Though our hotel was only about 3/4 of a mile from the train station we opted to take a cab. We had reservations for a 9 am train in to London so had the cab pick us up at 8 am. Good thing we left extra time; it took nearly 20 minutes for the cab to navigate the heavy traffic! We could have walked faster but the cab was easier. By now, we were getting a little tired. I think mental attitude has much to do with it; we knew our trip was coming to an end and our energy levels were flagging a bit. This was our final train trip; we would be using the tube in London.
We got off the train at Kings Cross station. They have a “Platform 9 3/4” set up where you can line up to have your picture taken. I took a quick picture of someone else that had waited in line; I had no desire to do so myself! I am assuming there was a cost associated with it as well. I kind of doubt the display was set up out of the goodness of someone’s heart!
We had investigated whether to get a Travelcard or Oyster Card for riding the underground. Since we only needed 3 days’ worth of travel, the Oyster Card was the better deal for us. If you are going to London and are undecided about which is the better deal, take a look at https://www.londontoolkit.com/briefing/underground.htm. We knew we would be within zones 1 and 2 for the first two days, but would be taking the tube to Heathrow on the 3rd which meant we would need to pay to go to zone 6.
We needed to take the tube to Victoria Station. We found a bank of machines that sell Oyster Cards and allow you to select how much money you want to pre-load onto them. It was a very simple process. We quickly had our cards in hand and followed the signs to get to St. Pancras tube station. We hopped on the first train that came along. It was late morning and so not too crowded. There was a nice wide aisle on the Victoria Line trains which made it easy for us to keep our suitcases with us.
The walk from Victoria Station to our hotel was 1/2 miles, in theory. The problem we ran into was that Victoria Station is huge and there were many, many exits to choose from. We chose poorly…We decided to use google maps to get onto the correct path. I am not sure how or why but it led us on a most circuitous route. We eventually found the place but probably walked 1.5 miles when all was said and done.
We had booked a room at the Windermere Hotel. Check-in time was 3 pm and we arrived much earlier. The lovely woman at the reception desk told us we could leave our bags but could not get into the room until 3. Actually, the only hotel where we were able to check in early was the one in Birmingham; all others stuck to the published time. We chatted for a bit and she provided us with maps and directions to help us find our way.
We had pre-purchased London Passes which gives pre-paid admission and skip-the-line privileges for many popular London attractions. I have spent considerable time in London so only had a couple of “must see” places this trip. A HOHO bus ride was included with the pass so we decided to ride the main route.
In theory this should have been an hour and a half tour. We thought we would ride the loop and then find a place for lunch. Due to horrible traffic, we gave up on the tour after being on the bus for 2 hours. It had covered less than half of the route at that point. We were really hungry and decided to “hop off” and take the tube back to Victoria Station.
There is a food court attached to the tube station so we found an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet for lunch. After that we headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit. Later, we took the tube to the Embankment Station and took a walk along the Thames.
The next day the plan was to start the day at the Tower of London which opens at 9 am. We walked to the tube station to join the hordes of commuters on their way to work. The train was unbelievably crowded. People were smashed together. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that pickpocketing is a problem there. We had to switch trains once (no big deal); the second line was more crowded than the first!
We reached the Tower just as it opened. I had downloaded the London Pass app onto my phone so we were able to skip the ticket line and go right in. The QR code on the app gets scanned on the way in to the attraction. Much easier than having to deal with tickets.
We skedaddled right over to the crown jewels exhibit because I believe it gets crowded. We were able to enjoy the displays because it was virtually empty. It is always a good idea to arrive first thing for popular attractions; it makes it so much more pleasant when you don’t have to deal with crowds.
I have been to the Tower several times but always enjoy coming back. We wandered around each of the buildings and took plenty of pictures.
Next up was the Tower Bridge Exhibition. Unless you are a bridge engineering buff, don’t waste your time. We had free admission with the London Pass or we would have been really upset about wasting money on it. The only interesting part was walking over the glass bridge and looking down on the bridge below. Turns out we went to the wrong attraction – we had intended to go to the Tower Experience. Dang!
We took a Thames River Cruise to get back to the main part of town. It was a pleasant way of seeing the sites; very relaxing. This was also included with the London Pass.
Our final stop was to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Let’s just say that it is a most impressive structure – it is massive and very ornate. It was virtually impossible to get a picture of it due to its enormous size. You can’t take pictures inside, although I took a few before seeing the sign! There was a Eucharist service going on while the tourists wandered around listening to their audioguides. We headed downstairs to view the tombs. Honestly, we were so tired by now that we did not spend much time here.
After the lovely towns and villages we had visited, London seemed very crowded and hectic. We were fatigued and so did not see and do as much as we might have. But, as I said before, I have spent quite a bit of time here in the past and so did not feel compelled to exhaust ourselves revisiting places. We were back in our hotel by late afternoon to pack our bags and prepare for our journey home the next day.
After breakfast at the hotel (full English breakfast; very filling!) we headed to the tube station to get to the airport. There are other options for getting to Heathrow but riding the underground is the most economical. We weren’t in a hurry since our flight didn’t leave until 3:30 in the afternoon. The Picadilly Line takes you all the way to the airport; it was really easy. And, since the terminus is the airport, there are luggage racks so you don’t have to keep your suitcase between your legs like on other lines.
We have lounge access through one of our credit cards so hung out in the lounge until it was time to board the flight. The flight home was smooth. We grabbed a cab at the airport and headed for home!
This was another wonderful trip for us. We especially enjoyed riding the train around the U.K. I will be making a separate blog post with trips for train travel using a BritRail pass; we learned quite a bit along the way. We enjoyed riding the train so much that we are starting plans for a 2-month train trip around Europe!