We visited England primarily to go to Oxford for a conference, but, while we were there, we spent about a couple days in London. The capital of England is one of the great metropolises of the world, so we were barely able to scratch the surface of things to do there. However, we enjoyed exploring London and look forward to returning in the future.
We hadn’t eaten lunch when we arrived, so our first stop was to get a bite to eat. On our way to the British Museum, we stumbled upon The Plough, a traditional English pub. We were greeted with lots of wood paneling, dark wood tables, ornate wallpaper, and flowing drapes. We were able to sit on the second floor in a corner by a window all by ourselves, so we were able to take in the street view and the surprisingly sunny day we had. Our meal fit the atmosphere perfectly-we had real ale (cask ale, which is served at room temperature rather than cold) and steak and ale pie, a pastry filled with delicious steak and gravy. We left quite satisfied and walked down the street to the British Museum.
The British Museum is one of the most famous museums in the world and is devoted to different cultures from around the world. There was far too much in the museum to see it all in one day, so we chose a few things we wanted to see and decided we would just have to return again-thankfully, the museum is free, so you can visit as many times as you want. We focused on ancient culture on our visit, so we wandered in and out of exhibits featuring ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Greece. We were able to see the many fragments from the Parthenon that the museum preserves. We also marveled at the enormous human-headed winged-lions that stood at the entrance of the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II in Assyria during the 800s BC, numerous artifacts from Egyptian tombs, and, perhaps the most famous piece of the museum, the Rosetta Stone.
After our visit to the British Museum, we wandered our way toward the Thames and Parliament, walking through Trafalgar Square and St. James’s Park, before stopping in front of Buckingham Palace. We didn’t tour the palace during this particular visit, but we enjoyed looking at the imposing facade and the stone architecture.
After our stop at the palace, we made our way to the Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament) and London’s most famous resident, the Clock Tower, commonly referred to as Big Ben. We spent quite a bit of time just staring at the Gothic Revival structure, taking it in from many different angles and perspectives. Often, famous landmarks are less impressive in person than we think they will be, but Big Ben was just the opposite-pictures do not do it justice. We walked across the river for more views before proceeding to our next stop, and another great view, the London Eye.
The London Eye is the large observatory wheel across the River Thames from the Houses of Parliament. Visitors enter a large oval tube surrounded with glass, enabling visitors a bird’s eye view of the city. We booked our tickets (which we recommend you do well in advance) to go into the London Eye around sunset. We, again, were not disappointed, as we were able to see the city from a whole different perspective.
In the morning, we visited Westminster Abbey, a church filled with both church and English history. The Gothic cathedral is a beautiful, ornate structure that is interesting in and of itself; however, Westminster Abbey is particularly notable for the many famous figures buried there (including many kings, Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Darwin, and many others) and for being the location of British coronations. We enjoyed visiting Westminster Abbey and definitely recommend it as a must stop on a tour of London.
On our way back from Oxford, we made one last stop in London before going to the airport. We only had a bit of time, but we stopped at Baker Street to catch a glimpse of the Sherlock Holmes statue right outside the tube station and to get a bite to eat at The Globe, another traditional British pub with a big bar, lots of wood paneling, and a dim, cozy atmosphere. We had a nice meal of fish and chips and cask ale for our last stop in England before heading to the airport.
More than any other European city we have visited, London had the hustle and bustle feel of cities like New York or Chicago. While we weren’t huge fans of how crowded the city was, we really enjoyed visiting the city. We were able to experience so much history in such a short visit and got to see some of the most famous landmarks in the world. Visiting London was truly an experience, and we highly recommend visiting.