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london: sightseeing

I wanted to share some of our adventures abroad over the past year, and I thought I would start with London since it was our most recent trip. We managed to snag some very affordable (and direct) flights to London Heathrow out of Chicago O'Hare, which sealed the deal on making this trip happen. The tickets most likely came at a discounted rate given that our trip was during the middle to the end of January, which is not exactly the warm season for the UK. Still, the temperatures were mostly in the 40Fs, which was tolerable by comparison to the frigidity of Milwaukee in January. We bundled up everyday and, per my garmin, walked a total of about 15 miles per day, which kept us warm. Sight-seeing was overall easy given the low numbers of tourists, and it was super affordable given the number of free sites that we visited and given our 2-for-1 tube passes.

As you will see when you compare my itinerary with your most up-to-date Rick Steves London, we essentially visited all the sites that he recommended with three triangles (if you are unfamiliar, the three triangles is Rick's way of rating the top notch sightseeing). We spent quite a bit of time on the guided walks, which we had done in Spain as well. The guided walks are one of the single best ways of to make sure you see all the highlights of the city, especially because many of them incorporate the major sites (check his website if you want to listen to some of them via podcast).

Churchill War Rooms. Below Whitehall, the Churchill War Rooms were our first scheduled stop, which was fortunate given that our first day was cold and rainy and that the War Rooms are relatively well-insulated. They are remarkably well-preserved, and the detailed Winston Churchill within the War Rooms provides such great insight into Churchill himself.

National Gallery + National Portrait Gallery. We did the guided tour provided by Rick Steves for the National Gallery (no podcast available for this one), and it was wonderful; importantly, Rick's guide through the National Gallery was fairly concise, which is necessary given the size of the gallery. Like the Prado and the Louvre, you can spend all day in this place. We spent far more time here than Rick allotted, but we still had a minute to pop over to the National Portrait Gallery immediately afterwards, which was not on the original schedule; however, I highly recommend it as a supplement to the National Gallery because you are able to see many of the well-known portraits that litter your old history textbooks in the Portrait Gallery.

Tower of London. The Tower of London is a London essential. We toured the Crown Jewels first per Rick's recommendations (everything in here is replicated nearly perfectly in The Crown, Young Victoria, Victoria), and then we took the Beefeater tour, which was highly entertaining and earned us a twitter shout-out. We then wandered around for quite a while, and it was quite easy to spend half the day, as here is quite a bit of history there in which to lose yourself.

Westminster Abbey. As the site of every coronation since 1066 (be sure to check out the coronation chair) and sixteen royal weddings, Westminster Abbey is also one of London's must-see sights. We started off on Rick's Westminster Walk immediately after finishing the tour here. There are famous people buried all over Westminster Abbey, so be careful not to step on them.

Saint Paul's Cathedral. While there are so many Christopher Wren churches spread across London, this particular church is certainly the main one that you should see. If you are going to visit the Cathedral, it is definitely worth your while to a climb to the very top (All the way! I mean it!) for some spectacular views of the city. We toured it towards the end of the Rick Steves City Walk, which in and of itself gave us a good sense of the old city of London.

British Library. While Nick's favorite stop was the Churchill War Rooms, the British Library was my personal favorite. Rick has a podcast audiotour that is brief (you only need about an hour-and-a-half max for here), the whole experience is amazing. You get to see bits of the Magna Carta, Shakespeare's First Folio, old bibles, and Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks. While we were there, there was a whole section devoted to Jane Austen, which gave me all kinds of heart eyes.

British Museum. Not to mention Rick Steves again, but thank goodness we had his podcast here. The British Museum has a wealth of history and exhibits. We spent far more than our allotted time here studying the rise and fall of Egypt, Assyria (Iraq), and Greece. The Parthenon Galleries are breathtaking (both the sculpture and the magnanimity of the room itself).

Changing of the Guards. The changing of the guard was a last-minute addition to our itinerary. I had originally not scheduled it given how busy we were over five-and-a-half days, but then I felt like I was shorting Nick out of a classic London experience. We did not stay for the whole thing (standing around for that long was too cold), but we got to see some of the fuss and fanfare. The Queen's guard, as you can see below, was in their winter dress (grey coats).

Victoria & Albert Museum. I had done most of the things on this list once or twice before, but I had not done the V&A museum. My first impression: wow. The V&A museum has such a variety: from British history to fashion through the ages to Iranian rugs to the Cast Courts, they have a little bit of history, a little bit of art, and a little bit of everything in between.

Rick Steve's Walks: The Westminster Walk, The City Walk, Bankside Walk, West End Walk, Regent Street Shopping Walk. The walks. I am obsessed with them. I will listen to them on a podcast or read them from the book, but they got us to see everything. From Twinings to the Liberty of London store, we got to see all the little bits and pieces of London that are so important, but that are not necessarily on your sight-seeing list. Put the walks on your list, and you will see it all (and learn about it, too).

Next time... On our next trip, I would love to travel throughout the UK as well. I have been to Hampton Court and Greenwich, but I would love to go again as an adult. In London proper, we left so much undone, including the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain. Cheers to next time!

For more posts on London:

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