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