This city is full of so much history, yet so completely urban at the same time. I knew I would enjoy it, but I wondered if it would feel too familiar to be an adventure. They speak English, how foreign could it be? Well, little did I know that London was exactly what I was looking for in a trip. Easy to get around the city, easy to communicate with locals, and a comfortable city vibe that was both new and familiar at the same time.
The City of London itself is only one square mile but Greater London encompasses much of what people know of the city. We were able to explore most of the city, thanks to the Tube, and see all the sights we wanted to see. I loved being able to experience London as a tourist, while also living a bit like a local, for instance, staying in Airbnbs instead of hotels. Once we were settled, the adventures began!
We used the Tube to get pretty much everywhere. Living in Southern California, it was so cool to have a nice transportation system. The Tube system makes so much sense! It was really easy and fast to get from place to place. Definitely the most reliable public transportation I’ve taken. By the way, if you’ve never read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, you should stop reading this post and purchase the book right now. It’s about London Below, the fictional parallel universe of London that is directly beneath the city. The transportation between the worlds is connected by the Underground tube. It’s a really cool urban fantasy story and filled with London locations. Anyway, back to the post.
Tower of London and Tower Bridge
One of the highlights for me was the Tower of London. Situated on the north side of the Thames by the Tower Bridge, this landmark has an amazing history. It has been a royal residency, an armory, a keep, a prison, and more throughout the years. The initial structure, the White Tower, was built in 1078 and more surrounding grounds were built as centuries went on. This is where Anne Boleyn was beheaded and many other people met their demise, too. The grounds are large and kind of beautiful, with cathedrals, homes, squares and more. This is also home to the Crown Jewels which was an amazing exhibit (though I couldn’t take photos in it).
The Tower Bridge also has an exhibit. You can go inside, see how the original steam engines worked to raise the bridge, and also walk across it on a glass floor! That was definitely a thrill… and the stuff of nightmares.
Big Ben and Westminster Abbey
Fun fact: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the tower, not the clock! So, technically we didn’t see Big Ben, we saw the clock tower. 😉
Westminster Abbey was fascinating. Not only was it a beautiful and huge cathedral, it was the sight of many historic moments. Coronations, royal weddings, and much more have taken place here. Audio tours are available to take and do a great job of explaining the significance behind each corner of the Abbey. It’s still a working church so we were able to quietly tour the nave, memorial stones, gardens, and cloisters. Famous people buried at the Abbey include Queen Elizabeth I, Geoffrey Chaucer, T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton.
This was probably one of my favorite districts of London. In the borough of Southwark, in between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge, there is an area south of the Thames that is home to the artistic history of London. The original Globe Theatre, where many Shakespeare’s plays were performed, used to sit in the heart of this area. We got to tour the replica of the Globe Theatre, where they perform Shakespeare to this day and my literary heart loved it.
The Anchor Bankside was a pub built in 1615, so we had a pint there. I loved how much history was located in one small area! The Shakespeare exhibition at the Globe had a great explanation of the surrounding areas and the development of the area of Bankside.
Leicester Square and Museums
We walked through Trafalgar Square, and eventually to Leicester Square, where there are countless shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions. This is also the theatre district, the West End, and we got to see some authentic English theatre! We saw The Mousetrap at St. Martin’s Theatre (the 26,334th performance of it, to be exact), which is the longest running play in the world.
Also on our destination list was the British Museum. This museum is full of Greek and Roman antiquities and houses the Rosetta Stone. The architecture is beautiful and there was so much to see.
Of course, being a literature nerd, we went to 221b Baker Street, the setting of the Sherlock Holmes stories. There is a cute little gift shop and museum that sells all things Sherlock and a guard you can take pictures with in front.
London was amazing and I would go back in a heartbeat! The history, literature, and culture were all so exciting.
My short fiction is inspired by Neverwhere and the idea of the Tube being a portal between worlds. Check it out!