“I want to see Hamlet”…”Well okay.”…”In London.”…”Why in London?”…”Because Benedict Cumberbatch!” Not exactly her words but I think you get the basic idea why we had(!) to go on a 4-days short trip to London.
TL;DR: Theatre great, Rugby Worldcup great, Museum great, but overcrowded and expensive.
Good old Shakespeare at the Barbican in London, how classy can it get? As I’m not such a big fan of typical tourism stuff and I get easily annoyed by crowded places, this trip had some surprises for me to offer.
It’s all about the money
Summing it all up the most difficult and expensive part for us was to get accommodation in London for a reasonable price.
Flights to major cities in Europe can be quite cheap these days, so why not go and see Hamlet in London? Tickets for the Barbican were not that expensive. I believe it was ~40 or 50€ each. Okay, they were sold out pretty fast because Benedict Cumbertach was to be the lead actor. Thus we could have sold each ticket easily for 250,00€ on Ebay.
My girlfriend found the Horse and Stables, a hostel only 5-10min on foot away from Westminster Bridge, London Eye and Big Ben. It had very good reviews and really great pricing for the rooms. Less than 40,00€ per Person and night including breakfast and discounts at the H&S Pub, by far the best offer we found.Outside the Horse and Stables
We spend about 359,00€ total each for 4 days and three nights including train tickets, flight, accomodation and entry fees. And our flight was a bit expensive I think. If you’re lucky you can get to London much cheaper, but as always we had no luck there.
To fly or not to fly
Being early for your flight can be very important. Even if you have to get up at 3:30 am! We arrived about 2 h before the scheduled take-off and it was an utter chaos at the airport. It started with a huge queue at our counter. The flight attendants were leaving one after the other until there were only 2 open counters left. One additional flight attendant was walking the queue up and down calling for passengers to…well I don’t know but it wasn’t London. Every other flight was called except ours to London Gatwick. We started wondering and asking around for some info. The problem seemed to be that the whole plane was all of a sudden booked for the symphonic orchestra of Vienna!
As a result we had to take the next flight and our trip started already over 1 hour later and now to Heathrow, not Gatwick as planned. At least that’s what we thought. When we finally arrived at the gate and waited for boradning, the flight got postponed for 10min…20min…30min…and in the end I don’t know how long we had to wait till the plane was there.
Funny but true story told by the pilot before take-off: ‘The plane was missing and the pilots had to search for it.’ It was scheduled for maintenance and the team just ‘forgot’ to put it back out of the hangar after the inspection.
Hilarious, Germanwings, really thanks for the laughs.
It’s Rugby World Cup
Long story short, we finally we arrived at the Horse and Stables in London at lunch time. There were immediately confronted with something that was just not really present in Germany: It is Rugby World Cup!
The pub was decorated with flags of the competing nations, with little All Blacks jerseys all over the place and you could watch the games basically everywhere. Not only in this pub but everywhere in London as we found out later. This was so cool. We’ve not really been into Rugby before. In retrospective I have to say we came for Hamlet and really enjoyed Rugby too.
After a meal and a couple of beers we already felt welcome and a bit like home. Speaking of beers, this was so much better than back home where you get only the typical TV beers in the pubs. And only one or two of them and not a couple to choose from. The variety at the Horse and Stables was very decent with some really good beers on tap. Which can be said about most pubs in the UK I think. It is just awesome how the bars look and how you’re able to try out new drinks.A typical Pub
Start the London Expeditions
After lunch our room was ready. The only ‘couples room’ by the way, all the others are for 4 to 6 people. Small and kinda old, not the cleanest room I’ve ever been too and apart from a chair nothing to put your clothes in or on. But to be fair it was in the middle of London for a reasonable price.
Washing rooms had to be shared with a total of 24 guests if I recall it correctly and not all were fully functional. Nothing you couldn’t handle, we are used to festivals. But if you’re more into privacy and having your own washing room, a hostel in London might not be yours.
Tourist stuffWestminster Birdge
With our cameras ready we walked to the Thames and spend some hours there doing basic tourist stuff. Taking photos near the Thames seems to be in fact very popular with married couples from China, Japan or Korea (sorry it is hard to tell for us Europeans). Not only did we see several fully dressed brides with their grooms, no they all seemed to have brought professional photographers.Bride and Groom at Thames
Our feet got tired and we decided to get onto one of the Thames ferries which got us to the Tower (of London) and the Tower Bridge. It was sometimes a bit hard to enjoy the great old buildings with so many people around, but what else to expect?On the Tower Bridge
Nevertheless especially the Tower was a spectacular sight.
When the sun went down it got pretty windy that close to the water and we decided to head back to our hostel and call it a day. It was nice to see that all along the Thames the after work hours began with several people in suits and fancy dresses occupying the cafés and restaurants having a drink or two and spending the evening together.
You wouldn’t see this much in Germany I think most people try to get home as early as possible after work because of kids and family and what not. Of all the countries I’ve been to it seems that only we Germans tend to have this culture of strictly cutting off work and spare time.
Time for History and Education
On our second day we got up early and headed straight for the Natural History Museum. As I’m not such a big fan of museums I had mixed feelings going there. And as my main interest was taking photos I would have chosen to spend the day elsewhere. But I dragged my girlfriend through ‘the wilderness of Sweden‘ for our last vacation and it was just fair to do what she was excited about this time.
As we arrived early we got us some breakfast and enjoyed the view at some of the really beautiful buildings all around the place.
More cultural differences
At a traffic light we had kind of a funny incident. You might have come across the term ‘Germans don’t jaywalk’, which of course is not true for everyone in Germany, but compared to the UK or other countries I’ve been to, you could really say that we seem to be the only ones to stop at a red light.
Being in London it was very nice that they had drawn arrows on the ground pointing in the direction you had to look out for a car (stupid tourists used to drive on the wrong side right?).
We just followed everyone else just looking out for cars and not really paying attention to the lights. All of a sudden there was a police man on a motorcycle, stopping right in front of us yelling something that we didn’t quite get due to him wearing a helmet. ‘Well that’s it, busted’ we thought. But no, he was only preventing us from crossing to make way for a convoy of a diplomat or politician coming through.
Lesson learned: Even if you do get caught jaywalking, nobody seems to care.
Darwin would be proud
After that we got in line at the entrance of the museum and I can just give you the advice: If you want to go to the Natural History Museum, or any of the other big free museums (yes there is no entrance fee!) in London, get there early or be prepared to wait.Natural History Museum
The museum itself is a bit hard to describe because just words won’t do it no justice. It is a really beautiful and overwhelming building and there is so much to see. If you’re into Dinosaurs, Geology, Anthropology you can spend hours in there. And the museum really does a great job in transferring knowledge to kids, which to my mind many museums fail to do. You could even take your kids there and learn something about sexuality with them.Diploducs skeleton
I can just recommend to go there and spend at least half a day. And this is coming from someone who gets easily bored in museums.
From Nature to History
Next day, next educational sightseeing tour. We got up early again and took the tube to the Tower. Being at one of the major tourist spots in London, I can just give the same advice as for the Natural History Museum: Get there early! And if you want to see the crown jewels, get there first. We only had to wait for a few minutes, but during the day the line got really long and you’d have to wait for at least one hour .
Another advice I can give is to use the available discounts for the entrance tickets because the fees are expensive. We used the 2 for 1 railway option. For people spending more time in the city who are planning to visit even more of the typical sightseeing spot, the London Pass might come in handy.The Tower and partial London Skyline
To write something about visiting the tower is also similar to writing something about visiting a museum. It is so well known, yet many people just know the central building and not how large it really is. There is so much to see and you can spend at least half a day there. Best see for yourself.The Tower
If you’re not that much into historical sites and don’t like heavily crowded places you might want to skip the Tower. I can’t say that I was disappointed, but I get annoyed easily by to many people. And I just can’t take my time to look at things or take a photo. And despite being interested in history itself, looking at old armors, weapons and reading signs is not just my thing. For me, looking at a picture of the crown jewels would have been the same as seeing them for real. Yes I’m philistine. But that’s just me and I think for most people the Tower is spectacular.
And now: Shakespeare
Finally the big evening arrived and we headed to the Barbican. Little did I know that it was such a huge place build for everyone. I had a total different thing in mind when I was thinking about a theatre. The Barbican felt more like a culture and community center. As a surprise, not everyone there was dressed in their best evening garments. Luckily my girlfriend knew this before so that we didn’t go there overdressed (not that we would have had the wardrobe to do so).
Shakespeare on an empty stomach might not be the best of ideas so we got ourselves really tasty burgers and a good IPA at the Bonfire, a restaurant inside the Barbican. I can really recommend having a meal there, not only if you’re waiting for the theatre doors to open.
Well fed we entered the theatre itself and I have to say: This thing is huge. Well I’ve not been to that many theatres before and there might be several of this size, but for me this was stunning with the best thing yet to come.
Hamlet with Cumberbatch
The play itself was very entertaining and totally worth it. Of course it was a modern interpretation and to my mind this is very often not a good thing. But in this case it was and we had many laughs. Benedict Cumberbatch had quite some hilarious moments e.g. dressed as a little toy soldier playing in his very own mini-castle.
What amazed me the most was the size of the stage and all the effects that were used. I would have never expected that and it was better than cinema.
I was not such a big fan of the idea to watch Hamlet at the Barbican in the first place, because I suspected it just to be a ‘Cumberbatch fangirl thing’, but in retrospective a have to admit that I’m really glad we did this.
How crowded can it get?
For our final (half) day we chose to go to Camden Lock, better known as Camden Market, which was highly recommended to us by friends and the staff of the Horse and Stables. The Camden Lock is a part of the city with several market halls . It has a large space to get street food and many shops, pubs and restaurants. You can easily get lost there.Camden Lock
But, oh boy, this place gets crowded. They even shut down the closest tube stations, so that you have to walk 5 or 10 minutes to get to the next station, just to prevent the area from getting overcrowded. I don’t know if this really helps.
The market itself was not really my thing, but I have to admit I don’t like shopping at all. Especially if you can’t look for a second at a thing you’re interested in because there are so many people around. And in the UK the people are very polite and try to give you a chance, not like in Germany. But still I didn’t feel comfortable.
Most of the shops were also not my thing. I got the feeling that a lot of shops owners were very alternative-hipster-artists. Great for people who like this style, but nothing for me.Overcrowded Camden Lock
What I really liked though was the street food area. Such a huge variety of food from all over the world, or at least it felt that way. I would have loved it to try several things but we only had such a limited time. And of course this place was heavily overcrowded too, which leaves you with only a few seconds to decide or get pushed to the next food stand. The options to sit down and eat are also limited, so eating there feels a bit rushed.Camden Lock - Food Court
Heading home and conclusion
That’s basically it from our trip to London. Luckily this time the plane was not forgotten somewhere and we got home more or less as planned.
Visiting London was fun but mainly for the theatre, the Rugby World Cup and of course the Natural History Museum. I really do like being in larger cities, but London is just to overcrowded for me.London Tube
It is expensive and very often I just couldn’t find the time, or better the mindset, to calm down and take some nice pictures. Sadly the weather was also very cliche british.
In the future I’d love to go elsewhere in the UK as I like the country and the people there, but I’d skip London. It is a great city but maybe not for people with my mentality.