The first time I was in London was years ago. In high school, I had to opportunity to visit England and France with my school chums and we were able to visit some world-class sites, while also wasting entire afternoons sitting at fountains in Piccadilly Circus and getting petted by strange men in the courtyard of the Louvre. Ah, to be young! Since then, one of my biggest regrets was not seeing some of the more famous sites in London that were not on our official tours. We were teenagers- getting ice cream and sitting on benches while talking seemed like way better uses of time than actually visiting places like the Tower of London. And maybe it was back then, who knows? But I did know that on this trip, I needed to rectify that a bit and at least visit the Tower since that was the one place that I could always remember was somewhere we should have chosen to see, but didn’t, on our trip.
So Friday morning after breakfast at the hotel, we headed across the river Thames to see the Tower of London, home to kings, queens, and traitors to the crown for centuries. Seeing the buildings was very interesting and I absolutely recommend doing one of the Yeoman Warder’s tours while there. The Beefeaters offer free tours of the Tower complex throughout the day with each tour lasting an hour or so and offering a brief history on the tower in a very humorous fashion. I did think that some of the exhibits lacked a little luster, but seeing the buildings and climbing the walls and towers was pretty interesting. The Tower also holds the crown jewels for the British monarchy where you can visit the coronation regalia used whenever a new king or queen ascends the throne.
I think since I had built up the Tower in my mind for so many years I was slightly disappointed in what we saw. But that’s ok. Not every site can be a Sistine Chapel, right?
After visiting the Tower, we headed right over to Tower Bridge where you can go to the top (via elevator) walkway and walk across the bridge. Unfortunately, it’s not open air, so you are peering through windows as you view the exhibit on the bridge at the top, but it’s still a nice view down both sides of the river. Visiting the Bridge also gets you into the mechanical rooms that show the steam machinery that is/was used to raise and lower the bridge. That was really the Husband’s thing more than me, but I always enjoy a good view regardless.
Having visited the iconic bridge, we headed north in the city towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the world witnessed the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana many years ago. We grabbed a bite to eat at a cafe near the cathedral and then headed in to visit. The audio guide for the church, like many in Great Britain, was wonderful. Unfortunately, unlike the churches in Italy and Ireland, many of the churches we visited in England did not allow photographs inside. So no great shots of the interior. The church was interesting to see, but I’ll admit since it’s fairly new (built in the latter half of the 17th century), it doesn’t hold my interest as much as a good medieval cathedral!
The Husband did climb to the top of the dome while there and took a few photos of the London skyline from the top of the iconic cathedral.
After our visit to St. Paul’s, we headed over to the British Museum to take in some of the world’s best (stolen) treasures like the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, the Lindow Man, and plenty of good stuff from former colonies. The museum has a great collection of Egyptian and Assyrian art and antiquities as well as a substantial collection of Far Eastern religious artwork. I’m sure I could have spent days at the British Museum in awe of all the works, but it was very crowded and it had been a long day, so we settled for a good two hours of hitting the highlights.
After the museum, we grabbed a bite to eat from a pub on the way back to the hotel before finding a small gelato shop nearby. It wasn’t as good as Italy, but I couldn’t complain! After that sweet treat, it was back to the hotel to get ready for another day of exploring on Saturday!