Over a decade ago, I had the opportunity to spend a month at Oxford University in Oxford, England. As part of my program, we spent a few hours in London, seeing a play at The Globe Theater, taking a cruise on the Thames, and generally getting quite lost. With so little time in the big city under my belt, I jumped at the chance to take a quick trip to London for work.
I arrived in London on a Sunday morning and had an easy time at the airport. Though I looked for a bus service for an economical way to get downtown from the airport, I think I was a bit early. I ended up taking a metered cab for the roughly 50 minute ride into the city, which cost me a whopping £85 ($140). (Thank goodness I could expense it, but I would definitely look for a more cost-effective option next time.)
I arrived at the Hotel Rathbone and was able to get to my room immediately, which was great after an overnight flight. The hotel might be a bit older than some of the fancier options, but I found it to be convenient, comfortable and spacious. There was also a bar and nice lobby area which was well-utilized by guests in the evening.
Since I only had a few hours of free time scattered over a couple of afternoons, I was looking for a way to cover the most ground in a short period of time. It prompted me to do something highly out of character — I took a hop-on, hop-off bus tour! There are a couple of companies that offer similar tours, but I signed on for The Big Bus tour, which had a deal through my hotel. For £27 ($43) I got a ticket that was good for 48 hours and made stops at all the big landmarks. Considering that some of the big sites are spread out, it was an economical way to get to a lot of places.
I got on the bus near Hamley’s toy store, the London equivalent of FAO Schwartz, and we headed down to Trafalgar Square, which proudly featured a large clock counting down to the start of the 2012 Olympic Games. From there, we drove along the Thames River and crossed over the London Bridge.
Though it was only about 4:00pm, it was rapidly getting dark by the time we came upon Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The sheer size and color of Big Ben were things that stood out to me the most from my original trip to London, and it was nice to see them more close-up.
One of our next stops was Westminster Abbey where I took advantage of the hop-off feature of the tour (more on that later) and later wandered over to Buckingham Palace.
Since it was Remembrance Day, the UK equivalent to the US Veteran’s Day, there were several parades throughout the city. I was lucky to reach the Palace just as some of the guards were leaving to take their place at one of the celebrations. So while it wasn’t the changing of the guard, it was cool to see them in formation… and you gotta love the big fur hats!
I boarded the bus again bound for the Marble Arch. If I had timed things better, I could have continued on a trip farther West to Harrod’s department store and a few other stops. But unfortunately, the bus trips end at 6pm, and it was time for me to make my way back toward my hotel.
On the way, I decided to hit up the famous Selfridge’s department store on Oxford Street, one of the main shopping streets. Selfridge’s has a seemingly endless amount of merchandise (think Macy’s in Herald Square, but higher-end). After spending some time wandering among the racks, I settled on a fabulous pair of blue suede ballet shoes and decided it was time to make my way back to the hotel before doing any more damage to my credit card.