SuperBreak’s Magic of London day out offers clients the chance to see the city’s iconic sights. Andrew Doherty experienced St Paul’s Cathedral, the Crown Jewels and tea with a view.
As someone who lives and works in London, I must admit that my experience of the capital’s top sights is patchy at best. So I jump at the chance to explore some of its most popular attractions on SuperBreak’s Magic of London day out.
An early start sees me dodging the worst of rush hour and I’m raring to go in Victoria Coach Station – where the tour kicks off – by 7.45am, ready for an 8am start. Clients should arrive at least 15 minutes prior to departure, as doing so maximises the time spent at each location. I am greeted by John Aston, a Blue Badge guide who will be accompanying my group for the day.
The trip begins with a coach ride to the Tower of London. We pass many of the city’s iconic attractions, including Westminster Abbey – and John shares a sliver of the landmark’s history with me.
“The church has been rebuilt three times since it was founded in the 10th century with all coronations of the British monarchy taking place there since William the Conqueror was made King of England in 1066,” he says.
As we approach Buckingham Palace, John points to the flag flying over the building. “That is the Royal Standard. It means that the Queen is in at the moment,” he says.
It’s almost too much for the American family sitting in front of me – cameras click as they frantically try to capture images of the flag before we zip away to our first stop.
The Tower of London, perhaps one of the world’s most famous prisons, was founded in 1066 as part of the Norman conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and used as a prison from 1100.
John leaves us in the trusted hands of Yeoman Warder, or “Beefeater”, Spike Abbott, who begins our guided tour with a little background information about his own noble profession. “There are 37 Beefeaters stationed in the Tower and we all live here with our families. To become a Yeoman Warder, you have to serve at least 22 years in the armed forces with honourable conduct. It’s a very highly sought after position,” he explains.
Abbott leads us on a 20-minute tour of the Tower’s sights, including Traitors’ Gate, through which Anne Boleyn was led on the way to her execution. And throughout the tour, we spot life-size models of the animals once kept in the Tower’s menagerie, including monkeys, lions and a polar bear.
Abbott also informs me of the Tower’s famous ravens and their diets: “The birds eat up to six ounces of raw meat a day and for a treat we give them biscuits dipped in blood.”
Most notably, the Tower of London is the home of the Crown Jewels, which are on public display, and clients on SuperBreak’s tour are the first to see them that day. I spend a good 15 minutes admiring the exquisite craftsmanship of the crowns, swords and royal regalia held within.
With so much on offer within the Tower’s walls, including the White Tower – believed to have held Edward and Richard, the princes who famously disappeared – and the Fusilier Museum, which details the history of the regiment with artefacts collected from its campaigns, there’s a lot to pack into the hour and a half of free time once the guided tour is over.
Reunited with John, it’s only a short walk to the pier, where we will board our chartered river cruise.
“We now have sole use of this boat, so we can get back in time to see the changing of the guard,” John informs me.
Inside, out of the wind, I sit in a comfortable armchair below deck, listening to John. He tells us about the landmarks along the Thames, from Southwark Cathedral to the Millennium Bridge, which is featured in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The 20-minute river cruise is a nice change of pace after a morning’s walking and I come away with a much clearer understanding of the river’s most iconic attractions.
We hotfoot it to the bus and on towards Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard. This activity is weather permitting and depends on time restrictions, but luckily we arrive just as the Coldstream Guards are marching past. The soldiers may look cuddly in their bearskin hats, but these men have seen combat in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. They are tough cookies – I wouldn’t recommend messing them around.
After a short photo stop in front of Westminster Abbey, we break for an hour’s lunch by St Paul’s Cathedral. Lunch isn’t included on the tour, but there are plenty of options in the area.
St Paul’s Cathedral, the penultimate stop on the tour, is actually the fifth church to have stood on this spot – the previous one burned down during the Great Fire of London.
Clients can choose to explore solo or remain with John, who possesses an extensive knowledge of the building. He informs us of the British heroes buried beneath its floor, including the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson, and tells us that the dome is exactly 365 feet high – one foot for every day of the year.
I end the day sipping champagne in the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge hotel. Excellent views of the Palace of Westminster, freshly made sandwiches, cakes and scones make for a luxurious end to a culturally enriching day out.
From spotting original segments of London’s Roman walls to marvelling at the Baroque majesty of St Paul’s, SuperBreak’s Magic of London day out is a great way for visitors to take a bite out of London’s top attractions.
As I head back to the Victoria Line, I walk away with a greater appreciation of the place I call home.
Book it: SuperBreak offers a two-night B&B stay at the four-star Copthorne Tara Hotel London Kensington, including the full-day Magic of London tour from £235pp.
Visitors to London should look out for some of the capital’s lesser-known sights:
St Edward’s Crown
The original was worn by Edward the Confessor at Easter, Whitsun and Christmas. After the defeat of the monarchy during the English Civil War, the crown was sold by Oliver Cromwell before being restored in 1661 by Charles II. It is now the official coronation crown of the Royal Family.
Ravens of the Tower
Legend states that if the six resident ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the monarchy will fail and England will be thrown into chaos. A seventh is housed there just in case.
Old Father Thames
Representations of Old Father Thames can be found along the river, with many acting as mooring points. The most impressive is in Trinity Square, near the Tower of London, where he is shown naked clutching a trident and pointing eastwards towards the sea. The saying goes that if the tides were ever to reach his beard, then London would sink. Thankfully, we now have the Thames Barrier firmly in place.
The silver dragons
These are to be found on the side of the road leading towards the Tower of London. The dragons mark the boundary of London’s original square mile.