London has turned out to be one of our very favorite cities in Europe, although we did find it to be much louder than expected. I had been to London multiple times in my younger days and somehow don’t remember it being as crazy as NYC, but it most certainly was! Despite the fast pace and super crowded streets there is much to love about London and all of its different districts and neighborhoods.
Ryan and I visited London this year at the end of May, and found the weather to be super mild and a bit rainy. We needed light jackets some of the time, and were able to walk around comfortably. We happened to have been country hopping, and flew into London Gatwick airport from Florence, Italy as we were there for our cousins’ wedding. We love being able to get around so easily once in Europe and had no issues with our travel.
Once in London, we took a train into the city and were booked at an AirBnB in the Brixton neighborhood. Brixton is a district, and a last stop on the Victoria Line (London Underground) in the main part of central London, so it’s “out there,” but certainly not so far you feel out of the way. It’s VERY affordable and super eclectic. There is a Caribbean influence there that makes it so unique, and you cannot go wrong ordering Jerk Chicken anywhere! (quite the interesting mix, literally London meets the Caribbean!) Of course the beverages are always tasty as they are in most places in London and we were then off to do some initial exploring.
First stops for us were the London Eye as well as to catch some photos of iconic London “things” - the double decker buses, bright red telephone booths and of course The Underground.
Once upon the London Eye you realize just how huge it is. 20 or so people fit in each pod! We decided not to go up in it this trip as I had done it before and Ryan wasn’t all that interested, but it was a beautiful place to just walk. We came upon the Parliament buildings across the river. Big Ben was getting an overhaul. The rest of that first evening was spent just walking. It got really chilly so we headed back to Brixton to get some good rest so we could be ready to see more the next day.
We highly recommend using using a tool like Google Maps to plan out your day before heading out. Ryan is a pro at this so we could make the most of our few days in a big city. We also really enjoy going with flow so we left room to explore and come up on what seemed like a good idea in the moment. More on that soon.
Day 2 had only a few requirements for us. One was to go to Buckingham Palace in time to see the changing of the guards (you can look up the day’s schedule online.) We didn’t arrive super early as some other onlookers had so we were pretty far from the action but it was still really cool!
We then walked around Hyde Park bit and made our way over toward my favorite shopping area…and where Harrod’s is. Harrod’s is simply…amazing. A dream PALACE of high-end shopping. I will never forget wandering around this gorgeous place drooling over the world’s finest goods.
After Harrod’s came Westminster Abbey, but true to Liberty and Ryan style, we did not wait in the long lines to go in, we simply admired from outside and continued our strolling through the iconic city. By early afternoon it was already time to head back to our apartment to get ready for an early dinner and a show.
We had great tickets booked for Book of Mormon at the Price of Wales Theatre in London’s West End, and found a perfect Indian restaurant called Sagar nearby to enjoy before the musical. We did manage to take a quick walk through Chinatown while we were at it and decided that on our next trip to London we would spend more time experiencing these super-cool cultural hubs that make cities like London so special.
As it turns out Sagar was AWESOME but not as awesome as Book of Mormon. Fabulously done and a perfect evening all around.
The next morning our goal was to visit the newer skyscrapers as well as the oldest parts of London such as the Tower Bridge, London Bridge, and one of my favorites, the Tower of London.
Ryan and I rarely go to museums, it’s honestly not our thing, but we knew that the Tower of London would intrigue us both. I had been there as a kid with my mom, and the stories and history there would be worth the ticket price. It was and then some! We spent hours at the Tower of London and recommend it highly. It is so rich in history of the royalty in England. There’s also a very dark side to that history that intrigues every visitor on the tours.
I found some of the views from the Tower of London to be some of the best in the entire city, with the juxtaposition of new and old very clear, very cool. We couldn’t help but keep noticing the striking Shard building in the distance and even though we had walked by it earlier and admired it, there was something calling to us to go back. As we discussed it, our cousin Nick texted us and said that we MUST go to the Shard and have drinks at the top. When we stopped by we had been told that it was $30 per person to go to the viewing deck that wasn’t even the very top. We hadn’t even thought about just going for a drink. We added that to our Google Mapping and trekked back, passing some of the coolest skyscrapers in the world. The “Walkie-talkie” building, The Gherkin building, and finally, we found ourselves back at the Shard.
The Shard is a 95 story spike of a building, referred to as such because it literally looks like a shard of glass sticking straight up into the clouds. We asked the doormen if there was a bar near the top and lo and behold, as part of the Shangri-La hotel there was indeed, The Gong Bar, and we could right now (no charge!) Now once up there, the drinks are pricey but the view and experience is certainly worth it! That afternoon turned out to be one of our very favorites!
The views are insane and service impeccable. Thanks to our cousin Nick we had an experience that we will never forget and highly recommend it to anyone visiting London. A word of warning, you are at the top a shard. Like…literally. When we got off the elevator almost 100 stories in the air and realized just how narrow it was and where we were it took a few minutes to acclimate. Don’t worry, it gets better as each minute passes!
After the Shard we knew not much would top it, but we found our way to Camden, where we heard the street markets were wonderful. They did not disappoint! Everything from food from all over the world, to knock-off designer bags can be found and there are street musicians of all kind to keep you entertained. We found a few knickknacks, grabbed a quick bite then decided that our last stop would be Piccadilly Circus, the Times Square of London.
It’s definitely not as light, bright and loud as Times Square, but there is much to see and do.
That was our last night in London, and had a VERY early flight the next morning to catch back home. We opted for an Uber ride to the airport just as we had when we arrived from the airport although we could have taken the Underground, it just made us a bit less nervous to know we were going directly there. We did use the Underground quite a bit to get around the city, coupled with walking and found it easy and clean overall.
London is a wonderful, clean and beautiful city that encourages tourism and invites people from all over the world to explore its corners. The fact that it’s English-speaking is also helpful.
Our biggest tips for visiting London:
There is SO MUCH to see. Plan each day ahead of time so you can be sure to make the best use of your time.
There is ALWAYS traffic and it’s crazy. Use the Underground. It’s so inexpensive, clean and easy for getting around the city. Walk when you are not using the train system, get in the exercise and explore!
Leave time for running into things you don’t plan on and be flexible. We never would have experienced our favorite part of the trip without this flexibility.