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Trip Report London June 2012 Trip Report (5 days)

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I am not sure I have any grand words of wisdom regarding my recent London trip, but I know how helpful I found reading old trip reports during my trip planning and I hope my trip can maybe provide someone out there with a helpful tip or two. I really don't think I could have planned my trip without these boards, so thank you everyone for your patience and help!

The trip:

June 28th - July 4th (and then on to Paris)

We, my mother and I, flew from JFK on British Airways and thankfully had no major issues. Our luggage made the trip with us, and we quickly went through Immigration, etc. at Heathrow. We chose to take the underground to our apartment, and were thrilled that several Londoners stepped in to assist us with carrying our bags up and down the stairs. We were in love with London already!

We rented the following apartment from HomeAway:

We loved the location on Sloane Avenue, which was right between the South Kensington and Sloane Square tube stations. The area was great, quiet and residential, but very close to Brompton Road, Kings Road, lots of restaurants, shops, and some of the bigger department stores as well. The apartment itself was cozy, in an elevator building, very clean and very well thought out with many nice touches (flowers, adorable teapot set, a bottle of wine). Seeing as how we only really needed a place to sleep and shower, it was perfect for us and I would definitely stay there again.

On our first day we went to Victoria Station to purchase our 7-day Zone 1 and 2 paper travelcards. Even with the new photo requirement, it was a breeze. I am so glad we purchased this, as it not only allowed us to use the 2for1 vouchers (at the Tower of London and Churchill War Rooms), but we also really took advantage of having unlimited bus/underground trips. I wish I had kept track of all of the stations we passed through, as we racked up quite the list in 5.5 days.

Here is what ended up being our final itinerary:
Day 1 (Arrival day, flight landed at 9:30am) – We planned to begin our trip with afternoon tea at The Orangery at Kensington Palace, but it had unfortunately just closed for a private event by the time we got there. We ended up snacking at one of their cafes, and then explored Kensington Gardens while en route to Hyde Park, where we specifically wanted to see the Peter Pan statue and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. We continued walking to Harrod’s, where we quickly popped in to walk around the food halls. After that we were pretty exhausted, so grabbed an early dinner and headed back to the flat for a good nights sleep.

Day 2 – Jet lag was fortunately not an issue at all, and we were ready to go on Friday morning. We arrived at the Tower of London at opening and didn’t hit any lines. As recommended on these boards, we headed straight to the Crown Jewels – and again – no lines and no crowd. We loved our Beefeater tour, and as we saw all the crowds coming in as it got later and later, we were even more thrilled with our decision to go early. We spent a considerable amount of time at the Tower of London in total, probably 4 hours. We then walked across Tower Bridge and walked along the Thames towards Borough Market. We grabbed some lunch and headed to the neighboring Southwark Cathedral to grab a seat on a bench. We did a walk-by of the Globe Theater, explored an exhibit at the Tate Modern, and rode the London Eye (where we were remarkably only met by a 15 minute line). We continued walking towards Westminster, where we got our first sighting of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Had a late dinner in Notting Hill.

Day 3 – We began our day with a return to Notting Hill to check out Portabello Road and the Saturday antiques market. While we liked seeing the neighborhood and wandering the streets, it was very, very crowded. Also, I can imagine the market is great for people who like antiquing and finding vintage items, but after a few blocks, it became a bit repetitive for us. We walked south to Ffiona’s for brunch, which I would highly recommend, and then continued in that direction to High Street Kensington for the Routemaster Heritage bus stop. The bus took us across where we ultimately ended up in Trafalgar Square. They were in the process of setting up for Canada Day, but I’m glad we were there this day when some things could still be seen. We passed by the following day when the entire square was packed with people. In a spur of the moment decision, we decided to go to the Churchill War Rooms. I have to say, this may be the coolest museum I have ever been to. Even my mother, who is not a huge museum person and not a huge history person, found it really enjoyable. I’ve never seen a museum that is so interactive and uses technology in such an engaging way. We also really liked their audioguides. Highly recommend. We quickly browsed at Selfridge’s before picking up some picnic fare and walked to Regent’s Park. We had tickets to see Ragtime at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. It was wonderful, but we were not expecting it to be so freezing! Regardless, it was nice to spend an evening outside.

Day 4 – Even with all of the research I did prior to our trip, I somehow missed that the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace were opening the day we arrived. Thankfully it was all over the BBC, so on this day we headed over at their opening to try to snag tickets. They were all sold out for the morning slots, so we hung around to watch the Changing of the Guards so that we would remain in the area. It was nice to see, but we actually saw a small-scale changing of the guards at the Tower of London a few days before. This was definitely one of the things that we could have passed on, but we didn’t want to miss out on getting Palace tickets once they became available. Once we had our tickets, we headed to Covent Garden to explore the area and get lunch. We made a pit stop at the National Portrait Gallery for a couple of hours. Buckingham Palace was worth the wait, and we especially enjoyed the Diamond Exhibit in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee (and I have to say, these knocked the Crown Jewels out of the water). Again, the audioguide here was great. We returned to the Tower on this evening for the Ceremony of the Keys which I would recommend to everyone. It was really cool to be included in this intimate ceremony. Being there at night, with the wind and the dark and the cold, it was all appropriately creepy.

Day 5 – On this day we took a day trip to Bath, where we took a Mayor’s Free Walking Tour, went to the Roman Baths, had lunch at Sally Lunn’s (the oldest house at Bath), and enjoyed roaming the streets. It was interesting to be somewhere with such old buildings, etc., and then to turn around and see an Apple store. But we loved how quant it was, and I especially liked the architecture and seeing all of the history in the town.

Day 6 – On our last day in London, we started with a visit to Westminster Abbey. While we were aiming to get there in time to do a verger tour, we missed it by a few minutes and did it ourselves with the audioguide instead. It was, however, so well devised that we feel like we learned just as much as we would have with a tour. We hit Regent Street for some shopping, and visited Kings Cross to see Platform 9 and ¾ before heading to our final dinner at Salt Yard. A delicious tapas meal, and hands down our favorite meal in London.

Ultimately, we had a great time in London, and though we couldn’t see everything, we felt like we saw everything that was on our “definites” list. London actually reminded me of NYC (my hometown) in many ways, but of course was cleaner and classier. Everyone made us feel very welcome in their city, it was a breeze to get around, we ate well, and feel like we learned a lot about British history and culture. Overall, a success! I look forward to returning one day, hopefully soon.

And finally, here are some of my (many) photos:

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