When we decided to go to Europe, I knew I wanted to make the most of our trip with long layovers. We've done this before, with a long layover in Paris when we went to Barcelona, but this time we decided to split our trip into multiple different cities. First on the agenda was LONDON! We would only have twelve hours in this beautiful city, so we partnered with Big Bus Tours to make the most of our time.
Big Bus Tours is the perfect way to see a new city, as it allows you to hit all the main sightseeing spots quickly. The London tour has two different routes, the RED route which explores from the West End to Tower Bridge, and the BLUE route which extends your adventure to West London. Since we were short on time, we opted to only take the RED route, and we were able to see almost all the sites we had hoped for!
We landed in London just before 7AM, and stored our luggage at the Excess Baggage Company in the airport—a great option, so you don't have to lug your belongings around! The train to the city was a short 30 minutes and left us at Victoria Station (stop 26 on the RED route!). We started the day with a lovely breakfast at Ole & Steen, and set out for a busy day of exploring!
Since we were technically starting our tour on the very last stop of the route, we were able to truly see the best sites of London during our short time there. The Big Bus Tours also give great commentary on the history of the areas as you drive through them, speaking to specific streets, buildings, and event that happened there. To start the tour, we drove through the beautiful Belgravia district, passing the Ritz-Carlton hotel, the original Hard Rock Cafe, and sites like the Wellington Arch and the Marble Arch. We then hit Baker, Oxford, and Regent Streets, where you can find amazing shopping, the famous Hamleys toy store, Madame Tussauds wax museum, and more! At the end of Regent Street, we passed through Piccadilly Circus—one of the most famous road intersections in the world. It's iconic for several reasons – the unique architecture surrounding it, the iconic advertisements that adorn the buildings, the statue of Eros in the middle.
The next few stops on the tour took us through Trafalgar Square, and towards the center of our site seeing journey, where we would find the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and more. We got off the bus here to explore and it was so worth it! We walked over the Westminster bridge from the London Eye to Big Ben and along the Thames River to the Waterloo Bridge.
Here we got back on the bus and headed over to St. Paul's Cathedral. Beyond its architectural landmark status, St. Paul's Cathedral has figured prominently in many major cultural and religious events, from the funerals of Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill to the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. Here are some fun facts we learned about the cathedral during our tour:
Joining the likes of the Roman Pantheon, St Paul's Cathedral boasts one of the biggest domes in the world at 366 feet high. Due to the specific design of the cathedral's dome, sound carries incredibly well across the Whispering Gallery—a walkway thirty meters up. Try it for yourself with a friend and see how quietly you can whisper to one another from the opposite sides.
In 1964, Martin Luther King was invited to speak by Canon John Collins. The congregation totaled over three thousand, all packed into the Cathedral. Aside from being an activist, Martin Luther King was also a Baptist minister, and he spoke about three different approaches to life in a sermon now known as The Three Dimensions to a Complete Life.
The Cathedral has also been featured in movies. Lawrence of Arabia, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sherlock Holmes and Thor: The Dark World show the monument in all its glory. There's no better proof that it's an instantly recognizable icon of British heritage.
After touring St. Paul's Cathedral, we rejoined the Big Bus Tours to head over the London Bridge and back over the Tower Bridge (we even got to see the bridge open up to let a large boat through!). We then arrived at the Tower of London—one of the spots we definitely wanted to get off the bus for, as we hoped to see the Crown Jewels. Luckily, when we arrived the lines were not too long, and we were able to explore all the areas of the Tower of London AND see the jewels! The Crown Jewels are the nation’s most precious treasures and are priceless, being of incalculable cultural, historical, and symbolic value. At the heart of the collection are the Coronation Regalia: the sacred objects used during the coronation ceremony. These unique objects represent the powers and responsibilities of the monarch, and were most recently used at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. It was certainly an interesting time to be in London, as the queen had just passed away a few weeks ago, so we were seeing the crowns, scepters, and chalices that would soon be used in the coronation of the new king!
After visiting the Crown Jewels, we wanted to see a bit more history surrounding the monarch. Unfortunately because the queen had just passed we were unable to go inside Buckingham Palace, but we took a nice walk around the area before heading back to the airport. All in all we had the most wonderful day in London, and thanks to Big Bus Tours we were able to see so much in such a short amount of time. I would highly recommend joining a tour when you head to London, or one of the many cities they are available in!