Saturday, May 21, 2011

Updated: Streets of London

This has been changed slightly thanks to the wonderful commenters below.

London and Paris are both cities where we have so much to see, so little time. So what I did was use the awesome Google Maps site to figure out what attractions were near each other and figure out a plan of attack. If it doesn't go to plan, no big deal! But at least this way we know it's possible to see everything and we won't get to the last day and find out something we really wanted to see is now closed or booked out.

Where we will sleep

Journey's King's Cross (Hostel)
How long? 6 nights
How much? €21.20 per night (2 adults)
Check in? 2pm although we won't get to London (from Dublin) until 2am. Reception is open 24 hours though so that's OK.
Check out? 10am, but we leave at erm, four am to get the train to Bournemouth to pick up our bike.
Why we chose it? Great location, Free breakfast, free wifi, privacy curtain around every bed, personal power jack at every bed, great user rating. The hostel is 1 minute from the Eurostar terminal at Kings Cross St Pancras Station. We also looked at The Elms for camping before we knew we wouldn't have the bike in London.

What we want to see

For starters, we're going to need an Oyster Card for using the London Underground. It's basically a prepaid swipe card that you swipe when you get on and when you get off, and it deducts the cheapest possible fare from your card. 


We don't get into the hostel until 2am Monday morning so Monday will be fairly relaxed for us. We're going to take our time leaving the hostel and then do a little bit of exploring, including a visit to the Tower of London.

A) is our hostel and B) is the Tower of London
The Tower of London - I wasn't too fussed on the Tower until someone told us we should go. I thought it was 'just a tower' but it has armour, crown jewels, torture chambers and medieval living quarters. I also then naively thought it would take half an hour to look at, but the website has itineraries for 1, 2 and 3 hour visits.
£15 admission , and you can save £1 if you book online
Opening Hours 9am-5.30pm Tue-Sat and 10am-5.30pm Sun-Mon.


Our hostel is a 1 hour walk north. A) is Buckingham Palace where we need to be at 11.30am. It's then a 15 min walk to B) Westminster Abbey and C) Big Ben and then a 36 minute walk to D) Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. After that it's a 13 minute walk to E) London Dungeon, where our tickets are booked for 3pm, so between the Changing of the Guards and London Dungeon we have 3.5 hours to do 1 hour walking - which is all we'll be doing, we're not going in anywhere in between. After London Dungeon we'll back track 34 minutes walk to the London Eye, where we have tickets booked for 6pm (but have been advised to queue from 5.15pm). We didn't book it during the day (avoiding backtracking) because London Dungeon has a much earlier closing time and we didn't want to have to rush at any point during the day. The River Cruise leaves from next door to the London Eye.
 Buckingham Palace - or more specifically, the changing of the guards. I love everything tacky, kitsch or touristy and this pretty much takes the cake.
Opening times - Occurs at 11.30am every morning between May and July and on alternate days throughout the colder months.

Westminster Abbey - It's quite expensive to go inside the abbey, I'm happy with a photo of the outside. If you do visit the inside, there are audio guides or tours available.
£16 admission
Opening Hours 9.30am-4.30pm Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri; 9.30am-7pm Thu; 9.30am-2.30pm Sat, Worship only on Sundays, no tourist visits.

Big Ben - We'll see it from the London Eye later, but it's on the way between Westminster Abbey and Shakespeare's Globe so we may as well check it out if we have time.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre - The original theatre where Shakepeare's plays came to life burnt down in 1613 but a replica was opened in 1997. It's a working theatre but there is an exhibition about Shakespeare's life. I have a tattoo of the Twelfth Night quote "If music be the food of love, play on" so I do have an interest in his life and work, but the exhibition doesn't appear to be great value for money from what I've seen so it's not high on our list.
£11.50 each
Opening Hours 9am-5pm. Globe Theatre Tours in the morning and Rose Theatre Tours in the afternoon.

London Dungeon - The Dungeon is kind of like a theme park mixed with a ghost train. You make your way through historically accurate them rooms depicting actual (scary) events such as the reign of Jack the Ripper. Visit is by tour only, and the tour is one way - meaning to get to the end you have no choice but to do the 3 rides included as they lead to the next part of the tour. Tours leave every 7 minutes and run 60-90 minutes.
£23.10 at the door or £15 online. Booking priority access is only £1 more and while you still have to queue, your queue is let in first. Also, this price is the minimum - peak times cost more.
Opening Hours vary but when we're there they will be 10am-5.30pm 7 days

London Eye - You can get really amazing discounts if you bundle your ticket with tickets to Madame Tussauds, the River Cruise, London Aquarium, or London Dungeon. Also, tickets now include a 4D experience to view before or after your ride. Book early to avoid queues. We booked standard tickets with scheduled times and they still advise to queue 45 minutes before your scheduled time if you want to see the 4D experience or 30 minutes before for the ride only.
£18.60 for a standard adult ticket or £16.74 online .
Opening Hours 10am-9pm throughout the Summer and 10am-8.30pm in Winter. The site says sunset is the best time to go, but sunset isn't until 9.20pm when we're there.

River Cruise - If we are still standing or awake after all that, the last 40 minute circular sight seeing cruise departs near the London Eye at 6.45pm.
£10.80 admission
Opening Hours 11.45am, 12.15pm*, 12.45pm, 11.15pm*, 1.45pm, 2,15pm*, 2.45pm, 3.15pm*, 3.45pm and 4.45pm. *Only during school holidays.


E) is our hostel, B) is Abbey Road, C) is Portobello Road and D) is Notting Hill Gate

Regents Park - one of the beautiful Royal Parks in London, it even has a Zoo! It's on our way to stop two of the day so it will make a beautiful place to eat brunch.
£0 admission
Opening times from 5am 365 days a year.
Closing times depend on the season but when we are there will be 9.30pm

The Abbey Road Crossing - 3 Abbey Road, a 1 hour walk from our hostel. The location of the album art from the Beatles 'Abbey Road', just outside the studios where 90% of their recordings were made.
£0 admission
Opening Times N/A

Notting Hill - Especially the Portobello Markets, which include several different markets in one area. The Antiques Market runs on Saturday 8am-6.30pm. The Fruit and Vege Market runs 8am-6.30pm Mon-Wed and Fri-Sat. The Flea Market seems to run the same hours as the Fruit and Vege Market but also Thu 8am-1pm and Sun 11am-4pm. There is an awesome website with a break down of the markets and their opening times here. A guide to finding the locations used in the film Notting Hill can be found here.


E) is our hostel, B) is the Science Museum, C) is the Natural History Museum
and D) is the Apollo Theatre, where Wicked is playing

Science Museum - Courts gets all credit for finding this one. It's a free museum packed with "interactive exhibits, awe-inspiring objects and an IMAX 3D Cinema".
£0 admission but charges apply for IMAX 3D, simulators and some special exhibitions.
Opening times 10am-6pm everyday, last entry 5.15pm.

The Natural History Museum -
It has dinosaurs. Enough said. There's actually an extra special Dinosaur exhibit on when we are there, which is £10 to get into. I'm seriously considering it because they have life-size animatronic dinosaurs.
£0 Admission
Opening Hours 10am-5.30pm 7 days.

The West End - I love musicals and theatre shows, so the West End was top of my list. After much deliberation we decided to see two shows - Wicked when we visit London at the start of our trip and The Lion King the night before we leave Europe in September. I've seen The Lion King in Melbourne, Australia and on Broadway in New York City. I'm obsessed. It's an amazing show however and I would recommend it to anyone. Courtney doesn't get a choice, he will experience the magic! The best place we found to buy tickets online was London Theatre Direct. It was easy and they offered great discounts, as good as any we found online.


We have to be up at 4am Saturday morning so Friday will be a nice easy day. We're going to check out the British Museum because it is 2 minutes from our hostel and then Camden Town which is also nearby. If we have time we might also check out Borough Markets, which are at the other end of town, near the Tower of London.
D) is our hostel, B) is the British Museum and C) is Camden

The British Museum - I have wanted to see the British Museum since I was 10 years old and my teacher told me it had an entire floor of Ancient Egyptian artifacts. Not only that but it houses the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone and the Magna Carta.
£0 Admission
Opening Hours 10am-5.30pm, 7 days.

Camden Town - Camden is quirky and filled with markets and alternative clothing shops. If you're a Kiwi think K'Rd but with a lot more class.
£0 Admission
Opening hours - Business hours with some late nights
Borough Market - One of the most famous markets in London. And you know we love our markets. Before we head home from the Tower of London, we'll explore the market and hopefully take home some goodies for the weeks eating.£0 admission
Opening Hours Thu 11am-5pm, Fri 12-6pm, Sat 8am-5pm.

There are also a few things we would like to do but won't have time for this time -

The FREE walking tour by New London Tours. Their parent company, New Europe Tours, offers tours throughout many European countries, including 13 walking tours through major cities, which are completely free. The tours are apparently very good, as the guides are paid nothing but the tips they receive on the day, so they work for their supper, and they do it well. The London tour is 2.5 hours long and departs Hyde Park Corner at 11am and 1pm. See the website for a full list of the sites you see!

Stonehenge - By complete coincidence it is Summer Solstice while we are in London and it could have provided a very unique opportunity for us. Summer Solstice is celebrated at Stonehenge by tens of thousands of people each year. For one night only, access to the stones is completely open to the public. Druids, hippies, and tourists converge on the site to witness the sunrise align with the stones in the wee hours of the morning surrounded by drum beats and dancing. Ultimately we decided not to go because it involves a whole night out in the cold but we might visit during the day.
£7.50 admission.
There is an Explorer Bus Pass that will take you there from London for £7.50 return.
Opening hours vary but in the Summer when we visit, it will be open 9am-7pm.

Madame Tussauds - The famous wax museum. We have heard from a lot of people that it is overrated and equally overpriced so we have decided against it this time. We'll see what Soul Buddy says when she visits a week earlier because I trust her opinion the most! If she says it's cool, it's cool.
£25.92 admission, lots of combo tickets available with other attractions such as London Dungeon, Sealife London Aquarium and the London Eye. There's also a discount if you have the International Youth Travel Card for under 26 year olds.
Opening Hours Thu 11am-5pm, Fri 12-6pm, Sat 8am-5pm.

Sealife London Aquarium - I'm sure London does Aquariums bigger and better than anywhere else but I do kind of feel like once you've seen one you've seen 'em all. If we have time and spare money, I'll definitely give it a go though.
£19 admission or £17.14 online, including VAT. Lots of combo tickets available with other attractions such as London Dungeon, Madame Tussauds and the London Eye.
Opening Hours Mon-Thu 10am-6pm and Fri-Sun 10am-7pm with last entires an hour earlier.

What we are expecting

I expect London to be grey, but I also expect London to surprise me with sunshine. Is it still a surprise if I'm expecting it? I expect the city to be overwhelming and beautiful. I expect there to be a different feeling in the air, a thinning of the air maybe? Just not the heavy heat of other big cities I've visited, like New York, in summer. I expect wider roads than Dublin. More of an expanse, more modern. I guess a little like New York but less polished.