Date and Duration:
December 23-26 (4 days)
This was the first stop in our three-city trip across the U.K. and it did not disappoint. My favorite part of this city was a tie between the gorgeous apartment buildings and the Underground. I had never seen such a beautiful underground transit system. Coming from the Greater Philadelphia area that only gives me SEPTA and PATCO, the Underground was a gift from God. My friend and I were able to get around so efficiently with our Oyster cards
Tip: If you’re in London for more than two days, purchase an Oyster card at any Tube station. You can deposit any amount of money from your Debit or Credit card (with a £5 deposit) and it works as a pay-as-you-go system. It works in all Undergrounds and double decker buses!
My friend and I were able to get around so efficiently with our Oyster cards and did end up using a majority of the money we put on there (I believe £30) with probably 5 pounds left over. We stayed in the outskirts of London, in Pimlico in a hostel along the Thames River.
Day 1: we arrived at our hostel apparently 5 hours early for check-in so we wandered Pimlico and awed at the building architecture. We found a cute coffee shop, which we soon found out to be a chain and was located on every. single. street. Being too tired from our overnight flight that resulted in no sleep, we relaxed over a cup of coffee until finally checking in and having dinner at the hostel.
Day 2: The London Eye! We booked our tickets online…
Tip: don’t buy face-value tickets before checking the price online first! You can often save yourself a couple of pounds by purchasing online
….and hopped on a double decker to Trafalgar Square. On our way, we ended up passing by the Big Ben and Westminster Abbey totally by surprise! It snuck up on us since we had planned to do the major sightseeing the next day. I was a little shocked at the height, the Big Ben was always much bigger in my head. But once I saw it from the base of it and saw the gorgeous gold spikes and grandiosity of the clock hands, it had me. We had a quick tea break at another cafe right on the Square before heading to the Eye and there was something magical about sitting in the cold with a cup of English tea, people-watching and listening to the busy hum of authentic double decker busses. Finally, we walked the Westminster Bridge towards the London Eye. Let me tell you right now, there will be a million seagulls in this area and they are ruthless. We got on the Eye and it was a nice little ride with a couple beautiful views, but I will say that I don’t think it was worth my money. It’s a tourist trap, of course, and it’s cool to say that I’ve done it, but there are other things worth your $35. We wandered through Christmas markets, got on the wrong bus and ended up in Camden town (ironically since I live in Camden, NJ), finally made it home and relaxed until dusk. Once night fell, on Christmas Eve, we walked down the busy Times Square like sidewalks of Oxford Street until we took the Underground to Hyde Park for Winter Wonderland, which was absolutely incredible. Beers, mulled wine, crepes, bratwursts, roller coasters, Christmas markets, arcade games, haunted houses, and so, so much more. If you find yourself in London during Christmas, definitely check it out.
PSA: THE ENTIRE COUNTRY SHUTS DOWN ON CHRISTMAS DAY.
Day 3: was supposed to be spent sightseeing since we heard that most of the restaurants and shops close down on Christmas Day until I read that there is also NO PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AT ALL. You could take a classic Black Taxi but that will cost you an extra £5 to your trip fare. But everything shuts down. Sadly, my friend and I were unaware of this when we booked our flights, so we were stuck in the hostel most of the day. I napped and made up for lost sleep and at dusk, we took a walk by the Thames River. A beautiful stroll (and run, if you do that on vacation) to just take in the city.
Day 4: Last day resulted in St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower Bridge, and Buckingham Palace. Probably my favorite day on the entire trip. Again, we bought our tickets online for St. Paul’s and got there at around 11 am. You have the option of having an audio tour, but my friend and I opted to just wander. The Cathedral is absolutely beautiful and is where Princess Diana got married. If you’re up for it, I definitely recommend climbing the dome. The first layer, 259 stairs up, is the Whispering Gallery. You sit around the curve of the dome and below you is where most people would sit during a service. The key is, if you whisper into the concrete wall with your friend on the other side of the dome, she/he will hear you. It’s incredible and a little scary at first, but really mindblowing. 119 more steps and you reach the Stone Gallery, which is a wide terrace outside with a full 360 view of the city of London. It’s super windy, so be prepared, but it’s absolutely breathtaking. Another 150 steps in very narrow and winding stairs and you reach the Golden Gallery which is another much smaller terrace along the top of the dome. It’s very small and if many people are up there, you’ll have to squeeze yourself through, so be aware. You may get claustrophobic, but the view is worth it. We walked the Tower Bridge and I reminisced on episodes from Sherlock and Parks and Recreation and took the Underground to Green Park where we found Buckingham Palace. We walked the entire circumference of the palace (it’s huge) before stopping by Westminster Abbey. We got there 30 minutes before closing and the tickets were £20, which I thought was too much for a church, so I told myself next time.
Overall, London is a magnificent city and is a wonderful experience, but the fact that we got stuck during Christmas Day did make me feel like I missed out on much more that this city had to offer. The pubs were terrific and I really enjoyed having a pint with my steak and ale pie. London is very touristy and for good reason, it has a lot to offer…
Tip: Unlike America, when going to a pub you seat yourself. The table will have a number somewhere on the surface, when ready to order you go to the bar and order both food and drinks, all you have to do is tell them your table number and they’ll bring it out to you. No need to wait for the check when finished. Quite efficient and I really enjoyed this.
…but I like my local travels and golden egg findings, like a coffee shop. There’s more to England than London and I think that’s what I’ll be focused on from now on. Onto Manchester!