Big Ben, Parliament, Then A Quick Jaunt Back to Ireland
Updated: Jun 23, 2021
After enjoying 2 amazing days sightseeing in Paris, we woke up and made our way by metro to Gare du Nord train station to catch a train to London. Although we were excited to visit London, we had fallen in love with Paris and were not ready at all to leave. We had planned to arrive at the train station 30 minutes early but were not aware that the station was under construction and ended up having to walk 10 minutes on the street to arrive from another station. Although it made sense since we were traveling from France into England, we also did not realize that we had to check in, go through customs, and go through security before boarding the train, just like in the airports. We had previously travelled extensively by train throughout Italy and never had to do any of this because it was within the same country so we didn't think of this ahead of time and unfortunately, barely made it onto the train in time!
Hurrying around that morning worked up quite an appetite so we immediately went to the dining car after settling in to enjoy some breakfast. The train ride lasted 2 hours and 23 minutes and reached a top speed of 298 km/hr! We saw some lovely sights along the way but my favorite part was riding 75 meters under the English Channel before arriving at London St. Pancras Station.
Dustin and I had purchased Oyster Cards ahead of time (a prepaid payment method for public transportation) and had them mailed to us in the states before our trip and they came in super handy to get us from London St. Pancras to Blackfriars Station via the Tube without having to figure out how to buy tickets there in person. From Blackfriars Station, all we had to do was walk across a bridge and our hotel, The Mad Hatter Hotel, was right on the corner. Our room was not quite ready yet but the staff was nice enough to store our luggage for us so we could sightsee without our bags. London lived up to its reputation of being cold and rainy and we had come from very nice and pleasant weather in Paris, so I changed into some warmer clothes and my rain boots before heading out.
Our first stop was the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel that takes tourists on a slow spin high above the city for a bird's eye view. This attraction is notorious for having long lines and long waits so we paid extra and purchased the Fast Track tickets to skip the line and it saved us a lot of time. The views from the top were a little bit of a letdown though - the windows were a little hard to see out of due to the rain and the entire city seemed to be overtaken with cranes performing work on the skyscrapers. Not the pretty sight we had hoped to see!
We also quickly noticed that Big Ben, one of the sights we most wanted to see, was completely encased in scaffolding and was being repaired, along with part of the famous Parliament building.
We were so disappointed but decided to make the best of cruddy day and braved the weather to go and see Westminster Abbey. After admiring the place where Prince William and Kate were married, we strolled through St. James Park on the way to Buckingham Palace.
London has a lot of really nice parks spread throughout the city and they are a nice retreat away from the traffic. The palace was actually quite modest, when considering it houses the royal family of England. Nonetheless, it was still neat to see a place we had seen on TV so many times before.
We took a different way back from the palace than we had come and walked down "the Mall" which was basically a long driveway leading to the palace. We hopped on the Tube at St. James Square and rode to Piccadilly to find some food. We had been looking for an authentic English pub to grab some lunch and a warm drink at, but after searching for awhile in the cold drizzle, we decided to just go to the next place we saw, which happened to be Five Guys Burgers and Fries. We have those at home but I had never been to one and it seriously hit the spot that day! After thoroughly enjoying our junk food, we checked out the area and found a great place to shop for some souvenirs. Dustin and I collect Christmas ornaments from each new place that we visit so that each year as we are decorating the tree, we can take a stroll down memory lane through all of the beautiful places we have travelled to together.
Later that afternoon, we took the Tube back to our hotel to officially check in. Our room was huge and very nice! We took showers and relaxed for a bit before heading out to our fancy dinner. We had pre-booked a 3 1/2 hour formal dinner cruise with Bateaux London on the Thames that night so we took an Uber from our hotel to Embankment Pier to find our boat. The ticket included a fancy 5 course meal, a private dining table with a huge window to see the sights along the Thames as we enjoyed dinner, live music, and drinks. We cruised under the Tower Bridge as well as the London Bridge and saw many well-known iconic buildings as well as some of the lesser known areas of London that we might not have seen otherwise. It was fun to see the city lit up after dark! We both love getting dressed up and it was such a special night!
When our boat arrived back at the dock, it was still raining out (just for something new) and was rather chilly so we hailed one of the famous black cabs to take us back to our hotel. It was fun riding in one of these iconic cars even though to the locals, it is just a taxi.
Back at the hotel, we popped into the pub at our hotel called Fuller's to have a night cap. Fuller's was one of the best decorated pubs that we had seen during our time in London and was the cozy, traditional English pub that we had been searching for all day, and it had been right under our noses the entire time! The building where it and the hotel is located used to be a hat factory long ago and was converted after it went out of business. They have done a nice job of paying homage to the building's history by decorating it with all sorts of different styles of hats. It was actually a really cool place to visit even if we hadn't been staying at the hotel there.
On our second day in London, we awoke and went downstairs to the pub for a delicious English breakfast. To my delight, Eggs Benedict was on the menu, which has been my all-time favorite since I was a little girl. It was absolutely delectable and the English Breakfast tea that I drank had never tasted so authentic!
Our first sightseeing stop of the day after breakfast was the Tower Bridge. We took the tube from Blackfriar Station to Tower Hill and it popped us up right next to the Tower of London. This attraction was already pretty busy so we decided not to go in but rather to just take a look from outside. Right around the corner, we purchased tickets and toured the Tower Bridge instead. The lavishly decorated walkway between the top of the towers had a glass walkway and it was fun to watch the double decker buses pass through below our feet! At the end of the tour, we were able to go in the engine room and see the equipment that operated the drawbridge. It was interesting to see the way it all works!
We then walked along the river and saw the HMS Belfast, the Shard, and the Gherkin. We took the tube from the London Bridge to Westminster and then walked to Trafalgar Square. There was a festival of some sort going on so we walked around it a bit and then found a pub called the Walker's of Whitehall Pub. Dustin had been fiending for some fish and chips so he ordered that and I had a delicious gnocchi with butternut squash, spinach, and goat cheese! It was phenomenal! We had hoped to sit in the lively, bustling upstairs pub but due to its location and popularity, the only open table was downstairs in what felt like the dungeon. Not wanting to sit in the dark all day, we finished eating and then made our way through Regent's Park to the London Zoo. Dustin and I are kind of just big kids when it comes to zoos and love to check them out when we go somewhere new.
Along our walk through the park, we noticed that the squirrels there were extremely friendly. Being the animal lover that I am, I immediately found a bit of an acorn to feed it and to my astonishment, the squirrel walked up and ate it directly from my hand! I was tickled at this and it was so fun to play with them as we walked.
At the zoo, we saw penguins, gorillas with babies, an aquarium with lots of really cool marine life, tigers, lions, etc. Along our walk back, we passed through Camdentown. This area was extremely busy and chaotic! We hopped on the tube here and headed back to our hotel to get packed up. Our hotel had provided us with complimentary wine and champagne so we ordered some dessert to go with it to properly close our time in London! While we were in Dingle, Ireland the week before, we had discovered an insanely decadent dessert called Sticky Toffee Pudding. Our hotel just so happened to have this on their room service menu so of course I had to order it one last time. It was incredible and I still have daydreams about it!
The next morning we took the tube to Paddington Station where we caught a train that took us to London Heathrow Airport. Part of the vacation package that we had purchased required us to fly in and out of the same airport, so luckily we got to go back to Dublin for one more day. We had fallen in love with Ireland and the warm hospitality of the people there so we were thrilled to go back for one more day before heading home.
Upon arriving back in Dublin, we took a taxi to our hotel downtown called The Dawson. Our taxi driver gave us a bit of a tour of Dublin on the way, sharing the history of some of the sights with us as he drove. Our hotel was situated directly across from the Mansion House where the mayor lives and was a lovely area to be able to walk around and explore without needing a vehicle.
After checking into our room, we walked out the side entrance of our hotel and stumbled on the quaintest little street decorated with umbrellas strung in the air. We walked around and found the Dublin Castle downtown, walked along the river, and eventually ended up at the famous Temple Bar, which is world renowned as the place to go for a Guinness and some great live music. There just happened to be a band playing inside in the middle of the day so we went in and enjoyed a Guinness with the lively crowd for a few songs. The band was really good so we even bought their CD to take the memory home with us.
After a fun couple of hours at the Temple Bar, we found a cute little pub where we got one last amazing Irish dinner of lamb stew, Shepherd's Pie, and Irish coffees. The Irish seriously know how to cook some comfort food!
With our bellies and our hearts full, we turned in that night feeling thankful. What an incredible trip we had just experienced! The next morning as our flight took off, I fondly gazed out my airplane window at the beautiful vibrant green scenery below and had never been more proud to know that this was the land my family came from.