When I was younger, I read this book roughly one million times. Actually, I read all kinds of these fictional royal diaries, but Elizabeth’s was my favorite. Years later, I declared English as my major with a concentration in British literature. I spent 9am mornings studying Shakespeare and Wordsworth, Keats and Blake, Shelley and Byron. These days, I’m still devouring books set in the United Kingdom and The Crown & Downton Abbey, of course. So, when it came time for me to REALLY decide where I wanted to go for my first trip abroad, the answer was obvious: London was calling. 🙂
Before I knew it, I was boarding a plane for the first time in my adult life. If you want to travel but are afraid of flying, I have to tell you what EVERYONE in your life is probably telling you: it’s no big deal. On our way back to the U.S, I forgot I was on a plane until I got up to go to the bathroom. It was just like the time we travelled to the beach in an RV. Smooth, a little noisy, and full of lots of movies and books. I didn’t believe people when they said it’s like riding a bus . . . but it is. You can do it!
Anyway! That was my biggest anxiety point about traveling, so I hope it helps you to know that I was a very anxious flyer, too! I DEFINITELY don’t consider myself an expert after one trip, but I did do a lot of research and read all the blogs I could find, so I hope I can help some others get ideas of things to see and do!
These blogs are also for all the friends and family who have said, “I can’t WAIT to see your pictures!!” Here they are, my mix of iPhone and “real” camera shots! 🙂
Day I: Saturday
Since we got to our Covent Garden hotel at about 11:00 Friday night, Saturday was our first full day in London. I didn’t make much of a plan for Saturday — I really wanted to just wander and take it in slowly without feeling rushed/exhausted. I do, however, 100% regret not waiting in line to go into Westminster Abbey on this day. But we’ll get to that.
Martin & James, two of Robert’s friends from Manchester, met us at our hotel, and we were off to the city! Covent Garden is a really convenient place to stay. It’s close to two Tube stations, Covent Garden and Tottenham Court, and really close to the “main” part of London where you’ll find the big landmarks like the Eye, Parliament, etc.
When we got off at the Embankment Station, Martin led us up some stairs, onto a bridge, and BOOM — there was the London skyline I had been hoping for.
Big Ben wasn’t as big OR as loud as I expected, but I still loved it. 🙂 We happened to be right across from it at about 11:51, so we waited for twelve . . . tolls? Strikes?
We took scenic routes over to Westminster to see Parliament and the Abbey up close, then kept walking just to see different spots and get the lay of the land. Martin took us around to see the Household Cavalry at Hyde Park, then on to Buckingham Palace. Along the way, I learned that all the swans in the U.K. basically belong to the queen. This made me hate swans a little less (I find them terrifying).
We also learned that they actually changed the schedule of the Changing of the Guard because it was becoming such a traffic/tourist issue. They don’t do it every day anymore, but you can find the schedule to try to see it.
The three heads I was always searching for in crowds: Bert, James, & Martin!
Since there was no guard change on Saturday, we were able to get close! Also, the guards are gray because those are their winter clothes. Red is for warmer months!
Due to my obsession with The Crown on Netflix, we had to walk by 10 Downing Street. It was packed with people and surrounded by guards and gates, so that was a bit disappointing. But it was still a beautiful street to wander up and down. 🙂
That evening, Martin treated us to the Dungeon Tour, which taught us all about the seedy, scary, gory bits of London’s past. When we got out of the dungeon, it was dark and lovely and I could barely stand how beautiful it looks over the Thames. It makes me wonder . . . if you live there, do you get used to seeing so much history and beautiful architecture everywhere?
Day II: Sunday
I had more of a plan on this day . . . it was Tower day!
We started by hustling on to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham at 11:00am. It kind of feels like you HAVE to try to see if you’re in London. We definitely should have gotten there early! It’s SO packed, which means you really don’t see anything. If it’s important to you to see the whole ceremony, I would get there early and pray you get close!
After that, we hopped on the Tube to go to our Tower of London Tour. We were getting pretty good at riding escalators, swiping our cards, and picking the right Tube lines at this point. 🙂
I was super excited about this because we’ve heard all about the Beefeaters from Martin. Plus, the Tower was where a LOT of Tudor history took place because Henry VIII really didn’t like being married for very long.
Travel Tip: Booking tours and trains in advance saves you time and money. We booked our Tower of London tour, train rides, and castle tours online, so we were able to skip long lines.
Our Beefeater tour guide! He made fun of us for being American . . . but he was way “meaner” to the French and Australians! :p
I was not one of those people posing with the Queen’s Guards because I found them intimidating. It felt disrespectful to stand there and take photos of them, to be honest. They are very serious.
This is where the Crown Jewels are kept! It was pretty spectacular to see them in person. Watching The Crown made me extra interested in all the historic, ceremonial pieces. Plus, there was footage playing of Elizabeth’s coronation, and I felt like I understood the ceremony a lot more from that episode! 😉
This is where the Beefeaters live! They get to live inside the Tower and lock it up every night. It’s a very prestigious position.
The Tower Bridge was our next stop!
I read in my guidebooks that you can go to the top of the towers, so for 9 pounds each, up we went! And I’m so glad we did — it was one of my favorite things we did.
There are two sides to walk, and each side has a glass floor in the middle. One side had a mirror in the ceiling so you could look up to look below at the cars on the bridge. It was slightly terrifying, but also awesome!!! It was also fun to watch people overcome their fear of heights, like Robert.
I really appreciated the boys humoring all of my photo requests. :p
Martin took this photo!
After getting off the bridge and visiting the engine rooms, we headed to Wetherspoons for dinner and pints. I think I had chips with every meal on this trip, and I ain’t mad.
Also, notice the boys already on the other side of the road. They were way braver about jaywalking than me. They cars are on the wrong side, so I never knew which way to look!! Well, I did because they print “LOOK LEFT” or “LOOK RIGHT” on the crosswalks, but still. It’s unnatural.
Day III: Monday
Monday was Windsor day!! I almost didn’t book tickets to Windsor because it involved about a 30 minute train ride and castle tour tickets and so on . . . but then I was like hello. It’s Windsor Castle, and this is where the Queen spends her weekends! Martin helped me book our trains, which saved us some money because he knew to purchase off-peak return tickets. That means you can return any time you want as long as it’s not rush hour for people leaving work.
So! We went to Waterloo (I was obsessed with how the automated Tube voice said “Wah-tuh-loo”) and hopped on the train. It was a quick trip, and the moment I saw Windsor Castle looming in the distance, I knew it was worth it!
**For this day trip, I didn’t take my big girl camera. I was really tired of carrying it (it’s very heavy), and I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to take photos inside Windsor anyway. So these are all iPhone photos, and it’s fine because my shoulders were thankful for the break.**
Yes, I did wave every time I saw a Richmond sign. Duh.
We had plenty of time to get breakfast, and I was all about eating beans with eggs every chance I got. A full English breakfast is where it’s at, friends. Minus the mushrooms. Their “sausage” is more like a bratwurst, and their “bacon” is ham by American standards. It’s SO GOOD.
Windsor Castle is where the Queen spends most of her private weekends. It’s been a royal residence for something like 1,000 years! And yes, these gray skies are an accurate description of weather in England. I think it was raining at this time.
Through these gates is where the Royal Family goes to stay in private apartments.
The moat became a garden, and it’s absolutely beautiful!!
After passing time with pints, it was time to get back to the train!
But first, we had to stop to see the WILD fudge man. He was hilarious and even sang a fudge version of “Milkshake” by Kelis. Yep. There were hip thrusts involved. As soon as he saw that I was Snapchatting him, he was in FULL performance mode.
We didn’t have much time upon returning to Covent Garden before Martin & James had to catch their train back to Manchester. We rushed through Sainsbury’s so they could pick out some English essentials for us like Vitmo, Cadbury eggs, Kinder chocolates, and all kinds of other things. Robert & I made sure James went home with Pop Tarts and a Tootsie Roll — both were new for him. (He later told us that eating Pop Tarts made him feel like he needed to eat 5 additional fruits and vegetables to offset the sugar.)
Don’t be disappointed in me, but we were short on time so we ate at McDonald’s. Martin and James love McDonald’s, which Robert and I couldn’t get over. But after going in, I can see why. They’re just better in Britain. They’re cleaner, there are charging ports and tablets all over the place, lounge chairs, it’s crazy. And yes, chicken nuggets do taste different across the pond.
After that, it was off to bed because we had a VERY early train to catch! Part II of the blog is coming, and it’s our favorite: Edinburgh!
Finding Cheap Flights: Hopper app
Hotel: Covent Garden Travelodge (great value, definitely recommend!)
Castle & Tower Tour Tickets: Historic Royal Palaces
Train to Windsor: Trainline (per Martin’s suggestion!)
Train to Edinburgh: Virgin Trains East Coast (you get free wifi passes when you book online!)
Oyster Cards: We got ours from the kiosk at Heathrow. Super easy, and super necessary to get around! You can also purchase them online in advance, but you may as well save on the shipping!