Welcome back! If you missed Part 1, click here!
Day 4 was Monday morning, and after extensive research, we got ourselves to the correct train station (apparently the Tube and the train are different, and some are both but not all train stations are Tube stations and not all Tube stations are train stations. It is honestly very confusing.). But nevertheless, after help from some very, very kind workers, we boarded the correct train at the correct station to head to Windsor!
Windsor is about a 45 minute to 1 hour train ride from London and is the absolute last stop on the train so it’s easy to get to. We were originally booked in a group tour but our sinus drainage/ head colds we brought with us were dragging us down a little by this morning so we opted out of the group tour to give ourselves a little extra time to rest and not be so scheduled while we were there. It was easy enough to get there on our own, and once there, it is a quick walk from the train station up the hill to the main street of Windsor and the entrance of Windsor Castle.
Fun Fact: One of the British history accounts I follow on Instagram (@history_alice) shared that you can tell when a mailbox was installed based off the royal cipher on it, so it became one of my little secret hobbies while we were there to check out the mailboxes. The obvious vast majority had the EIIR cipher for Queen Elizabeth II, but this one on the corner of the hill up to Windsor Castle had the GR for King George V (her grandfather), making it the oldest we saw during our trip. We also saw one in London with the CRIII (King Charles III), making it one of the newest to be installed!
After a quick breakfast at the McDonald’s across the street from Windsor Castle (yes, that is a real thing!), we got in line for security at the castle. Justin the tour guide had warned us that security there is very similar to the airport and he wasn’t exaggerating! Metal detectors, scanners, and emptying pockets, the whole nine. There was a floor to ceiling portrait of King Charles and Camilla on the wall as you waited and Liv asked me if that was the queen… I replied yes, and decided not to try to explain how complicated that was, haha!
Once inside, we walked into the inner courtyard and around to St. George’s Chapel. It was absolutely gorgeous inside, and I wish I had pictures, but they didn’t allow photography (but you can click here to take a virtual tour!). Once we walked in, we realized at some point we were in a line that wrapped from the entrance around the back of the chapel and up the far side, but we weren’t sure what we were in line for at the time. While waiting, I looked over and realized we were standing next to the above ground tomb of King George V and Queen Mary on the corner of the aisle and pointed it out to Steven. His response was “They’re in there? Like buried in there?”. And as someone not a huge fan of ghosts, he was less than thrilled, haha! After a little more waiting, we realized we were in the line to pay our respects to Queen Elizabeth II at her tomb, which is in the King George VI Memorial Chapel between the quire and the nave on the north side. They direct traffic from here through the quire and past all the other royal tombs and out the side of the quire. It was very surreal and a little eery to see these places that I’d seen in pictures and film footage, and tombs of people I’ve read about and watched movies/ TV about in person. It’s super interesting, but gave me a little chill if I’m honest! From here, we walked up the hill to the side of the castle with the state apartments and Queen Mary’s doll house. The lines for these were pretty long, and we were keeping an eye on the time to get to our train to get back to London for our afternoon tea time, so we decided to skip those and head back to the train station from here.
After a wild exit from the train at the London Bridge station (we rode 3 of the steepest escalators up- like we were at least 3 very long flights of stairs underground), we made our way to the Aqua Shard for Peter Pan tea. This was on a list of recommendations from our tour guide, and was meant to be like a Peter Pan themed high tea at this restaurant on a very high floor of a building with floor to ceiling windows giving an unobstructed view of the middle of London. When we arrived and there were multiple security guards and check points to enter the building, followed by the restaurant asking Steven to remove his hat (which hadn’t happened anywhere we’d been thus far), I was a little worried about what I’d gotten us into. While I thought I’d found us a high tea that actually had substantial food that we would be interested in eating that was geared toward kids, it was in fact like any other high tea, and not really meant for children and incredibly expensive, especially considering we didn’t really eat much- I mean, what the menu described as “roast chicken, bacon, and mayo sandwiches” were actually chicken, bacon, and mayo pureed together and put on crustless white bread, not the roasted chicken and bacon Hawaiian roll sliders I was picturing or expecting. But I think Liv still had a good time with her hot chocolate, pirate ship that glowed, and pirate treasure box full of scones (although she seemed to think scones were not a great treasure, haha!). If anything, I learned we are perhaps not British high tea people. And I will always laugh to think that Steven couldn’t find a trash can to put his gum in while in the restroom and was so annoyed at the pretentiousness of it all, including floor to ceiling windows overlooking London in front of the urinals, that he left his gum in the hand towel hamper.
After this, we chose to go rest at the hotel for the rest of the evening and had food delivered. The next morning, we were up and out for another day with Justin the tour guide, this time for all the major London sights. We had discussed with him on Sunday where we wanted to go, and I said the Tower of London was at the top of my list, so we hit it first.
They have tours of Tower of London provided by Beefeaters who work there, but you are allowed to bring in private tour guides like Justin, and it was very cool to have someone dedicated just to us explaining everything and knowing the ins and outs of what we should see and what wasn’t worth the hype. We started out closest to the Thames at Traitors Gate, where he explained that Anne Boleyn came through it at one point for her honeymoon, and then later under completely opposite circumstances. We went from here to the line for the Crown Jewels, which had a few pieces missing already for the coronation about 1.5 weeks later, but overall, very impressive! From there, we walked through the White Tower to view all the armor of King Henry VIII (where you can literally see him progressing in size as the armor gets bigger and bigger), discussing the story of the two missing princes kept in the White Tower whose remains were likely found later (again, eery!). Just outside the White Tower, we stopped at the Tower Green execution memorial, and while I’ve seen The Other Boleyn Girl multiple times and read books about Anne Boleyn and felt pretty versed on the history, I still had a major case of the heebie jeebies standing there looking at it. If anything during this trip, I still love British history, but it really clicked for me how truly morbid a lot of it is. But the execution memorial with the White Tower and Tower Bridge in the background made a great backdrop for what will likely be our Christmas card picture this year, so it is what it is!
We left the Tower area and headed over to Borough Market to look for some lunch. After walking through the market stalls, and past The Golden Hinde, a real pirate ship docked available for touring, we ended up eating at a pub next to Borough Market just to have a place to sit and make a plan for the rest of the day. Since we’d had fish and chips multiple times by this point, Steven and I opted for burgers. They, like a lot of food there, seemed mostly like American food, but slightly different. For example, the burgers had what they call “relish”, which is like a tomato sauce. Not ketchup. Something more along the lines of a marinara, but not Italian seasoned. It was different! We discussed heading to Hampton Court Palace, but found out they were closed that Tuesday (which was a bummer because I was interested to see this, but turned out okay because we were maybe a little castle-ed and Henry VIII-ed out), so Justin decided to do just a whirlwind tour of all the major London sites.
From here, we drove to a tall skyscraper with a glass elevator and rooftop balcony where we could see all of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Justin parked quite suspiciously (perhaps illegally, we aren’t 100% sure, haha!) on the street here in front of this building so we didn’t linger here any longer than necessary, haha!
We drove past the big sights- Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey (This was on my list to visit but Justin was looking out for my kids, and probably my husband also, and said they really wouldn’t be interested in walking through an old church full of old dead people, so I let that one go, haha!), 10 Downing Street, Picadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square.
All of this was on our way to a big stop- Buckingham Palace. We parked on the other side of Green Park and walked through the park on the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk trail to get to the palace, navigating around everything that had been set up a few days before for the Marathon that was remaining for the coronation the next week. The majority of the Victoria Memorial was blocked off with grandstands set up, and The Mall was decked out with large flags all the way down and closed to traffic. There was a decent sized crowd around the gates whenever we walked up and Justin said someone was about to leave the Palace (he and others knew this somehow but I missed the tip off). A few minutes later, the Royal Horses Guard rode out of the gate in formation and down the street practicing for the coronation. It was so cool! I wish I had known then that we could have toured the Royal Mews to see all the horses since we have a somewhat horse obsessed family, so maybe next time 😉 . From the front of the palace, we took a stroll through St. James Park back around to Justin’s car, and headed off for more sights!
From where we were, Justin drove us through the government districts, past most of the embassies, and then through the upscale areas past Harrod’s and Harvey Nichols. Somewhere through here Liv desperately needed to use the restroom so Justin pulled into the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum, aka where they keep all the FINE artwork and other crazy expensive fancy things. The bathroom was floor to ceiling marble for goodness sake!). One very cool thing in London is that a lot of the museums are free- we just walked into V&A and no one batted an eye, and same with the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Tate Modern, and the British Museum (although it is recommended to reserve tickets ahead of time to avoid long queues). After our pit stop, we drove behind the V&A to see Royal Albert Hall (while Justin told us a delightful story about shaming a family for talking during a show the last time he and his family were there, and apparently they were quieter after intermission), and past the Albert Memorial. We then made our way through Kensington Gardens by the Princess Diana Memorial and playground, and past Kensington Palace. And before we knew it, we were back at Earl’s Court to our hotel after a full day! Having a private tour guide was hands down one of my favorite parts of the trip- he knew all the history and sights intricately and made it such a worthwhile experience vs us trying to fumble through it by ourselves. Justin is on Instagram if you are interested in learning some history or need a British tour guide!
Day Five was the main event for Steven. After donuts on the Tube…
We made it to Holloway, London to Emirates Stadium!
Steven has been an Arsenal fan since he was a kid, so this was really cool to tour the entire stadium to see the history and the actual pitch where they play! We spent the morning at the stadium, and then had lunch in Holloway before taking the Tube back to Earl’s Court to our hotel. We rested for the afternoon and tried to wrangle up all our stuff, and then ventured out for one last dinner and time in our hotel’s garden.
The next morning, a driver picked us up bright and early at 8 AM to take us to Heathrow and we boarded a plane back home! We landed at DFW around 5:30 PM (after a 10 hour flight that was delayed an hour), and after clearing customs and immigration, baggage claim, and the parking garage, we went straight to Pappasito’s. We had a wonderful time together and enjoyed our trip, but 7 days without queso is 7 days too long 😉