72 Hours in London!
Updated: Feb 14
Touching down in London I knew I would only have 3 short days to take in as much as I could of the history, culture, and feeling of London as possible. Now I'll start by saying that, in all honestly, London was not one of my favorite places that I've been. I had some wonderful moments and it was undoubtedly influenced by my coming in upset about my luggage being damaged, the hostel I stayed in being not great, and storm Ciara which shut down many of the major sites for one of the main days I was there. Nonetheless, I met some lovely people, saw beautiful sights, and had some really nice times which I'll share about below.
I arrived around 17:00 and was in a bit of a funk. Traveling can be tiring and I was absolutely feeling drained and cranky. Usually in a new place I like to hit the ground running, but this time I decided to go to a local pub, The Lucas Arms, close to my hostel for a pint and some dinner and just chill out. Fortunately, there was a rugby game on and the place was lively, so while I sat and ate fish and chips being in the atmosphere felt like a warm introduction to London.
The first morning I decided to join a free walking tour to get an introduction to the city, learn a bit, and possibly meet some new people. It was quite stormy and there were huge gusts of wind, so the tour ended up being cancelled as many of the city's parks were closed. While waiting for the tour I met a couple of young Aussie women and we decided to head to check out some sites on our own. We chose to take a rainy but scenic walk along the Thames to London Tower.
The tower was a much bigger complex than I had realized. Boasting a castle-like exterior, the complex is actually home to a number of families and individuals who live inside the walls of the tower. I didn't end up going in for a tour, but a tour guide I met and some other folks all recommended this as the tour to go on if you are going to tour any of the major sights. I was told the tour takes around 3 hours as the place is huge and full of history and includes a viewing of the crown jewels.
As we walked down the Thames we passed 5 large bridges, each quite different from the last, before arriving at Tower Bridge. This bridge is the most popular bridge for sightseers and often referred to as the London Bridge even though the actual London Bridge is the next one over. Tower Bridge is beautiful- more than I'd imagined. The bright robin blue sides are in striking contrast to the grey towers. In some ways we may have been benefitted by the rough weather as it was not super crowded.
After Tower Bridge we walked along the north side of the river for a bit. We were hoping to go to the Maltby Street Market but it was closed due to weather. A man randomly beckoned us and we ended up grabbing some drinks and food inside a pop-up taqueria called The Taco Baron which was operating in a converted space inside a giant tunnel. It was musty and spacious- a very cool experience. We were also able to peek into the Burroughs Market which was quite lovely. Then I hopped on the tube. The system is vast and I found it quite easy to navigate. But be warned it was HOT on those trains!
On my list of experiences I wanted to have while in London was to go to a tea service. I did a little research ahead of time and booked a reservation for Sunday afternoon at Candella Tea Room since it is off the beaten path, moderate in cost, and well reviewed. Reservations are definitely needed in this tiny shop. I ordered a tea service called Traditional Afternoon Tea. It was a lot, but I was able to try a few different things. This was exactly the fancy experience I was looking for. The tea I had was a Lavender Earl Grey and it was some of the best tea I've ever had.
After tea I had planned to walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park but both were closed due to the storm so I settled for peeking over the gates that ran alongside them. Eventually I got rained out and grabbed the tube home.
Fortunately the next morning we had clear skies and I was able to join in on the free tour put on by Sandemans. The idea of these tours is they are free up front and done by guides who are self employed and contracted through the agency. After the tour the idea is that you pay what you feel it was worth and they earn their income from these "tips". My guide was from New Zealand but very knowledgeable about London and it was wonderful to get some understanding of some of the history behind the monuments and structures. Especially interesting were the stories of Henry VIII and Guy Faulks. We started in Trafalgar Square and learned a bit about the Battle of Trafalgar as well where the term "a stiff drink" comes from... Google it for an interesting story!
We then walked down the Mall to see Buckingham Palace and other royal residences. We were able to catch the Horse Guards changing shift as well as the Changing of the Guard from a little ways up the Mall- away from Buckingham Palace where it was very crowded.
Next we walked through St. James Park (more on this later) over to Parliament and Westminister Abbey. The Abbey was gorgeous from what we could see but currently has a lot of scaffolding covering it as it is under construction. The same was true of Big Ben which was also visible from this site. All in all it was an interesting and pleasant tour. If you're traveling I recommend checking whether Sandemans offers a free walking tour in the area you're visitinf. You can also often get discounts on others tours once you've gone on the walking tour.
To round out the tours for the day, and with a discount from Sandemans, I decided to take a river cruise down the Thames. It was getting rainy again and I wanted to get out of the elements so this was perfect. The trip from Westminister Pier to Greenwich runs about an hour and a half. I bought a round trip ticket for 15 euro and took the trip. The boat operators offered some interesting information about the things were were passing but mostly I enjoyed the views, especially of Tower Bridge and London Tower from the boat and savored a chance to relax.
After the boat ride I walked back through St. James Park and was met with what was probably the highlight of my time in London. This was a twofer. One being the sun was setting and creating the most gorgeous golden light on everything around it- the park, the grass, the Horse Guard building. And the second being that St. James Park is home to some very friendly bird and squirrel life. There were coots, swans, geese, and several varieties of beautiful birds I had never seen before. Standing beside the pond and watching them in the midst of this magical sunset was incredble.
During my final hours in London I started by dining on a semi traditional English breakfast. Of all the foods I'm open to, Baked Beans, and especially for breakfast, are a no go so a true English breakfast is out for me. I went to a very cute smaller cafe called Cafe Maya. It was early and everyone there seemed to be local. It was a sweet little dining experience watching folks start their days and the breakfast was right up my alley.
My goal for the final day was to explore more locally the neighborhood I had been staying in, Kings Cross. I went for a walk along the Regent's Canal Towpath which was quiet and full of boats and birds. It is a totally serene place to share the path with joggers and take it all in.
The path ended up leading me to Camden Market. This giant complex is full of vendors, shops, and food stalls. It also hosts a statue and some tributes to Amy Winehouse, who lived in the area. The market is aesthetically very cute but was a bit overwhelming and full of so many kitschy spots selling similar items that I became burnt out on it pretty quickly. I bought a cute magnet and cup of mulled wine and made my way back to Kings Cross.
Heading back to my hostel I stopped by Lewis Cubbet Square to check out this art installation dubbed Palm Temple. The light filtering through the colored glass was quite beautiful.
I also walked through St. Pancras Gardens where I happened to stumble upon the famous Hardy Tree.
Finally I spent a bit of time checking out St. Pancras station before grabbing a pint of cask ale and some lunch at The Queen's Head and saying goodbye to London.
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