London, Part 1
We love London, and the history behind it. There is so much variety within this city, from high rise building, skyscrapers, to museums, Palaces, and Parks. These are just some of the reasons many people visit London and that includes us.
London has not always been the capital of England, at one point Colchester was known as the capital. The capital city, is located on the River Thames, and has been a settlement here for over 2 millennia. The Romans founded the settlement and called it Londinium, which is the Latin form for London. The first settlement is now where the City of London is to this day, and some of the medieval boundaries can be seen. When William, Duke of Normandy won the battle of Hastings back in 1066, he was crowned King in the recently rebuilt Westminster Abbey. It wasn’t long before William started constructing famous buildings, still standing today such as the Tower of London which is built out of stone.
London has been plagued with diseases and destruction over the years, from the Black Death which reduced the population in London alone by nearly one third, later the Great Plague struck which caused a loss of one fifth of London lives. The Great fire of London started in an old bakery on Pudding Lane in 1666, sweeping through much of the wooden buildings causing loss of property. More recently the Blitz which saw many German bombs being dropped over London destroying many buildings and reducing them to rubble during World War II. Over the years London has been dogged with crime, the most famous unsolved murder mystery being the Jack the Ripper murders in the White Chapel area back in 1888.
Things to do
We love visiting London, and visit regularly just to see some of the beautiful sights London has to offer.
Buckingham Palace is the residence of the current monarchy, with 775 rooms and a large private garden. To be a running Palace it needs more than 800 members of staff. It is possible to take a tour of some parts of the Palace during the summer months of August and September, with different exhibitions annually. Surprisingly enough, it hasn’t always been a royal residence, St James Palace was once the Royal residence, until King George IV modified Buckingham House into a palace, but the first monarch to reside at Buckingham Palace was Queen Victoria. Prior to Queen Victoria’s husband's death, she would hold some lavish entertainment, but this declined after his death. When she moved out of Buckingham Palace and moved into Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle and Osborne House, the Palace declined, but there were occasions she returned. Outside the front gates of Buckingham Palace the famous balcony can be seen, but the monarchy are only seen standing here on certain special occasions. Thousands of tourists and visitors come to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard in the square below the balcony.
We love the Royal family, and some might say we are royalists, so visiting Buckingham Palace had to be first on our list when visiting London. We booked out tickets online and took the train and underground to get to Buckingham Palace. To get to the entrance of Buckingham Palace we had to walk east around the outer wall before reaching the ticket stand. It took us about 5 – 10 minutes to get to the entrance, but it was well worth the walk. We had seen on the television that when they opened the state rooms, that the exhibits would be much of Princess Diana’s clothing and jewellery, so we knew that we had to visit. We proceeded to the main entrance of the palace, where guests are invited to see the Queen, and led through the art galleries they house. The galleries are mainly portrait pictures, but the collection is grand and beautiful. We proceeded into the state rooms, banqueting hall, the throne room, and even the room which Prince William and Harry where Christened. Some areas of the rooms are roped off, but if you look carefully past the roped area, you can see the secret doors which lead into the Queens part of Palace. It was nice to see some areas of the Palace, and the Princess Diana exhibition was incredible. Just seeing some of the fabulous outfits she wore and her jewellery, it is a little expensive but well worth a visit. Unfortunately it is not possible to take pictures inside of the Palace which is so disappointing, but once outside taking pictures of the garden space and the famous front of the Palace really is spectacular.
How to get there
Take the tube to Hyde Park Corner, Green Park, St James Park or Victoria.
Hyde Park is one of four Royal Parks in London, and the park next to Buckingham Palace. King Henry VIII established the park in about 1536, and it was used as a hunting ground. It later became a public park. The annual Winter Wonderland is held here, with theme parks and amusement rides, even an ice skating rink.
We have walked much of Hyde Park a number of times. The best time to visit, is during the cooler months as it becomes less crowded with tourists and picnickers. The Serpentine is a large expanse of water and great for taking a pedal boat out, or just watching the wildlife surrounding the Serpentine. We loved just walking around the park, and the Serpentine, and the first time we visited we stumbled upon Diana Princess of Wales Memorial. It was quiet due to the cold conditions, and a very special spot to see. More recently we took our nephews during summer to Hyde Park and to the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial to paddle in. They had great fun, but as you could imagine the Memorial was packed with other travellers and families out for the same reasons. For more information on our family trip to London, and what we got up to, then
This is a great location for exercising and going for a run, from our experience the best time for a run is early morning or late evening as the parks are packed with travellers. Trying to dodge the people in the park and run at the same time isn’t easy.
How to get there:
Take the tube to Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Queensway, or Lancaster Gate.
Price: £5 per person
The Monument was built in commemoration to the great fire of London back in 1666. It stands at 202 ft high and is 202 ft from where the great fire of London started in Pudding Lane on 2nd September 1666. A spiral staircase leads up to the viewing platform, and in the basement, experiments where performed in aid of science. Due to traffic on the road, this hindered the experiments from working and was soon stopped.
We have always been fascinated with the history of London, so the great fire of 1666 is very important as it destroyed many businesses, and property. I climbed the spiral staircase to the top to see the views from the viewing platform. I personally feel that the views have been spoilt with all the high rise building that surround it. I can just imagine what it must have been like when it was first built and climbing to the top, you would have been able to see for miles across London, now all I could see is the tall buildings beside it. I still enjoyed visiting this monumental location, and excellent view of Tower Bridge being raised for a tall boat to sail through. Sham’s didn’t want to climb to the top with me, so whilst I was up there I took my time just taking in the atmosphere. The climb to the top is much harder than the descent back to the ground level. The staff at the Monument are just amazing and so friendly. They opened up the basement for me to have a little look inside. All that is left of where the original fire took place, is a little plaque on a building approximately 202 ft from where the Monument stands. Standing in that very spot, I could just picture the wooden buildings, that once stood before the fire, but how different it is now!
How to get there:
Take the tube to the Monument Station
London has such varied ways of getting to and around the city. When we visit London, we will always catch the train and then catch the underground to get around the city. Here are some ways to and around London:
Most train lines lead into one of the large train terminals in London, these terminals then link with the underground train by walkways and tunnels. The large train terminals in London are as follows: Charing Cross, Euston, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Marylebone, Paddington, St Pancras, Victoria, and Waterloo. As we always travel from the south east of England, our train terminal is London Charing Cross. Depending on where you are taking the train from and too, some journeys can be short, but sometimes the train can take a number of hours. For us it takes between 30-45 minutes to get us to London, and then we will catch the underground from London Waterloo East to our destination. Prices for the train can often vary depending on where you are travelling from and too, and if it is peak travel or off peak. The cheapest tickets are off peak
There are bus services or coaches to and from London. The bus terminal is from Victoria coach station. It is also possible to take the local red buses, which cover many area’s of London including a night bus. Travelling by bus is cheap and one of the easiest way to get around. We have taken a night bus on a number of occasions, from the central London to our accommodation in the surrounding areas.
We would strongly advise against driving in London as it can become costly, and with very limited parking. There are congestion charges in place between certain times of day, and many one way systems. We personally have not driven in London, and do not intend to.
The underground is a great way to get around London, but also reasonably cheap. All the underground lines are colour coded on the map to help with getting the right underground tube. On the tube map the land marks are not displayed which can make it difficult to navigate, and it is always a good idea to understand in what direction you require to travel such as north to south, east to west. It is likely that if the destination is not on the same line, then you will need to change tubes, but as long as you know which stop you need to get to, then the rest is easy just follow the signs in the station. There are a few lines now that run 24 hours a day on a weekend, and all lines run a regular service every 2-5 minutes. The cheapest way to travel is by getting an Oyster card which you pre-top up and when entering the gates just tap the card on entry and exit to deduct the correct fee. It is also possible to use your phone (if it has the pay facility) or your contactless debit/credit card.
Black cabs or taxis are available all over London, and easy to pick one up. You can pre arrange a taxi by contacting a firm and arranging a time for them to pick you up, or hail a cab whilst at the side of the road. We did this when we took our nephews to London, we got off the tube, and hailed a black cab to take us to Hyde Park. It was an exciting adventure for them especially when they haven’t been in a black cab before. This can be a more expensive means of transport, as we paid £10 to take us about 10 minutes down the road.
Places to eat
There are so many budget or luxury places to eat around London, including different cuisines from around the world. At Buckingham Palace there’s a café in the garden, we had afternoon tea with a piece of cake, and it was amazing, I went back for a second piece. In Hyde Park there is a café right by the Serpentine which serves hot and cold food, and an ice cream van outside. When we visited with our nephews, we had a little picnic and just brought sandwiches from the café. Food prices in London depending on where you go can be very expensive, so have a look around before just sitting at the first place you see.
London is the happening place, there are always things going on in London, be that small events or large carnivals. The London marathon starts quite early on in the year, covering a distance of about 26.2 miles and thousands of runners participating or watching from the side lines. London LGBT Pride happens annually in the month of June/July, its lovely to see so many people dressed up, and the party atmosphere is electric. During the summer, brightly colours are trooped around the streets at Notting Hill Carnival. At the end of the year, its time to wrap up warm, drink some mulled wine and get into the Christmas spirit with Christmas markets, and Winter Wonderland that’s held at Hyde Park.
Places to Stay
There are many budget, luxury, or hostels to stay in, in the London area. The further from the center yet a short tube stop away can sometimes be cheaper.
Whether you are visiting London for the day, or have a longer trip planned, why not try this 4 day itinerary which is suitable for families.
If you need any help or advise on visiting London, then please contact us.