Doing London in Two and a Half Days: Our Itinerary

No, you will not be able to see everything, but you can cover a lot of territory in London in a little more than two days. Here’s how we did it…

Buckingham Palace - St Jame's Park

 

Day One: Arrive London, early afternoon; Check into hotel; Attend the theater

Arrive at Heathrow Airport. Find an ATM machine and withdraw money to cover your expenses for the next day or two. [Click on link above for practical tips.] Grab a cab to your hotel (we always make arrangements ahead of time through the hotel to have a driver meet us at the airport). After checking in, secure your valuables in the room safe and walk to the nearest Tube station to purchase your Oyster card.  If you have time, stroll around and familiarize yourself with the area near your hotel. [I find it is better not to rest and lose my momentum.] Check TripAdvisor or another reputable travel forum ahead of time for restaurant recommendations near your hotel or the theater. [If time is short, order room service, if available, at your hotel.] Take the Tube or a cab to the theater for a 7:30 p.m. show. Be sure to arrive at the theater in plenty of time to be in your seat before the lights go down. After the show, walk around the West End and take in the nightlife before catching the Tube back to your hotel. [We made a habit of popping into a snack/souvenir shop at the entrance of South Kensington Station each evening to pick up snacks and drinks to eat in our room.]

Leicester Square

 

Day Two: Changing of the Guard; St. James’s Park; Thames River Cruise; Tower of London; Tea at The Ritz

After flying in from Ireland the previous day and then staying out fairly late, we decided to forego the planned Open-Top Bus Tour and snooze for an extra hour or two. We ate breakfast in our room, then caught the Tube to Green Park Station, arriving about 10:00 a.m. We approached Buckingham Palace through Green Park and had plenty of time to look around before staking out a spot with a view on the steps of the Victoria Memorial. It became quite crowded by 11:00 a.m. and we were glad we had arrived early. [Several spectators climbed onto the low walls surrounding the monument, but were made to get down, so while that may seem like a fabulous perch, sitting on the wall is not permitted.) After the ceremony, the crowd dispersed fairly quickly and we walked from Buckingham Palace through St. James’s Park where we stopped to eat ice cream and hang out with the pigeons. From there we walked to Trafalgar Square and on toward the Thames. As we ascended the Golden Jubilee pedestrian bridge, we got our first glimpse of Big Ben off to the right. From the bridge we had an excellent view of the London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament, Whitehall Court, and the wide Thames River. On the opposite side, we meandered along the South Bank, a hub for London’s arts and entertainment crowd. We boarded a Thames sightseeing boat next to the London Eye and cruised up to the Tower of London, getting an up-close view of Tower Bridge in the process. [I recommend purchasing tickets for the Tower online ahead of time, though they are available onsite and in other locations around London.] We had to decide whether to head straight for the crown jewels or take the Beefeater tour. We opted for the tour, which leaves the entrance gate every thirty minutes. Our Beefeater (Yeomen Warder) tour guide was super personable—witty and very informative.  The tour lasts about half an hour and then you are free to look around on your own. We went inside Beauchamp Tower, but saw everything else from the outside. The line to see the crown jewels was incredibly long, so we opted to skip that and cover more territory. We hopped on the Tube in time to return to our hotel, change clothes, and take a cab to The Ritz Hotel for Afternoon Tea (even though it was actually evening by then.) I had heard that the British cabbies are quite chatty, but that was not the case with ours. A quick fifteen-minute ride got us from South Kensington to the Ritz in plenty of time for our 7:30 p.m. tea time. Afterward, we caught a cab back to the hotel and got some seriously needed sleep!

Thames River

Day 3: St. Paul’s Cathedral; Open-Top Bus Tour; The City of Westminster; Westminster Abbey; London Eye; Harrod’s

By Day 3, we felt like old hands at navigating the Tube, traveling from South Kensington to St. Paul’s and even changing lines—an accomplishment for two small-town, greenhorns! Again, I had purchased advanced tickets online so we were able to go right in without waiting in line. No photographs are allowed inside, which is always disappointing. You can opt for a guided tour or choose to use an audioguide; both are included in the admission charge. After completing the audio tour we made the climb all the way to the top of the dome, stopping in the Whispering Gallery and the Stone Gallery on our way to the Golden Gallery—a total of 528 steps! The view is well worth the climb, but make sure you are in good shape as there is no elevator to get you up or down. We ate lunch in the Crypt Cafe (good food, reasonably priced) before doing some souvenir shopping in the gift shop, also located in the crypt. When we left St. Paul’s, we hopped on the Open-Top Bus for a guided tour of the city (live guide). [I had pre-purchased those tickets as well, which may or may not be a good idea since we ended up using only one day of a two-day pass…but it did save time standing in a ticket line.) During the tour we crossed Tower Bridge and London Bridge, and saw a number of other significant historical and cultural landmarks. We got off the bus near Westminster Bridge and crossed over to the Houses of Parliament. We walked around and looked at the enormous building from the outside, stopping to take a few pics with Big Ben, which is actually not the name of the clock (or the tower). From there we went to Westminster Abbey, which we toured; it is extensive and magnificent. We crossed back over Westminster Bridge and walked along the South Bank to the London Eye. I had purchased a fast pass ticket online ahead of time, which moved us along to a certain point, but we still had to stand in line for quite awhile before boarding our capsule. The thirty-minute rotation above London was well worth the money and the wait; the view was fantastic! [The capsule was fairly crowded, but not as bad as I feared it might be.] No trip to London is complete without a visit to Harrod’s, so we penciled that in as our last stop of the day. We took the Tube to Knightsbridge and walked from there to Harrod’s, which was a little confusing despite our map and mapping app. We eventually located the store right at dusk, but were disappointed to discover the restaurant we hoped to eat at was not open. Nor was our second choice, and our third choice was about to close. After a quick sprint through the store, we ended up at The Tea Room where we were served a tolerable meal by a less-than-attentive waitress who was more concerned with closing than with serving us dessert. But, that is another story… We took our last journey on the Tube back to our hotel where we packed and fell into bed, quite worn out but happy.

IMG_6168

Of course, there is MUCH more than this to see and do in London—palaces, parks, museums, galleries, libraries, cathedrals—but we covered a lot of ground in a little over two days and felt that we got a good overview of the city. We spent three and a half days in England, but chose to devote one full day to touring Bath, which I do not regret at all!

I highly recommend purchasing Rick Steve’s Pocket London as it includes tons of information, recommendations, and traveler tips as well as a foldout map and several walking tours. His accompanying podcasts are great as well.

Rick Steves' Pocket London

London is an exciting place to visit and, with careful planning, you can see a lot of it in a short time. Happy travels!

Related Posts:

Where to Stay in London: The Ampersand Hotel

Mind the Gap: Navigating the London Tube

When In London, Afternoon Tea at The Ritz…

A Stroll in St. James’s Park

Big Ben…or whatever it’s called!

Paris vs. London…What say you? (Part 1)

 

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When In London, Afternoon Tea at The Ritz…

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

One thing we wanted to do for sure while in London was indulge in a traditional English Afternoon Tea. The big question was, where?? After doing our research we settled on Tea at The Ritz Hotel. I would have preferred a true “afternoon” Tea, but that was not possible for two reasons: 1) I made the reservation two weeks before our visit and all afternoon time slots were filled, and 2) it would have been difficult to pause our sightseeing mid-day, change clothes for Tea, and resume our sightseeing afterward without losing precious time.  (We were in London for only two full days). Sooo, we made reservations for 7:30 p.m. We took a fifteen minute cab ride from our South Kensington hotel to The Ritz, arriving a few minutes before our scheduled time, as instructed. While waiting, we enjoyed the music of a string quintet situated just outside The Palm Court. Once seated, we were attended by a rather haughty, but efficient, black-tailed server. The table was beautifully laid out with pristine linens, delicate china, and gleaming silver. We made our tea selections from an extensive array of loose leaf teas—18 to be precise—and were served an assortment of sandwiches with various fillings, freshly baked scones with strawberry preserve and clotted Devonshire cream (to die for), and a sumptuous variety of afternoon tea cakes and pastries. Honestly, I think the tea and scones were my favorite part of our London visit! [Access the full menu here.] Tea lasted one hour and forty-five minutes and was quite an elegant affair. Because of the hour, this served as our evening meal and there was more than enough food for that. The Palm Court itself is magnificent with its gilded ceiling, massive mirrors, amazing chandeliers, and towering fresh floral arrangement. This was such a fun cultural experience and I highly recommend adding it to your London itinerary!

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

Here are a few pointers to help you plan for and schedule Tea at The Ritz:

  • Daily Tea times are: 11.30 a.m., 1.30 p.m., 3.30 p.m., 5.30 p.m., and 7.30 p.m..
  • There is a dress code: “Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie (jeans and sportswear are not permitted for either ladies or gentlemen) for afternoon tea in The Palm Court.”
  • There are several Afternoon Tea options to choose from—Traditional, Epicurean, Celebration, Champagne, and Seasonal. For more information, click here.
  • The current prices start from £52 per adult and from £30 for children. Click here for up-to-date cost information.
  • You can book your reservation via the booking widget on the Ritz website.
  • Reservations require a credit card guarantee. If you fail to honor your reservation, cancel, amend or reduce the amount of guests within 48 hours, your card will be charged the full price per guest. Reservations for 6 and more guests require a full non-refundable pre-payment seven days in advance of your booking. Cancellations without charge can be made up to 7 days in advance only.

Incidentally, our hotel offered a scaled-down version of Afternoon Tea, but we wanted to experience the “real thing,” and the price difference between the two was not significant enough to deter us from booking at The Ritz.

Related Posts:

A Stroll in St. James’s Park

Big Ben…or whatever it’s called!

Paris vs. London…What say you? (Part 1)

 

Where to Eat in Charleston, South Carolina…

Restaurants along Meeting Street

Restaurants along Market Street

As I have mentioned in the past, Charleston and Savannah run a pretty close race in the food department as each city offers excellent cuisine with broad appeal. I don’t know about you, but I am always eager to sample the regional favorites whenever I visit somewhere new—or old! Since I am a lover of seafood, low country cooking is right up my alley. Reviews of the following restaurants and eateries are based on my personal experience alone and are listed alphabetically rather than by preference. Always interested to hear your opinions and receive your recommendations!

Charleston Crab House:

We ate lunch here not once, but twice! Shrimp is one of my top two favorite foods so that, of course, is what I ordered. It was delicious, but…hubby’s Alaskan crab legs blew my shrimp out of the water! When we returned for the second time, you better believe I ordered crab legs! (I had fried green tomatoes for an appetizer and they were scrumptious!)

Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe:

I had heard about this storefront-turned-restaurant with a reputation for serving the best grits in Charleston (TripAdvisor reviews and a feature on Diners and Dives), so we decided to give it a whirl. Turns out, it was right around the corner from our hotel. The location leaves a bit to be desired—next door to a convenience store with most of the seating outside in the parking lot—but the food was delicious! We were early enough to snag an inside seat and the grits really were the best I had ever tasted…and that is saying something since I am a bit of a grits snob!

(The) Fudgery of Charleston:

We hit the ground running our first day in Charleston and covered a lot of the historic district right away. After all of that walking around, we were in need of some nourishment, so we stopped by The Fudgery, which is (too) conveniently located on Market Street adjacent to City Market and near our hotel. We each ordered a Mocha Java Chiller…with real mocha fudge mixed in! Mmmm, mmmm, good! Oh, and we had to sample the fudge. Good thing we had plenty of opportunities to walk off those calories!

Hall’s Chophouse:

We celebrated our anniversary at Hall’s Chophouse on King Street. The food was tasty and the service was amazing. The wait staff was extremely attentive, changing out our silverware between courses and making sure our glasses were always full. We started with She-Crab Soup—a Charleston signature dish—and also enjoyed a colossal shrimp cocktail. I chose Prime Rib for my main course and hubby ordered a Bone-In Rib Eye. The side of Lobster Mac and Cheese we ordered was so huge, we barely put a dent in it. The owner was actually working the door as we were leaving and engaged us in five or ten minutes of interesting conversation. All in all, a lovely dining experience.

Hank’s Seafood:

We selected Hank’s for our last evening meal (supper, to us Southerners) in Charleston. The food was not quite on par with Magnolias (see below), but good nonetheless. The atmosphere was a bit more formal that we expected—tiny tables with linen tablecloths and waiters in white jackets! I ate coarse-ground grits one last time and loved every delicious bite!

Magnolias:

This was my favorite eating experience during our time in Charleston, hands down! The restaurant is informally elegant and the service was superb. I ordered the Shellfish Over Grits (are you noticing a pattern here?) with sauteed shrimp, sea scallops and lobster, creamy white grits, lobster butter sauce, and fried spinach. The hubby chose Grilled Tuna and Arugula Salad with feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and citrus-agave vinaigrette dressing. No taste bud-tempting meal is complete without equally tantalizing desserts, so we went for the Southern Pecan Pie and vanilla bean ice cream. Truly a palette-pleasing evening!

Mercato Italian Restaurant:

After a full day of sightseeing, we chose Mercato mainly because there was no wait. As it turned out, it was a fortuitous choice. The decor was warm and inviting, the ambiance low-key and relaxing. We had recently returned from Italy where we discovered what pizza is supposed to taste like, so all American-Italian restaurants were laboring under a not insignificant handicap by comparison. Despite that fact, we were satisfied with the quality and taste of our food at Mercato and were pleased to note that the crust was thin and crisp and the ingredients fresh and authentic!

Poogan’s Porch:

We enjoyed brunch at Poogan’s Porch on Queen Street one morning during our visit. The converted Victorian mansion makes a charming restaurant, and the Southern-style home-cooking is creative, at the very least. I passed on the Sunrise Shrimp and Grits (blue crab gravy, peppers, onions, sausage, poached eggs) and went for Ike’s Down Home Breakfast (two eggs, scrambled; grits; and applewood-smoked bacon), which was quite good.

Sticky Fingers:

The hubby is a barbeque connoisseur so we decided to give this place a go on the recommendation of our tour guide. I have had better barbeque (no big surprise since we hail from the Lone Star State) and I have had worse. At least they have a wide (and personalized) selection of sauces!

And, of course, no vacation is complete without Ice Cream!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post on where to stay in Charleston…