Palaces and parks in London

The Houses of Parliament, London

As part of my mission to ‘Take 12 Trips’ in 2014, I’m taking at least one trip a month – which can be anything from a local day out to an international trip. After starting the year with two trips to the north of England, it was lovely to see some sun on last month’s mini-honeymoon in Morocco. But by the time my April trip came round, spring was on its way, with blossom on the trees in my destination of the month – London. I lived in London for over ten years, but despite that there’s still a huge list of places I never got around to visiting. Why is it we’re always worst at exploring our own backyard? So now every time I visit the city I take the chance to play tourist and see some of the sights while I’m there. This time I brought my sister with me to celebrate her birthday with a trip to one of the city’s most iconic buildings.

Houses of Parliament

Inside the House of Common – photo credit UK Parliament (Creative Commons)

Yes it’s the Houses of Parliament – or more accurately I should say the Palace of Westminster. One of the things I learnt on my visit is that the building is actually a palace. It gets its more usual name from what goes on inside – as a meeting place for the two parliaments of the House of Commons and House of Lords. It used to be that the only way you could get inside the building was for UK residents to book a tour with their local Member of Parliament. But now it’s open for public tours when Parliament isn’t sitting. So that’s Saturdays as well as some weekdays during the Christmas, Easter and summer recesses. One of which happened to coincide with my April trip to London, so I booked us in for an audio tour.

The tour took us from the cavernous Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the building, through a series of rooms with grand names like the ‘Queen’s Robing Room’ and ‘Royal Gallery’. But the highlights were the House of Commons and House of Lords. Growing up in the UK I must have seen them pictured in news footage or newspaper articles almost every day, so it was all strangely familiar. In real life the House of Lords was gloriously opulent, full of deep reds and gold details, and the House of Commons looked almost ordinary in comparison, in subdued dark greens.

Westminster Abbey, London

Outside Westminster Abbey and inside the Cellarium restaurant

By the end of the tour we were overflowing with information so headed off to our next stop to digest it (and a tasty lunch) at Westminster Abbey. We left exploring the Abbey itself for another day and went straight to the Cellarium restaurant. The restaurant is set in a 14th-century stone building next to the Abbey and is spread over different levels, from the cellar itself with its arched ceiling all the way up to a light and airy terrace. It’s run by the Benugo chain who have restaurants in a lot of London museums and tourist attractions, with British classic dishes like my Cornish lamb casserole. The sun was just about out so we took advantage of it and had lunch and a couple of celebratory birthday proseccos upstairs.

The Princess Diana fountain, Hyde Park, London

The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

After lunch we hopped on the Tube across to Hyde Park, passing our second palace of the day – Kensington Palace. Originally built in the 1600s, it’s been home to generations of the British Royal Family. One of the best-known recent residents was Princess Diana, who lived there from her marriage to Prince Charles up to her death in 1997. I was visiting London on the day she died and remember walking past the palace and seeing thousands of bouquets piled up outside the gates. These days Diana is memorialised by a fountain in Hyde Park and the palace is home to her son William and his family. You can take a tour of Kensington Palace and have a fantastic afternoon tea in their Orangery, but we headed on for a slightly less fancy tea and cake stop in one of the park cafés overlooking the Serpentine.

Hyde Park heron statue, London

New statue – Isis by Simon Gugdeon – next to the Serpentine in Hyde Park

The Serpentine lake covers 40 acres, cutting right across the centre of Hyde Park. The water was filled with people in rowing boats and pedalos, though the spring weather wasn’t quite warm enough to get anyone into the water. A section of the lake is roped off as a lido which is open to the public in summer and hosted the swimming section of the triathlon at the 2012 Olympics. Or if you’re feeling brave then members of the Serpentine Swimming Club can swim there all year – they even get into the water on Christmas Day for a 100-yard race called the Peter Pan Cup. Even in April it was at least 20 degrees too cold to get me into the water, but maybe a swim in a London lido might be one my for next visit!

Are you taking part in the #Take12Trips challenge and where are your travels taking you in May? Although I’m heading off to Norway this week, my #Take12Trips for May is actually going to be to another surprise European destination – follow me on Twitter or Facebook for a sneak preview!


  1. says

    It’s always the way that you don’t end up seeing stuff in the place you live till you have visitors, right?! Good luck swimming in the lido. Hopefully the swans will take mercy on you and won’t peck you to death!

    • says

      So true – the only time I ever did anything touristy when I lived in London was when I had people come and stay. I lived near the lido in Highgate for a while and kept saying that I’d give it a go but it never got warm enough, I’m a 30 degrees plus kind of outdoor swimmer!

  2. says

    It’s so true – I’m always the worst at exploring the places I live, too! It’s cool that you’re making a point to explore more of London now, though.

  3. says

    When living somewhere like London, there is normally a feeling of do it tomorrow, next week or whenever. Then you move and the opportunity for sightseeing on your doorstep is lost, you have to come back for a daytrip or two to see sights. Should of seen them when they were easily accessible when living in London.

    • says

      This is so true! I lived a short train journey away and never went in to visit the gardens or museums – what a waste! Now I have to spend hours getting there and pay for a hotel.
      Jude xx

    • says

      Yes very true, it’s easy to think you’ll do it later then you find you’ve missed the chance. It does make me appreciate it all a bit more going back as a visitor rather than a resident though.

  4. says

    I’ve just posted about a visit to London, not the same places you got to so that’s good! It is such a big place though and so hard on the feet! And I’m kicking myself for not seeing more of the city when I lived closer to it. Enjoy Norway – I shall look forward to your photos and impressions of it on your return.

    • says

      Great minds think alike eh! There is so much to see in London and if you’re working long hours and commuting time just seems to fly by, at least now when I get back there all I have to do is be a tourist (though those hotel fees are a killer!).

  5. says

    It’s terrible – I’ve lived in London for most of the past 15 years and have never been to the Houses of Parliament (though I have seen Westminster Hall). Next up for me is St Lucia… 🙂

    • says

      It took me a long time to make it there too and there’s still plenty of places to see (Kew Gardens and Sit John Soane’s Museum are top of the list now). St Lucia sounds fabulous, I’m jealously coveting some beach time, have a great trip!

  6. says

    Such great ideas! Whenever I was in London, I had an errand to run and never got the chance to explore much either when my shopping-addicts family visited. I would love to visit the House of Lords this Nov when we’re back in the UK!

  7. says

    I’ve been visiting London regularly for the last 3 years or more and there is still so much of it I’ve yet to see including inside the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey – must put that right. Hopefully neither of us will ever quite run out of new things to discover!

    • says

      One of the great things about London is that as well as all the classic things to do there is always something new too, so we’re not likely to run out of things to see anytime soon!

  8. says

    I know exactly what you mean. I’ve never been to London (one day!), but I live in NYC and I feel like I never see or do anything!

    • says

      New York has so many things to see too – it’s one of my favourite cities in the world and I think I could go back every year and never run out my to-do list!

  9. says

    Sir John Soane’s Museum is a must see in our opinion. So many interesting items crammed into a terraced house has to be seen to be believed.

  10. Nigel says

    On first Tuesday of each month, Sir John Soane’s Museum is lit by candlelight from 6-9pm. Quite enchanting. Foundling Museum is nearby and is also well worth a visit.

    • says

      Thanks for the tip, that sounds fantastic. I used to work very close to the Foundling Museum and had lunch there a few times but never had a proper look around so will have to try and combine the two.

  11. says

    I suspect you could spend all of your time blogging about London and never run out of places, Lucy. Sir John Soane’s candlelit sounds amazing 🙂

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