Monday, March 6, 2017
London, England (Part 1)
For as long as I can remember, London has been #1 on my travel bucket list. I think it stems back to my elementary days, obsessing over the Spice Girls and repeatedly watching my Spice World VHS while perfecting my British accent. But unlike Geri leaving the group, my desire to visit London never left me!
We have SO much to tell you about our trip - everything from travel logistics to restaurants to our general thoughts about being in London - so we're going to split it into two parts. We spent three full days in London and while I felt fulfilled after that short amount of time, it certainly wasn't enough to see or do even half of the things on our list. London is HUGE and getting from one destination to the next is way more time consuming than one would think. Keep reading for our daily itineraries for the first half of our visit (or scroll to the end if you want a brief recap because this post is going to be a doozy!)
We arrived at Gatwick Airport Monday morning and caught the train to Victoria Station in London (about a 45 minute train ride.) Victoria Station has a "Left Luggage" facility, which despite the confusing name, is a place where you can store your luggage for the day. We couldn't check into our Airbnb until that night, so we left our suitcase there and toted our backpacks for day 1 of exploring.
Victoria Station is really close to Buckingham Palace, so we immediately went there and happened to catch the changing of the guards. It was PACKED and pretty difficult to see, so we didn't stay long. As Nick keeps telling our friends though, it's pretty crazy to be in London for 5 minutes and see the changing of the guards when some people live in England their whole lives and never see it.
Next we walked to Soho in an attempt to eat at The Breakfast Club, but seeing that there was an hour wait and we were STARVING, we walked to a nearby restaurant called Mildred's for a delicious vegan breakfast. Afterwards we headed to Crosstown Doughnuts for decadent salted caramel banana donuts and coffee. (Side note: we quickly learned that no one serves black coffee/drip coffee in London but instead serves an Americano (espresso and hot water), which was perfectly fine with us.)
We spent the next couple hours walking around the Soho and Covent Garden areas, snapping photos of the beautiful old buildings and just taking in the city I've wanted to visit for so long. Finally, we decided to hop on the open air tour bus to see more of the city and get us back to Victoria Station so we could pick up our luggage. We booked through Big Bus, which offers hop on-hop off bus tours on three different routes around London. Though this is pretty touristy, I highly recommend it. I love just getting to sit on the upper deck, enjoying the breeze, taking photos, and seeing a city from that perspective. There are a few bus tour companies in London, but we really enjoyed Big Bus and were able to get a bonus 24 hours for free when we booked.
After picking up our luggage, we hopped back on the Big Bus to get us closer to our Airbnb, and then we walked the rest of the way to Russell Square where we checked into our flat. Starving once again, we stepped out for dinner at Pizza Sophia and finally back home to shower and sleep after the world's longest day.
Tuesday morning we woke up and headed to King's Cross station, which was conveniently a quick walk from our flat. We did what any obsessive Harry Potter fan would do when visiting King's Cross - WE WENT TO PLATFORM 9 3/4! There's actually a little HP shop there and the staff brings out scarves and wands to use in your photos. It's great. Then we got on the tube, which was absolutely insane at 8:30 AM. Every car was packed to the gills with commuters and I felt a bit bad being tourists taking up valuable space, but oh well. Off we went!
We did a little morning mural hunting and then went to The Breakfast Club again, this time in Spitalfields. Breakfast was delicious even though we didn't try the famous "bacon rolls." Afterwards we walked down to River Thames and along the riverfront until we got to the Tower of London. We didn't go inside, which is one our biggest regrets from the trip because we've heard it's awesome. Instead we got ice cream, hopped on the big bus, and went to our next destination: The London Eye.
When booking our Big Bus hop on-hop off tickets, we elected to add on fast pass tickets to the London Eye. We waited in a short line and then got into our pod with about 8 other guests. It's more spacious inside than we thought, but window space is limited so you definitely have to take turns to get the photos you want. Would I do it again? Nope. The views were... meh. Everything you can see from the London Eye you can see from the ground just as well.
Next we walked to nearby Archbishop's Park where... WE GOT ENGAGED! More on that soon...
We'll be sharing part 2 of our London travels later this week, but in the meantime, Nick rounded up our final thoughts from part 1 below.
Travel & Transportation
- Train from Gatwick to Victoria: If flying into Gatwick Airport, taking the train to Victoria was a super easy and convenient way to get into London. We bought roundtrip tickets right at the airport.
- London Underground (aka the tube): Navigating the tube is super simple. Our only issues were the sheer number of people during rush hour.
- Big Bus: We purchased our Big Bus tickets thinking we would use it for both sightseeing and transportation, but it literally took hours to complete a full loop. I still recommend it for sure, but don't count on it to get you around in a timely manner.
- Walking: We typically rely on walking when visiting a city. Don't do that in London. This place is massive, and it's pretty overwhelming to mosey around, or efficiently get from one place to another on foot. If you're staying for a few days, invest in an underground pass. Once we decided to hop on the tube the few times we did, it changed our whole experience for the better.
- Mildred's: This all vegetarian restaurant is a perfect spot for a quick bite. I love going into a vegetarian restaurant and immediately being torn between every item on the menu. I got a veggie burger that was completely delicious, but I just as easily could have gotten anything else. Options are a beautiful thing!
- Crosstown Doughnuts: We didn't seek this place out, but I'm so glad we came across it. Super tiny with only a counter to order at, this place has some incredible doughnuts! I've got a pretty bad sweet tooth, and I'm kicking myself for getting just one...
- Pizza Sophia: If you're staying in or near Russel Square, I'd check this place out, though it's not something that demands your effort to travel to. It's pretty simple. A small, easy pizza place with a wide range of pizza styles, wine, and beer on tap.
- The Breakfast Club: There are a few of these throughout the city. Definitely find one and get some breakfast. I'd recommend getting there early, since the lines do tend to get quite long. It's a really awesome place with a super hip atmosphere, fun food, and music.
- Buckingham Palace: It was completely packed during changing of the guards, so we honestly didn't see a whole lot of it. We'd like to go back sometime to see it when that wasn't happening.
- Soho: Dense, hip neighborhood with tons to explore including the above mentioned Crosstown Doughnuts, Mildred's and a Breakfast Club location.
- Covent Garden: Partially open air market with tons of shopping and eating. Definitely feels a bit commercial, though. Most of the shops are commercial brands, or larger, tourist driven restaurants. Still a fun place for exploring.
- King's Cross Station: A little too hectic for sight-seeing other than seeing Platform 9 3/4. If you're traveling using the underground, you'll likely find yourself here anyway.
- River Thames: A river, mostly just water and a handful of fish probably.
- London Eye: I suppose it was a cool one-time experience. Definitely not something we'd want to do again. Get those good pictures the first time and move on!
- Airbnb: We stayed at an Airbnb in Russell Square. The location was great - walkable to most places we wanted to visit, but also super close to King's Cross should we want to take the tube. It was a bit loud outside at night (for me, Sarah sleeps through everything.) We spend so little time in a hotel on vacation, so renting an Airbnb was our best option financially. If you're interested in trying Airbnb, you can get a credit for your first trip through our referral link!
Come back in a couple days for part 2 and feel free to leave us any questions in the comments below! Have any of you visited London before? What were your favorite/least favorite parts?
Sarah & Nick
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