"It is difficult to speak adequately or justly of London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or cheerful, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent."
- Henry James
Almost 10 years ago, I stepped foot onto European soil for the first time, but I did not visit the UK until about 4 years ago. That is truly when my love affair with the land across the pond began. After a year of planning, one entire trip cancellation, countless hours of research, and a lot of saving, I went on a 4-country adventure with one of my best friends. We began our trip in London, debatably my favorite city I've visited. It is one of the first cities that made me feel at-home, and I feel that way every time I go back.
My impression of London has always been positive. It's surely not a city for everyone - it's damp, gray, cold and sometimes aggressive. It's intimidating and fast-paced, yet, there is something that has always captured me fully.
Surprisingly, it was quite reasonable for us to fly from LAX to Heathrow, roundtrip on my favorite airline. It was one of the best options, so I was obviously pleased. I'm quite a fan of the service on Virgin Atlantic, and yet again, they did not disappoint. We arrived in London after a quick 8.5-hour flight on Sunday, 10/8/17 close to 4PM. I purposely planned our arrival this way, so we could eat dinner and get to bed to help us adjust to the new timezone. If you'd like to see which Airbnb we stayed in, click here.
PRO TIP: Please take jet lag into consideration. You want to do everything you can to adjust to your new timezone!
I am also the type of traveller who is willing to spend a little more money for more comfort or convenience. Depending on your budget, I suggest biting the bullet and taking the Heathrow Express from Heathrow to central London. It is a bit pricey, but the train goes directly from Heathrow to Paddington in about 20 minutes. In addition to free wifi, the trains are comfortable and offer an easy way to get into the city. If you are visiting London for the first time, or even if you don't feel like lugging your bags up and down stairs, on and off of buses and tube trains, take the Heathrow Express. You may not save money, but you will save TIME.
Another item I regularly invest in when traveling in London: A travel card. Public transportation is great in London, a definite upgrade from my usual commuter struggles in Los Angeles. In order to alleviate some potential financial stress, I buy a travel card ahead of time, giving me unlimited travel throughout London. By having a travel card, you are not required to pay per ride; many choose to invest in an Oyster card, which still requires different payments and refills, depending on how much you use it.
Please note: All food-related reviews will be posted on my "Jolene Eats in London" blog.
Our plans included: Warner Brothers Studio Tour London, afternoon tea at Sketch, and then I had a tentative list of things to do. My personal philosophy borders on excessive planning (according to some people), but I do NOT believe in wasting time or money when traveling. It's always a race against the clock, and time is something you simply cannot get back. So, I plan "free time" and tentative activities that are doable, with regard to geography (for instance, distance from our Airbnb) or cost.
Please refer to my Warner Brothers Studio Tour London post for a full review, and to my Jolene Eats in London post for all food-related reviews.
After an afternoon and evening of shopping and exploration, we got some late night drinks and snacks before heading back to our Airbnb.
We began our Tuesday with breakfast and a view at Duck & Waffle, before heading to the Tower of London. Although I'd visited London twice before, I'd never been to the Tower of London, dismissing it as a "touristy thing." Well, it's a "touristy thing" for a reason. Whether or not you identify as a history buff (which I am NOT), the Tower of London can be appreciated by all. The impressive fortress is not only full of history, but houses England's crown jewels, intimidating ravens, and gorgeous views of the Tower Bridge.
While we did not opt for the beefeater-led tour, it was not difficult to navigate around the Tower grounds. Plenty of signage and maps allow visitors to find their way around. One of my favorite parts was walking the perimeter of the fortress - dipping in and out of towers, following spiral staircases and learning about the menagerie of exotic animals who once inhabited the Tower was incredibly interesting. I made sure to allow more than plenty of time for us to meander as we pleased, so no part of this famous landmark was rushed or missed.
We had a bit of down time (or so we thought), so we decided to visit Camden Town, one of my favorite parts of London. I'd say this part of town isn't for the faint of heart - it's considerably grittier, with considerably more character than some of the more touristy parts of London. Camden Market is a wonderful place to shop for handmade and artisan items, and there is a wonderful food market full of a broad range of options, ranging from duck confit burritos to Thai food. Camden Market is the perfect example of why London is such an amazing city - it's diverse, colorful and full of gems, if you know where to dig.
After meeting a friend at Tombo Cafe for a matcha-themed afternoon tea, we rushed back to our Airbnb to drop our bags off (from shopping at Camden Market) and attempted to freshen up and head to a Shakespeare play. Unfortunately, we underestimated the distance and time it would take to get to Shakespeare's Globe Theater, so we ended up missing Much Ado About Nothing. Frankly, I was absolutely devastated. I was in a foul mood, especially since this was supposed to be one of the highlights of our time in London. However, I remembered a little bar/pub that I had previously visited in the same area, so we ended up walking down the Thames at night before grabbing some drinks.
PRO TIP: Try to get familiar with the areas you will be in before you go. In the case of our little slip-up, I had a backup and we still ended up having a nice evening. It's good to know that there is somewhere you can go in case your plans change!
It was our last morning in London, and we had to catch a flight to Copenhagen in the afternoon. We didn't plan anything too elaborate, as we didn't want to risk missing our flight or rushing through the city. Because we still wanted to have an adventure, we went out for breakfast at the famous Regency Cafe, a classic diner serving up exceptionally reasonably priced meals, including a rather wonderful Full English breakfast.
From London, we moved onto Copenhagen, Denmark!