Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky..."
Composed Upon Westminster Bridge William Wordsworth September 3, 1802
To date my favorite European destination has to be London England. From the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace and all places in between, London will enthrall you. Where else can you eat at the country's oldest restaurant, Rules, and take a Beatles Walking Tour. Hop on the double decker bus and head over to the Camden Locks, or jump on a tour bus and visit the haunts of Jack The Ripper. You could spend weeks here and never run out of things to do!
Depending upon which airline you fly, you will arrive in London at either Heathrow or Gatwick airports. Both airports are on opposite ends of the city, actually located on the outskirts of town. Depending on which carrier you fly in on, rest assured that both Heathrow and Gatwick are just a train ride away from the heart of the city. Heathrow is actually acessible by the underground while Gatewick utilizes the railroad.
The London public transporation system is one of the finest in the world. It can take you anywhere you want to go in the city. Several different type multi-day passes can be purchased that are good for undergound and above ground transportation. The underground is set up in different zones so your best bet is to buy the pass that covers all zones. That way you can explore the entire city to your heart's content. Keep in mind though that if you take the underground in from Heathrow, or connect from the railroad from Gatwick Airport to the Piccadilly Line that takes you to the heart of the city, you might find you have to climb up several sets of stairs - so go light with the luggage!
You can stay just about anywhere in London and still have access to any sights and sounds you want to see due to the fabulous public transportation.
There are many hotel chains that operate in London. If you want to play it safe, you can stay at a Hilton, Marriott, or a Forte. We opted to stay at a Forte Hotel, the Hotel Russell, which was described with a midrange price range. Keep in mind that the US dollar does not go very far in London (all over England as well) so we chose a full service hotel in the medium price range!
Hotel Russell is centrally located, overlooking Russell Square. The underground station on the Piccadilly line is only one minute's walk away. From the Piccadilly line, it is a direct ride to Heathrow which is fifty minutes away. As well, you can catch a double-decker bus right at the square which will take you any where you want to go. It is within walking distanc of the British Museum.
There are several things to know about the Hotel Russell. It is a Forte hotel, although one of their older hotels. There are 329 rooms all with private bath, color tv, radio, telephone, and hair dryer. The lobby is quite impressive - the hotel is victorian style with lots of charm. It was clean and the staff was extremely pleasant. As a matter of fact, the concierge desk was excellent - helping us to plan two tours that were absolutely perfect - The Jack the Ripper Tour, and the Beatles Walking Tour.
The bar and restaurants were very good as well. The breakfast buffet that was included with the price of the room was delicious - although four days of an English breakfast was a bit much (for someone who really doesn't like breakfast). As far as price goes, a double standard room - rack rate - was 182.00 (pounds, not dollars). We were able to purchase a package from Brendon Tours which was significantly less - that is what I would recommend, especially if you are on a budget.
Your best bet for food is to ask at the hotel you are staying at. The conceirge desk at our hotel was extremely informative. Our first night in London we walked a few blocks from our hotel and had a rather inexpensive Italian dinner that was quite good. London has food choices as varied as its population but you want to keep in mind that the US dollar does not go far. We spent $1.60 for every English pound so watch those prices on the menu. We had lunch one day at a quaint French restaurant within blocks of Kensington Palace. Another day we actually had our midday meal inside Harrod's. They have very good food - almost like a food court at a mall with many, many choices.
Dinner can be quite expensive, but you really should splurge on at least one gourmet meal. We had our special meal at Rules Restaurant. Rules is one of the oldest restaurants in London. In fact Charles Dickens spent much of his youth in the streets located near the restaurant. Later in life, he had many of his meals there (once he could afford it)! It is traditional English fare, and decorated much in the manner of an English library - lots of dark wood and comfortable booths. I had duck for dinner and my husband opted for Steak and Kidney Pie. All their game is grown on their private farm so the meat is first rate - no concerns at all about infection. From soup to nuts and wine in between - our bill came to $84 pounds - we thought we got off relatively cheap until we remembered that it was pounds - not dollars!!!
There are so many things to do and see in London and the outlying areas that it would take several weeks to see them all! However, if you only have a limited time as we did, then there are certain sights you absolutely must see.
One of the first things you should do upon arriving in London is to take a short cruise on the Thames River. The ride lasts approximately one and a half hours and only costs approximately $10.50 USD. The day we went it was raining so we got a little wet but the boats do have covered roofs so we were not terribly affected by the weather. You cruise by the Millenium Dome, as well as various points along the river. As well you get a magificent view of the Tower Bridge as well as the waterside view of the Tower of London. It was a great way to begin our trip.
Everyone who visits London must experience the Tower of London at least one time. What a fantastic place. You want to allow several hours for your visit since there is so much to see. From the Tower Bridge from where they brought prisoners in from the Thames river to the incredible ravens that guard the keep - well let's just say it was one of our favorite places to visit. We toured the building where the crown jewels are kept - you have to check out the gigantic diamond that is on one of the septors - amazing! There are galleries of armour and torture instruments among many towers for exploring. Yeoman Warders (also known as Beefeaters) wear Tudor uniforms and live on the grounds - so very interesting! The Tower Bridge is just outside the compound - it first opened in 1894 and took eight years to build. There are incredible views from the enclosed high-level walkway across from the top of the towers. Don't miss it!
Made famous by kings and queens buried in the vaults, and more recently by the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and then by the viewing of Lady Di's funeral (a most untimely death of a great lady), Westminster Abbey is a beautiful sight. It is free to view the cloisers and Nave, but there is a nominal fee to explore the Royal Chapels. When there, be sure to visit the Chapter House, Abbey Museum and College Gardens as well.
No visit to London would be complete without a stop at the world famous Harrod's Department Store. Located in Knightsbridge at the top of Sloane Street, Harrod's has something for everyone. Several floors high, you can explore to your hearts desire and then have something delicious to eat before you leave. We actually saw a customized dog house at the "low" price of $23,000 pounds. Even though the prices are quite high, there are several places in the store to buy personalized merchandise. I purchased a harrods plastic shopping bag for under $25 US and it was quite the hit on the airplane coming home - everyone wanted one! Also, if you go at Christmas time, the store is decorated to the hilt - a great place to get into the Christmas spirit!
Buckingham Palaace is the residence of the queen. You can tell she is in residence when the Royal standard is flying. You can only go in during August and September, or if invited to a State banquet or a garden party. But you can watch the Changing of the Guard at 11:30am from early April to mid-August daily and in winter on alternate days. This is free. There are other palaces that are very interesting as well, including Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace where you can tour the Kensington Gardens, the formal gardens of the palace.
This was very exciting, especially for a couple of "hippies" that grew up in the sixties! We took a Beatles Walking tour called the Magical Mystery Tour, given by the head of the Beatles London Fan Club, Richard Porter. The tours are given every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday (Sunday at 10:55am, Wednesday at 2pm, and Thursdays at 11am. The meeting place is Tottenham Court Road Underground entrance(in front of the Dominion Theatre).This walk is a unique opportunity to Imagine Beatlemania and the swinging 60s. It is a Magical Mystery Tour of the Beatles' London haunts: their Apple offices, where they played the famous "rooftop session"; Paul McCartney's offices; the "birthplace" of Beatlemania; the world famous Abbey Road Studios and the crosswalk. The cost is very cheap... only five pounds (approx. $7 US).
We also took a "Jack the Ripper Tour" which included bus transportation, a walking tour, and a stop at two pubs, the first called "The Ten Bells". It was here were Jack the Ripper followed one of his victims home. The second stop was for dinner. Most hotels will have information on where to pick up the tour - it was great.
Whatever you choose to do London will capture your imagination. Enjoy your trip - and be sure and email me when you get back to tell me what you thought!!!