London in 4 days - Day 1 / by Lori-Jo

Westminster

Southwark Lion

Southwark Lion

In November of 2014 my husband and I visited London.  I’d spent an afternoon there in the early 90s but didn’t see a lot so I considered this to be my real first trip there.  I wanted to share our itinerary as it might inspire people who have not only an interest in seeing some of the tourist attractions/London history, but are also interested in historic pub interiors and good craft ale/cider. 

Here are the pubs we visited.  It might look like too many, but I planned them out in such a way that they were either very close together or right near some of the attractions we were visiting.  You can very easily have a half pint in each pub and not be blazing drunk, yet still enjoy the atmosphere and architectural features of these historic boozers.  The pubs were chosen not only for their history but also their devotion to real ale and cider - one should never visit England drinking only mass-produced beers!  Note that we did not visit the starred pubs but they were on the itinerary, they do fit in location-wise but we didn't manage to fit them in.

  • Sherlock Holmes Pub
  • The Harp
  • Argyll Arms
  • The Old Bank Of England
  • The Blackfriar
  • Jerusalem Tavern
  • Bree Louise
  • Euston Tap*
  • Viaduct Tavern
  • Ye Olde Mitre
  • Cittie Of York
  • Princess Louise
  • Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese*

We stayed on Euston Road at the new Premier Inn St Pancras, which is equidistant from St Pancras/Kings Cross Station and Euston Station.  It was a great location – there are also two other Premier Inns nearby – one closer to Euston and the other by Kings Cross.  I definitely would recommend this area to anyone who wants to pay a little less and still be within 20-25 minutes by tube or bus from most things on this itinerary.

 

Day 1 - Sunday

The first thing we wanted to do was go up in the London Eye.  It is a giant ferris wheel that has 32 capsules - all of which are the size of a large van - and hold 25 people.  Even if you are scared of heights, the capsules are so huge that you won't likely be worried - it's not as though your legs are hanging down over the Thames.  You are completely sealed in and the capsules have air-con.  In fact, I'm quite certain they are larger than some of the flats people in London call home.

You can do a walk-up and wait for good weather, but I strongly suggest you book in advance online and pay extra for the fast-track entry where you get on within 5-10 minutes and skip the larger queue.  You've already spent a pile of money on a trip to the UK, so splurge and spend the extra few £5-6 to avoid queuing!  Remember, your time is valuable and best not spent in a queue.  It's best to choose a date and time and go then - if you want to be flexible with your date and time you will pay a lot more (£27 with fast-track for a prebooked day AND time vs. £32.45 for fast track at any time on a specific day or £38 for a fast track at any time in a specific week).  In comparison it would cost you £21.50 on the day where you'd have to wait in the queue.

After a quick walk to Euston Station, a 10 minute ride on the tube to Waterloo and a beautiful 10 minute walk along the Thames, we made it to the Eye.  We chose the first entry of the day which was 10am, and when we arrived there was already quite a lineup of people in the regular line so we knew we'd made the right choice.  It was grey and a bit hazy, but the view was still incredible.  Most of the things you'll want to see from above are clustered around the north bank of the river and you'll be able to see them just fine.  On a perfect clear day the line is probably apocalyptic; we still were able to see a lot and get some excellent pictures, so I don't think it really matters what the weather is like.  As for worrying about the "London fog", you shouldn't.  London only gets a few foggy days a year now after the Clean Air Act 1956 was passed, which banned the use of coal for domestic fires in urban areas.  It's nothing like the Charles Dickens or Sherlock Holmes literary fog of the late 1800s/early 1900s these days.

Below are some of the pictures we got on a less than clear day.  They were taken through glass so look a bit hazier than it really was, but as you can see you get an amazing view of the Houses Of Parliament and Westminster Bridge.  Check out how big those capsules are!

After our Eye adventure we made the short walk from the wheel to Westminster Bridge.  Take a few extra minutes here - this is one of the most famous views in Europe if not the world, and is called "The Queen's Walk" for good reason.  The view of the Houses Of Parliament is unsurpassed as it tends to get far too big for a good picture the closer you get!  You'll also meet the Southwark Lion at the beginning of the bridge.  The bridge has a really good, wide sidewalk to walk across on both sides, but you should cross here on the south side of the bridge as the north side is just wild with tourists and their selfie-sticks.

A seagull enjoys the view

After the walk over the bridge we turned right on Whitehall - one of the most famed streets in the world as it is home to most of the grand British government buildings.  The Treasury Building, Foreign Office, Ministry Of Defense, Old War Office, Banqueting House and Horse Guards are among the best. Most of them were built in the 18th century, and as you can see by the stonework, spared no expense.  We were extra lucky because they were just wrapping up filming a movie and the entire street was still barricaded off, and we were able to take a leisurely stroll right down the centre of the street!  There are also numerous monuments to both military and political figures - this is also the location of The Cenotaph, where the Remembrance Sunday ceremonies are held annually (we were a week late unfortunately).

You will pass 10 Downing Street on the left side but the famous door is out of view.  The street now is protected by a large gate which dates back to 1989, designed to further secure the Prime Minister's home from terrorist attacks by the IRA. 

"Whitehall OS OpenData map" by OS OpenData with modifications by Prioryman - Ordnance Survey OpenData. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Near the top of the map above, you will see a street called Great Scotland Yard which runs between Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue.  Take note of the building at #55 which houses the Department of Energy and Climate Change, as it's got two very interesting Sherlock connections.

In the BBC Sherlock series, the rooftop served as a filming location for the final episode in Series 2 "The Reichenbach Fall".  The scene is set on top of St Bartholomew's Hospital (the shots from the ground were filmed there) however the scene ON the rooftop with Moriarty and Sherlock was actually filmed on top of this building, a mile and a half away.  James Bond fans will also recognize this same location used in "Skyfall".   When walking down Great Scotland Yard, take note of the blue plaque on the side of the building, as this was also the original location of Scotland Yard - this would have existed during the time of the very first Sherlock Holmes stories before it was moved closer to the Thames in 1890.

Carrying on down Great Scotland Yard, we emerged on Northumberland Avenue.  Turning left and walking the half block to Northumberland Street, we came across another famed location in the Sherlock Holmes stories, the Northumberland Hotel.  It is now conveniently known as the Sherlock Holmes Pub.  Sure, it's kind of a tourist trap and the Sherlock/Watson ales left something to be desired, but we had to go.  There's some pretty neat memorabilia about, and I loved the homage to Benedict Cumberbatch's BBC Sherlock on the menu...

BBC Sherlock makes an appearance on the menu...

After a couple of halfs of mediocre ale (one Sherlock Holmes, one Watson's Wallop) we headed off to The Harp tucked near Covent Garden on Chandos Place.   This pub is more indicative of the type of drinking establishments we were interested in - historic interiors and a few real cask ales on tap.

So, let's talk about cask ale.  For those concerned about the English stereotype of serving 'warm beer', you really need to get over that urban legend.  These ales are hand pumped up from pub cellar casks, and although they are not ice cold like your typical Bud Light might be, they are by no means warm.  Ales like this are not meant to be served ice cold, but if you think you'll be drinking something akin to the temperature of slightly cooled tea, you're simply incorrect.  The truth is, cask ale is properly served between 11 – 13°C (most residential fridges are set to between 0 and 4°C with most bottled beers served in pubs between 4 – 6°C)  So although it's slightly warmer than a drink out of a fridge at home, it's still served cooler than a glass of red wine (16 – 21°C) and slightly cooler than the proper serving temperature of a white wine (12 – 15°C).

The Harp regularly serves 10 cask ales and ciders, which makes it worth finding.  They also do a great handmade sausage, but unfortunately they do not serve them on Sundays.  I had a half pint of Cornish Gold Cider from Cornish Orchards in Cornwall, and my husband had a half of Sussex Best Bitter from Harvey's Brewery in Lewes.  We also shared a half of Belgian Honey Porter from Black Jack Beers in good old Manchestah.  Visiting a good cask ale pub in England is like going to Napa Valley - there are so many varieties and flavours to try from all over Great Britain.  Most of the pubs we visited were recommended by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), a respected British consumer organization known for promoting real ale and cider and is at the forefront of protecting the traditional British Pub.  Real ale is a type of beer defined as "beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide".  Adding extra carbon diioxide makes a beer 'fizzy', so you'll find very little 'fizz' or 'bubbles' in a real ale.  Real ale has a much shorter shelf life than mass-produced commercial beers such as Carling or Newcastle Brown Ale, so it is served in smaller quantities and is worth seeking out as a real treat that you'll only find in England.  If you want to find a 'proper' British pub, check out CAMRA's Good Beer Guide.

After the pub, we walked to the corner of Craven and The Strand to pick up a set of "Boris Bikes".  Common in most larger cities, they are by-the-hour bike rentals that can be picked up at one location and dropped at the next.  You just need a credit card to run through the machine, and it only cost us a few pounds each to rent them for two hours.  In 2012 they were sponsored by Barclays and were blue, and now they are sponsored by Santander and are red.  (This is why Londoners just call them "Boris Bikes", as they were initially brought in by Mayor Boris Johnson).

We walked them across to Trafalgar Square and had a look around at the fountains and statues, and then across the street toward the beautiful Admiralty Arch, which leads to The Mall.  The Mall is the world-famous road that runs between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace which is adorned with the Union Flag during royal events and state visits.

Normally I'd be insane to think about renting a bicycle in a traffic-crazy city like London, but here's the secret.  On Sundays and public holidays, The Mall is closed to vehicular traffic.  It's likely a bit busier in the summer, but on a Sunday in mid-November, there was only a smattering of people, cyclists, small dogs and prams to contend with.  

We spent some time gawking at Lizzie's pad with the rest of the tourists - can't say I'm a massive royalist but it's really something to see whether you are a monarchist or not.  I'm much more interested in British history, and the Royals are definitely a part of it, like it or not.  After that we turned around back down The Mall and turned left on Marlborough Road, which reveals the hidden St James Palace.  Built between 1531 and 1536, it was the palace of the Tudors - it is technically the official residence of the Sovereign, although every King/Queen since Victoria has lived around the corner at Buckingham Palace.  Currently Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York live at St James, and Prince Charles lives at Clarence House, the white building adjacent which can only be viewed from a large black gate off The Mall.  

The official website of the British Monarchy has a really good overview of the history of St James Palace here

After getting our royal architecture geek on, we rode down Pall Mall. There's a bit of traffic here, but it's only a couple of blocks until you can turn left on St James Square and drop your bikes off at the docking station on the east side of the park.  This positioned us perfectly for a walk up Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus.  

As someone who has been to New York several times, Piccadilly Circus is, without a doubt, the "Times Square of London".  Let's just say if you're the type of tourist who thinks Times Square is the best part of New York, I doubt that you've read this far.  Give Piccadilly Circus a pass unless you absolutely, positively have to check it off your bucket list.  We went past it because it happened to be on the way to Soho, a much more interesting part of London.

I could write twenty blog posts about travelling to see them, but both my husband and I are massive Oasis fans - in fact, that's how we met.  So, we found it quite necessary to make the pilgrimage to Berwick Street, site of the famous cover shot for their 1995 "(What's The Story) Morning Glory" album.  The picture was taken between D'Arblay Street and Livonia Street, and some of the shops are still there, particularly Sister Ray & Reckless Records, which makes it a great destination for record shopping as well.  Soho is also a very interesting place to just spend an afternoon or two looking around as there are a lot of interesting shops.  And by 'interesting' I don't mean 'adult' - yes, Soho was the centre of London's red-light district for quite some time, but the adult shops are few and far between now - which also reminds me a bit of Times Square!

Facing south on Berwick Street in Soho

After standing in the busy street like idiots trying to recreate the photo (Berwick Street is busy, and usually has a market running down the middle!) we carried on toward Broadwick Street for another BBC Sherlock photo op.  There's an unassuming tapas restaurant called "Tapas Brindisa", which was the setting for "Angelo's" - where Sherlock and Watson went for dinner in the pilot episode "A Study In Pink".  The inside was redone quite a bit for the shoot, but you'll recognize the hanging lamps if you rewatch the episode.  

Tapas Brindisa - AKA "Angelo's"

From the inside of BBC Sherlock's "Angelo's"

From the inside of BBC Sherlock's "Angelo's"

Across the street is the John Snow pub (NOT named after the Game Of Thrones character) which is worth a mention because it was named after the Londoner who isolated the source of the 1854 cholera outbreak.  They had dug a well for the Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) pump too close to an old cesspit, and he was the doctor who made the correlation between the disease and the dirty water supply.  There is a memorial pump on the NE corner of Broadwick and Poland Streets, but the original pump's location is marked by a red granite slab and a blue plaque on the Broadwick Street side of the pub. As well, cobbled Lexington Street next to the pub was where the taxi was parked in "A Study In Pink" (the view out the window in the screen capture above is down Lexington).  A pretty interesting corner in both modern and Victorian London history!

Carrying on down Broadwick Street to the west, you will eventually intersect Carnaby Street.  Gone is the edgy fashion of the 1960s - the street is now filled with high-end boutiques and big fashion names, but it's still fun to walk down here and imagine the swinging 60s.  Walking north up Carnaby will bring you to the mock-Tudor face of London's famous "Liberty" store.  The architecture is definitely an anachronism.  Liberty is a Victorian-era department store which was THE place to buy clothes - you had to be rich to shop there! The current location and building isn't original - it was built in the 1920s. It is an absolutely gorgeous recreation though - I hope to check it out at night some time!

We didn't come down here to shop, however.  The real attraction was the Argyll Arms pub, just down Argyll Street past the famous London Palladium.  Built in 1742, it's the kind of pub with loads of secret nooks to drink in - there is a lot of beautiful Victorian glasswork and they do an incredible Sunday roast.  When we went it was completely jam packed and they were out of the roast completely - we happened to time our visit right near the turnup of the Christmas lights on Regent Street.  It seemed that every wayward British husband had found his way in here to avoid standing in the road with the wife and kiddies waiting for Santa.  A very good idea that we shared.  We settled for quick half of Nicholson's Porter and Nicholson's Pale Ale - yes, it's a chain pub, but if there's one thing about Nicholson's pubs, they've definitely stepped in to save some of the most historic and beautiful pubs in England so I can't fault them for that.  We went upstairs and had a quick meal of macaroni and cheese that was absolutely delicious - I definitely recommend Nicholson's for a good quality bite to eat when you need one.  It's a bit on the pricey side, but then again in London, so is Nando's. 

Tonight we were set to do a Jack The Ripper Walk from London Walks, but it was pissing down rain.  It wasn't so much that it was pissing down rain, it was more that we were hitting the jetlag wall a week into our trip.  I've usually been lucky enough to escape it in the past, but we felt like staying in at the hotel and having a good rest before our trip to Belgium the next day.  We fell asleep about 5:30pm and woke up to watch "Eight Out Of Ten Cats" later that night.  It made me feel about 67 years old - ha.  I will report on the Jack The Ripper Walk this November when we return to London.  

Coming up - Day 2 - in which we get some more Sherlock sights in as well as Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms, the Ceremony Of The Keys at the Tower Of London and of course a few more unmissable pubs.