in a heartbeat.
P.S. – Nobody is paying me to say any of this. The nice Nadler Victoria people have no idea who I am. I was just really impressed with the hotel and thought I’d give you a heads up in case you get tired of looking through the thousands of hotel options in London.
Our Favorite Experiences in London
The last time I was in London, I had 7 weeks to explore all that the city had to offer. This time we only had four days, so we definitely had to pick and choose. It kind of felt like a lot of pressure to boil down the best of London to what we could accomplish in such a short time period…but here’s what we came up with: our top 10 list of things to do if you only have four days in London.
1. Stroll through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
I used to live right across the street from Kensington Gardens, so I went there regularly to run, walk, have a picnic, or just watch the cute little school kids in their uniforms playing “football” (soccer). This time, we took a long walk through the parks on our way home from church on Sunday afternoon. The parks are huge, and they have so much to see. Grab a baguette, some fruit, and cheese from the grocery store and have a picnic while people watching. If you really want to treat yourself, go for tea at the Kensington Palace Orangery. It’s a beautiful atmosphere and tasty food.
2. Explore The National Gallery
All of London’s major museums are free to visit, which is awesome (although donations are welcome). The National Gallery is my favorite (along with the Tate Britain), and we spent a couple of hours there happily wandering through halls filled with the works of Da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, Monet, Turner, and countless other artists. By the end of our time here, my body was screaming at me to sit down, but it was so hard to slow down when there were so many masterpieces to see.
If you want a fun bonus, have lunch in the crypt of St. Martin’s in the Fields nearby. Yummy…and creepy if you think too hard about it. St. Martin’s also regularly holds free lunchtime concerts (you can check the schedule online).
3. Climb the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s is a different style of cathedral compared with everything else we saw on the trip. It was much more simplistic in design (relatively) because it was built during the Reformation when there was a backlash against the opulence of the Renaissance.
We had a funny tour guide there who taught us more about the government structure of the City of London (which is only 1 square mile of the greater metropolitan area) than he taught us about the church, but it was fascinating nonetheless. We also got an audio guide which gave us much more information about the church itself. We climbed up to the whispering gallery (278 steps or something like that!), but we opted out of the climb that takes you all the way out onto the roof. I did climb to the top last time I went, and I highly recommend it for amazing views of city…if you’re not seven months pregnant, that is.
4. Take a tour of the Tower of London
If there’s one thing that’s SO iconically London it’s taking a tour with one of the “beefeater” tour guides at the Tower of London. Our guide was as entertaining and informative as I remembered them being from my previous trip to London, and I was glad that it lived up to my expectations. It was CRAZY busy there (welcome to July’s tourist season), so we opted to skip seeing the royal jewels because the line was longer than waiting for Space Mountain at Disneyland (gah!). Still, after our formal tour we got a great view from the battlements and toured inside the Bloody Tower as well as the White Tower, where they have a bunch of old weaponry and such…like armor that belonged to Henry the VIII.
5. Cruise the Thames River
This was a new experience for me this time in London, and I’m so glad we did it! We had opted to get hop-on-hop-off tour bus tickets Sunday evening when we couldn’t bear the thought of walking anymore, and used them again the following day to get to St. Paul’s & the Tower. Instead of taking the bus back to our hotel, we hopped on the river cruise (included in the bus tour cost) and rode down the Thames leisurely listening to another entertaining tour guide pointing out interesting sights along the way, and reveling in the cool breeze on the open-topped deck. It was just a fun way to view the city from a different perspective…and sitting down (which became increasingly important to my pregnant body).
6. Attend Evensong at Westminster Abbey
This was another new one for me this time in London. I have toured Westminster in the past, and it is fascinating to be sure. However, I got tired of spending $20 every time I walked in an old building, so we decided that instead of paying to see Westminster, we would attend evensong–which is free!
Sure it would have been interesting to go on a full tour and see all the graves of the dead kings and queens (they don’t let you walk around the abbey before or after the service), but I would much rather have the experience of hearing the angelic chamber music of the boys choir during Evensong. Oh my acoustics! Plus, it is interesting to me to experience and appreciate the religious services of faiths other than my own.
7. See a show in the West End
New York and London rival each other for producing some of the best theater in the world, so this theater-lover wanted to see at least one show while we were in town. We ended up seeing two–even better! First, we saw The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. The show was FABULOUS, better than I remembered, and Graham scored us great last-minute seats on the first row of the “royal circle” (first balcony).
Our last night, we saw Hamlet performed with Andrew Scott (Moriarty from the BBC’s Sherlock) in the title role. We had wanted to see something at The Globe, but their productions were too scandalous-looking for my tastes (bummer), so we found this performance instead. It has been playing in a smaller theatre for a while, but it just moved to a new theatre and is still selling out every night. In fact, even though we bought tickets weeks ahead of time, we were sitting on the second to last row of the top balcony…way up in the nosebleeds If ever a theatre had nosebleed seats, these were them. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and I was amazed by how well I was able to see and follow the acting from way above. It was a modernized, minimalist production, and I liked that it wasn’t overplayed.
8. Grab lunch and go shopping in Covent Garden
We had some delicious crepes at a little restaurant on the lower floor called Crème de la Crepe. We then wandered among the market stalls for a few minutes and I found some artwork I just LOVED! They were prints of watercolors of the city, and it was fun to meet the actual artist, so we bought a couple to use in the powder room at home. I don’t usually buy things at little stalls like that, but I just loved these pieces and Graham did too. It will be fun to have some unique, if not completely original, artwork in our home.
9. Try to decipher the Rosetta Stone at The British Museum
We spent our last morning at the British Museum wandering through halls of Egyptian and Greek art. A lot of this museum is filled with the spoils of exploration during the period of British Imperialism (which has caused controversy over the years as to whether the artifacts should be returned), but it’s amazing to see so many items from all over the world in one place.
10. Eat some good Indian food
London has a pretty significant Indian population, so I wanted to find some good Indian food while we were there. Our concierge recommended The Buckingham Balti House, a family-owned and operated restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. It was delicious! The ambiance was pretty basic, but the food was quality. I’m sure it’s not the only good Indian food in London, but it’s a solid choice. Wherever you choose to eat, find some good curry and garlic naan at some point during your trip!
So, there you have it…10 things to see and do if you ever get the chance to spend four days in London. If you haven’t been there, I hope you can go sometime. It really is a fabulous city. Oh, and even better, try to get OUTSIDE the city to see some of the surrounding countryside, which I like even better.
Have you been to London? What would be on your must-see list?