I can confidently say that I could spend a decade or two exploring London, and still only scratch the surface of this diamond of the first water of cities. Originally settled by the Romans in 47 AD, this sprawling mass of humanity on the banks of Thames is a cultural mecca...an epicenter of art, literature, education, fashion, medicine, research, finance, commerce, cuisine, and history.
There's no way you can see it all in a day (or even fifteen) (or even fifteen hundred), but Hans and I have loved all the bits we've experienced so far. Whether you've never visited before or you're a seasoned city-dweller, I hope our day out can inspire your own London adventure!
9:30 - Breakfast at Aqua Shard
The tallest building in London, standing 96 stories tall on the South Bank, is the Shard. Suffice to say, this is where you go if you want a good view of the city! Aqua Shard is situated on the 31st floor, facing north over the Thames with prime views of St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and the HMS Belfast. We enjoyed full English breakfasts, consisting of eggs, streaky bacon, Cumberland sausage, tomatoes, beans, Portobello mushrooms, toasted sourdough, juice, and coffee.
It was thoroughly delicious, and somewhat negated the need for lunch...
11:30 - Tour at the National Gallery
One of the most wonderful things about London is that many of the museums and galleries are free to enter. Even better, some offer free guided tours! Such is the case with the National Gallery, the nation's premiere art museum situated in Trafalgar Square. Their sprawling, 2,300-piece collection contains works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Raphael, Monet, Rubens, Renoir, and Van Gogh...and many, many others!
On our tour with a fabulous woman named Helen, we learned about...
1:00 - Covent Garden
We dashed over to Covent Garden so I could pop into Deciem's The Ordinary, the Canadian cult (there are two words you hardly expect to see together, eh?) skincare brand. Along the way we stopped at Jo Malone so I could have another whiff of their Velvet Rose and Oud cologne, which is the top contender for my signature scent at the moment.
2:00 - Westminster to Vauxhall Walking Tour
If you need a little help finding something unique to do in London, take a peek at AirBnB London Experiences. There are loads of unique adventures to be had...walks and tours for history, food, literature, photography, and dozens of classes and workshops. Hans and I did the "Explore London Backstreets With A Historian" walking tour, and our wonderfully informative and friendly guide Terry took us through some of the quieter bits of this magnificent city.
We started in front of Westminster Abbey, meandered around the Hogwartsian Dean's Yard of Westminster School, and walked through the insufferably adorable Westminster Village, passing by TE Lawrence's (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) house and an old Public Bomb Shelter sign, leftover from the Blitz.
We walked past St John's Church, now a concert hall, in Smith Square, along with the old Conservative party headquarters (in a twist of irony, the building is now occupied by the London European Union offices) and the old Labor party offices. The buildings are just across the square from one another, and Terry told us that back in the day they would literally lean out their windows and heckle each other. We also passed the Marquis of Granby, a pub historically frequented by MP's, where a bell used to be rung 10 minutes before a vote to remind them to leave for the Houses of Parliament.
Onwards to St John's Gardens in Millbank! The park was once London's cheapest burial grounds, and Terry informed us we were walking over the last remains of the likes of prostitutes, thieves, and other such unsavory characters. The original gate, installed to deter grave robbers, still stands along the Horseferry Road entrance.
Further along in Pimlico, we came to the old Millbank Prison. The prison blocks have since been transformed into apartment complexes, and the old canal is now inhabited by urban gardens and washing lines. Millbank Prison used to be the holding facility for convicted prisoners before they were transported to Australia. Terry informed us that the term "down under" in reference to Australia actually originated at Millbank, since the prisoners were taken underneath the prison through tunnels leading out to the Thames, where they would board the ships headed for Australia.
Finally, we emerged onto the South Bank of the Thames and passed through a little park (where Hans spotted a beautiful sculpture of holding hands entitled "Love" by Lorenzo Quinn) before crossing Vauxhall Bridge, with the imposing MI6 Counter-Terrorism Command Center on our left and the new St George's Wharf Apartments on our right.
We went from some of the oldest bits of London to some of the newest additions, and Terry did an excellent job leading us through all the layers of history. We'd definitely recommend booking the "Explore London Backstreets With A Historian" walking tour with him if you're looking for an interesting way to spend an afternoon!
4:30 - Selfridges & Co.
Just before heading home, we dashed into the iconic Selfridges & Co. store so I could pick up a few things. Selfridges has literally been voted the best department store on the entire planet (twice!) and you could easily spend all day getting lost amongst the gorgeous displays and luxurious brands. Opened in 1909, this Oxford Street stalwart boasts over a dozen in-store restaurants and cafes, a spa and salon, a pharmacy, personal shoppers and stylists, a multi-faith prayer room, and even (randomly) key-cutting services.
After our high street jaunt we headed home. Our current housesit is a ways north of London, so the transit time was...shall we say...extensive. We're especially grateful for a family member of the folks we are housesitting for who kindly offered to watch the dogs so we could take advantage of a full day out in London!
In August, we have a two-week housesit in Blackheath (located within the Royal Borough of Greenwich) and then a couple days directly in London with a dear friend of mine. Anything in particular YOU think we should see?
Have you ever been to London, or do you want to go to London? What are some of your must-see places?