“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” –Samuel Johnson
London is definitely one of those cities I will visit as many times as I can in my life. From the lively theatre scene in the West End to the cultural significance of Westminster to the grand tradition of afternoon tea, the sights and sounds of this historic city captivated my heart. Being an English major and a lifelong fan of British lit, I was truly inspired.
Like last week’s travel post on Paris, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide; instead I’ll be sharing specific insights, experiences, and things that I enjoyed. Also, in honor of the Royal Wedding this weekend, I will be sharing our visit to Windsor Castle, which is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be married.
First of all, it had always been bucket list for me to see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (pictured above). We saw Much Ado About Nothing and absolutely loved it (for more info on this play, check out my first blog post).
A bit of advice: I studied quite a bit of Shakespeare in college, whereas my husband, who majored in the sciences, hadn’t been exposed to any Shakespeare since high school. So in order to prepare for the play, we read it together before our trip and also watched the Kenneth Branagh film adaptation. Since Elizabethan English is quite different from modern English, I highly recommend doing this, unless you’re a Shakespeare expert or quite familiar with the play you’re going to see.
We also saw Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre and Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Both musicals are longtime favorites of mine. I admit that I cried at the end of Les Mis, despite that I know the story and songs very well. And though I’d seen Phantom live in the US on four previous occasions, it was an entirely new experience to sit under the famous chandelier when it drops.
We would’ve loved to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as well, and even though we tried to buy tickets months and months in advance, they are so hard to get! However, we did have a magical (pun intended!) Harry Potter experience at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.
Harry Potter Studio Tour
Growing up, I was a Harry Potter fanatic (hmmm where was my Hogwarts letter?). When each new installment was published, my parents would drive me at midnight to a nearby bookstore so I could be among the first to read the latest book (I would definitely be a Ravenclaw).
Anyway, visiting the gorgeous sets where the Harry Potter movies were filmed made me feel like I was ten years old again and seeing the movie for the very first time. They truly transport you to the Wizarding World and beautifully illustrate how the costumes, sets, and special effects make the magic come alive. Allow at least three hours here, especially because the line to get into the Great Hall, where the tour begins, can get quite long (even if you purchased tickets in advance like we did).
Pictured below is my husband staring up at the huge, intricate model of Hogwarts, which is what they used to film many of the panoramic shots of the castle.
If you’re even a moderate fan of the Harry Potter universe, I still think you would enjoy this; if you’re like myself and are a Hermione-level expert of all things Harry Potter, then this is a must.
The area of Westminster includes the famous sites of Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.
In addition to watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, we were able to tour inside the State Rooms (no photos allowed inside, unfortunately). From late July through September you can purchase tickets for this tour. I’ve heard that the dates can vary slightly from year-to-year, based on the Queen’s summer travel plans (since it’s available to tour when she’s on holiday elsewhere). For more up-to-date info visit the Royal Collection Trust’s website.
We purchased our Westminster Abbey tickets in advance and greatly enjoyed visiting this iconic church. When I was in college, Prince William and Kate Middleton were married there, and I remember staying up late to watch the beautiful ceremony and marvel at Kate’s stunning Alexander McQueen gown. I also very much enjoyed “Poet’s Corner,” where many renowned writers, poets, and playwrights have been buried or memorialized (Shakespeare, for example, has a monument there, though he was buried in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon).
The telephone booths in this area are also ideal for photo-ops!
Shopping at Harrods and Afternoon Tea
Simply put, Harrods is shopping heaven. The exterior particularly dazzles at nighttime and beckons one inside to the opulent grandeur. Their gift shop is also a great spot to bring home souvenirs for yourself and for loved ones.
My husband and I had afternoon tea at The Georgian, an elegant restaurant inside Harrods. I’ve always been more of a tea drinker than coffee, so this was a special treat for me (also: Pink champagne! Tea sandwiches! Pastries! Yay!). We booked our tea time on their website several days prior so we could get the exact time we wanted.
This 11th century castle feels like something out of a fairy tale, and is one of the Queen’s official residences. We visited first thing in the morning when it opens and really enjoyed wandering the beautiful grounds and touring the State Apartments.
This Saturday Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be married at Windsor inside St. George’s Chapel. I will definitely be staying up late to watch it on TV, and I can’t wait to see her wedding gown!
What to Pack
Red Top: Pleione (similar here and here) Black Ponte Pants: Jolt (similar) Striped Shirt: H&M (similar) Lace Top: Rose and Olive (similar here and here) Trench Coat: Ellen Tracy (similar here and here) Bag: Longchamp Small Le Pliage Tote Scarf: Burberry (similar) Umbrella: Burberry (same style, but in red) Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Clubmaster
As I’ve mentioned in my previous travel posts, staying within a neutral color palette is my personal preference for packing versatile outfits. Adding a dash of color helps mix things up (red and maroon tones always look great with black, white, and beige, as illustrated above).
The other way to add interest to an outfit is with textures and prints (lace and stripes are classics). For London, I brought both my Burberry scarf and umbrella, as the iconic print evokes timeless British style. Given their cloudy, damp climate, a water-resistant trench coat is vital.
P.S. Just wanted to mention that I had such a wonderful time viewing the rare books and manuscripts at the British Library Treasures (they have a copy of the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare’s First Folio, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and many other historical texts). If you’re a bookworm like me, this was a real treat.
I didn’t discuss any of the London museums we’ve visited, but the British Museum and the National Gallery are especially stunning and overwhelming. If you enjoy history, give yourself as much time as you can at the British Museum in particular. It’s MASSIVE. Next time I would really like to spend longer there.
(The photo below was taken just a few blocks from the National Gallery. I couldn’t resist a picture with those beautiful flowers!)
Are you going to be tuning in to the Royal Wedding this weekend? Let me know in the comments! Hope you all have a great week!