Wednesday, January 29, 2014

london, england: part one

It's no secret, there are a million things to do and see in London. We were there for a couple months and my husband was working a lot, so I spent a lot of time visiting the sites. So rather then going through all of them, I want to share my some of my favorites!

Most of our extended stay in London was at the Park Lane Sheraton. We're Starwood people at heart (and probably forever) and always love staying at their properties. I definitely recommend this hotel for anyone visiting London--it may be a little bit pricier then some other options BUT the service was wonderful and the location is more than ideal--literally right by Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch and Piccadilly Circus. You are a block away from the tube which is very convenient. Our room was older but large and very comfortable. We had a wonderful view of Green Park from our window and the hotel is beautifully styled. You feel as if you are in a London fairytale every time you walk through the Park Lane entrance into their afternoon tea room, and if you are interested--their breakfast buffet is delicious (we always appreciate a good breakfast when we're travelling)

(Picture of the Park Lane entrance of our hotel. Pretty grand, right?!)
Okay, so now we get into the list of my top 5 favorite sites/things-to-do in London (and these aren't in order, I love them all and it's hard to actually rank them...but get as many of these in as you can!)

1. Hyde Park

Maybe it's because I spent a lot of time there, but I love Hyde Park. First off, it's huge--so it's a great place to go on a run. I'd usually go on a run later in the afternoons when it warmed up a bit. It was pretty chilly and grey most of the time we were there, but I've been back to London 3 times--once in the fall, once in winter and once in the spring--and have maybe seen blue sky once for about twenty it's either just grey all the time or I've just been really unlucky! Probably the latter ;)
The Peter Pan statue was one of my favorite reading/relaxing spots. It was always a dream of mine to visit this statue, so one day I ventured out on my own to find it. I'm not sure why the map was so difficult for me, but I am not kidding--it took me over two hours to find this little guy! It's located within the Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park and it became a favorite of mine! I went back quite a few times. It's right across from the water and there are nice little benches to sit on and enjoy the scenery. Something about sitting alone in Hyde Park, thinking about the little boy who never wanted to grow up...looking back on my life and how scared I always was to grow up but how magical the experience has been. It was quite whimsical.

*For any of you who don't know the history of this statue, read about it here!

Another fun thing to do in Hyde Park is rent bikes! They are located all over the city, and you can actually reserve them ahead of time if you'd like, but when we were there they were all over a place and we didn't have any problems finding them. You can see more about them on the official Barclays Cycle Hire site here.

Confession, I smiled for the pictures here but my husband will give me such a hard time if I don't admit the truth to you--I was FREEZING cold during this bike ride. It was one of our last days there, and not ideal conditions for a bike ride (freezing-cold-icy-stupid-rain and chilling winds) but we wanted to get out and ended up deciding on bikes. Let's just say, I wasn't the happiest camper! But now I'm grateful for the pictures and the memories ;)  andI'm grateful for a tough husband that keeps me going even when I get grumpy.

That being said, check the weather conditions before your next trip to the UK--you'll probably be needing some sort of jacket and an umbrella for sure.

The tree's in Hyde Park are so magical--one of my favorite characteristics of the area. 

One of my favorite pictures that I captured on a rainy afternoon run through the park down by the water. I stopped in this tunnel to try and wait for the rain to calm down and was caught of guard by how beautiful it all looked.

And of course, the home of William and Kate...and being that I truly idolize Kate, I was pretty excited about this one. Technically Kensington Palace is located in Kensington Gardens (but to me it's pretty much all the same Hyde Park)

Also, I did not take the inside tour of Kensington Palace, but you can see the reviews on it via TripAdvisor here.

 2. Changing of the Guard & Buckingham Palace

I really enjoyed seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It's pretty spectacular. However, I did not go prepared. I showed up about 25 minutes early and it was already packed. Luckily, I was by I was able to sneak up to the gate and snap some pictures but I advise anyone going in a group to show up 45-60 minutes early to snatch a good spot.
You can see here that they block off some of the street to direct the guards marching in. And you can see how packed the sidewalks are with people! I was amazed at how full it was, especially since the weather was pretty awful that day. Make sure to get there early. It's totally worth it.
 Buckingham Palace is gorgeous. And my husband is pretty easy on the eyes as well :)
If you are interested in tours of the palace, you can book them here:
And there are certain days and times the Changing of the Guard happens, so plan ahead and check their calendar here:
3. The Churchill War Rooms
We loved this experience, and I have to be honest--I often find guided walking tours to be boring with headseats but this one was so worth the time and money! You use a headset/walkie-talkie thing as you walk around the facilities. It is extremely well done and educational. You get to see and experience the Cabinet War Rooms that sheltered Churchill and his government during World War II.
Make sure to check the times before you go--it takes about 60-90 minutes--so the latest they let people in is 5pm. Visit their website here.
4. Tower of London
We were told to visit the Tower of London by a friend and I'm so glad we took his advice, because he told us we needed to get the guided walking tour by the Yeomen Warders/Beefeaters. We are always hesitant to do tours but this one is another that is 100% worth your time and it is free with the price of an admission ticket! It will completely enhance your Tower of London experience. The Beefeaters are hilarious, so entertaining and educational. A tour is a MUST! 
This was our tour guide. He was fantastic, and even though it was freezing outside, he kept us entertained and laughing. His jokes about Great Britain and France were hilarious. He took a few good shots at the United States as well--all in good fun. We loved him.
Outside the Tour of London where you purchase your tickets (before the temperature dropped like 10 more degrees and I had to borrow my husbands jacket)

Inside the grounds, we were able to explore for a while after our tour ended. It's here you can see the Crown Jewels, which are gorgeous--of course.
Only good picture we got of us at the Tower of London--for some reason we kept running into the most camera-challenged people here. No one knew how to use our was blowing my mind. It's a pretty basic Canon Rebel and it was set to automatic. You literally just click the button and it focuses's amazing how difficult that concept can be.
We really enjoyed this experience and definitely recommend taking the Tower of London tour.
Buy your tickets ahead of time here
(I wish we had done this, because the wait was REALLY long to purchase tickets!)
5. Shopping on Oxford Street :)
I never turn down a good chance to shop, and Oxford street is a pretty magical place to spend some $$$. My main stop was TopShop--I had never actually been to the store (only online) and it was definitely a good time. The store on Oxford is almost too big--it's a bit overwhelming but pretty unreal. Also it's important to note--if you're looking for bargain shopping or good deals, this probably isn't your ideal stop. I'm fairly certain everything is more expensive on Oxford Street, but it's all about the experience! 
Oh and if you need a perfect mid-shopping break--stop at Ben's Cookies, sit down, take a deep breath and prepare to have one of the most delicious chocolate chip cookies you will ever taste in your entire life. This was one of the highlights of my trip (I consider myself to be a connoisseur of chocolate chip cookies. They are always my first choice of dessert)

Stay tuned for my next London post! You can follow me on Bloglovin' or subscribe via e-mail over on the sidebar.
In the next post I'll talk about Abbey Road, Beatles History Tour, and our other favorite sites and activities in London! I'll also be posting about some of our outside-of-London day-trip adventures, including The White Cliffs of Dover, Canterbury, and Warwick Castle.

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