London, England – When I lived in Paris in the ‘90s, my mother lived in London, and while it was precipitously easier to “go home” to England than to the United States, it still took a minimum of 9 hours – a trip that consisted of two separate trains, plus a ferry boat to cross the Channel.
So, when I was in Paris last month after a long absence, I got a “wild hair” and decided to go to London… for the day! Mainly, because I could. Thanks to the high-speed Eurostar train through the chunnel, the trip now takes just a brief 2 hours and 30 minutes. Factor in the time change (you wind your watch back an hour going from Paris to London), and it only takes 90 minutes on the clock! The trip is super easy to book on Eurostar (create an account, and get e-tickets on your phone).
Ninety minutes later – eh voila!, I arrived at St. Pancras Station, which has an underground stop on the convenient Circle Line that loops around central London. I quickly and effortlessly bought a 1-day Travelcard (approx. £12) from the local Tourist information center, stopped at one of the handy automatic currency machine changers found throughout St. Pancras station (you put in euros, and it spits out pounds – with no commission) and I was off to my first stop.
1) Tower of London – This amazing 11th century castle is possibly most famous for its use as a prison. Among its notable “guests” have been Ann Boleyn, Guy Fawkes, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Queen Elizabeth I (before she was crowned). Today, the Tower is the permanent home of the Crown Jewels. Note: You can buy “jump the line” tickets online, but you still have to wait in line to get the “jump the line” tickets. I recommend making a bee-line to the bling before the crowds converge and then strolling the grounds (by mid-day, it’s common to wait two hours to view the jewels!).
2) A few steps from the Tower of London, the river bus makes frequent stops along the Thames. And while the river bus isn’t covered with the 1-day Travelcard, the £5 it cost was well worth the price. The ride from the Tower to Westminster took about 20 minutes. It’s a relaxing, unique, and a cheap way to see some spectacular views of London.
Hopping off the river bus, I walked past the iconic Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, wending my way through St. James Park and Buckingham Palace. Sadly, the Palace wasn’t open for tours (in 2017, summer dates are 22 July – 1 October), so I kept up my sojourn, crossing Hyde Park to the Hyde Park Corner tube station, and on to my next stop.
3) Covent Garden – Formerly an outdoor fruit and vegetable market, Covent Garden is now a bustling shopping area, just east of the Theatre District. Two covered halls make up the heart of the Garden, each housing adorable boutiques and market stalls. Nearby, and all around Covent Garden, numerous quaint pubs also line the cobblestone streets – a perfect place to pop in to get a nice bite of lunch. I love Covent Garden. For me, it’s a must-visit every time I go to London. Perhaps it’s out of nostalgia because it reminds me so much of My Fair Lady.
After all that, it was only three o’clock. My train back to Paris wasn’t until 6:30, but I realized there wasn’t enough time to squeeze in a museum visit (take your pick – London abounds with amazing museums), so I hopped back on the tube and headed over to Harrod’s for a quick peek at how the rich shop. On the way, I opted for a lovely stroll through Knightsbridge and past the Albert & Victoria Museum
Before I knew it, it was time to start heading back to St. Pancras… but not before stopping by one of a plethora of “sweet stalls” to load up on some British treats for the train ride back to Paris, exhausted but ecstatic with my London trip! Photo credit: Barbara Nance
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