5 must-see things if you are visiting London for an NFL game (or any other reason)
This past weekend I was fortunate enough to get to go to London for the first time to catch the Texans-Jaguars game. It was an amazing trip, and the game result was pretty good, too.
If you ever get a chance to go, it is highly recommended. If you want to throw an NFL game in there, too, then all the better. We went with biggametravel.com, which does a terrific job putting together travel packages. Also, shoutout to British Airways, which provided one of the best flight experiences I have ever been on. Friendly, helpful staff. The flight is long, but they made it pleasant.
We left on Thursday night after 10 p.m, which got us in town just after noon on Friday. That left time for some pub crawling on Friday, then the full-on tourist stuff on Saturday, the game on Sunday and more touring on Monday before flying back early Tuesday morning. We crammed a lot into the three-plus days. We obviously did not hit everything, but I plan to go back. Still, here are some things you can squeeze in a short trip that will make the experience worthwhile:
1) Wembley Stadium/Catch a premier league game
Fred Faour photo
If you are going for an NFL game, they are played at both Wembley Stadium and the new Tottenham Stadium. We were fortunate enough to go to Wembley, which is an absolute palace. You can feel the magic in this place, and it must be an amazing atmosphere for a soccer match. We did not get to do that this trip, but the atmosphere for the NFL was incredible as well. The English have embraced American football. Every single NFL team was represented. The Jaguars have also done a great job of cultivating the fan base.
The experience at Wembley is unlike any other. There were almost 85,000 in attendance, most taking the Underground (or tube, as they call it). The fans stayed until the very end, and for so many people trying to get on public transit, they have it down to a science. It took less than 15 minutes to get on a train.
The crowd was a nice mix of people who understood the sport and people who wanted to learn. We spent time explaining the game not just to our friends from London, but to others from England around us. The fans were passionate but polite, friendly and willing to learn. They were also very well behaved, considering all I had heard about soccer "hooligans." But that did not mean they were not passionate. Overall, the people were incredibly friendly, curious about Americans and they helped make for an incredible experience.
2) Buckingham Palace/Parliament Square
Saturday we did the full tourist thing. Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. Parliament Square, where the seat of power exists. (We also did a quick side tour to get a photo of the tailor shop from Kingsman. Yeah, I know, nerd stuff).
The Huntsman tailor shop, inspiration for Kingsman
But the area also teemed with famous shops and high-end businesses. The striking thing is the architecture, much dating to the 1700s and even earlier. It feels as though you are stepping back in time.
It also feels like you are walking into a movie. Every place we visited has been prominently featured in many major motion pictures. We also spent some time around the famous Westminster Abbey.
The architecture is amazing. If you appreciate the beauty of old buildings, there are few better places in the world. There is also a huge Greek and Roman influence, especially in the statues.
A statue at Buckingham
3) Tower of London
The original White Tower
If you go to London, you have to spend a day at the Tower of London. The history is palpable. It is amazing the engineering they had in the 1700s and beyond. When you visit the torture and prison towers, you can almost feel the ghosts.
The Tower itself is actually a huge compound of different towers where the seat of Western power existed for centuries. The stories of the kings, queens and politics is more intense than Game of Thrones (minus the dragons and little person).
Be prepared to walk a lot, and climb a LOT of stairs, including some tiny, winding stair cases. But the history lessons are worth the price of admission themselves. Make sure you take advantage of as many of the free tours as possible; the best might have been the one on the ravens, of which there are nine on the property.
If you can spend an entire day, do it.
One of the ravens at the Tower.
4) Jack the Ripper tours
The church at White Castle where many prostitutes would do business on the steps.
This might not be for everyone, but if you are intrigued by serial killers, Jack the Ripper remains the biggest crime mystery of all time. The tours take you through Whitecastle, where the crimes happened, and the dark alleys only add to the chill of the tours. You also learn just how vicious the attacks were. If you are not into that, you get a great history of the area that was at one time the worst part of London.
5) The pubs
The real gem of London is the pubs. There are thousands throughout the city, and many are hundreds of years old or have historical significance. Traditional pub food is actually very good, and the regulars are usually extremely friendly to tourists. We went to several, but our favorite stop was about a block from our hotel called the Cockpit, so named because it was the last place with cock fighting in London. It is also said to be built on the Blackfyre home of William Shakespeare. Several walking tours came through at the times we were there. Like many, it was quaint and charming.
As an aside, the only negative is the beer scene is pretty weak compared to most places, especially Houston. Most beers are only 4.4 ABV, and there are just not many craft options. However, they are huge on gin, and have several flavored options, much as we do with vodka here.
The bottom line
If you have ever thought about going, save up the money and do it. The flights are more affordable than you might think, and with the right deals you can stay in a fantastic hotel. Plan on using the Underground. It is cheap. It takes some time to figure out the routes, but Ubers and Taxis are expensive and slow because the streets are not built to handle the traffic. Go see your favorite NFL team or just take a few days to enjoy one of the most amazing cities in the world.
It will well be worth your time.