One thing we made sure to do when we arrived in London was to hop on board a double-decker public bus and sit up top. We stayed on board for about an hour or so, including time for changing bus lines so we could see which routes took us near which landmarks, museums, and major sites should we want to return later in our trip for a more proper visit.
Our London Holiday, March 31-through-April 9, 2013:
1. British Airways LAX-LHR
2. The Waldorf Hilton, London
3. Covent Garden Neighborhood
4. London Transport Museum
5. One Day in London: Traditional Landmarks TODAY’S POST
6. Princess Diana Playground, Kensington Park, and Green Park/ Buckingham Palace
7. Harry Potter Connections
8. Family Remembrance and Celebration: Brookwood Cemetery and The Lion King at The Lyceum Theatre
9. Day Trip: Isle of Wight and Portsmouth, UK
10. Day Out: Greenwich, UK
11. Tower of London
12. London’s Shopping Meccas: Hamleys Toys and Harrods
I strongly encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with Transport for London and its bus and Underground maps, routes, and apps (yes, there’s an app for them!) the first day or two of any London holiday or even before you head out on holiday. Quite honestly, it’s the easiest way to get around town and hit all the major landmarks, even with a kid in tow… and by far the most inexpensive means aside from walking everywhere, of course. Forget the more touristy (and expensive) hop-0n, hop-off bus tours unless you are only in town for a day or two total; London is by far one of the easiest cities to navigate via public transit that I’ve visited (I’ve been to Paris, Rome, Boston, Washington DC, New York City, and lived in Chicago for several years, just as a reference for comparison on major cities and public transportation systems).
Most if not all of the sites and places listed in this post were places we either rode by and/or jumped off of mass transit and at least walked by if not visited inside of one day. I’ve included a mix of photos from each visit during our entire week-plus in London, whether from the same day or not, so please don’t call me out on if you notice that the photos don’t all come from the same day or the sequencing doesn’t make sense. It’s the idea of the one-day-in-London that I am trying to convey here (i.e., the layover concept, if you only had one day in a big city, etc.).
First, here’s one of the Routemaster buses from the 1950s. The 15 runs some of the older Routemasters as part of their daily operations, which was the line that stopped in front of our hotel, The Waldorf Hilton, on Aldwych in Covent Garden. You can read more about the 15 line here to see exactly where this route will take you on your London adventures. Do note that this line intersects with various other bus lines, which made it quite easy to transfer around town.
We also hit the Underground for longer hauls across town. When we found that we’d have to change a bus more than twice, the Underground was the way to go. A lot of times, however, we chose to bus back to our hotel just for something a bit different and to see if we saw anything new that we might want to make time for visiting later.
From one of our bus rides, we traveled through Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus. These are two large intersections in city-center infamous for pedestrian crowds and crossings. I think the photos speak for themselves as far as the popularity of these areas of town. We could hardly take a bus or Underground ride without crossing one if not both of these areas; looks as if others can say the same!
Another landmark that is quite hard to miss is Trafalgar Square. This is a meeting place in the hub bub of city center where people gather and others gather to people watch. On a beautiful day, it’s truly brilliant. Trafalgar Square’s also home to the National Gallery, London’s premiere art museum (free admission to all). We did get out here to take a walk around inside of the gallery (no photos permitted here) and outside in the square. T especially enjoyed the story of Vincent van Gogh; please ask him the next time you see him about the “Sunflowers” artist and what he did to his ear and whether that was a good or a bad idea.
We also cruised by two of London’s mainstay attractions. Look, it’s Big Ben and Parliament! OK, so that’s not exactly an original line, but who doesn’t go to London and not at least see these two renowned monuments of the UK government?! Oh, and just a tidbit of trivia: Big Ben is the name of the bell inside of the clock, not the name of the clock itself. You do learn something new every day, right RMT’ers? For even more resounding trivia bits every hour on the hour, check out Big Ben’s Twitter Feed. Bong!
And since we were so close to the two aforementioned landmarks, we got off and walked by Westminster Abbey. As it was late in the day when we ventured over here, we chose not to go in on this visit. Truth is, we didn’t enter a single church on this entire vacation. I know, right?! How does one even go to Europe and avoid the church scene? Three words (or one hyphenated word?): Five-year-old. Yeah, since T couldn’t really care less, we chose to put those entrance fees towards other activities along the adventures. I, however, have been inside Westminster Abbey on a previous visit, and if you can manage to enter, please do. It really is a time capsule of history by way of the royal events (living and dead) that have occurred here, not to mention all the other famous names who will rest for all eternity.
Surprisingly, one site we did not get out to take a spin around on was the London Eye. In fact, we only drove by London’s newest (and now one of its most popular) landmark a handful of times where I could snap a halfway-decent photo! Anyway, since T had just been on our local Ferris wheel not too long before this vacation, we didn’t feel it was worth pushing at the price advertised; also T never asked. It’s also a slow spin, with one ticket getting you one time around in about 30 minutes. Yeah, not exactly thrilling, though I do realize the views of London given its location along the Thames River have the potential to be absolutely spectacular. Perhaps next time when T might appreciate those views a wee bit more for the cost we can work that one into the itinerary.
Another fun stop we made was the Embassy for Ecuador. OK, I know this sounds strange, but considering the news lately, C felt it important to stop by and see if its most infamous resident was taking visitors. Alright, we didn’t exactly ask that, seeing as there was a very strong police presence and all (that and many flats surrounding the Embassy also were populated with some sort of security and surveillance force). I realize my even writing this in my blog has now put us on some sort of watch list; then again, I am sure we were heavily photographed and cataloged when we stopped by a few weeks ago.
Last but not least, we went to the British Museum. Now while we took a cab here – the only cab fare of the entire London stay! – it was only because of weather and our inability to walk the distance the day-time we went. It would have been only about a 20-minute walk from our hotel if we were to have hoofed it, but no one wants to start a day drenched and tired, right? We also were meeting one of C’s longtime family friends, so who wants to meet up with someone drenched and tired also?
Anyway, we spent a good half-day at the British Museum, and I felt as if we missed out on seeing so much (i.e. mummies, oh well!). But wow what we did see. This is the home of the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, and so many other wonderful relics and archives from the world over. Now I realize most would consider the items in this museum on a, um, long-term loan (that’s the nicest way I could think to phrase “looted and pilfered”), but to their credit, the Museum has done a wonderful job to preserve these items and moments in history. We had good intentions to return during our trip, as admission is free to all, but we just never made it back nor had the chunk of time to do it. Ah, next time!
RMT’ers, what’s your favorite landmark or site to see in London?