We finished our two week visit in London and while it is not the way we normally travel we did learn a lot and had a great overview of the city. First up is a very quick snapshot of some of the places we visited in the second week and then some overall thoughts on our London experience.
We took a couple days off in between sightseeing to recharge and rest our feet, but we did go to visit Emirates Stadium (home of Arsenal Football Club), the Globe Theatre, Windsor Castle, Harrod’s of London, the British Museum and we walked the Millennium Bridge.
We loved the tour of Emirates Stadium and had a lot of fun walking around behind the scenes in the Director’s Club, the media areas, the team lockers, the tunnel and Anne even got to sit in the manager’s seat. Cool!
Windsor Castle was overwhelming, both the structure itself as well as the remarkable collection of art, furniture, weaponry and other artifacts on display. Windsor was a quaint and interesting town but the overall touristy theme complete with high end boutiques, souvenir shops and McDonald’s didn’t work that well for us. We did enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch by the Thames which was great.
The British Museum surpassed our expectations. Our downfall was spending over two hours in the first exhibit. It was massive and incredible. The Egyptian Afterlife exhibit also captivated us but it was very busy and there were far too many people crammed into the gallery. We were there on a weekend so perhaps a weekday would be better. We will definitely need to return!
One of the things we wanted to do while in London was to see a West End show. Our London Passes offered good discounts on some of the longer running productions, so we chose to see Stomp at the Ambassadors Theatre. It was a very entertaining and lively production and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
We had purchased two 10 day London Passes before leaving. We knew that we wanted to take this opportunity to see as much of the city and its attractions as we could and this seemed like a good way to do it. They are not cheap but you do have the opportunity for considerable savings.
The biggest drawback we found was that they need to be used on consecutive days. Once they are activated the clock starts ticking. Ideally we would liked to have had 6 or 7 days to use throughout our two week stay. In the end we did save approximately $100 CAD but in fact we found that we were going too much and would have preferred to take things at our normal pace. So yes, a good choice for first time visitors but once is enough.
You absolutely need an Oyster card for getting around the city. You can buy one online ahead of time or at thousands of kiosks and shops around the city for just £5 . We found getting around London to be quite efficient, but it was very crowded, hot and stuffy at times on the Tube. We used the buses a lot and found them excellent – it just takes a little longer but you get to see parts of the city you wouldn’t see using the Tube. The biggest challenge we found with buses was finding the stop going in our direction, particularly on busy or one way streets. All the routes are online so we would map out how to get where we were going ahead of time. It was always an adventure!
Big surprise! There are a lot of people in London. Even though you think you are prepared for the press of people, the sheer numbers can at times be overwhelming. The combination of Londoners and tourists at rush hour, at the markets, on the Tube or jostling to the stations and the tourist attractions requires patience, perseverance and a little bit of passive aggression at times.
It is certainly easy to try and do too much. We probably did and felt like we needed some down time in between. Most days our feet and legs were sore at the end of the day – but no blisters!
The cultural diversity of London is amazing and it is reflected as you walk the streets and hear the myriad of languages commonly used, peruse the shops and smell the aromas coming from the markets, restaurants and food stalls which can be found in many areas. The diversity of activities is just as broad and you could spend weeks and never repeat the same experience.
We loved the parks and green spaces that can be found in almost any area. Not being used to city living, we found ourselves drawn to the greenery, the bird life, the relative quiet and just the general respite from the bedlam and tourists. St. James’s Park in particular was very welcoming even though it is a stones throw from Buckingham Palace. With the pelicans swimming past and small flocks of parakeets overhead (yes parakeets) we almost felt we were in Costa Rica again – not!
We did miss the friendly good mornings and even smiles while we were in London. For the most part if you meet someone on the street and say good morning or hello you will get blank or even hostile looks thrown back at you. On a more positive note all of the staff we interacted with at the Tube stations, tourist attractions and most of the shopkeepers were very cheerful and helpful.
Overall this was a wonderful experience and we don’t regret anything. We could have chosen a 6 day London Pass instead of the 10 day as our bodies were tired after about 6 hours of walking and exploring. We really enjoyed Leicester Square and Soho and would have liked to explore longer and see more shows. We were totally pleased with our Airbnb apartment and as always we love the freedom and the feeling of having a “home” that an apartment brings when we are in a place for an extended period of time. The next time we return to London we will feel more at ease and will start to delve a little bit deeper into its many charms.