London captured my heart the summer of 2011. I had just finished my sophomore year at Washington University in St. Louis and moved to London for the summer to pursue an internship in the House of Lords. Besides my internship, I was lucky enough to take classes at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
During my stay in London, I lived in an apartment between Paddington Station and Edgware Road. I may be completely biased but that is the best location in all of London! I wasn’t too far away from any one place in London while living in a relatively safe neighborhood.
London will make you want to constantly return over and over again! Since that summer, I’ve been back multiple times and fall in love with the city all over again. Every single time.
MUSEUMS AND HISTORICAL PLACES:
Kensington Palace and Gardens: With rotating exhibits every few months, this palace appears new every time I visit it. Due to the relatively small size of each exhibit, only an hour or two is really needed in the entire palace. If you’re lucky, you might spot William and Kate outside with Prince George. Make a day out of Kensington Palace by exploring the gardens. I would recommend renting a bike (from the Blue Barclays bike stands), packing yourself a picnic, and riding around the park!
Buckingham Palace: Although the palace is only open to visitors a month or two every summer, it is definitely worth stopping by the front gates of Buckingham Palace and taking an iconic picture with the guards.
Victoria & Albert Museum: Located in one of the most adorable areas in all of London, the Victoria & Albert Museum requires a full day! While all the permanent exhibits are free, any of the temporary exhibits cost money. I recommend booking the exhibits ahead of time online as they fill up really quickly! The museum itself has 6 or 7 different floors. The outside garden area is free to enter and a perfect place to picnic with children! Kids especially love the fountain area :)
National Portrait Gallery: Much like the Victoria & Albert Museum, the permanent exhibits are free while the temporary exhibits cost money. The museum features portraits of many famous people in British history!
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Be prepared to spend the entire day in these gardens! Walking the gardens feels like traveling through many countries…all in the same day! This is such a lovely place, especially for children. Enjoy exploring all the different gardens and secret places in this botanic garden.
Hyde Park: With an easy connection to Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park is one of the Royal Parks of London. Hyde Park has hosted numerous worldwide events including outdoor concerts, different events for the 2012 Olympics, and the Great Exhibition of 1851 (the Crystal Palace!). I suggest packing a picnic and renting some rowboats on the Serpentine, a big body of water in the park.
British History Museum: Although I’ve never visited this museum, it is high on my list of places to see when I return to London in October! I’ve heard nothing but really good reviews!
Palace of Westminster: I’m biased because I interned in this building every day (!) but this historic palace is absolutely gorgeous and full of so much history! Tours can be organized in advance from their website as well as sitting in on the House of Commons or House of Lords. Consult their website for dates and times because they change frequently.
Coronet Cinema: This old theater was converted into a movie theater. With two balconies and stunning historical artifacts, this movie theater became my favorite during my time in London. Located in Notting Hill, it was a quick tube ride away for me. If you’re a student, I highly recommend visiting on their Student Night. Every Monday, tickets are £3.50 for students. That price is extend to everyone on Tuesdays. I recommend arriving early and/or buying your tickets in advance for Monday and Tuesday films.
Hummingbird Cupcakes: Best cupcakes in all of London! There are multiple locations in the city. Either eat them in the store (the décor is so cute) or take them to go!
Brick Lane: If you’re craving Indian food, this is the place to go. Beware of people trying to scam you…I always avoid the restaurants in which people are begging you to come inside. Also, Brick Lane is also home to really good Thai food if you’re not a fan of Indian food
Lemonia Greek Restaurant: Located in the adorable neighborhood of Primrose Hill, this food will satisfy your Greek food craving. Everything on the menu is delicious and you really can’t go wrong!
Roti Chai: If you want to avoid Brick Lane, head to Roti Chai for really good Indian food. The downstairs is more formal (and they get a bit more creative with their dishes). The upstairs is more traditional, ready-to-go Indian food! Stop by for lunch or dinner.
Hope and Greenwood Candy Shop: My sweet tooth is out-of-control and this store satisfied my craving. The décor reminds you of a traditional sweet shop from decades ago…definitely a throwback store with amazing treats!
Cafe Helen: After a night of partying, there’s nothing better than eating a shawarma. Cafe Helen is the best place in all of London and they’re open super late!
Rosetta Bakery: Located in the heart of London, they have delicious Italian sandwiches and desserts for very reasonable prices. Great for lunch when touring the city.
Duck and Waffle: The highest restaurant in the city, I particularly enjoy this restaurant for breakfast and brunch! Make sure you’re dressed a bit nicer or else they won’t let you in :)
Wahaca: Mexican Street Food: One of the best Mexican restaurants in all of Europe. If you’re craving Mexican food, head here!
Primrose Hill: I discovered this neighborhood way too late into my stay in London. Not only does it have fantastic food, but the entire neighborhood is adorable. Climb up Primrose Hill (both the name of the hill and surrounding neighborhood) and watch the sunset over London.
Hampstead Heath: The hiking trails are some of the best in all of London. Furthermore, this is one of the number one spots for running. Take a walk through this park and enjoy all the hidden trails, bridges, and wildlife.
The Strand: A visit to London isn’t complete without a walk down the Strand. Starting at Trafalgar Square, it ends at Temple Bar and becomes Fleet Street. I just love walking along it because it is so quintessentially British. The history along this street is absolutely amazing!
Markets: My favorite farmers’ markets are the Marylebone Farmers’ Market (Sundays) and Notting Hill Farmers’ Market (Saturdays). I also find the Southbank Centre Christmas Market delightful (and so much yummy food)!
Whitehall: This road is the center of the British government. Along this road are the majority of the governmental departments and ministries. It also has a number of memorials and statutes. Right off of Whitehall is Downing Street, home to the British Prime Minister. This road is a must-visit for political nerds like myself!
Camden Market: Not my cup of tea but home to an awesome market. The individuals who live in Camden are eclectic and very artsy/musical. It is fun to walk through the market and see everything that is being offered!
Covent Garden: This square in the middle of downtown London is filled with adorable shops and restaurants. Although touristy and a bit overpriced in some areas, this is well worth a stop! Get lost in all the stalls and stores hidden around this area.
Borough Market: It is important to go to this food market with an empty stomach! Be prepared to eat a lot!
Paper Chase: I have a slight stationary obsession and always stop by Paper Chase to stock up on my favorite cards. With many locations around London, I’m always near one. Plus, they offer a student discount!
J.Crew: Ok, so this isn’t exactly British but I have a J.Crew obsession and London is currently the only European city with stores (hopefully that changes soon!) While I don’t buy anything in London (they keep the prices the same and change the $ into the £ sign so it’s a huge rip-off), I love looking at the displays. This is honestly one of the largest J.Crew’s I’ve ever visited!
Regent Street: Need a shopping fix? Head down Regent Street near Oxford Circus tube station. They have every shop you could possibly imagine! If you come during Christmas time, they have a beautiful light display lining the street.
Oxford Street: This street intersects Regent Street at Oxford Circus tube station. Much like Regent Street, many name brand stores line this street.
Harrods: A British classic. Just walking through the store is amazing! Make sure to ride the Egyptian elevator.
Harvey Nichols: Another famous department store. I personally prefer Harrods due to all the unique touches. However, I love getting bubble tea on the top floor when I need to relax and refresh.
Liberty: I find that Liberty has the best accessories, souvenirs, planners, stationary, etc. To be honest, I’ve barely ever made it to the second floor because I end up wanting to buy everything on the first floor!
Hamleys: Best toy store in the entire world. You can’t help but feel like a kid when you enter this store. Plus, the employees are absolutely best and try to make it a wonderful experience for each person that enters the store…regardless of age.
Joules: They have the cutest and best rain boots! I always pick up a new pair whenever I’m in London. They also carry adorable socks, polos, and clothing items.
Monsoon: When I went to the Royal Ascot, I wanted a cute, chic, appropriate, and affordable dress. I looked high and low around all of London and finally found a dress at Monsoon! Good quality and an even better price tag!
Jack Wills: To me, Jack Wills is a cross between Abercrombie & Fitch and J.Crew. The clothing is much better quality than Abercrombie & Fitch but they still have a preppy feel to them. As an added bonus, they put “JW” on all their clothing items…free monogramming for me! :)
Reiss: One of Kate Middleton’s favorite stores, I call Reiss the J.Crew of the United Kingdom!
Monkey Puzzle: I’m partial to this pub because it was down the street from where I lived. Gary, the owner, is one of the nicest, kindest people I have ever met. The atmosphere is relaxed, great beer, and wonderful company!
Dirty Martini: I’m obsessed with Dirty Martini and have yet to find a chocolate martini that is better than their chocolate martini. They have a few locations around London but I love the one in Covent Garden. Plus, the prices are hard to beat! Happy Hour prices include martinis and most other drinks for around £4…and they don’t skimp on the alcohol. By far the best place for martinis in all of London (and possibly, the entire world)!
Bar 190: Seriously overpriced drinks but you pay for the atmosphere and the history. The Rolling Stones threw a big party here in 1968 and this is a hot stop for bands. Bar 190 is connected to the Gore Hotel, which provides wonderful accommodations!
Gordon’s Wine Bar: Arguably the oldest wine bar in London, this bar has the best ambiance (built into caves/tunnels underground). If you’re a bit claustrophobic, opt for seating outside. I’d suggest trying multiple wines and getting a cheese platter.
Trooping of the Colour: Held on a Saturday in June, this event is the official celebration of the Queen’s birthday. This is one of the best opportunities to see the entire Royal family (I did!). I would recommend getting to Buckingham Palace around 7 am. The Trooping of the Colour doesn’t actually occur at Buckingham Palace. However, once it is done, the entire family comes back to Buckingham Palace and appears on the balcony.
Polo in the Park: Held usually the first weekend of June, this is a great opportunity to see a polo match while drinking lots of Pimm’s and Lemonade!
Afternoon tea: There are many places to go for afternoon tea! While I went to Laduree in Covent Garden (which I really enjoyed), I’m sure there are much more authentic places to go. Afternoon tea is so quintessential British and a must for anyone visiting London.
Wimbledon: Held the last week of June and the first week of July, this is one of my favorite yearly events in London! Honestly, the best way to get tickets is to queue up in the morning. I arrived around 7:30 am during one of the final days and managed to snag tickets to the Mens’ Doubles Semifinal match for £30 on Court 1. An amazing experience! Take in the rest of the matches on Murray Mound.
Royal Ascot: Grab your biggest hat possible and your money…it’s race day! Although it was pouring rain when I attended this event, I had fun in the Silver Ring betting on the races and having old men help me. Buying tickets to the Royal Ascot can be a bit of a hassle if you don’t have a British credit card (a friend bought them for me) but it is well-worth it! This horse race is usually held during the third week of June.
Cambridge: Cambridge is one of the most well-renown universities in the entire world. This is also an easy day trip from London’s city center. The architecture and surrounding area is absolutely breath-taking!
Heathrow Airport: If you’re flying international, you’re probably going to arrival at Heathrow. It is one of the busiest airports in the world, if not the busiest! Heathrow provides direct transportation from the airport into Paddington Station. The Heathrow Express is a non-stop train takes 20ish minutes and costs £20. In contrast, the Heathrow Connect takes about 10 more minutes and makes multiple stops. However, it costs less than £10! You can also take the tube to and from Heathrow although it takes at least an hour. Heathrow can be a bit of nightmare in terms of security and getting around so allow yourself some extra time!
Gatwick Airport: My favorite airport in all of London. It is easy to get to from Central London and it is a much easier airport to navigate. You can take the Gatwick Express from London’s Victoria station for £20. It takes around 30 minutes.
Stansted Airport: Although this is the hub of Ryanair and many budget airlines, it is a hassle to get to and from Stansted. It costs around £25 and can take anywhere from 40-60 minutes, depending upon traffic (or the one time I got rerouted to Cambridge and it took 3 hours to get back to Central London). However, if you get cheap enough tickets, it might be worth the hassle and cost of getting to and from Stansted.
Oyster Card: If you’re going to be in London for a week or more, I recommend buying an Oyster card as you will save lots of money when traveling on public transportation. Plus, buses are cash free so it can get a bit tricky paying! You can always get a Visitor Oyster Card as well :)
Day Travelcard: This travel card gives you unlimited access to all forms of public transportation in London. For a Zone 1-2 ticket (and frankly, if you’re a tourist in London, those are probably the only two zones you’re going to visit), it costs about £7.50.
Taxis: Quite a rip-off and probably the slowest form of transportation considering that the traffic is horrendous in London!
Barclays Bikes: Barclays has dozens of bike stands around London where you can rent bikes for only a few pounds. It is a lot of fun to use these bikes to go on rides through the various parks.
National Rail: This is the passenger rail service for all of Great Britain. Trains are an easily way to get around Great Britain while avoiding air travel and traffic.
National Express: This bus company services most of the major cities of Great Britain and provides cheaper rates than the trains. If you have the time and want to say money, the National Express is your best bet!
At this point, I can’t provide any suggestions for accommodations! Every time I’ve visited, I’ve either stayed in an apartment or with friends.