If you follow me on Instagram (@lemondroplife), you know that a couple weeks ago JP and I took a little adventure to the UK. It. Was. Awesome. So I’m recapping the London portion of our travels for you today, and I’ll be posting a travel guide for Scotland next week!
First of all, winter is a great time to travel to Europe because it’s off-season and you can get some pretty great deals on flights and hotels. And with London being one of the most expensive cities in the world (seriously, the dollar-to-pound conversion totally. stinks. At the time we went, 1 pound = 1.54 US dollars, which is actually better than normal.) the off-season is a great time to go!
When we’re traveling we usually book all of our hotels through hotels.com. We’ve had really great experiences with them and have gotten to stay at some incredible hotels at discounted prices. For our first couple days in London, we stayed at the Apex Temple Court Hotel, which was right off of Fleet Street. The hotel was upscale and absolutely fabulous – probably our favorite of the trip.
For the last few days of our trip, we stayed at the Citadines Hotel near Trafalgar Square. Again, the hotel itself was very nice – the rooms are set up more like apartments for extended stays, complete with little kitchenettes. Honestly though, the staff were not the most helpful. Pretty much anytime we went to the desk to ask a question, they acted like we were inconveniencing them. The location, however, was absolutely superb. Literally, a 3-minute walk to the nearest Underground station – which brings me to my next point of discussion.
The Underground (or ‘tube’, as it’s more commonly known) is, hands down, the easiest way to get around the city. We flew into Heathrow and took the tube all the way into the city to the station nearest our hotel. Our plane got in around 7:30AM London time, so it did get quite crowded with people commuting to work, but other than that, it was a breeze. Every morning, we went to the nearest station and purchased an all-day travel pass (12 pounds/day; ~$18.50). It might seem intimidating at first, but it’s one of the easiest subway systems I’ve ever navigated – I promise, with the help of a little Underground station map, anyone can do it!
Obviously, there are a lot of pubs in London. Like, A LOT. A couple we went to worth mentioning were The Swan (located in the Bloomsbury neighborhood) and The Sherlock Holmes Pub, which was right around the corner from the Citadines hotel. They both had great food and amazingly friendly staff. However, a girl can only have fish n’ chips so many times before her body starts to shut down from the carb overload.
Indian food (one of my favorites) is highly popular in London, and we went to a restaurant called Masala Zone (there are several throughout the city) that was SO good. Seriously, we ended up going twice. We also went to a fun little pizza place called Franco Manca – the pizza tasted just like what I remember when I was in Italy! I’ll warn you, it’s a pretty popular place. There was a line outside the door when we got there, but it went fairly quickly.
There is an insane amount of things to do and see in London. We could’ve stayed another week and still had plenty to see. So let me run through the list of what we saw. (WARNING: it’s going to be a loooong list.)
St. Paul’s Cathedral – There was a charge to go in, so this was just one where we took a picture and went on our way.
Tower Bridge – Lots of good photo opportunities. You can go inside and tour it for around 10 pounds, I think. You’ll soon discover that there are a lot of sights that cost money, so you’ll want to pick and choose which ones are most important to you.
Globe Theatre – Shakespeare’s famous playhouse. They actually still put on plays here, but only in the summer, since it’s an open-air theatre.
Harrod’s – This is a shopping mall, on steroids. Eating a box of chocolates. At Disney World. That is to say, it’s INSANE. You’ll see shops from every designer you’ve ever heard of, and some you haven’t. Obviously, most everything there was way too expensive for us, but they do have a food section where you could pick up some gifts and make people think you’re rolling in the dough.
Big Ben – Another photo opportunity. And, if you have time, I would recommend seeing it at both day and night. And make sure you go at the top of an hour so you can hear the bells chime – it’s pretty spectacular!
British Museum – This one’s actually free. And HUGE. There is a whole lotta history to take in here, so if you’re the kind that likes to read and see everything, you could easily spend an entire day here.
Madame Tussaud’s – There are so many wonderful historic things to see in London, so I am somewhat ashamed to say I was a little giddy to see this one. What is it about wax figures of celebrities that make people go into a duck-faced, posing, selfie frenzy?? I’m not sure, but I was right there with them. And, let me say, some of these wax figures look scary-real. Like, I was pretty sure Benedict Cumberbatch was going to come to life at any moment. (Which would have been AWESOMEEEE.) This one cost 20 pounds/person (~$30), but we ended up buying bundled tickets for this and the London Eye that gave us a bit of a discount on each attraction.
We look nice together, no?
Piccadilly Circus – This is kind of the like the Times Square of London – big digital advertisements and street performers everywhere. I would recommend this one at night.
Westminster Abbey – The site of royal coronations and weddings. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day we went for a church service, so make sure you check beforehand whether it’s open. If I remember correctly, it’s 20 pounds/person (~$30) to go inside.
London Eye – Basically, a huge ferris wheel that gives you an amazing view of London. We did it at night and it was absolutely incredible. I have a thing about heights (in a nutshell, I crumble onto the floor like a small child), but I still really enjoyed it.
Hyde Park – It was rainy and cold the day we walked through, but if you go in the summer, I’m guessing Hyde Park would be absolutely beautiful. The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is also located here.
Buckingham Palace – Obviously, one of the most famous sights to see while in London. They do the changing of the guard every day at 11:30AM, and if you want to see it, I suggest getting there at least 30 minutes early. We got there around 11:10, and there was already a huge crowd. You can book tours, but they only offer them at certain times so you’ll want to check on it beforehand.
Imperial War Museum – This one is free as well, and it’s an excellent museum. It’s very interactive, so if you have school-age children, this might be a good one. They have exhibits for World War I and II, as well as the Holocaust.
Phantom of the Opera – One thing there’s no shortage of in London is Broadway shows. We chose to see the Phantom of the Opera – neither of us had seen it before, and it seemed like something ‘classic’ to see while we there. We purchased tickets while we were there, and we got a pretty good deal – about 42 pounds/person (~$65). Our seats were pretty good, and the theatre was only about 75% full. The show was fantastic and the music was incredible!
Tower of London – I think this one was around 20 pounds/person (~$30), but there’s a lot to see inside, including the Crown Jewels.
Borough Market – Surprisingly, this ended up being one of our favorite stops. It’s a large market with dozens of food vendors – we had lunch here twice. And I’m not ashamed to say that the second day, my lunch consisted of a freshly baked loaf of rosemary focaccia bread and a heavenly almond croissant. #fattiemuch?
Phew. I think that exhausts the list of things we saw while we were there. We had very full days trying to see everything we wanted to, so I would definitely recommend wearing comfortable shoes and keep the things you’re carrying to a minimum. I carried a small cross body bag and a small backpack (this one), which held my nice camera. It worked out really well; I think the backpack was one of my smartest purchases and can easily be used for future travels.
I enjoyed London so much; if you’re looking for a taste of Europe without worrying about a language barrier, this is the spot for you! It’s definitely a place I would like to visit again in the future!