Always short on vacation time, my travels often unfold like speed dates. I’ll typically spend one or two days in a city and then quickly move on to the next destination, hoping to pack in as much sightseeing as I can. The pace of a trip like that can wear you out, and that’s why my recent visit to London was such a treat. I was fortunate to spend seven full days in the city, exploring every corner of its greatness.
Although Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the British Museum and other top spots are not to be missed, my two favorite London experiences to date have occurred in the suburbs. For anyone traveling to London, whether for a week or a weekend, these destinations are worth the added Tube time:
The Wonder of Wimbledon: I’ve been a fan of professional tennis for as long as I can remember, so it was a bucket list experience for me to visit the All England Club, where the Wimbledon Championships have been held annually since 1877. In the tennis world, Wimbledon is the granddaddy of them all. Lucky for us the Championship was taking place during our trip. And because we’re not so good about planning ahead, we were even luckier to be able to get inside the grounds during the semi-final men’s match, with the great Roger Federer on centre court and fan favorite Andy Murray in the house. Although match tickets were going for $1,000 or more during the final stages of the Championship — well beyond our budget — a grounds admission pass, priced at roughly $31.00, allowed us to see all of the action on the big screen just outside court one.
We sat on beach towels on a grassy slope, viewing the match while sipping on Pimms (the cocktail of choice in the summer in Great Britain) in solidarity with the masses. It was an experience like no other. But whether the tournament is in play or not, the grounds are open year round and worth seeing. If you’ve watched the Championship broadcast through the years like I have, you’ll get chills as you tour the stadium. There’s even a Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum on site — the largest tennis museum in the world. Logistics: It took us about 30 minutes on the Tube to get to Wimbledon. Then, to purchase our tickets, we waited in an orderly “queue” for about 15 minutes — all very painless on a beautiful summer day. It’s worth noting that we attended the tournament on a Friday, so I imagine that the weekend traffic is quite a bit heavier.
Botanical Beauty in Kew: People are drawn to London mostly because of its history. Museums, bridges, cathedrals – that’s what you expect to see (and what you should see). But what you might not know is that the gardens of London are also world class. In search of greenery, we started with a walking tour of the Kensington Palace Gardens. They were picture perfect, even during a summer rain shower. But for those who want to see London landscapes at their best, a cruise up the River Thames to the Royal Botanical Gardens in the suburb of Kew is a must. We purchased a river cruise ticket only minutes before our departure at the dock just outside of Westminster Abbey. The ride was dreamy, offering exceptional views of Big Ben and the House of Parliament — right from the water.
As we headed toward Kew, the massive city structures gave way to quaint cottages and inns lining the banks. From the dock in Kew it’s about a 10-minute walk to the gardens. Inside, you’ll see the iconic Palm House first. It’s a spectacular Victorian structure made of iron and glass and built to support a rainforest climate for palms and other tropical species. Overall, what got us fired up the most was the collection of trees from around the world – cypress, pine, juniper, oak, eucalyptus and more. As Californians, we were thrilled to find a Redwood grove.
Although you could devote days to the Botanical Gardens, which spans 326 acres, we saw what we wanted to see in an afternoon. And instead of taking the boat on the return, we took the Tube, as it allowed us to make a beeline for our beautiful Airbnb apartment in Knightsbridge. If you have extra time, explore the 18th Century village of Kew, where cricket is still played. Once again, we had some luck: as we entered the village a cricket match was in full swing — fun to see! Costs: The Gardens entrance fee is roughly $17.00 for adults. The river cruise was about $16.00 one way on Thames River Boats.
If people watching is your thing, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park are magical places to pass the time, especially during the long days of summer. I also enjoyed browsing my way through the shops in Portobello Market.
With one week of touring available to us, I feel like we saw just about everything we came to London to see. Next time I go to England, I’ll know my way around London for sure. And for that reason alone, saying goodbye to the “speed dating” approach to travel definitely paid off.
Check out the gallery below for more photos.