We booked the Eurostar Train and traveled "in style" from Paris to London. It cost us a little bit extra for "Premium" assigned seats (this class on the Eurostar is in-between Business and Coach). It wasn’t that much more money, and so worth it. Once we got to the train station, we went up the escalator and found the sign to London. We were then immediately approached by Eurostar representatives, who handed out the immigration declaration cards. What's interesting is that, while you are still technically still in Paris, you actually go through UK customs before you get on the train. The customs agents interviewed everyone privately, which was somewhat comforting. With our "Premier" seats, we were able to skip the lines of Coach ticket holders and avoid more lines. We then took an escalator down to the train and walked to our assigned train to check in. There were a few steps and we did have to lift our luggage to get onto the train. The best seats are those with 2 forward and 2 rear-facing seats (it turned out that the table at our reserved seat was broken, so they moved us a few rows over to a better seat configuration). Next time I travel this route, I would book 2 forward-facing seats in this section and hope that no one books the 2 rear-facing seats. It was very roomy and comfortable. There are power outlets on the train, but no Wi-Fi. They served us a 2-course snack, including a cheese plate with wine.
As with Paris, our luggage was too heavy to carry up and down the stairs of the tube. When we arrived in London, we immediately called an Uber to take us to our hotel, the Park Plaza County Hall London. What a great hotel choice. The Park Plaza is conveniently located near the Waterloo station tube stop, near the London Eye, and close to trendy restaurants and bars. Not only is the hotel well located, but it is also beautiful. We were fortunate to get a very spacious room on the Penthouse (14th) floor. Our room was perfect. It was nicely decorated, with a separate living-room seating area that had its own TV, plus an enormous balcony with a magnificent view. The staff, especially Brad, was incredibly nice and very helpful. This hotel really caters to its guests. They have a nice exercise room, and also a laundry room for guests to wash their own laundry. They also offer a wonderful and popular breakfast buffet, which was stocked with many selections of cheeses, meats, croissants, eggs, waffles, yogurt, fruit, and so much more. Since the UK uses a different electrical system than the other cities we visited in Europe, and we didn't have the correct adapter, the hotel graciously allowed us to borrow one. They also have vending machines in the laundry room where you can purchase UK adapters.
The first night we went out exploring and discovered Southbank Centre Market, a food market with a variety of food and drinks being sold. This food market occurs every weekend (Friday-Sunday). We had dinner that night at the famous Simpsons on the Strand, and enjoyed a delectable lobster bisque, wonderful prime rib and, of course, famous Yorkshire pudding. After dinner we explored the exquisite Savoy Hotel lobby next door. The Savoy has an interesting history, as it used to be a palace.
We started our first full day in London by taking the Big Bus London Tour. They have many buses, and they stop at various locations all over the city. As with the other cities, it is designed so that you can hop on and off anytime you want. While riding in the bus, you can listen to pre-recorded informative commentary about the attractions by using earphones they provide you. We enjoyed sitting on top of the open-air bus. The ticket for the Big Bus London also included a river cruise down the Thames River and a city walking tour.
When not on the bus, we took the tube, which is the London subway. We used the HopStop and Tube Map apps and the Transport for London (TFL) website to help us get around. Also, to use the tube, I recommend that you buy a blue "Oyster Travelcard" and put money on it. With the Oyster card, you simply tap your card at the entrance and exit, and it immediately deducts the fare. The nice thing about the Oyster card it is that there is a cap on how much you can be charged in one day if you stay within zones 1 and 2. You pay a deposit of $5.00 for the card, but you get the deposit back (and any extra unused money you put on it) at the ticket booth when you are finished with it.
The next morning we used the 2 Day "London Pass" to take the river cruise from the London Eye to the Tower of London Tower of London. Using our London Pass, we were able to walk right in without waiting on line. We headed straight to the Crown Jewels, but because we had gotten there later than expected, there was a long line to view them. The line did move pretty quickly, though.
After walking through the various exhibits at the Tower of London, we decided to take a break from the city and we took the train (about a 45 min ride) to Hampton Court Palace (also included in the London Pass). We really enjoyed this castle tour, and recommend it. I enjoyed seeing the King’s Apartments the most. After touring the castle, we walked through the gorgeous gardens, especially the huge rose gardens. It smelled so beautiful. We took great pictures there and stayed until they closed, so by the time we left there was nobody around. It was magical to see the entrance to the castle with nobody standing in front of it. The train leaves every 30 minutes to get to the castle, but on the way back to London in the evening, it leaves only once every hour, so be sure to check the schedule ahead of time. We were able to use our Oyster card for the train; however it is not in zones 1 or 2, so it cost a few dollars extra each way.
I love going to the theater, and London has a great theater scene, so we planned ahead. We looked online to find which shows would be in London during our stay and chose three: Gypsy, Miss Saigon, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
That night we saw our first show, Gypsy playing at the Savoy Theater. This was wonderful. We purchased our tickets for Gypsy ahead of time using ATG Tickets. This is a great site that allows you to buy tickets at face value with no service charges. They mailed the tickets to the U.S. free of charge, and with our advance planning, we were able to secure great seats. We had a wonderful dinner across the street from the Savoy Theater at Saleri.
The next morning, we had a 10:00 a.m. reservation at the London Eye. This is the first ride of the day, and a great time to go (not crowded). The London Eye is a large Ferris wheel, 442 feet high, ideally located at the edge of the Thames River. It was opened in 2000 in celebration of the Millennium, and has grown in popularity over the years. It is visible from most spots on the Thames River. Since January of 2005, the Eye has been the focal point of London's New Year celebrations, with 10-minute displays of fireworks fired from the wheel itself. The wheel moves very slowly, so you don’t even feel like you are moving. You have lots of time to take pictures, which you will want to do...what an incredible panoramic view of the city; it is spectacular. You can see Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and a good stretch of the Thames River. I suggest that you buy tickets ahead of time; tickets are sold online. Also, try to go early since it can get crowded later in the day. There is also a very cool 4D movie experience included with this ticket. Be sure to see this 3 minute film before or after your ride.
After our ride, we then walked from the London Eye to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards. From there, we walked next door to a small museum, the Queens Gallery (using the London Pass) and then we went on to the Royal Mews (also using the London Pass). Be sure to get a headset at the Royal Mews, as it is very interesting to learn the history and background of the different carriages and cars used by the Royal Family. After the Royal Mews, we took a train to Kensington Palace.
My friend went inside the House of Parliament and Westminster Cathedral (also included in the London Pass). Both were close by our hotel. She also went to the Somerset House (London Pass again), which has a great collection of impressionist paintings by well-known artists, and is easy to see in around one hour. The courtyard there is beautiful, too.
We had dinner that night at Leicester Square at a restaurant called La Polenteria. They had a great happy hour special; my small plate of tapas and a glass of Prosecco cost only 8 Euros. After dinner, we saw Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre. This has always been one of my favorite musicals. It is a powerful show with an important and unforgettable message about the Vietnam War. Every time I see it, I am still just as touched and teary-eyed. The actors had incredible voices, the set design was amazing (including a helicopter), and the sound was so realistic (I kept looking up to see if the helicopter was flying over me). I was so glad we saw this show.
We had one more day in London and I was determined to see as much as possible, so I got an early morning start and walked from our hotel to the Tate Modern Museum (also included in the London Pass). Their audio guide really enhanced my visit. It was so interesting to see so many different forms of art. There is even a video exhibit featuring blind people painting self-portraits and landscapes. They talked about what they thought a sunset looked like and painted using their hands and even feet.
From Tate Modern I walked across the bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral. I then hopped on the tube and went to the British Museum. While walking to the museum, I discovered Valerie Patisserie, which offered an afternoon tea for two for only 25 pounds. We went there for our "London tea experience" and really enjoyed it.
After our tea, we hopped back on the tube to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, and then took the tube to Oxford Street to do some shopping at Marks and Spencer (reasonable prices) and visit Harrods What a treat! I had no idea how beautiful Harrods was. I recommend that you go there to eat a meal. Harrods has great cafes/restaurants, and there are many to choose from. Note that Harrods also sells the famous (and delicious) French macarons made by Laduree. They fly them in from Paris. These are a nice treat to bring home to friends and family. In addition to gourmet food, it was so much fun to walk through the store and see exquisite jewelry from DeBeers, unique and pricy clothing and merchandise, and other treats.
From Harrods, we went to the London West area for dinner to see the incredible play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. It was recommend to me (via Twitter) by the producer of Gypsy, and I must tell you we were blown away by this adaptation of the popular book. Not only was the acting tremendous, the book adaptation was done in a most interesting and innovative way. Using lights, sound, and technology, we were engrossed in everything that was happening on stage. We were exhausted after watching this performance as it was so intense; the lead actor was terrific. After the show, we happened to be standing outside the theatre talking to other tourists. It was a real treat for us when the young lead actor Sion Daniel Young walked out right in front of us. He was so nice and humble. This was a new cast and only his second performance, but it seemed as if he has been playing this role for years. We were so surprised when he told us he'd had only trained for this part for the past 6 weeks. Truly remarkable.
Since we had an early morning flight, we'd arranged to stay at a hotel near the airport for our last night. We took an Uber from the theatre to our London hotel to pick up our luggage, and then had the same Uber driver take us to our airport hotel. We flew home non-stop on British Airways using frequent flyer miles. The plane had 2 levels, so we paid extra to book our seats in advance and get 2 seats on the upper level. There were many movies to choose from and the flight attendants were all friendly and attentive.