Day 1. St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London & The Shard

What fun, a weekend in London spending time being tourists in our own capital city and having an opportunity to visit some of the world’s most iconic sights.  We arrived into London Waterloo the previous evening giving us three full days to explore.

Hamilton Hall, London
Hamilton Hall near Liverpool Street Station

After tucking into a hearty breakfast in the opulent Hamilton Hall, the former ballroom of the Old Eastern Hotel located next to Liverpool Street station, we hopped on a bus to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral, London
St. Paul’s Cathedral

Perched on the highest point of the City of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral is the second largest church in the United Kingdom after Liverpool Cathedral.  A cathedral dedicated to St. Paul has stood on Ludgate Hill for 1,400 years with the first church being built around 604 AD.  Four other churches then occupied the spot before the Cathedral as we see it today designed by Sir Christopher Wren was constructed between 1675 and 1710.

The Nave, St Paul's Cathedral
The Nave and Whispering Gallery

Standard entrance tickets at £20 include access to the crypt and up to the Cathedral domes from where one can enjoy some of the best views of the City of London.  As this is quite expensive, especially if several people are visiting together, I suggest travelling into London by main-line train and taking advantage of National Rail’s Day’s Out Guide.  On production of rail tickets covering the period of your visit and a completed form, visitors are able to enjoy half price admission resulting in a large saving.

The Nave, St Pauls Cathedral, London
Underneath the cathedrals dome

Included in the ticket price is a multi-media guide for those wishing to learn more about the Cathedral.  We started our self-guided tour in the large ceremonial entrance hall adjoining the nave.  Important events in British history have taken place at St. Paul’s including the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981 and the funerals of Lord Nelson, Sir Winston Churchill, the Duke of Wellington and Baroness Margaret Thatcher.

St Pauls Cathedral, London
Looking down the nave from the altar

The Cathedral is filled with glittering mosaics, sculptures and religious art work and we gazed in awe at the magnificent domed ceiling and internal Whispering Gallery high above our heads.  At 365 feet high, the dome of St. Paul’s is one of the world’s largest weighing 65,000 tons.

Choir Stalls, St Paul's Cathedral
The elaborate wood carved choir stalls

After admiring the elaborate wood carved choir stalls and high altar we explored the numerous side chapels including All Souls (dedicated to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener) and the cathedral’s crypt on the lower ground floor.

The Crypt, St Paul's Cathedral
The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral

It was then time for some morning exercise climbing a total of 528 steps up to the highest point.  At the time of our visit, the internal Whispering Gallery was closed to visitors.  It takes its name as if you go up to this gallery with another person and stand on opposite sides facing the wall and whisper, the sound of your voice will travel around the curved edge to reach your companion.

The Stone Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral
The Stone Gallery

Being unable to experience this sensation for ourselves was disappointing but was soon forgotten after climbing 376 steps to be able to step outside and enjoy superb views across London from the Stone Gallery, 53m above the Cathedral floor.

Views from the Stone Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral
Views across to The Shard from the Stone Gallery

Having got our breath back, we then continued up a narrower spiral staircase a further 152 steps to reach the Golden Gallery encircling the highest point of the outer dome.  If the views had been superb from the Stone Gallery, they were even more spectacular from this viewpoint 85m above the Cathedral floor.

Staircase up to the Golden Gallery at St. Paul's Cathedral
Staircase up to the Golden Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral

Few people realise that a visit to St. Paul’s isn’t just about exploring the stunning interior but also offers some of the best city views of many of London’s iconic landmarks including the River Thames, Tate Modern, The Shard and the Millennium Bridge.  It had been a wonderful place to start the day and I would allow a minimum of two hours to look around and to climb up to the domes.

View across London from the Golden Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral
View across London from the Golden Gallery,
Views from the Golden Gallery at St. Paul's Cathedral
Views from the Golden Gallery across the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern

Leaving there, it was then just a 20 minute stroll to another of London’s main sights, the Tower of London a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country’s most visited tourist attractions.  Standard entrance tickets are £29.90 but as with St. Paul’s Cathedral, substantial savings can be made by utilising train tickets and taking advantage of the National Rail 2 for 1 Days out rail offer.  I’d visited the Tower twice before, once as a child and the second time taking my own children.

Entrance to the Tower of London
Entrance to the Tower of London

The Tower of London was founded by William the Conqueror after his famous Battle of Hastings in 1066.  A wooden castle was originally erected and in 1075 work began on the White Tower, the imposing white castle standing in the centre of the present Tower of London.  This fortress and castle has been used as a royal palace, the Royal Mint, a prison, a place of torture and has even been home to a menagerie of exotic animals.

Yeoman Warder, Tower of London
Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

We were greeted at the entrance gates by Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters, the ceremonial guards of the Tower.  The 37 Yeoman Warders actually live in the tower with their families.  To be considered as a Beefeater men and women need to have over 22 years experience in the Armed Forces.  The tradition of Yeoman Warders has been in place since 1485 when the warders policed the prisoners in the Tower and also protected the famous Crown Jewels.

Yeoman Warders, Tower of London
Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London

Beefeaters offer free guided tours of the exterior of the most notable sights with tales of happenings in the Tower, some of which are gruesome.  Tours take place each hour starting at the Traitor’s Gate (pre-booking not required).  For those who prefer to use an audio guide, these are available in numerous languages at an additional cost of £5.

Yeoman Warders accommodation at The Tower of London
Yeoman Warders accommodation at The Tower of London

With the aid of a map, we started our self guided tour along the medieval walls which encircle the Tower of London.  From this elevated position there are fine views across the Thames and of the nearby Tower Bridge.  As we made our way along the walls we took a look inside each of the battlement towers, each having a different but interesting focus.

Views of Tower Bridge from the Tower of London
Views of Tower Bridge from the medieval walls of the Tower of London

Next, we moved on to view the famous Crown Jewels located in a section of the Waterloo Barracks.  This is what every visitor to the Tower comes to see so be prepared for a lengthy queue at busy times.  The dazzling Crown Jewels are housed in a secure vault and photography is strictly forbidden.

The Waterloo Barracks, home to the Crown Jewels, Tower of London
The Waterloo Barracks, home to the Crown Jewels

This stunning collection includes 23,578 gemstones and a huge 530.2 carat diamond with the total collection said to exceed a whopping £20 billion.  Viewing the most splendid crowns and coronets is by means of a moving walkway but you can then walk around the rear at your leisure to avoid just getting a fleeting glance.

The White Tower, Tower of London
The White Tower

We then toured the other sections including the infamous Bloody Tower and to Tower Green where 10 people were beheaded, three being former Queens of England.  The Tower acted as a prison and was the scene of 22 executions, Lord Lovat being the last to be beheaded in 1747 for treason.

The Bloody Tower at the Tower of London
The Bloody Tower

Before leaving we explored the Royal Armouries where we viewed impressive displays of battle armour worn by past Kings with other artefacts on display including weapons and battle-shields.

The Royal Armouries, Tower of London
The Royal Armouries

We spent an enjoyable three hours touring the Tower so I would allow at least this length of time for your visit as we did not include a visit to the Royal Mint as this was temporarily closed.

The Shard, London
The Shard

It had been a momentous day visiting both St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London and we topped this off with a new experience that was equally special, that being a visit to The View From The Shard.

Entrance to the View From The Shard
Entrance to the View From The Shard

It was a 20 minute gentle stroll across Tower Bridge to The Shard which is the tallest habitable structure in London reaching 309.6m at its tip.  It’s open daily between 10.00 a.m. and 10.00 p.m. with the nearest underground station being London Bridge (Northern and Jubilee Lines).

Ticket Desk, The View From The Shard
Ticket Desk, The View From The Shard

On entering the building, visitors need to pass through a security scanner but this is a slick operation and we encountered no delays.  Next, we were invited to have our photos taken in front of a screen and depending on the ticket purchased, these are included or available to purchase as an optional extra.

Stunning views from The View From The Shard
Viewing Deck at The View From The Shard

Following this, we were then whisked up to the 68th floor in a super fast lift travelling at 6 metres per second before taking a short staircase up to the indoor viewing gallery and champagne bar on Level 69.

The View From The Shard Lounge
The Bar area at the View From The Shard

We had reserved our timed entry tickets to coincide with sunset and it was absolutely beautiful to take in the iconic London skyline views just as it was falling dark.  Floor to ceiling windows surround the viewing area with stunning views from every angle.

Enjoying champagne in The View From The Shard bar
Enjoying champagne in The View From The Shard bar

We then sat on high stools around one of the tables sipping Moët and Chandon champagne watching the twinkling lights of London from above.  It’s not cheap as our Essentials package including digital photos and a glass of champagne each costs £90 for two.

Stunning views of the Thames from The View From The Shard
Stunning views of the Thames from The View From The Shard

However, splurging on something like this is what memories are made of and a once in a lifetime experience not to be missed.  We certainly cherished every minute of our time there.  An insider tip, before leaving don’t forget to pop into the toilets on the floor below as each cubicle features floor to ceiling windows allowing you to gaze across the city whilst sitting on the throne!

Stunning views across London from The View From The Shard
Stunning views across London from The View From The Shard

It had been the best of days and one that just goes to prove you don’t always have to travel to exotic locations to find enjoyment as they can be just as good if not better close to your own doorstep!

 

If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also like:

A weekend in Greenwich

Regent’s Canal Walk: King’s Cross to Paddington

 

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Exploring the City of London

 

87 thoughts on “Day 1. St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London & The Shard

  1. How wonderful to spend a weekend visiting London. The only time I’ve actually stayed in the capital was for work! I’ve visited St Paul’s and the Tower of London but not the Shard. It’s on my list, especially if I can enjoy a glass of champagne at the same time as admiring the view. You always seem to fit an impressive amount of visiting into each day, Marion. Do you have a Fitbit to record all your steps?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your interest in this series of posts on London June. You really must take in the sunset view from The Shard sometime as it’s an unforgettable experience. I don’t have a Fitbit but my phone records my steps and peace of the days in London it was way over 20,000 (not to mention all those millions of steps we climbed!).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was speculating whether I would just be able to go to the loo in the Shard and forgo the champagne, Marion. Sadly not without paying an admission fee. I’m out of touch with London prices but the city has some beautiful buildings. That’s a good saving on St. Paul’s and a great day out. That skyline has changed since I was up there last..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ThingsHelenLoves

    What an interesting post! I’ve just googled Hamilton Hall, definitely one to look up. It’s like one of the old coffee houses from Vienna or Dresden. St Pauls is a beauty, I’d love to visit. My daughter is on a school trip at the end of the month, to St Pauls and a mosque. I’m quite sad that since she is 16 now I can’t tag along as a ‘parent helper’.

    Also, am now potentially considering Beefeater as a post army career move for Mr THL. I’m pretty sure I could fill my days in London while he talks the ears off tourists. And as married quarters go- that’s got to be the ultimate address!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great idea, just imagine living within The Tower and having the whole of London on your doorstep! Your daughter’s school trip sounds interesting too, what a shame you can’t tag along. Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. Marion

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      1. I’m making a list of places I want to see. I want to see the Roman medival walls. I want to do the Jack the ripper tour. the curiosity shop from Charles Dickens book, Cleopatra’s needle, Greenwich median line and walk under the Thames river. Oh so much I want to see there.

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  4. What a day out! St Pauls and the Tower are unique places to visit, so much to see in both. Love all your photos and details of the visit. Been a few times to both but not for a while, never visited the Shard but the views look incredible.

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  5. I actually never set foot inside St. Paul’s Cathedral nor the Tower of London during my whirlwind of a trip to London in 2015. I did not enter them, partly because of time and partly I was on a meager budget. Honestly, what a regret, because they’re both stunning! And those views from St. Paul’s…I also never got around to the Shard, but I’m set on going should I return to London someday. Looks like you had fun playing tourist!

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  6. Ah Marion, what a cool piece. As you know, we recently spent a week pounding the pavements of London for 12 hours a day. And yet here you’ve got three spots that I have still yet to do ha ha. We did the Sky Garden for our views, but it was interesting to see what The Shard has to offer. A glass of champagne at the top feels right to me too 😉 I think The Tower of London and St Paul’s will be top of our next batch of sights to tick off. Thanks for the inside tips.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. If only we’d been there the same weekend we could have met up! Sky Garden is also gorgeous and I love going there too. We had an amazing first day and my calf muscles got a real workout with all those steps at both St.Paul’s and The Tower of London – just as well The Shard had a lift! I don’t think I’ll ever forget watching the sun going down whilst sipping my glass of champagne. Thanks so much for your kind words, it’s always a pleasure to connect with you. M.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, a fortuitous connection with dates would’ve been great. Perhaps we still have a chance to arrange something during our remaining two months in the north. Time really does fly. Like you our legs (and feet) were also struggling with the relentless onslaught of London. All part of the fun I guess.

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  7. How beautiful is Hamilton Hall – love those chandeliers. The inside of the cathedral is stunning – wow, those domes! And you’re right, the views over London are pretty spectacular from the Golden Gallery. The Tower Bridge is also a beauty … and the Royal Armery would be a great place to visit (especially for Berto 😉).
    And to enjoy a champagne at The View From The Shard bar – sounds like the perfect ending to a great day of exploring I would say! And what a beautiful picture of the Thames at night.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much for taking an interest in this post Corna. I can’t believe that anyone could tire of visiting London and we had the most wonderful day in the city and what better way to end the day than by sipping champagne watching the sun go down over the capital’s iconic landmarks. Hope your week is going well. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Such fantastic photos, Marion 🥰 I’m glad to see you had an amazing time exploring London and it’s amazing how much there is to do. An aweful lot. You can easily fill your days and nights with visits to incredible art galleries, museums, secret spots and still feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface. Thanks for sharing and have a good day ☺️ Aiva xx

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  9. Sounds like an action-packed fun day in the city to see some of the main attractions. I have yet to visit the Shard. The views from above look spectacular, especially at night. I agree that it’s sometimes fun to treat yourself while on vacation as it’s all about creating memories.

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  10. There is just so much to see and do in London, Marion. A great day out and all familiar scenes to us. I can’t believe how expensive it is to go into St. Paul’s now. It takes a lot of money to maintain this structure. We have been to the Tower of London at least three times and see something new each time. The last time we were inside was in 2008, when we went with our kids. We took in the view from The Shard in 2017 and enjoyed the view from the loo. Thanks for the memories Marion. Allan

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Oh beautiful London 🙂 You definitely got to see some great sites on your first day, St Paul’s really took my breath away when I finally made it inside last year. I also love the tower of London and my office is next door to The Shard so we may have passed in the street! 🙂 Looking forward to the next two days Marion!

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  12. I enjoyed this jaunt around London and know there is so much more to come. I first visited in 1978 and The Shard wasn’t there then, obviously. But from your bird’s eye view I believe I spotted the HMS Belfast still moored in the waters below. That I certainly went over, as well as St Paul’s (didn’t climb) and the Tower of London. Just thinking of climbing the cathedral steps now made my knees ache.

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    1. It was so wonderful to be back in London for our first weekend this year Gwen and to revisit St. Paul’s and The Tower of London. Although I loved every minute of the day I was pleased to sit down with my glass of champagne at The Shard after all those steps as there were also lots to climb up and down in The Tower. Thank you for taking an interest, it’s much appreciated.

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  13. Oooh I love London. That’s a great tip about the rail guide 🙂 I really enjoyed reading about your trip to the Tower of London too – one of my favourite spots in the city. I’ve love to go back and take my little girl, who’s four and loves castles like her mummy. The Shard looks amazing, and yes timing your visit to coincide with sunset was a great idea. Lovely pictures 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you Sandra for your kind words. There are just so many places to go and things to do in London that it would be impossible to tire of the city. We had a splendid time on our first day visiting those three iconic landmarks.

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