Friends of mine in Ireland were getting married in December, and I was so excited for the wedding. I was planning to fly straight there, but I decided to go to London first. I hadn’t been to London since I was 13, so I was looking forward to experiencing it as a fully fledged adult. I wasn’t there for very long, so here’s how I made the most of 48 hours in London Town.
I arrived at about 7 in the morning and went straight to passport control. There were signs along the way indicating that the screening process is now more in-depth and the line would be moving slower.
I got up to the Border Force agent who asked me why I was visiting. “For funsies,” I replied. “Excuse me?” I told him I was there just for fun before going to a wedding in Ireland.
After that the as-promised lengthy questioning commenced: How long are you going to be here? Where are you staying? How much money did you bring with you? How much money do you have in your bank accounts? What’s your credit card limit? You have a lot of stamps in your passport; why have you been to so many countries? Where are you based now? What will you do when you get back to America? Have you been to London before? When? Oh, you were 13? Who did you come with?
It seemed like he stopped just short of asking for my blood type and dental records.
Given the events in the UK and around the world recently I can understand the abundance of caution, but it was a new experience for me as I had not been questioned at such a great length anywhere else before.
On the flip side multiple of my non-American friends said it sounded like the experiences they’ve had in entering the US.
I was staying in the Kensington neighborhood, which, from Heathrow, you can access from the Underground on the Piccadilly line getting off at either the South Kensington or Gloucester Road stations.
For this trip I stayed at Astor Hyde Park Hostel. The location was great, as it was about a two-minute walk to Hyde Park. It’s in the Kensington neighborhood, which is really nice and from what I’ve been told is one of the safest in London. I certainly felt comfortable.
I was in an eight-person room, which was fine. Not bad, but nothing to write home about.
The bathroom was meh. Not the cleanest, but not the dirtiest.
The location is the real selling point, but I would probably opt to stay somewhere else the next time I’m in London.
Kensington Palace/Hyde Park
The first thing I wanted to do was go to Kensington Palace. You get there through Hyde Park, which is a stone’s throw from the hostel.
It was so pleasant to walk through Hyde Park and see all the people with their dogs.
Since I was in London for only two days I didn’t want to spend a bunch of time doing a Kensington Palace tour. I just wanted to see it and take pictures in front of the gilded gate.
After seeing the palace the walk through Hyde Park was really nice. It’s quite expansive. I didn’t realize that the royal palaces/grounds have all these open spaces that are free and open to the public.
My favorite part of the park was the Serpentine, a large body of water. There are even sections where you can swim, which might be nice in the summer, but not on the to do list for December.
I also passed by the King George VI statue, whose unveiling was portrayed in season 1, episode 8 of The Crown.
When I got up to the palace there was a modest sized crowd in front of the gates. There was a flag flying above the palace, which I thought meant the Queen was home. I wanted to be sure, so I asked one of the security guards (not one of the Foot Guards with the big hats) who was standing by one of the gates.
He informed me that the flag that was flying is the Royal Standard, which means the Queen is in residence. If it had been the Union Jack it would mean she’s not there. When the current sovereign passes away the Royal Standard will be draped across her coffin and the next king will get his own.
I also learned that another indication that the Queen is in residence is that there are four Foot Guards in front of the palace. When she’s not at the palace there are only two.
The guard told me that the Queen had just come in from Windsor Castle that afternoon (Tuesday) and would likely go back on Thursday. He said she spends the weekends there because Windsor Castle is home and Buckingham Palace is for business.
He was such a wealth of information. I’m glad I had a chance to chat with him.
10 Downing Street
From Buckingham Palace I wanted to find 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister. There are all those famous images of heads of state and other people in front of Number 10, and I’d always wondered if it’s possible to walk up to the door.
After asking a few Brits I was told that you can’t, but I still wanted to go see how close I could get.
I walked down to where I was told it would be and saw some really high gates blocking a side street. I then saw police out front, which further confirmed that this must be it.
“Is this Downing Street?” I asked one of the officers.
“Where’s Number 10?”
“Do you see the Christmas tree down there?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“That’s it,” he said.
Well that’s a laugh. Yes, there was a tree, and I could try to make out a door. Everyone was right, there really isn’t much to see but I had seen it.
I went to see Big Ben, which is undergoing repairs until 2021. It’s currently covered in scaffolding and isn’t ringing, except for special occasions. I walked around the outside of the houses of Parliament, although as with Kensington Palace I didn’t do the actual tour.
It’s not far from 10 Downing Street, and it’s still cool to see as it’s one of the iconic images of London.
A few years ago I discovered the live webcam that broadcasts people’s crossings. It’s a really amusing feed. I was extra excited to be able to cross for myself.
I got there on the tube using the St. John’s Wood station.
When I arrived it wasn’t crowded; there were only a couple of people having their Beatles moment. Once they were finished I did the crossing while trying to wave at the webcam.
I then ran into the classic solo travel dilemma: who’s going to take my picture? After watching a group of people take pictures of each other I asked one of them to play photographer for me.
The thing to understand about this crosswalk is that it’s on a regular, working street in the St. John’s Wood neighborhood. So residents are driving through trying to get to work, home, errands while people are stopping four at a time for pictures smack in the middle of the street.
Some drivers are gracious, while others lay on their horns without relent. Take it all in stride (ha) and try not to get hit.
As for the Abbey Road Studios you can’t actually go inside, but you can, of course, go to the gift shop.
There’s a decent selection of memorabilia (I bought a guitar pick), but if you don’t find something here there are some Beatles knick knacks for sale in the coffee shop at the St. John’s Wood Underground station.
I was in London about a week and a half before Christmas, and I wanted to see the city at its festive best.
A friend recommended going to Oxford Circus to see decorations, so I met a friend there in the afternoon. There were lots of decorations up and down Oxford and Regent Streets. We walked around the area eventually strolling down Carnaby Street, which was really colorful.
The area was nice in the daytime, but it was even more spectacular at night.
I had never been to a Premier League game, and I was hoping to change that on this trip.
Earlier in the year when I thought about going to London I looked into how to get tickets to see Arsenal or Chelsea. It seemed like it would be almost impossible for me to just walk up and buy a ticket. It was a moot point for this trip, as they didn’t have a home game anyway.
To my delight they had tickets for sale on their website. I was excited to be going and extra excited to be able to go to Wembley, a stadium with so much history.
We took the tube to the Wembley Park stop, and as we got off the train the Spurs fans started chanting and singing, with some vulgarities thrown in. “So…you’re familiar with London football fans, right?” my friend asked. I’d heard about the intensity of the fan base here, but I appreciated the warning.
“They’re singing about Arsenal, and they’re not even playing each other tonight,” she added. We had to keep it under wraps that she comes from an Arsenal family. Shhh.
By the time we got in the game had just started, so we briskly walked to our seats. You’re allowed to take bags into the stadium, but they still have to be searched.
We were able to get front row seats, and were sitting near the benches of both teams. We got to see Tottenham score in the first half, which was fun.
Tottenham was playing Brighton & Hove Albion, whose fans were sitting in a corner of the stadium opposite us. Their sections were separated from the rest of the crowd by lines of guards on either side.
At halftime we went to the concourse to find something to eat. There were decent options, including a Krispy Kreme stand. After walking around for a little while I eventually settled on a hot dog.
As we were eating halftime started winding down, and signs started flashing urging fans to go back to their seats. By the time the second half started the concourse was deserted except for the two of us. These people are serious about their football. There’s no milling around being social. When it’s time for football it’s time for football.
Even if you wanted to get something in the second half you can’t because everything shuts down. Make sure to get your fill of food and souvenirs at halftime.
It was a cold, rainy night, but the seats at Wembley are mostly under cover, which meant we didn’t get too wet.
Tottenham won 2-0, and the crowd went home happy. Come on you Spurs!
I initially wanted to get a sushi dinner my first night in London, but I was so hungry by the end of the day that I knew sushi wasn’t going to cut it. Plus the friends I was meeting for dinner didn’t like sushi.
I thought a big, hot plate of pasta would do the trick. I looked for Italian restaurants near my hostel and found Da Mario.
One of my friends needed to find a place with halal food and wasn’t too keen on the potentially limited options of what she would be able to eat. We struck out trying to find other places, so we went ahead to Da Mario.
I am so glad we did! I was immediately struck by the warmth, both literally and figuratively, as soon as we walked in. The scents were so enticing it made me extra excited to eat!
Things got even better when we opened the menus and saw that there were multiple halal options, including pizza and pasta. What a relief! I was so glad my friend would have an array of dishes to choose from.
We started with bruschetta, which was so good. For the main course I had the spaghetti sapore di mare, which was delicious!
With Da Mario being right in the Kensington neighborhood I thought what a shame it is that the poor royals, locked up in their palace, don’t get to experience this place. Never fear, Da Mario prides itself on having been Princess Diana’s favorite pizza place, as they’ll remind you on the front steps.
I’m so happy we chose Da Mario, and I highly recommend it.
Angel in the Fields
After walking through Oxford Circus and before heading to Wembley my friend and I looked for a place to stop in for a pint. We found Angel in the Fields in Marylebone, where we joined the after work crowd.
My friend explained to me that it’s a Sam Smith’s pub. Not quite on brand for the singer, I thought, but alas it’s a different Sam Smith. Everything on tap is from the Samuel Smith brewery. I was previously unfamiliar with the beer.
They’re also apparently known for having pubs in the traditional English style, and Angel in the Fields was right on target. It was nice and cozy, and I greatly appreciated that they had the fireplace going.
I had the Taddy Lager and the Alpine Lager, both of which I enjoyed.
I had the Royal Scrambled Eggs: “Smoked salmon and fluffy scrambled eggs with baby spinach and green hollandaise on half a toasted poppy seed bagel.” Oh my goodness, it was so flavorful! I wish I could go back and have it now. You can skip the orange juice though.
Whew, so those are the highlights from 48 hours in London. What’s your favorite thing to do on a quick trip to the city?