London is everything I could’ve ever imagined and more. If I could have stayed long enough to eat at every good restaurant or go through every museum or walk down every corridor, it would take me years. Here is an outline of what I did- take or leave what you’d like to make the exact experience that suits you!
Where do I fly into?
London has 6 airports…so how do you choose? I recommend Heathrow- this is the main hub and is connected to the Tube line (I will explain more about this later). It is also absolutely ginormous, so give yourself time to orient yourself and grab a cup of coffee from Caffè Nero or a sandwich from Giraffe Stop.
How do I get around?
There is no such thing as Uber or Lyft in London, but I recommend embracing the glorious Tube! To Navigate the Tube, you can use an Oyster Card, London Travelcard, or a Contactless Card.
The complicated version: Both Oyster and Travelcard can be purchased on demand from Underground stations, Visitor Centres and literally hundreds of retail outlets, such as newsagents and convenience stores inside London. Contactless Cards are if you already have a debit/credit card with the feature, which looks like “))))”. If you are in London for 5+ days, having a 7-day Travelcard loaded on your Oyster can save you significant cash. For 5 days of travel in London, Oysters and 7-day Travelcards for most visitors will be almost identical in price. For 6 or 7 days the sixth and seventh days are effectively free for a 7 day Travelcard compared to the Oyster total price.
The simple version: If you are staying over 5 days, purchase a 7-day Travelcard at the kiosk from the Underground station. If you are staying less than 5 days, load about $30 on an Oyster card to get you to/from airport as well as plenty of Tube-ing through the city.
If you plan on returning to London at some time then you can hang on to your Oyster and use it again on your return however far in the future. Otherwise you will want to reclaim your Oyster deposit (deposits are typically $5) and any cash balance left on your Oyster or Visitors Oyster. You can do this using any ticket machine.
1. You need your card when you enter and exit the station, so have it ready. Locals will get frustrated if you block the exit barriers.
2. Double check you are using the right line and it’s going in the right direction! There are underground line maps posted at each station.
3. Stand to the right on the escalator if you are just standing. Locals will fly by you on the left, so be sure that your luggage and purse is not in the way.
Where to Stay
London is HUGE! We decided to stay just outside of Hyde Park, and it was absolutely lovely. It was the perfect combination of location convenience, good access to the Tube, and quaint, quiet streets. We stayed at Byron Hotel 4 days, 3 nights for just about 100 pounds, which was a steal! The best part about staying at Byron (besides the complimentary breakfast) is they gave us an Android phone called a “Travel Buddy”. It had unlimited access to the internet and maps and city guides to help us navigate the city without using data. This was a game-changer!
Day 1 – Arrival
Arrive at Heathrow and tube to our Hotel near Hyde Park. The important thing about the Tube is to remind yourself that you are human and you make mistakes. If you get on the wrong tube or miss a tube by a minute, take a deep breath and be thankful for the extra minute to soak in all that London is! People watching is always fun and listening to the myriad of languages that make London locals so cool!
I arrived around noon, so we walked from our Hotel to Marble Arch. This is a park but also considered an area of town. There is the absolutely cutest coffee shop tucked in one of the corner streets called Deliciously Ella! Totally worth a stop. I loved the turmeric latte and a fun ginger shot, which doubled as a cute souvenir/reusable travel shampoo container.
We continued on our path to Oxford Street, where I had to stop into my favorite international store, Zara. I grabbed a cute jumpsuit that I actually wore the next day and a swimsuit. There are other stores and exploring on Oxford Street, but we had a reservation for a yoga class at a local fitness studio called Method. This was absolutely lovely- it was the perfect balance between a good workout and a good stretch after a long flight and day of walking. They also offered other fitness classes!
For dinner, we went back to Oxford Street for Home Slice! Absolutely incredible pizza. The pie was thin enough where one large pizza (the only two options are slices or a large pie) was enough for two people. The vibe was fun, the music was loud, the food was mouth-watering good. We ordered a pizza with half “Pumpkin, Broccoli, Pecorino, & Crispy Onion” and half “Aubergine, Cauliflower cheese, Spinach, & Harissa”.
Get your walking shoes ready! We started in Hyde Park, because we could walk there from our Hotel. Hyde Park is home to Kensington Palace (where Kate and William live), as well as other beautiful memorials spread throughout the park. Hyde Park is also next to St. James Park, which leads to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Household Cavalry Museum (where you can see the Horse Guards outside). Walking towards House of Commons, you can see Downing Street (where Theresa May lives). We continued along to cross the bridge to South Bank to get a good view of the London Eye. Locals argue that the London Eye is just as great to look at, rather than spending the time and money on riding it. At the London Eye, we tube-d to London Bridge (you can also catch a glimpse of Tower Bridge here too).
We were hungry, and we were in for a treat! Borough Market is full of local vendors with cheese, meats, jams, fish, juice, Ethiopian food, vegan food, Thai food, coffee, and anything your heart could possibly desire (or think of desiring). We ate lots of samples and drank lots of coffee and ended up at a Thai food place. They were having a cooking demo where we grabbed yummy dessert for free!
Next was a tube to Trafalgar Square, which hosts the amazing National Gallery (free admission). This was a fun museum to explore through, and they had comfortable benches after a long time spent walking through London. Next door is St. Martin in the Fields which is a church that has a spectacular coffee shop hidden in the basement full of locals. It was tranquil but also lively- and your purchase supports asylum seekers!
Leischter (pronounced Les-ter) Square is walking distance from here and comparable to Times Square. It also houses an incredible Indian Restaurant, Dishoom. It was only 5 pm, and there was a long line! It is open all day for breakfast/brunch and dinner. Apparently, it stays that busy all day long and all week long. So plan to either get there early or make reservations if you do not want to wait. After eating an incredible dinner, we walked back to South Bank, which is beautiful at night with the lights and a fun skate park. There was also a festival going on the week we were in town with music and vendors.
Today, we begin at Tate Modern, an amazing (free) modern art museum. It has several floors and several galleries of all types of art. Very cool! It is also in a fun, lively district of London. After browsing around the museum for a few hours, we walked to a local Scandinavian cafe called Joe & the Juice. I enjoyed a panini and a juice, but my friend ordered an amazing smoothie with peanut butter and espresso.
Just over the bridge and a short walk is Covent Gardens. This is a very touristy area with lots of shops and cheap souvenirs. There were street entertainers, an outdoor market, and restaurants as well. Right down the street is Neil’s Yard, a hidden gem of the city. It is a tucked-away alley full of color. It is also a very trendy, fun atmosphere which would be fun for dinner or just to stop through for a coffee.
Next, we tube-d to Camden Market. This is a completely different vibe then anywhere else in London- a little rough on the edges. There is an endless maze of shops (including the well-known great vintage stores) and food vendors (like a cereal cafe or the well-known Mother Clucker). You could get lost in there for hours.
An option here is to hop over on a Tube to Abbey Road or Brick Lane or Sky Garden, depending on time and interest. Abbey Road is the infamous Beatles’ street. Brick Lane is another market place for fun vintage shopping. Sky Garden has an incredible view of the entire city. Note that you must book your free visit beforehand, because there is a limited amount of tickets given out. You can shoot your shots by just doing a walk-in, but as stated earlier, there is a limited amount of tickets so they can deny entry.
This was our travel day again. We walked alongside Hyde Park to an Australian breakfast/brunch place called Daisy Green. It was quaint and there even was an Australian working there! This is right next to Picadilly Circus, which is another street full of shops. It was a rat race and crowded with people and construction. We stopped at Sourced Market for a coffee.
We tube-d to Waterloo where we grabbed a railway to Southampton, which is where my friend is from. We had to stop through Winchester to hop on a bus, which is the previous capitol city of England. There were a ton of beautiful, historic buildings. We hopped in my friend’s car and drove to Dorset- a lovely coastal town. We stayed in a beautiful hotel, Rudd’s, overlooking the water. You could hike for hours along the water. It reminded me of Big Sur in California, but instead of driving, you are walking in grass. The town had loads of ice cream spots, yummy restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. Although the town basically closes down around 5 pm leaving only two restaurants open. Apparently, it is also near another town where you can find a pub, but we stayed in our little niche, which is called Lulworth Cove. If you can make it out here, I highly recommend getting to the coast somehow!
- An “English breakfast“. Bacon, sausage, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, black pudding (try a bite before google-ing what it actually is), and baked beans.
- Chai Tea. They have some great Chai at Borough Market and Dishoom!
- Scone with clotted cream and jam. It puts a buttered biscuit to shame!
What was I not able to do…
I was recommended by several people to do a River Tour. We decided not to do it because our schedule was pretty jam packed. Also, we walked along South Bank which is the river that the tours go on, so we didn’t feel the need to participate. Another recommendation that was given to me was to go to a show. This would be a fun nighttime activity, but we were so exhausted that we were ready for bed pretty early.
How much did you spend…
London is expensive, especially the more you do- and believe me, there is so much to do! Each coffee was about $5 (after the conversion from pounds to USD). Meals were about $12, and dinner was around $20.
A question I got a lot was about the time change. London is 5 hours ahead of EST. It was not too hard of an adjustment, but I don’t usually get bothered by time changes. I think the hardest part was eating and feeling hungry at weird times.
There were plenty of public restrooms, especially in the touristy sections. Although, many of those restrooms require you to pay 20p (British version of 20 cents). If not, most restaurants are willing to let you borrow their toilet.