This is the last installment of a five-part blog series all about the details of our travels to Europe the past 2 years. So far, I’ve covered our time in Italy with the Amalfi Coast, Rome & Tuscany+Florence+Venice+More, and our time in Paris. Today, I’m sharing about our trip to London two months ago.
Getting There & Around: We flew into London Heathrow airport. Once you arrive, follow signs for the Underground. We took the tube directly from the airport into the city- it was easy and much cheaper than the Heathrow Express (and not much longer either). We bought a couple of Oyster cards and filled it up with money to use throughout our trip – you can refill at stations as necessary. We took the Underground everywhere throughout the city; Google maps makes it easy to figure out your route.
When we flew out of London, we left from Gatwick. Since our flight was early in the morning, it was before public transportation started running to the airport. Instead, we hired Hummingbird car service to pick us up from our apartment and drive the hour-long ride out there. It was half as cheap as Uber or a taxi.
What to Pack: Late March/early April is a tricky time in London. We happened to visit during the first weekend they had Spring weather and only had one night of rain. But, it snowed just a couple weeks later! Here are the top items I would recommend packing to make sure you are prepared for that time of year:
- Layers + Jacket – I debated bringing a coat, but knew it wouldn’t be necessary in Italy (the second part of our trip). I was glad I had a jacket that I could wear over layers when it was chilly, but I also took it off a few times when the sun was shining warm.
- Flats (Shoes) – Bring a few cute pairs of flats that are comfortable to walk in. I don’t think I ever saw anyone wearing heels in the entire city. Even if you take the tube, you’ll still be doing lots of walking.
- Umbrella – While it only rained one evening, it certainly caught us by surprise. Bring a small umbrella that’s easy to pack in your purse and have on hand when the weather changes.
Where to Stay: Anywhere in central London near an Underground stop is going to be great. We stayed in the South Kensington neighborhood and it was a beautiful area with lots of restaurants and shopping. We absolutely loved our flat – this adorable Airbnb. Sign up with this link and get get $20 in travel credit for your next vacation!
Sites to See: There is so much to do in London… plenty of museums to visit and famous places to see. Here’s what we decided to see:
- Kensington Palace Gardens – FREE! We did not go inside Kensington Palace, but instead just saw it from the outside and walked through the surrounding gardens and park. We also enjoyed Afternoon Tea onsite at the Orangery (see under Eat/Drink below).
- London Eye – Reserve tickets in advance to skip the long lines and visit at sunset so you see the city both during the daylight and as the city lights begin to turn on. This was a great experience for our first night to help us get a feel for the layout of the city. The ride lasts 30 minutes.
- Big Ben – FREE! Of course you have to see the famous clock tower! Make sure to visit both at night and during the day.
- Tower of London – Buy your tickets online in advance and pick up from the Group Tickets counter onsite to avoid lines. This palace was the home of many former monarchs and has a rich, dark history (many know it as the site of Anne Boleyn’s beheading). The Beefeaters (guards officially called Yeoman Warders) guide a FREE tour every hour on the hour leaving from the front gate – I highly recommend taking it to learn some fascinating bits of history. Don’t miss the Crown Jewel exhibit… you’ll have to wait in line once you get inside the complex, but they are absolutely stunning. It’s also here that you’ll get some fabulous views of old Tower Bridge.
- Borough Market – Across the London Bridge, you’ll find an outdoor farmer’s market with lots of unique, local foods to eat.
- Old London – FREE! This area of London was the central town in Shakespeare/Elizabeth I times. Download Rick Steves’ audio guide to walk through the area and learn about the Great Fire, the many churches built afterwards by famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, Fleet Street, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the original Twinnings tea shop and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub where Charles Dickens and Dr. Johnson wrote and drank.
- Westminster Walking Tour – We took an awesome walking tour with Free Tours by Foot (the tour is technically free, but they work for tips) of the beautiful Westminster area. We began at Buckingham Palace for the Parade of the Horse Guard and Changing of the Guard. Seeing these events in this tour saved us tons of time and allowed us to get the best view – we are so glad we didn’t wake up early to spend hours waiting at the gate to watch. We saw St. James Palace (built for Anne Boleyn by Henry VIII), 10 Downing Street, the former location of White Hall Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
- British Museum – FREE! This beautiful museum is open to the public and displays many historic artifacts. The museum website has great guides for what to see if you only have an hour, 3 hours or all day at the museum. Highlights for us were the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, Parthenon sculptures and Assyrian lion hunt reliefs.
- Windsor Castle – There are so many options for day-trips outside London and I had such hard time choosing… I don’t regret this choice at all! It was easy to get there: train to Windsor/Eaton Central from Paddington Station in London (40 minutes total). When we arrived, it was lunchtime, so we stopped for meat pies & pints at the Duchess of Cambridge pub across the street from the castle. It was not crowded at all this time of year (late March) so we got right in with no lines. You get a free audio guide to take you through the castle’s main sites: the State Apartments and St. George’s Chapel. The State Apartments are just stunning with medieval knights armor, swords, guns and coats of arms all over. In St. George’s Chapel, you’ll find the burial sites of Charles I, Henry VIII and Jan Seymour. Plus, you are likely to see another Changing of the Guard while you are there.
Where to Eat & Drink:
- Breakfast: The Muffin Man – This adorable place was just around the corner from our apartment in South Kensington. We both got pots of tea to drink, then hubby got the full English Breakfast (complete with baked beans) and I chose toasted scones with clotted cream and jam. Everything was delicious and it was a ton of food for super reasonable pricing.
- Fish & Chips: Rock & Sole Plaice – The oldest place for fish and chips still makes everything according to their original recipe. We chose the cod fish and chips – the regular is a huge serving. The homemade tartar sauce was amazing!
- Pub Pies & Pints: Barrowboy and Banker Ale and Pie – This old bank building was transformed into a pub and the keep the beer in the old vault and cellars below. We grabbed a couple of local pints and shared a meat pie for lunch, which was perfectly filling and delicious.
- Afternoon Tea: Orangery Restaurant at Kensington Palace – This beautiful building is just off the palace gardens and is the perfect setting for Afternoon Tea. At 27£ per person, it is one of the more reasonable options. You can add glasses of champagne for an additional cost. The three-tiered tray of food is certainly enough for a meal – we barely finished it between the two of us. It includes a selection of tea sandwiches (I loved the egg mayonnaise and hubby loved the coronation chicken curry wrap), soft scones with decadent clotted cream and strawberry jam, and several delicious mini desserts on top. As for teas, the Lady Earl Grey was my favorite!
- Curry: Dishoom – Our BEST meal of the trip… do not miss this spot! There are several locations around London and all will have a queue if you arrive after 7, maybe earlier. The drinks (especially the green tea old fashioned) are amazing and the food is unforgettable. Our server was great in helping guide us through the menu and decide on what to order, so if you’ve never tried Indian food, don’t let it scare you.
- Cocktails: The Blind Pig in Soho – With a very speakeasy-like entrance (we almost missed it!), this cool bar had some incredible hand-crafted cocktails.
P.S. Looking for more details? I reviewed hotels, restaurants and sites on TripAdvisor here. Or, feel free to email me with questions and for more details at healthyhopefulblog(at)gmail.com.