London in the (almost) spring – beginning of March – proved to be lovely. Amid scares of Coronavirus, with careful traveling we were just able to make it there and back from Philadelphia with a great time in-between. Our trip happened from flying out of Philadelphia on a Wednesday and returning on Sunday, and these few days – including travel and time differences – were enough to give us a great little snippet of this beautiful city.
We flew Aer Lingus, and were so impressed with the airline. With cozy seats and headrests ahead of us that provided great entertainment – a ton of good movies and shows – and food services throughout the flight, they reminded me what Spirit airlines is lacking and made me want to only travel east from Philadelphia from now on! The flights cost slightly less than $600 round trip, and proved to be more than worth it!
When we arrived in London, it was a little after 8am and we were able to so easily take the Piccadilly line from Heathrow to about a mile from our hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel, just northeast of Hyde Park. (We were also delighted that our debit cards had the feature where we could tap the box and just walk through the turnstile onto the train platform! So easy, and we wish that Philadelphia would institute this simple way of boarding and exiting the train station. I had been so worried about how to buy tickets/cards to use the tube, and this gave us zero issues!)
The walk from the station was chilly but exciting, as we were a great mixture of exhausted and ready for adventure. After a short nap in our hotel (they charged us about $60 to check in early, despite the “24 hour check-in” advertisement – apparently that is for people who check in prior to 11am – a tad misleading but the hotel ended up being a good place to be, so that was the only complaint!) we wandered west for a tea reservation at 2pm at Candella Tea Room (email them so you can have a table reserved!), just a 2-mile walk from our hotel. We walked along Hyde Park, and loved the views on of the park one one side, buildings on the other. The walk was entirely rainy, but there is something solidly “London” about walking in the rain there.
I’ll admit, much of the reason I wanted to visit London was to enjoy a real Afternoon Tea. This place – Candella Tea Room (34 Kensington Church St, Kensington, London W8 4HA, United Kingdom) – proved to be affordable, had beautiful decor, and a place I would absolutely go back to if (when!) we return to London. So many tea rooms charge double-to-triple the amount that we paid for this tea. It was about 30 pounds for two people – the Traditional Afternoon Tea service – which included a whole tea tray full of deliciousness. The scones and clotted cream were absolutely perfect – exactly what I hoped for. We also ordered an additional pot of tea so we could each have our choice of tea. We spent a little over an hour in the Tea Room, and loved each minute. From the decor inside to the food and drink, it was exactly what I’d hoped Afternoon Tea would be.
From here, we took a cab to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. We could have used at least another hour in this fantastic place, partly because after deciding to visit the gift shop first and come back at the end to purchase anything we hoped to buy, we were too late to buy things at the end of the visit. The museum advertises closing at 5:45, but they usher everyone out at 5:30, so don’t wait to buy your items!
The inside of the museum is incredible. We saw most of it with a quick walk-through in just a couple of hours, but I would love to spend more time there. It is free, so if one only has a small bit of time, it is still a great place to visit. Our favorite is probably the clothing through the ages – and the Britain exhibits, both 1500-1760 and 1760 – 1900 were amazing. It’s all so unique – even if you don’t go, I recommend perusing their website for a taste of its brilliance. (I also recommend taking photographs inside. I did not, and I now regret it!)
After the museum, we had dinner in a pub – Fish and Chips (obviously), and headed back to bed to rest for day two. There’s nothing like getting into a cozy bed after you’re crazy jet lagged!
On the second day, we headed to Notting Hill in the morning, following breakfast in our hotel. We took our walk again along the park, this time excited that it was a clear, warmish day so photos could be taken! Notting Hill is every bit as beautiful as any Instagrammer’s photos, but you need to see for yourself, as photographs never do much of anything justice.
tons of shops (I recommend Alice – it’s this antique shop just short of bursting through the door with all things England – teacups especially – and as quaint as you could imagine!)…
in just an entirely walkable, photogenic area. We also headed a bit east to Little Venice, where we saw these lovely sights:
We then ate lunch and headed to…
The London Eye! We got here when there appeared to be a crazy line but booked tickets anyway. The ticket slot we were given was for about an hour ahead of when we were there, but the helpful man outside the line told us that if we wanted to go ahead now, we’d be on within 20 minutes. So that’s what we did! The line went quickly and we had great views earlier than we anticipated. Quick note: if you buy the London Eye Guidebook with your ticket, be sure to ask for it when you get to the concession booth on your way in. I assumed there’d be a big sign saying where to find it, but I ended up learning about where to pick it up after I’d passed it and ended up only getting it after being on the Eye, which defeated the purpose. But this is a must-see if you’re not often in London, as you can see the whole city from up top and it is absolutely beautiful. I also recommend the guidebook, as it will do just what you hope: you’ll be able to identify most of the buildings from the top, and know what you’re looking at.
The walk across the bridge (we took the Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges) after being on the Eye is amazing, too:
We grabbed dinner after a long walk and tube ride back to our hotel. The area near the London Eye was quite pricey, so we didn’t end up eating there, as we also felt like we weren’t dressed up enough. The area where we stayed, just northeast of Hyde Park, held restaurants that were a bit more casual and allowed us to go in with the comfortable walking shoes and clothes we wore the whole day.
The last day, we decided to visit Oxford!
I went to Oxford years ago, and have since hoped to return. So this was a dream come true. We took the Oxford Tube (a bus) for just 15 pounds round trip. (The bus also accepted our debit cards then and there as the tube does!) The ride was about 2 hours and brought us right to Queen Lane, at the heart of Oxford.
Our first stop was tea at The Rose. We walked in – no reservation – and experienced Afternoon Tea as amazing as the one we had on our first day.
From here we did what anyone visiting Oxford should do: walked around aimlessly. The buildings are so old and beautiful that it feels like being in a museum. There are shops, small alleys to sneak down, and everywhere you look there is a photo to be taken.
There is also a Covered Market that we stumbled upon, which was great – reminded me of Reading Terminal in Philadelphia – and had great things to look at (and buy!).
Oxford is truly one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen…
We probably left London on one of the last weekends we could have traveled there. Amid the Corona scare, I feel grateful to have made the trip and hope that this time of fear will soon be over. Wishing safe, healthy travels to any travelers who are still out there, and hoping you can get home soon.
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