As you may have seen plastered all over my Instagram a week or two ago, I went on a fabulous 1.5 week trip to London! We saw so many incredible sights, ate at amazing restaurants (thank you friends for the suggestions), and took some really lovely day trips. If you are looking to plan a trip, check out my tips for travel, packing, food, sights, and day trips!
Sites to See – Local
- The National Gallery: One of the most amazing collections of artwork (mostly paintings) I’ve seen. Da Vinci, Raphael, Michaelangelo, Van Gogh, Monet….the list really goes on and on. Oh, and it’s free!
- Westminster Abby/Big Ben: A tour to London isn’t complete without seeing Westminster Abby. This is where all of the coronations, royal weddings, etc. happen, plus every famous Brit you could hope to pay homage to is buried there. On the way in/out, you will spot Big Ben too!
- The Tower of London/Tower Bridge: The tower of London is a true Medieval castle fit with bow and arrow slots, prisons, and crazy stories! They even had wild animals living there for a time. Check out the royal jewels, a collection of armor to suit an army, the history of torture, and even the royal engagement. Plus, spot great views of Tower Bridge (which is the one that most people think is London Bridge!).
- A Royal Tea: You can truly do one anywhere and have a splendid time. We did our tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace and it was a marvelous experience. I hear the gardens in the Summer are spectacular. Other notables I have read about include Claridges, Sketch, and the Ritz.
- Take a Bus Tour: This seems lame, but it’s really helpful and the guides give you so much information about London’s history! We took a tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath (see day trips) and the guide gave us a mini London history on the way out of the city.
- Some attractions we didn’t do/see but would have loved to given the time include taking a ride on the London Eye, checking out the Design Museum and the British Museum, and touring Buckingham Palace.
Sites and Photo Ops by Neighborhood
- Westminster: If you want to hit some of the major London highlights in just one place, head here to see Westminster Abby, Big Ben, and the London Eye.
- Central London: This is a must see tourist spot as it houses the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
- Notting Hill: Get your camera ready – rainbow houses galore! Plus it’s the home of Portobello Road with quirky shops and stalls selling the best gifts.
- Soho: For those ready to shop and eat, you’ve come to the right place! Everything here is trendy (for good reason) and I loved it. If you can, see a show in this neighborhood as well!
- Piccadilly Circus: The epicenter of shopping, plus tons of beautiful buildings and many great museums. Make sure to check out Fortnum and Mason – I bought all of my gifts here since they had the most amazing teas and chocolates. Oh, and also those crazy huge, Times Square-esque screens.
Sites to See – Day Trips
Even if you don’t have a car in London, it is very easy to take day trips (or small visits) to various locations from there. Here are some of the places we went and loved:
- Windsor Castle: This was the home of Queen Victoria who we learned was the longest reigning royal until now with Queen Elizabeth II. The home is magnificently decorated with artifacts and paintings. Be sure not to miss Cardinal George’s Cathedral either.
- Stonehenge: One of the greatest mysteries of all time. Though it might appear to just be a bunch of rocks in the middle of nowhere, there is a lot of history to be learned.
- Roman Baths: If you choose to take a trip over to Bath to see the Roman Baths, I would even suggest staying a couple of days. The town is so picturesque – sort of like a vacation/spa town but filled with incredible architecture and history.
- Liverpool: This little city is a 3.5 hour train ride away, so it’s more a couple day trip, but it was such a fun place! Home to the Beatles and two booming soccer teams, we stopped into the museums and saw a game while we were there – bucket list items for sure! The food is also incredibly inexpensive and the town is walkable so it would make for a cheap trip.
- Some places we could have gone to but didn’t have time for included Paris (only 2 hours by train!), Brighton, and York.
Where to Eat and Drink
When it comes to restaurants, I got SO many suggestions from friends and followers! Though I wasn’t able to try them all, here are a few of the really special restaurants that I visited and absolutely loved.
- Dishoom: This Indian fusion spot has incredibly flavorful, and spicy, food paired with a great beer selection, a trendy rustic vibe, and terrific service. Don’t let the long cue get you down – it’s worth it! They do take reservations (bookings) for parties of 6 or more, so keep that in mind.
- Ceviche Soho: Peruvian shareable plates come bursting with bold flavors served by the most enthusiastic waiters at this little spot. I also had one of my favorite drinks of the trip at this place. Make sure to make a reservation ahead of time as they fill up quickly.
- Brasserie Zedel: This was the COOLEST art déco French restaurant that from the outside just looks like a little cafe. Make your way downstairs and discover the Titanic-esque glamour at cheap prices that makes it approachable for anyone to enjoy. It will feel like a much fancier dinner than it is, with live French music playing much of the time, beautiful surroundings, and lovely service. As a bonus, the dining room is big enough to walk in without reservations on a week night.
- Fish and Chips at any pub with a decent rating on Yelp: we really found quite a few good versions on a whim.
- Milroy’s / The Vault: For the whisky lover this is not to be missed. Upstairs is a whisky bar and store where the bartenders will be happy to talk whisky with you. Head to the back where you will see a bookshelf with a button – press it and head downstairs for a cozy bar (great for couples) and wonderful drinks.
- Bar Termni: Pre or post dinner date cocktail spot with fabulous negronis – small but delicious.
- Ye Old Cheshire Cheese: Incredible, old and quaint pub perfect for a beer with friends. Watch your head as you wind your way through the rooms to find a spot to sit. Order a beer and be transported back in time!
- Bar Americain: Located in the same building as Brasserie Zedel, stop in for a cocktail in an art déco space straight out of the 20s with prohibition style drinks.
- Brew Dog: This hip beer joint makes some of the best craft beer in town. If you’re looking to get away from the lighter British beers, this is where you can get a beer with some oomf (sorry Brits, I wasn’t big on the warm, flat, light beers!).
How to Get Around
London is like any major city, as it has taxi’s, Uber’s, a subway (tube), and buses and is quite walkable in the central locations. I suggest not renting a car since driving on the left is really backwards in more ways than you can imagine, and the driving is pretty intense in the city. Here is my experience with the public transportation:
- The subway, or tube: The London tube is incredibly well designed and will honestly take you anywhere you need to go in the city, from the airport to the biggest tourist destinations. If you plan to be there for more than a day or two, get an unlimited ride Oyster card for Zones 1 and 2. This will cover all of the major sites that people usually want to see in London and the only time you will need additional tickets is for the airport. One way tickets are very pricey, and you can get a pass for a week for about 65 pounds (not cheap, but the most convenient, simple, and quick).
- Taxis: Taxis are, in general, ungodly expensive. We only took a couple since they were at least 1/3 more expensive than Ubers.
- Uber: If you use this in the States, you will know it is very easy to use, doesn’t require tip, or having cash on hand. Ubers are more expensive than the tube in the long run, however, if you are traveling alone or with two people. Even if you do not get a data plan for your phone while you are there (like I did) almost all restaurants and lots of stores have free wifi that you can hook up to and this will allow you to call an Uber.
- Buses: We only took tour buses while we were in London, but these are one of the cheapest options. We did not take them because it was not as regular of a service and we found them a little more difficult to manuver. They also take longer than the tube to get places, generally.
- Walking: London is a very walkable city! Once you get to a central area, you will definitely get some steps in, but it’s easy to get around and see a lot on foot.
What to Pack
Since our trip was over the winter holidays, this list is slightly geared in that direction, but many of the items can be very helpful!
- Umbrella. We got lucky with very little rain, but it’s inevitable in England to get little precipitation.
- Long coat with zipper pockets. I found it incredibly helpful to have the peace of mind of zippered pockets. I could store my passport and Oyster card safely for easy access. I also specify a long coat because it can be COLD. The extra length really does wonders to keep your core cozy.
- Scarf, hat, and gloves. Again, it is cold. And more of a wet cold than anything, so these items are required!
- Comfortable, water proofed boots. Having some comfortable shoes for walking that have rubber bottoms to resist the rain is very helpful in London. You will be doing a lot of walking and a lot of puddle jumping. I also sprayed my suede boots with a water proofing solution to help them from getting soaked and stained.
- Rolling bag. Unless you want to lug your heavy bags through the streets of London or take an expensive Uber/Taxi from the airport, it is much easier to roll your bags the mile or so from the tube to your hotel.
- Cross-body bag for necessities. Since I am an avid photo snapper (photographer seems a bit of an overstatement), I brought along a decent sized cross body bag that fit my DSLR so I could tote it around with my sunglasses, wallet, etc. and not have to have my hands tied up.
Things you might not know
As far as I knew, people spoke English and there was a pretty standard city culture in London. When I arrived, I was surprised by all of the cultural differences and quirks there were to navigating the city! Did you know that:
- At pubs, almost always you are supposed to order beer and food at the bar? Even if there are no signs saying that, just assume and they will tell you otherwise. Also, don’t be surprised if your beer is served flat and at room temperature… not sure I ever got into that…
- There are no outlets for hair dryers in the bathrooms? I found myself drying my hair in the living room of our rented flat. Brits, where the heck do you dry your hair!?
- You can make reservations (or bookings as they say) at bars? Just for a 30 minute drink even! I have never seen this in the states unless you are planning to pay for bottle service.
- In general, tipping is about 10-12%? Seems low compared to the U.S., but they all also seemed to be in better spirits. I hope that means they are getting paid more!
- The subway, or tube, is not cheap? It was interesting because the subway in America sports all sorts of colorful characters, but in London it was mostly business people and the wealthier folks. See the How to Get Around section for more tips on saving some money!
- Non-sparking water is called “still water”? I had always heard flat or no-gas in other European countries, but English folk say still.
- There are signs on the ground telling people to look left or look right? We all know they drive on the left side of the road, but it doesn’t mean that looking for traffic will be an easy thing to remember. Rule of thumb, really do look BOTH ways before crossing. Those double decker buses are not messing around!
- Soooo many people smoke? And you can do so right outside a restaurant? I had experienced this in France, but somehow didn’t expect it in England.
If you have ANY questions about London or my trip in general, please ask! I had such an incredible time and really cannot wait to go back. You could spend a month in London and not see it all, so whatever you plan for your trip will be sure to be a wonderful experience.