MIND THE GAP (a journey in London, England)
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.
~Robert Louis Stevenson
The month of May is almost over and I had yet to do my monthly travel post, so I decided it was definitely time to get on it! My trip to London England feels like it was forever ago and I guess by many standards it was. It will be four years ago this summer that I ventured through London, France, Spain and Italy (which we will get to in the coming months). I had banked up all of my vacation time at work and decided to take it all in one big swoop and see as much as I could in 24 days. Flying into London direct from Calgary is an 8 and a half to 9 hour flight and a 7 hour time difference. It might take you a day or two to get used to the change. But if you are anything like me, you can usually hit the ground running out of pure excitement and anticipation. 🙂
For a Canadian, the exchange rate to the British pound was and still is expensive. London is not an inexpensive place to explore, even for hostels you can expect to pay $100 for a double private room with ensuite. Cheaper than a hotel, but less convenient. The metro to downtown is 30-40 minutes from the sticks and you won’t have A/C in your room for that price. And in July/August, you will be cooking. For me, that was at the Globetrotter Inn in London. It is only a 200m walk from a metro station, and only one transfer will take you straight downtown. (Stamford Brook will be your station and Acton Town is where you will transfer.) It is a very busy place with a small restaurant/pub attached that is full of young travellers on a budget. Dorm rooms are available too in this WWII nursing residence turned hostel.
I didn’t mind the train ride into the heart of the city at all. It gives you a chance to map out your day in your guidebook and take in the some of the locals. Maybe it was just me, but being surrounded by British accents everywhere you went was an experience all in itself.
Something else that will likely make you smile while riding the underground is the incessant warning “mind the gap”. Mind the gap is literally a warning to take caution while crossing from the train platform, to the train car and vice versa. This iconic warning is even one of the most common souvenirs you can get as a tourist, commonly printed on the London Underground’s symbol across the chest.
There really is so much to see in London, it is a very beautiful city. Being the capital of England, London is heavily populated. By Canadian standards we would consider it a giant – afterall just the city limits house nearly 8 million residents. So, even though you could spend weeks there exploring and still not see everything, I want you to take a peek at my “must-see’s”.
1. Palace of Westminster
2. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site 25 years ago, is a very large gothic styled church which construction began in the 1500’s. It may be best know for as of late as the church in which Prince William and Kate were married.
3. The London Eye
This giant ferris wheel, the London Eye, extends 443 ft in the air. In the peak season (July and August), expect to wait quite sometime in line for your turn. It would be wise to arrive first thing in the morning when they open. The London Eye is the largest ferris wheel in Europe and takes approximately 30 minutes to make a full rotation. Be prepared to shell out the big bucks for this must-see tourist trap. At the steep price of £17, it adds up quickly if you are in a group or with family.
The views of Westminster, the Buckingham Palace and the Thames River are incredible and worth the money in my opinion . Have fun jostling for the best camera shot with the other onlookers. 😉 Don’t worry, 30 minutes is a long time so everyone can get the pictures they want, just don’t pick a rainy day!
4. Buckingham Palace
Built in 1705, Buckingham Palace is the official residence and office of the Britich Monarch. Tourists flock from all over to take in views of the palace in all its grandeur. Not to mention, the very beautiful St. James’ park creates a beautiful atmosphere. You might even forget that you are in the middle of a very busy city.
Depending on your schedule, if you have time to visit more than once, the palace has a completely different atmosphere when people haven’t gathered for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. You will be free to walk around and take in the area at your own pace.
5. Tower of London and The Crown Jewels
This historic castle built on the River Thames also goes by the name of “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress” and the Tower of London, is just that. You can spend several hours trying to explore all of the buildings. Once inside the walls of the fortress, it is like a mini city. Not an inexpensive excursion by any means though, £20 in person, or £18 if you purchase your ticket online in advance (£11 and £9 respectively for kids aged 5-16, children under 5 years old are free). You can visit the quarters and throne room and even the torture chambers in the basement.
And although, no pictures are allowed, a visit to The Crown Jewel’s is worth a look too if that sort of thing interests you. I was absolutely floored by what there was to see in The Jewel House – crowns, sceptres, swords, and orbs, you name it. I found a small sneak peek online here if you would like to see a few pictures.
6. Tower Bridge
7. Notting Hill and Portobello Market
Notting Hill is a beautiful area of London. Every side street is lined with beautifully coloured, quaint homes. There is even an old style theatre just a minutes walk from Notting Hill station, Coronet Cinema, that is always featuring two current movies. To put things in perspective timewise, I saw “Dark Knight” in this theatre. 🙂 Also, just a five minute walk from Notting Hill Gate station is the world famous Portobello market. Fridays and Saturdays are the best days to visit, they are completely closed on Sundays and is not worth visiting the other days of the week (trust me, I found out the hard way).
Thanks for reading everyone, I hope you enjoyed a look at London through the eyes of a 20 something traveller on a budget! Just remember, bring your walking shoes and camera and you’ll be sure to enjoy everything this incredible city has to offer! Have fun! And as always, travel safe!