When You Send a Girl to London
This year instead of buying each other silly Christmas presents that we really didn’t need and sometimes don’t want (I’m looking at you, pair of ugly socks), we decided to spend that money on a trip! Mom keeps an eye out constantly for cheap flights overseas, so when she saw a deal with Delta for $520 round trip flights to London, we immediately snatched them up! I was driving back to Tennessee from school for Thanksgiving and happy-cried for about an hour while on the phone with her. Our entire family and then some knew we were going, but somehow we managed to keep it a surprise from my youngest sister, River, until Christmas morning! First she opened up a few London-themed presents, and then her suitcase, which had the plane tickets inside. Her reaction was more than worth the suspense of keeping the secret.
I spent the month leading up to the trip researching and preparing. I loooovee trip planning; my personal Pinterest boards are filled to the brim with tips, tricks, and hints for travel! Since there were six of us going with a wide range of ages I wanted to make sure I included something on our itinerary for everyone, while making sure to include the obvious London sightseeing experiences. Another thing I made sure to do was buy tickets in advance for all the attractions that allowed me to. Doing so cut down on line times and we saved money!
We arrived in London bright and early in the morning of December 27. I had hoped to get a few of the “wait in line, snap a photo and leave” sights done this day; but in the end jet lag won out and we didn’t get them finished. We rode the underground to the cute little flat my mom rented for the week.
- A big tip: don’t get a taxi or Uber from the airport to your hotel, ride the underground instead. It makes you feel like a local, and doesn’t cost as much. It took an hour to get from the airport to our flat, just imagine how much the taxi fare would have been!
We explored the flat, claimed bedrooms, changed clothes, and refreshed ourselves from the eight-hour plane ride before we headed back out into the city!
Kings Cross Station; it’s where Harry Potter was filmed (though the outside scenes were shot next door at St. Pancras Station because it’s a bit prettier). When we walked out of the underground and onto the streets of Central London for the first time I cried. My mom took embarrassing pictures of me while I sobbed and turned in circles trying to take in the fact that I was actually there. I had our lunch planned out, but everyone was starving and we couldn’t find the restaurant fast enough so we ate at a cute little Italian place across the street from Kings Cross called Casa Mamma. We ordered Italian bread sticks and two large pizzas; they were delicious!
- Tip: If you stray from your plan a bit it’s okay! Some of the best food and times we had were not in my itinerary!
Everyone was in a better mood after eating lunch, so we headed back over to Kings Cross to find Platform 9 ¾ from Harry Potter. There was a huge line, so we ended up heading to our next sightseeing spot: the door used as 221B Baker Street from BBC’s Sherlock. We decided to walk there so we could take in more sights and not have to pay a cab fare. On this walk we also found our first famous red telephone booth. We spent quite a bit of time taking photos here; we also stopped at a bar along the way to use the restroom.
- Tip: Most places require that you buy something in order to use the restroom. Mark was perfectly okay with this as he got a beer whenever we stopped.
Our walk continued all the way to North Gower Street, when we turned onto the street and I saw the building and the door, I got a bit of water in my eyes. It wasn’t perfect by any means, just a regular old street, but it was still the door that Martin Freeman as John Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes had used. (If you have never watched Sherlock I highly recommend it!) I had planned to stop by Abbey Road, The Peter Pan Statue in Hyde Park, and the TARDIS, as well as get food, but everyone was cranky and tired with jet lag setting in and walking all day, so we headed back to the flat for a good night’s sleep!
Day two consisted of the typical London touristy activities. We started off at Westminster Abbey, and it was probably my favorite part of the sightseeing places we went. It was the most beautiful cathedral I have ever been inside.
- Tip: Pictures aren’t allowed inside, so make sure you take lots of the outside!
I had bought our tickets in advance, which was such a blessing; the line to get inside was probably a two-hour wait. Four of us stood in line and we sent the other two to see if we got to skip the line; the answer was yes, and we went right on in. The Abbey provides headphones and a recorded tour so you can go as quick or slow as you like, which is nice. They were also having communion while we were there so we all participated. It was such a special moment to be a part of, and if you are religious I recommend taking part.
After leaving Westminster we went to Buckingham Palace.
- Tip: If you go in the winter they only do the changing of the guard every other day at 11am. So if that’s something you really want to see, plan your schedule around that.
We didn’t get to see the changing of the guard, but the palace was still beautiful. We took a few pictures and proceeded to catch an Uber to the London Eye. The London Eye is another place I recommend buying tickets in advance for. There are two options when you purchase tickets in advance: standard tickets and fast track tickets. I initially bought the standard tickets since they were cheaper and we were given a specific time to be there, but when we arrived the line was enormous. My mother ended up paying a little bit more on site for the fast track tickets so our wait was only about 25 minutes. The ride itself takes about 30 minutes and it was perfect. The skyline was gorgeous, and we were at the top during sunset, so our pictures were all amazing.
- Tip: Ride the London Eye during sunset.
Once we got off we walked back across the river past Parliament and Big Ben to a restaurant called St. Stephens Tavern. Since it was our first real English dinner, I, of course, had the fish and chips. This was also the night we rode a double-decker bus and stopped following my plans for the evening. We ended up in the Trafalgar Square area, walked up and down The Strand for a bit, found a beautiful restaurant where we got a couple drinks, and finally made our way back to Kings Cross to get our picture at Platform 9 ¾ since the line wasn’t quite as long at 10pm.
On our third day we got up and took an Uber to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We found a cute little café to have breakfast before we went inside. Today I had advance tickets for everything we would be seeing. We took our time sightseeing, and once again there was no photography allowed inside.
- Tip: Climb to the top, stop at all three levels, (not for those who are scared of heights).
There are 528 steps to the very top and the stairways are very narrow, so you need to be in good physical health to do this. Mom and River, who are both scared of heights, went up to the first level and had to go back down because it was too high for them. We left St. Paul’s and walked over to the Tower of London, the castle and prison fortress where many people were held prisoner in the 16th and 17th century. This is a sight that you want to be able to spend most of the day at. We didn’t have much time and so we had to make a list of the most important sights to see at the Tower. Mom had asked to see the Crown Jewels the moment we booked the trip, so that was first in line, and of course there was a line. Mom and Mark got in line for the jewels and the rest of us went to see the torture room.
- Tip: Watch one of the reenactments they do. There are a lot of actors walking around in period clothing who interact with the guests!
After seeing the Crown Jewels we walked over to the Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge is the one you typically see in pictures of London; it’s a drawbridge you can walk across that also has a bridge you can walk through in the top! We had our advance tickets and there was no wait at all! It was a very interesting walk, you learned the history of the bridge and there were glass floors where you could take pictures and see the river below you. We walked through pretty quickly because everyone was getting hungry at this point. I had chosen a food market to eat at, that we just couldn’t seem to find. The entire family was starving and angry with me at this point because I passed up a tourist food market to go to the Borough Market, an authentic London food market.
- Tip: Feed your family throughout the day so they don’t hate you!
After the market we split up; Mack and I went by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and everyone else went on to dinner. I thought The Globe was closed for the night, but when we got there they had one more tour! As we walked through this (new) building that held so much history for the theatre world I felt such a sense of pride in studying this art. We left the tour group a little early to head back and meet my family at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This pub is historic, it was there before the Great Fire, and was rebuilt directly after it. It has known quite a few monarchs and has been a second home and writing spot for many great authors. There are quite a few floors and you have to go up to the bar to order your food and drinks. The food and atmosphere were wonderful and we met lots of nice locals and tourists.
When you think of Paris you don’t typically think of getting up at 3am to catch a train to the city, but that’s exactly what we did. We had to be at the Eurostar at 5:45am to catch our 7 o’clock train into Paris. When we got there we tried to find an Uber, but traffic was insane around the station so we waked a few blocks before catching one over to Notre Dame, our first stop of the day. Notre Dame was the place I was most excited for, I couldn’t wait to get up to the top and see the famous gargoyles and views of the city. The inside of the cathedral is free, do a quick walk through to see the beautiful stain glass windows and sing God Help the Outcasts to yourself while pretending to be Esmeralda. To go to the top, you must pay an entrance fee, and you need to be in good health; there are 387 narrow steps to the top! We waited about an hour and a half, but it was so worth it in my opinion. The views were a bit foggy when we went, so we couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower, but the gargoyles were amazing, and the bell was beautiful. I sang Out There and pretended to be Quasimodo stuck in the tower much to the annoyance of those around me!
We left Notre Dame and went straight to the Louvre.
- Tip: Try not to use the main entrance! The line is atrocious! There is a “hidden” entrance I can tell you about if you ask, but to keep it a secret and keep the lines short I wont blab it everywhere! As an example though, the main entrance line was probably two hours long; the line we waited in was about 45 minutes.
We didn’t have very much time to enjoy the museum and I want to spend two days in there (it’s big enough you could do that), so I will have to go back one day. We ran straight to the Mona Lisa, stopping a couple times to see beautiful paintings on the way. The crowd was atrocious and I don’t recommend going just to see the Mona Lisa. Of the paintings we saw my favorite was Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix. We walked past it on our way out and I was mesmerized, it was much more beautiful in person than a textbook.
The Eiffel Tower. It was amazing. It was cold. It was wet. It was so foggy you couldn’t see anything from the top. But it was worth the waiting in line. There are three levels you can visit, mom only went to the first two but the rest of us went all the way up. The experience was great, but it is another item on my do again list because of the fog, and I would like to go up during the day. We left the Tower and caught an Uber back to the train station, where we had McDonalds for dinner, and slept the whole ride home.
Our last day in London consisted of throwing most of my plans out the window and doing the small things we didn’t do on our first day. Our first stop was breakfast at Hubbard and Bell where I had a Full English breakfast, consisting of eggs, black pudding, sausage, beans, and toast. Once we were satisfied and full we made our way to Abbey Road where we, along with a few other tourists, proceeded to try and get run over by the angry locals trying to get to work. It was a blast and I highly recommend going to take a picture and people watch, even if you’re not a Beatles fan. After getting our coveted Abbey Road photo-op we made our way to Hyde Park to find the famous Peter Pan statue. River adores Peter Pan so she was bouncing up and down with excitement. Along the way we fed the birds and came across many dogs, much to my delight! We also walked past Kensington Palace the official London residence of Prince William and Kate! Once we left Hyde Park we hopped on the underground over to Earls Court Station so I could get a picture with the TARDIS.
Since it was New Years Eve I had bought us tickets to go watch the fireworks from underneath Big Ben. We had to pick up our tickets day of, so we rode over to Trafalgar Square! The line to pick up the tickets was about 45 minutes and once we got them we had a couple hours to spare before we needed to get to our viewing location. We went back to the same bar we had a drink at on our second night, and got a table to eat. The food and desert were delicious as were the drinks that the bartender made me specially. Once it was time to leave we used the restroom and headed out into the crowds of people heading to the river. Once we got into the viewing area we found the perfect spot to sit and watch with Big Ben in one direction and the London Eye in the other direction.
- Tip: If you are in London on New Years, watch the fireworks!
Since we were leaving early the next morning we went back to our flat and packed everything up that night. I begged to stay and would go back in a heartbeat. London really is the perfect place to go on your first overseas trip. Let me know if you have any tips or tricks for exploring London in the comments!!