A 4 day London itinerary

Posted September 11th, 2018 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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London-2018-70A few days ago, I read an article that indicated that millennials were returning to vacation at the same spots because they didn’t want to spend time and effort researching the vacation spots or optimal flights, best hotels, figuring out the itinerary, what to see etc. This is rather strange to me because I really enjoy researching new destinations. Sometimes I research new places and plan travels even when I have no immediate travel plans!  I like doing the research because it helps me get the most of my (always short) vacation. As I have mentioned before, due to leave concerns my style of travel is not “lets visit this town for a week and immerse ourselves to understand local culture”. My research helps me understand more of the “local culture” – so even when I spend less time in a city I already feel like I have a boost in knowing the pulse of the city.

However, planning this London & Scotland trip was the most difficult one so far.  There were several reasons for this.  We were a large group of 10 (my family, my sister’s family, my mother and my cousin) which excludes a lot of things to do.  The exchange rate for the pound is also not that favorable compared to the dollar – so we had to keep a sharp eye on the budget.  And to top it off, the tourist season had begun and there were very few hotels in UK (specifically in Scotland) that could accommodate six adults and four kids for $500-$600 for a night.  UK counts kids as separate entities unlike American hotels – so that created more complexities.  Coming up with a daily itinerary for the city of London should have been simple considering the number of blogs and travel tips and tricks on the net.  But this becomes an unsurmountable challenge when you grow up reading books by British authors and basically have London mapped out in your head.  I grew up with Enid Blyton books, moved on to classics like Dickens, Bronte sisters and Austen, my first mystery books were Agatha Christie, my first romances were Georgette Heyer and my first exposure to humor was PG Wodehouse.  While poring over the maps, almost every locality or street was featured in some book or other and so landed up on my “must-see” list.  Paring that list down to a manageable itinerary in 4 days was an heroic act that wasn’t appreciated as much by Seejo.  Anyway, this is what we did for 4 days in London.  We stayed at the Reem Hotel near Kensington Gardens, a few minutes’ walk from the Bayswater train station and near a ton of eating options. The staff was friendly, breakfast was included, and the rooms were decent but tiny. Since we were there only to sleep – it was perfectly adequate for us.

Day 1:

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Admiralty Arch

A walking tour of historic Mayfair neighbourhood with stops to see famous landmarks such as Trafalgar Square with its famous statue of Nelson, the Piccadilly Circus, the awe-inspiring Admiralty Arch and Bond Street. We walked down Pall Mall and had a great time identifying locations in Regency London stories such as the famous social hall of Almacks,  Whites- the popular men’s clubs with the Bow Window and enjoying the view of the then town homes in Grosvenor that have now been converted to stores.  But some of these storefronts were there even in 1800s like one of the earliest bookstores –Hatchards and the  the original Fortnum and Mason store. Street names such as Bond Street, Oxford street and Curzon street were as exciting to me as other monumental landmarks.

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St. James Square gardens

We ended our walk with a coffee at St. James Square Gardens – which was my most favorite park in London.  We capped the day by taking a cab (London cab- check) back to our hotel.  Late evening, we walked to Kensington Gardens and had a picnic dinner (grabbed food from Sainsbury nearby) while the kids played in the children’s play area.

Day 2

Today was Hop on Hop off Big Bus London Tour day. We got on the bus and had a half day tour of famous spots in London such as Hyde Park, the Speaker Corner, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Museum, Sherlock Holmes residence at Baker Street and so on. What I enjoyed most was the tour of what the locals called the “City” or London’s financial district. It’s a fascinating mix of modern skyscrapers and old classical architecture.   I found it intriguing that while all of the tourists throng the “touristy” areas, the power that keeps London as one of the most influential cities in the world is in this small area that was virtually deserted (it was a Sunday)

London-2018-19Our Hop On Hop Off tour included a free boat ride, so we took the boat from The Tower Of London to Westminster Pier. The trip included sights of the Shakespeare’s Global Theatre, Tower of London and the Tate Modern museum.  There are 33 bridges that cross the Thames river in London city alone – we passed through about 8 or 9 of them during out boat cruise. The trivia regarding these Bridges was very interesting especially facts like :what we know as the iconic London Bridge is actually the Tower Bridge. The London Bridge has far fewer architectural flourishes.  Another interesting fact was the Waterloo bridge also called as the Ladies Bridge due to the fact that it was built mostly by women during the second world war while the men were away. Our guide informed us that this was a rare bridge that was built under the budget, but it was probably due to the fact that the women workers were being paid a fraction of what the men would have earned.  The newest Bridge was the Millennium Bridge – a suspension foot and traffic bridge that connects the City and the touristy areas, but it had a slight wobble due its open structure and was doomed to have the nickname of the Wobbly Bridge.

In the evening, we went up the Coca Cola London Eye to have a Bird’s eye view of London. And then stopped at a small playground near the London Eye for the kidsLondon-2018-31 to play and for us to have ice-cream and wander among the touristy stalls to buy some tchotchkes. We took a cab to the Covent Garden area in the evening to meet a friend & also take a picture with the iconic phone booth (check) ! Covent Garden was fun – I had a mental picture of a  dirty market with produce stalls and butcher shops and ragged kids trying to steal an apple or orange but this was an upscale market with boutique stalls and street shows such as magicians.

Day 3:

London-2018-41We left early on Day 3 to the Buckingham Palace to see the Change of Guard. After clicking the obligatory pictures of the palace and the guards, we walked to the Westminster Abbey by crossing the St. James Garden’s again. This time we had a picnic lunch at the Garden and had a mini break by people watching and pelican watching (there are three pelicans that call St. James Gardens home).  We reached Westminster Abbey in the afternoon and spent a couple of hours looking at famous tombs (poets, philosophers, scientists, kings and queens). It was a lot of information and if it were not for the kids, I might have spent a lot more time listening to the audio guide.

After Westminster Abbey, we went to see the Tower of London and what is the must see for every Indian who visits London – the Kohinoor diamond.  The KohinoorLondon-2018-62 was mined in Indian in the 13th century and was a property of several Indian dynasties till it was finally taken by the British during the Colonial rule and the British are now naturally resisting the notion that it should be restored to India.  After the Tower of London, we crossed the Tower Bridge (to the accompaniment of London Bridge is falling down from 4 kids) and had dinner at an Indian restaurant (Chicken Tikka Masala – check).  After dinner, we walked to the Shard. London-2018-18The Shard is a tall sky scraper – the tallest building in UK and seemingly built just to make sure that “Hey we have a tall building too”.  And like tall buildings in every city , it ends up being a tourist attraction for the fact that we can go up to the top, see a bird’s eye view of the city, eat overpriced food in the rooftop restaurant, and marvel at how everything appears tiny from the top. So that’s exactly what we did.

Day 4:

London-2018-89Our Day 4 was not consecutive, but we spent half a day at Harrods watching rich Chinese people and rich Arabs being fawned over by the sales folks, a few tourists buying overpriced little notebooks or coin purses to get the Harrods bag. We window shopped, bought food but couldn’t find a place to sit and eat at the crowded spot, went across the road to Starbucks to eat food.  Finally, we shopped for chocolates and treats for gifts at the local Sainsbury and took a cab back to the hotel.

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