If you’re visiting Tampa, Florida, then you’re probably enjoying a vacation of fun in the sun. Did you know that people have been visiting Tampa for its wonderful tropical weather since the late 1800’s? You can see how these rich “high rollers” of the past spent their vacation days at a former opulent Victorian hotel that’s now a museum. And it’s right in the heart of downtown Tampa! Visit the Henry Plant Museum.
From 1891 to 1932, Henry B. Plant, a railroad and steamship millionaire, operated a grand hotel for the rich in the new, rustic resort known as Tampa. Today, the former hotel is the Henry Plant Museum, where you can explore what it was like to stay at this sumptuous, state-of-the-art resort. Henry Plant spent $2.5 million dollars to build the hotel and then traveled through Europe to collect $500,000 worth of furniture, antiques, and collectables to decorate it. His hotel was the lap of luxury and featured splendors that were almost unknown at the time, including electricity, telephones, and private bathrooms in each room! Visit a recreated suite and learn how guests were pampered and waited on hand and foot. Wander through room after room of fascinating artifacts and displays about how visitors were lavishly entertained (by celebrities!), wined, and dined. If you love Downtown Abbey, you’ll be in heaven at this hotel museum!
When you’re finished exploring the Henry Plant Museum, you can wander through the remainder of the hotel, which is now used by the University of Tampa as an administration building. Don’t forget to take pictures of the glistening, metallic minarets and sweeping, exquisitely carved verandas. Sit for a spell, close your eyes, and imagine yourself as a Victorian gentleman or lady enjoying your tropical vacation. Now that’s the life!
Getting hungry? How about some Cuban food? La Bamba is a Cuban restaurant frequented and beloved by locals. The food is as good and plentiful as eating in your abuela’s kitchen. Don’t be put off by the exterior, which makes the restaurant appear to be an office building. Grab a tray, get in line at the cafeteria-style kitchen, and allow the staff to explain to you the variety of meals available that day. Your taste buds will be as happy as your wallet, because meals are only $7.00! Just be aware that his hidden gem is only open for breakfast and lunch (closing at 3:00), so fit it into your plans accordingly. You won’t be disappointed!
If you’d like to make a day out of your time in Tampa, I suggest visiting the 56-acre Lowry Park Zoo. In 2009, it was voted as the #1 family zoo in America by the readers of USA Today! The zoo is divided into “park areas” including, but not limited to, Wallaroo Station, Safari Africa, primate world, Asian gardens, and the Florida wildlife center. There are also rides for kids and animal shows. My favorite part is feeding the giraffes!
The Henry B. Plant Museum is located at 401 West Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, Florida. It’s located on the grounds of the University of Tampa. Free parking is available in the adjacent admissions lot (ask for a parking pass inside the museum). Click on the map for directions.
La Bamba Restaurant is located at 4815 West Laurel Street in Tampa. Click on the map for directions.
The Lowry Park Zoo is located at 1101 West Sligh Avenue in Tampa. Click on the map for directions.
If you’re looking for a picture perfect, classic New England town, then Rockport, Massachusetts is the destination for you. Located just one hour north of Boston, Rockport is an easy day trip that offers seacoast charm, fun shopping, tasty seafood, and colorful art.
Most of the action in Rockport centers around Bearskin Neck, a long street of old fisherman and lobster shacks that have been transformed into a picturesque shopper’s alley.You won’t find any name bands here; it’s all local artists and owners.So you can truly shop locally, and there’s something for everyone, from nautical gifts, to soaps and silversmiths, to home and kitchen accessories.One of my favorite stops is Rusty and Ingrid, where you can purchase fine art screen prints that are sketched and created entirely in-store.On my last visit, Rusty kindly offered to show us how he and his wife make each screen print by hand.It’s a fascinating process, and I couldn’t resist buying two prints before leaving.I also recommend the Rockport Candle Company where all the candles are hand-poured and where you’ll find inventive scents like Salt Water Taffy, Buttered Lobster, Summer Crush, and Cocktails by the Sea. When you’re done shopping, head all the way to the end of Bearskin Neck for incredible views and a walk out onto the rock jetty.
Roy Moore’s Lobster Co.
Feeling hungry?Rockport has many options for dining and dessert.If you’re craving seafood, head over to Roy Moore’s Lobster Company.You have two options: a full service restaurant (called Roy Moore’s Fish Shack) or the seafood market and eatery. Today, we went for takeout, ordering a lobster roll, fish cakes, and stuffed clams and then walking to the end of Bearskin Neck to sit on the rocks and enjoy the scenery.Who needs fine dining with these kind of ocean views?!For dessert, you could get ice cream, but I would recommend the apple or cherry strudel from Helmut’s Strudel Shop. During our last trip, we split a flaky delicious cherry strudel and savored every bite.Of course I ended up with powdered sugar all over me, but it was well worth it!
If you have a sweet tooth and are looking for something to bring home, then stop in at Tuck’s Candy Factory.They’ve been making candy on the premises since 1929, so you know it’s got to be good!There are two locations: one combines a candy counter and fun gift shop, while the other is strictly candy. At the latter, you might even catch them making salt water taffy, a classic New England treat!
Looking for other activities in Rockport?Try these add-ons:
·Fit in some beach time.Front Beach is on Main St, while Pebble Beach is on Penzance Rd.Both are very small (so you’ll likely have a lot of company), and the latter is quite rocky.But they’re a close choice to cool off.
·Visit the Paper House.It’s a house made entirely out of newspapers!Don’t ask me why.Just go because you know you’re curious now!
·Spend some time at Halibut Point State Park.It was a once a quarry but now offers easy trails with incredible cliff and ocean views.
See a concert or live music act at the Shalin Liu Performance Center.There’s no back stage here, just a stunning view of the ocean through huge windows right behind the performers.See their schedule by clicking here.
If you can’t jet set across the pond to visit Europe, then set your compass north and travel to Quebec City instead. This historic provincial capital has the charm of a European city at a quarter of the cost. The French-speaking natives will make you feel like you’re a continent away, and the food will make you feel like you’re in heaven! Here are my top four destinations to add to your Québécois itinerary.
#4 Fallin’ for These Falls
Located just 15 minutes outside of Quebec City, Montmorency Falls are almost 100 feet (30 meters) higher than those at Niagara! The falls are located at the mouth of the Montmorency River where it breathtakingly drops over a cliff to empty into the St. Lawrence. You can climb a staircase up to the falls, but I would recommend taking the cable car instead. At the top, a suspension bridge offers access to both sides of the surrounding park and allows for some incredible views. We visited when the cable car was closed, but we still enjoyed amazing views. Before going, check the website for the hours of operation. Even if you can’t make the ascent in the cable car, seeing this natural wonder is definitely worth the short trip.
#3 One of the Best Meals of My Life
One morning, we were browsing through a gift shop in Quebec, and the friendly sales clerk asked where we were from. Hearing that we weren’t locals, she asked if we needed any advice about places of interest or restaurants. I’m always eager to hear from locals about the best places to eat. When you’re traveling, you want to dine where the locals do because the food will be better, and often cheaper, than at restaurants frequented by tourists. She raved about a restaurant located across the river that served farm to table food at reasonable prices. Need she say more?! We got in our rental car and made the 30 minute drive across the St. Lawrence River to the city of Levis, located directly opposite Quebec.
Au Grain de Folie Bistro (which roughly translates to “to the grain of madness” – how cute!) is a tiny restaurant that serves food with a huge flavor punch! The menu, which is written in chalk on the wall, changes with what is available at local farms. If you can’t speak French, don’t worry! The friendly and helpful wait staff will translate for you (as they did for us) and offer suggestions regarding courses and wines. The chef, who frequently visits with tables, is masterful and prepares food that is out of this world. We ordered several courses, and by the end of dinner, practically had to wheel ourselves out of there because we ate so much. I am not exaggerating when I stated in the title that it was one of the best meals of my life. If you’re in Quebec City and you have a car, make the short drive to this restaurant. Your taste buds will be glad that you did! As a bonus, you’ll even get a lovely view of Quebec City from the small park across the street.
#2 La Citadelle: Stormin’ the Fort & Changin’ the Guard
Quebec City is built high up on the promontory known as Cape Diamond for good reason; it needed to be protected from attack by the British and, later, those pesky Americans (he,he). The walls surrounding the Old City are the oldest in the Americas, north of Mexico, and are, in their own right, a UNESCO world heritage site. After the War of 1812, the British, who then ruled Canada, knew they needed to shore up the defenses of Quebec, and so they built a state-of-the-art fort, La Citadelle, which was completed in 1850. Today, La Citadelle is the largest fortress in North America, a functioning military installation, and a viceregal residence. The fascinating tour (available in French or English) takes you through over 300 years of the history of Quebec and introduces you to some of the traditions of the Royal 22nd Regiment, which garrisons the fort even today. For you royal watchers, you can also tour the residence of the Governor-General, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada. Even better yet, you can see the Changing of the Guard daily at 10AM, from June 24 to Labor Day, right at La Citadelle. No need to go to Buckingham Palace to see royal soldiers in crimson uniforms and bearskin hats! If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Batisse, a goat that is the royal mascot of the regiment. Now, that’s a photo that you’re not going to get anywhere else! Speaking of photo-ops, the ramparts of the fort provide spectacular views of Quebec City and the Chateau Frontenac. So bring your cameras for the urban and hircine views.
#1 A Shopping, History, and Food Tour of the Oldest Part of Quebec
While the Old City is beautiful, with its picturesque gateways and massive stone ramparts, it’s actually not the oldest part of Quebec. For that, you have to go to the Basse-Ville, or Lower City, and the most enjoyable way to get there is to take the funicular. Head up towards the Chateau Frontenac, and you’ll see signs for the funicular, which has been operating since 1879 (don’t worry, it was renovated in 2004!). The funicular is a type of cliff railway that takes you from the upper city to the lower city. It’s a fun trip for adults and kids alike.
Stepping off the funicular, you’ve arrived in Quartier Petit Champlain. Named after the founder of the city, this charming neighborhood of shops and restaurants is the oldest commercial district in North America. Spend some time exploring the boutiques. One of my favorites is Sculpteur Flamand, at 49 Rue du Petit-Champlain, the only shop in the city that specializes in wood sculptures. Everything there is made by hand, and you can often see the artisans at work. On our last visit, we bought several gifts, and a little something for ourselves as a souvenir of the city. If you’re hungry, and it’s breakfast time, I recommend La Cochon Dingue at 46 Boulevard Champlain.
Once you’ve shopped to your heart’s content, you should be ready for a little history. Take the short walk (see the map below) to the historic center of Quebec, the Place Royale. It was there in 1608, that Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec as the capital of New France. You can learn all about the early history of the city in the Musee de la Place Royale (and dress up in period costume like I did!), visit the oldest stone church in North America (Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, 1688) and take some lovely photos of the picture perfect square.
The last stop on our tour of the Lower City is the Marche du Vieux-Port, or Market of the Old Port. At the market you can find a huge variety of local food products, from maple syrup to fresh produce to fine wines. Snack your way through the market, do some shopping for gifts, or pack up a French picnic lunch. A “must-eat” is a sausage from So-Cho: Le Saucissier, which makes a terrific quick lunch or tasty snack. Also, keep your eyes open for a chocolate stand that sells homemade marshmallows. They’re magnifique!
Montmorency Falls is located at 5300 Boulevard Sainte-Anne in Quebec. Click on the map for directions.
Au Grain de Folie Bistro is located at 2286 Chemin du Fleuve in Levis. Click on the map for directions.
The Quartier Petit Champlain is located at 61 Rue du Petit Champlain in Quebec. The best way to get there is to take the funicular, as described above.
The Place Royal is located at 27 Rue Notre Dame in Quebec. Click on the map for directions.
The Marche du Vieux-Port is located at 160 Quai Saint-André in Quebec. Click on the map for directions.
Since I was a little boy, I’ve been going to Salem Willows Park and Arcade, although it’s been in existence for much longer, since 1858! Located just 10 minutes from downtown Salem, the Willows, as locals call it, offers a plethora of activities for both young and old alike. Our first stop is always the arcade, which features both modern and classic games, including our favorite, skee-ball! Collect tickets to cash in for fun trophies . . . err . . . prizes, as mementos of your day.
Getting hungry? While there are plenty of food options, including pizza, Chinese, and American, the best that the Willows has to offer is seafood. And there’s no better place to get it than at the Clam Shack. You wouldn’t know by just walking by, that this tiny shack has some of the best seafood on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Here, it’s take out only, but once you have your food, you can settle into the adjacent picnic tables, find a seat in one of the historic gazebos, grab a bench with an ocean view, or bring a blanket to have a picnic. The seafood is, obviously, the best thing on the menu, and they’re known for the fried clams, their namesake. A meal at the Clam Shack alone is worth a trip to the Willows!
Next stop, take a ride on the historic carousel. The Salem Willows Carousel dates back to 1905 and features a menagerie of animals including horses, buffalo, camels, sea monsters, lions, greyhounds, and even a St. Bernard! It’s a must for both adults and children. C’mon grown ups; you know you want to ride it! In the adjacent kiddie-land, here are other old fashioned rides and even a small miniature golf course.
Our final destination is a treat that is, to the best of my knowledge, unique to Salem Willows. Head all the way down the row of arcade buildings until you reach the end that’s closest to the water. E.W. Hobbes has been located in this historic building since 1897. They sell ice cream and popcorn, but the treats to get are the popcorn bars. I’ve been eating them since I was a kid! The bars come in a variety of flavors, but my personal favorites are the chocolate and the molasses and coconut. Unwrap the wax paper, break off a piece, and crunch away. I can taste them right now! While you’re savoring every bite, meander around the park for fantastic views of the ocean and Salem Sound. You might also catch some live music from the band shell. The Willows hosts a variety of events throughout the summer and fall. Check the schedule at their website.
If you’re in the Witch City, stop by Salem Willows Park and Arcade for an afternoon or evening of good, old-fashioned entertainment that the entire family will enjoy.
Salem Willows Park and Arcade are located at 165 Fort Ave in Salem, Massachusetts. There’s plenty of parking. If you don’t have a car and are visiting April through October, the Willows is stop #9 on the Salem Trolley. You can get more information about the trolley on their website. Click on the map for directions.
Want to do something quirky and offbeat in Paris? Need a rainy day activity that the kids will love? Does your parnter like tools, gadgets, and gizmos? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then spend a few hours at Paris’ Museum of Arts and Trades (Musée des Arts et Métiers ). Unlike the name suggests, the museum’s collection focuses on inventions and technology across the ages. As you meander through the galleries you’ll come across curious scientific instruments and inventions from the past and ogle at gigantic machines that have been used to construct both old and modern structures. You’ll explore mechanisms that humans have designed to harness steam, gas, electric, and solar energy. There’s so much here that you can easily spend an entire day, but we limited our visit to a few hours.
This museum brings you face to face with technologies that you’ve only read about in books or seen on television. You’ll examine James Watt’s steam engine, Edison’s phonographs, models use to build the Statue of Liberty, Lavoisier’s entire laboratory, and the very first airplane built 13 years before the Wright brothers’ flight. My favorite part of the museum was located in the former Church of St. Martin. It has been transformed into a display area aptly named the “place of wonder”. In it, you’ll marvel at the actual working Foucault’s pendulum that swings back and forth to prove that the earth rotates on its axis. You’ll climb up a gigantic ramp/stairway that brings you up close to strange flying contraptions and airplanes of the past and to antique methods of transportation, from steam carriages to locomotives to Model T’s. Both kids and adults will be awed by the amazing collection of inventions featured at this most unusual of museums.
Not only is the Museum of Arts and Trades one of Paris’ best-kept secrets, it’s also extremely affordable. Children under 18 years of age are free, and adults are only 8 euros. If you have a Paris Museum Pass, it’s also free. While the museum is closed on Mondays, it is open until 6:00pm every other day and until 9:00pm on Thursdays.
The Museum of Arts and Trades (Musée des Arts et Métiers) is located at 60 Rue Réaumur in Paris. The closest metro station is Arts et Métiers, which is located right across the street from the museum. Click on the map for directions.
You don’t need to go on a big bus tour or hire a personal guide to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. You can be a (f)ree (i)ndepednent (t)raveler and do it all on your own. I’ll show you how!
Chichen Itza or Tulum?
People go to Tulum because of its proximity to Cancun and Playa del Carmen and because you can swim there next to Mayan ruins. Instead, I strongly recommend that you go to Chichen Itza instead because it’s a full-sized Mayan city with many more archaeological remains and much larger pyramids. I’m a historian and history teacher; trust me 🙂 Although it’s a two hour ride each way, you most definitely won’t be disappointed! All my pictures in this post are of Chichen Itza, so if you like what you see, then what are you waiting for?!
Renting a Car in Mexico
Despite what you read online, renting a car in Mexico is absolutely nothing to worry about. Here are some things that you’ll need to know:
Before you leave, check with your credit company to make sure they cover Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) in Mexico. Most good credit companies do, so you shouldn’t have to pay for that. Print out a copy of the policy, bring it with you, and leave it in the rental car. The credit card company can email it to you or explain to you where it’s located on their website.
Mexico requires you to buy liability insurance. They do not accept liability insurance from credit card companies. You can purchase it online when you reserve a car.
In countries outside the U.S., most cars are standard, so be sure to rent an automatic if you don’t know how to drive standard. You’ll pay more but having the freedom to explore Chichen Itza on your own before the crowds get there is well worth it!
The Best Car Rental Company in Cancun/Playa Del Carmen
The easiest way to get to Chichen Itza is by car, and if you’re flying into Cancun airport, the best place to rent a car is from Easy Way Rent A Car. Many companies will play games with their rates and be deceptive about insurance, but that’s not the case with Easy Way. They guarantee their quotes and don’t charge an airport rental fee. They’ll also honor your credit card’s collision damage waiver insurance. Finally, they’ll pick you up at Cancun airport and even bring you back to the airport at the end of your trip! My partner and I did the research, and we used Easy Way.
Yes, Easy Way will pick you up at Cancun Airport. The directions will be on your confirmation email. Follow the directions carefully, and you’ll find that a representative will be waiting for you and holding a sign with your last name on it. They’ll take you in an air-conditioned van to their rental car center. It looks a little strange because it’s behind a gas station, but the company and its employees are incredibly professional and helpful. You’ll also return the car at this location, and they’ll take you back to the airport in their van. So convenient!
Driving in Mexico is Easy
No matter what you read online, driving in Mexico is almost exactly like driving in the U.S. or Europe. Here are some things you should know:
Obey the speed limit. You’ll see countless Mexican cars fly by you, but don’t be tempted to speed. If you do, you run the risk of getting pulled over.
If you do get pulled over, which is very unlikely, be polite and ask for the ticket. Do not give any money to the police officer. Just ask for the ticket.
You might read online that Mexican gas stations will try to scam you. That’s also extremely unlikely. All gas stations, called Pemex, are run by the national government, and they have cracked down on and monitor stations. Here are some common sense things to be mindful of:
Make sure the pump starts at zero.
Watch the attendant pump your gas. You may want to get out of the car and watch. Confirm the cost.
Pay in cash because most gas stations won’t accept a credit card.
Be sure you receive the correct change.
Speaking of cash, when you’re in another country, always take money out of an ATM. Never use a cash exchange place because they’ll charge you a commission. Take out enough money for two or three days because your bank will likely charge you an ATM fee each time that you withdraw money. Hint: some credit unions and small banks (like mine) don’t charge for international ATMs. Ask your bank before you leave.
Mexican roads have speed bumps called topes. Signs will warn you that you’re approaching speed bumps. Just slow down and go over them like you would any speed bump.
If you’re entering or exiting a Mexican city or town, you’ll usually see a police checkpoint booth with officers inside. They’re just monitoring for safety.
Driving to Chichen Itza
Getting to Chichen Itza by car is simple. If you’re leaving from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, you’ll take highway 180D. Check out the map. However, it’s not like any highway that I’ve seen. There are no exits and absolutely nothing on it. Be sure that you have a full tank of gas before you get on the highway. There’s no place to get gasoline until you get to Chichen Itza. There’s only one rest stop with bathrooms but no gas. So fill up before you leave. It’s also a toll road, so bring cash to pay the toll. Click on the map for directions.
Tips About Seeing Chichen Itza
The site gets extremely crowded, so I highly recommend getting there when it opens. We arrived at 8:00AM and had the place basically to ourselves. It was an incredible experience to be there with so few people. However, by 10/11:00AM, the tour buses began to arrive, and the site became packed.
Bring water and wear sunscreen! This is no joke. We were there in February, and it over 90 degrees! There’s also very little shade at the site.
Hire a guide. The site is not labeled at all, so unless you’re an expert in Mayan history and archaeology, you’ll need a guide to know what you’re looking at. I’m a history teacher, and even after reading an entire book about the Maya before I left for Mexico, I still needed a guide! You can hire a licensed guide on site, after you purchase your admission ticket. If you’re traveling in a small group, you can split the cost among yourselves, after the tour. If you’re only a couple, before going to the counter, find another couple (anyone will do!) and ask them if they would like to form a group to hire a guide together. Agree on who’s going to pay before approaching the counter, or else the guide will know you’re not a real group. There’s an ATM machine nearby, so you take out cash, if necessary. My partner and I were solo. We spent the $50 and were very happy that we did. Our guide was a local of Mayan descent. He spoke excellent English and was extremely friendly and knowledgeable. The tour took about two hours. Without our guide, the experience would not have been the same.
Tour first and shop after. Bargain with vendors and be careful what you buy. There are vendors literally everywhere at Chichen Itza. They’re all local people, and selling items to tourists is their only income. If you see something you like, don’t buy it right away. Inquire about the price and about where and how it’s made, particularly if it’s a handcrafted item. Make note of where you are, in case you want to come back to that stand. Then, walk around and compare similar items from other vendors. Once you’ve made your decision, bargain! I was very interested in a Mayan ceremonial dagger made of obsidian to show my history students. After talking with several vendors, I found that the prices varied quite a bit and not all of the handles were made from precious stone. So I wandered back to the first vendor that I talked to (who had the best prices and actual malachite handles) and bargained with him. He was to bargain and even offered me a discount on other items. Haggling is expected but politeness (and a little Spanish) will get you even further.
Want to Break Up Your Ride Back?
If you don’t want to the entire two hours straight back to your hotel, consider a stop at the colonial town of Valladolid. The city was built by the Spanish in 1545, and many of its buildings are painted in pastel colors, making the setting picture perfect. As you can see from the map at the bottom of the page, it’s right off the highway.
Enjoyable sites in Valladolid include:
A Mexican chocolate shop and museum – Located on a corner of the main park (Park Francisco Cantón Rosado – see map below), Tienda Chocolate Shop has a wide variety of chocolates, with some incredible add-ins. I found out the the darker the chocolate, the less easily it melts, so I brought some home for my chocoholic mother. You can also tour the small chocolate museum, but we chose not to. Visiting the shop is worth it for the smell alone!
The main park (see map below), in the center of town, has famous “love seats” which make for a great photo-op.
Stroll around just to see the wonderful Spanish colonial architecture. I would recommend a walk down Calzada de los Frailes (see the map below), which is the most picturesque street in town. Consider a stop at Coqui Coqui, a perfume shop that uses traditional Maya ingredients to make fragrances.
Continue down Calazada de los Fralies, and at the end (see the map below), you’ll find the former Convent of San Bernadino de Siena. The structure was used by the Spanish both as a convent and fortress. Explore the convent/fort and be sure to stop in the courtyard to see the peacock who likes to strut his stuff!
London is full of world-class sights and historic palaces fit for a queen, but I’m going to show you several destinations in the British capital that most tourists miss. As an avid anglophile who’s been to London five times, take a trip with me to these four lesser known but equally smashing London attractions.
#1 A Time Machine to the Past
You’ve wandered into the home of Huguenot silk weavers, and as you peak around the corners and meander up the creaky stairs, no matter where you turn, the family always seems to be just out of sight. Wigs and clothing have been tossed onto the back of chairs, and unfinished plates of food have been left on the elaborately set table in the midst of dinner. With a blob of fresh ink on the paper, someone has stopped writing, mid sentence, a letter to a trusted confidant. In the candle-lit kitchen, a pipe, still emitting the faintest amount of smoke is left, as if the user is just about to return for another puff.
Visitors freely move through the Dennis Severs’ House in silence, allowing them to ponder the sights and smells of each room, piece together the mystery of what they’re witnessing, and wonder if they just stumbled out of a time machine. The house is set up as a “still life drama”, that feels more like you’ve stepped into an immersive theater experience than a museum. And that’s exactly how Severs wanted it to be. He devoted his entire life to restoring his 19th century home in a way that recreated scenes of Stuart, Georgian, and Victorian life, complete with period furnishings and lack of electricity, to vividly portray how a single, fictional family lived, from rags to riches, over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
As a historian and history teacher, I’ve been to countless museums, and the Dennis Severs’ house is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I don’t say that lightly.
Be aware that due to the special nature of their museum experience, the Dennis Severs’ House is only open on certain days of the week at particular times, usually on Sunday afternoons, Mondays at lunch time, and on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. I highly recommend the Silent Night candlelit tour, held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. Check their website for specific opening hours and to book your self-guided experience.
#2 The Other Changing of the Guard
We’re all familiar with the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Soldiers in their scarlet tunics and bearskin hats marching in precision to the beat of military music, while gaggles of tourists watch, awestruck by all of the royal pageantry. But did you know there’s another changing of the guard in London, one that fewer tourists know about and attend? And this one involves horses!
Every day, no matter what the weather, members of the Queen’s Life Guard ride from their Hyde Park barracks to Horse Guards Parade to take over their duties as guards for the royal residences. The ceremony, with all its pomp and circumstance, takes place daily at 11:00AM. At this Changing of the Guard, unlike the one at Buckingham Palace, you won’t have a giant iron fence blocking your view, or be jumping up and down in the air in a vain attempt to see over the heads of hundreds of tourists standing in your way. Arrive around 10-15 minutes early, take your place at the ropes, and wait to watch the spectacle to unfold right in front of you.
If you miss the ceremony, you can still see two mounted members of the Queen’s Life Guard on duty from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM at the Whitehall entrance to Horse Guards Parade. At 4:00PM, the cavalry soldiers dismount and remain stationed there until 8:00PM. You’re welcome to take a selfie but don’t get too close!
#3 House Hunters Through Time
Do you enjoying peering into the homes of others by watching shows like House Hunters on HGTV and other DIY channels? Then you’ll love the Geffrye Museum of the Home! This unique museum is dedicated to showing how home decor, style, and taste have evolved from the 16th century to the present. You’ll see a chronological sequence of recreated living rooms from Tudor times, through the Victorian Era, to the 1960’s and today. And the museum is set in a restored 19th century almshouse with award-winning, picnic-worthy, period gardens. The Geffrye Museum (closed on Mondays, except for bank holidays) is a fascinating glimpse into the past and a tranquil oasis in a busy urban metropolis.
#4 Transportation Fit for a Queen
During the summer months, tourists flock to Buckingham Palace to tour what is, perhaps, the most famous residence in the world. Even if you’re not in London during the summer, you can still catch a glimpse of royal life and see how the monarch travels in royal style. The Royal Mews, which house the Queen’s working stables and the royal collection of coaches and state automobiles, are located just adjacent to Buckingham Palace. Visitors can admire the Gold State Coach, ridden in by British monarchs at every coronation since 1821, horse-drawn carriages used in royal weddings, jubilees, state visits, and the State Opening of Parliament, and even classic automobiles which ferry around Queen Elizabeth II. The newest member of the fleet is the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, which was first used in 2014 for the Queen’s 80th birthday and contains wood from Admiral Nelson’s flagship, H.M.S. Victory, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and other palaces and cathedrals scattered throughout the country. Whether you’re there to see the state coaches or visit
with the magnificent horses, a trip to the Royal Mews makes you feel like a monarch, if only for a short time. You might even catch a glimpse of the daily messenger coach that has been bringing royal mail
between Buckingham Palace and St. James’ Palace since 1843! Be aware that the Royal Mews are closed on Sundays.
The Dennis Severs’ House is located at 18 Folgate St. in the Spitalfields area of London. The closest Tube stop is Liverpool Street. Visit their website to book your tour. Click on the map for directions.
The Changing of the Life Guard is held daily at Horse Guards Parade at 11:00AM. Horse Guards Parade is located on Whitehall, with the closest Tube station being Charing Cross, on Trafalgar Square. Click on the map for directions. From Trafalgar Square, walk up Whitehall until you see the two mounted cavalry soldiers. Walk through the arch and into Horse Guards Parade.
The Geffrye Museum is located at 136 Kingsland Rd. in the Hoxton area of London. The easiest way to get there is to take the Overground (marked as orange on subway maps) to the Hoxton Station, which is located immediately behind the museum. Alternatively, you can take the Tube to Liverpool Street Station and then Bus 149 or 242 to the Museum (or walk for 20 minutes). Click on the map for directions.
The Royal Mews is located on Buckingham Palace Road. Click on the map for directions. With Buckingham Palace in front of you, walk to the left of the palace, past the Queen’s Gallery, and up Buckingham Palace Rd. You’ll walk along the wall that separates the palace gardens from the city and eventually see the Royal Mews on your right.