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Adventures in Europe: Highlights of London

london title card

Spending three weeks out of the country is a bit overwhelming — getting there, being there, and coming home — but also completely wonderful. I was going to try and cram all of it into a single post, but soon decided that was silly — expect several posts over the next few weeks with some highlights from our trip.

Because my sister, Jenny, and I were going to be London for about a week at the beginning of the trip, we decided to rent an apartment using Airbnb. This was my first time using that service, but it ended up being perfect. We found a small, one bedroom flat in central London, just south of the River Thames. It was easy to walk or catch the Tube to everywhere we wanted to go, and convenient to stop back at the flat in the afternoon for a break on long days.


On our first full day in London we visited Notting Hill and Kensington Palace. Jenny was excited about Notting Hill because of the architecture. I was excited about the shopping!

notting hill

The rain held off for most of the morning, so we managed to see the outside of Kensington Palace and some of the gardens before the day’s main event — tea at The Orangery.

kensington palace

The Orangery is a restaurant set in the middle of the gardens at Kensington Palace. They do a variety of lunch options, but we planned to get into the London spirit with afternoon tea (egg mayonnaise and cress bridge roll, Coronation chicken wrap, smoked salmon and cream cheese mini bagel, cucumber and fresh mint sandwiches, orange-scented and currant scones served with Cornish clotted cream and English strawberry jam, and an assortment of afternoon tea pastries). It was so good!

kensington tea

The inside of Kensington Palace is equally as amazing as the outside. It’s been a residence of the royals since the 1600s, and is still the official residence for several members of the royal family. The state rooms are open to the public and, when we were there, featured exhibits on King William III and Queen Mary II, Queen Victoria, and fashion of the modern monarchs.

We were slightly less lucky with the weather the next day, when we planned to go to the Tower of London. We figured the rain would keep tourists away (partially true) but, unfortunately, they don’t run all of the regular tours on days with rain — apparently tour participants are prone to poking each other in the eye with umbrellas!

tower of London

Despite the periods of torrential rain, I think we got our money’s worth at the Tower. In addition to it’s historic uses as a fortress, prison, and mint for England’s currency, the Tower of London is also home to the Crown Jewels. And although most people associate the Tower with Henry VII and the execution of a couple of his wives, executions actually took place at the Tower until World War II.

tower bridge

The Tower is right in the middle of London, so you can see some famous sights along the walls, including Tower Bridge (behind me, above). One of the coolest exhibits at the Tower was in the White Tower, the Line of Kings. This massive exhibit shows off armor and weapons of many royal kings. And there’s a giant dragon made of weapons!

armor dragon

I’m going to skip talking about Thursday, our visit to Warner Bros. Studios for the Making of Harry Potter Tour, because I want to do a whole post about it. So, on to Friday we headed to Buckingham Palace.

buckingham palace

Because Queen Elizabeth II was not in residence, the State Rooms at the palace were open to the public for tours. Pictures weren’t allowed, unfortunately, because this was one of the coolest things we saw on the trip. The State Rooms are where the Queen hosts royal dignitaries, bestows honors, and conducts other ceremonial business. The exhibit showed how the palace gets ready for state dinners and some of the art and furniture that is special to these rooms. Afterwards, we headed over to grab some photos of Big Ben and Parliament. I wish we’d gone on tours there, but we were both feeling pretty exhausted at this point.

big ben and parliament

On Saturday we did a bookstore tour of London with Jackie (Farm Lane Books) — I wrote about that in more detail in my post about my book loot from the trip. That evening we went to see a play, The 39 Steps, as the Criterion Theater. It was really delightful — four actors playing 139 characters in a theatrical melodrama based on an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Sunday and Monday were both rather random days. We spent a little time at the British Museum and the British Library (so cool!), visited some other neighborhoods of London we hadn’t caught yet. The photo below is at the British Library and shows the King’s Library, a collection curated by King George III as the first royal library.

british library

A big part of our time in London that I didn’t share many photos of was visiting famous buildings — Jenny is an architect and she had a lot of information to share about them. I teased her about it at the time, calling them “Architecture Forced Marches of London” but they were actually pretty fun. This photo is from the courtyard at the Sommerset House… I can’t remember what is cooling about it except that it’s old!

sommerset house

So, there’s just a really quick look at the first several days of our trip spent in London. After we left London we spent a few days in Bath, then headed to Greece to (briefly) visit Athens and spend time on a beach on Poros. I’ll share some of those details, plus Harry Potter day, really soon.

Previous Posts | Book Nerd Tourism: Book Loot of London

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  • bermudaonion (Kathy) September 22, 2015, 8:00 am

    What a fabulous trip! I bet staying in that flat made it a lot more relaxing. It looks like it was cool while you were there. We were told it would be cool when we went to London but it wasn’t.

    • Kim September 29, 2015, 8:46 pm

      Yes, it was definitely on the cooler side while we were there. We planned the trip for late August hoping for that and ended up lucking out in that respect (except for some pouring rain).

  • Jaclyn September 22, 2015, 8:08 am

    Love this! London is such a fabulous city and you visited so many of my favorite spots! (The Orangery is a must visit for me when I’m in London, and I always have to make eyes at the King’s Library, too!) Can’t wait to see the rest of your posts on your trip!

    • Kim September 29, 2015, 8:46 pm

      Oh my gosh, The Orangery was just the most wonderful thing. It’s so totally British — a great way to start out our trip.

  • susan September 23, 2015, 4:53 pm

    Nice post. So glad I can travel vicariously to London through your pics & info – as an Armchair traveler! Sounds like your flat was in the perfect spot for going places.

  • Jennine G. September 23, 2015, 7:46 pm

    Great trip – thanks for sharing the pics. I love seeing people’s pictures of places they’ve been that I might never see!

  • Beth September 23, 2015, 8:16 pm

    I love the British library, and I can’t wait to see your post about the HP tour. We did that one when we were in London last May and LOVED it–so cool!

    • Kim September 29, 2015, 8:47 pm

      It was so amazing. I feel like such a nerd saying the Harry Potter tour was one of my favorite parts of the trip… but it totally was.

  • Beth F September 24, 2015, 7:01 am

    I worked in the back-room labs of the History Museum when I was doing my doctoral research. I loved London & loved living there, even though I am totally not normally a city person.

    • Kim September 29, 2015, 8:47 pm

      I’m not either, and I’m not sure if I’d want to be in London permanently, but it’s a great city to visit.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey September 24, 2015, 9:24 am

    What an awesome trip! It looks like you had a ton of fun and got to say in an adorable apartment. Thanks for sharing your pictures!

  • Meg September 24, 2015, 1:25 pm

    Oh, how fun and exciting! I absolutely love London — it’s my favorite city in the world. I visited for the first time post-college with my family, then returned twice more. I saw many of your highlights, too, and it was so fun to relive those trips through your post! I am SO jealous of your tea at The Orangery — that looks delightful. High tea in general is fun, let alone at such a spectacular location?!

    And that’s so great you had a positive experience with Airbnb! I’ve heard lots about them, but have been kind of nervous to think about actually booking myself. Need to do more research on that.

    • Kim September 29, 2015, 8:49 pm

      I was a little nervous about Airbnb too, having never done it before. But we found a place that looked comfortable and that had universally positive reviews. We also made sure the host seemed like someone we were comfortable with (a young woman like we are). It ended up being great — definitely something I’d do again in the right circumstance.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End September 26, 2015, 8:20 pm

    Oh, London. Beautiful lovely London. I’m glad y’all had a good time there! The British Museum and the Tower of London are two of the things I saw late late in my first trip to England, and my brain was not at all ready to take them in. I’d seen too many things! Brain was on overdrive! So I do want to go back to London and some point and do those places justice.

    • Kim September 29, 2015, 8:49 pm

      We definitely did not do the British Museum justice. We were tired and it was a really busy day there. It’s a place I’d for sure go again if/when we get back to London.

  • Michelle September 26, 2015, 8:49 pm

    Your trip looks amazing! I really want to get to London one of these days. I can’t wait to read about your Harry Potter day!

  • Jackie (Farm Lane Books) October 9, 2015, 5:13 am

    You managed to cram an impressive amount into your trip! I’m so pleased that you had a good time and saw so much. I’m trying to persuade my husband that we need to go to the Harry Potter studios next week. Your descriptions of it have persuaded me to push it up our agenda!