Following a work trip to England last summer, I jumped on the opportunity to have my husband fly over and spend a long weekend in London for my birthday. I had been to London once back in college with my parents, but the dreary weather and fatigue from months of travel in Italy and France resulted in a lackluster first impression. Several years later, I was eager to explore it again armed with more experience traveling and better knowledge of the city layout. We also lucked out with amazing fall weather. Two mornings of the early mornings of light rain gave way to beautiful afternoon sunshine.
We packed a great deal into 3 days, which needs to be divided into multiple posts. Despite walking countless miles and seeing as much as we could, we only scratched the surface of what this impressive city has to offer. Here is the first installment of our extended weekend in London.
Despite rather short notice, Dan was able to find decent flight prices directly into Gatwick airport. There are multiple large airports in London (the cause of one of my first international travel mistakes; however, I will save that story for another time). Gatwick sits about 30 miles south of downtown London. There is accessible public transportation via the Gatwick Express into Victoria Station. We purchased tickets right at the airport upon arrival. The train runs continually throughout the day. Once downtown, we mostly got around on foot and via the London Underground (The Tube). Due to work accommodations, we split our stay between 2 hotels. The first stay was at The Royal Horseguards, which is a beautiful hotel right on the banks of the River Thames. It is perfectly located close to Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament and sits on the grounds of a beautiful garden.
To save money, mid-trip we moved to the Club Quarters Hotel, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, located near Covent Garden. Clean, comfortable and centrally located; this efficiency hotel had smaller rooms, but was a great budget accommodation.
Big Ben and the Parliament
Thursday morning, I walked from the hotel to Victoria Station to meet Dan coming in for the weekend. On the walk there, I had great viewing of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. These iconic symbols of London are all closely located to one another. Dan went with me back to this area to explore some more on Day 2.
St. James’s Park and the Horse Guards
Our route back from Victoria’s Station took us through the beautiful St James’s Park; located just in front of Buckingham Palace. Be sure to meander through this park full of flowers, ponds and abundant green space, it is one of my favorites. Located just east of the park, resides the Horse Guards, which is the origin for the Horse Guard’s parade to Buckingham Palace.
Seven Dials and Convent Garden
After dropping off the luggage at the hotel, we headed to Seven Dials, the convergence point of 7 streets, and home to a vibrant shopping district including Neal’s Yard.
Next, we wandered over to Covent Garden and checked out the shops and restaurants before meeting up with the guide for our 3 pm walking tour.
London Old City Walking Tour
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about traveling is that taking a guided tour from a local guide increases my appreciation of the city I’m exploring 10-fold. The 3 hour London Old City Walking tour we did through Viator was a highlight. For a reasonable cost, we learned so much about the history of England, the Monarchy, and the evolution of the city over history. For example, I did not realize that much of what we call London today is in fact Westminster City and the City of London is only a small portion of downtown. It is not officially ruled by the monarchy and has its own crest, flags, and police force.
We covered so much ground and it gave me such an appreciation for everywhere we went over the next couple of days. My number one recommendation in London, and really any big city, is to do a guided tour!
We ended the tour at the Tower of London just as the sun was setting over the River Thames. Exhausted after nearly 30,000 steps, we hopped on the Tube back to the neighborhood near our hotel for dinner and to crash.
For more on London, check out London Days 2-3.