I love London. It's no secret. I lived there for almost a year, I've been back to visit twice since departing, and I dream about taking my kiddos there in the future. I just love that city. I don't know if it's the history or what, but I get giddy when I think about it. Mike proposed to me there back in 2011, and that makes the city all the more magical. I secretly always look at airfare prices and the pound-dollar exchange rates, just to make sure I'm staying current in case a sporadic trip every pops up.
With that said, since I moved back to the US, I've had several people ask me about my favorite London/UK spots. Over time, in the many emails I've sent with my London recommendations, my list has grown. I thought, what a better way to keep this list handy than to write a blog post about it! That way in the future if anyone asks for my London recs I can just shoot them this blog link, thus giving myself a little PR as well :)
So, if you're traveling to London, check out some of my "must-sees" and recommendations below. Enjoy!
- For "mini trips" from London to anywhere, use this site: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ it's got all the "national rail" times and stations on it (SUPER handy). Usually round trip to any of these locations it'll cost you around $10 USD. You'll always want to look for an express train (like NYC subway!) that has less stops = get you there faster!!!
- For travel in London (bus or tube), use this website: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/ has closings, maps, etc... I'd also download a tube map for your phone too before you go
- There are a ton of little walking tours you can do by yourself, and places you can visit for a short amount of time. It's always cool to walk by the Prime Minister's house, Abbey Road, Princess Diana Memorial, Sherlock Holmes' house, and Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross station. All of these places are little tourist attractions but don't take long and you could even hit up all of them in an afternoon.
- Windsor Castle is about 25 minutes outside of London via train (you'll want to take a train from Paddington Station to Slough, get off there and get on the Windsor train...really easy, here's the train line you want to take: http://www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/). Windsor Castle is pricey, (like $20 USD) but it's neat and definitely worth it. There's a really good little fudge shop (if you've got a sweet tooth!) that I love...check it out: www.fudgekitchen.co.uk/ it's right outside of the Castle.
- Oxford is also a neat little town--it's got that super old university! (Oxford Scholar shirt in your future maybe?!!)...it's also not too far outside of London, maybe 30-40 minutes on the train. One of my buddies I taught with lives there and she loves it. It's got some great night life too :)
- Cambridge: same as Oxford...really pretty, neat little town, great university. Again, not too far from London by train (40 minutes)
- Brighton: awesome. Small little coastal town about 2-2.5 hours outside of London. you can rent scooters there to "cruise" around in and if it's a nice day there's a ton to see (fish and chips are top notch down there!!). Definitely an entire day trip too.
- Bath/Stonehenge: definitely a day trip, but you can do it from London. You can actually do tours to Stonehenge that leave from London (http://www.stonehengetours.com/)...but both Bath and Stonehenge are day trips (you could probably do both in one day...Bath in AM, Stonehenge in afternoon)
- London has a great theatre district (one of my favorites!!) http://london.broadway.com/ Great shows for SUPER cheap!! If you head between Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square there's a ton of "discount ticket booths" where you can find last minute CHEAP tickets. (no shows on Sunday!!)
- My FAVORITE alcoholic drink is a London/English specialty: Pimms. It's like a long island ice tea but better. Usually a spring/summer drink...but definitely give it a try if you like that kind of thing!
- If you're a Harry Potter fan, definitely check out the new Warner Bros Harry Potter set tour. This opened right after my last visit to London, but I've had friends go and say it's the COOLEST THING EVER. Check out more details here: http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/
- If you like museums and history, you've got to check out Churchill's War and Cabinet Rooms (http://cwr.iwm.org.uk/)--this is my FAVORITE MUSEUM EVER!! -- and/or the Imperial War Museum (http://london.iwm.org.uk/)--the IWM has one of the best Holocaust, WWI, and WWII displays I've ever seen.
- "Strolling" by Big Ben, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, etc... each take about 5 minutes once you're there and look. You could do all of your "sightseeing" (just look, not go in) in 1/2 a day.--Buckingham Palace changing of the guards (I think at 11am daily) is also neat to see. Plus you gotta get the stereotypical pictures of you coming out of a red phonebooth and next to one of the castle guards with the fuzzy hats. I think Madame Tussauds is a waste of time and money--it's the same thing you can go to in the states.
- The British Museum is fun too; but I just mapped out what I wanted to see (Rosetta Stone, Mummies), went in and found those, and then left. It's pretty much like any other gigantic museum...my favorite are Churchill's and the Imperial War Museum.
- London Eye is AWESOME--but ONLY do it on a perfectly clear day (or you'll waste your money) and be prepared to stand in line for a long time (having a reservation works too, but you're gambling then with the weather http://www.londoneye.com/)...and it's expensive ($15 USD and up)
- Tower of London is also a really neat place to go too (http://www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/) a little pricey (maybe $30 USD) but it's really cool. Especially if you're into medieval crime and punishment. Oh, another great London sight that isn't advertised is one of the world's oldest prisons, the clink prison (http://www.clink.co.uk/) it's right by London Bridge and not too far from the Tower of London.
- If you like Chinese food, definitely check out Chinatown (not far from Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square)...even if you don't eat it's a neat experience. Buy some candy that you don't know what it is. I call that Chinese Roulette. Is it going to get you sick? Is it going to taste good? you never know!! :)
- **MAKE SURE YOU GET ONE OF THESE MAPS! IT'LL SAVE YOUR LIFE!!