“There’s no way we’re going to the UK. Not enough time, and not enough money.”
Well, we said those exact words in 2015 for the Galapagos and we ended up on a last minute cruise through those islands. It ended up being the same for England.
With the burning desire to see Stonehenge, and with ferry tickets being surprisingly affordable, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to visit England as long as we limited our stay to keep our budget on track. We also had run out of propane at this point because no one outside of Germany would fill our German propane tanks, and our only sensible option for future propane fills was to install a refillable LPG tank (only readily available in England). That’s a whole other story I’ll explain in another post. In any case, I quickly learned that taking the ferry instead of the tunnel from France to England with the RV was significantly cheaper, and ferry tickets on a weekday between 10am-3pm even more so. I booked round trip ferry tickets with a departure on Friday morning and a return on Wednesday morning, totaling £100.45 ($143.58)—much cheaper than our ferry ride to Vancouver Island!
So off we went to England!
About 2 hours later, the white cliffs of Dover steadily came into view.
Soon we were on the road! Driving on the left side of the road with a left-hand drive vehicle? I wasn’t driving and even I was stressed out.
Unfortunately our first day in England was centered around propane and other RV logistics in Canterbury, so I’ll fast forward to the next day which involves finding parking, getting into London, and finally sightseeing.
Many European major cities enforce a “low emission zone,” prohibiting older and environmentally unfriendly vehicles from entering. Vehicles caught driving within the low emission zone would be fined. London’s low emission zone was surprisingly huge—while Munich’s low emission zone only required a 20-minute commute from the outer radius, London’s required a minimum of 1 hour! It was time to get creative. Thanks to Google street view and online zone maps, I found nonresidential street parking not too far from Surbiton station. There, we secretly car camped in the residential streets.
By late Saturday morning we arrived to the streets of London, which to our surprise, reminded us of San Francisco. No other major European city was as littered, reeked of urine, scattered with homeless people, and lacked quaint bakeries. Other than the language, I hadn’t expected England to be as culturally similar to the U.S. especially since it was so famously enriched with history. It felt…like home! =)
Despite its similarities to home, we still found all the sites that made the city London. Our native British friends told us to quickly skim through the city center and immediately leave. It was no wonder why—hoards of tourists filled every inch of the street surrounding Buckingham Palace, the Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. We took the obligatory shots and quickly left.
Red phone booths, red double decker buses, and a penny farthing:
Trafalgar Square, hosting a St. Patrick’s Day festival:
Buckingham Palace and a distant guard:
Westminster Abbey, which was unfortunately closed for a private event:
The Parliament, which looked much more magnificent in the evening:
Crossing the Golden Jubilee Bridge with the London Eye in the distance:
Delicious fish and chips, of course:
Slightly north from the center lies the nation’s largest museum, the British Museum. Amazingly enough many of London’s incredible museums offer free admission, including this one. Though a half-day could easily be squandered at the British Museum, we only dropped in for one relic: the Rosetta Stone.
On the other side of the Thames River, tourists and locals alike seem to enjoy the lengthy South Bank. Despite the joggers, the lively combination of street performers, street food vendors, a merry-go-round, and the London Eye give the South Bank a taste of a carnival or fair.
Further up along the South Bank lies the Shakespeare Globe Theater:
The beautiful Millennium Bridge:
And last but not least, the Tower Bridge:
Crossing the Tower Bridge immediately took us along the 11th century Tower of London:
North of the Tower Bridge was the lovely Spitafield Market, excellent on the weekend. I highly recommend dropping in.
And even further east along the Thames River is the green and lovely neighborhood of Greenwich. I specifically sought out Greenwich for afternoon tea, and Chris, the Prime Meridian.
Perched atop the hill at Greenwich Park are the Royal Observatory, one of the first magnetic clocks, and more interestingly, the prime meridian. Although the line marking the prime meridian was bare bones, crowds still surrounded the famous line separating east and west.
We came to Greenwich for one main reason—afternoon tea! Hotels, restaurants, and cafés offer a “London tea experience” of all types. From pretentious white-collar hotels to lower key casual teashops and restaurants, there are numerous tea experiences to choose from. Some even require advance booking! I was able to find a quaint little teashop for an affordable price at The Fan Museum that allowed walk-ins on Saturdays from 12pm-4pm. With a £4 entry fee to the museum, one can indulge in afternoon tea in the museum’s tearoom known as The Orangery for £7. An a la carte menu exists, yet we both opted for the tea set consisting of tea, scones with clotted cream (incredible!) and jam, sponge cake, and a brownie or lemon square.
Clearly there’s loads to do in London, almost overwhelmingly so. With the diverse blend of history and modern-day city, a typical tourist day in London bounces from humbling educational experiences to city luxuries and indulgences. English pubs and shopping boutiques are scattered between ancient castles and churches, making one travel back in time one moment and return to the 21st century the next. But perhaps the experience we appreciated the most was the ability to speak and understand the language of the land again, with the only difference being the charming British accent.