The London Experience
Remember when I went to London on my own and it was absolutely out of the box? Well, I’m here to give you the scoop on all things London (at least for me).
So I flew off out of George Bush Intercontinental in Houston with tickets that my boyfriend bought off of Google flights which is a nice tool to use because they watch prices and give you refunds if prices drop. I’ve also used an app called Hopper in the past that watched flight prices and notifies you when it’s the best time to buy. Highly recommend.
I landed very late in London and the customs line was super long so by the time I finally stepped out of the airport, I was ready to get to my Airbnb. In order to make that process faster, I grabbed a cab outside of the airport instead of waiting for an Uber or taking a bus to an underground station to get an Oyster card. This was a MISTAKE! It cost SO MUCH MONEY. So, if money isn’t a concern for you, do this because it was super convenient and easy, but if money is a concern, like me, the cheapest way would be to take the Underground.
My first Airbnb was a flat in a building in not a super happening part of town. The space was comfortable and cute but I would suggest finding places to stay in more interesting parts of town. Since I had to walk three quarters of a mile everyday to get to the Tube, it was a little bit more of a struggle for me to make myself get out and do things everyday. If I was in a better neighborhood, I would literally just be able to step out onto a street adorned with window boxes and take a stroll to a nearby cafe or museum. Some of the cutest neighborhoods in London are listed below for your convenience.
Shoreditch, Soho, Convent Garden, Notting Hill, Kensington, Soutwark, Greenwich. You can read more about these neighborhoods and where to stay on this blog post.
My first day there, I trekked to the nearest Underground and got myself an Oyster card. This prepaid card can be scanned when entering and leaving stations to cover your trips. You can buy it at most Underground stations and add more money when necessary. The Underground may be daunting, but it’s really much easier to navigate than you would think (and it’s also the cheapest besides walking but who has time for that when you’re trying to sight see)! It’s also super fun to people watch on the train. A super helpful app my friend, Claire, told me about is Citymapper. It’s useful for directions anywhere in any city, but also lets you know what stations you need to switch trains, and which stations to depart from. It also has live time for when the trains are leaving and which platforms to use. I suggest loading the route before descending into a station, though, because WiFi on the Underground is shotty at best.
I used an app/website called Viator to book day trips out of London. My first one took me to Leeds Castle, Canterbury, and Dover. It was a small group which made things more personal and the tour guide was fantastic! Leeds Castle was absolutely stunning and transported me to a fairy tale. I especially loved roaming the grounds on my own and the way the sunlight streamed in through the windows. Next up, Canterbury. The cathedral was stunning and the streets were so charming. I never get tired of ancient architecture and cobblestone streets. We arrived at the Cliffs of Dover later - partly my fault because I got lost in Canterbury and was 15 minutes late getting back to the van. Whoopsie. Pro tip, mark the location you’re supposed to meet up when exploring new cities on day trips. As we were walking along the darkened cliffs which were still striking, a large light hung in the sky, shrouded in wisps of cloud. We all kept oggling at it, and eventually figure out it was the blood moon rising! A group of strangers from different countries gazed at the sky in awe as the moon came out from behind the clouds. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a tripod and was unable to get a decent photo, but I hope I never forget the view and scrambling back along the cliffs in true darkness to get back to the van.
The next day was rough. I got lost in a strange part of London and wandered around for a bit, trying to make myself enjoy the views and not be so scared. Eventually I made it to the museum I was trying to go to but ended up just going through the butterfly room and sitting in the garden to take a breather and read my book I brought in my bag everywhere. Another pro tip: if you’re feeling overwhelmed or lost, take a second somewhere pretty and just relax. This really helped me realize how lucky I was to be in this new, beautiful place, reading a book on a park bench.
The next day was one of my favorites! I took the Tube to St. Paul’s Cathedral and it’s surrounding areas. This felt like a bustling, modern part of the city, but it was still littered with beautiful old buildings and LOTS of history. I loved it. Trying to find the cathedral from the Tube station, I got lost again. But this time, I kept my head and sat on a corner, taking photos of a cute garden at the edge of a church courtyard and took everything in. There was a narrow alley between buildings across the street and I thought, “Maybe that’s where I was supposed to go.” So I went.
Through the alley there was rows of places to eat and a large open square. Beyond that, was St. Paul’s Cathedral, my destination. I stopped at a tiny, adorable shop for a fresh smoothie and avocado toast and ate on a stone bench in the square. The cathedral was stunning. No photos were allowed inside, but I wondered the old stone floors in silence and ogled at the famous ceiling. I climbed the 528 steps (with some breaks along the way, I ain’t fit) to the very top, stopping at the Whispering Gallery, Stone Gallery, and Golden Gallery in turn. The Whispering Gallery is a ring in which you can sit across the building from someone else and whisper along the wall and your friend will be able to hear you all that way from you. It looks down over the Cathedral floor. The Stone and Golden Galleries are outside with stunning views of the city where you’re finally allowed to snag some photos! From here, I could see that one bridge in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince that the dementors destroy - Millenium Bridge - and the London Eye wayyyy in the distance. I also saw much of the Thames River and the Globe Theater which I didn’t even know I was near! I could see a clean pedestrian bridge and the way to walk there from the cathedral too. I loved this windy view of the city out in the cold. It gave me my bearings and a sense of all the history crammed into this bustling, crowded city.
I sat on a bench outside the cathedral and ate some snacks while watching the new twenty one pilots music video for “Chlorine” because I had been anticipating that for a while. I fed the pigeons which was a blast before making the trek across the bridge to The Globe theater. I didn’t take a tour - I was feeling like I was getting low on money for only being in London a few days - so I wondered the gift shop and got a few things and stood outside imagining what the theater was like in Shakespeare’s time and also feeling so special for standing somewhere Shakespeare probably once stood or even walked across.
The rest of the evening, I wondered slowly along the river and snapped photos of a gorgeous sunset before heading back to my flat. The next day, Claire was coming! I wasted time packing and cleaning my Airbnb (do y’all clean rental spaces before you check out too?) and then made my way to the Paddington Train stations where she would be arriving on a train from the airport. This neighborhood was much more happening than the one I previously stayed in. The streets were lined with beautiful white buildings of flats and apartments that had window boxes filled with flowers along the road. There were lots of shops and places to eat as well. After getting settled into out quite small second Airbnb and getting Claire an Oyster card, we made our way to the London Eye. There were tons of tourists in this area which we expected so weren’t put off. We bought tickets on Viator before getting in line which was a good idea and got a ride at sunset which was also a great idea and I highly recommend. After snagging some mediocre food at a tourist spot along the river, we took the Tube back to our place for the night.
The next morning was an early one. We’d booked another day trip via Viator, this one taking us to Stonhenge and Bath. We got to see a lot more of the gorgeous countryside, architecture, and history in London’s surrounding areas.
We had another day trip the next day - we were trying to shove in a lot of sight-seeing in the short amount of time Claire and I were both in town - to the Cotswolds, Burton-on-the-Water, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Anne Hathaway’s cottage. This was one trip I was really looking forward to since I’d seen lots of photos of the Cotswolds which was one of the oldest villages in England and had adorable cottages and a sweet creek running through it. It was a rainy day when we went and they weren’t quite as enchanting as I had always imagined, probably because it wasn’t springtime. This was a quick photo stop on the day tour and Burton-on-the-Water was next and a longer stop. It’s also a very cute village right along a creek but there was much more to see and do here including shop and eat and feed ducks on the water. This was a quaint little stop, but again, it could have been skipped in my opinion.
I truly truly loved the Shakespeare tours. Anne Hathaway’s cottage was so quaint and interesting to see how the family lived so long ago. Same with Shakespeare’s birthplace. The house had been added on as he got more wealthy and it was so so special to just be where he was, where he worked, where he went to school. I absolutely loved it.
The last full day we had together, Claire and I went back to the Kensington area where I went on my very first day. I would highly recommend this area. There is plenty to see, do, and eat. We had crepes, shopped at a bookstore, walked the streets, and went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum is free which is great and it’s huge which also means you can stay for hours and still see and learn more. We really wanted to go to the greenhouses, but they were closed since it was winter.
On my last day, Claire and I spent the morning at Hyde Park. We had been here before on our first trip to England a few years ago with my family and it is one of my favorite spaces in London. Claire and I explored a new area of the park that day and fed swans, ducks, and geese and strolled along the water’s edge before I had to head to the airport for the long flight home.
This ended up being more like a journal entry; sorry it drug on so long! I do hope that some information here is helpful to someone thinking about taking a trip to London and inspires them to just GO!