London is a massive city, it can be difficult to choose what to see on your own if you only have a few days, especially if you are travelling during summer, which is the busiest tourist season and the warmest time to travel.
As I’m sure most of you already know, I’m not a big fan of booking through travel agents or doing tours as I like sometimes to explore cities without a guide however as I was only in London (and on my own) for 3 days, so I decided to take a tour called “Majestic London” through Evan Evans tour company, I originally booked it through Viator.
Majestic London is a 1 day tour showing you the main highlights of London, this mostly included slowly driving past some of the main attractions in London and making a few stops.
I think this type of tour is fantastic to do on day one as it gives you a great idea of where everything is in London and where the attractions are (if this is what interests you) as it can sometimes be a little difficult to get your bearings on a map, or work out exactly how far things are.
You can do the tour and then come back and explore further the next day, or next time you visit.
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Arrival at Victoria Coach Station
I arrived at Victoria Coach Station (which shouldn’t be confused with the Victoria tube station) at 7:30am a little too early for the tour that started at 8:45am (I didn’t want to be late).
I picked up my ticket and was told to wait at Gate 1 at 8:30am, myself and a large crowd of people waited there for about 30mins, our tour was supposed to start at 8:45am.
Not a big deal however some communication from the staff would have been appreciated. We eventually jumped on the busy and were given a little radio type device with 1 ear piece which later came in handy when we exited the bus and toured sites externally.
We drove past Parliament Square, seeing the Houses of Parliament Big Ben, then past Westminster Abbey where Prince William married Kate Middleton.
We then drove past the very prestigious ldvernment buildings at Whitehall and Downing Street where the English Prime Minister lives, and past the hustle and bustle that surrounds Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square from here you can also see the famous giant lions that guard the column and the gift from France… a big blue cock (wink wink)… the chicken type of cock… Dirty minded people!
Our First stop
Our first stop was at the Prince Albert Memorial which is located in . I can’t say this is somewhere I would have come if I hadn’t come along on a tour; however it was interesting none the less.
The memorial was commission by Queen Victoria for the Husband Prince Albert who died in 1861. The memorial is surrounded by the elaborate sculptural “Frieze of Parnassus”, which depicts 169 individual composers, architects, poets, painters, and sculptors.
At the corners of the outer area of the memorial are four more groups representing Europe, Asia, Africa and The Americas, each continent-group including several ethnographic figures and a large animal.
The excitement of the Change of the Guard
Our second stop was to witness the change of the Royal Guard, they were all kitted out in their red tunics and bearskin hats.
Our lovely tour guide took us to the corner of “The Mall” and “Marlborough Road” where the Guards actually come out, the guide suggested we hurry up and get a good spot right at the edge of the road, it was a great suggestion as a few minutes (seriously mere minutes!) later we were surrounded by a massive crowd of other tours.
What a spectacle the change of the Guard was, the band was fantastic, the beating of the drums vibrates through your whole body (Watch for your self – sorry for the terrible video and terrible editing.. its my first time!)
Once the guards had gone past us, we raced through St James’s Park to “Birdcage Walk” to experience the changing of the guard from Wellington Barracks, from there we followed the Guards over to Buckingham Palace and at stopped at a set of traffic lights to see the Horse Guards coming down the road.
WOW what a show we witnessed! We took a few photos with Buckingham Palace in the background as were unable to get too close due to the huge crowds.
Hot tip: if you want to visit Buckingham Palace without the change of Guards, go early morning or late afternoon, that way you will miss out of the massive crowds.
Next stop St Paul’s Cathedral
Our next stop was lunch and exploring at St Paul’s Cathedral. We were dropped off and shown where all the restaurants and cafes were to have a quick bite to eat; I chose to eat in the crypts under St Paul’s. It was very well lit and the food from the café was great, it was however little creepy to be having lunch in a crypt.
After lunch we met our guide at the steps of St Paul which were surrounding by locals (and tourists alike) having lunch.
We followed the guide into St Paul’s Cathedral and as we entered he told us that we weren’t able to take photos in the cathedral (I thought about taking a few sneaky shots but decided not too, didn’t want to get in trouble), It was very disappointing not being able to take photos as it’s such an AMAZING building.
We sat in some seating provided directly under the main dome and looked up to the top of the dome – WOW, it is breathtaking (cliché I know!!), the images around the inside of the dome look as if they were carved but instead they were painted on, in such great details that they looked 3D.
The guide told us the history about Christopher Wren (the architect) and the cathedral but unfortunately I missed most of it as I was so overwhelmed by the beautiful of the cathedral (corny huh!).
I did manage to hear that a bomb from World War 2 went through the cathedral’s roof however was successfully defused which saved the cathedral. There is shrapnel damage on the outside of the building which is slowly being repaired and restored.
I also learnt that the dome is not hollow; instead Christopher Wren inserted brick cones which supported both the timbers of the outer, lead covered dome and the weight of the ornate stone lantern that rises above it.
Last but not least The Tower of London
We headed back to the bus and onto our last and final stop for the day: The Tower of London (aka The White Tower aka Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress).
The former prison and fortress, which looks out over the River Thames and the Tower bridge, was built to terrify potential invaders. I remember the Tower of London from the Tudors series on TV and of course this is where I learnt the “history” of it, it probably wasn’t very accurate.
The tower had a reputation as a place of torture and death, however only seven people were (publically) executed within the Tower before the 20th century.
The tour was supposed to be guided by a “Beefeater” however when we arrived we found this was not the case and we were left to our own devices. We were told to immediately get in line to see the Crown Jewels, which again we weren’t able to take photos of these.
The Crown Jewels are kept here as the Tower of London is thought to be one of the safest (most well guarded) places in London. We stood in line for about 15mins outside (which we were told by the guide was very good, some days there is an hour long line), however the line continued for sometime once you got inside.
It reminded me of going on a theme park ride on the gold coast, there is usually a long line outside of the building and as you get close to the top of the line, your excitement builds, until you realize there is another massive line inside!
I found the viewing of the jewels and ceremonial goodies to be very rushed, you couldn’t really stop to have a good look as you are put on a mini escalator past the Crowns and Sceptres and people push and shove when looking at the other ceremonial goodies.
After the manic rush to see the Crown Jewels I headed over to the more “relaxed” armour room located in the White Tower (our guide suggested going to the first floor only as we wouldn’t have enough time for everything else).
It was fascinating to see the any different types of armour on display, armour for the horses, armour for children (and a giant – a man over 6 foot tall!) and armour for Henry the VIII which included special armour for his “Crown jewels” wink wink aka his crotch! There is so much rich history about the Tower on London which I will cover off in a more detailed post with lots of photos (coming soon!).
I witnessed another change of guard, lead by a Beefeater. Beefeaters aka Yeomen Warders are ceremonial guardians for the Tower of London. They are responsible for looking after any prisoners (which there are none at the Tower of London anymore) and guarding the Crown Jewels. However now a days they are guides and tourist attractions, if you ask nicely they will be happy to take a photo with you.
Once again I was distracted by the beauty of the castle that I forgot to listen to my guide (whoops), he had reminded us earlier of the place to meet and the time however I wasn’t paying attention and only heard the time (…it was 4 or was it 4:30…).
So sadly I missed out on seeing all of the Tower of London as I spent a fair while trying to find the guide or another person on the tour to find out where and what time to meet the rest of the group (Hot tip: pay attention to the important times and places), in the end I found the tour guide and he and I walked to the meeting point and waited for everyone to meet us.
This was the conclusion of our Majestic Tour of London and what a brilliant day it was! Our guide offered to drop people off at different tube stations to ensure they were able to get back to their accommodation without issue. He was even happy to provide me with some direction to an electronics store.
The Tour Guide:
Our Guide (Edward.. I think, I don’t recall his name) was very friendly and very humorous. I think he might have been dressed a little inappropriately for work as he had half of his shirt unbuttoned but it was a warm day (well warm for the UK I guess..)!
All in all he was a great guide with over 20 years of experience, great knowledge of different areas, great knowledge of history and easy to talk to. Don’t forget to tip your guide and driver!!
Disclaimer: Thank you to the Viator who kindly hosted me for this tour . All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced in any way.