Apologies for the lackluster blog updates lately – I’ve been extremely busy with work, extra-curricular activities (ahem, Ottawa, which I’ll eventually talk about), and just life in general. Of course, these are all just excuses. I can probably avoid this by managing my time wisely… something I’m STILL learning to do these days!
I have a confession to make and there is no easy way to say it. Here we go… I didn’t love with London. Don’t get me wrong – the place oozes with history and brims with life. Add free museums, lots of markets, and an amazing transportation system to that and you have yourself an amazing city. So why didn’t I love it? To be honest, I have no idea. It was like NYC all over again. Really, though, I think it’s just a matter of personal preference.
That said, I do have several dos and don’ts I’d like to share with you. They are meant to ease your visit and save you a little bit of money during your time there as London easily ranks as one of the most expensive city to visit!
When in London…
Use an apartment booking service
If you’re on budget, you can forget about hotels altogether. Their rates are insane (anywhere upwards of £100/night) and there was no way I’d fork out that much money for a room. Hostels aren’t that much better either, with some of them charging as much as £40/night/person for a private room. So, I turned to Airbnb, an online apartment booking service, and tried my luck there. We eventually found an apartment with 2 rooms and a lounge area, for about $200/person for our entire 6-night stay. The place was in the east end, a little bit out of London city centre, but I didn’t mind that at all. I was happy to leave the hustle and bustle of the city at the end of the night.
Take a free walking tour of the city
What better way to start exploring a city than with a walking tour? We went with the Sandemans New Europe Tour and they took us around one part of the city, covering major landmarks, such as the Buckingham Palace, Horse Guard Parade, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. It also didn’t hurt that Owen, our tour guide, is hilarious and ridiculously good looking.
Stroll on the South Bank of the Thames
Forget the hop-on and hop-off tourist buses! London is an extremely walkable city. Start from the Tower of London (tube: Tower Hill), cross to the Tower Bridge and make your way west on the South Bank of the River Thames. Many of London’s landmarks are scattered by the river, so you can see sights like HMS Belfast, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, the London Eye, and the Houses of Parliament. The fact that walking counts as an exercise is an added bonus!
Buy the Oyster Card and take the Underground
Did you know the Underground has just celebrated its 150th anniversary? Yea. It’s an impressive system, easily one of the best in the world. Valid on the Underground, on the iconic red buses and even on the regional trains, the Oyster card is your best bet for navigating the system. The neat thing with Oyster card is their daily maximum cap of £8.50. This means they don’t charge you a single pence to use the tube once you reach your maximum. It’s easily a life-saver and a very affordable option as one way journey ticket on the tube can cost up to £4. The tube and the buses pretty much cover the entire city and all attractions have a tube station close to it. Plus, you can’t go to London and NOT go on the tube; that’s just blasphemy!
Go to one of the Museums London has to offer
The city of London boasts an impressive number of Museum, including the famous British Museum as well as the Natural History Museum, both of which are absolutely free to enter. Because of this, they often get very crowded with throngs of visitors going through their hallways, making a sub-par museum experience. I have to admit, they have a very impressive collection though: the British Museum houses a piece of the Rosetta Stone, while the Natural History Museum showcases a very thorough dinosaurs exhibition, complete with a real-life replica of the t-rex.
Skip the changing of the guards
It’s overrated. No, really, it is! Plus, once the crowd settles, you really can’t see anything or move anywhere. So, unless you are willing to camp out in front of the Buckingham Palace from early in the morning, I say skip the changing of the guards and have yourself a nice English breakfast instead. If you really want to tough it out, you should probably be in front of the palace by 9 AM at the latest to secure a good view of the event. Also check their website for the monthly schedule.
Don’t stay on the North Bank
When you go to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, don’t stay on the North bank of the Thames. It’s very crowded and you rarely get a picture without having some other person photo-bombing you. Instead, walk across the Westminster bridge and take your pictures from the South bank. The crowd thins out and you get an amazing view of the building and the River Thames.
Don’t try to see everything
London is HUGE. Even if you stay for a full week, it is still pretty impossible to cover the entire city. Sure, places may be located close to one another, but you also need to take into account the line up at each of those places, which may take anywhere between 5 minutes to a full hour. Don’t stress yourself out – pick and choose what you want to see and stick with those. It’s infinitely better than trying to fly from one place to another without actually enjoying anything.
Otherwise, stay safe and have lots of fun! I don’t know what it is, but there is something about London that’s so charming and almost dream-like. I mean, you are literally walking on history in this city!