My Story of London, UK

or the best birthday ever!

I’ve just turned 30 this week and since I didn’t get much of a celebration (with the pandemic still in full session) I couldn’t help but reminisce about previous birthdays and how I spent them. By far one of the best ones, if not THE best was my 28th birthday, back in January 2019, when I went on a city-break to London, UK. The best part – I got this trip as a present from my boyfriend. 

How did that happen, you might wonder? After tireless inquiries of “What do you want for your birthday?” and the answer: “Nothing, really, there’s nothing I need”, I finally gave in and spurted: “I want to see The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros. Studios in London!” Yes, I am a massive Harry Potter fan and I had gotten it into my head that I HAD to go there. So that we did. We were in London from the 11th to the 14th of January and we loved it.

The big clock from Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

The beginning

We landed at Luton Airport, which is rather far from central London and we had to take a bus. The ride was fairly comfortable, but once we hit Baker’s Street, we moved at a very slow pace because of the traffic. Tired of just sitting on the bus, we got off at Hyde Park and walked through the park, to Kensington, where we had our accommodation booked. Hyde Park is amazing. Why? Because SQUIRRELS. They were everywhere and we spent time trying to lure them to us and take pictures of them. Not that we haven’t seen squirrels before, but we like animals, and really, now, who can resist those bushy tails and gleamy eyes? The cuteness is unbearable. 

One of the lovely squirrels

I also loved Kensington Gardens with the Albert Memorial, standing right across the street from the Royal Albert Hall, a somewhat circular building, where concerts are held. We exited the gardens right by Kensington Palace, rather less impressive than the previous two buildings, in my opinion. The Albert Memorial is the one that most surprised me as it looked nothing like Occidental architecture, but reminded me more of some of the constructions I’ve seen in Thailand (might have been the gold touch). 

Though parks and gardens might not usually be on your list of things to see when visiting a new city, don’t miss Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, especially if you have an extra day to relax. 

Once we left our stuff in the hotel room, we headed back towards the centre, with the first stop at Westminster Abbey, which, after seeing the entry fee, we decided not to enter. Especially since, in most cases, when it comes to this type of building (cathedrals, churches) we prefer to enjoy the outside architecture. Big Ben was closed for renovations, but I did love the architecture of the Westminster Palace. We then walked to Buckingham Palace, which we also skipped, scared of long lines of tourists. 

Westminster Abbey

It was already late when we got to the British Museum, where the entrance is free and where we only got to spend maybe half an hour before we were ushered out as it was closing for the day. I, of course, made a mental note of returning someday and visiting it whole. We spent the rest of the evening wandering the streets of London, having a bite in Chinatown, going to Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, and taking a bus back to the hotel.

The build-up

A reenactment at the Tower of London Museum

The following day, we went to a different side of London, visited Saint Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, which we actually entered. Here’s the deal, most tourist objectives in London (museums, cathedrals, palaces, etc.) cost about 20 GBP to get in, which for low-budgeters like us, can be quite a lot once it adds up. So we decided to enter only a few and skip the others and so, Tower of London won 😀 And we loved it. It was actually really interesting, I enjoyed seeing the jewels section in particular. Also, they do some reenactments from time to time, so you get to bump into people dressed up in period costumes and having full dialogues about whatever happened in “their” time. 

After this, we crossed Tower Bridge (you know, the one they always show in movies, so you know the action is happening in London – also featured as the cover of this article) and walked to Borough Market. This is an open market, where you can eat and drink and shop. It’s quite eclectic and was also packed when we got there, so it wasn’t easy to move around. Also, if you wanted to have a bite, you’d most likely stay in line for some time, before getting to order anything. Overall, it’s worth checking it out, at least for the experience. We walked back along the bank and ended the evening around the London Eye, which was closed at the time. 

The climax

Platform 9 3/4

On our third day, my birthday, we took the metro to King’s Cross Station and looked for the 9 ¾ platform. Of course, there’s nothing between platform 9 and 10, but there’s a sign right next to a Harry Potter shop just outside the platforms. Here, you can stay in a veeeery long line to get photographed in different poses with different effects, such as you running with your trolley while your Hogwarts scarf flutters behind you. By the time we got to the front of the line, it was time to get on the bus that would take us to the Warner Bros. Studios outside London. So, we gave up on the platform and went straight for the bus. The trip there took about one hour, which we spent watching part of the Chamber of Secrets movie. Once there, the tour was amazing. I was overly excited, while my boyfriend was probably thinking “what am I doing here?!?”. As you start the tour, you’re invited, along with the entire crowd to a sort of small cinema room, where you’re presented with a few rules of the tour. Once the screen goes up, the great doors to the Great Hall are revealed and someone asks “who’s birthday is it today?” It was very difficult to not jump up and down saying “me!me!”. Long story short, I, a 28 yo, along with 2 kids aged 9 and 4 I believe, opened the doors to the Great Hall, towards a spectacular view of it decorated for Christmas. It. Was. Magical.

From there, you move through different rooms where all sorts of props from the movies are exhibited, such as costumes from The Goblet of Fire, a full wall of wizard hats, entire scenes, like the kitchen of The Burrow, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s Office or Hagrid’s Hut. You get to go through part of the Dark Forest and meet Aragog and his friends, walk on Diagon Alley and even get to take a photo at platform 9 ¾, then board the Hogwarts Express. There’s also an outdoor exhibit, which we briefly enjoyed, as it was quite cold outside. There, you can see the Dursleys’ house, the Knight Bus, and the wobbly bridge from Hogwarts. You can also enjoy a butterbeer at the bar, which was surprisingly good, if not overly sweet to my taste. 

Model of Hogwarts

The whole tour ends, of course, with a big shop, where you can thoroughly spend your money on anything and everything HP related.

The end

On our last day, before heading to the airport, we visited The National Gallery. There’s no entrance fee for this one either, just like for The British Museum. You can, of course, make a donation, or spend some money in the gift shops, which sell all sorts of art-related things. The Gallery is huge, and so it took us some 2 or 3 hours to see everything. Just as with animals, we have a soft spot for art museums, so we enjoyed ourselves, although we’re far from being connoisseurs. 

Epilogue

On this note ended one of my favourite trips and one of my favourite birthdays. Later that year, while returning from a trip to the US, I had a full day layover in London, so I continued my art education with the Tate Britain, another free-entry art museum, which you should check out as well if you have the time. I hope i’ll get to visit London again. There’s still so much left to see.

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