It’s been just over a week since we returned from our vacation in London, so it’s about time I recap our trip!
When Ryan and I first started dating five years ago, I had just returned from a semester abroad in Europe. During our first few dates, I babbled on and on about the countries and cities I visited; as our relationship grew, we talked a lot about visiting many of those cities together.
Finally, we found ourselves in a time in life where international travel is feasible, so when the desire to travel abroad called, we answered. We booked our trip to London on a whim one Sunday afternoon through Expedia, while watching the Roosevelts documentary and learning about Eleanor’s education in England and Teddy’s European travels.
London was a natural choice: there’s no language barrier and Ryan and I both have heavily English/Scottish heritages. London was one of my favorite cities from studying abroad (along with Cologne, Germany, and Rome). What really confirmed our choice? There happened to be direct flights from Seattle to London, which is virtually unheard of for European travel.
We arrived in London after a 10 hour overnight flight on the afternoon of Friday, January 15. Neither of us slept well on the flight, so we were both tired and ready to relax by the time we got through customs and spent over an hour on the Tube to travel from Heathrow to our hotel.
After a long night’s sleep on Friday, we spent Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday exploring the city. We only took the Tube to travel to and from the airport and to go to St. Pancreas for our excursion into Canterbury; otherwise, we walked the entire time, which is our preferred way. You see so much more of the city when you explore on foot!
London is a markedly different city than Seattle: the temperature is colder, the air is drier, and the attire is more formal. It was fun to leave behind West Coast casual for a few days and wear our nice coats and clothes.
Cathedrals and museums are our favorite places to visit when we’re in a new city, so a significant portion of our travels were focused on those. I will unapologetically warn you that this post contains a lot of me geeking out over art, architecture, and history.
Beyond the spectacular architecture, we both enjoyed Westminster Abbey for its rich history. Everyone from Mary I and Elizabeth I to Sir Issac Newton to Aphra Behn is buried in this soaring Gothic cathedral. We took our time enjoying the audio self-guided tour of Westminster Abbey and marveled at the grand attention to the smallest of details in the building.
Big Ben and Parliament
Big Ben and Parliament are only a block from Westminister, so we joined the hoards of tourists. Admittedly, Big Ben is really beautiful in person, as the gold details glimmer in the sun.
The National Gallery and Trafalgar Square
Or, trying not to punch people as they take selfies in front of priceless works of art. I’m serious. That’s a very quick way to anger my normally laid back personality.
The National Gallery of London houses some of my favorite pieces of art, including Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The National Gallery unfolds for room upon room of some of the world’s best art; in my opinion, although it’s significantly smaller, it’s almost as good as the Louvre in Paris.
I had toured the National Gallery on my own trip to London years ago, but the art there never ceases to inspire and it was amazing to get to view the art with Ryan. We spent a couple hours there and viewed nearly every room, even the Impressionist art (Monet = beautiful. Manet = did he need glasses?).
So, we initially planned to tour both the British Museum and Buckingham Palace and maybe squeeze in a visit to St. Paul’s, until we arrived at the British Museum and realize how huge and amazing their collection is. We barely even had lunch this day because of how long we were at the museum; we just grabbed scones and tea at the museum to hold us over and then had a delicious Indian dinner later.
The British Museum
We spent five hours in the British Museum and still did not see everything. Ryan and I both share a fondness (geekiness) for historical artifacts. We saw the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian artifacts, the Parthenon collection, the Greco-Roman sculptures, medieval religious artifacts, and numerous other things. I was as giddy as a child on Christmas morning with many of the artifacts, especially the Rosetta Stone. I studied a couple ancient languages in college and find the history of language utterly fascinating.
We did not take a single photo in the British Museum. Even though photography is allowed, Ryan and I wanted to be be fully present, enjoy the experience, and show respect for the incredible testaments to human ability and creativity. If you’re ever in London, do not skip out on the British Museum.
Buckingham Palace and Saint James’s Park
Since we spent so long at the British Museum, we missed tour of Buckingham Palace. We instead enjoyed an stroll through St. James’s Park at sunset and then walked around the palace. The only part still open was the gift shop, which we visited. My favorite part was the statue of Queen Victoria in front of the palace.
We both wanted to glimpse the British countryside, so we took part of our last day in London to visit Canterbury. Canterbury is closer to the coast, but not as far of a journey as Stonehenge or Bath.
Cathedrals are always remarkable, but there’s something extraordinary about cathedrals such as the Canterbury Cathedral where renowned martyrdoms occurred and pilgrims traveled over the centuries. And then I nerded out about the combination of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles.
Saint Paul’s Cathedral
What a holy, beautiful, and emotional place. Saint Paul’s Cathedral literally moved us to tears and we visited this church twice: once on Sunday, during evensong, and again on Tuesday for a tour. Baroque architecture is my favorite (think of the Sacre Coeur in Paris, which is actually neo-Baroque, and Saint Peter’s in Rome) because it is so astounding, transcending, and complex.
During our tour, we climbed the hundreds of winding stairs up to the top of the dome. We were able to walk around outside the dome, reconnect with my fear of heights, and enjoy a breathtaking view of London.
What We Ate
Food and drink serve as an integral part of experiencing the culture of a city, so we indulged in several tasty meals such as curry, fish and chips, meat pie, and traditional English breakfast during our time.
Curryhouses in England seriously serve the best Indian food I have ever tasted, so a meal at a curryhouse was high on my list of things to do in London. We ate at Indian City near Saint Paul’s and it did not disappoint in the least. We split lamb tikka and butter chicken with naan and I am already dreaming about how flavorful and succulent those dishes were. And then it reignited my desire to cook Indian food at home; one of the first places I went after getting back was the bulk spices section of our local organic market.
Most nights we ate a pub near our hotel and enjoyed meat pies. We had fish and chips our first night in London, which was good but heavy and not as tasty as pie. I had the steak and ale pie twice and the mushroom and onion vegetarian pie once. So ridiculously delicious that I need to figure out how to recreate it at home.
We also enjoyed a proper English breakfast one morning, complete with black pudding (blood sausage), cottage bacon (yummmm! it’s bacon from the back of the pig, so it’s less fatty but just as delicious), mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, eggs, and toast. I know a lot of people think it’s bland, but Ryan and I love English food.
And don’t forget drinks! It’s no secret that Ryan and I both appreciate a good drink. Per Susie’s recommendation, we tried Crabbie’s ginger beer; we had recently become obsessed with ginger beer just before leaving, and Crabbie’s did not disappoint. We also imbibed sloe gin, which is so, so, so good, British-style nitro beers, and some cabernet that was Spanish but oh-so-amazing.
We didn’t visit the Tower of London because places where hundreds of people died disturb me, and we avoided the Tate Modern because, well, modern art.
What international city do you want to visit?
What are your favorite things to see when touring a new city?
Would you eat blood sausage?
It may just be the new superfood. And it surprisingly tasted good.