Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Favorite London Views

New meets old, Tower of London fronting the London Syline

 Cute London side street, seen from Tower Bridge

 View of London, seen from the London Eye

 View of Big Ben & The House of Parliament, seen from a cruise along the River Thames

 Crossing Tower Bridge

 The London Eye

 Tower Bridge at sunset

Tower of London at sunset

Sunday, September 20, 2015


While in London for a long weekend we stayed at Saba Hotel, located in the Hammersmith district. About 5 minute walk to the HS tube station the hotel, located in zone 2, is a great deal for those either not interested in staying in zone 1 or those who want to save a little money in the hotel department.

The room we selected had room for 3 with 1 full size bed and 1 twin size bed. The room was small but we literally were just there to sleep so it did just fine. The bathroom included a wall in shower and the room had a mini fridge as well. The decor was a bit much in our room but the hotel had a classic, older look to it which I liked.The front desk was always helpful and made checking in and out a breeze. Also near the door were coupons for different excursions and maps. 

The hotel included free wifi and breakfast daily. The times changed depending on if it was a weekend or weekday but each day it was packed so get a table early. There is a buffet of sort to get yogurt, cereal and hot beverages. A woman also came around to take your order of their offerings; eggs, baked beans, toast. Breakfast was served quickly as they tried to accommodate as many quests as possible.

If you are looking for a quiet hotel that is not in the heart of London, I do recommend Saba Hotel. The walk to the tube was easy but we also made the 20 or so minute walk to the Kensington area from there which was also a breeze.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Top 5 things to see and do on a weekend trip to London

We arrived in London on Saturday settling into our hotel just around 2 pm. With a departing flight from Heathrow on Tuesday, we only had a few short days to see as much as we could in a city with tons to do! Here is my top 5 things to see or do when you are in London for a weekend trip!

The London Eye

The views from any position on the London Eye are phenomenal but as you edge closer to the top they get more and more breathtaking! Each pod (there are 32) hold about 25 people. If you arent too keen on heights but want the experience, there is seating in the middle of the pod. With the entire thing being glass (except the floor), you can see any direction for miles. We had amazing weather while in London and the clarity we had was extraordinary.

Big Ben

Before seeing Big Ben & the Parliament Building in person, I never realized how humongous they were. Looking at Big Ben from across the River Thames, you see the beauty but not the grandness. Head across Westminster Bridge and cross the street to view from the rear side of Westminster Abbey. The gold sparkles in the sun, looking completely exquisite. Coming down Whitehall and seeing Big Ben for the for the first time is an experience I will never forget.

                                                                      Tower Bridge

This affordable tour gives you the luxury of spending as much or as little time as you want exploring the details. Take either the stairs or elevator up to an area with a 5 minute film explaining the history of the contest to design the bridge. Afterwards follow to the left to head to the glass floor viewing area. This area allows you to go to both sides of the bridge, with another short history film in between. The entire length of both sides has facts about how much the bridge cost to build, the types of marine life that live in the River Thames and compares other bridges around the world. After you finish the tower, head outside, follow the blue line and make your way to the engine rooms that lift the bridge up and down. Once you complete this part of the tour (optional) you can also head into the gift shop.

Buckingham Palace

By far the neatest tour I have ever taken, from the end of July to mid September you are able to tour the staterooms at HRH The Queens official residence. At the beginning of the tour you are given a headset with a handheld audio/ video guide. Each room or section has a corresponding number to the guide. In this tour you see some of the royal families massive art collection, the different areas that HRH meets Presidents & diplomats, where official state dinners are held. You also get an inside look into how the staff prepares for such large events from the invitations, the menu, as well as different outfits she has worn. The tour takes about an hour or so and ends in the gardens where you can get coffee, tea, ice cream, etc. The garden area and the walk along the exit path is absolutely gorgeous.

                                                           Westminster Abbey

IMO you can not come to London without experiencing all history housed inside Westminster Abbey. Like Buckingham Palace, you are given an audio set to take around at your own pace. Each are is numbered but some of this is a better harder to follow than the Buckingham Palace tour.  You could easily spend the entire day looking at the different leaders, both political and artistic, buried here. The coronations have taken place here since the 1500's as have many weddings, Prince William & Duchess Catherine, and funerals, such as Princess Diana's. There is absolutely no photography allowed inside the abbey which definitely keeps people moving. Some of the spaces are rather tight and some dark. Take your time on this tour, it is worth experiencing as much as you can.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Live From The Lido Deck Does London: Big Bus Tours!

**Prior to our visit to London we were given complimentary passes for the Big Bus London Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours. As always, my opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.

Visiting as much of London as possible in a short 3 day time frame was our goal. The obvious must see attractions were Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and the London Eye. The best way, we thought, to see as much as possible was with a hop on hop off tour so that we could get off at whichever landmark we wanted to see. Both day and night tours are available with over 40 total stops. They offer multiple types of buses, some were fully enclosed on top, some were partially enclosed and others were completely open on top. How do you tell what line the bus you are getting on is? As the bus approaches, take a look at the electronic screen. It will read across red line, blue line, etc. if you have any questions, ask the driver as you get on the bus.  All drivers we encountered were extremely friendly and made sure you were getting to where you needed to go.

                                               An example of the completely open top bus.

We took a lovely walk from our hotel in the Hammersmith District through Kensington and got on at the Kensington Gardens stop (Blue Line). We rode this a couple of stops to the Marble Arch so that we could meet with a BBT employee who could process our vouchers. There are plenty of people here as well as throughout different stops throughout the tour to answer any questions. Our vouchers were for the 48-hour hop on hop off tour which included the night tour, 3 walking tours as well as a free cruise along with River Thames with City Cruises. Once our tickets were processed we hopped on a red line bus, which we rode in its entirety. 

The Red Line tour has less total stops and shares many stops with the Blue Line but I think that the live commentary really added a lot to the tour. Our tour guide was able to tell us small tidbits and funny stories that helped break up some of the historical information. For anyone who doesn’t speak English, they offer a recorded commentary in 12 languages on both the red and blue line. The entire red line loop took about 2 hours.  We also rode the entire blue line, however it was hop on and off over a couple of days. When on the blue line, make sure you pick up your free pack of ear buds as you make your way past the driver and plug into the audio box for your seat to begin listening to the commentary.  Some of the most notable stops are Buckingham Palace, Picadilly Circus, driving through multiple historic districts, crossing London Bridge for your first view of the Tower Bridge and coming up to see Big Ben for first sighting of Big Ben as you approach Westminster Bridge.

                                                  These are the ear buds provided by Big Bus Tours.

Another thing to check of my London Bucket list was to see London at night. Tower Bridge, The London Eye and Big Ben look beautiful all lit up. After a day of sightseeing and shopping we decided to catch the night tour. We were in Picadilly Circus but towards the end so we walked down to the Trafalgar Square stop which is stop #6 on the night tour. This was a mistake. The first bus starts its route at 7:30 and they run every 15-20 minutes. The first bus came and it was packed and by packed I mean there wasn't even standing room. We opted to wait for the next bus and it was unfortunately the same thing. As my goal was to take pictures of everything this was not ideal. From the bottom of the bus the glass reflected so none of my pictures are good. The bus never really thinned out but towards the end we were able to head upstairs. I was disappointed that my pictures did not turn out but I am glad I got to see it. A lot of the time, my boyfriend or whoever I am traveling with, has to remind me to put the camera down and experience what I am taking photographs of.  

On Sunday afternoon we walked down to the Tower Pier after our tour of Tower Bridge. There are two companies that sell river cruises from this pier but you do not have to wait in the queue. Walk to the area where they are checking tickets and the person will highlight your free cruise ticket (found attached to your bus voucher) so that it cannot be used more than once. The boats come by every 30 or so minutes and offer seating up or down stairs. We chose to sit upstairs and member of the crew gave a commentary of the buildings we passed, which was nice and helped pass the time. The boat heads down towards Big Ben, stopping at Westminster Pier before heading across the River Thames to stop at The London Eye Pier. This was our stop, as we wanted to get in the queue for the eye. Had we stayed on however, we would have headed back up the River to the Greenwich Pier and then returned to Tower Pier. Our ride lasted about 20 minutes or so. The tour was nice, the river was not rolling and neither was the boat. If you tend to experience motion sickness with the slightest of movement, consider staying at the bottom. The only disappointment is that they do not go down pass the Parliament Building although they do not advertise that they do so that is not something I can hold against them. I would recommend City Cruises and would like to go back for a night cruise on my next trip. 

For a list of all stops on each type of tour, info on the walking tours, pricing, etc visit their website.
Big Bus Tours offers hop on hop off tours in multiple cities across the world, including many large cities in the United States. Check out their website for all locations and keep a look out for future reviews from me on other cities I visit with them!

For more information on taking a River Thames cruise with City Cruises, check out their website.

Tips for having a successful tour with Big Bus Tours

*If considering the night tour I recommend doing it during the week. We did ours on a Sunday. Also consider starting at the first bus stop for one of the first couple of buses. You can also just take the bus to the area you want to see and get off to take pictures if that is what you are interested in doing. Catch another bus or the tube back to your hotel.

*Look at the map before your trip and have a plan of what you want to see. This is also helpful if you plan to take the BBT buses to get around London as opposed to the Underground. If your hotel is close enough to a stop, this is a good option as there is no limit to the number of times you can hop on or off.  The map is also great because it also shows the closest underground stations, which helped us tremendously with planning our daily activities. 

 *Big Bus Tours also offers an App with all the bus details and route info. I did not use the App as I was on a limited international data plan but more information is available on their website.