London - Enjoyable Activities

I've had the pleasure of visiting London a few times. Here are some of the sightseeing outings I've enjoyed.

London - Enjoyable Activities

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MikeInTown on April 30, 2006

Madame Tussuad's Wax Museum: This museum is a lot of fun. There are hundreds of detailed, life-sized wax figures of famous people ranging from Galileo to Oprah Winfrey. We had a great time posing next to these replicas and taking pictures. The museum also has a creepy Chamber Of Horrors exhibit that depicts cruel forms of punishment. Finally, there is a Spirit Of London ride that takes you past exhibits that tell the history of London—from the dark ages to modern times.

London Eye: Passengers enter the glass enclosed pods of this 450-foot observation wheel and are taken on a half hour revolution that provides a panoramic view of London. Several of the city's landmarks can be spotted from this view point.

Hampton Court Palace: A little more than a half hour by train from London, this fabulous palace was once the home of British rulers such as Henry VIII and William III. We spent a half day exploring the palace, learning about the daily lives of those who lived and worked there, and admiring its ornate furniture, paintings, and gardens.

Tower Of London: We wandered this popular palace/fortress/prison whose construction began in 1078 under the rule of William the Conqueror. We spent our time here gazing upon the priceless Crown Jewels, viewing the large medieval armor and weapons collection, and learning about the brutal imprisonments and executions that took place in the infamous prison.

Bath, Stonehenge & Salisbury Excursion: This full-day bus tour offered by Golden Tours (via Gray Line London) took us to see the ancient rock structures at Stonehenge, the 13th-century Gothic cathedral at Salisbury, and the town of Bath. Although, I originally signed up for this tour to see Stonehenge, it was the town of Bath with its ancient Roman bath houses and quaint streets that left the biggest impression on me. My only regret is that we were only given 90 minutes to explore Bath. I believe it would take at least a day or more to begin to see what this charming city has to offer.
${QuickSuggestions} London Eye in the Rain: Although you are sheltered from the rain by being inside one of the glass pods of this attraction, the photo opportunities are lousy due to beads of water on the windows.${BestWay} From Heathrow Airport
London Underground (The Tube): This is London's subway system. When traveling light, I've found this to be a relatively inexpensive means to get to my hotel in downtown London. For example, I paid the equivalence of $5 for the 45-minute ride to the South Kensington station and then made the short walk from there to meet my wife who was staying at the Jurys Kensington Hotel for business that week. I don't recommend the Tube if you are carrying bulky luggage. The trains become packed with commuters during the weekday mornings as you get closer to the city. Additionally, you'll probably have trouble getting through the turnstiles with big bags.

Heathrow Express: This comfortable train has plenty of storage space for luggage and will get you to Paddington Station in downtown London in 15 minutes. From there you can take a taxi to your hotel or other destination. The Heathrow Express is an expensive means of travel. A one-way second class ticket cost me five times the amount of a Tube ticket.

In London
London Underground (The Tube): London's subway system is a convenient and inexpensive way to get around the city. The maps are easy to follow.

Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour: You ride the double-decker, open-topped Big Bus Tour Company buses as many times as you want within a 24-hour period (or longer depending on your ticket). Each bus has a tour guide who narrates along the way. This is a great way to see London's top attractions. Tickets can be purchased at hotels, online, and on some of the tour buses. The buses generally do not run at night.

Excursions: There are several tour companies that offer excursions in London and to many cities throughout Britain. Just check the brochure rack at your hotel. We booked our Bath, Stonehenge & Salisbury full-day excursion online with Golden Tours two weeks before our arrival. Their tour buses pick up passengers from the hotels. However, the bus only makes three passenger drop off stops around London at the conclusion of the excursion. The tour guide then offers suggestions on the best mode of transportation for getting back to your hotel. In our case, a short, inexpensive ride on the London Underground got us back to the Lancaster Gate Hotel in about 5 minutes.

Thistle Lancaster Gate

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MikeInTown on May 1, 2006

Our room at the Thistle Lancaster Gate Hotel was by far the largest we've stayed in in London and yet, one of the least expensive for the moderate class hotels. We had a queen-sized bed and modern amenities such as a high-speed Internet connection (fee for service), an interactive television system, and heated towel racks. The only drawback to this room was that the bathroom door closes automatically causing the steam from the shower to get trapped inside unless you prop the door open. No big deal though.

The hotel is located across the street from the northwest end of Hyde Park. Although there are many hotels in this area, there are not many tourist attractions in walking distance. However, there are plenty of transportation options nearby such as the Lancaster Gate tube stop, public bus stops, Hop-on Hop-Off bus stops, and many taxis.

The concierge at this hotel is outstanding. They have great suggestions of what to see, where to eat, and how to get around. Excursions are offered to just about anywhere you want to go in England. Many of these tours pick you up at the hotel. We had booked our Stonehenge/Bath/Salisbury Excursion online with Golden Tours 2 weeks prior to our arrival. We found out that the Lancaster Gate Hotel offers bookings with Golden Tours for the same price. The concierge cheerfully called the tour company to confirm our pick-up time when we checked into the hotel.

There are a few small grocery stores around the corner from the hotel which made getting a light snack convenient. The hotel has two restaurants, but they are expensive. We ordered room service for dinner one night but I thought the food was just okay at most.

Fortunately, a few blocks west of the hotel is Queensway Street. This street has so many restaurants to choose from you could easily spend a half hour walking around just reading posted menus. There are restaurants featuring food from all over the world. Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Lebanese, Moroccan, Italian, Greek, American, and British are some of the cuisines represented in this 2 block stretch. There are more places to eat on the surrounding streets as well. We browsed the posted menus and eventually chose a restaurant called Shish, which is located just off of Queensway Street. Shish is an interesting restaurant that offers food from along the ancient silk trading routes of the Far East, Middle East, and Mediterranean. We enjoyed lamb, kebabs, couscous, an orange blossom and rose water drink, and baklava.

The nearby dining options, transportation options, the concierge, and a large, modern room made the Thistle Lancaster Gate Hotel a great choice for us. I highly recommend this hotel.
Thistle Lancaster Gate

London, England, W2 3LG
+44 (0)844 736 8601

Hampton Court Palace

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MikeInTown on May 1, 2006

This was my first trip across the Pond, and my first visit to a palace. Hampton Court Palace did not disappoint.

We took a 40-minute train ride from Waterloo Station to Hampton Court Station. From there it was a short walk to the palace entrance. During the period of years between the 1500s and the 1700s, Hampton Court Palace was the home of several English rulers such as Henry VIII, William III, and Queen Victoria. The property is quite big and you could easily spend several hours exploring it. We were there on a chilly, rainy Thursday afternoon in May. As we wandered the courtyards, gardens, and Tudor Kitchens it seemed like we were the only tourists there.

Tours are offered at no additional cost above the admission price. The tour guides are dressed in medieval fashion. They walk you through the various sections of the palace such as the kitchen, the courtyards, the chapel, and the apartments. My wife and I did two guided tours: William III Apartments and Henry VIII Apartments. The guides were very knowledgeable and seemed eager to tell us about the palace. Since there was only the guide, my wife, and I on the tours, we had more of a conversation than a lecture. Despite the relaxed atmosphere, no photography or video is allowed inside the palace.

We were shown ornate furniture, artwork, entertainment halls, and bedrooms. What really made an impression on me were the large, elaborate tapestries that have been hanging in the palace for over 400 years. As we were guided from room to room, the tour guides told us stories about the lives of William III and Henry VIII. We were shown the halls where their guests were entertained and then shown the private rooms that would have been off limits to anyone who was not very close to the royal family. Henry VIII lived extravagantly at the palace, but his greed, paranoia, and desire to have a son led to the execution of some of his wives and others around him.

As with many old buildings (especially those related to tragedy), rumors of ghosts have begun to circulate over the years. Our tour guide for the Henry VIII tour took us to a corridor where people have reported feeling temperature drops, something brushing against them, and even apparition sightings. Fortunately, we did not experience any of those things. Our tour guide told us she'd never had those experiences either.

After the guided tours, my wife and I decided to walk outside to see the Privy Gardens. These gardens are meticulously maintained to look as William III would have seen them. I'm not a horticultural type but I was impressed by the array of bright, colorful flowers and their pleasant aroma that filled the air.

Before we knew it, it was almost closing time. We had enjoyed our time there. Situated a short distance from London, Hampton Court Palace is a great sightseeing excursion.
Hampton Court Palace
Next To River Thames SW Of London
East Molesey, Surrey, KT8 9AU
44 20 8781 9500

London Eye (Millennium Wheel)

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MikeInTown on May 1, 2006

We arrived at Waterloo Station by train after a half day of sightseeing at Hampton Court Palace. As we were looking at our pocket map and trying to figure out how to get back to our hotel, we noticed that the London Eye is across the street from Waterloo Station. We decided to check it out before heading back to the hotel.

The London Eye (a.k.a. the Eye) is a 450-foot observation wheel whose purpose is to provide tourists with a panoramic view of the city. Instead of seats like an amusement park Ferris wheel, the Eye has glass capsules with benches that can accommodate groups of people. There is a ticket hall in front of the Eye that houses a ticket counter, a souvenir shop, and an exhibit that explains the engineering challenges that were overcome during construction of the wheel.

We were told that the lines to ride this attraction can be quite long at times. Fortunately, this was not the case for us. We arrived there around 6pm and were able to purchase our tickets and board the Eye right away. The ride (or flight experience as it is referred to in the brochure) lasts for approximately a half hour. The rotation of the wheel is slow enough that your body does not feel any severe motion effects as it might on a thrill ride. As the London Eye slowly revolves, you are able to get a nice view of London and some of its famous landmarks — especially Big Ben and the parliament buildings.

It had been raining off and on that day but by the time we were on the Eye, the rain was coming down in buckets. This was unfortunate for us because we were not able to take any good pictures of the city. Instead, we had to deal with beads and streaks of rain water on the glass of our observation capsule. While I recommend taking a ride on the London Eye, my advice is to avoid this attraction if it is raining.
The London Eye
South Bank of the River Thames
London, England, SE1 9TA
+44 (870) 500 0600

Madame Tussaud's

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MikeInTown on May 1, 2006

There was a very long line to get into this museum, but it was worth the wait. This was absolutely the best wax museum I have ever visited. There were very detailed, life-sized wax figures of hundreds of famous people from Henry VIII to Nelson Mandela. We had a great time wandering through this museum and taking pictures of the wax figures. There are sections that feature famous film and television personalities, political figures, religious leaders, sports legends, and historical icons. Mel Gibson, Oprah Winfrey, Mohammad Ali, Galileo, The Beatles, and Chopin are just a small sample of who you will see in this museum. Theme music accompanies many of the exhibits to enhance the experience. I highly recommend bringing a camera. You will have a ball.

The Madame Tussaud museum has some historical significance. The museum was started by Joseph Randall Tussaud, the grandson of Madame Tussaud. Madame Tussaud lived in Paris where she was a wax worker. She was ordered to make head models of those who were decapitated during the French Revolution. She came to London in the early 19th century. Her death masks had become famous by the time of her own death in 1850. In 1891, her grandson, Joseph had the wax models moved to London. Today, there are Madame Tussaud museums in several cities around the world.

The Chamber of Horrors section of the museum depicts various forms of medieval torture and execution. These cruel scenes and agonizing sound effects drive home the point that life was sometimes brutal back then.

The museum tour ends with a Spirit Of London ride that takes you past animatronics and diorama exhibits that tell the history of London from the dark ages to modern times. You are let off at the souvenir shop.


There is a planetarium next to the museum. It was only a small fee to enter it so we did. Unfortunately, as soon as the lights went out and the stars and planets were shown on the domed ceiling, we, along with many other people, drifted off to sleep. From what I saw, the planetarium was not much different than the ones I visited on field trips in school. If stars and planets are not your thing then you won't miss much if you skip the planetarium; however, the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum is an absolute must see.

Finally, buying your tickets before you arrive at Madame Tussaud's will save you from having to stand in line to purchase tickets and then stand in another line to enter the museum. We bought our tickets from one of the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus employees. It still took us about 20 minutes before we were able to enter the museum, but I was sure glad we did not have to wait in that very long line at the ticket counter first.
Madame Tussauds
Marylebone Road
London, England, NW1 5LR
44 (870) 999 0046

Bath, Stonehenge and Salisbury

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MikeInTown on May 1, 2006

Ever since my first trip to England, I had wanted to see Stonehenge. An online search led me to Tour 8 - Bath, Stonehenge & Salisbury offered by Golden Tours (via Gray Line London). The tour bus picked us up and collected passengers at other hotels before embarking on this 9-hour tour.

Sometime between 3000 and 1600 BC, the early inhabitants of Britain were constructing the mysterious stone structures at Stonehenge. It is mind-blowing to know early man carved these gigantic stones (weighing up to 50 tons) and brought them from as far as 200 miles away without any of the modern equipment to which we now have access.

There is a chain that runs the perimeter of the structures to keep visitors at a distance. We spent an hour at Stonehenge. It felt great to finally check Stonehenge off of my list of places I'd like to see.

In Salisbury, we had lunch in a pub that offered a choice of poached salmon, pasta, or bangers and mash (sausage and mash potatoes). Each meal cost 7 pounds. Our tour guide had called in our orders during our bus ride so we were served as soon as we were seated. I had the salmon and my wife had the pasta. Both meals were delicious.

The major attraction in Salisbury is its Gothic cathedral constructed in the 1200's. We were given an hour to walk through the cathedral and admire some of the historic relics and detailed artistry. The most treasured artifact inside Salisbury Cathedral is the original copy of the Magna Carta of 1215 which attempted to eliminate the abusive monarchies by outlining the laws and promises between the king and his subjects.

Everyone on the bus gasped as we came around a hill and saw this beautiful medieval town built into the valley and side of a mountain. Besides the quaint streets lined with shops and taverns, Bath is the location of Britain's only natural hot spring. Mystified by this warm water, the Romans who occupied Britain between the first and fifth centuries AD built an elaborate bath house for there enjoyment and religious rituals. Our tour of Bath included admission to the bath house where we observed the pools and the artifacts found in this area. I was most impressed by the coins that date back to 54 AD.

The Pump Room adjacent to the bath house is where people have come since the 18th century to drink the natural hot spring water. The water used to be a prescription for good health. Our tour included a glass of it. Disgusting!

I had originally gone on this tour to see Stonehenge but it was the town of Bath that made the biggest impression on me. Although I felt we had adequate time at Stonehenge and Salisbury, I don't think 90 minutes is nearly enough time in Bath. The Bath Overnight option should be considered if your schedule and budget permits.
2 miles west of Amesbury
Salisbury, England
01980 624 715

Tower of London

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MikeInTown on May 1, 2006

The Tower of London is not actually a tower. It is a palace located on the banks of the Thames River in downtown London. This palace has also served as a fortress and an infamous prison where brutal executions took place - including that of the Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of Henry VIII. Two of the more popular structures within the fortress walls of this historic site are the Crown Jewels building which houses the British Crown Jewels collection dating back to the 14th century and the White Tower that was constructed around 1078 under the reign of William the Conqueror.

We arrived at the Tower Of London two hours before closing time. We were hoping to get an overview by doing one of the organized tours but we had already missed the last one for the day. Audio tours are available but we decided to skip it and see as much as we could on our own in the limited time we had. We were able to explore the Medieval Palace, the White Tower, and The Crown Jewels building.

The Medieval Palace has been restored to look as it might have during the reign of Edward I in the late 1200's. I was most impressed by the medieval throne. Looking at it, along with the surrounding candles and arched doorways, made me feel like I had stepped back in history to a time of knights, armor, and castles.

British royalty lived securely behind the thick walls of the White Tower until the 1200s. Today this building houses an impressive collection of armor and medieval weapons. You can even see the armor worn by Henry VIII. This exhibit was quite crowded so we spent more time looking at the fascinating displays than we did reading the posted information.

Perhaps the main draw of the Tower Of London is the Crown Jewels. In the Crown Jewels building, we saw the crown and scepters of people like Queen Victoria and Queen Mary. I was impressed with the artistry of these items which were full of gold and precious gems. Photography is not allowed in this exhibit. This collection is definitely worth a visit when exploring the Tower Of London.

Tower of London
Tower Hill
London, England, EC3N 4AB
+44 (207) 709 0765

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