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I was in Paris when some friends of mine, who live in England, told me they’d be in London for a weekend holiday. It’s only a couple hours away by high-speed train, so I decided to join them on a whim, as I’d never seen the city before. I arrived at King’s Cross station (of Harry Potter fame) and changed my Euros to Pounds for a four day exploration of the major tourist sites in one of the most influential cities in the world.
Give us all the details! Tell us where you went and what you did on your trip.
Day 1: I started my first day with a visit to Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the British monarch. I made sure to arrive in time to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, a historic tradition that includes marching music and allows you to see the iconic guards’ uniforms up close.
Next, I headed over to Parliament Square to visit the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Parliament was not in session, so I was able to enter all the different chambers and learn about the British government via audio tour. The murals and stained glass windows, and the palpable centuries of history made within them, were truly impressive.
Then, I finished my day with a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral, one of London’s most famous landmarks. I explored the beautiful cathedral, with its many royal artifacts and famous tombs, and climbed to the top for breathtaking views of the city. The area around the cathedral lets you see many of the icons of London – double-decker red buses, Big Ben, the London Eye, London Bridge, and more.
Day 2: I spent my second day exploring the rich history and culture of London. I started at the British Museum, which is home to the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon marbles. The museum is vast, organized by continent, so I had to hurry just to see the major highlights in a single day. It’s also free!
That night, my friends and I visited the Globe Theatre, a recreation of the famous 16th-century playhouse where Shakespeare debuted his works before royalty and the commoners of London. We had standing tickets for Henry the VIII, and the setting really made me feel immersed in the action of the play.
Day 3: We began our day with a visit to Tower Bridge, a marvel of engineering that offers great views of the city from the top of its towers. The bridge’s north end brings you to the entrance of the Tower of London, a historic fortress that has played a prominent role in the city’s history for over 900 years. I learned about the history of the Tower, from its use as a palace, a prison, and a place of execution, to its role as a museum and cultural heritage site. Tours are given by “Yeoman Warders”, military men who live in the tower complex, wear traditional costumes, and have a great many fascinating stories about the place’s history. The Tower is also where you can see the UK’s crown jewels, which include the largest diamond in the world.
From the Tower, we headed to the banks of the Thames and took an Uber boat towards Greenwich Observatory. After getting off the boat, we stepped onto another one, though it’s not in use anymore. The Cutty Sark is a “tea clipper”, one of the ships Britain used to colonize the world in the 18th century, and is extremely well preserved on dry land at Greenwich. After a tour of the ship, we walked over to the Observatory, which has a pleasant park with views of the London skyline and is home to the Prime Meridian and the source of Greenwich Mean Time, a very significant place in the history of science.
Day 4: As it was Sunday, we were able to enjoy a traditional roast in a pub, which turned into a lazy afternoon enjoying pints of British cask ale. Just before sunset we visited London’s tallest skyscraper, the Shard, which offers breathtaking views of the city from its observation deck. It was really fun to see some of the places I’d already visited from this new vantage point, such as watching the Tower Bridge open up to allow a ship through, looking like a tiny LEGO set.
After The Shard, we headed to Shoreditch, a neighborhood known for its vibrant nightlife. We visited several clubs and bars, which mostly catered to Hip-Hop and House music. I definitely enjoyed the atmosphere and danced the night away, making a late night stop at a chips shop before bed.
As a first time tourist in London, I felt pretty satisfied at seeing many of the places I know from books and movies. London is a huge metropolis, so it definitely has something to offer for all different kinds of travelers.
Would you recommend this trip to a friend?
What was the highlight of your trip?
Not everyone is a theater buff, but for any fan of drama Shakespeare’s Globe is a must-see. I also felt that the self-guided Parliament tour was worth every penny. If you happen to be in London on a Sunday, make sure to reserve a table at a pub for a traditional British roast.
If you were to take this trip again, is there anything you would add or do differently?
When you take a train from the EU into the UK, you must arrive more than an hour early, as you’ll go through security, customs, and immigration at the point of departure.
Seamus the Wholehearted Hiker
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