Following a full first day in London, we continued on with our busy itinerary.
On this day, I had originally booked us tickets to tour the Buckingham Palace State Rooms and we were also planning to watch the changing of the guard. Unfortunately, the palace was closed to visitors immediately after news of the Queen’s death so my tickets were cancelled and our plans dashed.
We did attempt to go see the palace from the outside, taking the underground to Green Park Station with intention to walk over to the palace gates from there. However, many of the roads were blocked off when we exited the station and we ended up being directed over to Green Park, where we passed through the growing mass of floral tributes to the Queen.
We then got stuck behind barriers lining The Mall, but spotted a procession passing through, presumably in preparation for the upcoming Lying in State.
We were due for our reservations for afternoon tea, so rushed out of the area toward Mayfair. Along the way, we passed by St. James’ Palace.
Afternoon tea at Sketch Gallery
We arrived at Sketch Gallery right on time for our 12:30 pm reservation. Our afternoon tea plans had also changed shortly before arriving in London. I initially made reservations for us at The Savoy, but they have cancelled some of their services due to staffing issues. After much research, I learned about Sketch Gallery as a trendy alternative to the traditional afternoon tea.
I’ve previously been to The Ritz so our experience at Sketch was fun to try as a different style of afternoon tea. It’s less formal at Sketch, although they do still have an “art smart” dress code (white sneakers are acceptable). The menu is more French inspired and we had a really nice tea called the Red Dragon, an oolong with fruity and floral notes. The restaurant has a kooky design that is perfect fodder for Instagram — including the bizarre toilet pods in the washroom.
Learning history at the Churchill War Rooms
Feeling stuffed with sandwiches and pastries, we left Sketch and walked down Regent Street and Horses Guard Road toward the Churchill War Rooms.
The Churchill War Rooms is one of the five branches of the Imperial War Museum, comprising the Cabinet War Rooms, a historic underground complex that housed a British government command centre throughout World War II; and the Churchill Museum, a biographical museum exploring the life of Winston Churchill.
The Cabinet War Rooms were particularly fascinating to see. They have been meticulously preserved, even displaying three sugar cubes that were left behind by Wing Commander John Heagerty, one of the Map Room officers. The admission ticket includes access to an audio tour that was quite well done, nearly as good as the one we heard at Alcatraz in San Francisco.
It felt a bit stuffy and warm down in the basement rooms so we zipped through the tour fairly quickly in just over an hour, but you could easily occupy more than two hours here to look through everything in depth. Pre-booked tickets are recommended as there is timed entry and restrictions on the number of visitors who can enter at one time given that it is a tight space.
After the War Rooms, we went for a quick shop at Fortnum & Mason to pick up some tea samplers as a souvenir. We had dinner in Shoreditch at Brat, a Michelin star restaurant featuring a Basque inspired menu, and tried their anchovy bread, velvet crab soup, and lemon sole which were all very tasty.
Another day in London done and dusted! Next up, a day trip to Oxford and the Cotswolds.