48 hour layover in London
After travelling around the brightly coloured cities of Europe, London with its grey colour scheme was striking in its dullness. Despite this, the streets of the inner boroughs are vibrant with people and energy. We stayed in London for two nights and managed to pack a lot into this short timeframe. Unfortunately, some things were scrapped from our itinerary purely due to lack of time. London bridge and Uncle Ben were two of these things.
Getting to London:
We boarded the Eurostar train from the Paris Gare du Nord train station and arrived in London in just over 2 hours. The Eurostar train itself was fast, efficient and comfortable, with food and drink available for purchase on board. The Eurostar train arrives at the St Pancras International train station which sits adjacent to the iconic Kings Cross Station.
As the journey from Paris to London is an international one, we had to pass through security clearance and immigration when departing from Paris. This was the only time we had to pass through immigration during our European train travel.
We stayed in a serviced apartment in Bloomsbury, which was part of a well run bed and breakfast situated in a beautiful old Georgian house. This meant there was no lift access for our top floor apartment and we had to drag our suitcases up the multiple flight of stairs!
The area of Bloomsbury is know as the Literary quarter, there are street signs everywhere proclaiming the residence of famous and well known authors. Bloomsbury also houses the British Museum, the Foundling Museum and is the current site of the famous Great Ormond Street Paediatric Hospital.
Transport around London:
To get around London, we used the underground train network which was easy to navigate. We purchased Oyster cards to load and store money for our train fare, the cost of these cards was actually refundable on their return.
We also used the London taxi service during our time in the city, which was actually an interesting experience. London taxis have been specifically designed for the task of transporting passengers. This meant there is sufficient space for disability access and for additional luggage. It made for a much more comfortable taxi ride as we were travelling with large suitcases.
To get to Heathrow Airport, we opted to catch the Heathrow Airport Express train. This was probably one of the smoothest trips to the airport we have ever had. The train was quick and efficient and got us to our airport terminal in 20 minutes.
Things to See
Platform 9 3/4 quarters:
We decided to visit Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4 as it seemed to be one of those quintessential London experiences. Finding the platform can be tricky, it is located at the Kings Cross train station. If you get stuck just look for the Harry Potter souvenir shop. The platform has been set up on the side of the building. No tickets are required to access the booth, although there can be lines of Potter fans waiting for their photo opportunity. Being a souvenir place, staff take photos of visitors, however there is no pressure to purchase them.
Charles Dicken’s Museum:
We happened upon the Charles Dicken’s museum by chance, as it was located very close to our apartment. The Charles Dickens Museum has been set up in his home and provides an insight into his life in the 1800s. The museum does an incredible job of portraying his everyday life as well as displaying his famous literary works.
One of the key things on B’s list for London was to visit the home of Arsenal: Emirates Stadium. The stadium tour was actually quite fascinating and informative, it wound its way through the Arsenal sports museum and into areas that the public would not normally be allowed to visit. We were able to walk onto the pitch, visit the media room as well as gain access to the Arsenal and visitors changing rooms.
Visiting the Palace seemed like one of those things that we just needed to do during our time in London. I was hoping to see the changing of the guards, however we weren’t lucky on this matter. We had decided not to book a tour of the palace as we were short on time. In hindsight though, this would have been a better experience as we would have been able to visit the inside of the palace.
We stumbled upon the quiet oasis of Green Park during our walk to Buckingham Palace from Piccadilly Street. In the hot afternoon sun, the large trees of the park provided cooling shade and a chance to rest during our walk. The serenity of this area is a huge contrast to the nearby busy shopping district.
Hyde Park, is probably the jewel in London’s crown. It is full of surprises with various monuments, water features and garden sculptures. The park has a large botanical garden with species of flora from around the world. On the outskirts of Hyde Park runs Rotten Row, the road where horses used to be exercised in the 19th century. Whilst the interior of the park is a treasure trove for birding enthusiasts with the water fowl that are drawn to the the Serpentine.
The banks of the serpentine lake is where you can leisurely sit on deck chairs watching water fowl swim past. A cafe also provides beverage and food options nearby.
London has a lot of shopping, as we were short on time we decided to head to Harrods and Fortnum and Masons. Both had fantastic ranges of food and beverage selections. Harrods however, offered a greater selection in their range of loose leaf tea.
Arsenal Pub Dinner:
After visiting the Emirates stadium, we ended up at an Arsenal pub to watch the match against Paris. This was one of those true London experiences; drinking beer and eating quintessential pub food of fish and chips amongst die hard Arsenal supporters. OK the food wasn’t fantastic and the beer was average – but the electric match-day atmosphere made up for it!
High tea at Fortnum and Masons:
Prior to our arrival in London, I had booked a reservation at Fortnum and Mason’s for their afternoon tea service. Access to the tea room was located on the top floor of the department store and was reserved for diners only. Once we stepped into the tea room, it was like being transported to a decadent world, high up above Piccadilly Street.
Smartly dressed wait staff directed us to tables set with Tiffany blue coloured serving ware. Once seated, we had the opportunity to review the tea selection which included a range of premium teas on offer. We decided to order the house blend, which was a smoky Ceylon black tea. Once the afternoon tea service arrived, it was stacked with sandwiches, scones and sweets.
Our favourite items were the coronation chicken sandwiches, which used a curried roast chicken filling. Unfortunately, the wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches were a little too dry for my liking! The scones however were absolutely decadent with clotted cream and gourmet preserves. Our server also informed us there was a dessert buffet available with a selection of cakes to choose from to finish off our meal – we were too full by this stage!
Dishoom, Indian Restaurant:
London is famous for its top quality Indian restaurants and we were craving Indian food by the end of our Europe trip. We did our research and headed to Dishoom in the West End as it was highly rated for its modern take on Indian cuisine. Like any good restaurant there was a long line snaking out the front door and we were informed there would be a 40 minute wait. During our long wait, we were rewarded with cups of warm and fragrant chai from the restaurant kitchen.
Once inside, the restaurant decor and vibe personified Mumbai, it’s hip with a nod to old school Bollywood. The restaurant has effectively managed to tweak traditional Indian cooking to create innovative cosmopolitan dishes and drinks. And they are not afraid to add chilli. The curries are fragrant and spicy, whilst the meat remains tender. Our favourite dish was the lamb samosa entrée! The restaurant does not achieve the same heady culinary heights as restaurants in India however it comes damned close, albeit with a hefty price tag.
Things to remember for trips to London:
- London is huge, to really appreciate the city, its history and culture you need time. We were only able to sample a small taste of this city in two days
- London is a city used to freezing temperatures, the buildings are insulated to keep the warmth in. This became an issue for us as we were in the city during a heat spell with temperatures above 35 degrees celsius. Our serviced apartment did not have air conditioning and we had to ask for a fan for our second night
- If you are unable to see a soccer match live, you can travel to your teams pub and cheer on your soccer team with all of the other fans!
- If you enjoy eating Indian food, you should definitely visit an Indian restaurant in London, the quality of the food is probably some of the best you will get outside of the sub-continent
- Buckingham Palace offers Palace tours during the summer months only – presumably when the royal family are not in residence…You can see availability and book tours on the official website