London has history, theatre, tours, food and art.
On one of our trips to London we arrived in April — on the Queen’s birthday. (We weren’t invited to the party.) The streets were busy with blockades and preparations for the entourage of royal family and friends to arrive.
Steeped in History
We enjoyed walking around Buckingham Palace watching the crowds gather for the daily changing of the guards. The Royal Standard was flying above the residence. You will know if the queen is in residence by the flag flying. This didn’t become a standard until Princess Diana passed away in 1997. The public was asking for a flag to fly at half-mast. As the Sovereign never dies (interesting), the flag to be flown was the Union (British) Flag. If there are four guards on duty, occupying all four posts, the Queen is in residence.
There are many interesting facts about London today with traditions that were started as far back as the 1800s. Another note, if you are planning to see the “Changing of the Guard” you can look at the color the guards are carrying and see if it is the Royal Standard or the Union British Flag. You have to be early to get close. For sightseeing, you can start almost anywhere around Buckingham Palace and walk alongside the beautifully-landscaped Hyde Park. Close to Buckingham Palace is the Household Calvary Museum. There is a modest ticket cost and they provide you with headphones. The stories about the regimen and historic London is fascinating. The setting are 18th century stables housing the Queen’s mounted bodyguards and regiment for the past 350 years. The soldiers actually exercise their horses in Hyde Park between 6-8 a.m. It’s worth it to get up early to see them.
Why London? My husband Steve and I have traveled to London many times. This doesn’t count the times we had stayed for a couple of days while traveling to another location. Stopovers are a great way to explore some of the spots you may have missed. It takes approximately 16 hours and costs about $3,000 round trip, so if you go you definitely want to make it worth your time. I don’t know why, but most of the inexpensive flights arrive at night. You can hire a car service to meet you if you arrive in the middle of the night. Even though the “tube” is the best mode of transportation while in London, my recommendation is to get a car to take you from the airport to your lodging destination.
We have stayed in true bed and breakfasts (someone’s home), which truly is an experience of a lifetime. Anyone who opens their home to total strangers loves to share their country and many of their personal experiences. There are hotel-style B&B’s that are very inexpensive. Usually, breakfast is offered as well as ample fruit bowls to take care of those mid-day snacks. England is not inexpensive when it comes to eating out. You need to pace yourself. Saving for a dining experience is a must. Something we enjoy is tea at Harrods. Of course, don’t go if you are hungry. It’s all about where you are and those tiny little sandwiches and treats displayed like art on a plate. You will enjoy the Diana and Dodi Memorial at Harrods. Each landing has fabulous paintings and memorabilia of the couple.
What to See The theatre district is located in the West End. No need to pre-purchase a ticket as there are many kiosks available with good prices on those last-minute cancelations. We were very excited to find the Criterion Restaurant right next to the Criterion Theatre. The restaurant is fabulous and very posh. As a rule it is advised to call ahead to make reservations when you arrive in London if you are going to the West End. Sometimes it is not necessarily what you see, but having been to the theatre in London. On one of our trips we saw “Wicked.” I inquired how long would they run it and was told “when people quit coming.”
Trafalgar Square is a large traffic intersection located in central London (the history is a must-read), and is the most exciting spot to be in the middle of the action. We saw a benefit foot race and right in the middle was a musical group called Taiko. We had never seen such a display of tremendous talent. There are multiple transportation accesses. Many cafés, coffee shops, sit-down restaurants bordering the square. My goal was to see how many pictures I could get of Big Ben and one of the four grand lions which have been posed there since 1867.
If you are interested in architecture and history, there are beautiful cathedrals in London. Some of which require a ticket and others are free. Westminster Abbey was the coronation place of Queen Elizabeth. One hundred royal weddings have happened there. The most recent was Catherine Middleton to Prince William. Princess Diana and Charles, Prince of Wales, was held at the St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The touring is up to you. There are many touring companies that can show you whatever you would like to see. You can look online for touring companies or use a Fodor’s Travel Guide. With a simple guidebook you can actually travel on the double decker bus all over the streets of London, getting on and off at your destination. However, it is always good if you have had an opportunity to review not only where you are going but what it is you are seeing.
On our first visit to London, we rented a car. That was a big mistake for many reasons. Once you are there, you will understand — they drive on the left side of the street for one. Unless you are the Queen having a party, the streets aren’t blocked off. Their intercity transportation is amazing. You can get anywhere on the tube or bus and it is pretty hard to get lost.
If you love the theatre.
If you love shopping.
If you love history.
If you love architecture.
If you love art.
If you love to eat.
You will love London!