You've heard how expensive it is to travel within London, right? Does this mean you wouldn't want to take the opportunity to see one of the most iconic cities in the world? This didn't stop me while living in Europe as there were almost always super cheap deals to fly into London through budget airlines and a friend who loved to share her flat (apartment) with me in exchange for great memories.
Aside from the good times, there is also a great amount of history and culture in London. From being one of the largest and richest cities centuries ago to economic troubles in the early 1900's to then booming with innovative art, music, theater, and fashion- This is what made London so great!
London was the first trip I journeyed through when I lived in Europe. It soon became my second home (or maybe third) as I left my footprints in what felt like every neighborhood, underground station, and landmark in London! Let's just say we walked plenty and far! By the end of my third trip, I had felt that this city was so familiar to me, even if I didn't live there. Here's some of the best things I found throughout my trips to London:
Best Modes of Transportation
You can take the bus, a cab, or just walk around all of London (might I add, it is very exhausting)! I prefer to take the London Underground otherwise known as the tube. This still requires some walking but I loved maneuvering through the city and being able to fit in with the locals as they made their way to work, university, or to meet up with some friends.
Helpful tip: If you have an iPhone, download the tube map here so that it is saved in iBooks. No data is required while using iBooks which helps save on your roaming charges if you're coming from out of the country. Become familiar with the stops, the lines, and the direction the trains go in so that you're not wasting time at the station and getting lost.
If understanding public transportation is difficult for you, I would suggest doing the Hop on Hop off bus tours where you'll be able to tour around the city and stop at the attractions you want to see and once you're done, you won't have to wait long for another bus to come by for your next stop.
Also, Uber works great around the city. It's similar to cab services as you'll have someone chauffeur you around to where you want to go. My favorite feature of this service is that everything is done through the app on iPhones and Androids. You can add your debit/credit card or Paypal account to the app, you can request a driver in specific car sizes, and you'll even have an estimate of the fare before reserving the car! Uber is super easy to use, it's legit, and much cheaper than a cab, especially in London!
I had been seeing this drink being promoted at most restaurants and bars and was curious to know what it was about. My friend Jessica mentioned that almost everyone in London loves to drink this summer-time cocktail called Pimms and that it's made with gin. Pimms? At the time, I didn't drink gin and didn't intend on having it or any gin-based drink while in London. I gave it a try. Loved it. It was so refreshing, I could see why everyone loves it on a warm summer day! If you're in London, any time of the year really, try this fruity cocktail! The fruit, mint, and lemonade (or ginger ale) tone down the alcohol but be careful of having too much as it may fool you into believing you're drinking a fruity lemonade!
Best Foods to Eat
English breakfast with some tea is awesome! To a non-Londoner, at least! Those sweet and succulent beans, the large pieces of bacon and buttery toasted bread was just part of what gets me excited to eat an English Breakfast. A few times I had stopped at Patisserie Valerie (since it was close to my friend's flat) for an English Breakfast and to grab some chocolate from their large selection of sinful sweets.
I also loved walking around the city and letting my nose follow great scents of delicious street food. I mostly stopped at any chance to grab whatever caught my attention while exploring. The smell of roasted almonds at the Millennium Bridge and Tower Bridge were always what drove my senses wild! About £2 each will serve you a small cup of roasted almonds, it's definitely not enough to share with a friend so be sure to get one (or two) for yourself before sharing.
One of my favorite places to eat in London is at Burger and Lobster in SoHo! This location is always busy and unless you have a party of 6 people or more, a reservation is not possible. You can add your name to the list to wait for a booth or table but the bar is available for first come first serve while serving food as well. Jessica and I decided to drink some Pimms while waiting for our lobster at the bar. If you check out the website, there is no menu available. Just know that this restaurant is called Burger and Lobster for a reason.
Next, eat your way into Chinatown! So much good food and yummy bubble tea! This has to be my favorite Chinatown with the festive vibes and great smells. I was also deprived of all good Chinese food so that could've made my ratings better!
Best Free Things to do
Take a stroll around one of London's great parks like St. James Park (a Royal Park) or bring some lunch and have a picnic on the grass. When there's good weather in London, take advantage of it!
Another advantage in London are the free museums. Check out the Natural History Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum next door (spent a while here). Behind the two, you'll find the Science Museum which entry is also free but if you would like to watch an IMAX film, charges do apply.
How about crossing Tower Bridge, checking out Tower of London (tours are not free), or hanging out in Trafalgar Square? All free. Each time I went to London, I felt that checking out Big Ben was obligatory! Even walking around Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace were great places to hang around.
Best Paying Things to do
Shopping is a given in London. Whether you're just picking up a few souvenirs or was lured into the the shops at Oxford Street or Harrods, you'll definitely need some money to spoil yourself.
For perfect city views of London, check out the London Eye. Be sure to purchase your tickets online ahead of time so that you are not stuck in an extra long line for tickets. Once you purchase your tickets online, you may print it out and wait in the line to get on the Ferris wheel. The ride is about 30 minutes long so save your photos for when you're at the top or when the wheel is going back down and you'll have a closer photo with Big Ben.
Best Spots for City Views
Did you think the only way to get a nice city view was from the London Eye? Think again. Get dressed up, bring some notes for a drink or two and head over to Salesforce Tower (formerly Heron Tower when I went) in the evening. If you're taking the tube, get off at Liverpool Street station, turn right on Liverpool Street, then right onto Bishopgate and you'll see it down to your left. You'll notice the huge skyscrapers and a beefy bouncer at the entrance. Take the lift (elevator) up the 40th floor, the bouncer may ask. Don't wear sneakers unless they can be disguised as dressy shoes. And don't worry about the looks the bouncer gives you. Just as long as you get in!
Drinks are of course on the pricey side, but don't feel obligated to spend money. Take a walk around and if you fancy a drink, do so! If not, head back down on the lift where you will still be able to capture great views of the city.
Another spot you can get spectacular views of the city would be from The Shard. The only difference between going up the Salesforce Tower and The Shard is the price. The Shard and the Salesforce Tower are opposite of each other over River Thames so you'll still have a view over the river whichever location you choose. Prices to see The View From the Shard varies based on the day and time you book the tickets. Tickets are available online here. In my opinion, go to the Salesforce Tower and hang out at the bar. ;)
Best Photo Op
I'm all for taking the touristy photos, I don't care so much of who is looking or what other people will think of me. If you are just as the same, be sure to take a photo opportunity in the red telephone booth near Big Ben. Of course there will be tons of people walking around and a line of people asking for the same photo, but it was still fun getting the chance to take this photo.
Comment below and let me know: what were your best picks for London? If you haven't gone, do you plan to visit London one day? Say hi to the Queen and Big Ben for me if you do. ;)