Well that’s a bit of a lie but I still went to London! I went with a friend, Susannah, the weekend just after St. Patrick’s day and stayed in her home in Sussex. From there we had the opportunity to spend the day in London which was a place I hadn’t visited since the tender age of eight. On a slightly overcast morning we took the train from Turnbridge Wells to London Bridge Station. I would most definitely recommend this site https://tfl.gov.uk/maps/track/tube to plan your travels about London as you can use the internet for free once you connect to London’s Cloud Wifi system!
A quick picture by one of the iconic underground signs
Upon arriving at London Bridge station we took the underground to Westminster Station where we emerged from the artificial lights into the sunlight and I got my first glimpse of London’s historic streets. Opposite the entrance to the station loomed the imposing tower of big ben, towering over the House of Commons. Following the bustling crowds towards Westminster Bridge the London Eye quickly came into view. Amongst the hectic hustle and bustle that is central London Susannah caught a few pictures of me with some of London’s most noted monuments.
The river Thames from Westminster Bridge
It is possible to take a tour of London on the Thames however I often feel as though boat journeys through a city can be a bit of a waste (Venice and Bruges being two of the obvious exceptions!) I much rather get up close and personal with all the city has to offer, exploring side streets and getting to grips with the map. Always bring a pair of runners and you’ll have the whole city in your hands.
Squinty Eyes in the foreground, London Eye in the background
Backtracking by the House of Commons we turned right onto Whitehall in search of Downing Street to talk a quick peek at one of the most important residences in England. Upon the way we passed the Cenotaph, which was erected in 1919 for the Allied Victory Parade. This monument was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, decorated with a single carved wreath on each ends, the dates of the First World War and the Second World War in Roman Numerals along with the words “The Glorious Dead” chosen by Loyd George. It commemorates the dead in all wars in which British servicemen and women have fought and is a Grade I listed building. This design has been used in the construction of many more war memorials throughout the British Empire.
After a brief walk we reached the gates of Downing Street and peered through the bars to get a glimpse at the black door of number 10. Guards with guns patrol the gates, however, there are two stationed at the gates who allow tourists to take photos with them. Following a short wait I hopped in beside them and got jokingly mocked for being Irish. I got a few photos (all of which I was laughing in) and on we went down whitehall.
“Ohhhh she’s from Dublin! Trouble so!” “Mayo actually, how could you even think of calling me a townie?”
Along the way to Trafalgar Square we took a picture with the guards on their horses at the Horse Guards Parade. I must add that whilst there are crowds, both here and at Downing Street all you need is a little patience and knowing when to jump in beside the guards to get a brilliant photo!
Looking much more amused than the guard, only fools and horses here
Walking down the street lined with white stone buildings we eventually found ourselves in Trafalgar square. From here you can get to a lot of attractions such as Kings College, Covent Gardens, the National Gallery, Piccadilly Circus and more.
Cloudy overhead in Trafalgar Square
However, by talking the first when you come to the roundabout at the end of Whitehall it will take you onto The Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace. It is closed to traffic on Sundays, public holidays and on ceremonial occasions. After a brief google my friend, performing her duties as a Londoner and tour guide informed me that The Mall began as a playing field for pall-mall and was a fashionable promenade during the 17th and 18th Centuries as we walked under the Admiralty March. In the early 20th century a route intended to be used for major national ceremonies was envisioned, matching similar ceremonial routes in Berlin Oslo and Paris. Thus, a new façade was constructed for Buckingham Palace, and the Victoria Memorial was built.
Serious business visiting the Royals
The length of The Mall is 0.5 nautical miles and the surface is coloured red in order to give the effect of a giant red carpet leading up to Buckingham Palace. The Mall was packed with over one million people to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 and again for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011, as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the Jubilee concert in 2012. On these occasions The Mall street is decorated with Union Flags and the Royal Family make an appearance on the palace balcony. Also as I was once a race walker (fun fact of you there now), I found it very interesting that this also marked the course for the race walks at the 2012 London Olympics, as well as serving as the course for the road race, start and finish of the marathon and the finish line of the cycling races.
Wonder if people will shoot guns in my honour on the Horse Guards Parade?
Almost immediately after you walk under the arch there is a turn off to the left which leads you down to the Horse Guards Parade. Also on the left side of the mall is the impeccably groomed Saint James’s Park. Closer to the palace itself on the right hand side of The Mall is Saint James’s Palace.
Angelic scenes at the residence of the Queen
When we reached the Palace we were greeted by the imposing figure of the Victoria Memorial. Me being the messer I am, scrambled up onto a ledge where I jokingly flirted with one of the many male bronze statues sprawled above the fountain surrounding the monument.
Can’t take me anywhere
We spent some time admiring the lavish building that is Buckingham Palace. Although we didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of anybody moving about behind the windows we spotted the famous Palace Guards with their Bearskin Helmets, standing a straight as a poker at each of their respective posts. Another impressive detail was the gold coated metal detailing on the fences and railings. These decorations used to be pure gold but due to an increased amount of theft these were replaced with gold plated replicas. You can take a tour of the palace grounds and garden but as I was on a tight schedule that was left for another day.
Yo MTV this my crib
With Camden on our minds we dashed through Green Park which was full of idyllic daffodils in full bloom and hopped on the underground. Taking the Victoria Line we had to change trains at Euston Station to take the Northern Line to Camden Town Underground Station.
Stepping out of the station I was greeted with the sight that every hipster, student and person who wants a decent picture for social media adores about Camden High Street. Colourful, alternative shops line the street all then way down to Camden’s Canal Lock. If there’s one piece of advice I’d give, I’d say go straight down the street to the Lock, the Canal is particularly beautiful and if I wasn’t a broke student I may have chanced a look at the menu at the inviting Camden Lock Market.
Camden, however, has a plethora of cheap eats available almost everywhere you turn. My personal recommendation would be Prèt á Manger. They have cafés all over London and have a dynamic range of organic and natural food and drink. It was my first time ever trying sushi and I have to say I didn’t fare too badly with a pair of chopsticks, it was also my first time trying sweet and salty popcorn, possibly one of the best things I tasted whilst in England!
The most amazing t-shirt shop I have been to in my life, the light responds to music!
After visiting the Lock Susannah and I perused the shops and took a stroll through Camden Market. (A little note here on pickpockets: if you have an open handbag hold it close to the front of your body, make sure bag packs are zipped to the side and I would encourage you to hold it rather than carry is on your back, be extra vigilant with all personal belongings as it is notorious for theft.) Once in the market don’t be afraid to haggle as a lot of the items are over priced.
A view down Camden High Street
My best tip is to say you saw the exact same thing at another price in a shop close buy, offer a price lower than you want and then slowly make it seem like you’re walking away. I picked up a beautiful tapestry for £12.50, there are a lot of intricately designed fabrics and unusual clothes. I got a beautiful pair of harem pants that were made in Nepal for £13, however, I did not check the quality of the fabric and only a few weeks later they began to rip along the seams. So make sure to check the quality of the clothes at the market before buying!
Pictured: My pants before they let me down terribly
A stones throw from Camden High Street lies Regent’s Park, the University of London, London Zoo and the ever so adored Kings Cross Station where wizards catch the annual train to Hogwarts. Situated a fifteen minute drive away is one of London’s most famous shopping districts, Oxford Street, so we hailed a hailo and whizzed around some of the shops before they closed. Shops close at 6 pm on a Sunday and at 9pm on all other days except Thursday when they stay open until 10 pm. Some of England’s most iconic shops are on Oxford Street including Topshop’s flagstore, the three story store contains the latest in men and women’s fashion, a beauty and piercing studio and a café bar on the lower ground floor (impressive stuff eh?). My friend has genuinely spent the entire day here. Also to be found on the street are Accessorize, American Apparel, Bershka, Dorothy Perkins, Forever 21, New Look, Primark, River Island, The Disney Store, Urban Outfitters and much more. Another shop I visited was Claire’s, which is actually where I got my ears pierced. A daunting experience made a lot less stressful by the friendly staff.
“I took my feet to Oxford Street, trying to right a wrong “Just walk away,” those windows say, but I can’t believe she’s gone.”
One street over is the iconic Saville Row, I obviously did not go there as I couldn’t even afford to get my ears pierced at Topshop. If you are not a peasant of a student and live in a mansion made of gold with servants for different parts of your estate then I would highly recommend this street and infuse most of the district. If you like buying things here you may not like Camden market. As I said before, the pants rip. Taking the underground Susannah and I returned to London Bridge and took the train back to Tunbridge Wells. The following morning we took the plane from Gatwick, making an obligatory pitstop to both Harrods and Prèt á Manger. Despite a slight delay we still returned to Dublin on time to make our 2 pm lecture.
Me with the pants that ripped, they were nice while they lasted