This was our last day in London and my last full day in the UK after two months. It was a really amazing experience to work and live abroad for a summer and I’m really grateful for this opportunity.
We spent our last day on a tour scoping out more Harry Potter spots and going walking around the shopping districts before everything closed at 6.
The Harry Potter walking tour we took went to a lot of major tourist places that were significant to the films as well as some more hidden areas around the city. In addition to the landmarks that the Death Eaters destroy, we saw 2 different entrances to both the Ministry of Magic and Diagon Alley which were used in various movies. This picture is where the telephone booth was located and the toilets are somewhere in the City of London near Leadenhall Market.
The tour ended up at King’s Cross Station that has a fake Platform 9 3/4 for people to take pictures with. The queue was about 45 min long but I did eventually get to take my picture running into the wall. There were two little girls who brought their own stuffed animals to take with them to Hogwarts and they were so cute! There’s also a Harry Potter store nearby the wall with the cart that sells slightly different stuff than the store at the studio tour.
After attempting to go to Hogwarts, we headed down to Oxford Street to get some shopping in before we left. We went to Selfridge’s that looked nothing like the PBS show about the department store as well as Hamleys which is a giant toy store located along Regent Street. The store was packed with families looking for toys and the aisles were full of employees demonstrating toys. I wish I knew about this place earlier!
For the last dinner we headed back to South Kensington and had pasta at a restaurant called Loves by the museums. Each table had a tablet to order your meal from and it even allowed you to choose between al dente and soft pasta. It wasn’t exactly British but it was a good way to finish off my two months in the UK!
I’m a huge Harry Potter fan so one of the things I knew I needed to do was to visit the Harry Potter studio tour in Leavesden. It was definitely worth it and pretty much exceeded all of my expectations! We changed our date about a month before so we got an evening ticket but we ended up staying almost till closing. Since we went so late, we visited some of the museums in the South Kensington area, went to the Borough Market, and walked across the famous Abbey Road.
After museum hopping we went to the Borough Market for lunch. It was really really crowded but the food was worth it. I had a halloumi veggie burger as well that was pretty tasty. I had been wanting to buy one of these for a while because they looked so cool and I discovered that it’s pretty much a puff of crunchy sugar. Not too sure what else I was expecting.
Abbey Road is located a few blocks from the exit to St. John’s Wood. The street crossing was crowded with tourists like us trying to take pictures walking across the street as cars angrily honked at everyone trying to cross. It was probably the only spot that we visited that hadn’t really been capitalized on by companies looking to make money and it was refreshing and fun to visit. The studios are located across the street and are covered in Beatles themed graffiti. The signs that say “Abbey Road” are kind of hard to find. I’m guessing it’s because so many people have tried to steal them. If you look high up (like almost to the second story) on the surrounding buildings you’ll be sure to spot one.
The Harry Potter studio tour was probably the highlight of my entire trip! If you go be sure to book months in advance especially for weekends because they sell out fast! It was really nice that they controlled the amount of people they let in so there weren’t suffocating crowds everywhere. The first part of the tour takes you through some sets, props, and costumes used in the making of the movies and the second part leads you through the creature shop and right down the real Diagon Alley! It was really impressive to see everything up close and in real life. A lot of things that looked computer generated were actually real like the door to the Chamber of Secrets and the door to Bellatrix’s Gringotts vault.
The last surprise is the real Hogwarts itself! They used a model for all the external shots so there’s a giant room that houses the entire school! It was really cool to see it in person and it was extremely breathtaking and beautiful. Pictures really don’t do it justice. You need to come see it for yourself.
We continued our journey around London starting at Westminster Abbey then took a ferry to the lovely maritime town of Greenwich. From there, we took the rail to the Beatles store on Baker Street and continued on to the West End to see the Book of Mormon!
Westminster Abbey was probably the largest church I’ve ever seen and by far the most historic. It took me a little while to realize that the abbey is basically a giant crypt for England’s most illustrious people. There are effigies of deceased nobility everywhere and hundreds of stones on the ground that note the people buried underneath them. It was really weird to think that we were just walking over the graves of some of the greatest people in British history including Darwin. I’m not a huge fan of creepy things so I admittedly went through as fast as I could.
After leaving the Abbey we took a ferry from Westminster Pier that stopped off at the Tower of London and Greenwich. Since we had already been to the Tower of London, we decided to take the boat all the way to the home of the Prime Meridian. Along the way, the captain made jokes and pointed out places of interest along the side of the river such as Ian McKellen’s house, some super expensive hotels, and a pub called the Mayflower which was actually the place from where the pilgrims set off to come to America. After landing in Greenwich, we were greeted by the Cutty Sark which was an old tea ship that used to sail around the world.
The Old Royal Naval Academy in Greenwich has a beautiful painted hall and is free to enter. There are mirrors located along the center of the room that allow you to look up without straining your neck. There’s also papers with descriptions of who everyone is on the ceiling and on the far wall. I think the hall and the neighboring chapel are actually part of the University of Greenwich. After, we went to the covered market, got some really good teri salmon, and picnicked on the school grounds.
We then took the tube up to Baker Street where there’s a Beatles shop as well as the Sherlock Holmes Museum. There was a super long line of middle schoolers in colorful jackets leading up to the museum so we didn’t have the chance go to in. After, we went to the West End which is the theater district to see The Book of Mormon. I think this was honestly the best and most ridiculous musical I’ve ever seen and it’s totally worth seeing. The theater was packed on a Wednesday evening and for good reason.
We got the London Pass so we decided to make the most of it and visit everything on the east side of London. We visited the Globe, hiked the Monument, saw the crown jewels at the Tower of London, went up Tower Bridge, then headed to the Transport Museum and the first Hard Rock Cafe.
We started off the morning at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater that was recently rebuilt. It was pretty cool to see a giant replica of an old style building that even had a thatched roof with sprinklers on it. There was also a exhibition inside that showed the process of making the Globe along with the costumes and set pieces the actors use.
After, we walked over to St. Paul’s Cathedral and then to the Monument that was created to commemorate the fire of 1666. We took the 300+ steps to the top and got a great view!
From the Monument we walked over to Tower Bridge where there is currently a display of poppies commemorating the centennial of the Great War. Inside we saw the crown jewels and other relics from medieval times.
From the Tower of London, we took the tube to Covent Garden and went to the London Transport Museum that had a bunch of old buses and original subway cars. It was pretty neat to see how much transport around London has changed. After we went to Patisserie Valerie for scones and tea and they were the best scones I’ve had yet!
We also went to the first Hard Rock Cafe and went down to the vault that had a collection of items from Queen, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles. One of the most interesting pieces was the letters signed by the four dividing their stocks after the break up.
On the second day we took an open top bus tour, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, went on a walking tour of spots made famous by various rock musicians around London, and visited Kensington Palace.
The open top bus tour took us to pretty much every major site around the city. We saw everything from Trafalgar Square to Tower Bridge. The whole tour took about 2 hours but it can vary depending on traffic. This would be really good if you only have a few days to visit London.
We got to Buckingham Palace about 15 min before the changing of the guard started and the place was already super packed. The area to actually see the changing of the guard was completely full and the only available viewing spots were alongside the road leading up to the palace. Apparently it’s really popular in the summer because that’s the only time the full ceremony takes place with the band and the horses and everything. We could hear them playing “Thriller” inside the palace gates but it was way too crowded to go up and watch.
A lot of sites related to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are hidden away in London Alleyways. The studio used to record “Hey Jude” is actually not Abbey Road but one in Soho. This mural is called “The Spirit of Soho” and if you come on the hour you can see Karl Marx drinking a can of Coca Cola.
Our last stop was Kensington Palace which is now the home of Will and Kate. Unfortunately you can only see the older parts of the Palace though. I left pretty confused about who was related to who and what the royal lineage was. There were so many different parts of the palace attributed to so many different queens and kings.
After leaving Oxford I spent a week in London with my parents. We saw so many things in such a short amount of time! We stayed in South Kensington so we spent the first half day walking around there.
The weather was a mixture of rainy and sunny all day which was totally different than all the sunny days we got in Oxford. South Kensington is also full of these rows of apartments.
Next to the Natural History Museum is the Victoria and Albert Museum. It houses a lot of statues and Asian and European relics. It kind of reminded me of a watered down version of the British Museum. The fashion exhibits were pretty neat though. There was also an exhibit of protest art which was interesting and different from what I had seen at other museums.
Hyde Park is really close to the museums and the South Kensington area. We went to the Princess Diana Memorial near the Serpentine Lake but it was closed. The Prince Albert Memorial is located near the southern border of the park directly across from the Royal Albert Hall.
I also finally had my first fish and chips since coming to the UK. I don’t think I’ve ever had deep fried fish that tasted as good as this before!
On Tuesday we had the opportunity to go visit our intern counterparts at Cambridge and we got the chance to learn more about what they’re working on. We also had a lovely tour from one of the staff there who was very well informed about Cambridge.
We started off by going through a bunch of the colleges. I honestly don’t remember the names of them but they all had these beautiful lawns that I really wanted to run across. There were keep off the grass signs everywhere (I think more so than Oxford) to preserve the beautiful checkerboard of grass that was the centerpiece of every quad.
This was undoubtably the most beautiful building we visited on our tour. The King’s College Chapel was seriously impressive and beautiful! Luckily we got free entrance into all the colleges courtesy of the Cambridge sustainability staff. We visited a few other colleges as well but this was by far my favorite. It really inspired me to attempt to go college hopping at Oxford (I’ve only been to the ones that were Harry Potter sets) but alas they’re almost always closed or holding some sort of wedding when I’m not at work.
In the back of the colleges is the famous River Cam where everyone goes punting down. Apparently students try to climb over the bridges and jump back down on their punt while they go down the river. There were a bunch of students ferrying around tourists and a bunch of people punting their own boats and trying not to fall in. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to go punting at Cambridge but I still want to try it out before I leave Oxford!
After realizing that some places are closed on Sundays, I decided that I needed to make another trip on a Saturday. Started at Marble Arch, walked across Hyde Park to the Science and Natural History Museums, took the tube to London Bridge for the Borough Market, walked back across the Thames along the Millennium Bridge, saw a taping of Dr. Who in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, walked to the British Museum, walked to Oxford Circus and Carnaby Street, walked to Buckingham Palace, walked to Victoria Station, then bussed home. I mapped the distance that I walked and it came out to around 10 miles. Phew!