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4 days in London

Hello! We did the Best of Italy in 17 tour and decided to spend 4 days revisiting London on our way home! Here is the day-by-day report of our 4 days in London.

10/12

We took an early flight out of Rome to London, leaving the hotel at 4:30 am, so we decided hire a taxi to take us. The flight to London was short and we found the express train from Heathrow to London easily, arriving around 11. We stayed at the Sanctuary House Hotel, which was a cute little inn above a pub in the Westminster area. It was pretty pricy for us, but we really wanted something small and centrally located, so we are glad we chose it. Our room wasn't ready yet, so we dropped our baggage and did a little walk about. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, so we wandered through St. James Park to look at the flowers and birds. There was something going on with the horses at the Horse Guards building across the street, so we watched there for a bit. Then we found a little place to eat near the Thames. Believe it or not, we wanted something other than Italian after 19 wonderful days in Italy! So we had tacos at a Mexican restaurant. We never saw the National Gallery on our first trip, so we decided to see as much as we could of it on this one. We took a map and started checking off rooms, planning to visit for a bit each day, but we grew discouraged because we didn't really know what we were looking for, so we decided to come back the next day with a better plan. By this time our room was ready, so we walked back to rest a bit. We snagged half priced tickets to see Mamma Mia, so we went out for a quick dinner at a local chain that specializes in grilled chicken, although the name escapes me now. It was good and quick and cheap. We loved Mamma Mia, and enjoyed a walk back to our hotel from there.

10/13

We were so tired from our travels that we decided to sleep in a bit today. We grabbed a quick pastry at Pret A Manger next to our hotel and then walked to the Trafalgar area to see if we could get discounted tickets for anything for that evening, and were able to get great seats for Kinky Boots. We spent some more time in the National Gallery, this time with Rick’s walking tour, which made for a much more organized and fulfilling visit. Then we decided to grab lunch at a fast-food Indian place before walking along the Thames to see the Tower Bridge and visit the Tower of London. I do not recommend this walk - it is much further than we thought and not as interesting as we expected. I don’t think we enjoyed the Tower as much as we would have had we not been so tired from all the walking we had been doing, so we decided we needed to step up our use of the Underground. We had not seen the Tower of London on our last trip to London, and I loved it, especially the Crown Jewels. They are just incredible, and I really liked that they had a conveyer belt for visitors to stand on so everyone can get an unobstructed view but people can’t crowd around. It made for a very pleasant, non-rushed viewing. We ran out of time so we had a quick bite to eat at Pret A Manger and headed out to see Kinky Boots, which is easily one of the best shows I’ve seen. So much fun! And such a great cast! I highly recommend seeing theater productions while in London - we found it much cheaper than the same shows in our area when purchased at a discount, and the theaters are much smaller than the one in my hometown, so we were able to sit closer than we ever have.

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10/14
We spent the morning at the Portobello Road market. We had never visited before and very much enjoyed poking through all the little shops. We found a great teapot and some tea cups for my mom, which was our goal. Then we went to Kensington Palace Gardens for tea at the Orangery. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed with the tea there. I have had better afternoon tea in my area. The tea was wonderful, but the sandwiches were a bit dry and sad and the pastries were not our favorite. After our experience, I read others who have said that the Orangery is under new management and they did not like the differences - take that with a grain of salt, I have no idea if it is true. Anyways, we were glad we did it because it was a neat experience, but we would chose a different place next time. We returned to our hotel and attempted to visit Westminster Abbey, but we just missed the entry time, which we failed to notice is 1 hour before it closes. Plan to see this early, as the last entry time is 3:30, I believe. Instead, we visited the British Museum. I love that the museums in London are free for the most part, because you can feel free to pop in for a bit without feeling like you need to dedicate a ton of time. We had visited the British museum extensively when we were there before, so we just hit a few of our highlights. We found a great sit-down Indian restaurant for dinner and then had a quiet evening in our room.
10/15
We got up with the plan to visit Westminster first off, as we had tried twice before but were too late, only to find that it was closed unexpectedly for the day due to a filming of some sort. I suppose Westminster was not to be for us on this trip! We went to the Churchill War Rooms instead, which we loved. It was such a great visit. We went as soon as it was open, which I highly recommend, because I noticed a long line as we were leaving. It is quite a tight space, so it would be very unpleasant with a crowd. Honestly, this one of the few museums I have been to where I completed the entire audioguide, and I loved every minute! It was a very well done exhibition. We went for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant (delicious) before visiting Harrods. This was our first visit, and wow, it was something else! Acres and acres of wildly expensive items displayed so nicely. We specifically enjoyed the food halls, because everything was just beautiful. You could really spend all day in there marveling at all of the expensive gadgets people shop for. I found out where people buy Harry Winston jewelry, and you can by a Masarati in a department store there, if you would like. Ha! We splurged on a dessert at the Godiva Cafe, and it was worth it! We rode the Underground to Kings Cross Station, because we wanted to see the Harry Potter 9 3/4 platform. Super touristy. I thought it would be just something we could walk by and see, but was disappointed to find they have turned it into a big site with professional photographers and people standing in long lines to have their photos taken. We walked from the station to the British Library to visit the Treasures of the British Library exhibit. I was surprised at how unassuming the building was - I guess I expected something like the National Library in DC. But the Treasures exhibit was just unbelievable - we saw the Magna Carta, Gutenberg’s Bible, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and a number of other important original manuscripts. Such a great experience! We went straight from there to St. Paul's to see the evensong. I highly recommend this! We got there early enough to sit in the choir, and it was just lovely. I spent the whole time just staring at the beauty of the artwork around me. It was a lovely way to finish our visit. Another bonus is that entry to St. Paul’s is free at that time. You cannot tour about, but we had visited before. This is a great way to see the church if you have a tight budget, as standard entry is somewhere around 22 pounds, I believe.

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All in all, we had a great, relaxed, though not inexpensive, trip to London. We had done our first trip to London so cheaply, we were still shocked at the prices this time! Food was expensive, which we expected, but we were surprised when every site was 20-25 pounds per person for entry. With the exchange rate, that adds up! It is a stark difference from Italy where entry to churches is either free or just a few euros for the most part. The Underground is still the easiest metro to navigate of any we have used. There were a lot more fast, cheap, international options for food than we remembered before. We had been in London before for 5 days for our honeymoon 11 years ago when we saw most of the major highlights. We wanted this visit to be a little more relaxed and cover some of the things we had missed before, and I think we achieved that - we took in the National Gallery, Harrods, the Tower and the British Library, which were all new visits for us. We had hoped to visit Windsor Castle one day, but we were just too tired to wander out of the city so we decided to save that for our next trip. It was a nice, relaxed way to finish our busy 24 day trip to Europe!

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4214 posts

Thanks for sharing this, Tamara. I spent a week in London a couple of months back, so I could really visualize much of your experience. It's a great city if you know how to get around, expensive but with lots of low-cost food options, and as you noted free museums. I visited the Abbey for I think the third time, the Imperial War Museum, Greenwich, National Gallery, and Buckingham Palace (open in August-September only), among other sights. You're right, the RS walk makes the Gallery much more manageable.

Happy travels to you in the future, including another visit to London.

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Loved your report, it's going to be very helpful when I visit this summer! Thanks!

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Thank you, Dick! And Zoe - you will have a lovely time! London is such a great city! :)

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1251 posts

Your report makes me really look forward to my trip in early March. Thanks

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Thanks Tamara -- I'm beginning to plan a trip to London this summer, and this was super helpful. If you think of the names of the restaurants you liked, please add them!

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769 posts

Tamara - do you remember the name and basic location of the Lebanese place you went to after the Churchill War Rooms? I'm taking my sister in June and I'd love to go there. Thanks for the report!

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955 posts

Great report, Tamara! I remember getting to London after a week in Italy and just dying from any food but Italian as well! We ended up at the Wagamama's by the Tower of London for our first meal. I will be visiting again in May for the 4th time and think I will go to Westminster Abbey and National Gallery as i haven't been to either. We plan to hit the TKTS booth as well for theater tickets.

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694 posts

What a great report. Thanks for sharing. It brought back a lot of good memories from our week in London in 2014 for our 40th wedding anniversary.

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Thanks for the awesome trip report. I'll be in London in May (my fourth visit in my 56 years - I can never get enough of it!). I had a similar experience with Westminster Abbey. First visit in 1977 there was scaffolding. Second visit in 1990 we kept getting there when it was closed. Third visit in 2010 I finally got it right and booked a verger guided tour which was wonderful. Third time was the charm!

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I suspect the name of the chicken place was Nando's.

Complaining about the cost of entry to some sites in London is unfair. There are so many museums with free entry that are subsidised by the British taxpayer, more than anywhere else in the world. My view is that foreign tourists should be charged an entrance fee.

we were surprised when every site was 20-25 pounds per person for
entry. With the exchange rate, that adds up! It is a stark difference
from Italy where entry to churches is either free or just a few euros
for the most part.

To be fair to London, this really should be "every site that charged an entry fee was £20-25."

Think about how many sites are free:

British Museum
National Gallery
National Portrait Gallery
Museum of London
Museum of London Docklands
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
John Soane's House
Imperial War Museum
Victoria & Albert
Etc etc etc

Museums are funded by the UK tax payer. Churches aren't, and the upkeep is hugely expensive. Also: there are substantial discounts available on the big ticket attractions like Tower of London & Hampton Court whether by 2-for-1 or membership of Historic Royal Palaces.

Excuse my gripe after your wonderful trip report, but it's absolutely unfair to suggest all London tourist attractions cost that much!

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1159 posts

Very good trip report. Thank you for sharing. I did not know visiting St Paul's was so expensive. I went on the Best of London tour in 2005 and they took us there. I think I will just go to Evensong. Sounds like a good thing to do. I did find in Ireland too, the museums are free ( govement pays for the up keep) but going into the catherdrals you had to pay. As you said, the opposite of Italy. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. I love London and can't wait to go back which will be soon. I saw Mama Mia in London in 2005 ( last time I was in London) and loved it too. Yes, I too found the play tickets to be cheaper than in NY! I have a ticket for Wicked in London for which I am very excited about. If you like classical concerts and operas you would love Vienna. Wonderful city, easy to get around, wonderful cafes, musuems, palaces, art museums and just a very nice city to see. Great subway and tram system. And I did walk to a lot of places! Much smaller than Paris or Rome or London but packed with a lot to see and do!

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If the Queen or the Church own it.. you pay
if the state owns it.. it's free.

I remember when both St Paul's and Westminster were free but asking for donations. I guess the donations weren't coming in fast enough or enough enough. It costs to keep those buildings in good nick.

We saw Mamma Mia when it first came out and loved it. Thanks to you, Tamara, Kinky Boots might be the next thing. We did see Beautiful (is that the Carol King one) last fall and I'd see that again. I'm trying to get my money back from Matilda tho.

You made a good report, I'm glad you had a good time in my favourite city.