My first trip to London was a marathon. I traveled with a group and we all collectively felt that we had to see as much as possible. The changing of the guard at Buckingham, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and Piccadilly Circus. We took the “Tube” and zig-zagged from here to there, stopping for a pint at pubs and zooming off. By day three, I was exhausted, achey, and not enjoying much of anything. I vowed that my second trip would be vastly different.
Perhaps because I am older, I no longer adhere to the thinking that if I never come back here I have to do it ALL. It’s like eating the whole buffet and throwing up afterwards. Not worth it. So this time, we were just going to wander. And we picked a hotel centrally located that we could easily explore the local haunts on foot.
We stayed at Club Quarters, Trafalgar Square at 8 Northumberland Avenue. I will cut to the chase and say I highly recommend staying here. Perfect location, pricing was reasonable (about 200 U.S. Dollars), the room was small but efficiently designed, and the bed was possibly the most comfortable hotel bed in which I have ever slept. Seriously. On the same block was a 24-hour Tesco. When you don’t want to pay for room service, fake it! We stocked up on pastries, nuts, and whole fruit for our room. The hotel provided unlimited coffee and tea in the hallway refreshment closet – take as much as you want. We were set!
Because we arrived in the evening, we grabbed a late night bite at Garfunkel’s below the hotel. Garfunkel’s is like TGI Fridays in the States. You will see them sprinkled throughout London. Across the way was a rowdy pub and we stopped in for a quick pint.
The next morning we woke to the sound of a large band playing in the distance. After our Tesco treats, we hit the streets. It was the Trooping of the Colour celebration, honoring Queen Elizabeth’s birthday. This is a military event where the Queen ceremoniously inspects the troops and they carry their colours, another word for flags. It was a short walk to Buckingham Palace to see the event unfold. The crowds were gathering to see the royals, who towards the end of the ceremony, waved from the palace balcony as Royal Air Force planes zoomed ahead. Beautiful trails of color, puffed behind each aircraft. The light sprinkles didn’t stop the fun and after all the hoopla, Prince Charles drove by with a kind wave.
St. James Park was covered in foot traffic and we wandered right with them, enjoying the scene. As we moseyed, the sprinkles turned to drops which turned into sheets of rain. We scurried under a large tree, my husband stole a kiss, and then we headed to Churchill War Rooms where there was an overhead canopy. This was the moment we vaguely remembered that an umbrella was provided in our hotel room. Others were gathered here as well, some for the museum itself. Soaked by England’s famous weather, we vowed to carry it with us from this point forward. When it lightened, we made a run for it back to the hotel for a quick change.
Nighttime is my favorite time. Anywhere. About 15 minutes down the road, was Piccadilly Circus in the City of Westminster which lead us to the West End. This is Central London’s entertainment district. It is also where Broadway meets the British. Shows like Wicked and The Lion King make their way here. And just like New York, the theater crowds dress up, dine, and drink. Here you will also find the casinos lit up and bouncin’. The energy is fun and if you dive in, it’s a jolly good time.
A friend recommended Jamie’s Italian for dinner, so we headed there on Upper St Martin’s Lane in Covet Garden. This is one of many eateries by chef Jamie Oliver. The place was packed – apparently, everyone else had the same idea. Luckily, a quiet wine bar off the rear walk street gave us respite while we waited for our table. Once our table was ready – a mere 20 minutes or so – we were surprised to see that the restaurant had a complete underground level also filled with patrons. Jamie’s did not disappoint. Romantically lit, we ate a decadent truffle risotto and a flavorful bolognese. We were full and happy. I highly recommend you enjoy a meal here. Cost was roughly 60 U.S. Dollars. If you take in a show afterwards, your evening is complete. Our walk back to the hotel was lively with rowdy Brits – who were very friendly – emptying out of the bars.
Other daytime sights within walking distance are the aforementioned Churchill War Rooms, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. James Theatre, and Big Ben. The London Eye is just across the River Thames as well. As you already know, everything is very accessible via the Underground, however, I suggest being picky about your must see spots so you don’t run out of steam. For me, this trip was more about “being” in London and less about “doing” in London. Throughout our trip, we walked several blocks and bounced in and out of stores. Taking a break here and there for a drink and a biscuit. Sometimes it’s important to take in the quiet moments. I know I will never forget that time when when my husband kissed me in the pouring rain in St. James Park. I had a large scarf that we used as makeshift cover. Now go find your spot to “be” in the rain.