Visiting London in your 30s
Earlier this month I celebrated my 34th birthday in one of my favorite cities of the world. Even though I hadn’t been since I was a much less traveled 19 year old who had no foodie inclinations whatsoever, London was just as wonderful as I remembered.
Considering how long it had been since my last visit to London, I could have easily “started from the beginning” and treated my trip as if it were my first time there. But back in 2017 I wrote a post on all the things I wanted to experience whenever I made it back, all things I had never seen or done on my last two times in London. And I’m happy to say that I completed the list (just about).
My travel style is drastically different, that of a 34 year old compared to a college sophomore. But I genuinely love this “style” more (as an older and much more wiser and seasoned traveler) and here are all the things I did and saw that contributed to a most memorable 34th birthday.
The London Eye
Okay, so this was far and away the most touristy experience I had when I was in London but my first trip there I wasn’t able to go and my second time there it was closed, so there was no missing out on a third attempt.
The gondolas are a bit crowded but you truly are rewarded with the most spectacular views of Westminster (minus Big Ben currently being under a most ugly shroud for upkeep work) and beyond. There’s no shortage of places that offer incredible views of London from above but you can’t deny the timeless beauty of a Ferris wheel.
Tips on visiting: For my American readers, buy your tickets on Expedia as you’ll save money since the British pound is still stronger than the dollar. You’ll redeem your voucher for a ticket at the London Eye store (inside).
If you’re not able to be there right when they open, I recommend purchasing the Fast Track Ticket. It does cost more but if your time in London is on the shorter side, it will be money well spent to stand in a much shorter queue.
Churchill War Rooms
Since I was last in London, my obsession with all things World War II has grown tenfold. So the idea of being able to visit the underground “labyrinth” beneath the streets of Westminster where Winston Churchill and his government ran World War II was simply incredible.
Being subterranean, I couldn’t imagine what life must have been like inside the bunker for its occupants night in and night out, especially when the skies would have been raining down with German Luftwaffe bombs. The rooms were operational from August 1939 (roughly a week before Great Britain declared war on Germany) until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.
As a cartophile, I certainly enjoyed being in the Map Room. This was in constant use and manned around the clock by officers of the Royal Navy, British army, and Royal Air Force among others. And of course, no one can dispute the awe factor of being in the Cabinet Room, the same place where Prime Minister Churchill said so famously, “This is the room from which I will direct the war.” But it was the ordinary rooms that I also enjoyed seeing-the kitchen, the dining room, even Clementine Churchill’s bedroom (yes, she slept separately from Winston).
One always thinks of war as being fought on the battlefield, but the Churchill War Rooms are a prime example that they can also be fought smack dab in the middle of a bustling city center.
Tips on visiting: Buy your tickets in advance as the queue to buy them on-site can be quite long, not to mention sell out. Tickets are sold for specific time slots.
Clive Steps, King Charles St.
Afternoon tea at the Ritz
I wanted to do something extra special on my actual birthday and afternoon tea at the Ritz fit the bill. Although I’ve enjoyed afternoon tea before, my favorite probably still being at the Westin Moana Surfrider hotel on Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach, this was my first time partaking in the “act” abroad. And what better way to do it than in England itself.
I’ll be having a full post on this in the coming weeks so stay tuned!
A walk through Notting Hill
My younger self would have scoffed at the idea of spending valuable touring time walking through a neighborhood but my older self absolutely loves this, especially when there are beautiful and colorful buildings to photograph and Notting Hill has both.
I also scored a really cool copy of a map depicting Morocco in the 16th century with the names listed in French. I can’t wait to add this to my map wall. Remember, je suis “cartophile.” I’ll also be doing a photo post on Notting Hill because sharing a few photos is not nearly enough.
Jack the Ripper tour
Okay, so if there was one letdown it would be this. I planned on doing a Jack the Ripper tour with London Walks as they’re so famously touted and on a Jack the Ripper front, they were the first to start. Well, you don’t book in advance which I think is a bad thing. Why? You just show up which means person after person kept coming and the tour guide was the only one taking the money, so that took a bit of time.
The worst was at one stop, where “errant” youths (I’m being nice by only calling them errant) were hanging out and playing. With the group being as ridiculously large as it was, I was standing in the back and with their yelling and loud music playing I couldn’t hear the guide (nor could others). For being a professional tour guide, I thought it was majorly unprofessional that he didn’t move us to another quieter area nearby.
Do your research and at least for the Jack the Ripper walk, I’d say find a tour that has a set number of people on it.
I really enjoyed touring the USS Missouri back in 2013 when I visited the Hawaiian island of Oahu, so visiting a famous British Naval ship that saw tremendous action during its tenure on the seas including escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union; seeing action at the Battle of North in which she assisted in the destruction of a German warship; and supporting the Normandy landings in June 1944 in Operation Overlord. She finally entered the reserve in 1963.
It’s one thing to tour a naval ship with a smattering of other tourists. I can’t fathom what it would have been like to have been on-board with thousands of other people, especially in the middle of battle.
Tips on visiting: For the ladies, wear semi-sensible shoes and leave the dresses/skirts for another time as you’ll be doing a lot of climbing on steep stairs. For those with ambulatory issues, there are no lifts so know your limits especially as touring the ship equates to foot traffic going in one direction, so you can’t “skip” sections.
Tower of London
Although I had toured here the last time I was in London, this is an attraction that never gets old especially with its prime location along the Thames. Although as a prison I could see its location along a river being both a blessing and a curse.
Being one of London’s most popular attractions, it’s hard to imagine what life would have been like for its prisoners during the time of Anne Boleyn or Lady Jane Gray when they were imprisoned there, especially since groups of British schoolchildren in their yellow safety smocks and tourists of every nationality babbling away in their native tongue and being semi-obnoxious make it hard to do so. It was a little easier to imagine in the Bloody Tower, the site of Sir Walter Raleigh’s imprisonment for more than a decade, as there were only a couple of people there walking its rooms besides myself.
Tips on visiting: For my American readers once again, buy your tickets in advance on Expedia. It was incredibly easy to exchange the vouchers for tickets.
Try to be there right when the Tower opens and then head straight back to the Crown Jewels. The lines to see them will only grow exceedingly larger as the morning and day progresses.
If you’re not interested in doing a guided tour with a Beefeater, I recommend the Rick Steves London guidebook as a great “silent” tour guide. He offers a great walking tour of the Tower.
I also did a food tour (naturally) and a day trip to Oxford. Both of those will be getting their own respective posts.
Even after three trips there, there’s still so much to see and do. Until next time, London…
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