I wasn’t excited about London. I’m not sure why, but there was nothing that was hugely appealing to me. Spoiler alert: I loved it and cannot wait to go back. I can absolutely see why so many people make London their home, especially considering how easy it is to travel from there all over Europe (and beyond).
(Just want to know my thoughts on certain places? Look for the BOLD words. Just want general tips/observations? Skip to the end.)
Day 1: Borough Market, London Bridge, Tower of London, Spiatfield Market/Shoreditch,
I flew out from Baltimore on an overnight flight via British Airlines. I slept almost the entire time, so when I landed around 10am, I was ready to go. I took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station and then hopped on the Tube to get to the hotel. The Tube was so much easier than I expected, which was a relief.
Day 1 started at Borough Market, the largest open-air market in London. I was totally overwhelmed with what to buy and finally settled on an amazing prosciutto, mozzarella, and basil sandwich from Gastronomica.
From there, I crossed over the London Bridge to the Tower of London. I worried about it being a little too touristy, but I was into the history and wanted to check it out. SO worth it; I spent almost two hours exploring the towers, checking out the gems, and hearing about beheadings. Gruesome? Yes. Fascinating? Yes. There’s a really sad story about two princes who went missing and whose bones showed up years later at the Towers.
I strolled up to the Shoreditch neighborhood, which is known for being more artsy. I wanted to check out the Spiatfield Market, but it was mostly closing down by the time I got there. (Aside from restaurants and pubs, things seem to close way earlier in Europe than the States.) I wandered through the neighborhood and popped into some other cool shops.
After Shoreditch, I went to a pub, Duke & Duchess, by the hotel. The food was fine — nothing memorable — but I enjoyed talking to the bartender. He’s been in London for almost seven years and the poor guy is barely breaking even because it’s so expensive to live there. (At the time we went, the exchange rate was about $1 =£1.50.) Steve’s co-worker told us that each Tube stop closer to the city can raise housing prices £100000 or more. CRAZY.
Day 2: British Museum, British Library, Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens/Palace, Notting Hill
Day 2 rolled around and I was ready to go … except that I set my alarm wrong and was awoken by housecleaning at 11:30am. Whoops! I got myself together and grabbed a quick lunch at Cafe Verona on my way to the British Museum.
The museum is free, which is a huge perk because I left after 15 minutes. I just wasn’t into it. I quickly texted Katharine and asked, “British Museum or British Library?” and, as she often is, she was totally right with her reply — Library. I walked the 15 minutes to the (also free!) British Library, admiring the architecture along the way. (Also, someone asked me for directions, so I clearly looked like a real Brit.)
I was a little confused at the library — what am I looking for? It seemed like a bunch of reading rooms that I couldn’t access. I finally found the room with everything on exhibit and, as promised, it was pretty awesome. I saw the Magna Carta, notebooks from da Vinci, writings from Shakespeare, but my favorite by far was the handwritten Beatles’ lyrics. You could put on headphones and listen to each song as you read the lyrics. Listening to “Yesterday” while reading it? It gave me chills.
After the Library, I headed to Oxford Street to check out the shopping. Holy cluster f*ck of people … no thanks. I hurriedly dashed by people and narrowly avoided being taken out by shopping bags on my way to Hyde Park. I was meeting Steve for dinner in Notting Hill, so I opted to hop on a “Boris bike” to check out Hyde Park. Super cheesy and touristy but it was really fun! I docked the bike and stopped by Kensington Palace to say hi to Kate. She wasn’t home … or she was avoiding me.
I grabbed some tea and madeleines at a little shop on the way to Notting Hill, quickly learned that Portobello Market closes at 2pm (oops) and met Steve at Castle Pub for drinks and dinner. Another not-so-memorable dinner in London, but a cool pub with really nice staff.
We got back to the hotel and we wandered to Happenstance, a nice, modern bar/restaurant where it looked like everyone had JUST left work at like 11pm and girls in suits were getting down. I had a really good cocktail but couldn’t muster the energy to dance.
Day 3: Tate Modern, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Marylebone
Day 3 started with meeting with Steve and his co-workers for lunch in the South Bank area. After lunch, I popped into the Tate and honestly — I wasn’t impressed. It’s SUPER modern art and it just didn’t jive with me. Since I didn’t have much time, I started to get good at just deciding to leave the places that didn’t speak to me.
I walked along the bank and saw the London Eye (WHO goes in that?? Looks like death.) and snapped some pics of Big Ben. Crossing the river took me to Westminster Abbey, which everyone really recommended. I wasn’t sure about it, but I did the audio guide and loved it. There are SO many people buried there from Darwin to Dickens. There’s SO much to see and learn. They were so edgy; the two queens, Mary and Elizabeth I, rest in opposite aisles in Henry VII’s chapel. Don’t miss the Poet’s Corner, Cloisters, and Chapter House.
While I would’ve preferred tea at somewhere a little less touristy, I can’t deny that they Abbey’s Cellarium Cafe is really cool. I spent quite a bit on tea and tiny desserts and sandwiches, but they were pretty good.
Since Steve’s work week was over, we moved hotels to the Marylebone neighborhood before flying out of London on Saturday. It’s such a cute neighborhood with lots of shops and pubs. Steve grabbed a beer at the Tudor Rose while I perused shops and then we grabbed dinner at a nice restaurant, 108 Brasserie, where I had a delicious risotto. Definitely be best meal in London. (And there is an adorable French cafe in the back!)
On Saturday morning, we were off in a cab bright and early to Barcelona!
- The city wide WIFI sucked. I paid £7 for the day and it only worked once.
- The Tube is so helpful! It was easy and inexpensive to hop on and off with the Oyster card.
- Bring a coat! I stupidly forgot my jacket with a hood and had to hunt down one on Day 1 because it rained on and off all day. Those pics are all overcast for a reason.
- Having a chip credit card was essential. Almost everywhere we paid with card only took the chip ones, which the US is JUST catching up on.
- Look the opposite way! They drive on the opposite side, so just look both ways multiple times.
Would I go back?
I’d love to go back to London. The architecture, history, etc. — there was so much CHARM in the city. It was a huge city with so many people and so much happening but each neighborhood had its own vibe. Even being in Hyde Park felt like I was able to escape. London is also a great base to get to other cities; we took the two-hour train from Paris to London before flying back to Baltimore.