What I Did In Three Days in London (Part One!)

So last week I spent what is popularly known as a  “city break” (I guess…”break” sounds so relaxing though, when city breaks are generally a bit harried in my experience!) in London. It was my second visit to London after a trip down in 2012 to see the Chelsea Flower Show. I adored London on my first visit, call me na├»ve, but as a former New Yorker, I found it all terribly quaint and pleasant and polite – as in “THIS is the big scary city of your country now is it, tsk?” I’m fully aware that by sticking to the touristy bits I hardly get a full picture of a city’s true culture or diversity any more than visitors to New York who stick to Broadway, Times Square and Central Park do. But London as a whole felt pleasantly slow and laid back to me in comparison to New York. Everyone there was so friendly! (Much friendlier than surly Aberdeen *cough*;-0).

So I wondered if on second visit it would live up to my first impressions. And honestly…it completely did, and more. I LOVE London. I love the women going to work in their neon trainers, I love the supercilious/inefficient waiters and waitresses just biding their time until their big break comes (reminds me of New York!). I love the rhythm of the tube (that’s what they call the subway here American friends), the hordes of people moving en masse like a giant intricate waltz (masses of commuters always remind me of this scene in The Fisher King):

What on the first day felt daunting and unnatural, the sheer swarms of bodies, of humanity, by the end felt familiar to my faintly still drumming inner New Yorker. I spent more time in super busy tube stations (we stayed near Euston and King’s Cross) this time around, which is arguably the least pleasant aspect of city life, but it gave me a hit of that old city buzz and I did feel I could (just about) hack it!

We were to’ing and fro’ing an awful lot so there wasn’t much time for aimless wandering like my Mom and I enjoyed in Notting Hill and Kensington/ Hyde Park. We had events to attend both nights which put us on a stricter schedule than allows for those things but I still had a wonderful time, regardless. Anyway enough aimless babble, here is what I got up to!

Day One: Arrive at Gatwick. Find train station through rather convoluted route. Kick self for not buying train ticket ahead of time/on plane as offered when faced with snaking queues (seriously, do it ahead of time if you can!). Get to self “service” kiosk and poke at it with other half until we find cheapest option (Southern Trains…at this stage only marginally cheaper than the Gatwick Express to be honest but only take 5 minute longer so we went for it). Get train to Victoria Station, where we check Oyster cards from last visit, top them up (you can now also use your bank card if you live here to ride the tube!). Get tube to Euston, find Premier Inn (not difficult, though there are two quite near each other), check in.

I should mention it was pouring rain, and we were tired from the early start and feeling less than ambitious at this stage. Luckily, the British Library was just down the street from us so we decided to check it out. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the library, I’m embarrassed to say. How wrong I was, though! It is chock full of literary and historical treasures – first edition handwritten manuscripts from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Yeats,  W.H. Auden (he had chicken scratch writing like me!), all sorts! I found it indescribably moving to see Jane Austen’s perfect scrolling loops, along with her actual writing desk, it made it seem as if she were right there somehow.  Also in the collection are some Beatles and other musical memorabilia, letters and song scribbles from John Lennon, etc. This is in their free everyday collection as well – amazing! 

They also have lots of old letters and historical documents – Lord Nelson’s last letter to Lady Hamilton (I’m hardly a history buff but having seen the Laurence Oliver Vivien Leigh film I was all “Ooh!”). Also, more political/Churchill war documents, misc. book exhibits, and a huge collection of positively ancient bibles of all faiths. I did feel a tiny bit Becky in Shopaholic when I started eyeing up a be-jeweled bible and wondering if they had a version in the gift shop. ;-0

They also currently have The Magna Carta on display…for a price. We decided against it, it was £12 which…I guess if you’re deeply into seeing the Magna Carta would be worth it. We just weren’t that fussed (;-0). The focal point of the interior space is a large, floor to very high ceiling glass walled enclosed library – it’s the special collection which you need to be a super scholar to get a special key for or some such. It’s all very secret society looking and quite envy inducing when you see it you do just want to be able to go inside and look at all the giant old books!

We didn’t get up to much else that day, had a wee wander around the area (King’s Cross/St.Pancras – it’s not the most inspiring for shopping or touristing I have to say, but is a very good location for getting into central London in 10 minutes by tube). I wish we’d wandered around Bloomsbury a bit more…next time!

Day Two: The second day we wanted to do the touristy open top bus tour (booked it ever so slightly cheaper online), and I also wanted to chance my luck at the Leicester Square TKTS booth for theatre tickets that night. I really did not think we were going to get tickets for either play I was interested in (American Buffalo or The Elephant Man) as they star big names and are virtually sold out online. To my disappointment the booth did not have anything I was interested in – the cashier told me to try the theatres on the off chance there was something, but he didn’t think there would be.

The nearest was the Wyndham Theatre around the corner, showing American Buffalo starring Damian Lewis and John Goodman. I had never tried for tickets at a theatre before on the day so felt sort of sheepish but there was another couple already  ahead of us – they didn’t seem to be buying tickets though so I felt certain there would be nothing. Much to my pleasant surprise when I asked the assistant for tickets and he replied "Which night?” and I said “Tonight?!” he immediately brought up a few seats! Result!  He had a few super dear ones in the first circle, some cheaper ones in the upper circle, and some bargainous tickets in the “Royal Box”:  “What is that?” I countered, plebeian that I am! Well, I can tell you, it’s this frankly adorable little box, like those opera boxes you see in films, with enough room for only two. At times the views may be ever so slightly restricted. We were a bit dubious but the assistant assured us they were great seats so we went for them. I felt in a bit of a haze for the next couple of hours – I could hardly believe our luck and felt a bit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when he has the winning ticket, I kept checking my bag to make sure the tickets were safe.

But we didn’t have time for dilly dallying, there was touristing to be done! We hopped on the Original London Tour Bus, which came with a free second day and a free Thames cruise (that’s twice now I haven’t managed the free cruise!). If you are on a tight schedule I do think the tour buses are great way of making sure you tick off all the big ticket London sights. Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster, London Eye, London Bridge, etc. etc. they are pretty much all covered on the central route covered by the various  tour operators. It was sunny (ish) for most of our ride so we couldn’t complain (though shockingly it was the Scottish o.h. that went for cover most quickly at the hint of rain!).

The only bad thing I would say is not one of the buses we took had a live tour guide, as they are supposed to have some of the time, which for the cost of the thing (£26 each with the pre-book discount in high season!) they really could do better. The audio guide was not as full of interesting trivia as the one my Mom and I took, and seemed to play elevator music as much of the time as anything. Still, you have a bird's eye view of more sights than you could ever squeeze in on foot so it's definitely worth it (I think!).

Old meets new architecture

er, I was trying to be all arty driving under London Bridge!

St. Paul's Cathedral

Outside Tower of London, Gherkin in background

Look at this pic I took of the lion and the London Eye (from a moving bus!), I was well chuffed with it!

I wanted to tour Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre as on my previous trip we’d looked at the outside of it and ate lunch at the restaurant (very nice!) but not gone inside. I was aware it’s a re-creation (of a prior re-creation!), but was still keen to see it. I was in such a haze from scoring theatre tickets I totally forgot to take pics of the theatre outside – doh! You can see what it looks like here anyway!

On the day we went there were no guided tours as they were building the set for a play opening that night (Mark Rylance in King…John I think?!). So we were given audio guides which led us through the space. I have to say, perhaps unsurprisingly, this led to a bit of a dry experience. I imagine a live guide would be more entertaining and you could maybe have a wee wander round the stage. You’re meant to sit quietly and listen to the audio drone on and not take pictures (I took a sneaky one or two ;-), or otherwise do anything to disturb the building of the set (I have to say it stunned me that they were still building major elements of the set on opening night – this isn’t how it’s done in modern productions, I had a feeling it was maybe some crazy keeping it authentic to the times thing but there was no one to ask sadly). It was a lovely theatre though and more covered/protected than I would have imagined by the roof even though it is open air. I would definitely have tried to see a show there if we’d had time.

More interesting were the interior exhibits with costumes from past productions, dioramas of the original theatre and the similarly aged Rose Theatre which was more recently excavated in London and is a historical site and theatre also. 

Creepy puppets!
"No I'm not a haunted doll, mwa ha hah!"

Unsurprisingly there were swarms of schoolchildren everywhere – though not nearly as bad as The British Museum, more on that nightmare scene later to come! I really enjoy the setting of the theatre; it’s right on the River Thames, and a nice stroll from The Tate Modern. It’s definitely worth popping into if you’re in the area, though I would say the live guided tours are probably better value for money.

Because we were aware we had to get back to the hotel, change for dinner/the theatre, we decided to head home via Regent’s Park and walk along the length of the park as our hotel wasn’t far from it (of course we took a wrong turn/did a loop de loop coming out of the park so had a 15/20 minute detour, always something you have to anticipate when in an unfamiliar place/ are two people with two polar opposite senses of direction ;-0).

Regent's Park, London

Me, This jacket is not very flattering is it!

Peach Iris

Regent’s Park, what little I saw of it, is lovely. We just skirted round the bottom but did see a bit of the manicured bits though I had really wanted to see the gated rose garden further in and the canal. I liked the contrast of slightly overgrown-ness towards the outskirts with the highly manicured planted promenade walkways. It’s maybe not quite as adorably cute as the little secret garden trails you get in Kensington (though it possibly does have them and we just didn’t get that far!), but it’s a very tranquil and pretty park. It’s very near to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and has the big London Zoo in it as well for anyone interested!

Ok well I will leave it there for now as this is getting on a bit and talk about the rest in a second post (only I could turn a three day trip into a two part blog post!). Thanks for reading! :-)


  1. I adore the British Library, especially as it's in such a good position to pop in when I'm waiting for a train at St Pancra. I feel so humbled to be able to be close to such amazing manuscripts! Speaking of that area, if you stay again I would definitely say to walk into Bloomsbury, there are some fab bookshops and cafes.

    Also, you may have heard this before but if the weather (and your health) allows it, try to walk rather than get the tube between most places - the map makes things look so far away but, for example, you can walk from the British Library to The Strand, through neighbourhoods like Bloomsbury and Holborn and across Covent Garden, in about 30-40 minutes (depending on your speed). That way you see a more hidden side to the city and can pop into shops, etc. It's a really nice way to take things at a slower pace.

    I'd also really recommend getting Globe tickets next time you visit - if you book ahead you can get great deals (I usually pay around £15 for a seat next to the stage) and it's such a great experience.

    And therein ends my London recommendations!

    1. Thanks, that all sounds fab! I completely envisioned us doing more neighbourhood walks but we just ran out of time - much going back and forth to the hotel, etc. I'd love to just get a flat somewhere for a month and walk everywhere, it's how I got to know and feel confident in NYC. :-)

  2. Those are some creepy puppets! Looks like the whole thing was a lot of (busy!) fun. Lovely pictures - I so want to visit London someday. It's top on my list of places to go.

    1. You should definitely go, it's amazing! ha the puppets were super creepy!