London

London’s whistle-stop tour

Tessa and I had two-and-a-half days to explore London and we had to squeeze in her pre-departure covid test on top of it. We had a lot to cover and not a lot of time to do it. 

Immediately after arriving back in London from Edinburgh, we dropped our luggage off at the flat and then hopped on the Tube to begin our whistle-stop tour.

Here are the details of our tour.

Stop 1: Piccadilly Circus / Regent Street

Piccadilly Circus is a mini Times Square. I take visitors to Piccadilly Circus, not for the flashing LED screens but for the view of Regent Street.

Regent Street is a curved street that connects Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus. It’s lined with big and lesser-known brands. It’s just a very pretty street that is a must-do in London.

To get the view of the curve, you have to start at Piccadilly Circus and walk towards Oxford Circus. The wow factor is lost if done in reverse.

Now, – and this is going to be a recurring theme in this post – I did not take any photos of Regent Street during the stop with Tessa. I was too focused on getting to a store called Colorful Standard.

So, in lieu of recent photos of our tour stops, I will share photos from my archives. They aren’t the best photos but they will get the job done.

Here’s an iPhone 4S photo of me on Regent Street in 2012 during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The festivities marked 60 years on the throne. Nest year, she’ll mark 70 years on the throne and there are similar festivities planned for her Platinum Jubilee.

You may be wondering why I’m holding a crappy tourist mug of Will and Kate in the photo above.

My friend, Jessi, collects these crappy tourist mugs and I’m tasked with sourcing them for her for every major royal event, including but not limited to, royal weddings, and royal births. I have no idea how many mugs she has but it’s a substantial amount.

Stop 2: Carnaby

When I talk about Carnaby, Peter always asks “What’s Carnaby?” Carnaby is a pedestrian-only shopping zone located between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus.

We have been in Carnaby a million times but because Oxford Street and Carnaby are both super busy shopping areas, I think he associates this area as just being part of Oxford Street. 

After Tessa and I walked the curve of Regent Street, we hooked a hard right and a few steps later, we were in Carnaby. She said she loved the area.

During the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, I heard a rumor that there was an artist who was painting a mural of Great Britain’s medal winners in Carnaby as they were winning them in real-time.

Seeing this mural was on my sightseeing list but given our hectic schedule, I had sort of forgotten about it until we happened to stumble upon it after leaving Sweaty Betty.

It was very cool.

Here is an explanation of the mural from the artist, Ben Mosley.

Here are a few photos of the mural.

Stop 3: Soho

I am not a fan of Soho. I never have been. Not even in my early 30s. It’s too young, too loud, too drunk, too busy, too much.

We didn’t technically stop in Soho but we did walk through it on our way to Covent Garden. It was absolutely packed with people because it wasn’t raining and it was a holiday weekend.

Tessa said she “didn’t mind Soho” and I wondered if we were actually blood relatives.

Stop 4: Covent Garden

The primary reason for our visit to Covent Garden was to get something to eat. It was an odd time of day, maybe like 4pm and we didn’t want to eat too much because dinner was in a couple of hours but we also knew we would not make to dinner time without eating.

Ideally, we would have popped into a Pret for a quick bite but every single one of the locations – and there were many – were closed. I’ve never been so let down by Pret before in my life.

As a backup plan, we traversed Soho to the Neal’s Yard area of Covent Garden and shared a slice of pizza from Homeslice. So tasty.

Neal’s Yard is a colorful courtyard and a popular place to take photos so whilst I waited for the pizza, Tessa walked around snapping photos like a proper tourist.

We capped off the day with drinks and dinner at Knowhere Special. Their brisket courgettes taste like an Arby’s sandwich. Delightful.

Stop 5: Pre-departure covid test

We started Tessa’s first full day in London with her pre-departure covid test. She passed her test with flying colors.

Stop 6: St Paul’s Cathedral

From the testing centre, we hopped in a taxi that dropped us off at St. Paul’s Cathedral. We didn’t have time to go inside so we did the noble tourist thing and took photos of the exterior.

This photo was taken on the south end of Millennium Bridge, looking north to St. Paul’s Cathedral

Stop 7: Millennium Bridge

From St. Paul’s Cathedral, we walked down to the river and walked across it on the Millennium Bridge. It was Sunday and still fairly early (hence why we took a taxi, no traffic). There were only a few people out, mostly runners. It was nice.

Stop 8: Gail’s Bakery

We walked by the Tate Modern and grabbed a quick bite to eat at Gail’s Bakery. Gail’s is one of the most popular bakeries in London, so do try their chocolate chunk cookie if you get the chance.

Stop 9: Tower Bridge

From Gail’s, we walked back to the river and walked along the promenade towards Tower Bridge.

If you want the best view of the bridge, then the southwest corner of the bridge (along the promenade) is going to be your jam.

Stop 10: Tower of London

Having learned my lesson from Edinburgh, we pre-booked appointments/tickets to the Tower of London the night prior.

From the south bank, we walked across Tower Bridge and entered the Tower of London at our appointed time, 11am. I felt like I was winning the tourist game.

We spent about 1.5 hours in the Tower of London. It had been 10 years since I was last in the Tower of London and I forgot that it’s a mini-city inside the walls.

We walked the walls, saw the crown jewels (underwhelming to be honest), and toured the White Tower.

Stop 11: River Thames boat

Peter says that one must-do when visiting London is to tour London by boat. I don’t disagree but you have to do it right and Tessa and I did it totally wrong. I’m an amateur in my own city, I guess.

We boarded the riverboat at Tower Pier and alighted at London Bridge City Pier. I thought my Citymapper app was wrong when it displayed a price of £7.30 per journey.

Nope, that was indeed the price of each of our tickets.

To say I was shocked is an understatement. The journey took about three minutes, possibly less. We boarded, walked to the back of the boat, realized that we were arriving at London Bridge City Pier, walked to the front of the boat, and alighted.

An hour later, as we were walking over Westminster Bridge, I sent Peter this photo and complained about the fare. He gave me no sympathy.

He said we did it all wrong. The right way to do the riverboat is to take it from Westminster Pier to Tower Pier or vice versa.

Stop 12: Borough Market

From London Bridge City Pier, we walked along the promenade to Borough Market. I wanted to give Tessa the experience of a really busy market in London and since Borough Market is the only place in London where I’ve felt I was going to be pickpocketed, it was the perfect market.

As it turns out, Borough Market isn’t really open on Sundays. I mean, technically, it’s open and there are a few traders but it’s not a market on Sundays in any sort of market sense. There were maybe a dozen traders and four food stalls in operation.

I have been to Borough Market twice and both times have been a 1/10 experience. I guess I’m just a Spitalfields Market girl!

Stop 13: Houses of Parliament / Big Ben

From Borough Market, we transited to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (officially called Elizabeth Tower as of 2021) via the Tube.

Big Ben was covered in scaffolding and has been since August 21, 2017. I had no clue renovation works have been ongoing for the past four years until last week when I heard about it on the news.

Stop 14: Westminster Abbey

Defeated by the scaffolding, we walked south across Westminster Bridge and then u-turned at the London Eye and walked back across the bridge to Westminster Abbey. 

The photo below captures British weather perfectly. The sky is gray with dark clouds on one half of the photo and blue with white clouds on the other half.

Stop 15: Buckingham Palace

With the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, London Eye, and Westminster Abbey ticked off the tour, we walked through St James’s Park to The Mall and ended at Buckingham Palace. 

At this point, we were pretty exhausted. We had been touristing for four days straight, beginning every day at 8am and ending at 10pm.

We decided that we would return to the flat for a couple of hours of quality time on the couch before our Sunday roast dinner at Blacklock. I decided that we would take a double-decker bus back to the flat because riding a double-decker bus is a must-do. 

Stop 16: Green Park

From Buckingham Palace, we walked through Green Park on our way to the bus stop. Our bus was about three minutes away when I received a call from British Airways letting me (aka imposter Tessa) know that her bag had just arrived at Heathrow. More on that story here.

The double-decker bus experience was going to have to wait until the next day. She needed her bag, so we hopped on the Tube to Heathrow to collect it. 

We ended the day with a proper Sunday roast at Blacklock and an early bedtime.

Stop 17: Double-decker bus

Tessa’s final day in London was relaxing and how I envisioned every one of her days in the UK to be.

We ate breakfast at Megan’s and then we boarded a double-decker bus to Oxford Street for more shopping. 

That evening, Tessa unpacked her bag and presented us with a counter full of American medications and foodstuffs.

Peter and I have not been to the US in nearly two years and although we are able to find most of our favorite American foodstuffs here, we can’t get them all and we certainly cannot get 500 count bottles of ibuprofen, so the American goods haul was much appreciated!

Over the course of Tessa’s six days in London, we walked 47 miles. I just… we need a re-do sometime in the future.

3 comments on “London’s whistle-stop tour

  1. Wow, you made the most if it. That’s awesome! I had flashbacks of you making me walk across that bridge.

  2. I think maybe you took me to Tower of London 10 years ago?

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