Recently I planned a spring break trip to Belfast to meet my Mom and spend some time exploring this up and coming city in Northern Ireland. Living in Central Texas my options for international flight includes Dallas, Houston and now Austin. Austin Airport has numerous options for direct flights from Austin to London. I flew into Gatwick and decided to opt for a layover in London so I could spend the day in London and cross off a bucket list item – The National Gallery.
As I only had a day in London, I limited my sight seeing escapades to a small area of London, Westminster. I headed from Gatwick to Charing Cross, about 35 minutes on the train with a change at London Bridge.
Once you emerge from Charing Cross station a short walk around the corner and you will find yourself in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Obviously, a visit to Trafalgar Square is on most people’s "London List" because of the history of this area. This vibrant square is in Westminster and steeped in history it is also surrounded by museums and churches.
Rallies and demonstrations are frequently held at weekends on different political, religious and general issues. The Mayor of London supports this democratic tradition and gives access to the square for such causes.
History of the Square:
14th to 17th century: Most of the area now occupied by Trafalgar Square was the courtyard of the Great Mews stabling, which served Whitehall Palace.
1812: The architect John Nash began to develop a street from Charing Cross . He wanted it to be a cultural space open to the public.
1830: The site was officially named Trafalgar Square.
1832: Work began on the National Gallery.
1838: Sir Charles Barry presented a plan to develop Trafalgar Square. This included the Nelson memorial statue and two fountains.
1843: Nelson’s Column, designed by William Railton, was erected
1845: The fountains were built.
1867: Sir Edwin Landseer designed the bronze lions placed on guard at the base of Nelson’s Column.
1876: The Imperial Measures were set into the north terrace wall .
National Gallery- Bucket List
The National Gallery is a British Jewel it houses one of the finest collections of paintings in the world-and admission is always FREE. I was born and raised in the UK and have never visited this gallery and I was determined to spend sometime here on my short visit to London. I was not disappointed. The sheer size of the gallery is remarkable, but the collections are astounding in their diversity. If you visit the website for the gallery there are listed 30 Must See Paintings. I didn’t see them all, but I saw most and so much more. Even if you are not an art enthusiast, I think you would find something to wonder at in this gallery. Highly recommend putting the National Gallery on your “London List”.
Sunflowers 1888, Vincent van Gogh
When you leave The National Gallery be sure to stop by the landmark St Martin-in-the-Fields. Its fine Georgian architecture stands almost overlooking Trafalgar Square. St Martin's has an award-winning cafe, puts on concerts with London's best musicians, and hosts fantastic events in its unique subterranean spaces. Free lunchtime concerts take place every Monday, Tuesday and Friday.
From St. Martians I headed toward my next stop, The Mall. If you follow this route be sure to check out the peculiar “nose” found on one of the arches of Admiralty Arch. The nose-shaped protrusion can be found in the arch. It is the size of a human nose and legends differ as to the reason for its presence.
One legend has it that it is Napoleon's nose and that it would be rubbed by anyone riding through the arch on their horse as a snub to the general, who was small in stature.
Others agree that the nose was placed there by artist Rick Buckley in 1997 as part of a campaign against the "Big Brother" society and all the CCTV cameras that cover London and other cities in the UK.
Whatever the case it remains a thought-provoking site.
From Admiralty Arch wander up The Mall adjacent to St. James Park heading to Buckingham Palace. This is a truly pleasant walk especially in the springtime when the daffodils are flourishing.
After struggling to get tourist free shots of the Palace I opted to saunter through St. James Park heading to The Household Calvary Museum.
Situated at Horse Guards, Whitehall between Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey the Museum lies at the heart of historic London. Although I didn’t enter the museum I was treated to a changing of the guards as I walked by on my way to Downing Street.
A short walk from the Horse Guards you will find Downing Street and from there Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and The London Eye. I took a brusque walk across the bridge before retracing my steps back to Charing Cross. Here are some of the sites along the way…………….
In under 7 hours I managed to cross off one of my Bucket list destinations, the National Gallery and see so much more. This area is steeped in history at every turn which makes London a perfect layover destination. If you are planning a trip to Europe, consider flying to London and taking a day to explore I promise you will have a blast.
Exploring our world one trip at a time.