My heart is still humming from the most incredible trip across the pond. We had the most wonderful time, surrounded by history (and unheard of beautiful weather for London!)
WHERE WE STAYED
After seeking out hotels near the sites we were looking to visit, we decided to save our pence and seek out an Airbnb instead. After narrowing down our choices, we settled on this beautiful flat in Greater London with an Overground Station just across the street!
Our flat was airy, light, and spotless. We were even walking distance from a grocery store, coffee shop, plenty of transportation options, and a number of pubs! I'm a huge believer in the positive affects of natural light - as hippy dippy as that sounds - so it was such a blessing that this flat was as bright as it was. I think the gigantic windows helped...
It was just the perfect size for our group of five, and our hosts Sophie and Nicholas, couldn't have been more helpful or polite. The entire experience was clean, comfortable, and stress-free. If you've never stayed in an Airbnb, I can't recommend it enough.
WHAT WE SAW
Our first real day sightseeing was spent at one of King Henry VII's finest palaces. I turned the corner and walked through the gates and gasped. The palace is so statuesque, you almost can't believe it's real. I found myself wondering what it must be like to work there as a part of the tourism effort - knowing you've arrived at work and parking your car somewhere near that.
If you're familiar with the history of Henry VIII, this is a must for your visit to London. I find him to be one of England's most interesting monarchs, and the palace is filled with little details that he, himself, implemented for each of his wives. The audio guide travels through his reign, and then to the change in regime that followed. One of my favorite things about this visit is seeing the change in architecture and decor as the new monarchs came in and made parts of the palace their own.
There is so much to see here, so make sure you're able to devote an entire day to it.
I couldn't even imagine touring the palace without utilizing the audio guides provided to you. There is one for each section of the palace, and they are so informative. There is even a less-detailed version for children!
They do provide you with headphones, but I found them to be a little bulky for me. I brought my own earbuds and was much more comfortable - just make sure they have a rounded jack.
The Privy Kitchen Cafe is a perfect grab and sit-cafe. It also happens to be where Elizabeth I actually had her kitchens.
The Fountain Court Cafe is a beautiful spot for high tea. It can be found in a little hidden courtyard, and is a nice opportunity to rest your feet while indulging in one of the UK's most popular traditions. They also serve a lovely lunch in a more restaurant-like setting.
We were very lucky in that we traveled to London while Her Majesty was on her annual summer holiday in Scotland. While the Queen is on holiday, The Royal Collection Trust opens a certain number of state rooms to the public for viewing. It's completely unbelievable. No photos permitted, of course.
Standing in line waiting to enter, I felt such a respect for what I was about to step into - and it was all around me. One of the most memorable parts of the trip for me was when they asked visitors to turn their phones off before entering and everyone actually did.
In addition to the grandeur of the inside, HRH the Prince of Wales selected a number of pieces of art from the Royal Collection to showcase alongside various works that were created by young members of the three charities he supports (Turquoise Mountain, The Royal Drawing School, and The Prince's Foundation School of Traditional Arts)
I would definitely recommend using the audio guide for this tour because it's hosted by HRH. As I walked through the rooms, I felt a little like he was showing me around himself.
There is a beautiful eating area in the gardens, once your tour is finished, full of coffee and desserts. Even if you only try the ice cream, it's a beautiful way to end your day at Buckingham Palace.
While we were there, we also watched The Changing of the Guard outside of Buckingham Palace.
Around 45 minutes prior to the beginning of the procession, find a spot somewhere in the middle of the piazza behind my Mom and I pictured above. Otherwise, you'll find yourself watching half a guard in between gates and selfie sticks.
THE ROYAL MEWS
The Royal Mews is a hidden gem, often overlooked by visitors to London. Here, you'll see one of the finest working stables in the world, home to where they store all of the carriages, cars, and horses (including the carriage pictured above, in which was carried the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their wedding day. Ahh!)
I didn't personally find the audio guide to be any more helpful here than the published information for your to viewing. So, if you've had your fill of wearing headphones and walking around London, I'd say skip it and just rely on the visual information.
Guided tours are available for purchase. We didn't do this but, if it's something you're interested in, I'm told it's a very personal experience. I'd also assume that the guides have their own special facts and tidbits to share.
WARNER BROS. STUDIO TOUR - THE MAKING OF HARRY POTTER
These books hold a strong sentimentality for me because they were a huge part of my childhood and adolescence. My mom and I read the first one together when I was only six years old. The final movie released when I was twenty. After fourteen years of growing up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, this tour was a must for us.
I would recommend that you book your tour to begin in the morning. This will give you at least four hours to really see and read everything. It took us hours to take in each part of the exhibit, because there is so much to see.
If you think the tour is sold out because you waited too long to book it (admittedly, like we did), call and ask about the Behind the Seams Tour. It's a little bit more expensive, but will grant you access to the regular tour as well as an added bonus hosted by the Costume Department. It's a 30-45 minute workshop where you can see costumes not included in the regular tour, and learn extra tidbits of information you wouldn't normally have access to. You can also try on robes and take photos, get up close and personal to the costumes actually worn in the films by the actors, and ask as many questions as you'd like.
Keep your eyes open for the Death Eater in the shadows of Diagon Alley. I almost missed it, but the more I stared at it the more freaked out I became. I swear it moved and not in an this is so cool I'm geeking out kind of way. Like, hand to God, I swear it did.
There's a Starbucks in the lobby before the entrance to the tour. If you're hypo-glycemic, pick up some nut butter.
Onsite, they have a Backlot Cafe that provides burgers, hot dogs, falafel, and salads. It's also where you'll find Butterbeer and Butterbeer Ice Cream - I found it to be extremely rich, so I'd recommend that you share one with a friend. There is indoor and outdoor seating, and you can also bring your own food, which a lot of families did.
Westminster Abbey is home to the coronations, funerals, weddings, and just about every other big royal event in history. It was founded in 960AD and consists of over ten centuries of British History.
Be prepared to wait online. If it's sunny, wear sunscreen because until you get closer to the Abbey, there's next to no shade available.
Try to arrive around the time it opens because they being to close sections of it at 3:30pm. This is because it is still very much a functioning house of worship, so there are services and prayer happening during the day.
The Cellarium has a really nice selection, as well as options for High Tea. I highly recommend the spinach ravioli and the divine cauliflower soup.
This day trip was worth every minute. This town has so much energy + it's such a staple in British History. Windsor Castle is Her Majesty's residence of choice (over Buckingham Palace) and it holds a lot of personal history for the current Royal Family.
Walking through St. George's Chapel was so special to me, especially considering the love and respect I have for Meghan Markle. I kept looking around, trying to commit it to memory. There's something so surreal about walking down the same aisle as a girl who entered as an American actress and activist, and who left as a duchess - especially when we all woke up at 4am to watch it live. I couldn't believe I was in the exact same place!
The actual town of Windsor is nothing but completely charming. Its quaint, but rich-historical feel is such an addictive energy to be around as you walk through the streets. There's plenty of shopping in the area, + plenty of things to do around town. If you're going to make any trip outside of London, I can't recommend Windsor enough.
This trip was so special to me for so many reasons. I've never felt so strongly about a city in my life, and I hope I get the chance to create art there one day. One of the biggest reasons, on top of visiting all of the aforementioned sites, was seeing my first show in London's West End. As an actor, getting to see how universal the art of theatre is, even so many miles away, was so magical and sentimental for me.
As I sat in the Palladium Theatre, in the audience of The King & I, I watched Kelli O'Hara and Ken Wantanabe so beautifully teach us how to coexist, learn from, and even like someone who doesn't think the same way you do.
I had this moment where I wished that everyone could see this show and hear this story, because they would see that humans are humans no matter where they live, and it's up to us to learn from each other, even when we're from different places.