We kicked off our 6-week UK/Europe trip in London. Actually, we started and ended our trip in London, so we’ll include all of the adventures in this post. We spent 3 days in London at the beginning of our trip (March) and 4 more days at the end of our trip (May). Why London? We researched the cheapest flights to Europe/UK from the San Francisco airport and London was the winner!
In this post:
-Sights/Places to Visit
*MONEY TIPS: For extended/flexible trips, find the cheapest flights you can. It’s inexpensive once you’re traveling shorter distances within the UK and Europe. When you’re traveling to a different country, make sure you 1) inform your bank/credit card company that you are traveling (you can likely do this within your bank’s mobile app), 2) bring multiple credit/debit cards in case any bounce or are lost/stolen, and 3) pick up some of the country’s currency before you arrive. When we first got to London, our debit cards didn’t work at the airport ATMs, so we went to a currency exchange and most of our cards were bouncing. One of our cards finally went through.
There are so many amazing places to eat in London. London has much more than fish and chips and afternoon tea (however, we love those as well). I’ll start with the fancier places we ate at and end with the cheaper places for our budget travelers.
Sketch Tea ($$$$)
Sketch was a truly unique experience. For any of you who want an instagram-worthy tea in London, Sketch (The Gallery) is it. From the pink furniture, the artwork lining the walls, the beautiful food, and service were incredible. I cannot recommend Sketch enough. Even the bathrooms are a sight to see! Make sure to get a reservation ahead of time on Sketch’s website.
Oblix at The Shard ($$$$)
Oblix is a restaurant and bar that sits on the 32nd floor of the Shard (the highest skyscraper in the UK). We ate here because we decided we’d rather have dinner with a view than pay to go to the top of the Shard. We had a dinner reservation and arrived early to have pre-dinner cocktails and enjoy the view. Oblix is split into two separate spaces – the restaurant and the bar. Oblix is popular, along with the other restaurants at the Shard, so we definitely recommend that you book a reservation. We ordered a couple cocktails while we waited at the bar (East India Mule and Watermelon Spritzer – each 14.50 pounds), then followed those with the cheapest drinks on the menu (the beers we ordered were 5.6 pounds each). For dinner we ordered the bone-in rib eye for two, a caesar salad, garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans. Everything was delicious and we enjoyed having a view of London while we enjoyed our meal.
Dishoom ($$ – $$$)
Dishoom was one of the many recommendations we received when going to London and it did not disappoint. The food and service were exceptional. I will warn you that there will be a long wait at Dishoom if you do not have a reservation. We didn’t plan ahead for this one and ended up waiting in line for 2 hours. We almost left after waiting for an hour but decided we’d already waited for such a long time that we may as well stay in line. We were glad we did. Dishoom understood the wait time and brought out small hot drinks to everyone in line. We enjoyed a couple small cups of chai while we waited. We ordered Dishoom chicken tikka, spicy lamb chops, house black daal, biryani, a bowl of greens, raita, and basmati rice.
Wagamama ($$ – $$$)
There wasn’t any special reason for going to Wagamama. It was near our hostel, had good reviews, and we love Japanese food. We ordered the spicy chicken curry with rice, the chicken and prawn yakisoba, and a couple beers. Overall, we enjoyed our meal and it ran us 35 pounds.
Fish & Chipper ($$)
Fish & Chipper was a cheap eat for us. They have massive portions, so we shared one order of fish & chips for 13 pounds. It’s not the most amazing meal you’ll ever eat, but you get your classic fish & chips. It was in a convenient location and affordable!
Borough Market ($)
Borough Market is not your typical farmers market. Out of all the markets Aaron and I have gone to, Borough Market is one of the best. Every booth had amazing samples – cheese, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar were some of our favorites. We stopped at a cheese stall and bought a wedge of Wyfe of Bath (highly recommend!). We got a number of olives to snack on as well. Another stall to call out is the Oyster Bar. These oysters are unbelievable. Aaron and I are still dreaming about going back to Borough Market and getting more oysters. For an actual meal, we loved a stall that had duck confit. You could order it over a salad or get a duck confit sandwich. Delicious! Outside of everything we mentioned, there are SO many options from full meals to fresh fruits and veggies. We cannot recommend Borough Market enough!
Pret a Manger ($)
Pret a Manger is a UK-based coffee chain and is essentially UK’s equivalent of Starbucks. You’ll see them all over London. It’s a great place to stop for a quick coffee/tea, snack, or light meal. We ordered some coffee/tea and pre-made sandwiches here.
SIGHTS/PLACES TO VISIT
London Bridge & Tower Bridge
These two bridges are not too far from each other. The famous “London Bridge” actually does not look very notable. It looks like a very normal bridge. Tower Bridge, on the other hand, is gorgeous and worth walking across.
If you need a day to relax, Hyde Park is a must! It’s the perfect place for a relaxing stroll or a quiet picnic surrounded by greenery. Highly recommend picking up some grab-and-go food, and having a picnic here. We also enjoyed people watching and seeing a number of dogs walk through.
Kensington Palace was the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria. The Palace is surrounded by gardens and we ended our walk through Hyde Park here.
Buckingham Palace is one of the most iconic sights of London. It’s one of the only working royal palaces today, and visitors are able to tour a few months out of the year. While we didn’t go inside, we stopped to see the beautiful exterior and watched the Changing of the Guard in front of the palace.
Big Ben is one of the top sights to see in London. Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the House of Parliament’s clock tower.
Westminster Abbey is a royal church founded by Benedictine monks in 960AD. The church is still operating and holds Christian services regularly. Both the exterior and interior are beautiful and worth a visit!
London Eye is a massive Ferris Wheel overlooking the River Thames. We would have loved to ride on it, but ended up just viewing it from afar. I’m sure you would get some amazing views from the wheel!
Leicester Square & Piccadilly Circus
Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus reminded us a lot of Las Vegas. It’s a lively area with lots of entertainment, restaurants, and shops. They even had a huge M&M’s World and casinos. This is UK’s city that never sleeps.
Apollo Victoria Theatre
The Apollo Victoria Theatre is the home of Wicked in London. Since we were staying near the theatre for a few days, we had to buy tickets and watch Wicked. It was worth it! The cast and production were incredible.
If you love to shop, then you should stop at Harrods. Harrods is a popular department store in London holding the best from luxury brands. If you’re more into food than fashion, you can head to the food hall. We did all of our gift shopping at Harrods and brought back treats and tea.
You can’t visit London without seeing the Shard (aka Shard of Glass). It’s a 72-story skyscraper and the tallest building in the UK. You can pay to go to the observation deck at the top OR my recommendation is to reserve dinner at one of the restaurants on the higher levels of the Shard. That way you can have dinner and a view. Personally, we’re a big fan of Oblix.
Covent Garden Market
Fruit, vegetable, and flower open market. If you enjoy farmer’s markets, you’ll like visiting Covent Garden Market. It’s also located in a unique and aesthetic building!
I personally always love visiting chinatown in any city I can. All the food is amazing and there are more and more dessert shops popping up that make for a great snack!
Warner Bros. Studio
For any Harry Potter fan, Warner Bros. Studio is a must! This tour was one of the highlights in London. You can get a feel of the magic behind the filming of Harry Potter. You can walk through the Great Hall, Diagon Alley, and the Forbidden Forest. You’ll see incredible sets from your favorite scenes. I cannot recommend this tour enough!
No one knows the true purpose of Stonehenge – it’s a mystery. The stones are aligned with the movement of the sun, and are said to have been built by farmers, herders, and pastoralists. The stones may have been a calendar, but likely hold more meaning than that. We enjoyed our visit!
Windsor Castle is another royal home in London. It’s the largest occupied castle in the world and operates as a working palace today. We visited the castle through a tour and enjoyed walking through the grounds.
FREE WALKING TOURS
Our hostel offered free walking tours through a company called Undiscovered London. We went on their Royal London walking tour. Our tour guide, Colin, picked us up from our hostel and led us to Green Park where we met up with other groups. Colin showed us beautiful sights in Westminster: Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Victoria Memorial, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc. Along the way, our tour guide was entertaining and shared the history/significance behind each place.
This was the first time we had ever heard of and participated in a free walking tour. We ended up loving the experience so much that we continued finding free walking tours throughout our weeks in the UK and Europe. We loved doing them because they help you get the “lay of the land” by walking around the city and getting to know various districts/landmarks along with the history. The tours are “free,” but at the end of the tour you tip your tour guide what you felt the tour was worth. I think on the lowest end we paid $5/person, and at the highest of our travels, we paid $30/person.
We booked most of our tours through Viator and loved the tours below!
Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath, with lunch in Lacock
It is unbelievably easy to get around London. The Tube system is fantastic! There are a few different lines and the Tube can get you almost anywhere you need to go in London. There are stops every few blocks and the trains come very frequently. Anytime we missed a train, there was another one within 10 minutes. Such an efficient system! We used the Tube for almost all of our transportation within London. If you plan to travel by Tube, we recommend getting a Visitor Oyster Card. It will save you time and money! There were only a couple times we didn’t use the Tube. 1) We had a late dinner at The Shard and were exhausted, so we took a taxi to get back to our hostel. 2) We went on a couple paid tours that took us out of London via tour bus. Overall, transportation is not something you need to worry about in London!
We had two chapters of travel in London. Chapter 1 was our budget travel, where Aaron and I stayed in a hostel. Chapter 2 was our luxury travel where my mom met up with us and we stayed with her in a nice hotel.
SoHostel was the very first hostel that Aaron and I stayed at, so we had no idea what to expect. Our room in SoHostel reminded me a lot of a college dorm room with bunk beds and a sink in the room (we came to learn that most hostels are very minimal, so this was extremely common). We stayed in a 4 bed mixed dorm for ~$35/person. The room and facilities were all very clean, and the staff were friendly. There were actually a lot of perks included – we took advantage of the free wifi, common room, bar, cafe, city maps, free city tour, security lockers, and luggage storage. SoHostel is in a great location with a lot of nearby restaurants and activities. We definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a clean, cheap, and lively hostel!
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Victoria
As most Hilton hotels go, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Victoria was clean, had great service, and was a pleasant stay. The location of this hotel was ideal for many of the attractions we were visiting. Since three of us were staying in a single queen room, they were able to bring a rollaway bed to our room to sleep a third person.
We started and ended our trip in London. At the beginning of the trip, it was just me and Aaron. My mom joined us for the tail end of the trip, so we revisited some of our favorite spots and major sights. So, this may not be the ideal itinerary for you as we doubled up on some things. But here’s what our 8 days in London looked like!
MARCH – START OF TRIP
-Arrived in London
-Checked into hostel
-Lunch at Wagamama
-Dinner at Fish & Chippers
-Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus
-Night out (Obar)
-Covent Garden Market
-Lunch at Borough Market
-Dinner in chinatown
-Free walking tour w/ Undiscovered London
-Lunch at Pret a Manger
-Sunset cocktails and dinner at the Shard (Oblix)
MAY – END OF TRIP
-Arrived in London (travel day from Paris)
-Checked into hotel
-Late lunch/early dinner at Borough Market
-Walk around the city
-Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre
-Warner Bros Studio Tour
-Dinner at Dishoom
-Tour Windsor Castle
-Lunch in Lacock
-Dinner in chinatown
-Late night around the city
-St. James’s Palace & Park
-Afternoon Tea at Sketch
-Shopping at Harrods
-Lunch at The Bunch of Grapes
-Sunset dinner at the Shard (Oblix)
We hope you enjoyed this blog on London. Next up, we’ll post about our trip to Scotland!
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