Posts filed under ‘UK’
Today I’m taking you just outside the city centre (don’t you love how the Brits spell things differently from us Yanks?) of London to Greenwich and Hampton.
My UK series continues with another look at London (part 1, an attempt at London in a day or 2, is here). Be warned: even a week really isn’t enough time to see everything you’ll want to see!
More Things to Do/See
If I absolutely had to live in a big city/foreign country, London is where I would choose. It was the first place I visited in my first trip abroad (junior year of high school, spring break 1996, 2 days), where I “studied abroad” (junior year of undergrad, winter term 2000, 5? weeks), and the second place in Europe I wanted to visit with my husband (spring break 2005, 1 week). Why is London my favorite above New York, Paris, Rome, etc.? (1) They speak English; (2) the West End can only be rivaled by Broadway; (3) the history is fascinating; (4) the sheer number of museums is impressive; (5) the architecture; and, last but not least, (6) the people. I have so much to share about London that I can’t limit myself to one post. I’m not even sure if I can cover all my favorites in 2, so just bear with me!
Where to Stay
When I visited in 2005, we stayed at the Holiday Inn London Kensington Forum. The price was right (read: not very expensive), the place was clean, and the location wasn’t bad. You pretty much have to take the Tube to get to any of the major sites from there (unless you’re willing to walk 30 mins or more), but it’s in a nice neighborhood and still very much in the thick of things (very close to the Gloucester Street station, which has 3 lines). There are pubs, restaurants, and grocery stores very close by. There’s a Starbucks in the lobby for the SBX obsessed. I’d definitely stay here again.
London Visits seems to offer some good suggestions about where to stay. I’d also check the TripAdvisor reviews. And I’ll probably have some additional specific suggestions next time I post about London.
What to Do: The Must-Sees
Since I think the must-see sites of London would take at least a week of hard core touring, I’ll limit this first post to what I’d see if it were my first time in London and I only had a day.
Westminster Abbey: I see dead people! Famous dead people! Well, their graves anyway. Westminster is not just a (gorgeous, striking, huge) place of worship; it’s also a cemetary of the royal and famous. Obviously there are many English monarchs and their consorts, and you’ll also find other famous figures such as Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Rudyard Kipling, Laurence Olivier, and Alfred Tennyson. Try to catch a choral matins or evensong if at all possible; the boys choir is amazing. Also, if you’ve visited a looong time ago, be warned – it’s no longer free! Entry is £10 for adults.
Parliament: I don’t care if you’re not that into politics or don’t fully appreciate the British system of government; you should still see this. Everyone wants to see Parliament (and Big Ben) from the exterior – it’s an awesome sight. You should also take the time to see both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It’s fun to see the differences in decor and at least somewhat amusing to watch the MPs (Members of Parliament) and Lords debate and vote.
Buckingham Palace: Everyone thinks of BP (the royal residence, not the gas station!) when they think of London. You’d best try to catch a changing of the guards, or your friends will endlessly make fun of you. Be warned – it’s a mad house! When we went in 2005, I got a great tip from the TripAdvisor forum to head over to the Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk to watch the inspection before the changing. This was amazing! We heard the band do a few very lively numbers, like the Star Wars theme and “Copacabana,” and we got to see the guards very close up. I got some amazing pictures of them (I need to post those at some point). Then we followed them part of the way to BP. We were astounded by the number of people there! I’d recommend getting to the barracks a little more than half an hour before the changing is scheduled to happen. Also, if you visit during the right time of year (July 31-September 29), you can go into BP itself to see the State Rooms (note: for the first time ever, the State Rooms will be open for limited private tours in March and April).
Tower of London: This is the place where England’s most famous criminals (and “criminals”) were stashed and sometimes killed. You can see the chopping block where Anne Boleyn was beheaded (unfortunately(?) you can no longer get a picture with your head on the block; it’s roped off) and visit the crown jewels (totally worth the long line). Plan to be patient – there will be crowds – and make sure to take a tour with a Beefeater and snap a pic of a raven.
British Museum: Could you really stand to look at yourself in the mirror and say that you visited London but didn’t make it to see the Rosetta Stone? As much as I prefer Impressionist paintings to Grecian urns, a visit to the British Museum is a must. In addition to the Rosetta Stone, the other must-not-miss “item” is the Parthenon facade. That’s right - a British ambassador removed the sculptures fromt he Parthenon in Athens, Greece in the early 1800s. Greece has repeatedly requested their return, but the museum has always refused. It’s an interesting controversy without a clear and obvious answer (the polution in Athens would likely destroy the statues, so they should be kept inside a museum anyway).
Theatre: In my opinion, no trip to London is complete without at least one visit to the theatre. There are two major options: Shakespeare’s Globe or the West End. The Globe is steeped in history but has a limited season and offerings. The West End rivals Broadway, offering everything from Avenue Q to Wicked. You might consider seeing Blood Brothers, a British musical rarely seen in the US. You should also check out what celebs are on the West End. When we were there, we saw Kim Cattrall, Patrick Stewart, and Joshua Jackson. Interestingly, meeting Kim at the stage door was wonderful and easy. Meeting Patrick and Josh was a nightmare.
More to come next week!
A very good friend of mine just mentioned to me that she may be going to the UK this summer and next. My first thought was, “You have to go to Dublin!” This will be my first in a series of posts about the UK (and Dublin, Ireland) for her. I hope they will help or inspire you as well!
There are basically two options for getting to Dublin from the UK: the ferry or flying. Aer Lingus offers amazingly cheap flights (from £5 one way!) from London. RyanAir has flights from £.99 one way between London and Dublin; they fly out of a number of other UK cities as well. To take the ferry, you’ll have to get yourself to Holyhead, Liverpool, or Douglas. On the Stena Line, the fair is from £14. When I went to Dublin back in 2000, we took the ferry from Holyhead. This was before all these cheap flights became so readily available. Plus riding the train to Holyhead gave us a great opportunity to see Wales and experience the BritRail system. I’d take one of this discount flights now to save time, especially since I’ve already had the experience.
Where to Stay
When I went with a couple of my college classmates, we stayed at a hostel. It was a bit odd to have a bunk in a room with about 10 other people, but boy was it cheap! GoIreland seems like a good place to begin looking for accommodations. I think I’d stay in Dublin City Centre to be close to the nightlife, but Dublin is so small that anywhere in the city will likely be satisfactory.
What to See and Do
Dublin Castle: This “castle” (it looks more like a really fancy government building to me!) is right in the middle of historic Dublin. It was completed by 1230, but has had a fair amount of reconstruction done. It was the center for the English colonial administration during colonial rule and managed to survive both the War of Independence and the Civil War. It’s a great spot to get some exposure to Ireland’s history.
Trinity College: Everyone should visit Trinity College – mainly to see the Book of Kells at the library. The Book is an illuminated manuscript written around 800 AD. It contains the four gospels with beautiful artwork. It has its own interesting history. Another of my favorite items at the library is the harp, dating from the 15th century. When I visited, the harp was on the country’s currency (they’ve now adopted the Euro). Star Wars fans will enjoy seeing the long room as well – the Jedi Archives shown in Episode II is very obviously a replica of the library. I’d rate the library as THE top place to go in Dublin.
Kilmainham Gaol: Although bleak and depressing, this site is unbelievably popular - with good reason. The Gaol was first built in 1796 and operated as a jail until 1924. The most interesting part to me was learning about the 1916 Easter Rising. In my opinion, this is another must-see when visiting Dublin.
Guiness Storehouse: This brewery claims to be Ireland’s No. 1 international visitor attraction. I’d believe that! I had a great time visiting there, learning about the brewing process and the history of Guiness, even though I didn’t care for beer at the time.
For kids: Dublinia & the Medieval Viking World or the Viking Adventure. I think we went to the latter when I was there, but it seems like they ought to be somewhat similar. It was VERY corny, but a fun way to learn about Viking history.
Nightlife: One of my fondest memories of Dublin is spending the evening at a pub in Temple Bar. There was live music, and we were surrounded by locals and a few tourists. Everyone was friendly and having a great time. When I think of Ireland, I always think of friendly, jovial people.
“When I’m lonely or feeling dejected I play this and it never fails/I pretend like I’m in Ireland with Enya and the whales.” -”Ireland” (Legally Blonde the Musical) I hope you get to go to Dublin – and I hope I get to return someday too.