The Lowdown on London

We have arrived! And in doing so, we took on the most stressful part of our entire trip, maneuvering the crowded tube with 30 pound bags. After switching lines, carrying the bags up flights of stairs and breaking a sweat, we finally made it to our hostel. We chose to stay at St. Christopher's Inn Hostel near Borough Market and London Bridge since it was in a great location next to a Tube stop and was rather affordable. Four other people were our room and we shared three bathrooms with others on our floor. Even though the rooms were stuffy and our room was right above a bar, it was a great value for our location in London, since hotels would have cost two or three times as much.

After settling in, we walked around the surrounding area and saw Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, St Paul's and a few other monuments - all in walking distance from our hostel. We settled for dinner at The George Inn, which was a lively find. It is the last remaining galleried Coaching Inn in London and was referenced by Charles Dickens in the Little Dorrit. It had a great outdoor patio full of Londoners enjoying a pint.

The first full day in London had an early wake-up call. So early that we were waiting at the Tube before it even opened (7:00am on a Sunday). We headed to the southwest neighborhood of Wimbledon, as it was the last day of the 2015 Wimbledon Tennis Championships.

While outrageous priced tickets for the final match were sold out, the Wimbledon grounds are open to commoners through a process known as The Queue. Each day of the tournament, people can wait in a winding line called The Queue for their chance to enter the Wimbledon grounds to see matches on the smaller courts or watch the main match on Henman Hill. The early days of the tournament are best, as you have a better chance of seeing a well-known players on a small court.

We arrived to The Queue around 8:00am and the line started moving around 10:00am. About 5,000 tickets were to be given out that day and Kent and I received spots in the mid 2,000s. Once the line started moving, it went quickly, we were able to purchase tickets for 8£ and then made our way through to the Wimbledon grounds.

Henman Hill
Others brought wine and food to picnic on Henman Hill while we just wanted to explore the grounds and try some famous strawberries and cream. Since we only had three short days in London, I did not want to make Wimbledon an all day event, so once we got a look into the main stadium and Kent was satisfied, we made our way back into London to Hyde Park. (We could've stayed all day and watched the final match from Henman Hill at 2:00pm, but we did not stick around for that).
Hyde Park and Kensington Palace
We made our way to Speaker's Corner in Hyde park where we heard radicals make compelling speeches on their different religious beliefs. We then found some seats in Hyde Park, relaxed and enjoyed a picnic of salami sandwiches, strawberries, chips and wine that we got at a nearby grocery store. We picnicked a lot on this trip due to the high prices of restaurant food and because picnics allow you to enjoy the scenery.

Gardens in Hyde Park

Kensington Palace
Before visiting London, I read through Rick Steve's 2015 London guide book and picked out a few typical tourist locations I wanted to visit. One of those was Kensington Palace, where Prince William and Kate reside in an apartment. While the grandeur of visiting a palace where current royalty live captivated me, the over-priced, subpar museum on the inside was rather disappointing. I recommend saving the 16£ and enjoying Hyde Park instead.

After out first full day in London, we were rather exhausted, but that did not stop us. We grabbed some food at the pub below our hostel and then went on to see the typical London attractions: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.

Big Ben

Buckingham Palace

St. Pauls
Our second full day in London began exploring St. Paul's Cathedral. To go inside, we had to pay the 18£ entry fee, which included entrance to the church, dome, crypt and an audioguide.

View inside the church from the dome

I have been in a variety of churches, specifically in Europe, and it always amazes me how unique they all are. This cathedral, different from the other ones I had been in, was Anglican. Construction of the original Old St. Paul's began in 1087, but was ruined by the Great Fire of London of 1666. Sir Christopher Wren, a well-known architect who is responsible for many buildings in London, took on the reconstruction that began in 1675 and was completed in 1708.

The high altar

The St. Paul's we see today had additional renovation work done to it after the Blitz, an intense strategic bombing period of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany. The church survived the bombing but suffered some damage to the high altar and the north transept.

Touring the cathedral took more than two hours, as we listened to the descriptive audio guide, ascended the dome for a great view of London and ventured beneath the church to see those buried in the crypt, like Horatio Nelson.

Many important events, such as Winston Churchill's funeral, Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding and Queen Victoria's Jubilee celebration took place in this church.

It is definitely worth a visit and was a great look into the history and elegance of London.

Tower of London
After a quick picnic consisting of salami and cheese sandwiches (our typical on-the-go food selection), we ventured to the Tower of London, which dates back to 1066. This tourist trap was another one I had read a lot about in Rick Steve's and was told to go here by many friends.

While the 24.5£ entrance fee was a little expensive, there was a lot to see on the inside of the Tower. We saw the infamous crown Jewels, such as The Coronation Spoon and the Sovereign's Scepter, which houses the world's largest colorless cut diamond.

Our Beefeater guide
Free, entertaining tours are also given by the boisterous Yeoman Warders, better known as Beefeaters. While the tour last 60 minutes, and runs rather long, it is the only way to access the Church of St Peter and Vincula where Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey are buried. Outside of the church in the courtyard is the execution site where Anne Boleyn and many others were killed by Henry VIII.

I definitely recommend visiting the Tower, however this site can be a day in itself. Visiting both St. Peter's and the Tower in one day was extremely tiring and overwhelming. I recommend splitting the big sites up among multiple days so you can appreciate each site and see other gems of London.

Even though we were exhausted from visiting two important attractions, Kent and I forged on and went to Teapod for some cream tea. We then ventured to Shoreditch, a "hipster" neighborhood Kent wanted to visit. We found a unique outdoor area surrounded by six different restaurant shacks and enjoyed some pulled-pork sliders. Shortly after, we left Shoreditch for a picnic by Tower Bridge where we people watched and drank Fosters beer.
Picnic by Tower Bridge

Westminster Abbey
We spent our final day in London doing other touristy things, resulting in another exhausting day. We headed to Westminster Abbey early in the morning to beat some of the crowds. With our 20£ ticket and audioguide in hand, Kent and I maneuvered through the busy church, following the crowd.

Unlike the Victorian-style St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster is a Gothic abbey that has numerous war memorials and statues.

A church has been located on this site since the 7th century, however the present church began construction in 1245.

The church has hosted many weddings, coronations and is the resting place for many famous kings, war heroes and scientists. The present-day Queen Elizabeth II's 1953 coronation and Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding took place in Westminster Abbey near the tombs of scientists, Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton, and poets, Geoffrey Chaucer and Lewis Carroll. Royal tombs from Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Edward I and Edward the Confessor along with many others also rest here.

The British Museum
Once we wrapped up our tour of Westminster Abbey, we headed over to the free British Museum and had lackluster fish and chips at the Museum Tavern, across the street from the museum. We went into the museum with our main purpose of seeing the Rosetta Stone and the frieze from the Parthenon in Athens.

While we did see all of those things, there were so many treasures, statues, vases, jewelry and thousands of other relics that it was almost unethical to breeze through the museum. It was overwhelming, however, and we were rather tired, so we took about an hour to soak up some of these amazing historical artifacts before we headed on to Greenwich.

I wanted to get out of the city and experience a suburb of London so we headed to Greenwich via the DLR.

We went to the store to purchase our usual salami, cheese and bread and found a bench along the riverfront near the Old Royal Naval College. This calm atmosphere was a great way to spend our last night in London. It was away from the hustle and bustle, but still along the river with the city in the distance.

After our picnicked we got a pint at Meantime Brewery located on the college's campus. After a few pints, we hitched a ride on the water taxi and headed back to our hostel to end the night.

The following morning we got a hearty, English breakfast at a quaint shop in Borough Market before we packed our bags and headed to the train station.

1. The Tube: Use the Tube. Period. Kent and I each got an Oyster card, which we loaded with 20£. Getting a prepaid card allowed us to simply swipe it each time we entered the Tube stations and each time we left, rather than purchasing single tickets each day. It was a 5£ deposit for the card and 20£ lasted us for most our 3.5 days in London.
2. Picnic: While the pub is a unique English experience, picnics are ways to enjoy area parks, people watch and save some money.
3.Hostels:  If you are young and just looking to save some money, hostels are the way to go in London. They are affordable and in great locations.
4. Tourist Attractions: See the famous, expensive sites, but don't overdo it. Take time to enjoy the small neighborhoods to get away from the big city feel.
5. Someone I know who spent a semester in London sent over some advice, but I did not see the email until after we left. Here are some of her recommendations:
a. Have a picnic on Primrose Hill at sunset if possible.
b. Eating and shopping at Borough Market.
c. Visit the neighborhood of Nottinghill
d. A lot of people also recommended Churchill War Rooms museum, which Kent and I did not make it to.
e. Poppies in the Shoreditch neighborhood has the best fish n' chips in all of London.

Other Pictures:
On Henman Hill at Wimbledon

Gate at Kensington Palace where people placed flowers after Princess Diana's death

Statue of Winston Churchill - people say he requested for his statue to not accumulate pigeon poo, so rumor has it that the statue has an electric current running through it to ward off the birds.

Heading up to the dome at St. Peter's

Guards at the Tower of London


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