Aug. 4, 2014 8:41 a.m. - Updated: 8:41 a.m.
After our June transatlantic crossing on the Cunard Queen Mary 2, we spent an additional three days in London before flying back to Spokane. That’s not a lot of time in one of the world’s most beautiful and historic cities, but with a map, a plan, and a good pair of walking shoes, it’s enough time to make wonderful memories.
Make the Most of Every Minute
After leaving the ship in Southampton, we arrived at Victoria Station coach depot around noon and walked around the corner to catch the train to our Kensington hotel. Since we were there just days before Wimbledon, rooms were in short supply and rates were high. Knowing we wouldn’t be spending much time at the hotel, and not willing to pay a premium price for a luxury hotel, we’d booked a room at the Holiday Inn Forum in South Kensington.
After checking in (we got lucky and a room was ready so we could take a minute to freshen up) we dropped our bags and we were on our way.
Here are a few ways we made the most of a short stay:
The Pedestrian Route
Since we were in the neighborhood, our first stop was Kensington Palace. We had already decided most of our time in the city would be spent at major museums so we passed on the formal palace tour and spent an hour exploring the gardens, ponds, meadows and pathways surrounding the home of Will, Kate and little Prince George as we made our way across town. It was a warm day and at every turn we found people luxuriating in the sun. Children chased ducks, couples dozed on blankets and pedestrian commuters strode past us briefcase in hand.
From there we made our way through the park toward the heart of the city, past ice-cream trucks and pony clubs trotting on bridal paths, eventually landing at the National Gallery’s weekly extended hours evening. London is home to some of the best museums in the world and most are free and, like the National Gallery, have extended hours at least one evening each week. This gives you added flexibility if, like us, you’re trying to see as much as possible in a short amount of time.
Happy Hour at the Pub
London is expensive and dining out can make a big dent in your budget. Since we were planning to be on the move most of the day, we opted for starting the day with a full breakfast—including a made-to-order omelet—at the hotel’s buffet (included in the hotel reservation package,) skipping lunch and then stopping to eat and rest our tired feet at around 5p.m. After walking miles each day we were more than happy to sit down to a pint and a plate of cheese, pickles, chips and sausages at Happy Hour. It still wasn’t cheap but was certainly less expensive than a restaurant meal on a busy weekend and we took advantage of sidewalk seating to soak up the ambiance while we drained our glass.
The Oyster is a Pearl
We did a lot of walking but sometimes you need a faster way to get around. My travel agent suggested an Oyster Card and it was a smart move. The pre-paid transit card is the fastest and most efficient way to access the Underground and allows you to move quickly and safely from one place to another. It’s easy to monitor the balance on your card and to add more money at kiosks at each Underground station.
Take the London Pass
The pre-paid London Pass lets you skip the long line at ticket booths at some of the premier attractions ( Including the London Tower, the Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and more.) Each pass is good for two days after the first use so we activated ours the morning of the second day—our first full day in the city. (There’s free WiFi at the London Pass ticket kiosk on Charring Cross road!)
At the end of our whirlwind tour of London we were exhausted but satisfied we’d seen as much as we could in such a short time. We’d watch the guards change, admired beautiful works of art and architecture and stood in the places where world history was made. After one last stroll across the Thames, a cone of Mr Whippy soft-serve ice-cream in hand, we watched the sunset paint the sky over Big Ben. We had a plane to catch in the morning but we were already working on another list of things to see and do on the next trip over.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com