Arguably the “unofficial capital of the world”, London, England is as overwhelming and amazing as it is old and historic. Each day we spent in this capital city was jam-packed with things to do and brand-new experiences. We got to visit the world-renowned Stonehenge (Stonehenge: Not Just a Pile of Rocks.); saw the classic play Oliver, presented in its original homeland; toured the famous and macabre Tower of London; rode the famous London Tube; saw iconic places like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace; ate at authentic English pubs and restaurants; and visited multiple museums, including the famous British Museum, which houses the equally famous Rosetta Stone… and much more.
The first place we visited was the Tower of London, which is located smack-dab inside the heart of London, directly on the River Thames. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, construction began in 1078, making the castle 945-years-old. Open daily, it’s best to check the website for opening and closing hours as they vary depending on the day. Generally, the castle opens at either 9am or 10am and closes at 5:30pm. It annually sees approximately 3 million visitors per year – as to be expected, it was packed.
While the crowd was a tad bit suffocating at times, it was still well worth visiting. The history is unrivaled, with the first tower, the White Tower, built in 1078, and the last add-on built in 1399 (624 years ago). Here is where you can view the Crown Jewels as well. You see iconic crowns and jewels worn by the likes of Queen Elizabeth and other current and past royals. In the White Tower is armor that once belonged to the infamous kings, King Henry VIII and William the Conqueror. And of course, the Bloody Tower, where an uncomfortable number of King Henry VIII wives were held before meeting their untimely fates, plus countless other poor souls. I don’t believe any first-time trip to London would be complete without an obligatory visit to this (supposedly very haunted) castle.
The next day we decided to take a HoHo tour of the city. For those unaware, “HoHo” stands for “Hop on, Hop off”, and is a very convenient way to tour most major cities. The tours take you in a loop to the various hot spots of the city you’re in. It’s relatively cheap, usually costing around $30 to $35 per ticket, with various discounts and packages. The buses will run periodically, around every 25 to 30 minutes, and you can get on any bus you like. You can spend 30 minutes at one location or 2 hours at the next, you’ll just have to catch whichever bus is coming next. I do recommend taking the HoHo, especially if you have limited time in a city (except in New York City… NEVER take the HoHo there – New York City: Controlled Chaos.).
We rode through London on board a genuine English, double-decker bus, something one must do when visiting London for the first time! It took us to all the major landmarks and attractions, including but not limited to: the London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Piccadilly, and Westminster Bridge. As mentioned above, you can get off at any of these locations, with us choosing to get off at the London Eye. This famous Ferris wheel – the 4th largest Ferris wheel in the world – sits right across and a bit down the River Thames from the House of Parliament and Big Ben. It’s within very easy walking distance of the two. Open daily from 11am to 6pm, general admission tickets cost £30.50 per adult ($33.12), fast track costs £53 per person ($57.55), and the “family standard” package at £28 per person ($30.40). You can also rent out an entire pod for up to 25 people, at the low price of £675 or $732.88.
You can also opt to take a mini cruise on the River Thames. The company we chose operates right in the same vicinity of the London Eye, so all can easily be done within a single afternoon. It was a short trip, just from the London Eye to Tower Bridge (which everyone mistakes for the London Bridge). The other option is going all the way to Greenwich, which is 3-hours round trip, so just be aware if you take a river cruise. It’s a nice boat ride, and you can either sit down below, inside the boat, or on top with a panoramic view of London.
One of our days here was dubbed “Museum Day” due to of the number of museums we went to: the Foundling Museum, the Charles Dickens House Museum, and of course, the British Museum. The Foundling Museum, dedicated to the Foundling Hospital, houses the Foundling Hospital Collection and the Gerald Coke Handel Collection. Built in 1741, it was the U.K.’s first children’s charity for children at risk of abandonment and is now an art gallery. Located at 40 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury, London, it’s open Tues – Sat, from 10pm to 5pm, Sunday from 11am – 5pm, and is closed on Monday. It costs £11 per adult ($12.80 USD) and children are free.
It was meh.
After the Foundling Museum, it was a short walk to the Charles Dickens House Museum, which is a museum inside a house. Even though Charles Dickens and his family lived in the house for only 2 years (1837 to 1839), it has strongly clung to its claim to fame for the next 179 years. The main reason the house is so famous is because he wrote the entirety of Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby there, completed The Pickwick Papers there, and worked on Barnaby Ridge before moving out. Located at 48-49 Doughty St, Holborn, London, the museum is open Tues to Sun, from 10am to 5pm (important note: the last admission to the house is at 4pm), and costs £9.50 for adults ($11.06 USD), £4.50 for children ($5.24 USD), and children under 6 are free.
Last, but certainly not least, the grand and famous British Museum. Cost of admission is free, which is wonderful, but will also mean crowds. Located at Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London, it’s open daily from 10am to 5:30pm, but remains open on Fridays until 8:30pm. It’s home to the mystical and world-famous Rosetta Stone, which is extremely popular. This museum was, by far, the most crowded and overwhelming of the three we visited, with the Rosetta Stone being the epicenter of the madness. It’s surprisingly large and completely encased in glass, with people encircling it from every angle possible like vultures. If they could’ve climbed on top of the glass and took pictures from that angle, I’m sure they would have.
On top of the Rosetta Stone, we also saw Ramesese II statue, the Elgin marbles (breathtaking and beautiful), many Egyptian mummies, and the few Lewis chessmen not on loan to the Museum of Edinburgh. Of course, there is much, much more inside the British Museum but those are a few of the highlights.
We also saw the play “Oliver” at the Royal Theatre Drury Lane, which was ironic given that we had just visited the house where Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist that same morning. While my American ears could only understand about every other word of the actors’ thick English accents, I thoroughly enjoyed the play. We were seated next to about 20 school boys who were extremely well behaved, polite, respectful, and even helped me translate some of what was being said. The next day we headed off to Stonehenge (Stonehenge: Not Just a Pile of Rocks.), Salisbury Cathedral (Salisbury Cathedral: Home to the Magna Carta and World’s Oldest Working Clock.), and Bath. Extremely unfortunately, my photos of Bath got lost to the void called Life ☹️. I highly recommend going to all three!!!
Overall, I felt like my time in London was far too short. There is just soooo much to see and do, it’s impossible to get the full experience in only a handful of days. I’d love to go back and spend about 2 weeks, while venturing off into the neighboring countryside towns and attractions. London has its problems like any mega, metropolitan city, but I don’t believe it should deter anyone from visiting this historic city. Until next time, London Town!