3 Days in London: A 72 Hour Itinerary

April 30, 2024  •  1 Comment

     From Dublin, we hopped over to London for three days. I know, I know...London in late autumn? But truly, when is the best time to visit? Isn't the weather always a hit or miss? Funny enough, we had amazing sunshine while we were there with no rain! Irrespective of the weather, London is an overload for the senses with endlesss possibilties on any given day. That said, our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1: Christmas Market & Tower Bridge 

     Unfortunately, we woud up with only half a day to explore because Heathrow airport was a mess and it took forever to get from the airport to our Airbnb. After a quick shower, we headed to the Christmas market near Tower Bridge. While there, we tried samples of Indian, Korean and German cuisines. However, the cheeses were so irresistable, we wound up buying a few to take back with us. 

Thereafter, we visited Tower Bridge (not to be confused with London Bridge). Tower Bridge is a combined bascule and suspenion bridge built between 1886 and 1894. Designed by Horace Jones, it was engineered by John Wolfe Barry with the help of Henry Marc Brunel. It crosses the River Thames close to the Tower of London and is one of the five London bridges owned and maintained by the City Bridge Foundation, a charitable trust founded in 1282. The bridge stands at an impressive 800 feet (240 m) in length and consists of two 213 foot (65 m) neo-Gothic bridge towers connected at the upper level by two horiztontal walkways, and a central pair of bascules that can open to allow shipping. Originally, the bridge was hydraulically powered. As of 1972, the operating mechanism of the bridge was converted to an electro-hydraulic system. 

By this time, we were cold and our energy was shot. We finished the night with a few pints of beer in the company of some old friends.

Tower Bridge seen from Queen's Walk

       Upper image: view of the Tower of London; bottom right & left images: views of downtown London from Tower Bridge

 

Day 2: The Sights of London

     After some much needed sleep, we were ready to explore. We met our friends for a wonderfully delicious breakfast at Bill's Covent Garden. Powered up by a second round of coffee, we met our tour guide for a three hour walking tour of London. We departed from Covent Garden and worked our way to the Palace of Westminster. En route, we stopped by the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. The site around Trafalgar Square has been a significant landmark since the 1200s. The site of the present square formerly contained the elaborately designed enclosed courtyard of the Royal Mews from the 14th to the 17th centuries. After George IV moved the mews to Buckingham Palace in the 19th century, the area was redeveloped by John Nash and subsequently reopened in 1844. The square's name commemorates Britain's naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars over France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar. The 169 foot (52 m) Nelson's Column at the centre of the square is guarded by four lion statues. Several commemorative statues and sculptures also occupy the square. However, the Fourth Plinth was left empty since 1840 and has been host to contemporary art since 1999. The most interesting was probably the "Gift Horse" by German-born artist Hans Haacke in 2015.

   Left image: Trafalgar Square TripSavvy images; Right image: Nelson's Column & the lion by Trainline images

Christmas market infront of the National Gallery

     Thereafter, we continued our walk to The Mall, which is London's primary ceremonial road starting at Trafalgar Square as it leads through Admiralty Arch into St. James' Park. This 1km road originally laid out by Charles II, the Mall became the grand approach to Buckingham Palace when the palace became the official royal residence on accession of Queen Victoria. It passes St. James' Palace, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Memorial, Clarence House and finishes at Buckingham Palace. 

View of the sidewalk of the mall leading to Buckingham Palace

    Left image: King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) Memorial; Right image: St. Jame's' Palace

     A few steps away from St. James' Palace, we finally arrived at Buckingham Palace. Needing no introduction, but warranting a few lines, Buckingham Palace is the official royal residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom. Originally known as Buckingham House, the building at the core of today's palace was a large townhouse built fot the Duke of Buckingham in 1703. It was acquired by King George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte and became known as the Queen's House. During the 19th century, it was enlaarged by architects John Nash and Edward Blore. In 1837, Buckingham Palace became the London residence of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria.

We continued the tour into St. James' Park. A 23 hectare (52 acre) urban park in the City of Westminster, this royal park was named after a once isolated medieval hospital dedicated to St. James the Less, now the site of St. James' Palace.

A resident colony of pelicans has been a feature of the park since a Russian ambassador gifted them to Charles II in 1664. Over 40 pelicans have since called the park home.

From the park, we stopped by the Horse Guards building that is also home to the Household Cavalry Museum. A living museum open to the public, it offers a 'behind the scenes' look at the work that goes into the ceremonial and armoured reconnaissance role of HM The King's Mounted Bodyguard.

View of the Household Cavalry Museum

     Around noon, we arrived at Westminster Abbey. Undoubtedly, the Abbey is one of the most famous religious buildings in the world and has served an important role in British political, social and cultural affairs for more than 1000 years. Situated on the grounds of a former Benedictine monastery, it was refounded as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster by Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1560. In spite of its name, the facility is no longer an abbey, nor does it house monks or nuns. Instead, Westminster Abbey has been the site of royal coronations since 1066 and has been a working facility for religious services since the 10th century. Thirty royals are buried in the abbey, including 13 kings, 4 queen regnants and 11 queen consorts. Additionally, Geoffrey Chaucer was the first poet to be buried in the Poets' Corner in 1400, while Charles Dickens was interred at the abbey against his wishes

    View of the abbey from Victoria Street

The building is chiefly built in a geometric Gothic style. The church has an eleven bay nave with aisles, transepts and a chancel with ambulatory and radiating chapels. The nave and transepts have sixteen crystal chandeliers made of hand-blwon Waterford glass and were donated by the Guinness family in 1965 to commemorate the abbey's 900th anniversary. The building is supported with two tiers of flying buttresses.

   Left image: the crystal chandeliers; right image: side view of the abbey (images from Shutterstock)

     The tour ended at the Palace of Westminster. The building was originally constructed in the 11th century as a royal palace and the primary residence of the Kings of England until 1512 when a fire destroyed the royal apartments. Thereafter, the monarch moved to the adjacent Palace of Whitehall, but the remainder of the palace continued to serve as the home of the Parliament of England, which had met there since the 13th century. One of the most interesting features of the Palace of Westminster is Westminster Hall. Originally built in 1097, the hammer beam roof was added in 1392 and 1401 and is the largest medieval timber roof in northern Europe. It is the oldest part of the complex to survive the devastating 1834 fire.

                                       Inside view of Westminster Hall (Shutterstock image)

Arguably, the most famous feature of the Palace of Westminster is its clock tower - Elizabeth Tower, better known as Big Ben. Big Ben is actually the 13.7 tonne bell hanging inside and is named after Benjamin Hall, the first Commissioner of Works when the tower was completed in 1859.

After the tour, we were famished. We had a lovely lunch of fish & chips at St. Stephen's Tavern. Thereafter, we crossed Westminster Bridge for some sunset photos of the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and the London Eye. By now you've probably noticed we were graced with extraordinary sunlight for the duration of our visit (a rare sight indeed).

At dusk, we stopped by the Christmas market at Trafalgar Square where we had some gluwein and bratswurst. We finished the evening with a quick walkthrough of Leadenhall Market at London' East End. However, it was way too crowded for our liking. Afterwards, we made our way to Chinatown which was also very crowded. After browsing a few places for dinner, we wound up having a delicious meal at Tamarind Kitchen. I highly recommend their jaggery old-fashion.

 

Day 3: Natural History Museum

     Considering day two was well over 35,000 steps of walking, we opted for a more relaxed final day. We made our way to Kensington where we had a brisk morning stroll around the Queen's Gate Terrace and Kensingston Gate. Thereafter, we met our friends for an amazing breakfast at Coco Momo. If you're ever in the neighborhood, give the smashed avocado toast a try.

    View of Kensington neighborhood

Being avid dinosaur enthusiasts, we couldn't visit London and not not go to the Natural History Museum. The museum is home to life and earth science specimens boasting some 80 million items within five main collections of botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleanthology and zoology. The Hintze Hall (central hall) of the museum is an architectural beauty. The blue whale skeleton, Hope, is an impressive display in the central hall at some 82 feet (25 m) long and weighing 4.5 tonnes. Quite a few movies and videos have been filmed in various sections of the musem, including Paddington, Poirot: The Veiled Lady, and Breathe by Jax Jones.

The dinosaur gallery housed many specimens, including the first ever T-rex skeleton ever discovered, the first skeleton of Iguanodon, the skull of a triceratops and the gigantic armoured Scolosaurus. However, the hall was very dimly lit, so photos were a tad hard to capture.  Did I mention there was a T-rex dressed for the holidays?

Apart from the dinosaurs, I was most excited to see Megatherium (the giant ground sloth). The first fossil was discovered in 1788 by Manuel Torres in Argentina. The fossil was shipped to Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid in 1789 where it remains. It was then reassembled by Juan Bautista Bru, who also drew the skeleton and some individual bones. Based on Bru's illustrations, Georges Cuvier eventually determined that the fossil was a sloth in 1796 who most likely used its claws to dig tunnels. Since the original discovery, several other megatherium skeletons have been discovered across South America in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Guyana! Also, I spotted a harpy eagle from South America.

I must admit, I was a bit disappointed with the layout of the specimens at the museum. It was not the most efficient use of space and due to dim lighting in a few of the galleries, it was hard to read any of the info bars for what we were looking at. Actually, some specimens were also missing labels entirely.

     After the museum, we took a stroll to the Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Gardens. The sun was out, but it was a tad cold due to the wind, so we didn't stay too long. Howevever, just some quick facts of Royal Albert Hall. The hall was originally to have been called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences by Queen Victoria upon laying the hall's foundation stone in 1867. It was a tribute to the memory of her husband, Prince Albert, who had died six years earlier. Since the hall's opening in 1871, it has hosted the world's leading artists from all performance genres. Over its 153 year history, the hall has also featured people from various fields, including meetings held by the suffragettes, speeches from Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein, fights by Lennox Lewis and exhibition bouts by Mohammad Ali to name a few. 

                                      Upper image: outside view of Royal Albert Hall; lower image: inside view of the hall

Directly from the hall is the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. It was commissioned by Queen Victoria upon the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert. Designed by Sir Geirge Gilbert Scott in the Gothic Revival style, it takes the form of an ornate canopy 176 feet (54 m) tall, over the high altar of a church sheltering a statue of the prince facing south. It took over ten years to complete. The memorial was opened in 1872 by Queen Victoria, with the statue of Albert ceremonially "seated" in 1876. 

After the gardens, we took the Tube back to Trafalgar Square. We did a bit of shopping and had a late lunch/early dinner at Old Shades Pub. While there, we had a few pints and relaxed before meeting our friends for goodbye drinks and cabaret at Cellar Door. We parted ways an hour before midnight and headed back to our Airbnb for some much needed sleep. We had an early flight the next day.

Final thoughts - we added London as a side trip to our Irish adventure, so we didn't plan too well, but were still happy with what we saw and did during our time. Would definitely revisit the UK for a roadtrip from London to Edinburgh and beyond. Perhaps sometime in the future...

Additional photos can be found here.

 

P.S. since my phone was stolen while we were in Ireland, the photos above are a mix of photos from my DSLR, my partner's phone and sourced images. 


Comments

Savita(non-registered)
Wonderful! It's incredible how much you managed to pack into the three-day vacation. It was so well-organized, and not a moment was wasted. It made me want to visit London now, even though it wasn't originally on my list of places to go. Haha.
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