Although he’s been there twice, Jon was more than willing to come back to London so I could visit. What a fun city, steeped in a rich history! The architecture in London is amazing, and even as the modern buildings try to take over, we don’t think it will ever lose that old school charm. Even though we’ve seen our share of history, the history in London is more relatable to us. Here, there is really no shortage of sites to see and activities to try out. But, I think we chose well and found the perfect things to do our first time in London!
Bike Tour of London
We looked to Fat Tire Bike Tours to give us an overview of the major sites. Our four-hour bike tour took our small group to famous sites such as Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and Princess Diana’s memorial.
We rode through all four royal parks and heard anecdotes about each place from our guide, David. These stories included the numerous break-ins to Buckingham Palace, an arrogant but successful general (Wellington), the city’s reaction to Diana’s memorial (they didn’t like it and thought it was too plain), and people jumping into the fountains at Trafalgar Square after Spain won the World Cup in 2010.
Honestly, this was a great thing to do our first time in London, because it introduced us to the sites and the history all at once! Plus, we got some exercise – win, win, win!
Jack the Ripper Tour
That night, we went on a Jack the Ripper tour. Our guide brought this mysterious crime to life and led us to the actual places where the Ripper victims were killed or found.
It was very eerie to know that 124 years ago, in the then-impoverished area of Whitechapel, with no lights down these streets and alleys, these gruesome murders were committed. Our guide also carried with him something they call “Ripper Vision” which is a handheld projector. Through this, we were able to see the actual shocking photos of the victims, letters sent from the Ripper, and sketches and headlines from the newspapers of that time.
Very creepy stuff, but a great tour!
Our hotel was right across from Parliament and Big Ben so we walked across the Westminster Bridge over the Thames River quite a few times.
Tower of London and the Crown Jewels
One day, we walked along the water all the way down to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. This castle, first built in 1066, was used for different purposes, including a palace, a fortress, and a prison. Throughout time, different monarchs added to the fortifications of the tower, making it almost like a small village.
We were also able to see the Crown Jewels. This included a number of magnificent items such as crowns, scepters, orbs, rings, swords, spurs, bracelets, and robes. The Imperial State Crown alone had 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies on it.
One scepter had a 563 carat diamond on it! Yikes!
Eating and Strolling
Besides touring the sites, we ate at a few of the many pubs in London. We thoroughly enjoyed all of the food on the menus of these fine establishments! Usually, we’d find fish and chips, banger, beans, mash, hamburgers, many lunch pies, and a ton of British beer. Yum!
Final (Important!) Reflections
One observation about the city was that at almost every intersection “look left” and “look right” were painted on streets. I guess the city has had a lot of close calls with non U.K. members looking the wrong way. I can’t say that we always looked the right way when crossing (or was it left?).
Overall, our first time in London was a fantastic experience, and we really enjoyed the city. It’s easy to get around, there’s no language barrier, and there’s so much to do!