The Tower of London.
Or The Two Towers.
Act I: Darwin Brasserie
Thirty-six floors up at the Darwin Brasserie, which sits in the middle of the three floors that make up the Sky Bar, awaits a full English breakfast and coffee and a view of the Thames and London and half of England. There are worse ways to start a morning in London.
Then walk down the jungle stairs flanked by plants and under a glass greenhouse and that takes you to a lookout area with a coffee bar. You can just come straight to this floor, which is the 35th, if you don’t have time or for any other reason are not inclined for a sit-down breakfast one floor up.
Get up to the Sky Bar early. Last time I walked right up to the elevators at like 8 am or so but by 11 am there was a line around the building.
Act II: The Tower of London
From the lookout ledge at the Sky Bar you can see the Tower of London, and it’s less than a ten minute walk so the easiest way to get there is just to head in that direction through the London streets and you can’t miss it. If you want to get technical, though, an easy way from Darwin Brasserie is to head south on Philpot Ln, then take a left on Eastcheap, which becomes Great Tower St and then cross Byward St, and then look for the River Thames and there will be the ticket booths for the Tower of London.
It’s not the least touristy spot in London, I’ll give you, but tourists flock to some places in the world that are kitsch and fake and famous for being famous. This is not one of those places. This is real and if you’re reading this not through some translation program because you speak English for any reason, then the historical significance of the tower of London cannot be overestimated. The history of this being the first real palace of the current chain of English monarchs is real. The Beefeaters that give the tours and who are real ex-British military with distinguished service are real as are the crown jewels on display unless this is ocean’s twelve and they are replicas.
Start with a tour from the Beefeaters. Sometimes it’s fun just to be giddy and to be a kid and let a British military officer with distinguished service give you a tour of the birthplace of England and trying to find the dress Kate Middleton wore last year because maybe it’s on sale now but not the hat because you don’t have any occasions to wear hats. None of it would exist without the tower of London. The Beefeater tours start near the entrance. Once that’s done, check out the crown jewels, then the torture room and then the arms and armor museum which is rad and where you can see King Henry the VIII’s armor and that’s enough and that spits you out near the river so head to the river for Tower Pier.
Act III: Greenwich
From the tower of London hit the docks, which lie in the shadow of the tower and tell the good people who work for the commuter boats that you want to go to Greenwich for the day. They’ll know what to do and what kind of ticket you need. There are two boat services at those docks. Do not do the sightseeing one. Do the one that as you approach from the tower of London is on the far left of the two on the dock. It’s cheaper and with boats that return from Greenwich much later.
The boat ride down the Thames is fun and relaxing and oh I don’t know let’s say twenty minutes all in. When you step off the boat at Greenwich Pier turn right and walk toward the giant old wooden ship with the giant wooden masts called the Cutty Sark. Just before you get to the old wooden ship called the Cutty Sark, take a left and walk straight along the side of the ship and then keep walking straight down a street called A206 for about oh I dunno maybe five minute or less and then Goddards of Greenwich will be on your right at the intersection of A206 and Nelson Rd. You’re going to eat dinner here after the museums close at 5 pm, but I’ve just found that knowing where this place is makes it easier to find after dark.
Keep walking south down A206 which becomes King William Walk and I believe congratulations are in order. You just made up for every time you ever woke up disappointed because it was just a dream because you just found them at Greenwich Park. You did it! The park is gorgeous and worth an international trip in itself but it also happens to be bordered practically on all sides by uncrowded but stunning and if they were in the middle of any major city would be massive international destinations but they are way out here so they aren’t.
Let’s see. You’ve got your choice of the Royal Naval College, designed by none other than Christopher bloody Wren who also did St. Paul’s Cathedral. You’ve got the Maritime Museum, which is the history of England on the seas, and which has the actual clothes, bloodstains and all, in which Admiral Lord Nelson died. I mean honestly if you appreciate the history of England then this museum is for you because without its navy England was never England. Then there is the Queen’s House, which could arguably be the most important piece of architecture in the history of the West. It’s in an architectural style called Palladianism and it’s where the White House got its design cues from and also every major stately home where they’ve ever filmed a scene of a Pride and Prejudice movie. And yes, that includes ones not staring Colin firth. Protest all you want, National Organization of English Majors Objecting To Any Pride And Prejudice movie not staring Colin firth.
Then there is the Royal Observatory. The Prime f*&king Meridian is up there as a brass line that you can hop back and forth over and between hemispheres and it’s as fun as it sounds. Also, it has the clocks that first made maritime travel possible. It’s a big deal. In fact, the only reason you were able to find your way to England, or at least pay someone else to find your way to England if it lies over the horizon from where you live, is because of the inventions and people featured in the museum at the Royal Observatory who figured out how.
I recommend starting at the Royal Observatory because it’s up a hill and the views are magnificent and are responsible for last time I checked at least half of all coffee table books about England. Then come back down the hill and hit whichever museums surround Greenwich Park and that are calling to you or if you want to just spend time in the park then do that.
Epilogue: Goddards at Greenwich
From wherever you are in Greenwich just head to the National Maritime Museum and on the western side of that is a street called The Avenue for you to head north on and which becomes King William Walk and which becomes A206 and just keep walking north or toward the river until you reach Goddards on your left where A206 meets Nelson Rd.
The pie and mash inside is as warm and charming as is the place and the people who work here. It’s real and welcoming and has been here since the 1800’s and is what I think most people who come to England imagine England to be. You can eat lunch here before the museums but I just think that God made darkness so that we could sit in the warm light of places like this.
It’s the best pie and mash I’ve ever had because the love that went into it is the overwhelming flavor from the first liquor dripping forkful of pie crust and mince. Dingy and phony pubs everywhere market themselves as what this place really is. It’s family owned. Treat it like it’s a living room and you’ll be treated like you’re in someone’s living room.
Out of the doors of Goddards, which are not professionally antiqued by a decorator but by the callused hands of locals, take a left and walk back toward the Cutty Sark, and when you hit the water take a right for the pier and ask the person who works at the ticket booth which stop should be yours for whichever part of London you’re trying to get back to. Then relax and let the boat and the pies do the work for the rest of night.