My Favorite Cities: London

In a new series of blog posts I’ll be exploring my favorite cities in the world that I’ve been lucky enough to travel to! Including my must-see list, and general tips!

One of the first cities I ever travelled to internationally was London, although I was only a baby and don’t really remember it! Since that first trip I’ve been able to travel back to London every few years and I always experience something new and exciting the city has to offer. I’ve been back twice in the last five years, and while the city had changed, the sites largely remain the same.

In my opinion London is the best city to visit if you’re new to international travel (at least for Americans). It’s an English speaking country, so virtually no language barrier, which makes it extremely easy to get around and communicate. It also has the perfect balance of historical and pop culture attractions to appease almost anyone. From Doctor Who to Harry Potter, Jack the Ripper to Shakespeare, James Bond to the Queen, it really encompasses a taste anyone can enjoy!

The biggest downfall for London is it’s an expensive city on almost every level: public transportation, hotels, admission prices, etc. This isn’t to say it can’t be done on a budget, you just need to be prepared ahead of time! 

While I’ve never stayed at a Hostel International in London, I can highly recommend the company and feel like anyone on a budget should utilize them. A free breakfast and wifi is always a plus in my book! Bed and breakfasts can also be a good option, but wherever you stay I suggest finding somewhere near a tube station.

The public transportation in London is extensive, while sometimes confusing, but extremely helpful. You can get just about anywhere between the bus lines, and underground, or train stations. We usually buy an Oyster card with a good amount of money pre-loaded or buy a visitors 7-day pass. It should be noted that the bus system no longer accepts cash, and you must have an Oyster card beforehand. 

Another simple trick that can be applied to any country is bringing along your student ID if it doesn’t look outdated or have an expiration on it. You can get great discounts on admissions, museums, and shows. I managed to save a lot of money by buying theatre tickets at the box office with my ID the day of shows, and managed to see 6 different musicals/plays/shows at a very low price. 

Unfortunately I really haven’t explored London’s food scene that much. Picky eaters will be glad to know there are numerous familiar chain restaurants to pick from. And for adventurous eaters, London has many diverse neighborhoods and restaurants to pick from. There’s always pub food as well!

It was hard narrowing down 10 things to see in London, but I feel like this is a great start for someone planning a trip to London. 

Five things to do at least once:

1. Big Ben/Parliament/The Eye: Luckily these are all in the same area. Big Ben is mainly a good photo opportunity and you can get it on the street, from the bridge or in the Eye. The London Eye is both great and annoying. It offers a great view, it’s slow enough to get a lot of photos, but it’s also super busy and is geared towards tourists who may claim the best window spot the entire ride. You can buy tickets ahead of time and pick a timed slot. 

2. Westminster Abbey: This is near Big Ben and should be included in your day if you’re in the area. This is not a free church and you need to buy tickets in advance on busy days. Some highlights of this tour is seeing where royal ceremonies take place, and the famous resting places for Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, and a long line of Kings and Queens. 

3. Tower of London/Tower Bridge: The ToL has a great mix of history with visual exhibits. One must see exhibit is the Crown Jewels, where you get to see the crowns of kings and queens, inaugural gowns, the golden reception ware, and more. The armories is another great exhibit with actual armor from kings, knights, and royal armies. It’s been jazzed up a bit to make it more interesting, including a very large dragon made out of shields and swords. Don’t forget to see the Ravens in the courtyard as well! Afterwards get great photos near the river or walk across the infamous Tower Bridge.

4. British Museum: This is definitely a half to full day activity. This museum is huge, free, and amazing! The interior lobby is iconic, the collection is vast, and it’s one of the best museums in the world. Some highlights are the Egyptian collection including the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures, the mummies, and an Easter Island head! Their website offers 1-hour and 3-hour must see lists as well!

5. Buckingham Palace: I’ve never actually been inside, they offer tours usually in the summer months and I’ve always missed it! You don’t need much time here, but I still think it’s worth seeing where the royal family lives and the royal guards!

Five slightly different things to do or see:

1. London Theatre: If you don’t see at least one play/musical/performance you’re really missing out! London is packed with some of the greatest shows you can see, and with some of the best actors! You’ll pass numerous theatre houses with big name actors like Martin Freeman or Michelle Williams putting on smaller plays, to big name musicals like Les Miserables or the Phantom of the Opera, and more artsy performances like 1984. I was lucky enough to catch a ton of shows for cheap by going the day of before the show started and purchasing a student ticket from the box office. And my favorite part was during the intermission when you could buy tiny ice creams at your seat!

2. Harry Potter Studio Tour: This is a day trip outside the city (easily accessible by train and a Harry Potter shuttle bus from the station) and for the truest nerds of the Harry Potter movies. Unlike the amusement park attraction, this is the actual sets, props, costumes, and ultimate experience. We weren’t even die hard fans of the series but were completely amazed by this tour! You can even enjoy Butter Beer while in the courtyard next to Harry Potter’s house and the 3 story night bus! If you have a day to spare this is a must!

3. The Prince Charles Cinema: A must for any movie nerd, this is by far the best movie theatre selection I’ve ever seen. From special screenings, to classics, film presentations, and movie marathons, you can easily spend any day of the week here catching a late night movie. This isn’t for everyone but if you can’t afford a ticket to the theatre, this is a great second option!

4. Covent Garden: This is a great place to shop and wander. It’s a mix of brand name stores and a flea market, with great food and boutique shops. If you don’t have money to spend it’s also a great place to people watch and filled with street performers. 

5. Trafalgar Square: This is more of a nostalgic spot for me, because my greatest London memories when I was younger was feeding the pigeons in the square. Unfortunately the pigeons are all gone, and feeding them is banned. However, this is still a great spot to hang out, people watch, and is surrounded by museums and churches. The National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery are adjacent, as well as brass rubbing in St. Martin in the Fields church. 

London is one of those cities where you could travel to multiple times and always find something new and exciting to do. I’m sure this won’t be my last post about this amazing city. Feel free to comment on any places you recommend in London!

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