Our trip to the United Kingdom started in 2008 when my mom and dad decided they wanted to take a trip and visit the land my dad’s ancestors had immigrated from. My dad’s sisters had been a few years earlier and had found the town where the Dryden clan originated from and this inspired my dad to want to go there. They started talking about it during the winter of 2008 and had decided they would probably go the summer of 2009 or 2010. Unfortunately, this would be too late, as my father was unexpectedly diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in February 2009 and passed away three months later. There was talk after he passed away that my mom and my dad’s sisters would go anyway however, I got the feeling more time was needed after his passing to be able to go on this trip without him.
In 2013, the topic of Scotland came up again as Jonathan and I were planning a trip to go and see his family and friends; I forgot to mention, Jonathan is originally from Dundee in Scotland. As I started to realize this was becoming reality, I thought back on that trip my mom and dad had never done and felt I could not go to Scotland without my mom. I spoke about it with Jonathan and, being the awesome boyfriend that he is, agreed that it would be great if my mom came along. My mom is awesome as well so I had no doubt it would be a great vacation! And so it was decided…we asked my mom, she said yes, we were going to the UK!
The United Kingdom…land of the monarchy, the Union Jack, pubs, fried foods and, most recently, Prince George of Cambridge. This summer, my mom, Jonathan, and I spent two and a half weeks in the UK visiting London, Dundee, Edinburgh, and walking the West Highland Way. It was another great adventure and I want to share it with you!
The major reason we went to London was mainly because we felt we could not go to Scotland without at least stopping in London for a few days. I have never been very keen on visiting London, it was like checking the box on my list of things to do when I travel however, as I started researching, I realized there were a lot of great sights in London and I was very excited to go!
We spent four days in London and that gave us just enough time to get a good feel for the place and explore some of the neighbourhoods. We stayed in a little hotel next to Hyde Park which was a ten minute walk from Paddington, Notting Hill Gate, and Lancaster Gate. The Elysee Hotel is a three star hotel with clean rooms, WIFI access and very conveniently located…and there was a pub across the street which made it even better! Not luxurious but close to everything we needed.
London’s neighbourhoods each offer something different and the great thing to do when you get to London is to walk around and explore and it can be worth it to purchase a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket when you first arrive. Be warned, there is a lot of traffic in London and getting around by car or bus can be very difficult and frustrating. Walking, biking, water taxi and the underground are your best options.
Westminster Abbey & Houses of Parliament
This is the royal and political neighbourhood of London. Westminster Abbey’s architecture is amazing and it’s history impressive. It is worth a visit whether you are religious or not.. and I also recommend the audio tour if you want the complete experience. There are so many statues, tombs, etc. that it is difficult to take it all in without the audio tour. You can visit at your own pace and listen to only the things you find interesting. My mom and I absolutely wanted to visit Westminster Abbey because a Dryden ancestor is buried there; the poet John Dryden. One of his quotes: “I’m a little wounded, but I am not slain; I will lay me down to bleed a while. Then I’ll rise and fight again.” – John Dryden
We did not visit inside the Houses of Parliament however they are very impressive and Big Ben is a BIG clock tower! We took time to walk around the area, explore the gardens, and take in the architecture of the buildings. The beauty and detail of Westminster Abbey is impressive and worth the trip even if you only have time to walk around the outside walls. Within its walls lies incredible tails of courage, battle, treachery, beheadings and painful deaths.
Cruising the Thames
You must take a boat ride on the Thames while in London. It is a wonderful and relaxing way to see London and its main attractions and a great way to get from one end of town to the other. The hop-on, hop-off bus ticket we purchased included tickets on City Cruises’ and departed every 30 minutes from various points on the Thames. The cruise went from Westminster to Greenwich piers. We spent about an hour riding around and got to take in some great sights!
A stroll along the Thames
We did not have a specific plan for the day other than explore London on foot. From the Tower of London, we headed into the smaller backstreets of the city and discovered Leadenhall Market where we stopped for lunch. It is a covered market with a huge selection of restaurants, pubs and shops. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch before setting off towards the Thames and slowly strolled along the waterfront, turned back into the streets to see St Paul’s Cathedral and headed back down to the waterfront. We did not pay for an expensive ticket or wait in a long line for the Tower of London or St Paul’s Cathedral. Rather, we walked along the waterfront towards Westminster Abbey…it was great to take it easy!
St James’s Park & Buckingham Palace
London has amazing parks that span across acres and acres of the city! People are eating picnics, jogging, cycling, sleeping, reading, simply enjoying the outdoors. Near Westminster Abbey is St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace and its Gardens. The most picturesque approach to the Palace is to walk along The Mall… a straight road that leads directly to the Palace from Trafalgar Square. You can access St James’s Park from The Mall and take in the smell of sweet flowers or relax on a bench and people watch. The Palace was closed when we were there since the birth of Prince George of Cambridge was only a couple weeks away. There were so many people in front of the Palace it was difficult to get a picture but I got a few shots and can now prove I was there! We did not hang about for very long and headed to a pub to talk about our day over a nice pint of lagger.
Hyde Park, Notting Hill & Kensington
Our hotel was next to Hyde Park and we definitely explored that area quite a bit. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are a great place to go for a run or sit by the Serpentine pond to birdwatch. There are monuments and statues throughout and you could spend hours walking from one end to the other. There is also Albert Memorial and Kensington Palace to visit. From Kensington Gardens, you can reach the Kensington or Notting Hill area and there you will find great shops and amazing restaurants. There are two restaurants you must absolutely try; one is an Italian restaurant in Kensington named Il Portico, the second is an Indian restaurant in Notting Hill named the Star of Bombay. I have never had such authentic Italian and Indian dishes…amazing!!!
So that was our four day London adventure…London is a great city with many sights and beautiful architecture; old and new. Be prepared to dish out the money on transportation and entertainment. Always have a rain jacket or umbrella on hand. Enjoy some great pints in old pubs and make sure to order a bacon sandwich and some chips! Cheers!