London catches the eye and heart of nearly every traveller that ventures within – it’s up there with New York City; vibrant, exciting and full of history, but with the added bonus of being an easy point of entry to the rest of Europe. It would seem that London offers something to practically everyone…
“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
– Samuel Johnson
Having spent just spent four nights in London (and having visited six months ago for the first time), I’ve come away with a fresh reminder of how fantastic this vivacious English city is. I am by no means an expert on the city, rather I feel we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what London offers, but we would like to share our mini itinerary with you in the hopes that it might help you plan your first visit to this fabulous place.
All of the following activities and locations are within easy reach of one another and manageable within a day. This post is not designed as an all-inclusive list, but a starting point for you to build a fabulous day or two in the capital. If you’re looking for more advice and details about how you could spend your time there, I suggest you check out my friend, Sara’s blog – Big World, Small Me (she’s a Kiwi living in London and is a total expert on the city).
It’s also worth noting that we caught the train and got off at London Bridge which is an easy 3 minute stroll down to our starting point, the Borough Markets. Depending on where you’re staying, you may like to reverse or play with the order of this itinerary. Have fun making it work for you for!
Whatever your culinary inclination, get yourself to the Borough Markets when you’re visiting London! These markets are full of life and excitement and the smells that emanate from the stalls are mind blowing. It feels like there’s almost every type of delicious food on offer here that you could hope for.
We tucked into the most delicious Malaysian chicken curry and followed it up with a beautifully chewy piece of chocolate brownie for dessert and wandered about admiring all of the amazing looking kai (Māori for ‘food’) on offer.
The stand out of the markets for me though are the incredible doughnuts made by Bread Ahead. Last time I was in London my friend suggested we hunt them down and on this return trip, I did exactly that again. We tried both the salted caramel honeycomb and the vanilla bean custard doughnuts and though they were both fantastic, it’s really worth mentioning the salted caramel flavour; it was incredible. Nathan doesn’t normally go crazy for sweets like I do but when he’s happy to return to the markets again to stock up on these treats, you know you’re onto a winner!
The Borough Markets are open every day (with the exception of Sunday), with their main days of operation being Wednesday to Saturday. To get there by train/tube, get off at the London Bridge station, on either the Northern or Jubilee lines. Ensure getting there is on the top of your list – you won’t be disappointed.
London Bridge and Tower Bridge
From the Borough Markets, it’s an easy walk to the London Bridge and Tower Bridge, both spanning the River Thames. The London Bridge isn’t much to look at but has a long-standing historical importance and gives a great view of the Tower Bridge, my favourite of the two. Numerous times a day the Tower Bridge raises it’s gangways and though we didn’t manage to catch it doing so, it would be worth trying to time your visit if you can (you’ll find the timetable here).
Whilst you’re in the area, you may also like to head inside the Tower of London (£25 each) to soak up the brutal history of London and to spot the crown jewels. If it floats your boat, you can also board the HMS Belfast as you make your way from London Bridge to the Tower Bridge. Be sure to spin around and check out the towering glass building known as The Shard – if you have time, you can relax with a drink at the top whilst you enjoy panoramic views of the city too.
After you’ve soaked up the sights by the Thames, jump on the tube at Tower Hill and make your way to Westminster. From this point you’ll have access to a plethora of iconic landmarks all within an easy walk of one another.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Perhaps one of the most iconic old landmarks in London (and my favourite), Big Ben is even more impressive in person. The famous clock town joins the Houses of Parliament and both buildings have an incredible amount of shimmering gold detailing; the workmanship in both is amazing and certainly worth a visit.
Across the road from the Houses of Parliament is one of the most recognisable churches in the world. The detailing on Westminster is remarkable and its history even more so. The church is over one thousand years old and has strong ties to the English monarchy – every royal Coronation since 1066 has taken place here and it has provided the backdrop to no less than sixteen royal weddings. To learn more about the history of this stunning place of worship, you might like to check out their website (there’s far too much to do justice in this single post).
Ten Downing Street
“Number Ten” is home to the serving Prime Minster, but don’t head over expecting to catch a glimpse of David Cameron! As you would expect, the entrance to this famous address is heavily guarded and protected by indestructible gates. Regardless though, it is worth swinging past as you head to the palace. Whilst we were there the guards were surprisingly friendly and willing to pose for a selfie or two – if you’d like a shot with a traditionally dressed (and heavily armed) English policeman, this could be the spot to do so.
Buckingham Palace and Surrounds
Just down the road from Ten Downing Street, you’ll find the Horse Guards Parade to your left (look out for the mounted guards, you can’t miss them). If you turn through this building, you’ll stumble into St James’s Park before finding yourself at the gates of Buckingham Palace.
We spent a good half hour slowly wandering through St James’s Park, spotting squirrels, geese, swans and all manner of local birds. There’s nothing like a good park in the middle of a city and this is one that’s definitely worth spending some time in.
At the end of the park, you’ll find the infamous Buckingham Palace. Once a day (or every second day in the off-season) you can catch the changing of the guards; an opportunity to glimpse into royal tradition and culture.
London is a fabulous city regardless of the time of year and a perennial favourite amongst travellers.
For those of you have have visited or lived in the city before – are there any must-sees in these areas? What other parts of London would you recommend paying a visit to?
Have another day to spare? We’d definitely recommend jumping on a train and heading out to Thorpe Park, London’s premier theme park. Read more about each of the rides and our review here.
We woke yesterday morning to pouring rain in London City – though we were led to believe summer had started, it seems someone missed the memo. Regardless, we donned our gear and set off for Thorpe Park on the outskirts of London; no amount of rain was going to stop us from checking out their coasters!
Thorpe Park is the closest theme park to the capital and makes for a great day trip out of the hustle and bustle, offering something for those new to the theme park experience right through to hardened adrenaline junkies. We initially considered making the trek out to Alton Towers but decided on Thorpe Park based on positive reviews online and the closer proximity to the city – having then spoken with others inside the park, it became clear that we made the right choice.
The Main Event – Roller Coasters at Thorpe Park
The park is based around a number of large, world-class rollercoasters and is supplemented by dozens of smaller thrill rides, water rides and family rides. It was of course the big coasters that drew us in though, and those same coasters that will see us return again. For the purpose of this review, I’m going to break down our thoughts on each of the main coasters. Hold on tight…
The clear favourite of the day for us! We rode the Swarm back-to-back three times and only moved on because we thought we’d better give some of the other rides another go. The theming in and around this coaster completely immerses you; unsure of what’s caused the destruction, multiple explosions have been noticed within Thorpe Park and chaos fills the park (or so the theming, fictitious news reports and sound effects would have you believe).
The coaster itself is a towering charcoal structure that guides riders, perched either side of the tracks, legs dangling, through countless twists and turns. The ride is incredibly smooth and picks up tremendous pace through the loop, treating rides to both positive and negative g-forces throughout. The Swarm features a number of ‘close calls’ where you weave in and under a variety of debris – under a plane wing, through a billboard, right past a crashed helicopter – all adding to the thrill of the ride. Alongside the quick pace, The Swarm plays upon your nerves by putting you through a number of turns at a painfully slow pace (painful being a relative term, I love the anticipation!), the most notable of which, the slow barrel roll at the top of the first drop – not for the faint of heart, this first inversion sets the scene for the rest of the rollercoaster.
In our opinion, The Swam rivals the big players in the U.S – this ride alone warrants the trip to Thorpe Park from London! Do yourself a favour and check it out if you’re in the United Kingdom.
As you enter Thorpe Park, Stealth will probably be the first coaster to catch your eye. It towers over the others and is amongst the fastest in Europe (reach speeds of 130km/h) – a lethal combination. The ride itself is themed after a retro drag race, with everything from the queue to the cars themselves matching this style.
Once riders are ready to depart the loading bay, the countdown begins and the starting lights begin to change. Before you know it, you’re blasted off the starting line and headed for the mountain of track laid out ahead of you.
The most impressive part of this coaster is without doubt the incredible acceleration. Using powerful electromagnets, riders are shot from 0 to 80 miles an hour in under two seconds – an amazing rush!
Though we loved this ride, if we were to be critical, we would have liked for the coaster to continue on a bit longer. We’ve ridden a similar track in Los Angeles that raced up the big hill and the continued over a sweeping corner and through a couple of air-time inducing camel humps, whereas Stealth hit the breaks soon after the main hill. With that said, the acceleration and massive track rise are the main appeals of a ride like this and Stealth definitely delivered in these areas.
Stealth was our third favourite coaster of the day, only marginally behind…
Set within a tropical volcano, Nemesis Inferno didn’t excite us much on first view, but with time on our side, we decided to give it a go and we were incredibly pleased we did! This coaster which drops into the first sweeping bend right out of the station and blasts you directly into the mist-enveloped volcano, ended up being one of our favourite rides of the day. Riders are suspended beneath the tracks and weave in and out of the tracks themselves. Again, this coaster is beautifully smooth and quick with a series of inversions.
Apparently the ride has gotten better with age, picking up speed after the first few seasons it ran – it has matured into a fantastic coaster. It was so good that we rode Nemesis Inferno twice and could have very happily continued on but of course the other rides were calling out.
Saw – The Ride
We’d never had the opportunity to ride a coaster like Saw and for this reason, it was probably the ride I was most excited to try out. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this ride, it includes a vertical lift hill (that’s right, it takes you directly to the top) and then brings you back in for a ‘beyond vertical’ drop of 100 degrees.
The theming inside Saw is fantastic; eerie music, text scrawled across stained wooden walls and the iconic creepy puppet all work together to help set the scene for this unique ride.
Eight at a time, guests are loaded into the small coaster cars and ride into the dark part of the ride. A surprisingly big drop into the darkness (my favourite moment of the ride) is followed up by a slow corkscrew inversion – the kind the leaves you hanging right out of your seat. As you come back into daylight, you’re confronted with the terrifying lift hill. Surprisingly, we both found the lift hill to be scarier than the drop on the other side of it.
Racing around the rest of the track, Saw has a number of inversions that it completes at speed. We were a little surprised by this ride as the portion after the drop wasn’t as smooth as Nemesis Inferno or The Swarm, but the first half of the ride warranted a second ride on it.
As we were loading onto Saw for the first time, both Nathan and I experienced a good dose of nerves – something that many others face on a great scale so it would seem. Both times we rode, the ride had to be temporarily halted for ‘essential cleaning’… our suggestion, try to settle your nerves and don’t have a big lunch and then jump on Saw!
This is a coaster that seems to divide opinions amongst riders – people seem to either love it or hate it. When it was first opened in 2002, Colossus had the most inversions of any rollercoaster in the world; an impressive 10 inversions that twists and turns riders along it’s lengthy track.
Colossus is quick but over the years has apparently changed the way it rides (which is not uncommon) – whilst come coasters get better with age (Nemesis Infero, we’re looking at you), we found Colossus to lack the smoothness that the other rollercoasters at Thorpe Park provide.
It does however have a nice little surprise at the end where the track twists counter-clockwise catching first-time riders off guard. Colossus also has a long track that seems to keep going and going – whether this is a blessing or a curse, we’ll leave you to decide.
I don’t doubt that this coaster was amazing when it first opened – it was ground breaking and the start of Thorpe Park’s foray into massive thrills. The ride has a cult following and there are plenty of riders that absolutely love it! With that said though, it is a polarising ride and that fact that neither of us felt inclined to ride it again suggests it wasn’t a favourite of ours.
The Rest of the Park
Thorpe Park offers a lot more than just roller coasters (I’m assured there are some people that aren’t keen on them?!) so whether you’re travelling with younger theme-park-goers or need a break in between the big rides, there are plenty of options to keep you entertained.
We didn’t venture onto the water rides as it was wet enough already but on a warm summers day, they would be the perfect way to cool down (and there are enough of them to ensure you’re not stuck waiting in a long line). If you’ve got a young family, be sure to take your swimming gear too as there are some great little water slides and a couple of large (but shallow) pools designed to look like a beach which will help keep the kids busy.
The most exciting new addition to the park, Derran Brown’s Ghost Train, was tantalisingly close but just out of reach for us. During our visit technical rehearsals had begun but by the time we’d realised the ride was open, it was closed again to iron out a couple of issues. We knew the ride hadn’t officially opened yet but had hoped to sneak a peek at this innovative new offering – unfortunately for us, it wasn’t meant to be.
There’s very little that’s been made public about this ride (which makes sense) but from what I understand, it’s a combination of an indoor coaster, virtual reality, special effects and interactions from live actors. It sounds like an incredibly unique ride, certainly unlike anything we’ve experienced to date.
If you manage to ride Ghost Train, we’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts!
We were pleasantly surprised both by the quality and price of the food and drinks being sold around the park. Some of our past theme park experiences have left us wanting when it comes to food, and have resulted in us practically taking out a second mortgage to pay for it! This wasn’t the case at Thorpe Park though.
For less than £7 we shared a meal of potato wedges and pulled BBQ pork (yum!), with coleslaw and a drink – you’ll find the pulled meats next to The Swarm, to the right of the park. We also noticed Mexican, Italian, Burger King and KFC onsite to name just a few.
You’re able to take your own food and drink into the park too, so if you are travelling on a budget or have special dietary requirements, Thorpe Park has you covered. It was so refreshing to visit a theme park that wasn’t trying to nickel and dime you every step of the way!
Getting from London City to Thorpe Park
The park is easily accessible via public transport and of course offers onsite parking for those of you that would prefer to drive out to Surrey.
If you do decide to catch the train (which we’d recommend), take a look at Plan a Journey or Google Maps to help determine your best route. We caught a train from Streatham Common (near where we’re staying) and transferred at Clapham Junction onto a South West train headed towards Reading. We got off after 4 stops, at the Staines station and were then directed to bus 950 which was clearly labelled for Thorpe Park (and took about 15mins to get to the park). The bus was £3.70 per adult return and had a variety of return times throughout the day – in the last few hours of the park being open, the buses run on continuous loops so you’ll be guaranteed a timely connection. It also runs for an hour after closing, so if you would really like to maximise your time there, you can.
It is worth nothing that if you have an Oyster Card (the public transport card in London), it will get you as far as the stop before Thorpe Park… we weren’t quite sure what to do when the message came over the loud speaker, explaining that the Oyster Card wouldn’t be accepted at the next stop but got off and spoke to one of the station attendants, explaining our confusion. She very kindly let us through at Staines and when we returned, we just purchased the cheapest fare (which was just shy of £3 each) to ensure we were covered to get us one station along, after which point our Oyster Card kicked in again.
What Ticket Should I Buy?
If you’re planning a trip to Thorpe Park, try to buy your tickets online a week or more before your intended visit. If you’re able to get in at least seven days prior, you’ll only pay £27.99 (per adult), whereas giving 1-4 days notice will bump your price up slightly to £30.99 and buying at the gate will be £51.50. With savings like that, it’s definitely worth getting in their earlier if you’re able to.
Of course, if you’d rather wait to judge the weather on the day or decide on a spontaneous visit, you can pick up tickets at the gate.
We’d also highly recommend adding some ‘fastrack’ tickets to your normal entry ticket. The pricing at Thorpe Park is very competitive so we’d suggest putting a little extra towards beating the queues, especially if you’re planning a weekend visit to the park. For only £32.99 you’ll get both your entry ticket and a fastrack pass to use on a ride of your choice. To learn more about the different fastrack options, check out the details on Thorpe Park’s website – the more fastracks you have, the more you’ll benefit from multiple rides on the big coasters.
What If It’s Raining? Is it Still Worth Visiting Thorpe Park?
Though we considered postponing our day at the park due to rain, we made the decision to go ahead with our visit. When faced with the choice of getting wet but spending less time waiting in lines, or the potential of better weather the next day but contending with weekend queues, we decided we’d rather don a poncho and get on with it.
Having spent a little time in London now, we’re starting to understand just how changeable (and sometimes rubbish) the weather here can be… showers sometimes turn quickly into downpours but on the day of our visit they disappeared as quickly as they came.
We would definitely visit again in the rain – many of the lines have trees and structures to help shelter guests from the rain (and sun on the odd occasion that it comes out) and the benefits of shorter lines far outweighed the discomfort of getting a little wet. We were there to have fun and a little rain wasn’t going to stop that!
If you do decide to go ahead and prebook your tickets online, Thorpe Park offer a ‘rain guarantee‘ which is worth checking out.
We had an awesome day at Thorpe Park and would highly recommend it to others that enjoy theme parks. It isn’t the biggest park that we’ve ever been to but it does offer a great selection of rides, big thrills, great theming and good food, all at affordable prices – all in all, a great option for an exciting day out!
Thank you to Thorpe Park for hosting us, we had a fantastic, adrenaline-filled day!