“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.”Samuel L. Jackson
The three days we spent in London were so fun and filled with fantastic food, great sights and history, amazing architecture, and too many fun memories to put down on paper- or even remember for that matter!
My first suggestion when visiting big cities is to look into the attraction passes. We have purchased city passes in several places (Boston, Philly, Paris, Rome, Naples, London, and more I am sure) and they are totally worth it if you plan to visit several places each day like we do! For this trip we purchased the London Pass + Oyster Card. These particular passes are £141 per person for a 3-day pass which includes unlimited attractions, 1 hop-on hop-off bus day tour, a river boat cruise, a fast pass to many of the attractions, and an Oyster Card (metro and bus pass). In order to determine if a pass like this is worth it, I usually select all of the attractions I want to visit, then realistically choose the ones I could actually fit in the itinerary and add up the admission prices…and it is almost always worth buying a pass.
Pro Tip: add the pass app to your phone! Picture yourself having a picture-perfect afternoon tea, sipping and eating without a care in the world, then you leave and realize your London pass and oyster card fell out of your jeans pocket! It’s best to have a back up on your phone so you do not have to buy another pass- not that I speak from personal experience or anything.
The first day in London we traveled from York, England which took about 4 hours. We arrived at the airport to drop off the rental car we had throughout our travels through the UK and Ireland, then took a taxi to the hotel to drop off our luggage and check-in. By the time all of this was done we had the late afternoon to explore some architecture and a couple other activities.
We took the Tube from Canary Wharf where we were staying to Westminster to see the icons of London: the Parliament Building, Elizabeth Tower, and the London Eye. I had read that Big Ben was under construction prior to our visit, but it was still disappointing to see him all covered in scaffolding.
Nearby we were able to catch a boat for the Thames River Cruise which is included in London Pass. There is supposedly 24 hour access to the cruises and the Tour duration can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. There are four locations to hop-on and hop-off the boat: Westminster, London Eye, Tower Bridge, and Greenwich. The guide was hilarious and made the experience so much better! We also got to view some incredible buildings and learn about the history. Near the Tower Bridge we caught a glimpse of a restaurant that had some really neat looking “bubble” seating options, so we hopped off the boat to check it out. We learned that this was the Coppa Club, they are igloos- not bubbles, and it was fully booked through the next three months- so we had no chance of getting in- but you might be able to! It looks super cute!
We decided to use our tickets for the Hop-on Hop-off Bus (included on the London Pass) on the second day. I love these bus tours, they are a great way to see the popular sights, get a lay of the land, and learn some neat facts along the way. We have done these tours in several cities, from my experience the Big Bus Tours are way better than the City Sightseeing company in case you are deliberating between the two. If you were to take this route in a full loop it would take about two and a half hours. When we took our tour it took us almost two hours to make just a few stops. There was so much traffic and construction it really wasn’t worth the time commitment, so we hopped off near Buckingham Palace and never got back on.
We arrived at Buckingham Palace early and ready to see the Changing of the Guard, the inspections start at 10:00am down the street, and the ceremony begins at 11:00am. It is suggested you arrive early to get a good view. We got a great view, right at the fence toward the middle of the Palace, which is where I read was the best place. So once it hit 11:00am, and no action seemed to be happening, we began to wonder if there would be a ceremony. We asked a guard, and unfortunately the Queen was hosting a Garden Party (Thanks for the invite! Geesh!) so there wouldn’t be a changing of the guard that day. We hung around for a bit and watched fancy people zip through the gates and into the palace, hoping to catch a glimpse of anyone exciting…nope. nothing.
After Buckingham Palace, we took a double-decker bus to Westminster Abbey. Here, like many other attractions, it is required you walk through a metal detector and have a bag/purse inspection. While in the Abbey be sure to checkout the beautiful ceilings, walls, and the building itself- it is really neat! We did the audio tour which was great, it is crazy all of the famous people who are buried at the Abbey: Darwin, Tennyson, Byron, Eliot, Browning, and more! You can also see memorials for Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare. Another option to add to your visit is the gallery at the top of the Abbey that has opened for the first time in 700 years! Artifacts and royal jewels can be seen in this gallery for an additional admission price.
After eating incredible Indian Tapas at Dishoom, and afternoon tea at the Candella Tea Room, we walked by the Marble Arch, Kensington Palace, and the Princess Diana Fountain. This area is the Kensington Gardens which is basically huge park in front of the palace where you will find a ton of other memorials, statues, and interesting things to see. I thought is was fascinating to see the different memorials and compare them to each other- you can tell you they thought were more important!
Our last day in London started off with a walk by the Temple Church and visit to St Paul’s Cathedral where we did an audio tour (included on the London Pass). We then took the metro to ride the London Eye which we had an 11:00am ticket. Be sure to pre-book your timed London Eye tickets, these are not included with the London Pass, but definitely worth a ride to see the views. It goes rather slow, so you have plenty of time to see the city from all angles.
After a loop on the London Eye, we traveled to the Tower Bridge and Tower of London, admission is included in the London Pass for both attractions, and both are very interesting! The Tower Bridge did not take that long, maybe an hour or so, and then we spent a couple hours at the Tower of London, right across the bridge. When in the Tower Bridge be sure to check out the glass floor to see the people and buses below, and snap some pictures.
On the last evening in London we were on the opposite side of town, exhausted, and hadn’t yet traveled in the famous London Taxis, which are too cute, so we hailed a taxi to take us to the Borough Market, again. We visited the market a couple times while in London because there is so much to see and eat. On the way, the driver asked how we had heard about the market, because it is more of a local spot, so I was pretty happy about that since I like to balance our touristy stops with living like a local.
The market is pretty big and has all kinds of booths: flowers, meat and cheeses, spices, pasta, oysters, and anything else you can think of! The got lunch here one day, which was great because with all of the booths we were able to try a bunch of stuff and all get different meals. We all shared some Greek food, pasta, cider, breads, various meats, and more. On other visits to the market we got coffee at Monmouth Coffee and got drinks at the bar at Roast.
The last thing we did in London, was watch the sun set with a glass of champagne at top floor of The Shard (admission included in the London Pass), which was the cherry on top of an unbelievable two week trip through the UK and Ireland. With admission you can walk around the top floor and see the city with a 360 degree view. There is also a bar and snacks to enjoy while watching the sun set. The Shard is open 10:00am-10:00pm, so you can go anytime during the day to experience a different skyline view.
Places to Eat and Drink:
As with all of our trips, we only eat good food- thanks to Yelp and research! Here are a few of the spots that stood out to me:
- Dishoom is an incredible Indian Restaurant with several locations throughout the U.K.. They serve their food Tapas style so we ordered little plates here and there and were beyond full! We attempted to eat here on multiple occasions and at different locations, and finally were able to get in after our third try! I urge you to make a reservation in advance!
- I talk about Mr. Fogg’s all the time! They have six locations throughout London each with unique decor and themes. I wanted to go to all of them! We were able to squeeze in (reservations highly recommended!) to Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration for drinks one night and it was so neat! You are greeted with a host outside in an old-timey safari outfit and escorted down the stairs into the basement. The ambiance is right out of a safari and travel-themed 1910’s movie, with drinks that are made with machines, and come out on fire- everything at Mr. Fogg’s was unforgettable! I don’t think I will ever go to London in the future without going to one of Mr. Fogg’s establishments.
- One night we popped into Roast near the Borough Market for some drinks, my friend had told me about it and said the food was great, so when we happened to pass it accidentally we decided to grab a drink and snacks at the bar. The drinks were all really unique and came out in fun cups- some in teapots and miniature Big Bens!
- Monmouth Coffee (7:30am-6:00pm Monday-Saturday) is in the Borough Market, and serves great coffee and pastries.
- We didn’t get a chance to go to The Churchill Arms for their Thai food and eccentric British decor, but it looks great!
As I sip my tea now, I am reminiscing of all those warm teas and sweet treats in London! I could not get enough tea when we were in the United Kingdom. I ordered it everywhere! I just love how you get a full pot of loose-leaf tea everywhere, whereas in the U.S. you get one tea bag and water! Plus it tastes so much better! Here are a few places that look super fun that I plan to go to on my next visit to London, unfortunately we only made it to Candella Tea Room (which was so delicious and fun!). You should consider making reservations to ensure a table at any of these venues.
- I loved my “tea party” at the Candella Tea Room! I was so looking forward to this for months prior to our trip, and kept calling it a “tea-party.” It is a casual, adorable, little tea room- and it did not disappoint! We got an afternoon tea for two and split it between the four of us (we had just gorged ourselves at Dishoom 30 minutes earlier). They are open 10:00am-6:00pm and are located at 34 Kensington Church Street, a little west of Kensington Palace.
- If you want something a bit more eccentric and funky, Mr. Fogg’s Gin Parlour looks really fun! They are open for afternoon tea Monday-Friday from 4:00-6.30pm for £27 per person, and are located near the temple Church at 1 New Row. They have tea-infused gin, and serve their afternoon tea with Alice-in-Wonderland-esque nibbles. You can also visit the parlour for the bar if tea isn’t your thing.
- At the Brown’s Hotel you will find The Lanesborough. If you want to go a more fancy-nancy route, they serve a Traditional Afternoon Tea from 2:30-4:30pm for £55 per person or £65 with Champagne! Next time I am in London I am bringing a tea-dress and going all out!
Where to Stay
We stayed in new Hilton Hotel in Canary Wharf, outside the city-center. It was super fresh and clean with fantastic service, delicious 50% off breakfast, and easy access to the tube. We also got an unbelievable price because we were traveling with a Hilton employee. I cannot say anything negative about this hotel or the experience, it was perfect. The only (less than perfect) thing is that travel into the city center, as easy as it was, took a bit long to get to the center of everything. In the future, or as a suggestion, I would like to stay closer to the main attractions to limit the amount of travel time between lodging and all the great stuff to do in London.
I would like to stay Covent Garden or Westminster, I think either of these neighborhoods would be great options, and are close to many of the city’s best attractions.
Things still on the List:
There are obviously countless additional attractions and places to visit but here are a few things I plan to do next time I am in London (in addition to more tea parties and drinks at Mr. Fogg’s!):
- The Sherlock Holmes Museum (not included on the London pass) is located at the famous address, 221b Baker Street, and open daily from 9.30am- 5:00pm, with an admission of £15. The suggested visit time is 30-45 minutes.
- The Longplayer seems super fascinating, and I definitely plan to visit when I return to London. It is a one thousand year long musical piece that began playing on December 31st, 1999, and has and will continue to play without repetition until the last minute of 2999! Then it will repeat the piece! How cool is that?
- Other things on the London Pass that I still want to do:
- Other Options for Harry Potter fans:
- Charing Cross Road
- Platform 9 ¾ in Kings Cross
- Westminster Tube Station: a location of Harry Potter filming
- I heard that the Harry Potter Broadway show was really great, but takes a big commitment because it is several hours long.
When we began preparing for this two-week vacation we only thought about the flights in and out of London, and we knew we wanted to go to Dublin, and that got the ball rolling. Then we each individually looked around and researched where else we wanted to travel while in the U.K. Andrew’s main goal was to visit each of the countries- check! When traveling with a group, it is important to make sure everyone gets to see and do what they want, so I organized a couple “meetings” to discuss all the things we wanted to accomplish. These work really well, despite having partners with attention issues. The first meeting was more general about locations and cities we wanted to visit, then we did some more research, and came back to finalize details and reserve tickets. Planning trips with a group is also made easy by having a shared google document to add all ideas and information (which is later translated into a blog post).
Everything was planned out really well if I do say so myself! Everything went swimmingly- the flights, ferries, nine different Airbnbs (minus the dud in Cardiff)/Hotels/Bed and Breakfasts, and easily over 2,000 miles traveled! This was an absolutely incredible journey, which was only made better by traveling with some of my favorite people.
So, what are your thoughts? Are you ready to drop everything and take a two-week trip to the U.K.? Are you currently planning a trip? I am happy to answer any questions you may have!