Liz and I arrived at Heathrow, took a train into London and the tube (subway to us) from Padington Station to King’s Cross where our hotel was located. We checked in, dumped our bags in our room and got back on the tube to Westminster Station. Emerging from the station we were greeted immediately by Big Ben towering over us. We walked around Parliament, saw Westminster Abbey, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s column, and Buckingham Palace, all in the morning and early afternoon.
After a late lunch we took an open-top bus tour of the city. The tour was interesting, but by then we were pretty tired and there were a few things we wanted to go back and see on our own that we never found again.
Tuesday, June 3
The sky was gray so we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral in the morning. We climbed to the top of the dome (550 steps to the top) for a very impressive view of the city, and checked out the crypts down below. Due to cleaning and scaffolds the whispering gallery didn’t live up to its name.
for a very impressive view of the city, and checked out the crypts down below. Due to cleaning and scaffolds the whispering gallery didn’t live up to its name.
After lunch we toured Dr. Samuel Johnson’s house (the lexicographer who wrote one of the first dictionaries) and rushed to Charles Dickens’s house (one of a few, but the only one still standing) just before it closed.
In the evening we visited John Soanes’s house, an architect in the 18th century. The house is crammed with artifacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome and hundreds of paintings.
Wednesday, June 4
Since it started to rain, we went for a tour inside Tower Bridge, the bridge most people think of when someone mentions London Bridge.
By the afternoon the sky had cleared, so we toured the Tower of London courtesy of one of the Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters as they’re also known.
That evening we took in a performance of Richard III at the Globe Theatre reconstructed from Shakespeare’s time. As in Shakespeare’s time, the theatre is built in a circular pattern and the central area is open to sky. You can get admission to this area, and stand with the peasants, or sit with the nobles on the benchs around the covered perimeter. We paid extra to sit after a day of walking.
Thursday, June 5
We traveled up the Thames by train to visit Hampton Court Palace, built by Henry VIII, for most of the day. After the palace tour we walked through the massive gardens and got lost for a little while in the hedge maze. We took a boat cruise down the Thames back to London in time for dinner.
Friday, June 6
We took the tube and then light rail out to Greenwich to see the Cutty Sark, the last of the tea clippers, the ships that kept Britain in tea. After that, we climbed the hill to the Royal Observatory, site of the Prime Meridian.
In the afternoon we toured the Cabinet War Rooms, where Churchill and the British Cabinet took shelter and oversaw WWII.
After dinner we joined a Jack the Ripper walking tour around White Chapel to sites of the grizzly events.
Saturday, June 7
We returned to Westminster Abbey in the morning, site of coronations since William the Conqueror and this time took the tour. It’s amazing how many famous people have been buried there. Since many of the tombs are built into the floor, they’re getting worn down by visitors and some occupant’s identities are in danger of being lost.
It was a nice warm day, so after lunch we made our way to Hyde Park and went rowing on the Serpentine, a lake in the middle of the park.
In the evening we rode the London Eye (a huge Ferris wheel) to see the city at dusk from high above it.
Sunday, June 8
We returned to the Globe Theatre Tour in the morning, since we didn’t have time to tour it when we saw the play.
After lunch, Liz and I temporarily parted company. While she went to the British Library, I went to the British Museum. The collection is a mind boggling array of treasures from around the world, including the Rosetta Stone, which helped decode Egyptian hieroglyphs. It’s impossible to see it all in one day, let alone in one afternoon.
Monday, June 9
we took a bus tour to Stratford & Oxford via the Cotswolds. We saw Shakespeare’s place of birth in Stratford. Amazingly the house is still standing. In Oxford we toured Brasenose College, which was William Golding’s alma mater. One spot I wanted to see was The Eagle and Child, a pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met every Tuesday with the other Inklings. I had a pint to honour the occasion. On the way back to London we passed through the Cotswolds area, rolling, green, English countryside and likely Tolkien’s basis for the Shire.
We had dinner at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in London, a hang out for Dickens in his time and operating continuously since 1667. The list of luminaries who’ve dined and drank there is pretty impressive.
Tuesday, June 10
On our last day in London I went solo to the Imperial War Museum for the morning. Their collection covers 20th century wars and includes, among many other things, a section of the Berlin Wall, a Spitfire, a pair of 15″ guns and the tank that Monty used for his own.
Liz and I packed a lot into the nine and a half days we had. Apart from our hotel everything was great. There’s a lot of sights I’d love to go back for, and a number that we did see that we had to rush through.