My family and I left Philadelphia International Airport on our flight to London-Heathrow International Airport at 7:20 pm on May 21, 2017 and arrived in London, UK at 7:15 am on May 22, 2017. After gathering our belongings and exiting the plane, we were greeted with an extremely long line for the UK border control that took over an hour before we could get our passports stamped and get our luggage from the baggage claim. Soon after, we took a van to our hotel and got our first glimpses of London. The traffic was crazy and the driving made me nauseous, but we made it to our hotel (St. Ermin’s in Westminster) where we left our bags and changed before heading out to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards and other sights before we could check in later in the day.
Buckingham Palace was beautiful and very ornate. We saw the changing of the guards which is a very interesting ceremony involving huge white horses, many guards, and music. There were lots of people crowding around the gates so make sure to get there early if you’d like to see the ceremony since it starts around 11am on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays weather permitting. At this point, jet lag began to set in and we headed to a restaurant chain called Pret for lunch which has tons of healthy options for a quick lunch on the go as well as a free bathroom which is always a plus. Once we finished lunch, we wandered down to St. James Park which was lovely. We took pictures of the beautiful views, explored the vast green areas and bridges, and saw lots of sunbathers lounging in comfy chairs and enjoying ice cream.
Only about a ten minute walk from here, were the parliament buildings and Big Ben so we walked down there to take in some more classic sights of London before heading back to the hotel to check in and nap since the jet lag was becoming too much to bear by this point. If you are taking a red eye flight to the UK or Europe from the US definitely plan on taking a nap on your first day since you will be exhausted!
A two hour nap was exactly what we needed! We woke up, showered, and headed to a local Italian restaurant for dinner. I had the gnocchi, some bruschetta, and two glasses of wine and all of it was delicious. We ate around 6 pm which was definitely early compared to the locals. After enjoying dinner, we walked around the parliament buildings, along the River Thames, the London Eye, across the Westminster Bridge and the Golden Jubilee Bridge, got frozen yogurt from an adorable place called Snogg’s, and took lots of photos. Finally, we had a bottle of red wine on the front porch seating area of our hotel before heading to bed to get a good night’s rest.
To start off our second day in London, we got Starbucks Coffee (iced coffee is a must for me) and had breakfast at Pret A Manger before trying to navigate the Tube to go to Kensington Palace. Surprisingly, after buying an Oyster card and studying the maps with a little help we were able to easily make our way to Kensington area. Kensington Palace was gorgeous from the outside with the ornate gates and huge hedge gardens. Inside was very interesting to see as well. We saw the living quarters of past Kings and Queens as well as an exhibit about the fashion of Princess Diana. The garden was my favorite part though. There were huge hedges and ivy tunnels overlooking fountains and flower displays. According to an employee inside Kensington Palace, we were only allowed to see 36 of the over 500 rooms that are a part of Kensington Palace and the grounds due to current members of the royal family living there.
After Kensington Palace, we wandered to Notting Hill to see the picturesque colorful homes and shops before grabbing lunch in a traditional fish and chips restaurant. It was called the Fish House in Notting Hill and it was delicious! Then, we took a double decker bus to Harrods to see the many floors of extremely expensive designer goods. Later on, we enjoyed dinner at a pub near our hotel called the Sanctuary House which is known for its ales and pies which is exactly what we had!
Obviously, our breakfast on Day 3 was the same as the day before because Pret is delicious and so quick (it became an obsession at this point and we came back for lunch later this day as well). After breakfast, we headed just a short walk to Westminster Abbey to tour the majestic cathedral where tons of kings, queens, politicians, and scientists are buried that played a key role in England’s history. The stained glass and architecture of the abbey are incredible and it’s definitely a must see in London! I wasn’t allowed to take any photos inside, but I did take a lot of photos of the outside architecture and the surrounding gardens which were lovely.
Later on, we went to another awesome spot, Churchill War Room. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s the underground bunker that Churchill and his staff stayed in during World War II. Visitors can see many of the rooms where people lived, had meetings, planned strategies in the map room, and even where Churchill called Roosevelt in the transatlantic telephone room. There is also an extensive Churchill museum. My dad loved this place. Also, on the this day we explored the Covent Garden area for shopping before heading back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner at a local asian restaurant near our hotel called Ma La Sichaun.
On the fourth day in London, we first headed to the Tower of London which is an amazing medieval castle in the middle of the city that is surrounded by modern buildings, the River Thames, and the Tower Bridge in the distance. There are archery towers, people dressed up as knights, rooms full of real armor worn by kings, and real crowns worn by royalty. It’s really quite an amazing place to see if you get the chance.
We also made a quick stop to Tower Bridge after lunch by the River Thames. Tower Bridge gives a quick informational trip with some awesome bird’s eye views of London. You are also able to walk along the top level of the bridge where there are glass panels installed overlooking the river for a rather scary effect.
If the weather is nice, definitely take the time to walk along the river in London because the energy is amazing. On this particular day, there were tons of people out and about at pubs, outdoor bars, food trucks, and enjoying the sunshine in parks. You get a feel for what London is all about just by wandering through the city enjoying the atmosphere.
Our last morning was spent packing our bags and saying goodbye to our lovely corner of London before heading to King’s Cross Station to check out platform 9 & 3/4 as well as the Harry Potter Store. We got there early and surprisingly there wasn’t a line, but soon after us a long line formed so definitely plan on waiting a bit for a picture. There are staff members with scarves, wands, and a professional camera which is very nice. They help set you up for a good picture and also let you take your own with your phone or camera. After King’s Cross we simply crossed the street to St. Pancras Station and went through boarder control to get on the Eurostar Train for the next part of our trip!
Overall, I loved the UK. It felt familiar, but new and exciting at the same time. The people were friendly and very helpful whenever we asked them anything at all. Everything we did while we were there was interesting and beautiful. I would definitely go back and spend more time exploring the city and doing less of the tourist attractions. In light of everything that has happened recently, I just want to say don’t let anyone stop you from traveling and seeing the world, especially this beautiful city.
Look out for my next post about the rest of my trip. Do you have any fun summer plans coming up? Let me know in the comments!