We had another stop in London for a few days before heading back to Germany. This is the third time so far we had gone to London and I debated whether to post about it or not, but I don’t think people realize the sheer number of attractions that can be found on any given block in the city and I think it is important to show just how much there really is to do in London for any and all types of people.
Since reading a lot in the past year on the Two World Wars, one of the first things on my list to see in London was the Imperial War Museum in London and I am happy to say I finally got the opportunity to see it this time around. The main exhibition in the museum focuses on World War I and the effort and care put into it is immediately evident. The exhibition has an amazing wealth of knowledge with all sorts of artifacts, interactive demonstrations, pictures, videos and more that provides visitors with a comprehensive look at the war from all angles. There was a recreation of the trenches that were so essential during the war which I found to be especially fascinating. There was also a Secret War exhibition that deals with covert operations by Britain’s Special Forces that was extremely interesting. Besides those, there is also a WWII exhibition that is not as well put together as the previous two, but still well worth wandering through. I spent several hours here, but I could have easily spent even more time there. I am so glad I finally got to go and the wait was 100% worth it.
Lauren was not able to come with me so after I left the museum we made plans to meet up at PF Changs which has randomly become our go-to spot for dinner in central London. There is something about American style Chinese food that we have just not been able to find over here. The funny part about it is that I walked past all the authentic food in China Town on the way to the American Chinese restaurant which made me feel slightly foolish. That feeling disappeared, however, when I got a taste of the Dynamite Shrimp and I knew we had made the right decision.
The next day, I again set off on my own and this time I think I got the most comprehensive look at London that you can possibly get in a single day. I walked the whole day, only taking one bus and that was to ensure the Chipotle(!) I brought home to Lauren was still warm. Though it may sound counter-intuitive, I think walking allowed me to see even more of the city than I could by taking buses or the underground.
I started in Westminster on the west end of central London and home to one of the highest concentration of historic landmarks in the city. I walked through the Wellington Arch as the symbolic start to my journey, which though it does not have a lot of historical value, does serve as the de facto grand entrance into central London from the west.
From there I walked down Ceremonial Hill which cuts through Green Park on my way to Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial. While at Buckingham Palace I found out that the Royal Standard flying atop of the building, as shown in the picture below, indicates that the royal sovereign is present which means I was as close to the Queen as I will ever probably get!
I started the almost one-mile walk from the Palace to Westminster Abbey not knowing that on the way there is a museum and a chapel which were both built for the Royal Foot Guards which make up the Queen’s Guard and the Tower of London Guard and are known for wearing those funny tall bearskin hats. Being open to anything, I went into the chapel (but not the museum which costs money). Inside are the retired standards and colors from previous regiments dating back to 1770. The chapel was very interesting and unique with all the different flags hanging from the walls and I am glad I stumbled across the chapel on my journey.
I continued my trek over to the Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, the meeting place for the two houses Parliament, though I did not go into either. The abbey is in excess of $20 to go into so I declined the opportunity to go inside, though if you only ever come to London once you should definitely go inside. To add to that, Big Ben is covered in scaffolding until 2021 due to restoration works so I was unable to really get a good look at it this time around. Oh well, you cannot win them all.
From there I walked up north to Trafalgar Square, passing Churchill’s War Rooms where he helped to plot the allied forces toward victory in WWII. The war rooms also cost $20+ dollars to enter, but if you are a fan of the new movie The Darkest Hour (highly recommended) or Churchill, they are a must see. I have to say that of all the things in London to see, this was the one I wish I would have seen the most. Past the rooms is the iconic doorway at 10 Downing St. where the serving British Prime Ministers work and live. You cannot really even get close to them as they are closely guarded so I would not go out of your way to visit if you come to London on a strict time schedule.
My next destination was Trafalgar Square, the main central square in the city and home to many celebrations and demonstrations. It is also surrounded by many important buildings and institutions which includes the National Gallery, the home of the British national collection of western European art. It was free to enter so I had no reason not to go in and was rewarded by the beautiful paintings from artists such as Van Gogh, da Vinci, Monet, Renoir, and many more extremely famous artists. Any art fans would be mad to not visit the National Gallery on a trip to London.
I left not really having a destination but stumbled upon a random Shakespeare statue nearby. From there I decided to take a detour across town over to Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre where Shakespeare and his playing company performed in the 1600s which lies mere feet away from the original theater. I felt as an English major I would be stupid to not visit the stomping grounds of the greatest English writer to have ever lived. On the way, I walked by the beautiful Royal Courts of Justice and drank an equally beautiful chocolate porter at the Temple Brew House nearby, proof that there is always something else to see or do in London on the way to your destination.
Within feet of the Globe is the Tate Modern, a modern art gallery which is one of the largest of its kind and home to “British art from 1900 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art.” It is, like the National Gallery, free to visit. In the interest of time, I did not see much inside and instead crossed the adjacent Millenium Bridge (which features in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) on my way to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a simply massive domed cathedral in the heart of London. It is one of the most recognizable and iconic sights in London. The Cathedral has been home to many significant historical events including funerals (Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill among others), marriages (Prince Charles and Lady Diana), birthdays (Queen Elizabeth’s 80th and 90th) and many many other important events. Like the Abbey and Churchill’s War Rooms, the Cathedral costs more than $20 to enter (see how expensive London can get?) but is easily worth it due to its exemplary beauty and history.
The stop farthest away from Westminster where I started my journey was at the Museum of London, a wonderful museum detailing the history of London from Prehistoric times. The museum includes information on all the biggest moments in London’s history which includes the multiple times the city was decimated by Plague, The Great Fire of London 1666, life in Victorian England, the battle for Woman’s Suffrage (which was probably my favorite exhibition), and everything in between. It really was a special museum and one that I thoroughly enjoyed every minute being in. This is not one to be missed.
My sightseeing was not done there yet, however. My walk back toward Westminster took me past St. Bartholomew-the-Great’s Church, the 12th-century Anglican church that is most well-known for being an often used filming location for movies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sherlock Holmes (2009) featuring Robert Downey Jr., and Avenger’s: Age of Ultron. I did not go in as it cost 5 pounds to enter but now that I have done the research on it I am kicking myself for not going in.
I meandered back the way I came, this time passing the London Transport Museum and the London Film Museum featuring Bond in Motion which contains many cars and props used in past James Bond films. Again, these are more attractions that I didn’t even know existed until I happened to walk by them. Adjacent to the museums, I walked through Soho, the central shopping and entertainment district in London where on nearly every street you are able to see one of the many fantastic West End plays. From there I picked up our Chipotle – which we both miss dearly – and headed home for the night.
As you can see, there is an absurd number of things to do in London which people of any age or background can enjoy. The huge benefit of walking Central London rather than getting driven around it is something I never would have known if I didn’t do it myself. My journey around the city was more about the journey and everything that came along with it rather than the destination, making it all the more fulfilling to me. I got a much better appreciation of just how much there is to see and do in London. The feeling of being able to go whatever direction your heart desires and knowing you will run into something of value, be it personally, intellectually, or historically, is something that is not replicated in any other city I have ever been in, making London one of my favorite cities in the world.
- Walk more, take the tube less. Central London is really not that large and is fairly walkable if you are in good health. I found so many interesting things on my way walking to destinations that I wouldn’t have seen on the Underground or on a bus.
- If you don’t want to or don’t have time to walk, take a bus and sit on the top level in the very front. It is faster than walking but also allows you to see more of this wonderful city.
- Do not be afraid to spend money as you may only ever get to be there once. You will never really regret paying $20 on vacation to do something interesting but you may always regret that you didn’t spend it when you had a chance. I definitely wish I had taken my own advice here.
- Many attractions have two-for-one deals that are easy to find and book online and can be found here. There are a ton of great attractions that are covered by this service which can help you save a ton of money.