On Day 2 we discovered the romance and outrageous beauty of Lisbon, the oldest city in Western Europe and one of the oldest ones in the entire world.
Day 3 granted us a stormy Hamburg. And while the weather diminished the amount of actual sightseeing, this day off helped to decelerate our ambitious goal to conquer four European hotspots in only a few hours a day, altogether in four days.
But we are not yet finished. We have one more highlight on the list and probably one of the most all-time popular metropolis around the globe: London. EVERYONE loves London. Including me. I can´t have it all day and not all year round, but once in a while, I just like to dive into this strudel of art, fashion, design, lifestyle and inspiration.
London has it all. It has class, ambition, outlook, tradition and history, but it knows well how to combine them without loosing its own identity. It is always hip, sometimes a little loud, but it is NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER EVER boring!!!
7:00 AM. Horrible time, but the perfect moment to get up. There is not much time for coffee and slowly waking up, so let those legs fly out of bed and right into the shower tub. Our tour starts at The Cumberland Hotel near the Marble Arch at Hyde Park.
I really like the hotel, even though it can get quite busy. Rooms are not the largest (I once had a room, where I had to decide who is sleeping in the bed: The suitcase or me), but the location makes up for everything!
The first thing that I realize as I wander down Oxford Street at this early sunny morning is, how wonderfully quiet it is. There are only a few people around and traffic is, apart from the big red buses, almost non-existent.
We pass the famous Selfridges (the second largest department store in the UK after Harrod´s) with its fantastic architecture until we hit Regent Street. There is tons of great shopping along, but luckily at this time, most shops still remain closed. Regent Street runs straight into Piccadilly Circus. A picture with the giant video displays in the background is done instantly.
We continue down Regent Street, pass the Crimean War Memorial and the Duke of York Column until we reach Saint James´s Park. But before we cross the legendary The Mall over to the park, take a look to the right to spot Buckingham Palace at the end of the boulevard.
London has various recreational areas, Saint James´s is one of my favourites though. Take a moment and enjoy watching the ducks through the fences. They are pretty curious and seem to enjoy to perform in front of their audience.
From here, it is only a few minutes walk until we reach Westminster Abbey. This monumental church is the traditional place for coronation and burial of English and British monarchs, and has hosted legendary weddings such as the ones of Queen Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947, Prince Andrew to Sarah Ferguson (1986) or Prince William to Kate Middleton (2011).
The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, however, did not take place at Westminster Abbey. It was conducted at St. Paul´s Cathedral (which we will pass later). Apparently, because the building offered more seating and its location permitted a longer procession afterwards through the city.
Anyways, just a stone´s throw away, we have another milestone in sightseeing: The Westminster Palace along with the House of Commons and Big Ben. Now that we have already arrived at the river Thames, we are going to cross over the beautiful Westminster Bridge to begin our extensive round on the Queen´s Walk. This waterfront walkway will not only allow us phenomenal vistas on the city, it automatically takes us past tons of other sights while we are en route down to Tower Bridge.
Like the London Eye, Shakespeare´s Globe, Tate Gallery of Modern Art, Borough Market (hmm, delicious finger foods from outdoor cooking stations. Very cool and tasty hangout!!!), The Shard, Balls Brothers Hay´s Galleria (very cool photo opportunity of London´s financial district), just to name a few.
Crossing Tower Bridge, especially on gorgeous days like this one, should be on every visitor´s bucket list. At least once every stay. This monument is matchless and embodies for me the ultimate landmark of the city.
After we have reached the other bank, sit down for a moment on one of the benches at the waterfront walkway and enjoy the view onto Tower Bridge and London´s latest architectural masterpiece: The Shard by Sir Norman Foster (amazing vistas from the viewing gallery on clear days!!!).
We then continue to walk into the direction we came from, pass the Tower of London and head on onto Lower Thames Street. Take glimpses into the side streets as you walk. From historic sites to flawless architecture, there is something for every taste.
After we pass the underpass of the railroad tracks of Cannon Station, we turn right on Dowgate Hill and shortly after left onto Cannon Street. This merges after a little while into St. Paul´s Churchyard, presenting us the homonymous impressive cathedral in all of its beauty.
St. Paul´s Churchyard becomes Ludgate Hill (make sure to fill up your blood sugar at Hardys), becomes Fleet Street. Before heading on, quench your first with a decent ale and the best English pies at Punch Tavern. This place is so outrageously special inside, you simply must pay visit here (if only for a short look inside).
Shortly after, we pass St Dunstan in the West, an Anglican Guild church, that reminds me a little bit of Hogwarts out of the Harry Potter novels. As we are now heading direction Trafalgar Square, it is fun to walk a little bit zig zag through colorful Covent Garden. The area around Maiden Lane offers a great variety of restaurants and bars, such as the classic Rules, for example.
BB Bakery is just a block away. You can take some cupcakes or maccarons with you for later. They are awfully delicious! (If you stay longer than we do today, make sure to make a reservation for one of their legendary Afternoon Tea Bus Tours. This is an out of the ordinary experience).
Trafalgar Square lies just a little south from here, past the National Gallery. This is probably London´s most popular public space and the secret center of the vibrant metropolis. Sit down for a moment and watch the square burst with life.
It is mostly up to you, which way you take back from here to Hyde Park and the Marble Arch (where our journey started roughly around four hours ago), but if you have time and/or energy left, you might enjoy stopping by these spots on the way:
- Geo F. Trumper – Men´s Vanities & Apparel
- Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly – Delicacies (Take yourself a little taste of London home!)
- Victoria Beckam Store on Dover Street (I know it´s cheeky, but hey, you have to pay visit)
I know, your feet might be aching just from reading, and trust me, mine are. But as sweaty and strict the schedule has been, this extensive walking tour (especially on this marvelous day) has opened a masterful London to me, that I am sure not many other visitors have experienced in such an intense manner.
The city is so diverse, so mixed and so varied, it takes many pieces to complete the picture (if ever possible). And today, we have successfully accomplished just a piece. But just like every world traveller knows: To make it last, discover a place step by step. So do not feel bad, that you will have to come back for more. And this time, make sure to pamper yourself with a more relaxing timeframe. Ready for YOUR next London adventure at YOUR paste?
Safe travels, folks!