Be warned: this is a long one - was bored and wrote it on the plane!
Last week I worked out of the London Steelcase WorkLife Center shooting a video for a new product launch. While in the neighborhood, Jeff decided to join me for the rest of the week following my shoot days to explore the city together - definite perk of the job.
As a whole, London reminded us a whole lot of Chicago. In place of deep dish pizza were fish & chips (which are fries - chips in London are called crisps), instead of riding the 'L' you take the Underground and replacing the Cubbies is Arsenal Football (soccer). Some obvious differences included everyone's English accents and everyone's preference of tea over the ever so American favorite, coffee. But a not so obvious difference was the skyline, or lack thereof. When walking around Chicago there always seems to be some recognition of certain buildings but in London there's nothing tall to orient yourself. And on top of that, if you take the Underground (which we did quite a lot) you get all sorts of backwards. Thankfully Jeff is great with maps and really enjoys navigating public transportation so for me, it was easy.
We had three very full days to check out the city and spend some one on one time together. We had a great time and found the city very charming, entertaining, and easy to get around in. Here are some of the highlights from our trip:
The British Museum - The museum was our first stop in London and it did not disappoint. The museum is massive and unless you want to spend all day there, having a game plan is crucial. We opted for the highlight tour that included seeing The Rosetta Stone. Also, the museum is free which is nice!
Leicester Square & Book of Mormon on Broadway - Thursday night we booked tickets for The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre. It was ridiculous and hilarious and all sorts of awkward and we loved every minute of it. And the theatre was fabulous also - the bar allows you to pre pay for drinks befor intermission and they have them ready-made for you so you don't have to wait in line. Leicester Square is London's 'Times Square' and is home to many theaters and popular shows that play there.
Tower of London & Tower Bridge - The Tower of London is historic castle built by William the Conqueror in 1078. It's now home to her majesty's Crown Jewels. We got an excellent tour from one of the towers Beefeaters (it's a real job which is impressively difficult to get) and spent a good 1 hour and 45 minutes on the grounds checking things out. The tour is free with paid entry and gives a fun overview of the castles history. Tickets were £22.50 each and we agree with our man Rick Steves on recommending it. Bonus, you get the best view of Tower Bridge from the walls of the castle.
The Shard & Borough Market - We had a great recommendation to skip the London Eye (the giant ferris wheel) and instead grab a drink at Aqua Bar located in The Shard - a giant glass building which is pretty much the only structure in all of London you can use to orient yourself. Unfortunately for us, we were not warned that there is a dress code (our Nikes were not up to code) and missed out on the view. But just near The Shard is Borough Market where we found tons of amazing street food. The market includes fruit stands, sweets, butchers, small restaurants... You name it, it's there. Jeff got some great Chinese food and I opted for scotch eggs for lunch that day. So good!
Big Ben, Parliament Square, The London Eye & Westminster Abbey - Big Ben (which is part of Parliament Square - didn't know that before our visit) and Westminster Abbey are must sees when acting as a tourist in London. Thankfully, these two buildings plus the London Eye are all within walking distance to one another and made for an easy 1, 2, 3 check off the box items. They look the same in person as they do in the pictures!
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Millennium Bridge & St. Paul's Cathedral - Connecting St. Paul's Cathedral and Shakespear's Globe Theatre is a foot bridge the spans the river between the two. We did not pay for entry to either but viewed the structures from the outside. We had other things on our agenda that day but felt we should at least check these two things off our London list.
The Churchill War Rooms - At £20/person, we found the war rooms extremely worthwhile and spent just over two hours experiencing the tour. The 'war rooms' are the underground tunneled rooms located in the heart of London where Winston Churchill commanded and won WWII from. The entry fee included an audio tour that was not only informational and easy to use, but it kept our attention the entire time. A handful of the rooms are still set up as they were when they were in use including original maps, furniture and more. If you're a history buff at all, we highly recommend it.
Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery & Gordon's Wine Bar - In Trafalgar Square you will find the National Gallery which is home to many great painters works of art. Our visit was preceded by a stop at Gordon's Wine Bar: wine by the bottle, cheese boards and an atmosphere comparable to nothing we've experienced yet. Off a side street from the square you'll find this old bar down an alley and set of stairs. Tucked back in the corner of an old cellar we found a small table and drank wine, ate cheese and listened to (and felt the rumble of) of the trains passing underground next door. It's not a place for those who don't like small spaces. Two bottles of wine later we found ourselves at the art gallery which is open late on the weekends. Needless to say, the art was enjoyable that evening.
Kensington Palace, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park & the Changing of the Guard - Before the football game on Saturday we spent the morning walking the grounds of royalty, or biking it rather. Hyde Park is enormous and by renting the public transport bikes (£2 for 24 hours each for 30 min intervals) available in London you can cover a lot of ground - not to mention feel like a kid again. Buckingham Palace was very exquisite, as you can imagine it would be, and very cool to see in person. We visited during the changing of the guard (daily at 11:30am) and were overwhelmed with the massive crowds. The only other time I've seen more people crammed into one place was later that night while exiting the football game and funneling into the Underground for rides home.
Emirates Stadium & Arsenal Football - Saturday we snagged tickets to the Arsenal football game. It was my first experience at a professional game, or really ever, so with Jeff's soccer background and enthusiasm for the sport he had some explaining to do. The game itself was pretty uneventful (a 1-0 win for Arsenal and not many 'attempts at the net' according to Jeff) but the experience was a good one. Fun fact: did you know they don't allow alcohol inside the stands of the arena? Surprised us too. Fans must drink their beer before entering their seats which means half time becomes 'game time' for thirsty fans.
It was a great trip that covered lots of ground and overall we had a great time. 'Cheers' for now London! PS - we totally used a selfie stick and it was awesome (thanks Andrea!)