Our return home from London after a month-long vacation to Italy and a Mediterranean cruise on the Queen Elizabeth was way too soon. After only 2 days, I declared it to be the most beautiful city I’ve been to so far. When we booked our trip we were concerned that England would be cold and miserable and opted to spend most of our time in Italy. We only set aside 2 nights in London after docking in Southhampton. The weather was cold and foggy when we disembarked the ship, but to our surprise, the sun came out as we drove into London and remained that way the entire time we were there.
Arriving from our ship to our hotel in London
We booked a bus transfer from the Cunard Queen Elizabeth to Victoria Station. Our plan was to arrive at the station and then take “the tube” (subway) to our stop at The Embankment. Instead, the coach delivered us to the Victoria bus station across the street.
Huffing and puffing, we schlepped our bags to the train station and then discovered we had to walk down several flights of stairs to get to the”tube.”
There wasn’t a lift (elevator) anywhere in sight. (or, at least we had no idea where it was) That meant we had to hoist our bags down the stairs. When we arrived at The Embankment, we still had to haul our bags a couple of blocks to our hotel. (this was the end of our trip, so we had collected a few things along the way, making our haul heavier than when we started) Hauling luggage wouldn’t have been a problem if we were still in our twenties, but we’re both over 60 and arrived out of breath. Needless to say, we’ll never do that again and will spend a few more pounds to take a cab.
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, who had stayed there before, suggested we book our room in the back of the hotel rather than one that overlooked the busy Strand. She was right. Our room was delightfully quiet.
2 nights in London – day 1
My toe was still aching after I tripped over my suitcase on the ship but it didn’t stop us from spending most of the day walking around the West End. It was December and a lovely time to be in London because the entire city sparkles with holiday decorations. We soon found ourselves in the courtyard of Somerset House decked out with a skating rink and a huge Christmas tree. We watched from a safe distance as happy skaters took to the ice.
Lunch at our first London pub
Our concierge recommended we stop at the Wellington Pub around the corner for a bite 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 that describe the history of the West End and the pub itself.
We ordered their “famous” fish and chips with mushy peas. I had a delightful holiday mulled wine to wash it down. Deep-fried”fish and chips” isn’t exactly what you’d call “health food” but it was amazing and I gleefully cleaned my plate.
A night out at the theater on the West End
We had tickets that evening to see “The Book of Mormon” and took a London style cab (so roomy!) to the Prince of Wales Theatre. 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. We’re lucky we didn’t have a heart attack after that. It started to rain a little as we started to leave, but we decided to walk back to the hotel anyway even though we didn’t have an umbrella. As we walked it started to rain harder and by the time we got back, we were soaked. Luckily, that was the only “London weather” we experienced while we were there.
Day 2 on The Big Bus Tour
Since we only had 2 nights in London, we decided to jump on The Big Bus Tour. It’s a hop on hop off bus that includes a river cruise. Conveniently, there was a pickup location a ½ block from our hotel. We’re big fans of hop on hop off buses. They’re a perfect way to see a city quickly and you can get on and off anytime you want.
The red-line on the first Big Bus we took had a live commentator who pointed out the best pubs and areas of interest. It was amusing to hear the whimsical names of pubs as we passed by, and some have been in business for centuries.
- 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.
Our guide was no doubt a professional actor and kept us entranced. We hopped off at the Tower of London to board our River Cruise on the Thames at the Tower Dock. It took us close to the London Eye. We could have cruised longer but got confused and hopped off before we had to. What we did get to see was lovely and well worth the price.
At the London Eye, we boarded another Big Bus Tour bus and went back to our hotel to rest.
More sightseeing on the Big Bus Tour
Our bus tickets were good for the entire day so after our rest, we hopped on another Big Bus Tour bus and took it to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Doug was miffed because photography isn’t allowed in the Cathedral, but it’s understandable. We decided to try to climb to the top of the dome – 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.
We took the Big Bus Tour’s blue line from the Cathedral. Each line takes you to different parts of the city. We spent the next several hours (without lunch) and saw most of London, and only got off at Buckingham Palace. The Queen was nowhere in sight. Darn!
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 good Indian food is so comforting and appealing 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.
The return home – always much too soon
Vacations are the best but the travel days to and from destinations can be 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