Although I have lived in the UK all my life, I really do feel ashamed that my knowledge of our history is so poor that I cannot even answer the easiest of history questions in TV or Pub Quizzes – it really is that embarrassing! As a result, my friend and I decided that on our trip to London, which we had booked as a belated Xmas gift to us both, we would not only catch a West End show but also brush up on our British history too by being tourists for the day!
After grabbing a croissant & coffee at the station (almost missing the train in the process), our first stop on our tourist trail was to visit Leicester Square to check out the Discount Ticket Booths (such as TKTS) and see what bargains we could get for a West End Show that evening. Obviously, you don’t have to go with this option if you too are looking for theatre tickets, you can always get them in advance from many reputable ticket agencies & websites BUT if you’re looking to save some pennies then I’d definitely suggest heading to the ticket booths in Leicester Square as you can sometimes grab yourself a fabulous saving! There are so many wonderful West End shows to choose from with classics such as Phantom Of The Opera and Les Miserables to recent releases like Legally Blonde, Priscilla, Wizard Of Oz and many more! After much deliberating, we opted for an uplifting show & chose Sister Act as neither of us had seen it before and we had heard rave reviews about it.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Leicester Square is simply a haven for discount theatre tickets, oh no, there are
plenty of bars and restaurants where you can have a relaxing drink and watch the world go by. Grab yourself a Haagan Dazs and if the weather is good you can sit out on the green. Might also be worth checking out the new Planet Hollywood restaurant located in London’s Haymarket to see whether the new location is better than the one in Piccadily Circus. But it’s at night that the Square truly comes alive, you’ll find plenty of street entertainers vying for your attention, caricaturists, dancers, musicians and so much more. A visit to the Square is quite possibly the perfect start to any trip to London whether it’s during the day or at night – there’s something for everyone whatever your interest!
Tower of London
With theatre tickets crossed off the list, our next major decision was to work out where to go to top up our non-existent knowledge of British History. As time was ticking by, we opted for the Tower Of London as neither of us had been there before. We found our way to the Tube (London Underground) and headed to Tower Hill where our journey into Britain’s gory past began! It started with a nice surprise as we got 2 for 1 entry due to us having Travelcards – BONUS! If you haven’t been to the Tower Of London before, like us, then it would be wise to allow yourselves plenty of time to fit in all the attractions on offer. Here is my Top Five of things you must do when visiting the Tower Of London:
1. Yeoman Warder Tours
Personally this was the best part of the visit to the Tower Of London as the Yeomans (or Beefeaters as they are fondly known) brought the history of the Tower to life with their tales of imprisonment, executions, tortures and much more. We were amazed to find out that the majority of hangings actually took place on Tower Hill and not in the Tower itself. Also, that the executions in the grounds of The Tower took place on Tower Green and were reserved for members of royalty and other peers who had betrayed the ruling party. As you are guided around the grounds, your Yeoman Warder will fill you with little titbits of history such as re-enacting the day when Anne Boleyn was executed to providing theories as to what happened to the ‘Two Princes In The Tower’ which will leave you wondering whether King Richard III actually killed his two nephews or not. The tour finishes with the opportunity to have your photo taken with a Beefeater and ask any other questions you may have.
2. The Ravens
Anyone who visits The Tower Of London must make sure that they
see the famous Ravens on their visit to the Tower Of London. Did you know that it was the superstitions of King Charles II that led to the ravens being protected as he thought that the Kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever left the fortress! To prevent the ravens from ever leaving the Tower, each bird has one of its wings clipped. Also, there are seven ravens in total – one spare, I guess, in case another goes walkabout!
3. The Crown Jewels
No visit to the Tower Of London would be complete without taking a sneaky peek at this amazing collection of priceless Coronation Regalia that includes the Imperial State Crown which alone has 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies – with all these jewels glistening away, it might be wise to take your sunglasses when you view them!
4. The White Tower
This Tower was built by William The Conqueror to terrify Londoners and to deter foreign invaders. Nowadays, it is one of the most famous Castle keeps in the world and is an iconic symbol of London. It is in The White Tower where you can not only see the magnificent armour worn by King Henry VIII, but you can try out the gauntlet, lift a musket, draw a bow and handle a sword if you want to. The tower is also home to the beautiful Chapel of St John The Evangelist considered by many as one of the best examples of Anglo-Norman church architecture. 5. Tower Green Pay homage to those people that died here by order of the State by visiting Tower Green and see the glass memorial that marks the spot where many faced execution. The best-known historical figures to be executed here are the three Queens of England: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey. Did you know that Anne Boleyn was executed by one clean stroke of an expert swordsman yet Margaret Pole was less fortunate – a blundering executioner apparently hacked her head and shoulders to pieces – yyuuuuccckkk!
Thames River Cruise
After getting spooked by the gruesome tales and braving the torture chamber at the Tower Of London, tummies were rumbling so it was time to find somewhere to eat. As it was such a gorgeous sunny day, the thoughts of hopping aboard the Tube again to get back to Piccadilly Circus really didn’t appeal! For fun, we opted for a Thames River Cruise as the last time we did one of these was on a school outing (many, many years ago). Although we were not purposely trying to save money on our day out in London, we managed to get a discount on the Thames River Cruise too – saving £5 each because of our Travelcards – what a great investment that was! I would certainly recommend cruising The Thames if you get the chance as not only is it a relaxing experience, the friendly crew also provide a little commentary during the trip pointing out various places of interest and providing historic tales along the way to Westminster. The cruise only lasts for about 15 minutes but there are perfect photo opportunities as you enjoy views of many of London’s iconic landmarks; St Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, the Mayor Of London’s Office, The Gherkin, Tower Bridge, The London Eye, Houses Of Parliament and so much more.
It has to be said that London lives up to its reputation of being the cosmopolitan capital of the UK as it provides
eateries to suit all tastes from curries to Chinese, steaks to spag bol – you’ll find something to tickle your tastebuds when your tummy is rumbling. Deciding where to eat adds to the fun and checking out the menus can sometimes leave you salivating for more. Throughout the day we had been fancying a steak dinner, but somehow we ended up in TGI Fridays instead – perhaps the call of those Mojito cocktails was just too powerful to ignore!
Time flies by when you’re having fun and before long we were power-walking up Regent Street (as we were running a little late) on the look out for the London Palladium. Fortunately we got to the theatre with just enough time to buy a programme and request our drinks for the interval. I think this is where the Mojitos finally spoke as my friend and I thought it would be a great idea for each of us to order a large glass of red wine and a bottle of water – madness I hear you cry! I wish I had heard that at the time because if we’d known the bill would come to £18.00 then I think we would have changed our minds but in a way I’m glad we didn’t as it was the best red wine I had ever tasted!
We took our seats and the show began. I don’t want to spoil the show for you but if you’re lucky enough to see Sister
Act when it is on Broadway (the show has now ended in London) then you’re in for a fabulous night. Patina Miller who plays ‘Delores Van Cartier’ is amazing and has such a powerful voice that it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up especially when she sang ‘Sister Act’. Ian Lavender was superb as ‘Monsignor Howard’ throwing in a few elements of ‘Pike’ (his character in the TV series Dads Army) into his performance. We were also very lucky to have Simon Webbe (from boyband ‘Blue’) in the cast and he played the baddie ‘Shank’. The highlight of the show for me personally has to be Sheila Hancock who played ‘Mother Superior’ – she was fabulous. Unbeknown to us, until the very end of the show, we found out that it was her final performance by which point there was a standing ovation that seemed to last forever – we raised the roof off that place! Sister Act has quite easily entered my Top 5 of favourite West End musicals as it is one of the most uplifting shows that I have ever been to and I left the theatre with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step!
*Sister Act has now finished its run in London’s West End but you will be able to catch the show on Broadway if you’re on holiday in New York City.