We took a morning flight from Cork into London. I was surprised I remembered so much about the workings of the tube from my last trip here and was able to guide the rest of my group with minimal confusion to our apartment.
An unexpected problem I ran into was with pounds. I had some pounds left over from 2015 (yes, I’m lazy and didn’t exchange them) and decided to take them with me to London. However, it seems that both the 5 and 10 pounds got a makeover shortly after 2015 and I couldn’t use them anywhere. Instead of finding a bank, I decided to keep them as a souvenir (mostly because I didn’t want to take time to go to a bank…).
For the first day, we did the typical tourist stuff: the London Eye, Big Ben (well.. not really), and some of the 4D attractions like the London Dungeon.
We bought tickets while on the Thames for the London Eye and bundled it and the 4D experiences which made it a bit cheaper. When you buy them together you have 90 days to visit them all, so you can spread the attractions out a bit. By the time we finished the London Eye and the London Dungeon, Shrek Adventure was closed so we had to move that one to the next day.
I went on the Eye and to Shrek Adventure the last time I was in London. Both were much the same, though last time we were able to hear and see Big Ben from the Eye.
Note to self: read more about the construction in the area, I thought they were doing internal work… Not covering it all.
The London Dungeon was very artistic and I was called on several times to hold a letter or get locked in a cage (they let me out eventually, “an American?! Get out of my dungeon!”). This is a fun experience if you have time and want to learn more about London’s history in an artsy/haunted house way. The actors are great and really keep the group involved, though beware of lots of sudden light cut offs.
For dinner, we ate at Archduke, situated right near the Eye under the railroad arch (hence the name…). The food was decently priced for London and had a lot of options. It’s a good spot and typically has live music. As you’re eating under the railway. You can hear the trains speed by every few minutes. We found out they do half off their bottles of wine on Sundays and Mondays, so this helped to keep the price down.
The next day, half our group took a bus tour to Stonehenge while the other 2 (including me as I did a bus tour last time) stayed in town to shop. We went to Convent Garden, suggested by a friend, which had tons of small shops and stands, music playing, and street preformers on every corner. If you’re looking to do a bit of shopping in London, definitely stop by this area for jewelry, tea cups, and other small items. The only thing it didn’t have was a sports store, so we walked down to Lillywhite, a 5 story store with everything you could need. There we got some regional sports souvenirs and went to meet up with the rest of our group.
Once we were reunited, we took the tube to the Tower of London. We mostly had time to explore the White Tower, the oldest part of the castle, and the Crown Jewels. I love exploring and found it worth buying a ticket to go inside the grounds. There’s only so much you can see from behind the wall. They also offer free tours and activities for children and adults if you get there before 3pm. The Queen’s Guard, soldiers, and Beefeaters are around the area as well, so if you’re hoping to pose with them this is a great place to do it.
It was interesting to see the mixing of tradition and modern technology here. We saw a younger British soldier in full dress be picked up by a girl in a gift shop, they exchanged numbers and Instagram accounts; Him in his bright red uniform on castle grounds and her in more modern shorts and sweater. Later, Sarrah compared it to “Princess Diaries 2.” If you’ve seen the movie, then you can get an idea of what it was like. It’s a reminder of how much the city has changed since going to the Tower of London was a death sentence instead of a tourist attraction.
To finish off our last day in London, we went back to the Shrek Adventure we missed the day before. We’ve been lucky in avoiding lines throughout our trip. It’s the start of the tourist season, so it’s not as crowded as it would be otherwise and we were able to walk right in. We had the opposite problem where they wanted to wait for more people to join the group.
Shrek Adventure is good, though I remember liking it better the first time. That may be because we had one kid in our group this time that was not good at paying attention or letting the actors talk. It’s a family experience, so there’s always a risk of having “that kid” that yells over the actors, but it can lower the energy of the whole group. So, if you decide to go to this attraction then remember the risks… I grew up with Shrek and my family loves it, so we decided to go to this attraction and weren’t so lucky this time. However, the actors worked to keep the story line going and stayed in character.
We ate dinner at Black and Blue, another restaurant under the train arches. My friend in London recommended it; like Archduke it was fairly priced and had really good food.
Finally, we decided to take a taxi back to the apartment. It’s fairly easy to hail a taxi in London and both the ones we encountered had card readers. Our driver was very nice and even took us out of the way to see Buckingham Palace where we jumped out of the cab and took a few photos before heading back to pack for our next flight.
City Center Suites
-This trip I used booking.com to get all our apartments and hotels. City Center Suites is exactly what it sounds like. We were near everything while staying in the older Westminster area and had 2 tube stations close by so we never had a problem getting around quickly.
London eye area
-If it’s your first time in London and you want to say “I’ve been on the Eye!” Then definitely check it out, but be aware that it will always be packed with tourists. You get great views from the Eye, but if it’s your second time in London then you can skip without missing much and/or plan to go on it at night. Big Ben and Westminster Abbey are within walking distance and Buckingham Palace is a short distance away, so there’s plenty to see around the area.
-Get an Oyster pass if you’re here for a few days. The public transportation is great and is way cheaper than taxis and avoids car traffic. You can pretty much get anywhere in the city using the underground, just watch out for high use times.