London for me has always been a fairy tale city, from kings and queens to lords and ladies, for someone who pretty much lives in their head and daydreams of past centuries, I had it built up in my mind. That being said, I still never understood what the fuss was about in this present day and age and why those who visit develop a bond and a passion for this city. I was adamant on finding out firsthand, and after years of convincing my husband to join me in my adventure, he caved and we booked a ticket for London, and despite the fact that some tried to convince us to squeeze in Scotland and/or Ireland in the same trip, I was determined to make our long vacation dedicated to thoroughly exploring one city.
So we landed in London and thus our new adventure began. I literally went through thousands of photos and filtered them out to share with you only a few, yet I’m sure they won’t do the city justice. The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are needless to say the magnet to which the tourists gravitate and for good reason. You can take a tour inside as well as walk around to view the majestic architecture.
We had booked tickets for the London Eye online and when we arrived it turned out that they were at full capacity (go figure) and we had to change our booking at the ticket office. So 3 hours later of waiting at the counter brought us modified tickets for the next day where we also had to wait another 2 hours to get on the ride despite being there early in the morning. My point is, yes the view from the London Eye is not to be missed, but be prepared to stand in line a lot, so if you’re visiting for only a couple of days, then don’t waste a chunk of your time by waiting.
Depending on the month of your visit, Buckingham Palace might not be open for tours, however you may watch the ‘changing of the guards’ procession outside (for free) which starts at around 11 A.M. daily. But as our luck would have it, the first day we went there, the ceremony was cancelled, so we had to adjust our day’s plans according to what was around the palace as so not to waste time with transportation.
A few days later after that, I dragged Naji back to the palace to try our luck, and this time the procession was in full throttle, complete with horses, a parade, the works. Be prepared to fight for a spot and don’t budge because if you so much as step sideways, your place will be taken. After you enjoy the traditional ceremony, walk towards what they call ‘the mall’ and discover beautiful architecture with horse guards training, and a little cottage next to a pond that will make you feel like you’re in a Brothers Grimm book, up until you reach the Admiralty Arch.
We visited the Tower of London, which is a historic castle and contains the crown jewels. The fortress itself is interesting to walk around but the jewels are really worth seeing, There was a lot of waiting in line (something impatient Maria loathes), and when we finally entered, we found out that it’s forbidden to take photos (but I did anyway). When we got out we found the famous British guard, and no he didn’t laugh!
The iconic Tower Bridge is one work of construction, and makes for a postcard photo if the weather permits, you have no idea how gloomy it was the first day we got to London, we must have taken hundreds of photos and we weren’t able to properly capture the bridge or Big Ben.
London for me is a ‘walk around’ type of city. You’ll benefit from more sightseeing and it’s all connected somehow so you start your day in one location and end up covering quite a lot. I highly recommend you walk up and down Oxford street, not only for the shops, but for the architecture. Same goes for Mayfair, stand back and admire the glory of old London, the iconic cab, phone booth and red bus, the swanky storefronts and the well to do.
As much as I’m in awe of the British high society and old gentlemen manners, I am also a major hippie, and I found my haven at Camden. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT miss out on the chance to chill in this town and discover their market which is an array of vintage shops, it was my personal shopping heaven.
If you’re looking for a picturesque street then head to Notting Hill after you’ve walked in Portobello Market, you’ll be in a symmetrical daze.
I was in a mood to take my British experience further, so I had booked tickets to the Medieval Banquet which is a three course dinner at the St. Katharine Docks in a space that mimics the middle ages. A king, court jesters, wenches serving ale, the works. We even had to drink our soup, no spoons allowed! The table setup wasn’t private, and the food was to share, so you’d get the chance to meet people from all over the world which was pretty cool. The dinner ended with a party, can you spot me dancing?
One thing I love to take advantage of when I travel is the abundance of green spaces. Whether it’s Hyde Park or St. James Park, we were stopping almost daily for a breather, for chilling on the grass, smelling the clean air, and even having a little picnic.
We also went outside of central London and visited Chelsea, it’s much calmer than the city, and you’d be amazed at the stores you’ll find there, like artisanal chocolates or tailors for ‘gentry’ promoting that men always look their best.
Back in London I had to go across many blocks to be able to capture the London Eye and give the skyline justice. This juxtaposition of historical monuments with recent additions and nature, all reflect what London is about.
As expensive as the dinner theater and entrance fees to pretty much everything is, the museums (most of them) were completely free of charge, except a small suggested fee you may pay if you want at the door. I spent so much time roaming around Trafalgar Square, inside the National Gallery, Science museum and Victoria and Albert museum, I was in a historical daze.
Then of course there is China Town that stays up well into the night, so we walked around post dinner when everything else was closing.
We made it a point to also head out of the central city to Greenwich to stand on the meridian, and stumbled upon the historic Cutty Sark ship, and lucky for us there was a festival featuring a live band, and it was a good stop during our long journey to reach the observatory. During our walk we crossed the Greenwich Park, a vast space of yellow greens until we finally ticked off this goose bump rendering moment off our bucket list.
Shoreditch is a hub for business and trade, and once you come close you find that it is also rich in culture and tradition, although it has a total different vibe than other areas. One of the major stops we made was at Skygarden (booking is required weeks in advance) where we saw the city from this high structure and when we were done admiring the urban fabric, we went back indoors to chill and have a drink at the literal garden in the sky.
We also visited Arsenal and Chelsea stadiums, the Churchill War Rooms, and every cathedral and monument a tourist usually makes sure to cover. As I had mentioned in my introduction, no amount of description will do London justice, and those who fall in love with it have every right to. I am currently under the spell of London, and as I return from each journey, I leave a part of me there as well as finding a bit of myself and bringing it back with me. Each has a personal view of London, and for me it lived up to my expectations of ancient glory, and I was pleasantly surprised at the hidden laid back side to it, which I will be sharing more of at a later stage (you will love my next travel post so stay tuned).
London you have been great, and I fully intend to return soon!
For more photos of my trip to London or any of my other travels, make sure to check the hashtag #StyleMeMariaOnVacation on Instagram!