I figured I couldn’t really get ready to leave England without writing about London (a much longer post about Sheffield to come soon) – I’m also supposed to be packing up my apartment and cleaning, but this seems like a much better idea right now.
I’ve been to London several times over the last year and I’m going to try to condense as much info as I can about it in here.
Travel Tip #1: The London Pass. If you’re going to do some serious sightseeing for a few days in a row, this pass is perfect. I’ve used it twice. The first time was 6 years ago right after I graduated from college (I can’t believe it was 6 years ago!). I went to London with two of my good friends and we toured London like it was our job. We got the longest number of days available along with the transport pass and really made the most of it. The London Pass is what started me on my passion for checking if every city I visit has one. The second time I used it was last June with a friend of mine from work. We got the two days pass and without really even trying, managed to wind up evening out on how much it cost and how much we saved. This pass is great because if you’re a casual sightseer, it’s not hard to at least make sure you get your money’s worth, and if it’s your first time in London and you’re going to check out all the big sites over a couple of days, it’ll save you a lot of money. It also comes with a handy book with a map and lots of travel advice.
Travel Tip #3: Hostels. London has a ton of hostels. I realize that for Americans, going to a hostel is not a common thing. My mom freaked out the first time I told her I was staying in one. However, in Europe, they’re kind of the norm. Just bring a locker lock for your bags and you’ll be safe. You also get to have unique culture experiences when you meet all the other travelers in your room. They’re really not all that different from a college dorm.
The Victoria Astor hostel is my favorite in the world. I’ve stayed there several times. It’s in a nice safe location and is very close to a tube stop, making it easily accessible to all of London. You can even walk from the Victoria Train Station. It’s clean and not too loud. The staff are always very friendly and helpful. They have a free breakfast (it’s really just coffee, toast and jam, but it’s free and it’ll keep you going until lunch) and cheap internet.
Another nice hostel is Barkston Youth Hostel in Earl’s Court. I wouldn’t put it in the same class as the Victoria Astor, but if it were booked up, I’d stay in Earl’s Court again. The location isn’t nearly as convenient, but the place was clean enough and I liked that my room had a lot of large windows that could be opened and access to a ledge you could go out and walk on. It also had a little kitchen with a microwave and refrigerator in the room.
The disaster hostel I stayed in this year was Journeys Greenwich West Hostel. I had talked a friend of mine into staying in a hostel instead of getting a real hotel room when we headed down to London to see a show, convincing her that it was fine and just like a dorm room. Unfortunately, the show was Halloween weekend and we decided to go at the last minute, so all the good hostels were booked. This was the only available one. However, it’s really far outside of central London, the beds were uncomfortable, and as it’s on top of a pub, it was really loud. Not only did we have trouble getting there to drop our bags off, because of the awesome underground and the insane number of lines that were closed that weekend, when we returned back that evening, we missed the last train of the only train that connected to there and had to take a taxi. I think it’s probably worth it to pay a little more and just stay in the city proper.
Overall though, I think hostels are a great way to spend some time in London. I’ve also stayed at the Battersea Travelodge, which was really convenient for when a bunch of us went to a festival at the Battersea Arts Center, but keep in mind that if you do stay there, there’s nowhere to really eat or get a drink once you get near the Travelodge, so take care of that before arriving.
As for things I saw this year, the main brunt of my sightseeing was done in April and May. In April I headed down to see some shows and have lunch with an old friend from college who was in town. I had some time to kill that evening and stopped by Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey to take some pictures.
My favorite picture I’ve ever taken at Westminster Abbey is of this strange boy who scaled the wall and pretended to be a gargoyle. I absolutely could not stop laughing.
I didn’t make it into Westminster Abbey this time, but as I recall from last time I was there, it was one of the prettiest things I’d ever seen and well worth checking out. If you’re into literature or history at all, there are also a lot of famous dead people buried in there.
A few weeks ago I took my boyfriend to London for the first time and met up with my aunt and cousin who were also visiting, so we did the more traditional tourist stuff then, like taking lots of pictures of Tower Bridge.
We also visited the Tower of London and went on the tour there. I particularly liked Traitor’s Gate and all the gory stories associated with it. We also checked out the Crown Jewels while we were there, which are really sort of crazy. So much gold in one place. Tower of London is really pricey though, so if you’re not really interested, it might be the place to skip. I think the fee was something like £20, but if you have a London Pass, entry is free.
We hung out at Trafalger Square for a while and tried to take pictures sitting on the lions. My cousin Sam and I boosted each other up. It was not the most graceful event of our lives, but it was pretty darn funny.
We also stopped by the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street and tried to cross Abbey Road, which we accidentally did backwards.
We spent all of one day out on a really nice tour with Evan Evans Tours. We went to the city of Bath and took a tour of the ancient roman baths. Funnily enough, I did this 6 years ago the first time I was in London and remember being much more wowed by Bath than I was this time. I think it’s worth visiting and it is a cute little town. I’m also a big fan of clotted cream fudge, which is unbelievably unhealthy, but I love it anyway, and I was able to pick up a box of it from a tourist trap there.
From Bath we headed over to Salisbury Cathedral, which was neat. I was particularly excited to go there because it was the only place on the tour I hadn’t been yet. It is a very pretty Cathedral, but particularly notable because they have the only remaining complete original copy of the Magna Carta. I really wished I had paid better attention in school, because all I could remember was that it was important and not why. There was a lovely courtyard and we stopped to have tea and scones, complete with some more clotted cream. It was a very British afternoon.
From there we headed off to the final stop on the tour: Stonehenge. That place really is something else, but much like Bath, I’d found it wasn’t quite as neat as it was the first time around. It was also FREEZING there, so I snapped some pictures, hurried around the diameter and waited in the gift shop for all the first timers to finish ogling it.
On previous trips to London I’ve also gone in the London Eye, which is really cool once and a total waste of money every time after, and really enjoyed strolling along the walkway next to the Thames by the Eye where all the street performers are. St. Paul’s Cathedral is also gorgeous and worth checking out as well. I’ve also gone on several London Walks, which are really cheap walking tours that can be a very cool way to learn about some of the unique historical aspects of London.