Our road trip through England consisted mostly of quaint English villages and drives through the countryside, but no trip to England would be complete without a visit to London. Both of us had already visited London on prior trips, so we didn’t feel the need to make it the focal point of our trip, nor did we feel the pressure to scramble around the city to see all of the most popular tourist destinations. We still hit some of the hot spots like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, etc., but spent more time walking through neighborhoods we hadn’t visited before and exploring off the beaten path.
St. Ermin’s Hotel
During our only night in the city, we stayed at the St. Ermin’s Hotel in the heart of Westminster, which turned out to be the perfect home base for exploring the city. The room was nice but nothing too fancy despite what the fleet of Mercedes might indicate; but it was the location that made this the perfect place to stay. We were only a few minutes walk from Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace so we checked those tourist destinations off our list quickly before exploring further into the city. The hotel was also a stone’s throw from the St. James Park Station on the tube. Which brings us to our experience riding the tube… 1) Figuring out how to most efficiently add money to temporary subway ticket was utterly perplexing. So if you came here for advice on how to save money on the tube, then you’re out of luck. Maybe we’ve become simple-minded when it comes to public transportation because Boston’s subway system is so straight-forward (read, “unreliable”), but we weren’t the only out-of-towners who were stumped by what ticket to purchase. Most likely we spent way more than we needed to. 2) If you’re on a train the day of a major football match (translation: “soccer game”), then be prepared to live through a scene from Green Street Hooligans (not one of the violent scenes…maybe). We were on a train a few hours before Chelsea played Arsenal and it was bananas. At one station, a gaggle of Arsenal fans poured onto the train absolutely hammered (it was 10 AM) and singing non-stop until we finally got to our stop which seemed to take impossibly long under the circumstances.
We prefer not to be stereotypical American tourists, but when in London, you can’t not go see Big Ben and you definitely can’t not take a cliche photo in a telephone booth. We didn’t visit some other extremely popular tourist spots like London Bridge, The Tower of London or St. Paul’s Cathedral. Our trip was during the winter, so fortunately there were fewer tourists than there would have been during the summer. That being said, it was still crowded.
Out and About
We spent a lot of our first day walking around Soho, Mayfair and Covent Garden, all of which were definitely worth exploring. Probably the best place we found was a street called Cecil Court, which is lined with shops selling antique books and maps. Some of the old maps that these stores were selling were incredible and they were priced as such. Laura had the audacity to ask the owner at the first store we visited if the maps were “copies”. I’ve never seen someone look more offended in my life. Oddly enough, the only reason we stumbled upon Cecil Court was because there happened to be a Chipotle on the corner, and after a week of eating only English breakfasts and fish and chips, we needed a taste of home. At night, we went out in Soho and had a good old time.
Notting Hill & Little Venice
In the morning on our second day in London we made our way over to the ritzy neighborhood of Notting Hill to check out the Portobello Road Market. The market was overflowing with tourists to the point where it was overwhelming and hard to move without bumping into someone. Other than the crowds, it was a nice stroll with lots of live music, shops and antique vendors.
From Notting Hill, we walked all the way to “Little Venice” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. This is where the Grand Union Canal, The Regent’s Canal, and the Paddington Basin all come together in what is the center of Little Venice. The canals are lined with waterside restaurants and pubs and some of the boats actually double as cafes.
We’re glad we spent some time in London, but to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the highlight of the trip. Make no mistake, London is an incredible world-class city with a fascinating history and culture, but at the end of the day it’s exactly that…a city. In many ways it felt very similar to New York (except everyone sounds like Harry Potter). We fancy ourselves more outdoorsy folk, so 48 hours in the hustle and bustle of London was plenty of time for us.