The third time’s the charm for me and London. We’ve spent time together on two other occasions. Once, I arrived at 1 am and left at 6am, so that hardly counts. And another, I was hoping for a day in the city but a delayed flight left me with just a Buckingham Palace sighting and a trek across the Tower Bridge. It was so late when we finally arrived that everything was closed. This was my time to finally get to know the City, time for me to fulfill my girlhood fantasies of walking through palaces, and hoping that I might catch Princess Charlotte and Prince George out for a walk with the nanny in Kensington Gardens. (I didn’t.)
We arrived excruciatingly early at Heathrow at 6:30 am after a 9-hour flight that included 2 crying babies and one coughing old man. There’s not enough caffeine in the world to make up for that but I would not be deterred in my excitement of finally spending time in the city. We rode the Heathrow Express to Paddington station then taxied to our hotel, the lovely Intercontinental London Park Lane. Despite our early arrival, they said they could have our room ready in about an hour and we received a free upgrade thanks to my Platinum Elite status—automatic when you have the Chase IHG Rewards Club credit card. Our upgraded room included a sitting area and views of Big Ben and the London Eye.
Book Heathrow Express tickets online in advance for the best pricing. Prices are cheapest 90 days or more in advance, then 60 and 30.
Buckingham Palace was a short 5ish minute walk from the hotel and we were just in time to line up with the masses for the changing of the guard. We arrived at 10:45 and there were already hordes of people gathered for the 11:30 ceremony. Honestly, I was bored and unimpressed. For me, this was one of those touristy things that everyone raves is a must do and I’ve deemed it a must not. However, if I hadn’t watched it, I would have regretted the decision forever. Alternatively, I would recommend lining up near Whitehall to see the Horse Guard’s Parade. What’s not to love about beautiful horses all dressed up in their finery?
It’s a lovely walk from Buckingham to Westminster Abbey. We used our London Pass for admission but the Abbey is one of the few places where you still need to wait in the regular line with everyone else with your Pass. The line looked long but moved quickly and we were inside in less than 10 minutes. Pick up the audio guide as you go in. You’ll brush up on your English history while seeing the place where coronations and weddings of the royals, including Kate and William, take place. You’ll also see the burial place of many royals, writers, and poets like Shakespeare, Keats, Chaucer… it really is awe inspiring.
After this, we continued to stroll past Big Ben, Parliament and the Thames river to the Westminster tube station which we took to South Kensington, also known as museum central. (Not really. I just made that up. But all of the main museums are in this area.) We found lunch at a Lebanese restaurant then walked to Kensington Palace. There is no tube station convenient to the Palace. Either lace up for a nice long walk or taxi. We enjoyed meandering past the museums and Royal Albert Hall, and through the gardens to the visitor’s entrance which faces the gardens. We used our London Pass again for tickets. Kensington has 4 exhibits: 3 dedicated to previous monarchs and 1 to the royal fashions of Diana, Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth II mainly. All of the exhibits are well done and educational although on a smaller scale than I was anticipating. In fact, if I had paid the entry fee I might be upset about how little I received for £18.
Our poor feet were exhausted and protesting at this point so we grabbed a cab back to the hotel. For shorter trips in the city, a taxi can sometimes be cheaper or the same as the tube and much more convenient.
For two people to ride one way on the tube is £9.60. Taxiing back to our hotel from Kensington Palace was about £8. For shorter trips, we opted for taxis several times over the tube. If you’re going to use the tube 3 times or more in one day, buy the day pass for £12.
After a nap in our amazingly comfy hotel bed, we asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation near Piccadilly Square, also a short 5 – 10 minute walk from the Intercontinental. She suggested several places on Swallow Street, all of which looked yummy but we chose Gaucho’s. The entry looks dignified and traditional but once you go upstairs to either the top floor bar area and the second floor restaurant area, it transforms to a modern, hip social scene. This is a steak place. As in, they walk around with slabs of raw meat to educate you on the different cuts prior to taking your order. The food was good, but not sure it was worth the $50 per person you should budget for. I should note that my opinion might be (strong possibility) influenced by the fact that jet lag had come to rest on my weary person and refused to leave until I got some sleep. I even turned down dessert just so I could get in the bed quicker.
P.s. Did you know you can click the “share” button below and share this post on any social media? I’m even providing you an image you can pin on Pinterest. Read about Day 2 here.