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Trip Report - London, Edinburgh, Harry Potter and the Platinum Jubilee - May/June 2022

On Thursday evening my partner and I returned from our two week trip to the UK - a trip originally booked in late 2019 for summer 2020, that has been pushed back many times since, and finally was able to take place just recently.

The delays made for a fair amount of anxiety and frustration, some pleasant surprises, some fortunate coincidences, and even some devastating heartache. Ultimately, though, I'm thrilled we were finally able to take the trip, had a brilliant time throughout the entirety of it, certainly do wish it could have taken place sooner, and it was worth the wait.

First and foremost, the most unfortunate part - When we'd originally booked the tour, I reached out to a tour guide I'd first met as far back as 2007, on a trip I'd taken to London then. Richard was the guide we ended up with on a trip booked through a third party (Viator, I think) and was so remarkable and fantastic I ended up canceling other plans I had for later in that trip to book an additional tour with him. He was a black cab driver, blue badge guide, bottomless well of fascinating facts and trivia and such a true joy to tour with I'd book more tours with him again on trips in 2010 and 2012, while also referring friends and family to him who all ended up adoring him as much as I did. I was thrilled at the prospect of going on some more tours with him, and reached out in late 2019 when I first made these travel plans to discuss arranging some outings. Sadly, COVID made for many postponements, with the most recent postponement coming about just a few days before we were to depart on this trip in late December 2021. Richard was always accommodating and understanding, and we kept in touch through each schedule change and rebooking. A few weeks before our departure to London, I reached out to Richard to finalize some plans but ended up not hearing back for some time. Finally, I got an email from his wife - Richard had been battling pancreatic cancer and had just passed. More than anything I was devastated for his wife and son, but was also profoundly saddened I'd never get to enjoy another tour with him. He's the standard by which I measure all tour guides now, and demonstrated perfectly the kind of impact a tour guide - being one's host in a new country, and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for their own culture and history - can have on a traveler. RIP Richard Liddle of Capital Taxi Tours/See More Taxi Tours.

Richard's wife had taken over many of her late husband's duties, and in fact Richard had been doing more scheduling of other guides as of late rather than conducting tours himself because of his health issues. They assured me tours I planned to take with them would go ahead, and the tours ended up being a wonderful opportunity to spend time with these other guides and share stories about Richard and toasts to his memory.

We had the late, 10pm departure on Virgin Atlantic from SFO-LHR. A trip that had been delayed 2 years decided to keep us on edge until the very last minute, as our departure from SFO was delayed a good little while as they were unable to close the plane's cargo door after everything had been loaded. It was even starting to look like the flight was going to get canceled (one last curve ball?) before the door finally let itself we closed and we were off.

We landed at Heathrow at about 5pm on the 27th, breezed through immigration, grabbed a black cab (I was in a splurging mood), and made our way to St. Ermin's hotel. Checked in there, dropped our bags off, took a moment to appreciate the room (we got a really good deal on a 1 bedroom suite, paying a rate that was a fraction of what standard rooms were going for by the time we got there. We managed to do all our hotel bookings before the Platinum Jubilee rush hit, I suppose). Unlike if we'd arrived in December, getting to our hotel in the early evening still left us with plenty of sunlight so we decided to do some walking.

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We walked from the hotel (near St. James Park tube station) down to Westminster Abbey and Parliament, admired the newly-cleaned and refurbished Elizabeth Tower (that houses Big Ben, of course), walked across Westminster Bridge and around the south bank a bit, crossed back to then walk up Horse Guards Rd, then down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Platinum Jubilee preparations were in full swing, with barricades all over, spectator stands up at Horse Guards, the Union Jack hanging from seemingly every pole and post, and the stage and stands going up in front of Buckingham Palace. Hordes of tourists were out and about, also. We stayed up and walked about until it was sufficiently late to be going to bed at a reasonable time (wanting to resist the temptation to go to bed too early), then retired for the night.

Day 2 (first full day) - This was an open day, with nothing planned. I'd originally planned an open day with nothing set in stone because we originally faced the prospect of having to test and isolate until getting the all-clear on a PCR. While that testing requirement disappeared, I kept the open day because it looked appealing on the schedule. We used to it do plenty more walking around all over Westminster, St. James Park, Green Park (prior visits had all been later in the year, and this time around we had fantastic late spring weather and the parks were looking glorious), down Piccadilly to Piccadilly Circus (with the requisite stops at Fortnum and Mason and other shops along the way), to Leicester than Trafalgar Square, and every which way for most of the day. According to my phone's health app (and partner's Apple watch) we covered a good 11 miles this day either casually strolling and meandering this way and that or speedwalking through all the crowds of tourists.

Day 3 - London Eye was set to open at 11am, and we had tickets for that. We had breakfast at the hotel, then set out for more walking. We were up bright and early, so decided to just walk all along the south bank ("The Queen's Walk") from Westminster Bridge/County Hall to and then across the Millenium Bridge, around St. Paul's Cathedral, then back the way we came for our London Eye visit. They actually opened it up early, so we were looking out over London shortly afet 10:30am. The sun was shining, views were spectacular, and I fought off my fear of heights now and then to walk around the capsule to take pictures and take in the views. Once safely back on the ground, we stayed around the south bank to do more walking, grab some coffee, and even decided at the last minute to check out the London Sea Life Aquarium. I'd never given the aquarium much thought in the past but as we had time to kill before a lunch reservation we gave it a go and I actually quite enjoyed it! They did a really good job with the exhibits and it was a neat way to burn an hour (though we resisted the temptation to also do the London Dungeon, even though it was right next door). Once emerging from the aquarium, we walked around to the back of the County Hall building to get lunch at OKAN South Bank - a tiny little Japanese restaurant that says it'll make you feel like you're on a back street in Osaka and did precisely that. After lunch we stepped out, crossed the street, and grabbed coffee at a Starbucks (the shame!) as I wanted to just sit down outside and people-watch. It was the perfect day for people watching, also, as the Ride London bicycling event was going on in the city after a 2 year hiatus and countless thousands of cyclists were riding by. It was a seemingly endless stream of cyclists, and it was kind of neat to relax on the sidewalk and watch them all go by with no car or truck noise at all. Eventually we walked back to the hotel, dropped off some odds and ends we picked up along the way, then caught the tube at St. James Park then up to the Highbury and Islington station as we had an booking with Breakin' Escape Rooms!

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The Breakin' Escape Room was the first official Harry Potter-themed activity of what was to be a Harry Potter-heavy trip. The escape room location is just one tube stop away from Kings Cross/St Pancras (where we were originally supposed to be staying when the trip was first booked), and so this was a bit of a legacy item. Having said that, I'm glad we kept it on the schedule as it was loads of fun and extremely well done, we finished the escape room with 1 minute and 20 seconds to spare, and Breakin' did a fantastic job with their Harry Potter "inspired", but not "themed" (for trademark and copyright reasons! 😉) escape room.

Before I delve further in to Harry Potter stuff, I figured I'd share a link to some images here:

I'll expand upon that gallery as I post more (I'll make a separate page for Harry Potter stuff as that likely isn't of interest to all).

I'll add more to this later, but still getting settled after the trip. Just wanted to jot some stuff down while still riding that post-travel high!

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My husband and I are leaving for London tomorrow on the trip we were supposed to have had in 2019, but one heart transplant and the raging covid pandemic later, we'll be on our way. Your trip review has put me in the mood to start our journey! Looking forward to more.
It's obvious that Richard was more than a guide or trivia master. You present him as a kindred spirit and you have experienced a great loss. How nice of you to have honored him while he was alive by being a loyal follower and by posting the spirit of him here.

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Thank you for your trip report. I’m enjoying reading about your London experiences as I await my own trip to Europe with my granddaughter in a week and a half. We’ll start in London and hope to enjoy many of the sites you mentioned.

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We were in London in 2019. It was fun to read your report and be able to visualize where you were traveling.

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After the escape room on Day 3, we hopped back on to the tube but hopped off at Kings Cross/St. Pancras to check out the Harry Potter shop there and wander around St. Pancras. The building is stunning to look at, and both stations are significant to Harry Potter fans so we decided to give them a visit while in the neighborhood.

Day 4 - After a very early breakfast at the hotel, we were picked up by our tour guide to depart on a Harry Potter-focused, full day. Our tour guide would show us around some filming sites and movie landmarks in London, then drive us up to Watford for the Warner Bros Studio Tour. The studio tour itself was absolutely remarkable, and it was wonderful getting to finally visit! The desire to visit the Harry Potter studio is what originally brought about this trip years ago, and actually finding ourselves there is what really let us feel like all the waiting and all the frustration over delays and cancelations and postponements were worth it. If anyone here is a Harry Potter fan or a fan of moviemaking in general (there is just no such comprehensive tour dedicated to a single movie franchise and so it really is remarkable as such, on top of it having obvious appeal for fans of Harry Potter in particular). We spent a good 4 hours here checking out all the real sets, props, costumes, models, and other displays - as well as doing a fair amount of souvenir shopping - before reuniting with our tour guide outside to spend several more hours drive around London and visiting filming locations throughout the city.

Day 5 - Had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel this morning, then packed everything up and checked out of St. Ermin's to head to Kings Cross for our 11AM LNER train to Edinburgh Waverly. Seems we weren't the only ones escaping London just before the Jubilee as the train was packed, luggage racks full, every seat in our first class carriage taken. We had good seats - L26 and L27 in case anyone else traveling as a couple wants single seats facing one another over a table. These seats are also on the east side of the train so you get the best views. The train ride went smoothly, we went through a bit of rain (the theme of our trip was getting lucky avoiding most any and all rain when walking around, and only ever encountering it when snug and dry inside a train or bus or cab). Once in Edinburgh, caught a short lil cab ride to the Kimpton Charlotte Square. The hotel is in a great location - on a pretty square in New Town, between George St. and Rose St. This I'd booked through American Express' "Fine Hotels and Resorts" program for the points and perks - free breakfast, room upgrade, etc. The upgrade was just from a basic room to a basic room with a partial castle view, though, but we wouldn't be in the room too much to mind at all. Again, dropped bags off and went out exploring on foot. Walked down Princes St. by the National Gallery and up The Mound to the Royal Mile and around and through Old Town, had a quick meal at casual Makar's Gourmet Mash Bar, grabbed some coffee on the Royal Mile, people watched, scoped out potential souvenir and gift options for later, then met by St. Giles Cathedral with a group for a walking ghost tour with City of the Dead tours. While I take most of what comes on ghost tours with a grain of salt, I do enjoy them as fun ways to hear about quirky and dark history and they're often led by guides who play the part wonderfully and this tour was no exception. It went in to some of the underground vaults, as well as Greyfriars Kirkyard. Wasn't entirely scary, though, as it was still plenty light out - the tour ended at about 10pm and it still wasn't anywhere near dark.

Here are some photo highlights from the first couple days in Edinburgh:

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Lindy - You must be heading off on your trip now! Have a blast! One thing I think will help make your trip great is no longer needing to test to return to the US! There was always a hint of concern in the back of our heads about that, though we had a great time regardless. Being free of that entirely will, I think, make your trip more fun! And I'm very glad you're finally getting to take a trip that was also delayed like ours!

Patricia - Safe travels! I'm jealous - I'm already eager to get back over there! London is gorgeous right now, no doubt about it. Sure, there's a lot of people around. But with the weather we enjoyed it's not hard to see why, and those long days make for endless opportunities!

BethFL - Thanks so much! I enjoy doing the same with others' trip reports on here - reading through them and reminiscing and visualizing what I remember from past visits, or storing things away in my mind for future visits in others' footsteps!

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Day 6 - First full day in Edinburgh, and we started it off with more walking and wandering around New Town and Old Town, then had a reservation at the Maison de Moggy cat cafe! Cat cafe seems a weird thing to do on vacation but we randomly decided that's something we wanted to do on the trip and Edinburgh had a fantastic one right by the Grassmarket. After the cat cafe and a splendid hour with the kitties, we walked up to the Royal Mile to do the Camera Obscura. This was another fun activity, with the highlight being the fantastic views of the Royal Mile and all of Edinburgh from the roof. After Camera Obscura we had lunch in New Town at Badger and Co then dinner at the hotel (had a room credit through AmEx we had to use).

Day 7 - Woke up bright and early, had breakfast at the hotel, then were off on a half day tour that we'd booked through the same company as the other private tours with a private guide. This tour took us all over Edinburgh, down to Dean Village, on and around the Royal Mile, to Greyfriars Kirkyard to visit some specific gravesites (again, more Harry Potter connections as there is a grave to a Thomas Riddle in this cemetary, and that is of course the name of Harry Potter's antagonist), up to Calton Hill, around Arthur's Seat, to Cramond Beach, and out to Queensferry and the Forth Bridge - a lot of ground covered in the morning and early afternoon. Once done with the tour we did some gift shopping (mostly whisky, as I wanted to ship some bottles home to family members who enjoy a tipple as neither of us on the trip are drinkers ourselves). We then met up with a friend who lives in Glasgow but took the train out to see us and hang out for the rest of the day.

Day 8 - One opportunity offered by having to postpone our trip from December to May/June is we would be in Scotland during the Jacobite steam train's season. Getting tickets on our own (they sell out early!) and finding a way from Edinburgh to Fort William would be a bit of a hassle, but thankfully a number of tour companies offer full day itineraries that involve picking you up in Edinburgh, heading out to and around the highlands, then dropping you off at Fort William to board the train. They then either pick you up from Mallaig to continue the tour, or pick you up after the return train journey in Fort Wiliam again. We booked this itinerary through Grayline Tours Scotland as we both wanted to ride the Jacobite - not just because it would be a neat steam train experience, but also because of this train and the West Highland line's connection to Harry Potter and the Hogwart's Express. The last time I was out in the highlands, it was at night (well... it was in the winter so it was about 3:30pm and thus night hehe) and so it was great having endless hours of sunshine to enjoy this time around. And sunshine it was, as the weather was glorious all day long. Along with visiting Glencoe, Rannoch Moor, Mallaig, Pitlochry, and Glenfinnan, we rode the Jacobite and had a wonderful day out. I'd initially been worried about the prospect of a 15 hour day out (we departed Edinburgh at 6AM, didn't return until almost 9PM), but having the train ride and time in Mallaig in the middle of it all really broke the day up and neither of us felt it was too long at all.

Photos from our day out in the Highlands and on the Jacobite: