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Things to do in London (long!)

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We were fortunate to get to spend 9 days in London before our cruise from Southampton last month, and 2 days after in Grantchester, near Cambridge. So, this is a very long list of what we did, with some tips.

 

Our Itinerary

Day .5 - travel day

Day 1 - arrived in London around 5:30am, rode the tube/walked to a bunch of places we just wanted to see from the outside in an effort to stay awake

Day 2 - Breakfast at Duck & Waffle, Tower of London

Day 3 - Kensington Palace, Hyde Park/Serpentine Gallery/Christo sculpture, shopping, Clarence House

Day 4 - Westminster Abbey, Lego Store, river bus ride to Tower Bridge

Day 5 - Highclere Castle (the real Downton Abbey)

Day 6 - Harrods, Harry Potter & the Cursed Child Parts I & II

Day 7 - Hampton Court Palace

Day 8 - Victoria & Albert Museum, afternoon tea on a bus, London Eye

Day 9 - Queen's Gallery, Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, Evensong at Westminster Abbey

 

Flights

We flew on Norwegian Airlines in their Premium Class. It was more expensive than some coach tickets on other airlines, but not nearly as expensive as higher classes. They fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which DH was really excited about because he is a huge aviation geek. The seats were roomy. They don't fully recline, but there is a lot of leg room and there is a footrest. There is a personal entertainment screen for each seat. On our outbound flight they did not offer free headphones, but they did on the way back. My mom also flew Norwegian, but from NYC and she said the offered them on her outbound flight. I don't know if we would have gotten them if we'd asked, but DH and I had our own so we did not worry about it. You also get a nice blanket (but you don't get to keep it). The food was ok. On the outbound flight I had chicken with some sort of starch (they said it was rice but it definitely wasn't; it might have been sweet potatoes). The 2nd meal was a salad with chicken on both flights; it was a little weird on the outbound flight because it was morning, but then again it was 10pm back home. The salad on the 2nd flight was the best one; it had caesar dressing and they also gave us spreadable cheese and a warm roll. They officially have a weight limit for your carry ons, but our bags were not weighed on either leg. Randomly a friend of DH's was on our flight home and one of their carry-ons did get weighed. It was a camera case, so I don't know if it just looked heavy or what. I think it was over and they did get charged. Our checked bags on the way there were a little overweight, but not a full kilogram so they did not charge us. The nice thing about Norwegian is that they charge for overweight bags one kilo at a time, so it's not like you're paying $50 for being 1kg over like on US airlines.

 

Hotel

We stayed at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Vanderbilt (https://www.radissonblu-edwardian.com/london-hotel-gb-sw7-5bt/gbvander) in South Kensington. It was a great location, just a couple of blocks from a tube stop (although one of the original tube stops so it doesn't have full elevator access - more on that later). There were several pubs and fast casual restaurants nearby. Apparently there was also a street nearby with more upscale restaurants but we did not venture there. The hotel breakfast was included in our room rate. It was amazing. It was a buffet, but there were so many choices. My favorite was that they had the cutest little wooden boxes you could pick up that had a croissant and a small pain au chocolat in them. We also ate two dinners at the restaurant and they were both amazing. The hotel is "English quirky". It's a row of townhouses that the Vanderbilt family owned and converted into one home. It's a bit of a maze to get around. Some people in our group said their rooms were really small (my mom's was). DH and I had a double room on the front of the hotel. It had amazing high ceilings and a sofa in the bay window, but not a lot of storage. There was a wardrobe but no dresser. My sister, BIL, and niece ended up with the nicest rooms (they had two different ones because they left and went to Paris for two days in the middle of the trip) because they had a double bed plus a sleeper sofa. The bathrooms are small but nicely appointed. You can't plug in anything but a shaver in the bathroom, so you can't dry your hair in there. Weirdly, my mom's room did not have a mirror outside the bathroom, though.

 

Sightseeing

Ahead of time we bought a Visitor Oyster card from the TfL website. We also bought the Historic Royal Palaces Membership - it covered three places we were going: Kensington Palace, Tower of London & Hampton Court Palace; it also covers Kew Palace, the Banqueting House, and Hillsborough Castle. I did the math and the cost for a 2-person membership was less than the cost of admission for 2 to the places we knew we were going. Plus we got a discount in the shops and restaurants (which I forgot to use at KP). We also booked Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, and the London Eye, and of course bought our tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

 

Day 1 walking/tube tour

Our main purpose this day was to stay awake to fight the jet lag. but, we knew we didn't want to do anything like a museum we'd have to concentrate on. We stopped by the school where I did my study abroad, which was very close to the hotel. One of the staff was walking in when we were taking pictures, and she asked if I was an alum and if we wanted to come in, so we did and I got to show DH a bit of it and find myself in my classes' picture. They we took the tube to Baker St. to see 221 B Baker St. We looked around the shop but did not tour the museum (there was a pretty long line, besides the fact that we didn't really want to do any museums). DH noticed a sign for the Lord's Cricket Ground and decided he wanted to see that, so we walked there. It looked closed, but we saw a sign that said the shop was open, so we asked at the gate and we were able to go in. Next we walked through Regents Park to the Marlybone neighborhood. I looked quickly in Marlybone Parish Church, but people were arriving for a funeral so I did not stay long. A friend had recommended Daunt Books, so we went there, and also to a cute shop called Cath Kidson. A few days before we left, I saw a woman on the street here with a great backpack that had a toile print of London landmarks. I was able to see the label on it, so I didn't have to accost her to ask where she got it and that's how I discovered Cath Kidson.

 

After that, we took the tube to King's Cross. We did not get our photo taken at Platform 8 3/4 - there was a huge line and you can't take your own photo, you have to buy theirs. We didn't go in the shop either because of the line.

 

Then we took the overground railway (included on they Oyster Card) to the Olympic Park. DH wanted to see the velodrome from the Olympic cycling events. It was actually a beautiful facility, and they had some activities going on so we were able to go inside. We had planned to walk over to the Olympic Stadium, but we were tired so we just found our way to the Tube station and headed to Old Spitafields Market. Our main purpose was that DH wanted to go the Rapha (cycling clothing) store. I had wanted to explore more of the market but we were so tired by this time that we just headed back to the hotel.

 

Leadenhall Market

This was the filming location for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies. It was on our way from breakfast at Duck & Waffle to the Tower of London, so we walked through. None of the shops were open (at like 11:30am on a Saturday) so we did not get to explore, but it was pretty to walk through. It's not worth a special trip, though, IMO.

 

St. Dunsden in the East Church

This church was bombed in the Blitz during WWII and was not rebuilt. There is now a garden in the ruins. It's a beautiful spot and was also on the way from Duck & Waffle to the Tower. I really enjoyed this stop and I would say if you are going to Duck & Waffle, the Sky Garden or the Tower it is worth tacking on some time to go see it.

 

Tower of London

Our Historic Royal Palaces covered our admission here, so we skipped the line to buy tickets (which wasn't actually that long; we got there about noon), but then we still had to wait in the line to go in. We started out by walking along the ramparts. Each tower is set up with a different exhibit. One of them had a really long line, and we didn't really know what we were waiting for, but once we got in, we were glad we had waited. It was an exhibit of the crown frames of former monarchs (from which jewels had been removed to make new crowns). There was also a display about the Cullinen diamond and how they cut it after it's discovery. Throughout the Tower there are cool sculptures of wild animals, like elephants and monkeys because apparently people used to give lots of animals to the monarch because what else do you get the person who has everything, and these animals were kept at the Tower. After we finished going around the ramparts, I was headed to the restroom when I saw that the line for the Crown Jewels was really long, so I texted DH to get in it. We were told the wait was 1 hour 10 minutes, but it seemed more like about 45 in the end. Supposedly the line is shorter earlier in the day so it's better to go there first. The Jewels are, of course, amazing, but I don't like how the majority of them are set up with a moving sidewalk to go past them. They are not really labeled and you can't spend much time looking at them. I wanted more time and more info! (Of course I understand that they do this to keep people moving and I realized later that there is also a platform with informational signs that overlooks the cases, so you can walk back to that after you get off the moving part. After the Jewels we went through the Fusiller's Museum (a military museum), but we skipped the White Tower because I did not think I could handle the steps. After a stop in the gift shop, we took the Thames River Bus back to Westminster to get to our hotel. There are multiple water transport options, but only one takes the Oyster Card. Transferring to the Tube is easy; the entrance to the tube station is right next to where you exit the dock.

 

Kensington Palace

We went here on our 2nd full day, which was a Sunday. It was very close to our hotel, but we took a black cab because we wanted to minimize our walking and DH had also never taken one. We got there right before it opened and since we had our Historic Royal Palaces card, we did not have to wait in the ticket-purchase line. There were no more than 15 people in front of us. We made a beeline for the Diana: Her Fashion Story exhibit and there was almost no one else there. They change out the dresses every so often, but I got to see the dress she wore to the White House when she danced with John Travolta and her outfit from when she toured the land mines. It was a great exhibit. The rest of KP is really interesting, too, especially the exhibit about Queen Victoria. We might have skipped it entirely if it had not been for the Diana exhibit, but I am glad we went. It only took us about 2 hours to go through the whole thing since it wasn't very crowded. (Their site says 2-4 hours.) We saw the sunken garden that was Diana's favorite and where Harry & Meghan had their engagement announcement photo call. You cannot go into the garden, you can just look in to it from various points around the outside.

 

Hyde Park

This is the park that adjoins Kensington Palace. There is a Diana Memorial Playground, but it's completely surrounded by trees and you can't go inside unless you have a kiddo with you. The playground is right by KP, and then there are markers in the path to show the way to the Diana Memorial Fountain, which is next to the lake. I was a bit underwhelmed by it, but it was nice to see. On the way to the fountain and lake we stopped in the Serpentine Gallery. The artist Christo has an installation in the lake this summer and the gallery had an exhibit about it. (The gallery is also famously the location where Diana wore her "revenge dress" to an event the night Charles gave his interview where he admitted his affair with Camilla). I love seeing the installation. I have been a fan of Christo and Jeanne-Claude for a long time, but I never thought I would see one of the installations in person. I didn't find out about it until just a week or so before our trip and I'm glad I did!

 

Oxford Street

After Hyde Park, we walked along Oxford St and went in Marks & Spencer and Selfridges. The Selfridges food hall has a Krispy Kreme stall where they have donuts that are exclusive to that location. We had one each and split a third. We walked around the store some; they have a small exhibit about the history of the store. We were huge fans of the show Mr. Selfridge so this was a must-visit for us.

 

Clarence House

This is the London home of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla. It's only open during the month of August, so I wanted to see it. The tour is about 45 minutes. We'd ordered our tickets in advance, but they did not come before we left. It wasn't a problem, though, they were able to find our booking and print new tickets for us. I enjoyed seeing it, and our guide was good. We had the last entrance time of the day, but we were early so they put us in with the prior group. I wonder if we would have gotten a private tour if we had not changed; we didn't see anyone come in after us. You can't take pictures inside or out, so we bought the guidebook.

 

Westminster Abbey

We pre-booked this online for 9:30am, which is the earliest time. The day we went, we had to be back to the hotel by noon to meet up with my sister and her family who were arriving, so that's why the early start. We got there right at 9:30. There was a short line for security, and we could see ahead a long line to get in. But, right after security, if you have the pre-booked online tickets, you go right in the door. I know that having a set time to do things is not for everyone, but it was totally worth it here. By the time we came out, the line for walkup tickets was even longer. The only way to skip the line is to buy your tickets online directly from Westminster Abbey. Things like the London Pass, while they include the admission, do not allow you to skip the line. You also save £2 per ticket buying online. We also reserved tickets to the new Queen's Jubilee Gallery for 10:45. We could have used 15 more minutes to spend more time in Poet's Corner, which is the last part of the Abbey tour and right where you go up to the gallery. The gallery is amazing! It has exhibits about building the Abbey, and the connection to royalty. Plus, it's up in top of the Abbey, 65 meters above the ground, so the views down in to the church as well as the outside views are amazing. It was well worth the extra £5. You can look down in to the area that has Saint Edward the Confessor's tomb, which you cannot got in on the regular tour. You do get to go in on the verger tour, but we did not have time for that. I also heard an announcement that they offer a short prayer service in there. I don't know how often that do that throughout the day. I'd say they were doing it around noon; I never noticed it actually start.

 

On a different day, I went back with my aunt for the Evensong service. The service is at 5:00 and we got there about 4:15. There was already a line, but it wasn't too long. I really didn't have a sense of how many people they let in, but it seems like they have room for a lot of people. Even though we were not that far back, we were too far back to be seated in the quire, which would have been cool. It was a guest choir to sing the service because the Abbey school is out for the summer. I don't know if there is room for guests to sit in the quire when the full choir is singing. It was a beautiful service.

 

Lego Store

This stop was mainly for my niece, but the adults enjoyed it, too. Luckily when we got there, there was not much of a line to get in. It was still chaotic inside. I'd wanted to do the "build your own mini figures" thing and bring some home for our nephew, but DH did not have the patience. We ended up buying him the store's exclusive mini figure, named Leicester in honor of the store's location on Leicester Square and a small set to build a London bus which is either exclusive to that store, or to the UK, but in any case isn't available in the US. We bought the same two things for our niece; we had said she could spend £15 pounds there as her birthday present, since her b'day was a few days before the trip.

 

Highclere Castle

Highclere, if you don't know, is where they film Downton Abbey. This is one of our favorite shows so it was the first thing on my list when we planned our trip. It's about 1.5 hours outside London. We had a private coach for transportation. It's not easy to get there on your own without a car, so I'd recommend booking something through a tour operator. There was no line when we got there, about 1:00, so we went straight in to the house. The rooms are smaller than they appear on TV (DH kept trying to figure out how the set up certain shots to make it seem bigger). Most of the bedrooms don't have the same furniture that you see on the show, but the library in particular did. After we finished touring the house, we went out to eat. The food was pretty good and I thought fairly reasonable given that you're a captive audience. After we ate, we went back in to see the Egyptian exhibit. One of the Earls of Carnarvon worked with Howard Carter when he discovered King Tut's tomb. The exhibit was interesting, but it was also hot and crowded. It's an extra charge, which we opted to include when we booked our group ticket, but I'm not sure it was worth it. We visited the shop (of course) and then we explored the gardens. DH, BIL, and I, walked up to the temple folly. There is another one on the grounds that is used in the show, but it was a 2-mile round-trip walk and we were concerned about the time, plus my knee was not feeling great, so we just relaxed at a little refreshment area they had set up next to the car park. We started talking to a staff member who turned out to be the actual head butler for the house as well as two of the assistant butlers. The house closes at 5pm and the grounds at 6. We had planned to leave at 6, because I didn't want to be rushed (I have a not-so-fond memory of rushing through Blenheim Palace and barely seeing the gardens so I did not want that to happen). However, since there were no lines to get in the house, or anything else, we could have easily planned to leave at 5. Luckily it was a gorgeous day so it was nice to sit outside and have a drink, but it would have been horrible if it was rainy.

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I & II

The play is in two parts. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, you see both parts in the same day, Part I as a matinee and Part II in the evening. Or, you do back-to-back nights on Thursday (Part I) and Friday (Part II). The Thursday/Friday option wasn't available the week we were there (later we found out it was because they were doing sensory-sensitive performances those nights), so we opted for the Wednesday. The show is amazing. You definitely have to know Harry Potter to get it, so I wouldn't suggest it if you are not a fan of the books and/or movies. Their theme is #keepthesecrets so I won't say much about the plot or the staging, except that it's magical. If you can get tickets for this, do. We got up at 3am our time on the day tickets for the dates we wanted were being released and had 4 computers "in line" to get the tickets, but it was worth every minute of that and every penny we spent. We were in the first row of the Grand Circle (the first balcony) and we knew when we bought the tickets the seats had restricted leg room. It was definitely restricted. I'm only 5' 5" and my knees were touching the wall in front of us. But, they were the first seats together we saw when we were booking, so we grabbed them. Another time, I'd take a minute to see if there was something else available, but I wouldn't let it make me miss a show I really wanted to see.

 

Hampton Court Palace

The amount of history here is amazing and almost overwhelming. We spent about 1/2 a day exploring and I'd say we saw 1/2 the castle and 1/3 of the gardens. Part of the gardens was closed because they were setting up for a food festival the next day. We went through the parts about Henry VII and about William and Mary. Every room was amazing. My favorite thing was the special kitchen just for preparing chocolate! The gardens are gorgeous. They have the oldest living grapevine. It's 250 years old and has its own special greenhouse!

 

Victoria & Albert Museum

This place is simply amazing. We only had a few hours and barely scratched the surface. Their jewelry exhibit is awesome. We also went through the Britain section and a little of the silver section on the way between them. It would take weeks to see the whole thing. Admission to the museum is free, so even if you only have short time, it's worth it to go in and see a bit of it.

 

Royal Day Out - Buckingham Palace, The Queen's Gallery, and the Royal Mews

This was another bucket list item for me, and we were fortunate that the trip coincided with the Palace being open for the summer. With the combined "Royal Day Out" ticket you get admission to all three places. This also includes audio guides for all three. You start with the Queen's Gallery. We had the first admission time, and there was not much of a line when we went in (or when we were coming out). The exhibitions change. Next we went to the Royal Mews, which is where they keep the carriages they use for state occasions and stable some of the royal horses. I wished we'd had a bit more time here. There is not a specific admission time, so you can do this stop after you do the palace, so if you are really interested in it, I'd suggest doing that. I'd have taken a bit more time in the Gallery, then walked around to the front of the Palace to see the iconic view of the gates and balcony, plus the Victoria Memorial, before getting in line for the Palace admission time. We got in line at about 12:05 for a 12:15 entry time. The line is crowded, but once you are through it does not seem that bad, which is amazing considering we overheard someone say that there are 300 tickets per entry time, and the entry times are every 15 minutes! They also put on a different special exhibition in the Palace every year.

 

We finished in the Palace about 2:00 and then we ate lunch in the tea room the have set up in the garden. Like Highclere, it was good food and not terribly expensive. We visited the gift shop and then you walk through a bit of the gardens on the way out. Since we had not already been around to the front we walked around there (it's probably a 10-15 minute walk from where you come out) to see that.

 

Stonehenge

We went to Stonehenge on the way to Southampton for the cruise. It's not really on the way, map-wise, but since it's not the easiest place to get to otherwise, and we had coach transportation, we did it. It was pouring rain and chilly, but we persevered and went out to the stones. It was so cool to see them. So many people say you can't get close, which is true in that you are not right next to them, but you're maybe 20 yards away (I am terrible at estimating distance). Anyway, I felt quite close. I read a lot of places before going that 2 hours is more than enough time there, but I disagree. We had time to take the shuttle out to the stones, walk around them, spend a few minutes in the museum, and grab a snack. There is an audio guide that we didn't even pick up because we already had tickets and so we went straight to the line for the shuttle to the stones instead of going to in the visitors center first. We would not have taken the time to listen to the audio guide given the weather, but we would not have had time anyway. I'd say this is at least a 3-4 hour visit if you want to take any time to really soak in the area.

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Restaurants

I'm just going to mention the restaurants that were notable or near other sites. We ate at a bunch of places near our hotel, so if anyone is staying near Gloucester Road tube, let me know and I'm happy to talk about where we ate there!

 

Duck & Waffle - https://duckandwaffle.com/

This is located in the Bishopsgate building. It's billed as "the highest 27/7 restaurant in London". A college friend went there last year with her family and after seeing her pictures, I just had to go. It's relatively near the Tower of London, so we went for breakfast the day we went there. We had a 10am reservation and they told us in advance they would need to turn the table by 11 (which is when they start brunch service). They seated us a little late and we did ask if that would affect our timing and they said we'd be fine to stay a little longer. But, I don't think we needed to. I was mainly in it for the actual duck and waffle (similar to chicken & waffles, but with duck, obviously), so since that's on the menu all day, I picked breakfast to allow us to get to the Tower of London earlier. The food was amazing. We had an "appetizer" of homemade bread, toasted, with strawberry jam, orange marmalade & homemade Nutella. I had the duck and waffle as mentioned and DH had the smoked salmon waffle. The portions are not huge. The waffle part is 1/2 of a round, Belgian waffle. DH was still a little hungry after his so he ordered a side of bacon. I was actually satisfied without being overly full. We both had fresh-squeezed juice. I had a latte and DH had an espresso. The coffee they use is excellent. The views from the restaurant are amazing.

 

Belgo Centraal - http://www.belgo.com/bars-restaurants/centraal/

This was also recommended by friends. We ate here the day we saw Harry Potter, so we didn't have much time. It's in the 7 Dials area, which is convenient to several theatres. The area itself seemed cool and I wished we'd had more time to look around. We were 20 minutes early for our 5:30 reservation, but they weren't busy so they seated us. I had a chicken burger & frites and DH had fish & frites. Both dishes were excellent. I wish we'd had time for an appetizer so we could have tried some mussels. I don't know if I like them enough to have them as an entree, but I'd have liked to have a few. I had a strawberry beer that was on tap and I forget what DH had. Since we were short on time, we didn't taste more beers, but if we'd had time, we would have enjoyed that. We shared an amazing waffle with chocolate ice cream, salted caramel sauce, and crushed specaloos for dessert. I would absolutely go here again!

 

Monmouth Coffee - https://www.monmouthcoffee.co.uk/

One of their locations is near Belgo, so we stopped in for a cup to go on our way back to the theatre. Great coffee and very friendly staff. There is a small seating area, and they had a few sweet and savory food items. Definitely worth stopping in if you are near a location (the other one is in Borough Market).

 

B's Bakery Bus - https://b-bakery.com/

This bakery has a very unique afternoon tea - it's served on a restored double-decker bus as you are driven around London. My cousins did it last year on their first day in the city and they raved about it. We did it later in the trip, so we didn't see anything new, but the food was amazing and so it was still a great experience. If you want to do a tea, but with a twist, I highly recommend it.

 

Pret a Manger

Pret has prepared sandwiches and salads, as well as coffee and desserts. I fondly remembered them from my study abroad time, although they no longer have my beloved chocolate cake. They are all over the city, and there was one right by our hotel, so we got a quick lunch there one day, and take away for dinner another when we just needed a fast bite back at the hotel.

 

Nando's

Nando's is known for their peri-peri chicken. We used to live in Washington, DC, and we had it there, but we don't have it where we live now, so I was happy there was one close to the hotel. It's as good as I remember. They're also all over the city. One thing to know is they will send you to a table if you are eating in, but you have to go back to the counter to order.

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Post-Cruise Stay in Grantchester (Cambridge)

We are huge fans of the TV show Grantchester, which takes place and is filmed in an actual village outside Cambridge. Online I found the Blue Ball Inn (https://www.blueballgrantchester.co.uk), which is a pub with three rooms above it that they run as a B&B. We loved our stay here! The room was a good size and there is a communal sitting room as well. We were the only people staying, so we had it to ourselves. They give you a key to the back door of the pub so you can come and go when it's closed. It was a little strange going around in the dark to get back in and slightly creepy to think we were the only people in there, but it seemed very British!

 

We rented a car in Southampton and drove there when we got off the ship. We spent a little time walking around the village and went in to the church. The show, if you don't know, is about a vicar who befriends a local policeman and they solve mysteries. So, the church is an important place. I walked around inside and had hoped to see more of the churchyard the next day. The author Jeffry Archer also lives in the village in the "Old Vicarage" and so we saw that. There is a cricket ground, and there was a match going on, so we watched a bit, which thrilled DH. Then we went back to the pub and spent about an hour just sitting outside reading. We did not realize it until it was too late, but they stop serving food at 4pm on Sundays. We ended up talking to some people at the table next to us and they recommended Mill Works in Cambridge (http://www.themillworks.co.uk/). We got there on the early side, so we were able to get a table without a reservation. This was another amazing meal! After we ate, we walked around Cambridge a bit and then met up with a friend of DH's who lives in the area for a bit before driving back to the pub.

 

The next day, we were talking to the owner of the pub as he served our breakfast (which was great - they put out yogurt, cereals, and fruit and then made us a hot breakfast. I had an egg, smoked salmon, and toast and DH had eggs, bacon, and toast) and we asked if they were finished filming the show for the season. He told us they were filming that day, and they should be either in the meadow or at the church. He suggested we walk through the meadow (which also happens to be where Pink Floyd hung out and wrote many of their songs) to see if they were there, and then over to the church. The meadow was beautiful - you can actually walk in to Cambridge through it; it's about a mile and is very popular, we just were not up for that much walking the previous day. They were not filming there, but we did find them at the church. We actually watched for over an hour. It was kind of fun to see. They were just filming small snippets outside, but we saw Robson Green (Geordie), Tessa Peake-Jones (Mrs. MacGuire) and Tom Brittany (the new vicar, Rev. Will Davenport). Tom Brittany is not quite as hot as James Norton, but he'll do. :D

 

We then headed back to the car (we'd taken our things out of the room after breakfast) and drove to Gatwick. At Gatwick we stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott, chosen because that's where we collect points. It was nothing special, but nice enough and had decent desserts in the restaurant (we didn't eat dinner there, but the pub we did eat at is not worth reviewing - it was The Healthy Farm, which is a Greene King pub, and we had eaten at another of their pubs in London and liked it, but this one was not as good). There were a couple of issues with our room - we were supposed to have a king and we had two doubles, but we decided not to ask to change because we'd already brought up all our stuff and we needed to get out of the parking lot in under 30 minutes in order not to pay since we were returning the car. When we got back and started working on re-packing our bags, we realized one of the beds was super squeaky, but we decided not to say anything and just sleep in the other. However, after we'd re-packed and gone down to the bar for dessert, we laid down on the other bed and realized it was super hard. At that point, we decided to complain. They did move us, and to a king room, so they made it right. They also offered us free breakfast but we didn't take advantage because we didn't have time.

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Wow, thanks for taking the time to share such detail! We are planning a trip for October of 2019, but I love to start looking at options early. I enjoyed a couple of days in London, a few years ago on a work trip but my husband has never been. We will be on the Inaugural NCL Encore sailing Nov 2019, out of Southampton. We plan to arrive a week or so early to London.This was very helpful! Glad you had a good time~

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This is a very detailed and wonderful review! We are heading to London for a week in June. Thank you!

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A quick info for our American readers - in the UK it is illegal to have high powered electrics in the bathroom, because of the risk of electrocution. Even light switches have to be string-pull or else outside the bathroom door.

 

But yes, I took a lot more out of your review than that! Maybe take in a performance at the Globe next time?

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Thanks for posting. We were there for just five nights earlier this month and did totally different things--but just as fabulous. It's hard to go wrong in London--other than by not planning.

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A quick info for our American readers - in the UK it is illegal to have high powered electrics in the bathroom, because of the risk of electrocution. Even light switches have to be string-pull or else outside the bathroom door.

 

But yes, I took a lot more out of your review than that! Maybe take in a performance at the Globe next time?

 

 

I vaguely remember that about the outlets from my study abroad days. The funny thing is that after 3 weeks total with the bathroom light outside the bathroom, between our U.K. hotels and the ship, it took me a day or two to stop trying to turn on the light before going it to our bathroom at home!

 

The Globe was something we were interested in but just could not fit it. I’ve toured it before but did not get to see a show. We used to live in Oregon, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival also had a replica of the Globe, but it is not the same as being in the original location! Hopefully we will go to London again and it will make the cut!

 

Thanks for posting. We were there for just five nights earlier this month and did totally different things--but just as fabulous. It's hard to go wrong in London--other than by not planning.

 

 

Very true! There are so many things to see! We already have a list going for our next trip because it seemed everywhere we went someone told us about something else great.

 

 

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Thank you so much for your review.    I am so disappointed we will not be there when Buckingham is open.

great info

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17 hours ago, monkeyinhat said:

I am so disappointed we will not be there when Buckingham is open.

 

Buckingham is always open.

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On 9/16/2018 at 11:52 AM, cft8 said:

Stonehenge

We went to Stonehenge on the way to Southampton for the cruise. It's not really on the way, map-wise, but since it's not the easiest place to get to otherwise, and we had coach transportation, we did it. It was pouring rain and chilly, but we persevered and went out to the stones. It was so cool to see them. So many people say you can't get close, which is true in that you are not right next to them, but you're maybe 20 yards away (I am terrible at estimating distance). Anyway, I felt quite close. I read a lot of places before going that 2 hours is more than enough time there, but I disagree. We had time to take the shuttle out to the stones, walk around them, spend a few minutes in the museum, and grab a snack. There is an audio guide that we didn't even pick up because we already had tickets and so we went straight to the line for the shuttle to the stones instead of going to in the visitors center first. We would not have taken the time to listen to the audio guide given the weather, but we would not have had time anyway. I'd say this is at least a 3-4 hour visit if you want to take any time to really soak in the area.

 

We are sailing out of Southampton next month and would also like to visit Stonehenge on our way. Would you mind sharing what tour company/coach transportation you used? Thank you!

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5 minutes ago, cyncyn129 said:

 

We are sailing out of Southampton next month and would also like to visit Stonehenge on our way. Would you mind sharing what tour company/coach transportation you used? Thank you!

We had a group of ~60 people so we hired our own coach. It wasn't a public tour or anything, but if I remember right I saw options on Viatour and London Toolkit for similar transfers. Here's one: https://www.londontoolkit.com/travel/southampton-from-london-via-stonehenge.html

 

Of course I can't vouch for the service. 

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On 4/25/2019 at 3:12 PM, cyncyn129 said:

 

We are sailing out of Southampton next month and would also like to visit Stonehenge on our way. Would you mind sharing what tour company/coach transportation you used? Thank you!

We are doing this for our September cruise

https://www.internationalfriends.co.uk/london-heathrow-to-southampton-via-stonehenge.html

 

It's the same one as mentioned above from the London Toolkit site. They will pick you up from your hotel or airport on the way. They also handle your luggage at the end and get it to the porters. Prices are a little high, but we have such a short amount of time to see the sites we decided to splurge.

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Thank you so much for the vast reviews and recommendations cft8! I enjoyed reading about some of my favorite places in London and some I've still not yet been to; indeed you can have so much time, or a lifetime, in cities like this and yearn to see or try to see so much but it's just not possible.

 

But...your itinerary was outstanding and included a nice mixture of modern and historical attractions both in and outside of London so it's a great add-on to any British Isles cruise vacation and....kudos to you as well for managing a 60 person holiday. Well done, indeed. 

 

I'm glad you went to Evensong. I attended a service at York Minster, more or less by happenstance and it was an incredible experience....you don't have to be religious to like this sort of thing really. In these incredible structures and in a certain context it can be observed in a way that can be incredibly powerful and moving as with a great theatrical performance. I hope that doesn't sound wrong since it's not how I mean it. 

 

Anyway, you provided great details and information which will be very helpful to many cruisers planning pre/post cruise visits in London and elsewhere in the country. 

 

Oh, and regarding Highclere/Downton, they only shot exterior mostly there, very little was filmed inside actually because your DH was correct, it never would have fit with cameras, lighting and actors spaced out across the rooms. They reproduced the various rooms on sets in studios...not sure which one, Pinewood perhaps, in London as it's one of the bigger studios in the UK. I have friends that lived just nearby Highclere in a village called Tadley and prior to the start of Downton one could visit the castle anytime, the roads were open, not congested etc. That is no longer the case!

 

Your Grantchester accommodations sounded idyllic for a low key regular English country stay. 

 

And here's a plug for visiting anywhere during low season: when I was at Tower of London in January, I did arrive early - I think maybe I was there when it opened, but didn't go directly to the jewels, I took the fascinating tour. Once that ended we could wander and so I went to the jewel sanctuary then. Pretty much had it to myself. So I basically just went around in circles on the people movers getting every view and angle at every single item in the cases. I'm quite certain the guards thought I was daft but I didn't care. The Cullinan diamond in the scepter is beyond belief as are the State Crown and every other item in there. So....if you're into that sort of thing, plan accordingly 😉

 

Great report, thank you very much! Glad it was a great trip.

 

Oh and yeah....the plugs. Basically I think most hotels, especially older ones, have had too many guests blow out their electrical so, nothing but shavers. Just means bad hair on holiday. Sometimes I splurge for a shampoo/blowdry when I'm away, helps make me feel like a local and look less....uh....regal? Ha!

 

 

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23 minutes ago, Host Bonjour said:

 

 

Oh, and regarding Highclere/Downton, they only shot exterior mostly there, very little was filmed inside actually because your DH was correct, it never would have fit with cameras, lighting and actors spaced out across the rooms. They reproduced the various rooms on sets in studios...not sure which one, Pinewood perhaps, in London as it's one of the bigger studios in the UK. I have friends that lived just nearby Highclere in a village called Tadley and prior to the start of Downton one could visit the castle anytime, the roads were open, not congested etc. That is no longer the case!

 

 

Glad you enjoyed the review! Most of the interiors for Downton were actually shot at Highclere for the family living spaces. Only the "downstairs" areas - kitchens, etc. were at a studio because those parts of Highclere were too modernized. (The servants bedrooms might have been in a studio, too, I can't recall and that part of the house is not open to the public.) Many of the bedrooms have different furniture in the show, but they were shot in the house.

 

I originally wrote the review originally for a different group I'm in, and those people know that my DH is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. People on this board don't have the background to know that by that comment I meant that he was actually trying to figure out the angle at which he would shoot, or the type of lens he would use, in order to make the room appear bigger on camera. I probably should have given a bit more context or taken that comment out of this review! 🙂

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On 4/19/2019 at 7:28 AM, Globaliser said:

 

Buckingham is always open. 

Do you mean you can tour the inside of Bukingham palace.   all months of the year?

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1 hour ago, monkeyinhat said:

Do you mean you can tour the inside of Bukingham palace.   all months of the year?

Sorry this is incorrect.

This year is open from late July till end of September only, also you will need to book in advance, rarely tickets on the day.

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Posted (edited)

I think Globaliser was referring to Buckingham the town always being open.

Our North American cousins like to shorten names as in Buckingham Palace as Buckingham. Or referring to street names or stations as only first part of the name. Eg

Edgware Road as Edgware.  Hence Buckingham is always open🙂

It was Globaliser’s humour.🤔

Edited by turnip eater

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7 hours ago, monkeyinhat said:

Do you mean you can tour the inside of Bukingham palace.   all months of the year?

 

If you'd clicked the link, all would have been clear.

 

I'm frequently reminded (because I often travel past it) of the day that a friend nearly missed a dinner in his honour. We were in a restaurant in Royal Mint Street. He does the North American thing of thinking of it as "Royal Mint". He was in a different place altogether and puzzled as to why he couldn't find the restaurant.

 

The one I like best in that area of town is Cannon Street Road. If you shorten it to "Cannon", you'll be two (conceptual) steps away from where you need to be. If you shorten it to "Cannon Street", you'll be two miles away, literally.

 

Over on the other side of town, in W2, there's "Hyde Park". Which could be any of:-

  • Hyde Park Crescent
  • Hyde Park Gardens Mews
  • Hyde Park Gardens
  • Hyde Park Place
  • Hyde Park Square Mews
  • Hyde Park Square
  • Hyde Park Street
  • Hyde Park

All these streets are within a few hundred yards of each other. But there are other streets named "Hyde Park something" elsewhere in London too.

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On 4/28/2019 at 10:48 PM, Host Bonjour said:

Thank you so much for the vast reviews and recommendations cft8! I enjoyed reading about some of my favorite places in London and some I've still not yet been to; indeed you can have so much time, or a lifetime, in cities like this and yearn to see or try to see so much but it's just not possible.

 

But...your itinerary was outstanding and included a nice mixture of modern and historical attractions both in and outside of London so it's a great add-on to any British Isles cruise vacation and....kudos to you as well for managing a 60 person holiday. Well done, indeed. 

 

I'm glad you went to Evensong. I attended a service at York Minster, more or less by happenstance and it was an incredible experience....you don't have to be religious to like this sort of thing really. In these incredible structures and in a certain context it can be observed in a way that can be incredibly powerful and moving as with a great theatrical performance. I hope that doesn't sound wrong since it's not how I mean it. 

 

Anyway, you provided great details and information which will be very helpful to many cruisers planning pre/post cruise visits in London and elsewhere in the country. 

 

Oh, and regarding Highclere/Downton, they only shot exterior mostly there, very little was filmed inside actually because your DH was correct, it never would have fit with cameras, lighting and actors spaced out across the rooms. They reproduced the various rooms on sets in studios...not sure which one, Pinewood perhaps, in London as it's one of the bigger studios in the UK. I have friends that lived just nearby Highclere in a village called Tadley and prior to the start of Downton one could visit the castle anytime, the roads were open, not congested etc. That is no longer the case!

 

Your Grantchester accommodations sounded idyllic for a low key regular English country stay. 

 

And here's a plug for visiting anywhere during low season: when I was at Tower of London in January, I did arrive early - I think maybe I was there when it opened, but didn't go directly to the jewels, I took the fascinating tour. Once that ended we could wander and so I went to the jewel sanctuary then. Pretty much had it to myself. So I basically just went around in circles on the people movers getting every view and angle at every single item in the cases. I'm quite certain the guards thought I was daft but I didn't care. The Cullinan diamond in the scepter is beyond belief as are the State Crown and every other item in there. So....if you're into that sort of thing, plan accordingly 😉

 

Great report, thank you very much! Glad it was a great trip.

 

Oh and yeah....the plugs. Basically I think most hotels, especially older ones, have had too many guests blow out their electrical so, nothing but shavers. Just means bad hair on holiday. Sometimes I splurge for a shampoo/blowdry when I'm away, helps make me feel like a local and look less....uh....regal? Ha!

 

 

I think it's against regulations to have electrical sockets in bathrooms in the UK except for shaving points.  You'll not find electrical sockets in bathrooms in houses.

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On 9/16/2018 at 4:52 PM, cft8 said:

We were fortunate to get to spend 9 days in London before our cruise from Southampton last month, and 2 days after in Grantchester, near Cambridge. So, this is a very long list of what we did, with some tips.

 

Our Itinerary

Day .5 - travel day

Day 1 - arrived in London around 5:30am, rode the tube/walked to a bunch of places we just wanted to see from the outside in an effort to stay awake

Day 2 - Breakfast at Duck & Waffle, Tower of London

Day 3 - Kensington Palace, Hyde Park/Serpentine Gallery/Christo sculpture, shopping, Clarence House

Day 4 - Westminster Abbey, Lego Store, river bus ride to Tower Bridge

Day 5 - Highclere Castle (the real Downton Abbey)

Day 6 - Harrods, Harry Potter & the Cursed Child Parts I & II

Day 7 - Hampton Court Palace

Day 8 - Victoria & Albert Museum, afternoon tea on a bus, London Eye

Day 9 - Queen's Gallery, Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, Evensong at Westminster Abbey

 

Flights

We flew on Norwegian Airlines in their Premium Class. It was more expensive than some coach tickets on other airlines, but not nearly as expensive as higher classes. They fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which DH was really excited about because he is a huge aviation geek. The seats were roomy. They don't fully recline, but there is a lot of leg room and there is a footrest. There is a personal entertainment screen for each seat. On our outbound flight they did not offer free headphones, but they did on the way back. My mom also flew Norwegian, but from NYC and she said the offered them on her outbound flight. I don't know if we would have gotten them if we'd asked, but DH and I had our own so we did not worry about it. You also get a nice blanket (but you don't get to keep it). The food was ok. On the outbound flight I had chicken with some sort of starch (they said it was rice but it definitely wasn't; it might have been sweet potatoes). The 2nd meal was a salad with chicken on both flights; it was a little weird on the outbound flight because it was morning, but then again it was 10pm back home. The salad on the 2nd flight was the best one; it had caesar dressing and they also gave us spreadable cheese and a warm roll. They officially have a weight limit for your carry ons, but our bags were not weighed on either leg. Randomly a friend of DH's was on our flight home and one of their carry-ons did get weighed. It was a camera case, so I don't know if it just looked heavy or what. I think it was over and they did get charged. Our checked bags on the way there were a little overweight, but not a full kilogram so they did not charge us. The nice thing about Norwegian is that they charge for overweight bags one kilo at a time, so it's not like you're paying $50 for being 1kg over like on US airlines.

 

Hotel

We stayed at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Vanderbilt (https://www.radissonblu-edwardian.com/london-hotel-gb-sw7-5bt/gbvander) in South Kensington. It was a great location, just a couple of blocks from a tube stop (although one of the original tube stops so it doesn't have full elevator access - more on that later). There were several pubs and fast casual restaurants nearby. Apparently there was also a street nearby with more upscale restaurants but we did not venture there. The hotel breakfast was included in our room rate. It was amazing. It was a buffet, but there were so many choices. My favorite was that they had the cutest little wooden boxes you could pick up that had a croissant and a small pain au chocolat in them. We also ate two dinners at the restaurant and they were both amazing. The hotel is "English quirky". It's a row of townhouses that the Vanderbilt family owned and converted into one home. It's a bit of a maze to get around. Some people in our group said their rooms were really small (my mom's was). DH and I had a double room on the front of the hotel. It had amazing high ceilings and a sofa in the bay window, but not a lot of storage. There was a wardrobe but no dresser. My sister, BIL, and niece ended up with the nicest rooms (they had two different ones because they left and went to Paris for two days in the middle of the trip) because they had a double bed plus a sleeper sofa. The bathrooms are small but nicely appointed. You can't plug in anything but a shaver in the bathroom, so you can't dry your hair in there. Weirdly, my mom's room did not have a mirror outside the bathroom, though.

 

Sightseeing

Ahead of time we bought a Visitor Oyster card from the TfL website. We also bought the Historic Royal Palaces Membership - it covered three places we were going: Kensington Palace, Tower of London & Hampton Court Palace; it also covers Kew Palace, the Banqueting House, and Hillsborough Castle. I did the math and the cost for a 2-person membership was less than the cost of admission for 2 to the places we knew we were going. Plus we got a discount in the shops and restaurants (which I forgot to use at KP). We also booked Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, and the London Eye, and of course bought our tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

 

Day 1 walking/tube tour

Our main purpose this day was to stay awake to fight the jet lag. but, we knew we didn't want to do anything like a museum we'd have to concentrate on. We stopped by the school where I did my study abroad, which was very close to the hotel. One of the staff was walking in when we were taking pictures, and she asked if I was an alum and if we wanted to come in, so we did and I got to show DH a bit of it and find myself in my classes' picture. They we took the tube to Baker St. to see 221 B Baker St. We looked around the shop but did not tour the museum (there was a pretty long line, besides the fact that we didn't really want to do any museums). DH noticed a sign for the Lord's Cricket Ground and decided he wanted to see that, so we walked there. It looked closed, but we saw a sign that said the shop was open, so we asked at the gate and we were able to go in. Next we walked through Regents Park to the Marlybone neighborhood. I looked quickly in Marlybone Parish Church, but people were arriving for a funeral so I did not stay long. A friend had recommended Daunt Books, so we went there, and also to a cute shop called Cath Kidson. A few days before we left, I saw a woman on the street here with a great backpack that had a toile print of London landmarks. I was able to see the label on it, so I didn't have to accost her to ask where she got it and that's how I discovered Cath Kidson.

 

After that, we took the tube to King's Cross. We did not get our photo taken at Platform 8 3/4 - there was a huge line and you can't take your own photo, you have to buy theirs. We didn't go in the shop either because of the line.

 

Then we took the overground railway (included on they Oyster Card) to the Olympic Park. DH wanted to see the velodrome from the Olympic cycling events. It was actually a beautiful facility, and they had some activities going on so we were able to go inside. We had planned to walk over to the Olympic Stadium, but we were tired so we just found our way to the Tube station and headed to Old Spitafields Market. Our main purpose was that DH wanted to go the Rapha (cycling clothing) store. I had wanted to explore more of the market but we were so tired by this time that we just headed back to the hotel.

 

Leadenhall Market

This was the filming location for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies. It was on our way from breakfast at Duck & Waffle to the Tower of London, so we walked through. None of the shops were open (at like 11:30am on a Saturday) so we did not get to explore, but it was pretty to walk through. It's not worth a special trip, though, IMO.

 

St. Dunsden in the East Church

This church was bombed in the Blitz during WWII and was not rebuilt. There is now a garden in the ruins. It's a beautiful spot and was also on the way from Duck & Waffle to the Tower. I really enjoyed this stop and I would say if you are going to Duck & Waffle, the Sky Garden or the Tower it is worth tacking on some time to go see it.

 

Tower of London

Our Historic Royal Palaces covered our admission here, so we skipped the line to buy tickets (which wasn't actually that long; we got there about noon), but then we still had to wait in the line to go in. We started out by walking along the ramparts. Each tower is set up with a different exhibit. One of them had a really long line, and we didn't really know what we were waiting for, but once we got in, we were glad we had waited. It was an exhibit of the crown frames of former monarchs (from which jewels had been removed to make new crowns). There was also a display about the Cullinen diamond and how they cut it after it's discovery. Throughout the Tower there are cool sculptures of wild animals, like elephants and monkeys because apparently people used to give lots of animals to the monarch because what else do you get the person who has everything, and these animals were kept at the Tower. After we finished going around the ramparts, I was headed to the restroom when I saw that the line for the Crown Jewels was really long, so I texted DH to get in it. We were told the wait was 1 hour 10 minutes, but it seemed more like about 45 in the end. Supposedly the line is shorter earlier in the day so it's better to go there first. The Jewels are, of course, amazing, but I don't like how the majority of them are set up with a moving sidewalk to go past them. They are not really labeled and you can't spend much time looking at them. I wanted more time and more info! (Of course I understand that they do this to keep people moving and I realized later that there is also a platform with informational signs that overlooks the cases, so you can walk back to that after you get off the moving part. After the Jewels we went through the Fusiller's Museum (a military museum), but we skipped the White Tower because I did not think I could handle the steps. After a stop in the gift shop, we took the Thames River Bus back to Westminster to get to our hotel. There are multiple water transport options, but only one takes the Oyster Card. Transferring to the Tube is easy; the entrance to the tube station is right next to where you exit the dock.

 

Kensington Palace

We went here on our 2nd full day, which was a Sunday. It was very close to our hotel, but we took a black cab because we wanted to minimize our walking and DH had also never taken one. We got there right before it opened and since we had our Historic Royal Palaces card, we did not have to wait in the ticket-purchase line. There were no more than 15 people in front of us. We made a beeline for the Diana: Her Fashion Story exhibit and there was almost no one else there. They change out the dresses every so often, but I got to see the dress she wore to the White House when she danced with John Travolta and her outfit from when she toured the land mines. It was a great exhibit. The rest of KP is really interesting, too, especially the exhibit about Queen Victoria. We might have skipped it entirely if it had not been for the Diana exhibit, but I am glad we went. It only took us about 2 hours to go through the whole thing since it wasn't very crowded. (Their site says 2-4 hours.) We saw the sunken garden that was Diana's favorite and where Harry & Meghan had their engagement announcement photo call. You cannot go into the garden, you can just look in to it from various points around the outside.

 

Hyde Park

This is the park that adjoins Kensington Palace. There is a Diana Memorial Playground, but it's completely surrounded by trees and you can't go inside unless you have a kiddo with you. The playground is right by KP, and then there are markers in the path to show the way to the Diana Memorial Fountain, which is next to the lake. I was a bit underwhelmed by it, but it was nice to see. On the way to the fountain and lake we stopped in the Serpentine Gallery. The artist Christo has an installation in the lake this summer and the gallery had an exhibit about it. (The gallery is also famously the location where Diana wore her "revenge dress" to an event the night Charles gave his interview where he admitted his affair with Camilla). I love seeing the installation. I have been a fan of Christo and Jeanne-Claude for a long time, but I never thought I would see one of the installations in person. I didn't find out about it until just a week or so before our trip and I'm glad I did!

 

Oxford Street

After Hyde Park, we walked along Oxford St and went in Marks & Spencer and Selfridges. The Selfridges food hall has a Krispy Kreme stall where they have donuts that are exclusive to that location. We had one each and split a third. We walked around the store some; they have a small exhibit about the history of the store. We were huge fans of the show Mr. Selfridge so this was a must-visit for us.

 

Clarence House

This is the London home of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla. It's only open during the month of August, so I wanted to see it. The tour is about 45 minutes. We'd ordered our tickets in advance, but they did not come before we left. It wasn't a problem, though, they were able to find our booking and print new tickets for us. I enjoyed seeing it, and our guide was good. We had the last entrance time of the day, but we were early so they put us in with the prior group. I wonder if we would have gotten a private tour if we had not changed; we didn't see anyone come in after us. You can't take pictures inside or out, so we bought the guidebook.

 

Westminster Abbey

We pre-booked this online for 9:30am, which is the earliest time. The day we went, we had to be back to the hotel by noon to meet up with my sister and her family who were arriving, so that's why the early start. We got there right at 9:30. There was a short line for security, and we could see ahead a long line to get in. But, right after security, if you have the pre-booked online tickets, you go right in the door. I know that having a set time to do things is not for everyone, but it was totally worth it here. By the time we came out, the line for walkup tickets was even longer. The only way to skip the line is to buy your tickets online directly from Westminster Abbey. Things like the London Pass, while they include the admission, do not allow you to skip the line. You also save £2 per ticket buying online. We also reserved tickets to the new Queen's Jubilee Gallery for 10:45. We could have used 15 more minutes to spend more time in Poet's Corner, which is the last part of the Abbey tour and right where you go up to the gallery. The gallery is amazing! It has exhibits about building the Abbey, and the connection to royalty. Plus, it's up in top of the Abbey, 65 meters above the ground, so the views down in to the church as well as the outside views are amazing. It was well worth the extra £5. You can look down in to the area that has Saint Edward the Confessor's tomb, which you cannot got in on the regular tour. You do get to go in on the verger tour, but we did not have time for that. I also heard an announcement that they offer a short prayer service in there. I don't know how often that do that throughout the day. I'd say they were doing it around noon; I never noticed it actually start.

 

On a different day, I went back with my aunt for the Evensong service. The service is at 5:00 and we got there about 4:15. There was already a line, but it wasn't too long. I really didn't have a sense of how many people they let in, but it seems like they have room for a lot of people. Even though we were not that far back, we were too far back to be seated in the quire, which would have been cool. It was a guest choir to sing the service because the Abbey school is out for the summer. I don't know if there is room for guests to sit in the quire when the full choir is singing. It was a beautiful service.

 

Lego Store

This stop was mainly for my niece, but the adults enjoyed it, too. Luckily when we got there, there was not much of a line to get in. It was still chaotic inside. I'd wanted to do the "build your own mini figures" thing and bring some home for our nephew, but DH did not have the patience. We ended up buying him the store's exclusive mini figure, named Leicester in honor of the store's location on Leicester Square and a small set to build a London bus which is either exclusive to that store, or to the UK, but in any case isn't available in the US. We bought the same two things for our niece; we had said she could spend £15 pounds there as her birthday present, since her b'day was a few days before the trip.

 

Highclere Castle

Highclere, if you don't know, is where they film Downton Abbey. This is one of our favorite shows so it was the first thing on my list when we planned our trip. It's about 1.5 hours outside London. We had a private coach for transportation. It's not easy to get there on your own without a car, so I'd recommend booking something through a tour operator. There was no line when we got there, about 1:00, so we went straight in to the house. The rooms are smaller than they appear on TV (DH kept trying to figure out how the set up certain shots to make it seem bigger). Most of the bedrooms don't have the same furniture that you see on the show, but the library in particular did. After we finished touring the house, we went out to eat. The food was pretty good and I thought fairly reasonable given that you're a captive audience. After we ate, we went back in to see the Egyptian exhibit. One of the Earls of Carnarvon worked with Howard Carter when he discovered King Tut's tomb. The exhibit was interesting, but it was also hot and crowded. It's an extra charge, which we opted to include when we booked our group ticket, but I'm not sure it was worth it. We visited the shop (of course) and then we explored the gardens. DH, BIL, and I, walked up to the temple folly. There is another one on the grounds that is used in the show, but it was a 2-mile round-trip walk and we were concerned about the time, plus my knee was not feeling great, so we just relaxed at a little refreshment area they had set up next to the car park. We started talking to a staff member who turned out to be the actual head butler for the house as well as two of the assistant butlers. The house closes at 5pm and the grounds at 6. We had planned to leave at 6, because I didn't want to be rushed (I have a not-so-fond memory of rushing through Blenheim Palace and barely seeing the gardens so I did not want that to happen). However, since there were no lines to get in the house, or anything else, we could have easily planned to leave at 5. Luckily it was a gorgeous day so it was nice to sit outside and have a drink, but it would have been horrible if it was rainy.

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I & II

The play is in two parts. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, you see both parts in the same day, Part I as a matinee and Part II in the evening. Or, you do back-to-back nights on Thursday (Part I) and Friday (Part II). The Thursday/Friday option wasn't available the week we were there (later we found out it was because they were doing sensory-sensitive performances those nights), so we opted for the Wednesday. The show is amazing. You definitely have to know Harry Potter to get it, so I wouldn't suggest it if you are not a fan of the books and/or movies. Their theme is #keepthesecrets so I won't say much about the plot or the staging, except that it's magical. If you can get tickets for this, do. We got up at 3am our time on the day tickets for the dates we wanted were being released and had 4 computers "in line" to get the tickets, but it was worth every minute of that and every penny we spent. We were in the first row of the Grand Circle (the first balcony) and we knew when we bought the tickets the seats had restricted leg room. It was definitely restricted. I'm only 5' 5" and my knees were touching the wall in front of us. But, they were the first seats together we saw when we were booking, so we grabbed them. Another time, I'd take a minute to see if there was something else available, but I wouldn't let it make me miss a show I really wanted to see.

 

Hampton Court Palace

The amount of history here is amazing and almost overwhelming. We spent about 1/2 a day exploring and I'd say we saw 1/2 the castle and 1/3 of the gardens. Part of the gardens was closed because they were setting up for a food festival the next day. We went through the parts about Henry VII and about William and Mary. Every room was amazing. My favorite thing was the special kitchen just for preparing chocolate! The gardens are gorgeous. They have the oldest living grapevine. It's 250 years old and has its own special greenhouse!

 

Victoria & Albert Museum

This place is simply amazing. We only had a few hours and barely scratched the surface. Their jewelry exhibit is awesome. We also went through the Britain section and a little of the silver section on the way between them. It would take weeks to see the whole thing. Admission to the museum is free, so even if you only have short time, it's worth it to go in and see a bit of it.

 

Royal Day Out - Buckingham Palace, The Queen's Gallery, and the Royal Mews

This was another bucket list item for me, and we were fortunate that the trip coincided with the Palace being open for the summer. With the combined "Royal Day Out" ticket you get admission to all three places. This also includes audio guides for all three. You start with the Queen's Gallery. We had the first admission time, and there was not much of a line when we went in (or when we were coming out). The exhibitions change. Next we went to the Royal Mews, which is where they keep the carriages they use for state occasions and stable some of the royal horses. I wished we'd had a bit more time here. There is not a specific admission time, so you can do this stop after you do the palace, so if you are really interested in it, I'd suggest doing that. I'd have taken a bit more time in the Gallery, then walked around to the front of the Palace to see the iconic view of the gates and balcony, plus the Victoria Memorial, before getting in line for the Palace admission time. We got in line at about 12:05 for a 12:15 entry time. The line is crowded, but once you are through it does not seem that bad, which is amazing considering we overheard someone say that there are 300 tickets per entry time, and the entry times are every 15 minutes! They also put on a different special exhibition in the Palace every year.

 

We finished in the Palace about 2:00 and then we ate lunch in the tea room the have set up in the garden. Like Highclere, it was good food and not terribly expensive. We visited the gift shop and then you walk through a bit of the gardens on the way out. Since we had not already been around to the front we walked around there (it's probably a 10-15 minute walk from where you come out) to see that.

 

Stonehenge

We went to Stonehenge on the way to Southampton for the cruise. It's not really on the way, map-wise, but since it's not the easiest place to get to otherwise, and we had coach transportation, we did it. It was pouring rain and chilly, but we persevered and went out to the stones. It was so cool to see them. So many people say you can't get close, which is true in that you are not right next to them, but you're maybe 20 yards away (I am terrible at estimating distance). Anyway, I felt quite close. I read a lot of places before going that 2 hours is more than enough time there, but I disagree. We had time to take the shuttle out to the stones, walk around them, spend a few minutes in the museum, and grab a snack. There is an audio guide that we didn't even pick up because we already had tickets and so we went straight to the line for the shuttle to the stones instead of going to in the visitors center first. We would not have taken the time to listen to the audio guide given the weather, but we would not have had time anyway. I'd say this is at least a 3-4 hour visit if you want to take any time to really soak in the area.

Leadenhall Market is in a business area of London, so on a weekend you'll find very little open even outside of the market.  During the week though it's jammed.

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1 hour ago, newport dave said:

Leadenhall Market is in a business area of London, so on a weekend you'll find very little open even outside of the market.  During the week though it's jammed.

FYI. In addition to changing the font on quotes (you changed the colour to red), you can also edit within the quote, to leave only the section that you are referring to.

 

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