After our trip to Iceland, we had a short stopover in London. This was to be our second visit to London in many years. The last time we were here was in 2000 and many things had changed in the last 15 years. For more on our trip to Iceland you can look up my previous blogs: Land of Fire and Ice, Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle and Chasing the Northern Lights.

We had done all the usual site seeing of London’s attractions in our previous visit, and although it had been 15 years, we decided to spend more time on those attractions that we didn’t get to see on our last visit. And this time we decided to stay at a better hotel, in part due to a better SGD/GBP exchange rate now, and also because we had more money to spend on this trip. Previously, we had stayed at a GBP50/night hotel during our last trip and it didn’t give us any pleasant memories. This time we picked Novotel London Tower Bridge in Central London and we were not disappointed in it’s location and comfort. We also got a good rate by booking early online.

The view of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge from our room window.
The view of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge from our room window. The location of the hotel was pretty good, within walking distance to the 2 attractions above and just a couple of minutes walk to Tower Underground Station.
A statue of cherubs near the Tower. There is also a nice restaurant where we had a good breakfast.
A statue of cherubs near the Tower. There is also a nice restaurant (The Kitchen at Tower) inside a church where we had a good breakfast.

As we were only spending around 3 full days in London, with 1 day devoted to a tour to Stonehenge and Bath, we only had 2 days to visit the more interesting sights. First on our list was the Tower of London. How could we not visit this iconic and historical place where London all began?

Tower of London

Originally built in 1078 by William the Conqueror as his castle after the Norman conquest of England, the Tower has served as royal palace, prison, armoury, treasury and also a zoo at times in it’s history. Famous people from English history have also lived and died here. You can find out more about the history of the Tower from information flyers when you are there. Tickets can be purchased at the gate and cost £25 for adults. Children between 5-15 years old pay half price, and children under 5 years old have free entry.

A tree in winter foliage outside the Tower. Early morning is a good time to take photos without the crowds of tourists.
A tree in winter foliage outside the Tower. Early morning is a good time to take photos without the crowds of tourists.
You can visit the Tower on your own, or join any of the guided tours conducted by the Yeoman Warders. If this your first time to the Tower, I would advise you to join the Yeoman tour. They make the tour entertaining with their stories of the history and characters that stayed here.
You can visit the Tower on your own, or join any of the guided tours conducted by the Yeoman Warders. If this is your first time to the Tower, I would advise you to join the Yeoman tours. They make the tours entertaining with their colourful stories of the Tower’s history and people that stayed here.
The friendly Yeoman are all ex-military personnel who have retired from active service.
The friendly Yeoman are all ex-military personnel who have retired from active service. They are also known as Beefeaters.
The central keep where the Crown jewels are kept on display. No photographs are allowed in there.
The Waterloo Block where the Crown jewels are kept on display. No photographs are allowed inside. Go there early in the morning to avoid the large tour groups who will be queuing up at the barricades on the bottom left of the photo. Otherwise you would be jostling with a thousand other tourists just to get a glimpse of the Crown Jewels.
An ancient toilet. It's built on an overhang so that your waste drops outside the walls.
An ancient toilet. It’s built on an overhang so that your waste drops outside the Tower walls.
An impressive collections of medieval amrour is on display in the Tower.
An impressive collection of medieval amrour is on display in the White Tower.
The personal armour of King Henry VIII. He always wanted everyone to know who had the biggest dick around.
The personal armour of King Henry VIII. He also wanted everyone to know who had the biggest dick around.
Meet a dragon in the castle, how apt. On the topmost floor of the Tower is a modern art collection.
Meet a dragon in the castle, how apt. On the topmost floor of the White Tower is a modern art collection together with exhibits of gifts to the Monarchy from other countries.

A visit to the Tower is a must for anyone visiting London for the first time. And although this was our second visit in so many years, it felt completely like a first time visit for us. If you are interested in history and like to relive the olden days, you can spend several hours here. The Tower is also reputed to be haunted by ghosts of past people like Queen Anne Boleyn who was executed by King Henry VIII, and is said to walk around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm. Recently, there are reported cases of strange unexplained happenings in the Tower. So if you are a paranormal buff, this place might be interesting for you.

River Thames Cruise

After visiting the Tower, we went to the nearby Tower Pier where we had booked a lunch cruise aboard a Citycruises ferry. Unfortunately, the weather was the usual dreadful English weather most of the day and everyone just sat inside the boat to enjoy the food.

Start of our lunch cruise along the River Thames. It takes around more than an hour where it cruises to the London and back to Tower Pier.
Start of our lunch cruise along the River Thames. It takes 1 hour 45 minutes where it cruises to the London Eye and back to Tower Pier. Along the way, you get to see the famous sights of London. Lunch is a 2 course meal which consists of a main course and dessert, and is quite good actually. Wine and beer is a separate charge but not expensive. We paid around £30+ person and I think it’s a good way to enjoy a cruise and have lunch at the same time. They also have tea time cruises which are cheaper at £20+.

Tower Bridge

After getting back from the lunch cruise, we headed down to Tower Bridge. This is the famous ‘London Bridge is falling down’ song that we always sang as school kids. Although technically, the actual name is Tower Bridge. There is another London Bridge which lies further down the River Thames but it’s just a normal road bridge.

Another wet day as we faced more English weather.
Another wet day as we faced more English weather.

The Tower Bridge Exhibition allows visitors to climb inside the bridge and walk across the upper walkways between the 2 towers. Compared to other attractions, the admission of £7.65 is not expensive, and I think it was really worth the visit.

We had to climb up the tower. Here is a view of the many staircases that lead to the top of the bridge.
We had to climb up the tower. Here is a view of the many staircases that lead to the top of the bridge.
At the top, you can cross the walkway and look down onto the road and river below. It's quite scary stepping onto the glass plates.
At the top, you can cross the walkway and look down onto the road and river below. It’s quite scary stepping onto the glass plates and staring down from 42m above.
Looking down directly on the cars moving below us.
Looking down directly on the cars moving below us. The road way only opens at certain times to allow big ships to pass through, so it’s best to check their website on the timings so that you can get a nice experience of watching the bridge lifting up.
A panoramic east view of central London from Tower Bridge.
A panoramic east view of central London from Tower Bridge. The skyline has changed a lot since our last visit. A construction boom seems to have taken over the whole city and everywhere we went, there were construction sites for new skyscrapers in various stages of completion. It almost feels like just Singapore.

We could only go up one tower and had to go down by the other tower. The Tower Bridge Exhibition also includes a visit to the old engine room that powered the bridge lifting mechanism. We had to walk to the other end of the bridge and enter the engine room. There are interactive displays and scale models of how the bridge lifting mechanism works and also a souvenir store.

The old steam boilers that powered the bridge's lifting mechanism in the past.
The old steam boilers that powered the bridge’s lifting mechanism in the past. Very Victorian and steam punk looking.

Covent Garden

For shopping we decided to just spend our time at Covent Garden. This is a district that has many shops and restaurants around a central market place. It’s traditional and modern at the same time, and very touristy. But it’s definitely an enjoyable place to hang out and shop. We had visited the other markets in London like Portobello Road and Camden Road during our last visit and decided to skip them this time. If you like antiques, vintage and retro stuff then Portobello Road is the place for you. If you like high end shopping then Harrods and Oxford Street is the place, but we also gave them a miss this time. I think we had enough of shopping malls after coming from Singapore.

For flea and street markets in London, Covent Garden is one of the largest.
For flea and street markets in London, Covent Garden is one of the largest.
Shops and restaurants on the ground and basement levels.
Shops and restaurants on the ground and basement levels.
There are also public performances by buskers and I must say their singing is really good.
There are also public performances by buskers and I must say this guy’s singing is really good.

Covent Garden is also nearby to several other landmarks like the Royal Opera House, St Paul’s Church and Chinatown. Shops, restaurants and bars dot the streets around Covent Garden. So this is a great area to shop, dine and party. Many of the theatres that play musicals are also located near here.

Chinatown which is located nearby Covent Garden.
Chinatown which is located near Covent Garden. If you need your Asian food fix, then this is the place to go to.
Passed by this restaurant in Chinatown. I'm sure the food is great judging by the number of people in there, but we didn't come all the way here just to eat Singapore/Malaysian food.
Passed by this restaurant in Chinatown. I’m sure the food is great judging by the number of people in there, but we didn’t come all the way to England just to eat Singapore/Malaysian food.

The British Museum

If you are a museum buff then the British Museum is a place where you can lose yourself in. Dedicated to human history, art and culture, the museum has more than 8 million exhibits making it one of the world’s largest. Admission is also free, and who can’t resist that. We didn’t get to visit this place last time, so this was our first time there. The first thing that hits you when you first get there is that the British Museum is huge. With an area of 92,000 sqm, it would take a couple of days just to look through every exhibit here.

The front door of the British Museum. It's an impressive building with a Greek style façade.
The front door of the British Museum. It’s an impressive building with it’s Greek style façade.
Once you enter, you are greeted by the modern looking Great Court. From this central location, you can visit the various galleries.
Once you enter, you are greeted by the modern looking Great Court and it’s very futuristic looking roof. From this central location, you can visit the various galleries.
The museum is huge and despite the crowds of people, we didn't feel cramped in.
The museum is huge and despite the crowds of people, we didn’t feel cramped in.

Well, we only planned to spend half a day here, so it was a quick look at the more interesting galleries like the Egyptian gallery with it’s mummies and the Rosetta Stone. There are also a couple of cafes inside the museum where you can rest and buy refreshments. The museum souvenir shop sells a ton of stuff which are really interesting for kids and adults alike.

The King's Library gallery which houses books and documents from history.
The King’s Library gallery which houses books and documents from history. This is one of the nicest looking galleries in the museum.
An ancient chess set. The King is contemplating his next move, while the Queen looks bored.
Meanwhile on an ancient chess set; the King is contemplating his next move, while the Queen looks bored.
This looks like something out of my secondary school history books, when we were learning about Babylon and the Persian Empire.
This looks like something out of my secondary school history books, when we were learning about Babylon and the Persian Empire.
Some of the more controversial artefacts on display are looted from other countries during the British colonial days. Like these reliefs which looked like they were hacked off the walls of temples and palaces. While we get to enjoy looking at them now, it is a great cultural loss to the countries where they came from.
Some of the more controversial artefacts on display were looted from other countries during the British colonial days. Like these wall reliefs which looked like they were hacked off the walls of ancient temples and palaces. While we get to enjoy looking at them now, it is a great cultural loss to the countries where they came from.

There are numerous other museums that you can visit like the Natural History Museum which has a very nice architecture. However, we didn’t have time to visit the other museums and they have to be put off to another visit. Most of the major museums in London are free to enter, so if you on a tight budget, they are good places to visit.

Night Scenes

While London has a vibrant pub scene, we seemed to have outgrown that stage of life and just preferred somewhere quiet, a nice dinner and a walk to see the famous sights.

The London Eye at night.
The London Eye at night. The English weather was on it’s best behavior; windy, cloudy and drizzling at times.
Big Ben and the House of Parliament.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
A close up of Big Ben and it's intricate clock face and architecture.
A close up of Big Ben and it’s intricate clock face and architecture.
Tower Bridge at night.
Tower Bridge at night.
The latest skyscraper to grace London's skyline, The Shard.
The latest skyscraper to grace London’s skyline, The Shard. There is a viewing gallery and restaurant up there, but we didn’t have time to visit it.

London Streets

I didn’t do much street photography this trip and here some of the more interesting things that I noticed while walking around.

The iconic red telephone booths which have been made famous by numerous artists and photographers.
The iconic red telephone booths which have been made famous by numerous artists and photographers. This was taken just beside Covent Garden itself.
Life in slow motion on 1 of streets near Covent Garden.
Life in slow motion on one of the streets near Covent Garden.
An interesting and colourful house.
An interesting and colourful pub and restaurant. It sounds like a newspaper name.
An office with a slide from the second to first level. I guess it must be fun working there.
An office with a slide from the second to first level. I guess it must be fun working there.

 

Getting Around London

Oyster Card.
Oyster Card.

The cheapest mode of transport in London is to take the Tube (subway as it’s called there). You can buy an Oyster Card which is similar to our Easylink Card and use it for subway and bus rides. The Oyster Card can bought from automated ticketing booths at Underground stations and you can refund it once you ready to leave London. The amount remaining in it has to be £10 or less before you can refund it. Taxis are pretty expensive and with the traffic jams, it can take longer to reach your destination compared to taking the Tube.

4 thoughts on “Streets of London

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