If you follow me on Instagram, you already know I took a 5-day trip to London. It was amazing. We did a ton of touring, visited a lot of pubs, and saw two shows. I’d been to London a few times before–once in 4th grade for a gymnastics meet and then when I studied abroad at Oxford during law school. But 4th grade was SO long ago that I barely remember anything and surprisingly, we didn’t go to London that often while I was studying at Oxford. When we did we toured the Inns of Court, which was about as exciting as it sounds. I would have been much more into it if we got to see Amal Clooney. 😉 We did, however, sit in on part of a trial, which I thought was very interesting. Another interesting fact: in England, all lawyers, or “solicitors,” are required to wear robes and wigs. Hideous, old, white wigs. And they’d rather wear an old one because if it’s new, the other solicitors will know that you’re a newbie to the practice of law and might try to take advantage.
This trip I was able to embrace all of the incredible history in London, the culture, and the people. It would be way too hard to rank all of the things we did this trip so I’m not even going to try. But I’ll definitely note which activities are musts for anyone traveling to London soon. Oh, and sorry for my lack of pictures. A lot of these places prohibit you from taking any! So if I didn’t have any, I’ve pulled some off the internet and linked them to their sources. Now, where to start…
We left for London on a Friday evening and arrived there on Saturday morning. I’m usually not a coffee drinker, but whew, the jet lag was bad.
- Tower of London
The Tower of London, which houses the INCREDIBLE Crown Jewels, was once surrounded by a moat. Queen Victoria threatened to take out the Crown Jewels because the moat smelled so bad (it was basically a sewer) so they filled it in and the Crown Jewels remain on display there today. You guys, there was a diamond in there AS BIG AS MY FIST. It’s 530.2 carats and absolutely breathtaking. The collection of Crown Jewels is literally priceless. It’s not even insured because they simply would not be able to recreate all of the incredible pieces. It’s a must see for sure.
The Tower of London has a grim reputation for torture and death. It’s where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned for 13 years, where Anne Bolyn (King Henry VIII’s 2nd wife) was beheaded, where Catherine Howard (King Henry VIII’s 5th wife) was beheaded, and where Lady Jane Grey was beheaded. The Tower also housed many other prisoners. Some of the prisoners carved drawings into the Tower walls, which are still there today. Pretty creepy but also very cool to see.
View of the London Bridge from the Tower.
- Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
The Houses of Parliament consist of the House of the Lords and the House of the Commons. Parliament was created in 1265 and the Lords met in the Palace of Westminster while the House of the Commons did not have a formal meeting place. After the fire in 1834, which destroyed almost everything in the Palace, the complex was rebuilt and finished in 1870. So the Houses of Parliament are actually a much newer building than you’d imagine based on the gothic design and architecture. The House of the Lords is very ornate, with red and gold throughout. There are beautiful frescos (demanded by Prince Albert) covering many of the walls and the ceilings are also just as beautifully decorated. The House of the Commons, on the other hand, is, well, more common. The main color in this part of the building is green, the color of the common people (red is the color of the monarchy). There are large rooms where the Lords and Commons gather to discuss bills that are being proposed and make revisions before they are sent to the Queen. Houses of Parliament are only open to tours at certain times during the year, so make sure to check before you go (and get tickets ahead of time).
- Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is the burial ground for some of the most famous people in history including Isaac Newton, Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Henry III, Edward I, etc. Also, if you took British Literature at any point in school, you’ll recognize almost every name in Poet’s Corner: think William Blake, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, John Keats, John Milton, and of course, Shakespeare. This iconic building has also been the setting of every coronation since 1066. And it’s been the sight of 16 royal weddings, including Prince William and Kate’s wedding. You can’t take pictures in there so I’ve taken almost all of these from other websites (click the pics to go to the source). The detail in the every part of the building is quite amazing. Pictures honestly don’t do it justice. If you’re a history buff, you need to see this place.
- London Eye
I’m usually not a fan of ferris wheels because I’m terribly afraid of heights. This one was an exception though. Since you’re enclosed in this little capsule, with about 15 other people and plenty of room to move around, I felt a little more comfortable. The line wasn’t long at all and we got a fast pass so we could skip some of it. The views from the top are breathtaking. It’s right on the River Thames and the area around the Eye is also very cool. It’s filled with street performers singing, dancing, doing tricks on bikes, dressed up like dogs, statues, etc. Definitely worth a walk through this area and if you have time go on the Eye (the ride takes about 30 minutes once you’re on there).
View of the other capsule from the top of the Eye.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from the Eye.
Benedict Cumberbatch played Hamlet and WOW, I left the show in awe. I’ve never seen such an incredible actor perform in person and it was truly something to see. We weren’t allowed to take pics during the performance but I snapped one at the end. Not a great pic but ya get the idea. Hamlet is a hot ticket right now in London. It’s showing at the Barbican Theatre through October 31st. If you’re going to be in London during that time GET TICKETS NOW.
- The Book of Mormon
What a show! I was laughing the entire time. I’m a fan of musicals in general, but this one was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Seriously you guys, it was hilarious. Very crude humor and a lot of cussing but honestly that’s right up my alley. I cuss like a sailor in real life (sorry Dad) or as they say in London, I swear like a Billingsgate fishwife. If you didn’t already know, the Book of Mormon was conceived by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the men behind South Park. The story is about two young Mormon missionaries that are sent to a small town in Uganda to gain new members for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But only one of the two young men knows the scriptures well enough and the other *changes* scriptures in an attempt to help the people in the village, who are facing a War Lord, AIDs, famine, and poverty. You can imagine how well that goes. Again, a MUST SEE.
If you think the Macy’s in Herald Square is the end-all be-all of department stores, think again. Harrods is SIX stories and filled with some of the most amazing fashion in the world. From Ted Baker to Chanel to Céline to Stella McCartney to Disney (yes, they have an entire Disney section), this store has it all. Including a delicious tea called Kadak or Karak tea, which came highly recommended from my hair stylist. She travels more than anyone I know (in fact, right now she’s on a trip to Australia and New Zealand) and she told me that I HAD to go to Harrods to get the kadak tea. It’s only sold 2 places in the world–Harrods in London (Mezzah Lounge on the 4th floor) and in Dubai. It really was delicious. If you’ve never been to London, you MUST go to Harrods.
- Texas Embassy
The only Republic of Texas Embassy in the world was once in London. A carving of Sam Houston’s head is outside along with a plaque. If you’re a Texan, this is obviously a must see.
- Churchill War Rooms
Hands down, one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The Churchill War Rooms were constructed underneath a building in London and this is where WW2 was run. Everything is exactly as it was left after the war. Maps on the wall with yarn noting the advance of German troops at different points in time, the room where Churchill made his broadcasts, the room where Churchill would talk to Roosevelt during the war and ask for supplies, rooms where Churchill and other top advisors would stay when there was a threat of German attack, etc. I’ve never been a huge history buff, but this was seriously an incredible thing to see. If you’re going to London, visit the War Rooms! There’s also a Churchill Museum down there, which is really cool and has a lot of interactive exhibits. One of my favorite quotes of his, “We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow-worm.”
- Hyde Park
Riding bikes around cities is one of my favorite activities when I’m traveling. So riding bikes around Hyde Park is really high on my list of rankings. You can rent a bike for 24 hours for only 2 pounds. Hyde Park is the largest park in London and it’s filled with people and activities. There’s a lake that is used 365 days a year, even during the winter when it’s frozen over! There’s also Speaker’s Corner, where people can come and speak their mind about anything. That was…interesting to say the least.
- Abbey Road
If you’re a Beatles fan, you’ve gotta go to Abbey Road and take a pic. The cars are so used to tourists taking pics across the crosswalk that they will stop for you. And other tourists line up on the side of the street while you’re taking your pics. Need I say more?
We went to a ton of pubs. The Bear and Staff, Sherlock Holmes Pub, Parliament, Admiralty. There’s no shortage of good pubs in London. We frequented the ones near Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square, but there’s a good one on just about every corner of the city.
If y’all have any questions about my trip, leave me a comment!