Our visit to London after a month-long vacation to Italy and a Mediterranean cruise on the Queen Elizabeth went much too quickly. We had planned our winter trip under the assumption that the weather would be more pleasant in Italy and chose to stay longer there. But even though it was foggy when we disembarked in Southhampton, the sun came out and remained that way with the exception of one short cloud burst. In the 2 short nights we stayed in the city I deemed it the most vibrant place I’d ever been.
Our arrival was a little flawed
We booked a bus transfer from the Cunard Queen Elizabeth to Victoria Station. Once we arrived at the station we planned to take “the tube” (subway) to our stop at The Embankment in the West End. What we didn’t realize was that the coach was going to deliver us to the Victoria bus station across the street.
Huffing and puffing, we schlepped our bags to the Victoria Station and then discovered we had to walk down several flights of stairs to get to the”tube.”
There didn’t seem to be an elevator anywhere in sight so we hoisted our bags down the stairs. When we arrived at our stop, we had to haul our bags several blocks to our hotel. This wasn’t easy because we had collected souvenirs while we were in Italy and our suitcases were heavier than when we started. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if we were still in our twenties, but we were over 60 and out of breath. Our recommendation: Spend a few extra bucks ato take a cab and always travel light.
Our hotel in the West End
We booked our stay at the Strand Palace Hotel in the heart of the West End theater district. It was a perfect location for us near Coventry Garden. Our room was small, even though we had ordered an extra-large room, but was comfortable. A friend of ours had stayed there before and suggested we book our room in the back of the hotel rather than one overlooking the busy Strand. She was right. Our room was delightfully quiet.
Our first full day in the city
Even an aching foot from tripping over my suitcase on the ship didn’t stop us from spending most of the day walking around the West End. It was December and a festive time to be in London. The city was sparkling with holiday decorations. We wandered over to Somerset House which was decked out with a huge Christmas tree. Skaters were having fun whizzing by in an ice rink placed in the center of the square.
The theatre palaces
Lunch at our first London pub
Our concierge recommended we have a bite at the Wellington Pub around the corner and told us to make sure and sit in their upstairs dining room. The Wellington was built in 1903 and is one of the Nicholson Collection’s iconic historic pubs. Its walls are decorated with posters depicting the history of the West End and the pub itself.
Of course, we had to order their “famous” fish and chips with mushy peas. I enjoyed mine with some holiday-inspired mulled wine. Deep-fried”fish and chips”may not be what you call “health food” but it was delcious and I gleefully cleaned my plate.
A night out at the theater
We had tickets that evening to see “The Book of Mormon” and took a London-style black cab to the Prince of Wales Theatre. I was amazed at how roomy it was. Going to see a play about American Mormons was an odd choice for a trip to London, but it was hilarious. The theaters on the West End allow you to eat and drink in your seats, unlike most professional theaters in the states. During the “interval,” the ushers walked around selling everything from chips to ice cream. The show played to a packed and enthusiastic house.
After it was over, we walked to another little pub and ate more fish and chips. It started to rain a little as we left, but we walked back to the hotel anyway, even though I didn’t have an umbrella. By the time we got back, we were soaked. Fortunately, that was the only “London weather” we experienced while we were there.
The Big Bus Tour
Since we only had a short time to spend in London, we thought it would be best to jump on The Big Bus Tour. It’s a fun hop on hop off bus that includes a river cruise. There was a pickup stop for the bus only a ½ block from our hotel. Hop on Hop Off buses are a fabulous way to see a city quickly and you can get on and off anytime you want.
If you take the Big Bus Tour’s Red Line, you usually get a live commentator who will give you a personalized tour of the town. The one we had pointed out the best pubs and areas of interest. I loved hearing about some of the pubs we passed by. Many have been in business for centuries and have whimsical names.
- Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
- The Bleeding Heart Tavern
- The Walrus and the Carpenter
- The Coal Hole
If we had more time we would have booked a Pub Tour.
We hopped off at the Tower of London to board a River Cruise on the Thames at the Tower Dock that was part of the ticket price. It took us to the London Eye where we got off. It was lovely sailing down the Thames, especially on such a sunny and glorious day.
After exploring the area for a little bit, we boarded another Big Bus Tour bus and went back to our hotel to rest.
A stop at St. Pauls
Our bus tickets were good for the entire day so after we rested, we were ready to hop on another Big Bus Tour bus which took us to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral.
While we were there, we decided to climb to the top of the dome which is 530 steps straight up. We made it as far as the Stone Gallery just below the top but had to stop because we were pooped and my bruised foot was aching. Our vantage point gave us a panoramic view of the city. The stairway up to the top is narrow and may not be a good idea if you’re claustrophobic.
Continuing on our ride
After the Cathedral, we jumped on the Big Bus Tour’s blue line. Each line takes you to different parts of the city. We spent the next several hours (without lunch) and saw most of London, only getting off once at Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, the Queen was nowhere in sight. Darn!
When in London, try some Indian food
We didn’t return to our hotel until after dark and were famished so we had dinner at an Indian restaurant inside the hotel. The warmth of excellent Indian food is so comforting on a chilly day and the restaurant surpassed our expectations. Sadly, that restaurant is no longer at the hotel but there are plenty of fabulous Indian Restaurants in London. After dinner, we were exhausted and had to get ready to leave the next morning for the long haul home.
It’s always hard to leave
Vacations are the best but the travel days to and from destinations are often challenging, especially when you’re over 60. We learned our lesson after we arrived in London so we hired a limo to take us to the airport. Our driver, a handsome and dashing young man, picked us up promptly to take us to Heathrow.
Getting back to reality is always the hardest part. If I could, I’d be back on a plane in a second because 2 nights in London isn’t nearly enough. . . And, darn it, I didn’t even get to shop at Harrods!
If you were going to London, or have been there before, what would you like to see and do? I need to plan my itinerary for when we visit again. LOL