Walking Tour and River Ride in London
By Candyce H. Stapen
Have limited time in London? Then, capture a sense of the city’s rhythms, people and iconic sites from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London on this combination walking tour and river ride.
We started our stroll in tony Mayfair where we overnighted at the trendy May Fair hotel. As we checked in, Cyndi Lauper, big sunglasses and even bigger entourage, was checking out.
It’s that kind of place: urban chic. The rooms and lobby mix contemporary furnishings with Oriental art and antiques to create a modern but not minimalist feel. The splurge—to celebrate our anniversary with 24-hours in London after a business trip—was worth it for the sites and for the luxury hotel with its deep bathtub (more about that later).
From the hotel we headed to nearby Green Park. We paused to watch two boys hone their cricket batting and bowling skills and we met a sweet bulldog toddling along under the oak trees. The park’s shaded lawns abut some of the city’s best real estate, including Spencer House, a stately 18th century home now open as museum, as well as Buckingham Palace.
At the end of the path, we walked along the Mall, turning into St. James’ Park at Marlborough Gate. Locals lazed in the grass in rented deck chairs (available March to October), ducks and swans cooled off in the ponds and on this summer Sunday, a band performed a free concert of snappy marching songs.
Crossing footbridges and passing flower beds, we exited the park at Queen Anne’s Gate, continuing along Birdcage Walk. Big Ben, the famous clock tower named for its 14-ton bell, loomed in the distance. In just a few minutes more we faced Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
At the Westminster Millennium Pier on the Thames River, we boarded a boat for a city cruise to the Tower of London. We welcomed both the seat and the scenery. En route, we glided by the British Airways London Eye, the largest observation wheel in the world. From its pod-like capsule high above the river, you can see 25 miles on a clear day.
We also cruised past the recreated Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s era with its thatched roof as well as the Tate Modern, a museum of twentieth century art presented in a cleverly transformed power station.
Disembarking at the Tower of London, we followed a Yeoman Warder, a uniformed guard popularly known as a “Beef eater,” on a complimentary tour. Why the name? “There are more than 20 explanations,” the guard told me. “Take your pick, but one is that in the 1500s the men were paid in beef, veal, beer and money. So a poor man looking in at us might say, ‘Those blasted beef eaters.’ “
The Tower, built as a fort by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, contains a prison, execution site, various towers, a palace and a museum. The guide detailed tales of murder, torture and execution—or politics as usual in the previous centuries. He pointed out Traitors’ Gate, where Sir Thomas More entered the compound and the Tower Green where Anne Boleyn was beheaded.
After the warder’s orientation, we lined up at the Waterloo Barracks to gaze at the Crown Jewels, whose scepters, crowns and rings contain some of the world’s most dazzling diamonds, rubies and sapphires.
Then we retraced our steps by boat and by foot, reaching the May Fair hotel, happy, but tired. One look at our room’s deep bathtub and we knew what we wanted: a soothing soak followed by a candle lit room service dinner.
It was a delightful, but somewhat pricey, 24-hours in London. That’s why we began our trip back to reality by heading to Heathrow on a Dot2Dot airport shuttle van, a ride that costs about 65% less than a taxi. What did we do with money we pocketed? We started our vacation savings for our next London trip.