I knew I was going to love London. I’ll tell you why. In October of 2014, I flew British airways from London to DC; it was the last leg of my journey back from Rome. I was cranky and tired; having just spent a 9-hour layover in Barcelona attempting to fall asleep on a bench in the airport McDonalds, suffice it to say I was not well rested. Despite only having a one hour and fifteen minute layover, and taking into consideration the sheer size and craziness that is London Heathrow, I made my flight on time (I found out later that my bag did not, but it was delivered to my house the next day).
That flight was one of the best flights of my life. I had an aisle seat, and no one was sitting next to me. I could stretch out and relax; and no turbulence, which absolutely terrifies me. But the real reason that I loved the flight so much were the flight attendants. All from England, their no-non-sense attitudes, witty comebacks, dry senses of humor, down-to earth-ness, and kind hearts made me feel an instant connection to these people across the pond. Maybe I liked them so much because I recognized so many of my own personality traits in a whole group of people. Or maybe it was just that their accents were sexy as hell.
So I clicked with the people instantly. But, I think I loved London before I even got there for another reason: the fact that I was an English major in college, and now a high school language arts teacher. How can you not love a country and city where so many of the greats of literature walked and breathed and wrote? It would have been sacrilege not to love England.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to see any of England outside of London, which I very much regret. In cases like these I just have to sigh and say to myself next time. But, looking on the bright side I had an absolute blast in London.
My first taste of London was a night out in Camden. I know, for those of you who have been to London, you’ll hopefully agree that a night out in Camden is a great introduction to the culture of the city. In London people go out a bit earlier-around 9 or so, and leave the bars around midnight or one, which I actually really appreciated. Being tired and groggy when you’re trying to sightsee may be the worst thing in existence.
I loved the bars in Camden-a group of people from my hostel (Palmer’s Lodge Swiss Cottage which I can highly recommend to anyone looking for a hostel in London) made a night of it, hopping from bar to bar. Although the beer was pricy, I loved dancing and listening to all of the accents.
Camden during the day wasn’t so bad either. The neighborhood has a hip, eclectic vibe, and during the day turns into a market where you can buy touristy stuff, and discover some great vintage finds.
I just loved walking up and down and looking at all of the shops.
One of my favorite things to do in any city is sightsee. I usually always start off with a free tour to get a feel for the city. I went with Undiscovered London tours (which was highly recommended by my hostel). For 15 pounds (although it’s a free tour you should always tip your tour guide) I got a two-hour walking tour of a lot of the “must see” things in the city.
I was surprised how spaced out everything is in London, it is a big city.
I spent hours walking alongside the river, starting at Westminster Abbey, passing by the London Eye and Shakespeare’s Globe theater, and continuing to London Bridge and Tower bridge, stopping for a bite to eat, or just people watch.
So much of my time spent traveling is just walking and feeling the city. I don’t know how many miles I walk when I’m traveling, but I would say the average is about 10 miles a day. It takes a toll on my feet, and my body a bit, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Walking around the city was fabulous, but as I said, the city is huge, and so spaced out, the only way to see everything (or at least all the main points) is to use the tube.
Oh, the tube. I’ve heard horror stories about the tube but I actually adore public transportation and the London tube was no exception. Although, during rush hour the tube is miserable. I recommend avoiding it at all costs.
But, the tube allowed me to get from my hostel, which was a bit out of the city center, to all the main attractions, multiple times. I’ve said this before in my posts, but when you go to a city, always see the main sites during the day, and at night. At night all of the lights come on, and the atmosphere (to me at least) is a bit more peaceful, more magical.
When I walked across the tower bridge at night, felt the cool air on my face, and looked out over London, everything felt right with the world, like I was exactly where I was meant to be at that moment in time.
I had four really amazing experiences while in London (in addition to the sightseeing) that really made my trip to the city special.
The first was a trip to King’s Cross station and platform 9 ¾, and then onto the Harry Potter studio tour.
I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and this was something I did not want to miss.
I’ve been to Harry Potter world in Universal Orlando, but something about being on set was beyond exciting, the ultimate fan experience. I couldn’t stop looking at all the costumes, sets, props, and mechanics of the whole thing.
I’m still convinced my Hogwarts letter got lost in the owl post.
My second great experience was attending a service in Westminster Abbey.
I did this partly because of my grandfather, who attended service there decades ago, and spoke of Westminster with a devout sense of holiness and awe. I must say the church itself is beautiful, and I was touched and honored to be able to go inside and listen to the beautiful choral groups and participate in a church service. My granddad was right; the place definitely gives you chills.
The third experience that was really meaningful to me was the tour of East London. This was a paid tour, but I wanted to hear about the darker side of London’ s history, the story of London’s poor, Jack the Ripper, ect. I paid about 15 well-spent pounds, and went with the same tour group as my free walking tour, Undiscovered London.
East London was most certainly different, grungier than the rest of the city. Our tour guide was a self-proclaimed “goat” a person whose family is from East London and grew up in East London. She has wild blonde hair, huge silver hoop earrings, several ear piercing and a nose piercing, wears all black clothing with huge combat boots. She looks like she’s going to a grunge concert, she looks awesome, and I instantly want to be her.
Of course she’s a great tour guide, explaining the culture of east London compared to the rest of the city. My favorite part of the tour was the street art.
There is a whole street art culture in east London that I knew nothing about, but over the course of two hours she shared the rules of street art, art vs. the law, fighting over territory, the honor and codes that govern street artists, different styles and signatures, and the worth of some of those paintings. It is fascinating.
I’m not much of an artist myself, but people who create street art are badass.
My fourth and final adventure in London was going to see a performance of Phantom of the Opera at her Majesty’s theater.
I love Phantom of the Opera; I’ve obsessed over the movie for years, and for my sweet sixteen my Mom took me to New York to see it on Broadway. Seeing the performance in London was astounding.
And tickets were relatively cheap. There are booths selling tickets at discounted prices to almost every single show in London. Google TKTS, there are two booths that you can visit to buy tickets, other offer tickets but I would go with TKTS, they are trusted and legit.
Like most cities I visit, I feel like I never have enough time. This was certainly true in London. My friend studied abroad in London, and I didn’t even hit half of her to-do list. But I enjoyed seeing and learning about so much history, and I’m thankful for all the wonderful experiences I had while exploring this fantastic city.