Date of Trip: October 2004
Euro Hotel in Cartwright Gardens
I’ve been staying at the Euro Hotel for many years now, and with the exception of a few minor disappointments, have always enjoyed my stay. The single rooms with a shared bath run 49GBP per night, and at least one season a year, they offer 15% off. I accept what I get – a small room, a sometimes lumpy bed, sometimes undercooked bacon – but it’s a good value, the staff is friendly and tries to be accommodating, and the location is great. There’s a private garden which hotel guests can use; it has places to sit and relax along with a couple of tennis courts. For updated information on their rates, check out The Euro Hotel.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
What it’s like: St. Paul’s is another one of those, “I never visit London without seeing it” sights. Christopher Wren has become a hero of mine, a real genius who accomplished so much at such a young age, and St. Paul’s is the perfect, shining memorial to his life. I still remember the first time I saw the cathedral when I was coming out of the tube station, looking over my shoulder, and seeing the gigantic dome overhead. There has always been a cathedral on this site, the current one having been designed by Wren after the previous building was destroyed in the fire of 1666. On my recent visits over the past couple of years, the structure has been covered in scaffolding, as the cathedral has been under repair in preparation for its 300th anniversary during 2005.
When you go, it’s worthwhile to pick up an audio guide, which will point out things you might miss on your own, and gives good explanations of the things you see. The mornings are usually less crowded than the afternoons, and the main floor of the cathedral is large enough that it never feels overcrowded. If you’re up to climbing a lot of stairs, go up to the Whispering Gallery and have a whispered conversation under the dome. Climb higher, and you’ll get some fabulous views of the city. Because this is a working church, the building is closed to tourists during services, though anyone is welcome to join the service (no fee required). There’s a nice gift shop in the crypt, along with a café and restaurant.
What it’s like: I visit the British Museum on just about every trip to London. It’s so close to the bed and breakfast I stay at, so it’s great when I don’t have a lot of time, but need something to do. Plus, it’s too big to see in one visit, so I’ve been able to break up the exhibits and see small portions each time I go. I’ve retained more of what I’ve seen since I haven’t had to cram a whole lot into a single visit. Their Egyptian exhibits are among the best in the world, and the Greek and Asian rooms are fabulous as well. Actually, there isn’t really anything to complain about, unless you just don’t like museums! Some highlights from my recent visits are Cleopatra’s mummy, the Portland Vase, the Chessman pieces, and of course, you can’t leave out the Rosetta Stone. It’s worthwhile to visit their website before you go at The British Museum, where you can read about the permanent exhibits, find out what’s coming, and print out floor maps to help plan your time.
Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew Gardens
I love Kew Gardens! It is such a wonderful place to spend a day, especially when the weather is pleasant. It takes about 45 minutes or so from central London on the District Line, and is an easy 10-minute walk from the tube station (cross to the opposite side of the tracks after you get off the train and just follow the signs). There are also ferries that you can catch at Westminster Pier. I’ve haven’t yet taken one, but I’m sure it can be an easy and pleasant way to get there. The garden is split into eight zones over 300 acres, and a nice way to get an overall idea of what’s within each zone is to take the trolley ride. You can purchase your ticket at the entrance or just hop on at any stop and pay the driver. It runs by the hour and you can get off at one of the scheduled stops, tour the area for an hour, and then get back on and ride to the next stop. Be sure to visit the Palm House, which houses a multitude of plant life from all over the world. Even if you don’t have a chance to visit the gardens in person, visit the fabulous Kew Gardens website.
The Original London Walks
Visiting the Cotswolds on an Explorer Day and going were the highlights, but all the walks were fantastic.
Original London Walks has been around for about 45 years and has become a favorite with both visitors and residents – it actually is the original walking tour company in London. The guides are probably the most knowledgeable and entertaining in the industry, and you’ll learn many obscure facts and have the chance to see many areas within the city that the average visitor would never know about. Each walk is about 2 hours long, and you can find one at almost any time of day. The topics run the gamut — recent walks I’ve been on include Christopher Wren’s London, The Victoria & Albert Museum Tour, Old Westminster–1,000 Years of History, and Strictly Confidential–The Distinctly Different Royal Route. They were all well worth the time. (I’ve actually done the V&A walk twice, it was different both times.)
This group also hosts “Explorer Days,” which are full day excursions, mostly to areas outside London. These are good deals; you get the same great guides, free time to explore on your own, and the train tickets are discounted from what you’d pay if you went on your own. Explorer Days go to places like Bath, Stonehenge, Oxford, the Cotswolds, Brighton — sometimes they’re combined –a half day in Oxford, a half day in the Cotswolds, for example.
I recently went on the Salisbury and Stonehenge Explorer Day. We took a train ride out to Salisbury, had a guided tour of the cathedral, an hour or so for lunch, then we took a bus to Stonehenge where we had a private tour of the stones — you really can’t beat the knowledge these guides possess — and then we returned to Salisbury and had about an hour on our own to shop or whatever before returning to the train station. It was a full day, but well worth it!
London Walks also does evening walks, mainly consisting of Pub Walks, and of course, the famous Jack the Ripper walk. The cost is reasonable –£6 for a walk, £11 for Explorer Days (plus the tariff for train tickets). They also have a Walkabout Card, which you pay one pound for at your first walk, then all additional walks are one pound less — £5 or £10. It can be a good deal, but even the guides will tell you that it’s only worth it if you plan to go on more than, say, three walks. Visit the London Walks website for lots more information and detailed descriptions of the walks.