Though extremely expensive, I had an excellent time visiting some of London’s most popular attractions and look forward to spending more time getting to know the city beyond the tourist zones.
Destination at a Glance
|Date of Trip||February 2008|
|Destination Good for||Shopping, Sightseeing and Culture|
|Best Time to Go||Spring-Early Summer|
|Currency/Conv. Rate||British Pound/ 1 USD = .51 GBP – Extremely Unfavorable|
|Good Way to Get Around||Rent Car: No||Public: Yes||Taxi: Yes||Walking: Yes|
|Appox. Trip Cost||Very Expensive|
|Speaks English?||English is Primary Language|
|Didn’t get to do||Tower of London|
|Would I Recommend||Yes|
|Overall Trip Rating|
Trip Review (Click Thumbnails to see Full-Sized Images)
Here in America, the term Europe often conjures thoughts of England. Not surprising considering America was a former English colony and both countries speak the same language (though many Yanks think the UK version of English is funny). For Americans, the most recognizable and popular destination in England is London.
While on a vacation in Paris, I figured why not make my first trip to London a day trip via the Eurostar bullet train. I was just as excited about riding on the bullet train as I was about touring London. The United States leads the world in a number of things – but getting any significant infrastructure projects completed isn’t one of them. Over 15 countries have bullet trains (defined as those rains that travel over 125 mph) – China is even investing 300 million into high-speed rail. The United States won’t have any form of high-speed rail at least until 2015 – more likely 2020. SMH – but I digress.
To get my first taste of what high-speed rail travel is like, I booked a 1st class ticket on Eurostar’s Paris to London line. The Eurostar trains rocket between Paris, London and Brussels in about 2 hours at a top speed of 300 km/h (186 mph). I realize folks in Europe/Asia reading this are probably wondering why I’m so giddy about a high-speed rail; you just have to understand there isn’t anything remotely like this in the US. Flying is certainly faster than taking the train; however, the trip isn’t as scenic – though the Eurostar trains are similar to flying in terms of security and seating classes.
The Tourist Spots
Once in London, I hopped on the local train (commonly referred to as the “Tube”) to get around the city – usually putting me within walking distance of many popular tourist attractions. Here are the attractions I took in during my day in London:
- Buckingham Palace – The official home of the Queen of England offers tours of the inside of the facility during the summer months (I was there in February). All other times, tourists can look through the front gates as the guards do their thing in the courtyard every few minutes or so. Outside of the gates are several statues and the royal garden.
- Big Ben – Probably the most recognizable landmark, Big Ben is the nickname for the bell inside of the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster. The bell is rung/chimed several times an hour. The lights around the palace allow you to take excellent pictures of the tower at night. Take the tube to Westminster station and Big Ben will be right above your head when you exit.
- London Eye – Is Europe’s largest Ferris Wheel situated in downtown London. Once you get through the 40 minute or longer wait in line, you enter one of 32 egg shaped see-through capsules. The 30 minute ride provided excellent 360 degree views of London and the surrounding areas reaching a top height of 443ft. Each glass capsule is air-conditioned and holds approximately 15-20 people. Tickets cost £15 if purchased online; otherwise the tickets are £18 at the gate.
- National Maritime Museum – is actually a decommissioned English Naval battleship – the HMS Belfast to be exact. It is permanently moored in the Thames River not far from the Tower Bridge. In fact, walking along the river towards the ship (coming from the London Bridge) should allow you to frame the ship & the Tower Bridge in the same shot. Tours of the inside of the museum are held daily and cost £13.
- London & Tower Bridge – Not many bridges in the world are famous enough to have a song about it – but if ever there was a bridge that didn’t deserve it – it’s the London Bridge. This is… wait for it… a small concrete bridge that is not especially tall, certainly not pretty and absolutely no feat of engineering. Seriously – WTF is that??? What is actually worth seeing (and what many tourist mistake as the London Bridge) is the Tower Bridge. As bridges go, the Tower Bridge is actually worth seeing – both from the outside (especially at night) and the museum/walkway on the top of the bridge. Since vessels have to notify the bridge operators 24 hours in advance, you can schedule your arrival just as the draw bridge springs into action using public lift schedule. Taking pictures of the exterior the draw bridge is obviously free – the tour of the museum is £7.00.
- Madame Tussauds – Is a London max museum with pretty good depictions of famous people such as actors, athletes, musicians, heads of state or otherwise famous/infamous entities (to include non-humans like Shrek, the Terminator, etc.) Tickets are £22.99 if purchased online or £25.54 on site.
A Few General Thoughts
Though the United Kingdom is part of the European Union, the Brits still use the British Pound Sterling as the method of currency. At the time of this writing, the Dollar has gained significantly against the Pound; however, during my visit in 2008 the Pound held a 2:1 advantage over the dollar (one dollar equaled only .49 Pounds). Even though I knew there wasn’t a 1:1 exchange of Dollar to Pounds – seeing a lunch menu item for “13” causes your brain to believe the meal is only a few more dollars than $13. Except for the fact that 13 pounds is actually 26 dollars plus the credit card foreign transaction fee; I essentially paid $30 for lunch in a simple pub. Dammit!
Anyway, the goal was to find a spot that sold decent traditional English fare. I was really looking for a spot that made the Scottish Haggis dish (don’t ask me why), but wasn’t successful (I wasn’t into Twitter then). I ended up taking in a good plate of “Bangers & Mash” (sausage & potatoes) and Venison Lasagna (Deer) – both pretty good.
Although expensive, it was cool to take a short trip in London’s iconic Hackney Carriage taxi cab. On several occasions, I mistakenly thought the cab driver was going to kill me by driving down the wrong side of the street (vehicles travel on the left side of the street in England).
While this certainly isn’t an in-depth review of London, I feel it’s a pretty good overview of some of the more popular tourist attractions – which is okay, because I am a tourist. While it was stereotypically cloudy with a slight chance of drizzle during my visit, it didn’t stop me from seeing some of the more popular London attractions. Even though the city is extremely expensive, I look forward to spending more time getting to know the London beyond the tourist zones. Until then – Happy Travels!!