Part of the charm of visiting London, one of Europe's biggest and oldest cities, is just taking the time to walk the street and explore. And with so much to see, this could definitely take you hours, no days, to see it all. There were some highlights we wanted to hit on our mini-tour of London: Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the Changing of the Guards, Buckingham Palace, the banks of the Thames, Big Ben. And, we managed to actually see them all!
Warning: this post is heavy on the pictures and light on words. Basically, it's travel porn :)
Our first night there, Aaron and I headed down to the Thames, in the City of London, to explore some and get some night time pictures. We crossed a pedestrian bridge, the Jubilee Bridges, that flank the Hungerford Bridge in which trains from the underground can cross the Thames. On one side, standing lit and bright over the Thames, was the London Eye. At that time of night, it was no longer running, but that doesn't make it any less spectacular.
We then walked along the Thames for a short distance to see Big Ben lit up at night. Good thing Aaron got the picture when he did because as soon as the clock stuck midnight, all the lights turned off, leaving behind a dark, towering clock tower, with only the clock face illuminated.
And the next morning, on our way to Westminster Abbey (which we didn't get to see because the line was way too long), we saw it again - this time in the day light. Big Ben is definitely one of the most iconic sights in all of London, and for good reason. It's beautiful and pretty darn impressive.
Our next stop was Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guards. I asked one of the many police around (called Bobbies in London) where the best place to watch was. He pointed to an elevated platform in the middle of the roundabout in front of the Palace. We headed that way and were pleasantly surprised to see that there was still a lot of room to watch. While we couldn't see inside the palace gates, we could watch them march down the street. In fact, we were so close to them, you could see all the details on their uniforms. It was pretty cool.
Some other sights we were sure to hit up were Trafalgar Square, Hamley's Toy Store (a HUGE 5 story toy store, celebrating 255 years!!), and just lots of wandering in general. We did buy tickets to the Original Bus Tour, so we got to ride on the double decker buses some. Honestly, we probably could have done without the tour. It was expensive, the stops were not in the most convenient spots, and were many times hard to find, and then we sometimes had to wait a while before the next bus showed up. For us, it wasn't really worth the 35 pounds per person. The underground is much faster and easier to navigate (especially if you get an Oyster card). Nonetheless, we did get to see some cool sites when we did take the bus including Hyde Park, the Ritz, Harrod's (but we didn't have time to shop), Piccadilly, and Trafalgar, and we did get some interesting information from the recordings. The biggest advantage of the bus tour over the underground is that you can see everything you pass since it's, obviously, above ground. Other than that, it's not something I would necessarily recommend to someone visiting London.
We ended our first day doing one of the Jack the Ripper tours. I really wanted a ghost tour of London, but the Jack the Ripper tours are much more common and schedule friendly. We opted for this one that met at 6:40 just outside the Tower Hill underground station. Our guide was actually one of the Yeoman guards at the Tower of London during the day! He gave a fantastic tour which was about two and a half hours long. At each stop, he showed grisly historical photos and told a great story about who was killed and how it happened. Unfortunately, we didn't get any pictures because without the story to go along with them, they just wouldn't make a lot of sense.
By the end of the first day, we had walked over 10 miles and man did my feet feel like it! The next day, we didn't walk quite as far, but still managed a respectable 5 or so miles before we had to head to the airport. We were exhausted by the time we got back to Mannheim. That's the only problem with weekend trips - they aren't incredibly relaxing or restorative. But, it was nice to speak English with native speakers for an entire weekend!