In the beginning of April, David and I took a trip to England, Scotland, and Ireland. We flew to London for 4 nights, took a train up to Edinburgh for 2 nights, then flew to Dublin for 3 nights. This trip had been at the top of my bucket list since high school and it lived up to every hope and expectation I had.
Originally, I was supposed to go on this trip with my mom. She and I booked it but then she hurt her back and wasn’t able to go (she’s doing much better now). So last minute, David decided to take her place and we had to scramble to switch the flights into his name. Fortunately, we booked the trip through Costco which got us incredible rates on our flights and hotels, and also made the entire planning process easier. The package also included a $400 tour credit while in London and a driver from the airport when we landed in London.
We got to London in the late morning on a Saturday. Our plan had been to sleep on the flight, check into the hotel, then go explore the city. Unfortunately, neither of us slept on the flight and we were exhausted by the time we got to our hotel Rubens at the Palace. After checking in, we ventured out to find food. Our hotel was in a great location – basically across the street from Buckingham Palace, close to Victoria Station, and surrounded by tons of food options. We stopped into a large pub for some classic British food. There was a big football (soccer) match going on and the place was packed with fans decked out in their team colors. I’m not a big fan of football and don’t know any of the English teams, but David loves it and enjoyed watching the match with all the locals. After lunch we went back to the hotel for a much needed nap. David wandered out in the evening to find dinner, but I opted to stay in and sleep so I wouldn’t be too jet lagged the next day.
We got up early on Sunday to go on a free London Landmarks Tour with Strawberry Tours. We did the West London tour which mostly focused on English royal history and took us to see Buckingham Palace, St. James Palace, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Palace, Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square. The tour was 3 hours and was one of the best tours I’ve ever done, largely because our tour guide Johnny was fantastic. We even got to see the end portion of the Changing of the Guard at St. James’s Palace. Strawberry Tours has many tours to offer, including landmarks tours of other parts of the city, a Harry Potter tour, and pub crawls. We would have loved to do more, but didn’t have enough time. We’d planned to so a Historical Pub Crawl in the afternoon after our morning Landmarks Tour but were still really tired from the day before and decided to just explore the city on our own instead.
A note on free tours: We always opt for free walking tours when they are available. The guides are tipped at the end based on how good the tour was rather than paid upfront, and because of that we’ve found that free tours have better guides who put in more effort and are more interesting.
In the afternoon, we headed over to Covent Garden, a place I’ve always wanted to see, plus there was a whiskey shop near by that David wanted to visit (he’s a collector). We walked around the shops and grabbed dinner nearby. I have to say, the only thing that disappointed me about London was the food. It could be because we didn’t really research restaurants and just looked for good places when we were hungry and out and about, but that dinner near Covent Garden was one of the worst meals I have ever had in my life. The chicken was rubbery and I couldn’t stomach to have more than one bite. Our other meals were better, but many just ranked as edible, rather than good or enjoyable. We always checked Trip Advisor and Yelp for reviews before picking a place nearby and were still left very underwhelmed with the food.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to get into some warmer clothes for a nighttime Jack the Ripper Tour. It’s a tour I’ve always wanted to do, but I had to drag David. He was such a good sport. The tour took us around the locations where the Ripper’s victims were found and I was pleasantly surprised that the tour was very victim focused and sympathetic to the poor women rather than some of the other tours that I’ve heard about that are gimmicky and pretty insensitive to the victims. Our tour guide Molly was solemn and honored the women rather than other tours we crossed paths with that night that seemed to play up the stories purely for entertainment value.
On Monday we woke up early to go on a bus tour to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Oxford. We were able to use our tour credit from Costco with Golden Tours on the all-day excursion.
The first stop on the tour was Windsor and we had about two hours to explore the castle on our own. The little village around the castle was adorable and the grounds within the Castle were beautiful. Our first stop in Windsor was St. George’s Chapel. I really wanted to see where Henry VIII and Charles I are buried. After St. George’s Chapel we walked the grounds a bit then went through the state apartments. We also got to see the changing of the guard before heading back to the bus. Of course David had to stop at another whiskey shop in the village of Windsor when our bus was getting ready to leave. I rushed ahead to the bus to stop them if they started to leave without him but he managed to run with his bottle in hand and make it to the bus before the last members of the group.
The second stop for the day was Stonehenge. Seeing Stonehenge was at the top of both our lists of things to so in England. Driving up in the bus, we both got really excited when the guide pointed out old burial mounds that surround the area. We hopped off the bus and headed straight for the stone circle. It was one of the few days we had sunshine while in England, the weather was warm, and the site wasn’t busy at all. I’d heard during peak season it can be hard to find enough space just to get a picture without other tourists in the shot, but it was pretty empty on the day we went. We really enjoyed walking around the stones and it was amazing to see the 4,000 year old monument and think about the people that built it. I felt a calm and peace up on the hill walking the loop around the stones. There was a quiet among all the visitors walking around the circle, I think out of awe and respect knowing this was once a spiritually important site to the people that built it. We spent over an hour up there before heading back to the bus.
The last stop for the day was Oxford. We only had a little over an hour in the city and we’d originally planned to go on the guided tour to see the some of the college buildings, including the dining hall in the Harry Potter movies. However, after a long day of sight seeing and schedules, we opted to explore on our own instead of staying with the tour guide. We grabbed a meal and I walked around some shops while David ran to yet another whiskey shop. While exploring we saw an adorable house that looked like it was about to topple over and probably dates back to the 15th century.
After getting back on the bus, we headed back to London and walked around Mayfair then finished the night at a pub.
We got up early on Tuesday to go see the Tower of London. Besides Stonehenge, The Tower was the site that I was most excited to see on the entire trip. It can get very crowded so we got there before it opened to be able to see the Crown Jewels before the line got really long. Then we headed to join one of the Beefeater tours. The soldiers that guard The Tower are Yeoman Warders, but are commonly called Beefeaters and they offer free tours of The Tower. Unfortunately the day was very cold and rainy so they canceled the tours and instead our Beefeater gave a 30 minute talk inside the chapel. He gave us a rundown of the history of The Tower and David was shocked to hear about the torture and brutality that occurred there. I have my bachelor’s in history and love to visit historical sights I’ve learned about. I already knew about the dark history of The Tower but that didn’t stop me from enjoying exploring the site. After the talk with the Beefeater, we walked through the White Tower exhibit then went to the cafe to warm up with hot coffees. David opted to stay in the warm cafe while I went to view the prison exhibit where famous prisoners were held and the Bloody Tower exhibit where the two princes were held before disappearing. He’d had enough dark history for the morning. I skipped the Torture exhibit, but was able to have an interesting conversation with a Beefeater about what really happened to the two princes – he’s sure that their uncle Richard III had them killed and buried them in the White Tower (the bodies of two boys have been found in the White Tower). While walking around The Tower I was really excited to see all 6 ravens. Before leaving, David and I stopped at a small memorial on Tower Green where the scaffold once stood in honor of those who were executed on the site, including Anne Boleyn. Seeing The Tower was one of the big items on my bucket list and I was so happy to finally be able to see and explore the fortress.
After exploring the Tower we got on a hop on hop off tour bus to try and see parts of the city we hadn’t been able to visit. We were able to use the remainder of our tour credit from Costco for the bus tickets. It was a relaxing break and a nice way to see the sights since we simply didn’t have enough time in London to see everything. It started to get cold so we got off the bus at Harrods to get indoors and warm up a bit. The store is beautiful and we had so much fun exploring the different floors. We also had delicious hot chocolates at the Godiva cafe that helped to warm us up. After exploring Harrods, we headed back to Mayfair so I could buy some shoes. We’d been walking 25-30,000 steps a day and although I thought I’d packed good shoes, I got terrible blisters. So I picked up a great pair of Nikes in Mayfair and we walked around some more before heading back to the hotel.
We woke up on Wednesday, grabbed breakfast, and then headed to Kings Cross Station to take the train to Edinburgh. Getting to Kings Cross took longer than we’d planned since we thought it would be a great idea to take the underground from Victoria Station near out hotel instead of an Uber. We traveled with big suitcases instead of backpacks and while I’m sure there were elevators, we couldn’t find them in Victoria Station. We spent a lot of time carrying our big suitcases up and down several flights of stairs to the correct platform. Sadly, by the time we got to King’s Cross Station I didn’t have enough time to go to Platform 9 to get a Harry Potter themed picture, but frankly I was just thankful that we didn’t miss our train to Edinburgh.
London was an amazing city, and I wish we’d had more time to see more of the city, but I was so happy with how much we were able to fit in while we were there. It was the part of our trip that had the most packed in and we were exhausted by the time we left, but it was absolutely worth it.
Hotel: Rubens on the Palace – Great location across from Buckingham Palace, close to Westminster Palace, and Victoria Underground Station. It felt central to a lot of the sights we visited and we were able to walk most places. The rooms were small, but typical of European hotels.
- Strawberry Tours London Landmarks West Free Walking Tour
- London Walks Jack the Ripper Tour
- Golden Tour Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Oxford Tour
- Golden Tour Hop On Hop Off Tour
- Buckingham Palace
- St. James’s Palace
- Piccadilly Circus
- Trafalgar Square
- Westminster Abbey
- Westminster Palace
- Windsor Castle
- The Tower of London