In November of this year, I was fortunate enough to travel back to the very first foreign country and city I had ever embarked upon 20 years ago – London, England. I had been wanting to return to London for a long time, but airline tickets were always so expensive. In September, when a random fare sale popped up with a $500 discount on a round-trip to London, I jumped on it. There would be no turkey and pumpkin pie for me. Instead, I would travel back to London, England. Not only was I returning to a city in which I was somewhat familiar, I was also returning to a city where I now I had friends.
I was also really excited that I would be in London at the start of the Christmas holiday season. It’s always exciting to see a city when it transforms itself for the holidays and London would be no different.
REMINDER: Click on any of the pictures to see more detail.
When I began planning my trip, I knew I wanted to be in the center of it all. For London, that’s Piccadilly Circus. Think of it as the Times Square of London with tons of tourists, great shopping, and action all around you. I stayed at the every hotel Piccadilly, a revamped hotel completely modernized for the tourist. The room was spacious and clean. The bed was extremely comfortable (I accidentally slept until 11:30am one day) and the bathroom had a rain shower that I wanted to steal. I also got to check in early on the day I arrived. That’s always bonus points in my book. I would highly recommend the every hotel Piccadilly in Piccadilly Circus and I would certainly stay there again.
I was excited to see that Piccadilly Circus was starting to look like Christmas. Holiday decorations adorned the streets and shops were gearing up for holiday shoppers. However, I must say I was severely disappointed to see that London stores had adopted the American custom of “Black Friday.” It’s quite new there, only two years old, but on some of London’s busiest shopping streets (Regent, Oxford, and Bond Streets), shoppers hustled and bustled with the best of them. I’m told that it was quite wild in its first year and if you know anything about England, its people are quite reserved, so America’s holiday antics were short-lived. It was still busy enough for me to say, “Get me out of here!”
Of course, I did some of the usual tourist destinations when one visits London, including Big Ben and Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Did you know that Queen Elizabeth has a gift shop at Buckingham Palace? YES! Check it out HERE. I’ll admit, some of the gifts are nice, but it IS sort of funny. However, since I had been to London before, I didn’t feel the need to do all of the tourist things. Okay, well one. I’ll get to that later.
However, on this trip, one friend told me to definitely check out Covent Garden, a district on the eastern fringes of London’s West End. To get there, jump on London’s Underground (the subway) and exit Leicester Square tube station. Covent Garden is about a 300 yards walk and a lovely walk it is.
Narrow streets take you back in time and quaint little shops invite you to duck in and out as you make your way between them, but the real jewel of Covent Garden is the Marketplace. All of the name brand stores are here, but so are many mom and pop shops and small vendors with just a table to sell their wares.
Covent Garden was in full Christmas swing from one gorgeous Christmas tree at the center of it all to a giant reindeer ready to fly.
Since I was there at the start of the Christmas season, I knew I had to find something uniquely London that I could bring back as a souvenir for myself and I found it. I love collecting glass Christmas ornaments and I found a vendor selling beautiful ornaments hand-painted on the inside. Those are my favorite because no two are alike.
I bought both of these… £7.50 each, or apx. $11.00. The vendor even customized them for me with the year. Totally worth it and they look fantastic on my tree. Whether you are looking to buy something for yourself or a gift for someone, you will find it in Covent Garden. Make it a must-see when you visit London.
NOW… that one touristy thing I had to do? The Harry Potter Studio Tour. Being a huge fan, I was not about it pass it up. More on that in my next post!
Except where noted, all photos by Hank Mendheim; © 2015 Have Passion Will Travel, LLC