I have been to London four times now. That’s right, four. With the world being so big and the list of amazing cities to visit being endless, why would I go to the same place so many times? The answer is simple: London is my favorite place. London is MY place. I haven’t even been to nearly all of the places that I want to visit in this lifetime, but I know that London will always be my favorite.
I grew up listening to stories about the U.K from my British Grandmother, so I have always had a slight obsession with everything U.K-related as a whole. I was always curious to see what it was like, and to see if it was anything like her stories. Luckily in 2013, my mom got an itch to go back, so I jumped at the opportunity to go with her.
This was my first trip out of the country. Needless to say, I was in awe of the place. It was modern but extremely old at the same time (Of course I found out later that all of Europe is like this) and everyone was laid-back. The weather sucked, the food was not great, but I loved it! It was the first time that I had gone to a place and felt like I found where I belonged.
With all of that being said, here are 5 things i think everyone should be aware of before heading across the pond:
- First things first, you will fall in love with it.
If you’re anything like me, you will be in awe of London the minute you step foot off of the airplane. I mean, what’s not to love? it’s beautiful to look at, there are a ton of things to do, plenty of cool restaurants to eat at, old architecture to admire, and a lot of good shopping. Prepare to get a strong urge to move there.
2. You are going to need to bring good walking shoes.
This is probably a no-brainer, but take care of your feet! London is extremely walkable, especially when you want to see all of the main attractions, but along with sight-seeing comes extremely sore feet. Of course, you have the option of riding the tube, which is great, but it can just get very crowded. Not to mention the fact that the Piccadilly line will be experiencing severe delays at some point or another. (You will hear them announce this. It’s inevitable). Take the walking route. It’ll allow you to really see all of the city. Who knows, you might even find a cool shop that you wouldn’t have found if you were on a train or bus. Take the time to appreciate all of the small details!
3. Research restaurants beforehand, and know where you want to go.
This one is highly recommended. Let’s be honest, British food is different. Obviously very different than what i would eat on a normal day at home (i.e California burritos, Thai food, things with spice and flavor). A lot of it can be very bland, and a lot of it can be kind of strange (i.e. blood sausage). But with that being said, try all of it. Have a traditional English breakfast, eat all of the British things at least once, and then head to all of those highly recommended restaurants that you looked up before you came and don’t eat it again. I also recommend finding a restaurant that can be your go-to place while you’re there, just in case you do get stuck with bad food. For me, this was Nando’s. I had heard of it once online so i thought i’d give it a try and let me just say, i have dreams about it now that i don’t live near one. It’s amazing!
One other thing to keep in mind is the fact that good produce can be hard to find, which will make for a rough trip for your digestive system at least for the first few days! My advice: Find a grocery store and stock up on the freshest-looking food items that you can find. Oh, and eat the porridge. Any other produce… good luck.
4. Plan to venture outside of the city.
My motto is: Be a tourist for at least one day, and then do your best to try to live like a local. There’s no doubt about it that you should hit up all of the main tourist spots in London like St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Hyde Park, etc. but don’t limit yourself to doing just these things. Leave your hotel one day and just get lost. You won’t regret it!
I also recommend leaving the big city altogether. London is in the perfect location to venture to other parts of England. You can do this via train, car, or book a guided tour and hop on a bus. Some of the obvious choices are Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford, Stratford, Windsor, and Dover. (Highly recommend going to Dover and staying in a bed and breakfast for at least one night. There are a ton of things to see).
5. Do extensive research on lodging, and know if your hotel is in a good spot.
If you have been to the U.K or Europe before, then you know that things run a little…small. Get used to the fact that hotels, AirBnB’s, etc. will not be up to your “American standards,” and that showers will be small. Beds will be small. Closets will be unbelievably small. If you’re a tall person in particular, do your research!
The last time i was in London, i stayed at The California, which was PERFECT. I will mostly likely never stay in any other hotel in London ever again. This will be my go-to. I did not choose it because California is in the name, i chose it because looking at the photos online didn’t give me the impression that it was a typical hotel. Staying here made me feel like i was staying in my own flat, like i was a local. Since that is the end-goal some day, i thought it was a good fit.
What are some of your London tips and tricks?