September 2017 brought my eighth trip over to England, this time with my husband and our close friends. We went specifically to visit with the Haigh’s of Fox Hill B&B and introduce Bruce, who’s hadn’t been to London before.
Time always seems to go so fast, on top of which I got a cold and had to sit out a couple of days. The rest of the group carried on while I was well taken care of by Sue, who served me soup and “Aunt Nora’s tea”. An English custom, weak tea with no milk or sugar, specifically for when one is under the weather. It was warm and comforting and much appreciated while I was recuperating!
We visited some places that I had been and a few that I hadn’t had the chance to see before. I’ve been to London in September, but this time it seemed more crowded than ever. Buying the London Pass helped, you can bypass the lines in many places. If you get the pass be sure to pay the extra and include an Oyster card, it’s a great value and you get around much quicker. With the pass you get a one day, hop on and off bus pass, a perfect way to get an overview of the city, especially if you haven’t been before. We decided to take the six day pass, even though we were in London for ten days. You have to think about it in advance, the first time you use it starts the clock for however many days you purchased. The first day you get there is typically shot. By the time you arrive, go through customs, wait for luggage, travel to your hotel, etc., there isn’t a lot of time left in the day to go exploring. Better to shower, relax and have a revitalizing meal, fish and chips perhaps. Don’t forget the traditional mushy peas!
The pass is good for over 80 of the top attractions and has the Fast Track entry to some of the most popular sites. Of course I can’t list them all here, but the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court and Westminster Abbey to name a few. Check it out at https://www.londonpass.com/. The cost at this writing is approximately £184.00, but check the site often because they are always having sales. You can usually save 20%, which brings the price down to £163.15, including the travel pass which is an Oyster card worth £40 of travel. We used most of it, going all over the city. I had about £12 left because of my cold, but the others used up pretty much all of it with out having to pay any more for day travel passes! I’m not meaning to advertise for London Pass, but you do save some serious money by getting this and not buying each entry separate.
One of the places I hadn’t had the chance to go before were the Churchill War Rooms. This is a fascinating museum! If you love history, and are interested in WW2, you will love this. Just the story of them turning out the lights and locking it up when the war ended, not to be opened up again until the 1980s, was enough to peak my interest. It’s laid out in a nice flow. You can peek into the underground rooms where these men and women worked day and night, throughout the war, then move on to amazing photo timelines, film clips that you’ve never seen before and Churchill’s personal items. Plan to spend at least two or three hours here.
I also wanted to share some of my favorite, iconic sites such as St. Pauls Cathedral, Hampton Court and Westminster Abbey. All are worth seeing, all were very crowded. I think the next time, I will take a few minutes to check out the least busy times. Each of these wonderful historic locations are worth visiting. I like to do some preliminary research, just to get the basic history before I go.
Hampton Court: Building was started in 1515 by Cardinal Wolsey, one of Henry VIII’s favorites. When he fell out of favor with the King, Wolsey gave it to him as a gift, hoping to save himself from Henry’s wrath. The architecture is Gothic inspired Tudor, built of brick in amazing design and decoration, massive, with beautiful grounds. It’s easy to imagine the King and Anne Boleyn walking the Privy Garden. The ceiling alone in the chapel is worth making the trip, but seriously, this is a stunning palace and only one of the two remaining that belonged to Henry the VIII. The tour here is interesting in that you will learn the everyday life of running this palace for hoards of people. Hampton Court has it’s own train station and is just a short walk away. There is much to see inside and out, with a couple of good cafes and some interest for children as well. Check the calendar because often there are special events and re-enactments that you can watch or participate in.
St. Paul’s Cathedral: There has been a church on this site since AD 604! The present cathedral, dated from the late 17th century, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Its construction was part of rebuilding the City after the Great Fire. It is one of those buildings in England that you can only marvel at. As with most of the attractions in London, you receive an audio guide, giving you history and interesting tidbits. My favorite story about St. Paul’s is how the fire brigade posted itself near the roof, ready to put out sparks from the blitz. The selfless dedication to save one of London’s landmarks is inspiring. St. Paul’s was hit by a bomb in WW2. It survived because the bomb exploded in midair and thankfully missed anything crucial.
Westminster Abbey: I had been lucky enough to visit Westminster Abbey when the Haigh’s took my cousin Marcie and me to a Christmas choir concert here. It is ancient and beautiful with so much history, and pageantry. Construction of the present church began in 1245, on the orders of Henry the VIII. It is still a working church and indeed our friends children attended pre-school here, which to this American, seems very strange. You imagine kings and queens of old, and yet, most of modern day pageantry takes place at this site. The Queen’s own wedding , the famous wedding of Charles and Diana, and William and Kate. All but one coronation since 1066 has taken place in the Abbey. Only Henry III in 1216 was left out, because the French Prince, Louis had taken temporary control of London. The tombs and headstones of the Abbey read like a who’s who of British history. With the audio guides you get selected stories of the politics, rivalry, bravery and love lives of some of these famous English men and women.
While I was laid up, the rest of the group hit a couple of not to miss places that I have been to more than once. They spent some hours at the British Museum and the Tower of London. Both are worth visiting and both are included on the London Pass. Although the British Museum is technically one of the many free museums in London, there is a fee for some of the exhibits.
Some of the other places we hit I’ve written about previously. The Imperial War Museum, walking around Buckingham Palace and Green Park, the City of Westminster, the bus tour, lunches at pubs, etc. Always so much to do in London!
Check out my next post, coming soon: Just London-Part 2. I will share the best cupcake place I’ve ever been, off the beaten path shopping, family dinners, more food and fun.