Hello and welcome back to my blog! Even though there is a ton of information on the internets about London, Ireland and travel to Europe in general, it was my first time to London and to Europe as well. And my guide is for first timers in Europe and the UK as well.
London was my choice the year 2016 for several reasons:
I jumped through multiple rings of fire to get a UK Visa a few years back ✓
It costed $1000+ and taught me obscure things about my family
UK is not included in Schengen Visa even. It is just a UK Visa
The multiple entry tourist Visa lasts 10 years so plenty of time to make use of it
It is a stopover for British airways flights to India from Seattle ✓
British airways is a good flight
It mitigates the jet lag
London seemed n00b friendly for a Europe first timer ✓
I had a complex because a lot my friends had been to Europe but not I ✓
Brexit had just happened so I would get a good US dollar to Sterling Pound (SP) conversion ✓
Roman architecture ✓
I had company ✓
4 days worth of things to do in an around the city ✓
Between Scotland and Ireland as stop 2, we picked Ireland for multiple reasons as well:
Natural beauty ✓
I didn’t need an additional Visa to visit even the Republic of Ireland if I had a UK Visa ✓
I get to visit another country on the same visa ✓
This is kind of a big deal for me as it takes weeks
Friends who have visited rave about it ✓
4 days worth of things to do in an around the city ✓
We picked end of October to travel to avoid long lines and wait time. London, at that time was the most visited city in the world. We bought the London pass with oyster pass for 3 days. I took £500 worth cash to exchange. Ireland uses Euros so I took €400 as well.
A good tip from a frequent traveler was to walk in London as opposed to using other means of transport. Places of interest are close unlike the US. Its overcast and rainy at that time of the year. I’m from Seattle. So, I just needed to pack a thicker scarf for the 5 degree farenheit cooler weather 🙂
I got Verizon’s travel package to keep things simple. I had good coverage throughout. Unlike the US, the streets have names and no numbers. It wasn’t easy to navigate. In retrospect, I wish I had installed an offline map of London. It took some getting used to.
I took the cab from the airport to my hotel at Waterloo. The first thing you want to do after landing is to get a meal and get the physical London and oyster pass from Charing Cross. It was a Friday.
As the British museum was the only attraction that needed an active pass, we waited a day to activate it. We spent hours looking at exhibits from all over the world. Even if you’re not a museum person, the sculptures are impressive.
We had planned to dine at Mele a Pere but went to a close by coffee shop because of the wait. It’s not obvious but you can book a show at queen’s theater at a good discount if you use the London pass even before activating it. Even if you get a row at the back, the theater is designed in a way that you’ll have a great view of the performance. We saw Les Miserables and thoroughly enjoyed it even from the P row.
Day 2 :
Our initial plan was to take the hop on hop off tour bus. We instead got brunch on the way. We walked to tower of London, tower bridge, London bridge and then HMS Belfast (War ship). We got on a city cruise at tower pier toward Westminster. Tower bridge was my favorite thing to see in London. Just absolutely grand!
The charm of London is the nightlife. The city lights up like a studio. We walked by Big Ben, St. James park and then got dinner at Zuma. Since I am a huge fan of Buddha bar music, we got a cocktail there as well ❤
We made a mandatory day trip to Stonehenge and Bath 🙂 We listened to our guide’s trivia on the way. We drove by Ebury street in Westminster and English country.
The significance of Stonehenge is that it is a prehistoric monument made of very regular stones. Celebrities of that time were buried around here, in short.
The Anglo-saxons called the Roman built city full of baths ‘Bath’. So much for mystery 🙂
St. Paul’s cathedral is a must see. It is like the national church of England. This one is not covered by the London pass. We went to Buckingham palace next. And then an unfortunate thing happened. The palace was closed because the queen returns from Scotland in fall to stay. We weren’t allowed to enter. We could only see the mews (stable :)). Also, we were detained for carrying pepper spray. I’ll see it someday. We couldn’t make it in time to see the Kensington palace either. We just managed to see imperial war museum. I’m not a war buff so I just browsed through quickly.
I missed Westminster’s Abbey that time but attended the service before Christmas this year. I loved it! I had a 5 hour layover on my way to Mumbai. So I showered at the airport lounge, ate something and rode the subway to Westminster’s Abbey. It was a Saturday and I was unable to see the other parts. I saw some folk enter from a gate close to the gift shop. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out. Fortunately, there was, what a gentleman described as the ‘beg and wait line’. Perfect! Just what I wanted. They didn’t allow me with my bag. My buddy offered to hold it while I attended it. I can’t thank her enough 🙂 Where there is desperation, there’s way, folks.
The plan was to see Dublin University and the national museum of archaeology but I gave both a miss and took it easy 🙂 We stayed at Rochestown Lodge Hotel & Spa at Dun Laoghaire. We bought a leap card each to help us get around.
We made a full day trip to the majestic cliffs of Moher and Burren national park. Rover tours tell you this a hundred times and mean it. The will leave right on time with or without you. We were on a strict schedule and diet. “So we’re going to leave at 3:30 p.m. I would take my last drink no later than 2:45 p.m. We aren’t stopping on the way”. “You folks did really well. We didn’t leave anyone behind!” A good exercise in discipline too, I highly recommend!
The plan was to get on the hop on / hop-off tour and check off Trinity college (Book of Kells), National History Museum, Christ Church, Guinness Storehouse and Kilmainham Gaol. We ended up seeing Trinity college, Christ church from the outside and spent the rest of our time at Guinness 🙂
This day was the highlight of Ireland. We took a tour to see the Northern Ireland Highlights Day Trip Including Giant’s Causeway from Dublin. We saw the wall in Belfast that separates the Northern Ireland territory, a part of the UK from the one that belongs to the Republic of Ireland. The wall was erected after stoning from either side. A gate allows passage from one side to the other during the day. If you don’t make it back in time, you’re stuck on the other side. Our guide told us that both sides have started talking about peace. They await the day they take the graffiti filled wall down.
Giant’s causeway was unusual and beautiful, especially the folklore that goes with it. The view from the rope bridge was something I had never seen. Can’t miss!
And on that note, I ended a very memorable trip to the UK and Ireland. Once I was back, I did feel this was more like a college field trip. We covered several touristy areas as first timers should. But no worries, we’ll leave the adventures for next time 🙂