The London Guide (Plus a 4-Day Itinerary!)
Before I left for my little holiday in London, I mentioned possibly putting together a roundup post of my time there because I was there for quite awhile (10 days!), but then I had the brilliant idea of doing a travel guide rather than a roundup post. Whilst I was researching for London I found a travel guide hard to come by… unless I was travelling with children. Which I was not.
So this post is basically what I did in London, where I stayed, what I think is worth it and not worth it, and everything in between. If you’re planning a trip to London or thinking about it this travel guide will (hopefully) be of help to you.
WHERE TO STAY
The main thing that you need to know about London is that public transportation is key. You can get all around London on just the tube and your two feet, but you have to be close to a tube station. Our hotel was literally right next door to the Tower Hill station, which houses the District and Circle lines. We stayed at citizenM, which is below, along with a few others I looked into before settling on citizenM.
- citizenM: Next door to the Tower Hill tube station. The room was a bit small but the bed was gigantic and honestly -- we weren’t in the room all the much any which way. Free Wifi, with excellent service, and a common area downstairs that I spent some time in and enjoyed. They have a full English breakfast every morning, but you do have to pay for this -- so be aware of that. This hotel has a 9.2 rating on hotels.com.
- The Arch London: This hotel is located near the Marble Arch in London and the only thing that deterred me from this hotel was the price. If I weren’t going for such a long time, I would have booked this, but it’s a bit pricey for a longer stay. It is, however, near the Marble Arch tube station, has free Wifi, and fitness facilities. This hotel has a 9.6 rating on hotels.com.
- London House Hotel: The reason I didn’t book this one is because it’s far from a tube station (the nearest one being Bayswater.) I’m using the word far lightly, it's really just a five minute walk, but i knew I wanted something practically on top of a tube station. Otherwise the location is great, being in the Paddington area, and it has a bit more of a traditional English feel than citizenM, if that is the vibe you’re going for. This hotel has an 8.0 rating on hotels.com.
WHERE TO EAT
- Wagamama: To all you Brits, this probably seems like a basic ass choice. But I, as an avid consumer of YouTube, hear about Wagamama and Nando’s nonstop from all the British content creators I follow and I knew I wanted to try them. I didn’t get around to popping by Nando’s, but I did eat at a Wagamama and I loved it. I am a vegetarian and they have loads of vegetarian options. Plus, they’re affordable and it’s a chain so it’s easy to find one.
- Sketch: Okay fine -- I went here because I had seen many a picture on Instagram of the pink parlour and I just wanted to see it in person. This restaurant is beautiful --event the toilets are Instagram-worthy-- and the food is pretty good as well.
- Pubs: One of the easiest and best things to do when you get peckish in London is to just pop into a pub. There’s no shortage of them along the London streets and --to be honest-- they’re quite fun. Everyone is really friendly, there’s a very cozy and at-home feel in pubs as well that I think is very difficult to find in the States. The two I had the pleasure of eating at were The Pilgrim Pub and The Crutched Friar. If you do swing by The Pilgrim Pub, they have a delicious vegetarian bangers and mash.
WHERE TO SHOP
- Primark: I spent hundreds of pounds in this store and went to it three times in the course of the ten days that I was in London. It’s a bit like Forever 21, meaning it’s huge in terms of square footage and everything is extremely affordable. What I also love is how many different styles they carry -- I was able to buy a swimsuit, work clothes, and casual summer clothes all in one place and then sit down and have a coffee afterward. I’m kind of glad there isn’t a Primark in LA because I would spend every hard-earned dollar there.
- Bershka: I had a few pieces from Bershka prior to going to London because they do ship to the US, and I love the pieces that I do have. I went to two Bershka stores -- one in London and one in Brighton and I picked up a few things from the Brighton store. It’s an affordable store that runs in the same vein as an ASOS or a Topshop, which are two stores that I love. Would highly recommend if either of those stores are you style.
- Pull & Bear: I didn’t actually purchase anything at the store but I really liked a lot of the pieces that I saw. It reminded me as a cross between Urban Outfitters and Pacsun. For someone as petite as me, the sizing was a bit off, but if you aren’t 4’11 and are looking for a store to run into to if you want to pick up some quick, stylish outfits, Pull & Bear is perfect for that.
WHAT TO DO
I am going to split this up into two categories of DO IT and TABLE IT. I had ten days in London, so I feel like I had an extended amount of time to do and see a lot of things. Don’t get me wrong -- London is a big city with so much history and I feel like I could go back every single year and still not see everything, but a lot of people do London as part of a larger European trip, and only spend three to seven days in city. So, with that in mind, let’s delve into that shall we?!
- Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre: Or any show at any theatre! I saw Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre and was practically on the verge of tears it was so good. The cast was flawless, the music of Hamilton is great (we all know that don’t we?), and the theatre has been around since 1910 and its architecture is beautiful. But if Hamilton isn’t your vibe, London’s theatre scene is world-renowned and they have dozens of shows going on all over the city literally all the time. I highly recommend catching a show while you’re in London.
- The London Eye: This is super touristy and a bit on the expensive side, but honesty -- the view from the top is breathtaking. We went on a day that was a bit cloudy and grey, but that didn’t matter. The only thing that I can compare it to is getting to the top of Griffith Observatory and looking out across Los Angeles -- except in London, buildings have been there for hundreds of years. Plus, you see the River Thames, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the city bustling. It’s really beautiful. Two tips: go as close to sundown as you can and purchase the flex pass if you don’t have the London Pass. We’ll chat about the London Pass later.
- Beefeater Distillery Tour: Let me tell you two things: Brits love to drink and I love to drink. Two more things: Brits love to drink gin and I love to drink gin. So, it’s only fitting that I trotted out to Kennington to do the Beefeater Distillery Tour; especially seeing as Beefeater is hands down my gin of choice. The tour itself isn’t one of those themed ones -- it’s just the marketing director of the brand educating you on how Beefeater is made, but if you’re at all interested in gin, I highly recommend this. Also, the Beefeater Distillery Tour is on the London Pass!
Table it basically means go here if you have extra time on any day. All three are enjoyable places, but --since there’s so much to do in London-- figure out what your tops are and make sure to get those done.
- Churchill War Rooms: I’m a tad bit of a history buff and to be a bit more nuanced -- I like British WWII history, so seeing the Churchill War Rooms were incredibly interesting to me. They are the original war rooms Churchill had back in the 1940s and they also include wax figures depicting various scenarios of what happened during air strikes in Europe during WWII. If you’re a history buff, I say do this! Otherwise, this may be of little interest to you.
- Buckingham Palace: Most people head to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards, which is what we did. However, the changing of the guards turned out to be cancelled on the Wednesday we trekked out to the palace so we thought to just tour the palace instead. However, Buckingham Palace is only open for tours from July to September and we didn't know that. I was kind of bummed, but we did end up doing the Royal Mews, which are the working stables for the royal horses and also house the carriages -- that was fun. If you’re not planning on going to London during the summer months, I’d put Buckingham Palace in your back pocket unless you’re dead set on seeing the changing of the guards.
- Westminster Abbey: This is the first thing that we did in London and it was incredibly interesting -- especially with my fascination of British royalty but, I actually recommend the Tower of London over Westminster Abbey if you have to choose between the two. Don’t get me wrong, Westminster Abbey is quite interesting and again -- the history in the Abbey is astonishing. But, as I have a keen interest in Anne Boleyn, my preference is Tower of London. Westminster Abbey and Tower Bridge are both on the London Pass.
This is a great time to point out that I didn’t do a lot of museums -- and London has a lot of museums. We did do the Churchill War Rooms, but we skipped out on almost every single other museum. It wasn’t purposeful, but we did three day trips in our ten days of being there, which significantly cut out the amount of time we had to do museums, as they usually close pretty early in the evening.
- Stonehenge: This was literally an all-day trip -- around about twelve hours. Stonehenge is in Salisbury and you have to take a few trains to get out there. Also, although we had Oyster cards, these cards are not valid for places outside of London, so we did have to purchase train tickets. Once we arrived in Salisbury, we then had to take a coach from the train station to the Stonehenge Welcome Center where we redeemed our tickets. After doing that, we had to take another coach to get to the actual stones. The touring of the stones is actually quite short, but the welcome center also has an exhibition and a gift shop to peruse. After we had a quick walk around Salisbury and popped into a few shops. Unless you have a vested interest in Stonehenge or a significant amount of time in the United Kingdom, you may want to skip over this.
- Brighton: I’m just going to go ahead and say it -- Brighton was lovely! It was such a pretty day outside -- sunny and warm by English standards. We had ramen at Goemon and then just walked up and down the streets, sat by the sea, and had a look-see at Brighton Pier. We also stumbled into the Great Escape Music Festival and peeked at the Royal Pavilion. This is a beautiful seaside town that kind of reminds me of Venice here in Los Angeles. This town is definitely worth a day trip!
- Warner Brothers Studio Tour -- The Making of Harry Potter: The studio tour is in Leavesden and as a huge nearly lifelong Harry Potter fan, I knew this was something that I wanted to do. The theme of the studio tour changes every so often, and ours was The Goblet of Fire. I was a bit bummed about that because the book and movie are both my least favorite, but I had such a pleasant time at the tour. I purchased over £100 of merchandise at the end of the tour just because I wanted physical things to remember the tour by. This day trip is another one I highly recommend -- even my best friend, who is not a huge Harry Potter fan, enjoyed herself. If you love Harry Potter, or even if you are interested in filmmaking, this is a great stop!
EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!
I learnt a couple of tips and tricks along the way and if you’re planning on visiting London, they may be of some help to you!
- The London Pass: I am going to preface this by saying that I didn’t use this properly -- except the Oyster card. This is actually well worth the money if you do your itinerary correctly. For instance, I purchased tickets to the London Eye separate from the London Pass -- although the London Eye is part of the London Pass. Lesson: if you do you’re itinerary right, you’ll really get the value out of it. What’s that?! You need an itinerary? There just might be one at the end of this blog post. 😉
- Tube or Taxi: There is an option to add a £25 Oyster card to your package if you get the London Pass, which I recommend doing because if you’re going to attempt to get around London via taxi, it’s going to be ridiculously expensive. You can also purchase a standalone Oyster card. The tube takes you pretty much anywhere in the city for an affordable fare and --like I mentioned earlier-- it’s extremely easy to figure out. Grab a map of the zones (how London is split up), memorize your nearest tube station, and get to exploring. The only time I recommend using a taxi is to get from the train station after the airport to your hotel, which brings me to my next point.
- Heathrow and Gatwick Express: If you’re flying into Heathrow or Gatwick, there’s a train that takes you into Central London. If you’re overly familiar with London, you could grab another train from the central station (Paddington via Heathrow or Victoria via Gatwick) to get to your hotel. If you are anything like us, however, and you’re extremely tired after a nearly ten-hour flight and it’s your first time in the city -- grab a taxi directly to your hotel. On your way out, however, it’s much easier to grab either express to the airport, as they are quick and relatively affordable.
And that --my friends-- is a quick and dirty guide to London. It is really a beautiful city with so much history, stunning architecture, and lovely things to see. I wish I could spend an endless amount of time there. Speaking of -- anyone willing to sponsor me?! I’m a great employee… promise… 😏
If you are heading to London soon and you’re not sure what to do, check out the four-day itinerary below! Or, if you fancy checking out anymore London fun, my Instagram is chock-full of my vacation there -- just click the London Story Highlight! Until next week!