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London

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

What a whirlwind! What a city! It blew my mind ten times over.

So much to see & do, I could not sit still for a moment.

To be able to see the history of this two-thousand year old city through it's buildings, monuments and artifacts is incredible.


The wealth is astounding, the power palpable.

Everything is so grand! The architecture extraordinary.

The old and the new mixed together so artistically. The museums are enormous, housed in incredible buildings.


The churches are out of this world.


So much of it is about power, so much of it is about war and death. A reminder of our brutal past and how far we've come.


~


It felt so good to be out in the world again!


I did a lot of research in order to get the most out of our time there.


I find trips go so much smoother when they're planned out, you don't waste precious time when you're there.


I hope you too will be able to visit this incredible city one day!


And I hope my guide helps you have a great trip too.


I will be posting more photos & videos on my Instagram



My favourite thing was:


St. Paul's Cathedral *highlight

£17 / Triforium (attic) Tour £7

Tour 90 minutes + 90 minutes to 2 hrs to explore the cathedral

Area: City of London


St. Paul's Cathedral is a piece of art. An incredible feat created by artisans over 300 years ago. We don't make buildings like this anymore and it's a shame. London is filled with these extraordinary buildings and it's mesmerizing!


To give you an idea of how much Londoners value their buildings, in World War II they stationed soldiers, who were architecture students, in the cathedral as the city was being bombed. Their lives worth risking to save this amazing building. They put out the fires from the bombs and saved the cathedral.


St. Paul's is as grand as it gets. It's dome the highest in the world. You may recognize it from Diana & Charles' wedding. Apparently they chose it over the customary Westminster Abbey because it lent itself much better to being televised. It's much more open and airy than Westminster Abbey.

We went on an intimate behind the scenes tour of the attic 'Triforium" of the cathedral. We happen to be the only ones on our tour (it could have been up to 15 people). We were very lucky!


On our tour, we got an incredible view of the interior of cathedral from above, saw beautiful works of art and visited a room with a detailed wood model of a proposed, but rejected, design for the cathedral. It felt like such a privilege to be there.


We then walked up many many many stairs, through secret stone corners and spiral staircases to a circular balcony at the top of the dome overlooking the city - spectacular!


Audio guides are available to listen to as you walk through the cathedral. We later found out that we could have asked for a free tour by one of the very passionate volunteers in red sashes. Next time!


Also for next time, we will visit when choir is singing (which they call Quire), usually at 5pm, but make sure to double-check the schedule if you plan to go and listen.



The Tate Modern

free / there are some special exhibits that are paid

90 min to 2 hrs

The Tate is just a 10 minute walk over a pedestrian bridge over the Thames from St. Paul's Cathedral, so we managed to squeeze it in.


The best part was an installation in the main hall where balloons that looked like squid aliens floated up and down. (see video on my Instagram).


Go if you're a fan of modern art, it's all very strange and housed in a rather austere mostly windowless building. Personally, I would skip it.


It really depends, I guess, on what shows are on display.




The Nickel Bar in The Ned Hotel *highlight

Area: City of London

A friend who lives in London told us about this place and I was so grateful!


We walked in a bit tired from our day, wanting our last night to be special and were hit by the most amazing experience!


A converted bank, it's a grand space with a round stage in the centre. The London Dance Orchestra was playing and they were incredible! Luckily we got there fairly early, as it's first come first serve, and were able to snag a table right in front of the stage.


As the night progressed professional swing dancers arrived and put on quite a show! We felt like we had traveled back in time. It was the most perfect ending to a perfect trip.


There are many restaurants in each corner of the enormous space but the best place to take it all in is The Nickel Bar that surrounds the stage.


They have different bands every night so check their website to see which night suits your taste. It's worth looking up the band on YouTube to make sure you'll like it. If the bands are not listed on the website send them an email and they will send you the weekly list.


This is in a fairly new hotel (2017), The Ned, It's grand and extravagant like buildings of yesteryear. Looks like it even has a rooftop pool!


It's near The Tower of London and St Paul's Cathedral.



The Tower of London *highlight

£29 / £5 Audio Guide

3 to 4 hours

Area: City of London


The Tower of London is a thousand year old medieval fortress in the centre of the city!


It's quite something to be there and experience history so directly. It's pretty gruesome, most of the history is about torture and beheadings. In some of the rooms where people were jailed, their graffiti still exists carved into the stone. You'll see the actual wood chopping block and axe used in beheadings. Anne Boylen was beheaded here in 1536, apparently her ghost lives in the White Tower in the centre of the fortress.


Also, the crown jewels are here, mainly the crowns. They are exactly as you'd expect, resplendent and incredible.


Thirty five Yeoman Guards (ceremonials guardians, also known as Beefeaters), give tours of the grounds and live in the fortress with their families. Can you imagine living there?!


It would be interesting to watch some movies about the history before going.



Tower Bridge

£10.60

Area: City of London

Tower Bridge is right beside The Tower of London so it makes sense to visit it on the same day. It's such a beautiful site and there's a great view of it from The Tower of London.


You can pay to go inside and walk across the top. It has a glass floor so you can see the bridge and traffic underneath you. Then you can then go under the bridge to the engine room, as it's a draw bridge.


Google "tower bridge lift times" to find out when the bridge will draw (https://www.towerbridge.org.uk/lift-times), now that would be cool! Imagine being in the top and watching the bridge open!



The Shard

Area: Southwark near Tower Bridge

We wanted to see London from above so headed to The Shard as it's the tallest building in the UK at 72 stories and houses many restaurants as part of the Shangri-La Hotel between the 32nd & 35th floors.


It's a short and nice walk along the Thames River from Tower Bridge, so we headed there next. There are many stalls selling food and drink (this is another option) along the river walk.



We hadn't made a reservations, so were worried we wouldn't be able to get in. So I decided on our way there that we would get in (I was going to will it), my husband likes to call it my Jedi power.


We got there and there were about twenty people in line, my husband wanted to leave immediately, but I said just you wait and see. After two minutes the bouncer told everyone it would be a one to two hour wait, everyone in front of us left and we were left first in line! Two minutes later another bouncer came out and said they had a table for us at the bar! So within 8 minutes of arriving we were seated at our table.


The view was spectacular, we watched the sunset, had a mocktail and shared an appetizer. It was perfect.

Another option is:

The View From The Shard


These are viewing floors on the top of the building. Personally I think it best to go to the Hutang Bar (first come first serve) and just have a drink. It'll cost you the same or less and you'll get to enjoy the view from a lovely table right by the window. We paid $60Cdn for two mocktails and one appetizer. Basic entry to the viewing floor will cost you $85Cdn for two mid-week (Tues to Thurs) and $170Cdn (with a cocktail) the other days! From the photos it looks like the tables are not by the window.


There are also quite a few restaurants up there, so if you're going to make a reservation you have a lot of options:


The hostess told me to make sure you ask for a WINDOW table when you make a reservation (extra £5).


Aquashard

Fancy $$$$$


Oblix

Has two sides, one for dinner & the other appetizers and drinks.


Hutong

Also has the Shanghai Bar which is first come first serve - this is where we went.


Ting


Gong Bar*****

this looks good too!


Skybar



The Natural History Museum *highlight

free / there are some special exhibits that are paid

90 min to 2 hrs

Area: South Kensington across the street from the V&A Museum

The main attraction for me was the building. Beyond the sheer size of it, it's incredibly beautiful. The central hall, Hintze Hall, was astounding! If you do nothing else go there and take it in. The size and intricate design is a wonder and to top it off there's a giant whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling! You can walk up and all around it.


Make sure to take a peek at the Darwin Centre that's just past the Hintze Hall. It's a giant modern building shaped like an egg within the building, so creatively incorporated. It looks like an alien ship!


Other favorites:

  • Human Evolution display - fascinating!

  • Dinosaur display

  • 1400 lb meteor

These museums are so big, at a certain point it becomes overwhelming. After about 90 minutes, the brain starts to swell.









Victoria & Albert Museum

free / there are some special exhibits that are paid

Area: South Kensington across the street from the Natural History Museum


The V&A is right across the street from the Natural History Museum, so it makes sense to visit them on the same day. One in the morning and one in the afternoon.


Another massive stunning building with a beautiful inner courtyard housing over 2 million objects like jewellery, pottery, sculptures, furniture, costumes, rugs, etc, in 145 galleries.


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(note the size of the people on the last photo to give you a sense of how big this room is)


Highlights:

  • Cast Courts - two dramatic 2-storey rooms housing huge plaster casts of sculptures, including Michelangelo's David.

  • Jewellery Gallery - a intimate glass tomb housing 6000 items


Kensington Palace

£19.50

Area: Kensington


I have to admit I was disappointed with Kensington Palace. The rooms they allow you to visit are a bit drab. Not what you'd expect. I'm sure there are many palatial rooms, we just don't get to see them.


The only redeeming feature was that Princess Diana's wedding dress was on display. It felt quite poignant as I had been listening to her biography in preparation for my visit. Make sure to give yourself enough time to visit her memorial garden at the end as they close it at 15:45pm. It's quite beautiful.


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You may want to book a high tea or lunch at the Pavilion which is right beside Diana's Memorial Garden. The Pavilion itself is quite simple, it's the location that makes it special. Make sure to reserve, otherwise it will likely to be fully booked if you try and walk-in.



The Goring Hotel

Area: Kensington


On a quiet back street, The Goring is a small family run hotel a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace. What makes it interesting is it's surprising history for such a quaint hotel.


Every Monarch has been a guest, Churchill held meetings here in World War II, Margaret Thatcher lunched here everyday and Kate Middleton stayed here the night before her wedding.


I just slipped through on my way to The Changing of the Guards, it was surprisingly small and, although high-end, simple. Maybe next time I'll book a high tea here or go for a drink in the bar. It also has an expansive garden in the back, so weather permitting, a brunch on the patio would be nice.



Buckingham Palace

£65

Area: Westminster


At certain times there our tours of the Palace available, check the website. I was not able to attend.

Changing of the Guards:


On certain days at 11am a ceremony, that's taken place since the 1600's, parades in the forecourt of the Palace. It's worth seeing if it's something that interests you. It's a little long and gets a little boring in the middle but still worth seeing in my opinion.


But where is the best place to stand?

I stood in the circle rotunda in front of the palace, so the guards parade around you. It was a great spot to watch the guards marching in and out and then, at the end, to see the Queen's Private Guard march by (highlight), which you would miss if you were up against the fence.


I found it helpful to ask one of the Police officers what was going to happen. He explained where the guards would be coming from, so I could position myself in the perfect spot. Two different sets of guards and bands come from two different streets. When facing the palace stay on the left side, as all the marching comes in on that side.


The other option is to arrive early and stand right against the Palace gates so you can watch the goings on in the forecourt. There will soon be people jammed up behind you at least twenty deep. You will miss the marching in and out but you will see the main "show". They shout out and march back and forth and then the band plays some songs (Coldplay when I was there!).


Make sure to pay attention at the end when it feels like it's over, the Queen's Private Guard march by on huge black Stallions in regal wear. They're stunning!



Aspley House *highlight

£11.30

Area: Westminster


Aspley House is just a couple of blocks from Buckingham Palace, so it's perfect to go right after the Changing of the Guard. You may also want to stop in at The Wellington Arch (£5.90) which sits right in front of the house. The arch is nothing spectacular but it's neat to go up the spiral stairs to the top and look at the view.


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I read that this was the most resplendent house in London and they weren't wrong! A thousand times more bling than Kensington Palace. The dazzling house is filled with treasures. Watch the video on the website for a preview.


The home of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century. His victory over Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815 made him the most celebrated man in Europe. Amazingly his great great great grandson lives on the third floor of the house (the first two floors are on display).



Celeste Restaurant at The Lanesborough Hotel

Area: Westminster


Right across the street from The Aspley House is The Lanesborough Hotel


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I went in for peek and it was splendid. The Christmas decorations super cool. (Although I dress casually for walking around all day, I also look well put together so I can slink into fancy places without a second look. Usually all black, in case I spill something on myself, with a fancy bright scarf).


I was mesmerized by the Celeste Restaurant which felt like you were inside the world of Wedgewood. Next time will book it for high tea or an afternoon treat. Note it's $$$$$.



The Wolesley *highlight

Area: Picadilly


When I visit a city I love to go to restaurants that are an immersive experience. It's not just about eating but being immersed in a scene. I think of it as if going to a "show", there's always great people watching and just the whole scene can be a fascinating spectacle. Across the street from The Ritz, The Wolseley, is a grand European style all-day brasserie, that is all that and more!


Buzzing with energy, an incredible room with a high ceiling, pillars and marble, it felt like we were in a golden parlour of yesteryear. To add to the excitement Bob Geldof was eating a couple of tables away! Apparently it's frequented by many celebrities.

Make sure to make a reservation as it always fully booked. If you can't get one, check each day while you're there and something will open up.


Note it's a little pricey but they do have a set 2 or 3 course menu for a reasonable price and afternoon tea is more affordable than most places.



The Ritz

Area: Picadilly

One of my favorite movies is Notting Hill. So I was quite excited when I realized we were walking under arches of The Ritz which feature in the movie.


We slinked in and had a look around. Over the top chintz as you've never seen before!


I would consider having a high tea here for the full immersive experience, but not my first choice, a little too much for me. Worth a poke around though. Right across the street from The Wolesley.



Christmas Lights

Area: Picadilly, Soho


Step outside The Wolesley from mid-November until the New Year and you'll be treated to spectacular Christmas light displays like you've never seen before! All the streets around Piccadilly Circus are done up with different themes and go on for blocks and blocks and blocks. One street has blue angels, another white angels, another chandeliers & feathers, blue bows, blue arches, you get the idea, it goes on and on - it's dazzling! Many of the stores are also done up. A lovely after dinner stroll. Note that in November - December it gets dark at 4pm, so lots of time to see the lights. Truly spectacular!


This is the shopping district if you were looking to do some shopping, we didn't get around to it, not enough time, next time! Note that shops do not stay open late into the evening like they do in North America. Our friend who lives in London said, "evenings here are for eating and drinking, not shopping!".



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Soho


As you're walking around Piccadilly Circus looking at the Christmas lights you are likely to bump into Soho as we did. If you can't find it, look for the famous Carnaby Street. There are many pedestrian only streets filled with restaurants and lights. A festive party night atmosphere any night of the week.


Every time you turn a corner in London you find another surprise!



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Palace of Westminster (Parliament) *highlight

£22

Area: Westminster

We were extremely lucky.


I happened to have booked our visit on a Saturday not knowing that it had been closed and had just reopened that day.


It was so interesting to see how Parliament works. I was surprised to learn that the Church and State are embedded in government.


Twenty-six bishops sit in the House of Lords, ninety-two hereditary peers (inherited positions from noble families, used to be 500!) and almost 700 life peers (people outstanding in their fields) who are appointed by the Queen for life.


The House of Commons proposes a bill and then it goes to The House of Lords for review. The power of the House of Lords has been curtailed, it no longer has the power to veto a bill, only review.


The most regal throne you have ever seen sits in the House of Lords for the Queen. She comes once a year to open Parliament. She no longer wears the crown, as it's very heavy, see it below sitting on a small table.


The history and it's continued practice is incredible!


Admission to the Parliament comes with an audio tour but the highlight was talking to the staff that stood in The House of Commons Chamber and in the House of Lords Chamber. They were a wealth of information and loved talking to us, better than a tour. They will tell you everything you need to know and you won't be able to stop them from talking! One even thanked us for relieving her boredom.


Make sure to visit on a Saturday when you will have access to everything. On weekdays, when Parliament is in session, many rooms will be closed as they are being used, although you may be able to see Parliament in session (although not possible right now with Covid).


Big Ben

Area: Westminster


Big Ben is adjacent to the Palace of Westminster, so it makes sense to visit at the same time. Unfortunately for us it was closed for renovations. Next time!


Westminster Abbey

£24

Area: Westminster


Westminster Abbey is right beside The Palace of Westminster (Parliament) so it makes sense to visit it on the same day.


It's a monolithic! It's gothic style is very different than the English Baroque style of St. Paul's Cathedral. The details are beyond belief and mind boggling. It's hard to believe it's over a thousand years old.


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It's incredibly grand and impressive, but also a bit dark and depressing. There are a lot of tombs and feels a bit like a cemetery.


It's where coronations take place and many royal weddings, including that of the Queen & Phillip and Will & Kate.


On our second trip we went to listen to the choir, which they call the Quire. The world renowned choir is made up of 30 young boys aged 6 to 12 that board at the Abbey and 12 professional adult singers. The choir was founded in the late fourteenth century when the Abbey was a Benedictine monastery.


Most of the seating for this is on fold out chairs, some set back a bit too far to actually see the choir. We were incredibly lucky, we were invited to sit in the pews with the choir in the area where the Queen would sit!


It was mesmerizing and felt like such a privilege. It was so incredible to see their little faces and see everything up close and in detail.


Make sure to check the schedule of services before you go HERE

I wrote in and found out that the best service to go to for the choir is the afternoon Eucharist service (usually at 5pm weekdays and 3pm on Sundays but make sure to check the schedule).


If you go, notice the ushers taking people there and gently ask for an invitation. Make sure to bring some cash as they pass the basket at the end.



The British Museum

free / with some special paid exhibits

Area: Bloomsbury, North of Covent Garden


The British Museum is the world's oldest public national museum, it opened in 1759. It's yet another mammoth building. They've done a magnificent job of integrating the old with the new. They've added a building in the centre courtyard and covered the it with an ultra modern roof, it's super cool! Book your timed entry ahead of time and get there as early as possible, it gets crazy busy!


There's some controversy regarding many of the artifacts housed here as they were pilfered back in the day. One thing is certain, the British had a real appreciation for art and artifacts and wanted to share then with the world. We are lucky that so many of these things were preserved.


So many things to see here! The Rosetta Stone for one.

Lots of Egyptian mummies, artifacts and sculptures, carvings and much more!



The National Gallery *highlight

free / there are some special exhibits that are paid

Area: Central London


A must see!


The National Gallery is on Trafalgar Square, a beautiful open space, which was completed in 1840. Just to stand in the square and take it all in is quite something!


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