One of the items on my New York bucket list since the very first day I moved to the city was to go to London. Where else in the U.S will I be closer to London than in New York? Its only a 6-7 hour flight, which by the way is around the time it takes to get to Southern California and is shorter than the time it takes to reach Hawaii. I knew it was an opportunity I couldn't miss. Plus, I've always felt that London is the perfect "gateway" country to exploring Europe. Everyone speaks English and all the signs are in English so the major issue of language barrier is gone, which makes many people believe that it is a safe first European country. Although, it wasn't going to be my first European country (I've been to Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, and Austria before), I knew I would still appreciate the ease of communication and access. So this past June I finally fulfilled my wish to visit Will and Harry's home country! I originally thought that London would be similar to any other major city I had visited, but London has its own magical charm that is unlike New York or Shanghai or Paris. I felt so British when I was there and I'm definitely planning to visit again!
One of the highlights of my trip was riding a bike around Hyde Park. Sometimes visiting touristy places like parks can get kind of mundane and crowded so doing something a bit different like biking around can make the experience more memorable. Plus, you get to see more of the park at a faster pace and less physical labor is involved. There are Santander bike rentals at almost every entrance and it only costs $2 for 24 hours of rental so if you are really bold, you can even take the bike and ride around the city (on those crazy streets) before returning it to any rental location. The only downside of exploring the park on bike is that you have to stay on the designated bike paths which are on the outskirts of the park- so you'll miss out on what's actually inside the park. However, there's always the option of getting off your bike and walking it while you explore further- you can always pick up on the bike path later. I made a rookie mistake and wore a skirt that day, but the bike paths are pretty flat and not steep at all (unlike Central Park) so it was smooth sailing!
Obviously no trip to the U.K is complete without a stop at the palaces where the British Royals live. Although I did not see Will or Kate or their adorable children, I did manage to get a glimpse of their life at Kensington Palace, see the church where Harry and Megan married in Windsor Castle, and watch the guards walk around at Buckingham Palace. The Royals often don't seem real to me so to visit a piece of the long English history and envision how it relates to the modern world was something I really enjoyed. If you are in London from July to September you're able to tour Buckingham Palace- something that I was unable to do so I had to settle for a photo outside. Windsor Castle is actually located outside of London (it is about a 1 hour journey one way), but if you use the London Pass it includes the train ticket to Windsor and a stop at the information booth inside the Paddington train station while provide enough details on which route to take. Don't be deterred by the distant location of the Castle- it is worth the trip! Just make sure you arrive early (I suggest getting there before it officially opens) because the lines are crazy and there will be a long wait otherwise.
Whoever said food in London is not good, definitely did not go to the various markets around town. There is more to the London food scene than fish and chips! Borough Market, Camden Market, Brick Lane Market, Covent Garden, and Sunday Upmarket are just some places that are must eat stops. At these markets, you'll find a variety of cheap but delicious snacks and meals. From homemade pasta to crispy fish and chips to fluffy donuts, the markets are where you should be having your breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Camden Market, located in Camden Town, is a tad far from the central tourist attractions, but totally worth the subway trip. The market has tons of delicious food stalls as well as cheap souvenir stores and clothing stalls where bargaining is key. We went towards the end of the day when many stores were closing (one thing I discovered in London is that businesses close early around 5 or 6pm) so we didn't get to do much shopping and heading straight to the food. The Sunday Upmarket (only open on Sunday as the name states) is a food centric market and is located right next to the Brick Lane Market (which has food and artwork/handmade crafts) in Shoreditch. To get the most out of your time, its best to hit up both markets simultaneously- expect crowds for sure. Covent Garden was beautiful, but the food options were severely disappointing so I would suggest just walking through and eating elsewhere. If you're looking for fresh fruit, produce, and bread, then Borough Market will be right up your alley. My mom couldn't get enough of the freshly produced honey and I loved the donuts at the Bread Ahead bakery stalls.
If you don't have much time (aka a quick layover) and want to get as much out of the city as you can, walking along the Thames River or taking a short river cruise lets you view the gorgeous London scenery and take in all the famous sights. I loved the giant Tower Bridge and the London Eye! They add such a dramatic touch to the skyline. Going up the glass Shard building is also worth doing (if you have the London Pass) as it gives you a bird's eye view of the city- complete with a bar stocked with champagne! Unfortunately, Big Ben (or Elizabeth Tower as it is suppose to be called) was under construction while I was visiting so I didn't get to take one of those epic London skyline photos. Construction is suppose to finish in August 2021 so maybe that's when I need to go back! If you have the London Pass (something I highly recommend), you'll be able to enter the Tower Bridge and explore the glass walkway that connect the two towers.
London exceeded all my expectations. I never expected to fall in love with a city that was so full of life and I appreciated every aspect of my trip. If you're looking for a vacation that is filled with activities, diverse food options, and amazing shopping, then I highly recommend London (but be prepared for some serious walking). I'm so envious of the millions of Londoners that get to call the city home!
Have you guys been to London? What were some of your favorite places?