London At a Glance, Days 1-3

June 1st: To begin preparing for our trip, I watched the video Rick Steves’ London, England: The City and St. Paul’s Cathedral and listened to the podcast Rick Steves’ Britain (Beyond London), Intro from Rick Steves while doing yard work. If you are preparing for European travel, I would highly recommend visiting and downloading his podcasts on your mobile device. These resources are free to anyone and everyone and once you download the podcasts you can access them at anytime. In his guidebooks and on his website, Rick Steves also lists popular tourist destinations and ranks them based on his own personal experience. Three triangles means “Don’t miss,” two triangles stands for “Try hard to see,” one triangle translates “Worthwhile if you can make it” and no rating means “Worth knowing about.” Don’t discount a destination based on these markers. Since Joe and I are both musicians, musical destinations such as a famous composers home for example, are high priorities for us but not necessarily destinations Rick Steves would recommend for the masses. Visit sites and destinations that strike your fancy and feed your soul! Here are Rick’s recommendations for London.

London is the L.A., D.C., and N.Y.C. of Britain — a living, breathing, thriving organism…a coral reef of humanity. Blow through the city on a double-decker bus, and take a pinch-me-I’m-in-London walk through the West End. Ogle the crown jewels at the Tower of London, hear the chimes of Big Ben, and see the Houses of Parliament in action. Cruise the Thames River, and take a spin on the London Eye. Hobnob with the tombstones in Westminster Abbey, visit with Leonardo, Botticelli, and Rembrandt in the National Gallery, and explore Harry Potter’s stomping grounds at the film studio in Leavesden. Enjoy Shakespeare in a replica of the Globe Theatre and marvel at a glitzy, fun musical at a modern-day theater. Whisper across the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, then rummage through our civilization’s attic at the British Museum.

At a Glance

▲▲▲ Westminster Abbey Britain’s finest church and the site of royal coronations and burials since 1066.

▲▲▲ Churchill War Rooms Underground WWII headquarters of Churchill’s war effort.

▲▲▲ National Gallery Remarkable collection of European paintings (1250–1900), including Leonardo, Botticelli, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Turner, Van Gogh, and the Impressionists.

▲▲▲ British Museum The world’s greatest collection of artifacts of Western civilization, including the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon’s Elgin Marbles.

▲▲▲ British Library Fascinating collection of the most important literary treasures of the Western world.

▲▲▲ St. Paul’s Cathedral The main cathedral of the Anglican Church, designed by Christopher Wren, with a climbable dome and daily evensong services.

▲▲▲ Tower of London Historic castle, palace, and prison housing the crown jewels and a witty band of Beefeaters.

▲▲▲ Victoria and Albert Museum The best collection of decorative arts anywhere.

▲▲ Houses of Parliament London’s Neo-Gothic landmark, famous for Big Ben and occupied by the Houses of Lords and Commons.

▲▲ Trafalgar Square The heart of London, where Westminster, The City, and the West End meet.

▲▲ National Portrait Gallery A Who’s Who of British history, featuring portraits of this nation’s most important historical figures.

▲▲ Covent Garden Vibrant people-watching zone with shops, cafés, street musicians, and an iron-and-glass arcade that once hosted a produce market.

▲▲ Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace Hour-long spectacle at Britain’s royal residence.

▲▲ London Eye Enormous observation wheel, dominating — and offering commanding views over — London’s skyline.

▲▲ Imperial War Museum Exhibits examining the military history of the bloody 20th century.

▲▲ Tate Modern Works by Monet, Matisse, Dalí, Picasso, and Warhol displayed in a converted powerhouse.

▲▲ Shakespeare’s Globe Timbered, thatched-roofed reconstruction of the Bard’s original “wooden O.”

▲▲ Tate Britain Collection of British painting from the 16th century through modern times, including works by William Blake, the Pre-Raphaelites, and J. M. W. Turner.

▲▲ Kensington Palace Recently restored former home of British monarchs, with appealing exhibits on Queen Victoria, as well as William and Mary.

▲▲ Natural History Museum A Darwinian’s delight, packed with stuffed creatures, engaging exhibits, and enthralled kids.

▲▲ Greenwich Seafaring borough just east of the city center, with Cutty Sark tea clipper, Royal Observatory, other maritime sights, and a pleasant market.

Courtauld Gallery Fine collection of paintings filling one wing of the Somerset House, a grand 18th-century palace.

June 2nd: Today I watched the video Rick Steves’ London England: Whitehall Street and Churchill War Rooms and listened to the podcast Rick Steves’ Britain (Beyond London), Isle of Britain while doing endless yard work.

June 3rd: Today I watched the video Rick Steves’ Heart of England and South Wales and listened to the podcast Rick Steves’ Britain (Beyond London), WWI Sites in Britain. I also took some time to organize our travel documents.

Here are a couple travel tips I’ve learned over the years:

1) Anytime you are traveling abroad, make sure your passport and driver’s license are up-to-date, accurate and actually packed in your luggage! 😉 I also recommend making a copy of both documents and keeping them in a separate envelope away from the actual documents themselves. If for some reason you misplace them or they are stolen, you will at the very least have a copy of them in your suitcase.

2) Keep your passport in a ziplock bag at all times to keep it from getting wet…you never know.

3) Make sure that your suitcases and backpacks or other carry-on items are clearly marked with your name, address and country, as well as the address of your hotel and the dates you will be staying at that location. You can never be too careful!

4) Keep an envelope in your luggage with copies of all important documents. I have a copy of my driver’s license, insurance card, and social security card, birth certificate, marriage license, tour confirmation letters, our Rick Steve’s Pre-Tour Planners, copies of city maps, our itinerary, AT&T Access Codes for various European countries, hotel information, directions to and from the airport/hotel and a list of the names of our travel companions. Why do I keep hardcopies of this informations when it’s all saved in my email on my phone you might ask? What if my phone is stolen, dies, or doesn’t have access to wifi, etc.? Now I can avoid that hopeless feeling and access that information in a pinch.