London is a city steeped in history and culture that offers an abundance of iconic landmarks and attractions that draw visitors from around the world. Recently we spent a few days exploring London. It was a short, but unforgettable experience that combined historical significance, architectural marvels, and even some West End (London’s Broadway) musical entertainment. When we arrived, we found out that King Charles had just been in London to celebrate his birthday so the streets and palace were still decorated with flags, tassels and all the trimmings. This made it extra fun to see this amazing city!
Day 1 – Royal Majesty and Tranquil Gardens
The day kicked off with a walking tour where we visited Buckingham Palace, the King’s official London residence and a working royal palace.. Having our tour guide really helped us know the best location to witness the Changing of the Guards ceremony. We were able to see the guards coming and going from the palace. This iconic event only takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays and special holidays. As the sounds of the marching band filled the air and the traditionally dressed guards performed their intricate routine, we felt immersed in the pageantry that is uniquely British.
We then walked along The Mall (the street that goes from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square). We passed Clarence House, where King Charles and Camilla unofficially live, and past St. James’s Park, a great place to take a leisurely stroll around the serene lake and enjoy the lush greenery.
We then reached Admiralty Arch (which is at the end of The Mall) and then Trafalgar Square and the impressive Nelson’s Column. We enjoyed walking past all the surrounding museums, galleries, and theaters that surrounding this lively square, which also happens to be the perfect place for a quick bite and people-watching.
Because we only had a few days in London, we moved right along to Horse Guards Parade, an expansive courtyard. It is a site for military ceremonies and events, like the King’s Birthday Celebration.
We then went to Parliament Square where the Parliament Building stands as a proud testament to London’s rich past. Of course, this is where we found the iconic Big Ben Clock Tower watching over the city. We then just walked past the expansive Westminster Abbey building and our walking tour came to an end.
We found a place just around the corner from our hotel to eat lunch, the Old Queen Street Cafe. We would give this place a ‘thumbs up’ since it is close to all the iconic London sights. After all the walking we had done, we opted for a Thames River Taxi that offers a unique perspective of the city’s skyline as you cruise past some famous landmarks. We disembarked at the Tower of London, a historic fortress and former royal palace. This was a real highlight the Tower captivated us with tales of its storied past, including its role as a prison and treasury. Our guide was quite hilarious!
From the Tower of London, we could easily see Tower Bridge, a masterpiece of Victorian engineering that looms majestically over the River Thames. Crossing this iconic drawbridge is a must, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
We then ventured over to Seven Dials Market, an expansive indoor food court with its wide and eclectic range of culinary delights. From gourmet street food to international cuisines, you’re sure to find something you like.
Completing the day with a dose of musical enchantment, we walked back to the Trafalgar Square Theatre to catch a performance of “Jersey Boys.” This internationally acclaimed musical tells the story of the iconic rock ‘n’ roll group, the Four Seasons. We really enjoyed the familiar melodies and interesting storyline that brought to life the music and era that defined a generation.
Day 2 – Historical Marvels and Theatrical Brilliance
Our second day began at Westminster Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its stunning Gothic architecture and its historical significance as the venue for royal weddings, coronations, and other important events. Outside, the abbey’s intricate Gothic façade is a sight to behold, with its towering spires and ornate carvings.
As you step inside, you’re enveloped by a sense of reverence as you walk through the nave, admiring the magnificent stained glass windows and intricate chapels that hold centuries of history. Walking through the abbey’s hallowed halls feels like stepping back in time as you marvel at the intricately designed chapels and memorials. This architectural masterpiece, dating back to the 11th century, has seen coronations, weddings, and funerals of British monarchs, statesmen, and literary figures. Tip – get there early in the morning because the line can be long.
We then went to visit the Hyde Park Chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nestled in the heart of London, this beautifully designed place of worship provides a peaceful atmosphere for reflection and contemplation. Whether you’re a member of the church or simply seeking a serene space, the Hyde Park LDS Church offers solace amidst the urban buzz. You can’t miss the famous Bertel Thorvaldsen Christus Statue in the display window at the front entrance.
We found a charming cafe in the Kensington neighborhood where we had a yummy lunch alfresco. This is an upscale area with stately Victorian buildings and embassies and has great places to eat and quaint places to shop.
In the afternoon we made our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, an iconic symbol of London’s resilience and magnificence. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London, this cathedral stands as a testament to the city’s ability to rise from the ashes. Climbing to the top of the dome rewards you with panoramic views of London’s sprawling cityscape. As we explored the interior, we were captivated by the intricate mosaics that adorn the interior and the Whispering Gallery, where whispers travel across the curve of the dome.
We spent the remainder of our day in the Piccadilly Circus & Leicester Square area. This bustling square is a hub of activity, offering everything from shopping to dining and entertainment. There’s a dynamic atmosphere around the iconic Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain. They have what we learned they call “arcades” which are alleyways with shops and eateries.
The grand finale of our day is the electrifying musical “Hamilton.” This Tony Award-winning production brings the Founding Fathers of America to life through rap and hip-hop, offering a fresh and exhilarating take on history. The Victoria Palace Theatre provides a perfect stage for this groundbreaking show, as the cast transports you to the Revolutionary era with their powerful performances. Unfortunately, I got very sick during the first act and had to return to our hotel early. All the employees at the theater were very kind and took good care of me! And it was a really good thing I had seen the play a couple of times previously.
Day 3 – Stonehenge with a detour to Windsor Castle & Salisbury Cathedral
We hired a driver with a van to take us to Stonehenge but then found out that it was closed to visitors for the day because of the summer solstice. Our tour guide quickly advised us that we could still see Stonehenge, if only from the road and add a visit to Windsor Castle & Salisbury Cathedral as a bonus. When traveling, sometimes you have to pivot and when doing so you may just be pleasantly surprised because our day could not have gone any better!
Winder Castle is the epitome of British royalty and the oldest occupied castle in the world. As you approach its towering walls and enter through the Norman Gate, you’re transported to a realm where centuries of history unfold. The castle was closed for the day because King Charles was arriving that very day. We were able to walk up and see the Castle but many of the roads were closed. We were able to see the changing of the guards, which was fun to see, especially given that is all the more theatrical because the King was on his way to the castle.
Like I mentioned, we were able to see the enigmatic Stonehenge from the road. This prehistoric monument stands as one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites, shrouded in mystery and captivating the imagination for millennia. As you look at the circle of massive standing stones, literally out in the middle of nowhere, you can’t help but wonder about the purpose and symbolism behind this ancient structure.
Our next stop was a complete surprise, the Salisbury Cathedral, formally the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is an Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, England. The spire was built in 1320. It was heightened to 404 feet (123 m) and has been the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom since 1561. It was a wonderful surprise.
Then it was time to head to the Oceania Cruise Terminal, where we began our Summer Scandinavia Cruise (see previous Blog Post).
This day has turned out to be a fusion of history, mystery, and the promise of future adventures. The transition from ancient marvels to modern maritime exploration encapsulates the essence of travel—the journey from the past to the present, and from the known to the unknown. As we watched the horizon fade into the dusk, we realized this day, while not what we had planned, turned out to be a perfect prelude to on our cruise.
Note: Many of the things we saw and experienced were part of the London Pass. We highly recommend you get this pass if it’s your first time visiting London as it will save you money and will help you figure out what you might want to see and do.