This April, my parents and I are flying to London for their very first trip overseas, and my first trip to Europe. We got a spectacular deal on plane tickets, but everything else is up in the air. And since you ladies were so incredibly helpful before my Cuba trip, I thought this was the perfect way to start the in-depth planning.
We’re traveling in early April, so I know it will be rainy and chilly. What would you pack?
I would like to stay in Mayfair or Kensington so that we’re close to many of the attractions we want to see. Do you have favorite neighborhoods, hotels/airbnbs, restaurants?
We have seven days in London, so we’re considering taking two days to travel somewhere else. I wanted to go to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches, but it’s difficult to get there from London. We’re considering Paris, but that seems to be a destination that needs more than a few days. So now, we’re talking about taking a flight to Barcelona or traveling to Scotland or Ireland. Have any of you ladies combined trips before or been to these destinations?
Also, you ladies had the best tips before Cuba. Things that weren’t even in the professional guidebooks, you knew about it. You were basically lifesavers. So what do I need to know about Europe?
I’m sure most of you, if you’re anything like my girlfriends back in D.C., have been to London. So I’m excited to hear your thoughts. And I’m sure my Mother, who is nervous about what and how much to pack will appreciate it, too. I can’t wait to read your comments.
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There’s a Burberry factory, sorta just outside of London. It’s a real factory with cheap prices (not like US factory stores). I highly recommend making the trek. Buy a rain coat and wear it everyday you are there. Also, Paris does deserve more than a day or two but you’re so close, worth the quick train ride.
Regarding rainy weather you may be pleasantly surprised in April as it can be beautiful sunshine but the trick is layers, layers, layers. Our high street shopping is very cheap though and you can pick up extra things for very little. You will see girls in wellies, trainers, leather boots and everything in between. The weather is pretty changeable even in high summer so Londoners usually just hope for the best and if all else fails pop in to the pub.
I’m a Londoner and I can confirm there are in fact two proper Burberry outlets. Real previous season stock (I’m a bit of a trench coat connoisseur, so know all the Burberry styles and entire ranges….) and NOT some crap factory outlet (product just produced for the outlet).
The first is in Hackney Walk, and is IN London. Hackney Walk also has an Anya Hindemarch, Matches Fashion, Pringle and Aquascutum (who also do great trench coats!). Hackney Walk is a small outlet, and you can do it in just a few hours.
The second is in Bicester Villiage, which is in the Oxfordshire countryside. This outlet is huge – think Woodbury Common….Gucci, Celine, Prada, Marni, Chloe…..
In my opinion Bicester is better, but Hackney Walk has a better Burberry outlet!
I can’t wait to read the comments!
I traveled to London and Dublin–omg–15 years ago. So while I can no longer give you many specific recommendations, I will say that I just adored the Dublin area and had a wonderful and memorable time. Would definitely recommend in conjunction with a London trip.
It’s been several years since I last went to London, but I did a weekend to Paris, a weekend to Edinborough and a weekend to dublin from London when I studied abroad. I’d be wary of edinborough in the spring (cold/rain/throwing out your shoes after because they were caked in mud). But Paris is amazing and you’d want to go back after any length of time there anyways. And the chunnel is a cool thing to do.
Last year I did two weeks in Italy. All Airbnb all the way. Trust me, it’s the best now. You get honest reviews you can rely on. And, in some places, a washer/dryer, which made all the difference for me in the packing department. Halfway through my trip, I was in a condo with washer/dryer, so I only had to pack for one week, wash and repeat.
Cross body purse. I wore my Vince Camuto everywhere and was never worried about it getting snatched. Also, packing cubes. Also, money holder that attaches to bra.
This you know from DC, but only walking shoes that have passed the test of time with you. Waterproof shoes are big for London, because it rains all the time. A rain jacket with a hood will get you farther than an umbrella, too.
Check whether or not your debit card has a crazy exchange rate, or whether it’s worth it to get cash out of ATMs there rather than carrying large amounts. Mine wasn’t terrible, so I took out small amounts at a time.
I wouldn’t bother with rainboots, but definitely make sure you have an extra pair of shoes just in case. Agree on the rain jacket, though I never had one and was fine. You risk poking people in the eye with an umbrella. I also second the debit/credit card. You can use credit cards almost everywhere. Merchants just use a handheld machine to swipe, so much more secure. You still have time, so if you do have foreign transaction fees, definitely look into opening a credit card without them. Even better if it has chip and pin, or at least chip. I use Schwab for checking/debit and they refund all ATM fees w/ no FX fees, but some US banks also have agreements with UK banks where you can use their ATMs for free, so check with your bank.
2nd Dublin. It was a wonderful city. People were so, so friendly!! Lots of great pubs and shops. Trinity College was beautiful as well.
The Churchill war rooms are a must see in London. And Dublin is very doable in a day or two and lots of fun. Definitely do the literary pub crawl, but skip the Guinness tour.
I had a great time in Dublin as well, but wanted to chime in with a different opinion – do the Guinness tour just for the view from the 360 degree view at the end! You can speed through the tour and just go get your pint – I’m not a Guinness fan but it really did taste so much better in Dublin (it’s the water).
Dublin is a great time and not too expensive! It’s worth a Guinness at the bar on top for the view, but I agree skip the actual tour unless you’re really into how beer is made. Two amazing hotels worth the splurge if you’re looking to indulge a little – The Shelbourne and The Westin Dublin. If not, the Trinity College area and St. Stephen’s Green area are great areas to stay. My biggest recommendation – AVOCA. It’s off Grafton Street (pedestrian shopping street) and is basically an Irish Anthropologie with an amazing cafe great for breakfast and lunch. Dublin is so charming and the people are so friendly! But I also think Paris is worth checking out even if for a short time 🙂
Agree with these comments, also never exchange dollars into local currency at the airport. Exchange rate is terrible. Often your bank in the US will give you a more fair exchange rate to have some currency on you before you arrive. Some cafes, street vendors and cabs will only take cash, and won’t take dollars.
YES to this. If you’re using a credit card at a store/restaurant etc. and they ask if you want to charge in dollars or local currency, always pick local currency (and use a card with no foreign transaction fees) – the exchange rate is always better.
If you dont already have it, worth getting the Chase Reserve bc there are no FX fees and then linking it to Android or Apple pay, which is more available in shops than in the US.
There are much cheaper options for no FX fee cards, but I do love the Reserve. Was just stuck in the Atlanta airport on Sunday and priority pass saved my sanity
I second the war rooms! There’s an awesome documentary Secrets of Underground London (https://www.pbs.org/program/secrets-underground-london/ – it was on Netflix last I checked) if you want a preview.
Of course do the British museum, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, etc.
If you’re in London for a whole week, I would recommend:
Victoria & Albert Museum – great stop for the fashion lover
British Library – very cool manuscripts from the Magna Carta to the Beatles
Museum of London (near St. Paul’s) – traces the development of the city from the Neolithic era to the present (located on part of the old Roman wall built around London)
Food – PizzaExpress (much nicer than it sounds), Wagamama, Cafe Rouge, and Pret A Manger are all solid, affordable options.
Shopping – I would check out Harrods, Liberty, and Fortnum & Mason
My husband is British – I’m happy to talk directly if you’d like more advice.
Remember Amex isn’t nearly as widely accepted as other credit cards in Europe.
https://www.walks.com/ – The Original London Walks are a wonderful way to see the sights and museums in the city and away. Several years ago we did a day trip to Paris from London on the Eurostar. It was worth every penny (or just save them for a trip just to Paris another time). https://www.viator.com/search/London -Check out the tours on viator.com – they have 1/2 day, whole day, multiple day tours – we’ve taken them in various cities around Europe and never been disappointed.
I love London Walks. Whenever I’m there for work, I fit in an evening walk. They always have the best guides.
Yes to London Walks! Great company, wonderful insights, small groups. Also, British Museum – take them up on the free tours by docents, who will weave a narrative for you out of 7 key pieces and dazzle you with their storytelling. Also, Tate Modern is super fun, has a great cocktail bar and is directly across pedestrian bridge from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Groovy way to spend a late afternoon.
Barcelona is a joyful place, and you could pack a lot of good times (food, drink, art, people watching) into 2/3 days if you stayed in the Gothic Quarter. Most memorable evening was a predominantly local spot El Xampanyet with folks spilling out onto the street, boisterously drinking their cava and hollering at their neighbours. Cava is on tap here, the tapas are delicious and the vibe was celebratory (even on a weeknight). We did a home exchange with a couple from Barcelona and it was such a treat to live in their Gothic Quarter loft for a week. We could walk just about everywhere, or ride the bike share to get around quickly. We only used transit + cabs to outer reaches of the city.
Have so much fun!!
Alice @ Real Chic Real Cheap says:
I lived in London for a summer in college and have traveled there many times, most recently in 2014 for my sister’s wedding. I like the Kensington area and I think that’s a good choice for a central location to stay in. I would bring an umbrella and shoes that are good for walking. Bonus points if they dry quickly due to likely rain. I am not much of a foodie and the restaurants that I liked when I was there in college I cannot remember the names of, but eat around as there are tons of awesome options. Time Out London will give you good ideas for things to do and places to eat. Portobello Road market is really fun but I think its only on the weekends. The British Museum is also very cool, esp. if you like ancient Egyptian artifacts. I also traveled to Barcelona in college and it is a wonderful city. If you are there for a couple of days go to see La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell, & definitely have some paella. It is a doable trip for a couple days and should be good weather in April.
Don’t assume you will want to leave London at all – you could get out of the city on a few day trips, which might be easier than a full overnight escape. There are lots of great options to consider! Good solid day trip suggestions for a variety of interests here: https://www.aladyinlondon.com/2015/04/15-best-day-trips-london.html
Yes to day trips instead of leaving the country. Stonehenge, Cambridge, Oxford, Windsor, Bath, Stratford … too many possibilities. Don’t use up your limited time trying to fit in another country. You’ll spend more time getting to and fro, and not spend enough time in that second country. Save Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, whatever for another trip … all are worth more than a fly-by. And London itself (and environs) offer more than enough for a 7-day trip
Be sure to stay somewhere near a tube station, and purchase an unlimited pass. Very easy to get around. excellent maps.
Get theatre tickets. To anything. Check timeout.com for listings.
Take the London Walks tours. No advance reservations necessary, just show up. You can also take hop-on/hop-off double-decker base tours.
Attend evensong at St. Martin’s or some other church. There are also short services at Westminster Abbey. Lovely
On Saturdays, there are interesting tours of the Houses of Parliament. That, the British Museum,and the Churchill War Rooms were highlights of a recent visit. And if the weather is decent, walk through Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens. The Diana fountain is lovely and peaceful.
Download museum audioguides online beforehand. There is a good Rick Steves one for the British Museum.
I agree Weight Suzie. There are to many things to do in UK. I live close by Strattford. IT hás a especial place in mu heart 😉
Hey Belle! I’m so excited you’re going to London/ Europe! I would definitely second Jo above and recommend going to Paris over Barcelona. Paris requires more than a few days to see, but I’ve found it’s a city best seen a few days at a time.
For your first trip to Paris, I would recommend going up the Eiffel tower, visiting the Louvre, watching the sunset from Sacre Coeur, finding a sidewalk cafe to sit around in, and of course shopping. For your second trip to Paris, you’re going to want to visit the Louvre again because you didn’t see enough of it the first time around, visit Versaille, eat more baked goods, drink more wine, etc. and really take in the beautiful details of the city you missed the first time around, etc.
Visiting Scotland/ Ireland would also be a great option if you’d rather not spend just a day or two in Paris. I spent 2-3 days in Ireland/ Northern Ireland visiting Dublin (make sure to go to either the Jameson factory or the Guiness factory), Wicklow moutains, Belfast, and the Giant’s Causeway. That was a great weekend getaway kinda trip for me. I’ve never been to Scotland, but I imagine you can spend a few good days around Edinburgh or Aberdeen.
Eat at The Ledbury! You will need to get reservations soon. It’s pricey but so good! We stayed in Kensington at The Pelham Hotel and thought it was a great location, good value, and nice hotel. Hotels in London are pricey!
London– It’s colder than you think, and you need better walking shoes than you think. Anything with a heel or that is flimsy is an absolute joke. I got snowed on in London in April a couple years ago– just a little, but snow nevertheless. I would hit the big tourist stuff like Tower of London, the British Museum, the Tate Modern, and maybe a day trip outside the city. This is cheesy, but the hop on, hop off bus is fantastic for seeing the city and getting to the sights.
Paris- I would split the trip and see Paris since you haven’t. Even if it’s only for a few days. It’s just a train ride away. Dublin is also a great idea, and Barcelona is wonderful. I wouldn’t spend all seven days in London but that’s just me.
It’s been a while since I’ve traveled there, but I’ve been to England twice and Scotland once. Please do add Scotland to your itinerary. You won’t regret it. I can’t recommend Edinburgh and Inverness enough. Beautiful, friendly, walkable, and full of history and surprises. And just stunning beauty. Your camera or phone won’t capture the full majesty of what you see, but I promise it will never leave your mind’s eye once you experience it.
I was there in May on one of my visits and even though you are expecting rain and chilliness, I would say (esp. if you go to Scotland) to expect it to be even more chilly than you might expect. I ended up having to buy a heavy wool sweater. Then again, it was humid and on the warmer side on that same trip in different cities. So be prepared for anything.
I adore London and especially recommend Covent Garden, among many other neighborhoods, but I also highly recommend that you do some day trips, such as Bath, Oxford, Stratford-Upon-Avon and the like. They’re very much worth it. Most of them had little surprises tucked in (on once such excursion, we got to see, among others, Agatha Christie’s old house, which I was not expecting). In Edinburgh we took some wonderful walking tours, including one that was law-related.
One thing that surely won’t be a problem for you but that I found, at least the last time I visited, is that women tend to dress up more, even at pubs, in the evening. The men might be wearing jeans and button-downs but most women are not wearing jeans, even nice ones. The hair is done, and a skirt or dress is a much more common sight, even in the smaller towns/cities.
Everything costs more than you think. I’m sure you’re prepared for that, but really, whatever you are budgeting for this trip, I’d tack some more on to that number. I personally loved going to places like Harrod’s, Marks and Spencer, and even Boots etc. and buying clothes and accessories and toiletries that I used for years and reminded me of my trip every time I wore or used them.
I personally like Lonely Planet and Time Out for guidebooks. They are more honest and have more off-the -beaten path recs for hotels, restaurants, shops. They’ve never steered me wrong. They are very handy to have if you find yourself in a certain neighborhood. I still find that they have a lot of value even in the age of the Internet and apps. And you can read them beforehand to choose some special places you want to see and also to get a sense of the history (and current facts) of each place.
I hope you have a wonderful trip!
Born, raised and current Londoner here. We’ve not had more than an inch of snow since 2011….
Fact I don’t own snow shoes, and any sort of down jackets for commuting to work (not needed)
But yes you are correct – we are a city that can’t handle snow.
The best way to see London and get a feel for it is to purchase a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. It will really give you a feel for the city and the areas you want to explore. We did it our first day and it was awesome. Great views of all the famous attractions (including photo ops over the London Bridge) and easy transportation to and from. Decide from there what your must see stops are and do them over the next few days at your leisure.
Next tip is to get a pocket wifi device delivered to you from TEP wireless. For approx. $10 a day, you can have unlimited wifi for multiple devices, which makes navigating using google maps a breeze. Just put your phone in airplane mode and turn the wifi on. You can make calls through WhatsApp and use all the other features, minus imessage. There’s a Europe one and country specific one. If you country hop, get the seamless one. After our bus tour ran out, we used the tube to navigate and the pocket wifi was invaluable for this.
For day trips, I didn’t get to do it, but have heard that many people go to Stratford Upon Avon in the countryside for the Shakespeare cultural attractions.
In terms of can’t miss tours and attractions in London, a tour of the Tower of London (where the crown jewels is housed) is a must. As is the London Eye. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s also an incredible experience. You can do it during the day, or at night. At night, they have awesome drink/snack packages. A bartender boards your pod and you get snacks and drinks while taking in the twinkling lights of London.
Another must-see is Buckingham Palace. It’s impressive from the outside. Everyone likes to go for the changing of the guard ceremony, but if you go right when it’s scheduled to start, there is SO MUCH standing around in the cold waiting. Here’s a great tip on instead: You can arrive a half hour to an hour after the scheduled start time and catch the best part of it (as it approaches the palace). We stumbled on this by thinking we were arriving long after it was over, but still getting a fantastic show. Final must see: Westminster Abbey. It’s packed with history and even the non-history lovers in your group will appreciate the tour.
One thing I found to be overrated, but you may want to do because, well, you love shopping, is go to Harrods. It’s SO crowded and hard to move around in. The best part of Harrods was their food hall. Great souveniers (British tea) etc. You may want to eat at one of the food hall restaurants. They looked wonderful. If you do go, allot a lot of time. The store is enormous. I much preferred shopping on and around Oxford Street in London. There were so many wonderful shops of more interest to me.
Yelp is your friend for restaurants and pubs. We wanted good fish and chips there and Yelp didn’t steer us wrong on the best ones. Remember London is a very international city, so there’s fantastic food from all kinds of places there. One example is it’s Chinatown. We found a place on Yelp that was authentic Szechuan and reasonably priced. It was the best Chinese food I’ve ever had (and that includes good places in NYC). Place was packed, but we made a reservation. Don’t remember the name, but there are a ton of options. Pro tip: Don’t underestimate the London social scene. It’s booming. If you don’t make reservations or arrive early, expect a wait at the best places (and by best, I don’t mean most expensive; just the best food).
One final tip, if there’s an attraction you know you want to tour, you should pay for advance tickets now and book it. Things sell out quickly (the best tour times, tours in general, etc). And at a minimum, you will save yourself a lot of waiting in line time at the most popular attractions. London eye, for example, is bookable now. So is the hop-on, hop-off, and plenty of other attractions.
Have fun…you will love London!
A note about Buckingham Palace – it’s **only** open for tours in August and September, while the queen is on her summer holiday at Balmoral, so if Belle is visiting in April she’s out of luck.
If you do want to spend time in a working royal residence, the better option anyway is Windsor – it’s less than an hour’s train ride from Paddington Station, the town is adorable (the castle is right across from the train station), and the place is HUGE. It’s also frankly a more interesting visit – the royal family still uses Windsor for part of every year, but it’s a good 700 years older than Buckingham, which has only been in use since the 1830s. (Only! Time is a relative thing in the U.K.) While you’re in Windsor, go right across the street and have a drink at the Duchess of Cambridge pub, so renamed to honor Kate Middleton.
I’ve got more recommendations – I’ll post them later!
Ha, I was once on a date walking through Covent Garden, and the guy I was with asked, “do you realize we have park benches older than your country?”
I second the recommendation for a tour bus or walking tour when you first get to the city. I didn’t do it until my third trip to London and wish I had done it sooner – It helps give you a feel for the layout of the city, so walking around later is easier, and lets you sneak a peak at things that you may want to add/delete to your list. Fortnum and Mason is a must. Take high tea at the Ritz in Mayfair. I’ve stayed at the Sheraton Park Lane several times and it is amaaaazing. Neal’s Yard and Covent Garden are well worth an afternoon of shopping and sight seeing if you just want to wander around. Salisbury (to see the Cathedral, Sarum, or Stonehenge) is a great day trip, and so is Bath!
I’m so excited for you! I did a trip a few years ago to Dublin and London and it was wonderful- after London, Dublin feels almost quaint, even though you still have the benefits of a big city.
Packing-wise, I think your D.C. savvy will serve you well as far as shoes and rain gear are concerned. Remember that London is farther north than most of us think it is- my trip was in mid-late march and I wished for cozy sweaters and warm boots!
For attractions, the Tower of London is one of those no-brainer things that sounds super cheesy, but it is absolutely worth it.i could also happily spend the rest of my life wandering the British museum, but it’s gargantuan and can be an overwhelming time suck if you’re not a museum person.
I was just there last week! Definitely do Westminster Abbey – there is a wonderful free audio tour that covers everything so well, and they really pack a lot of history into that place. It was by far the best part of my trip. Also go to Harrods department store for high tea and walk around the stores and food hall. The opulence of the place is worth a trip. I also second the Churchill War Rooms recommendation. Get a place near the tube in Kensington.
Also check for Tube strikes before going, and buy any tickets to the attractions online before going. Summer is high travel time and the lines will be longer if you wait to buy tickets.
And don’t forget your adapters for any electronics!
And remember that tax and tip are included in the pricing at restaurants. If you spend quite a bit or buy a high-end item, save your receipts and get your VAT refund at the airport before flying home.
Tip isn’t usually included unless you’re a party of 6!!
My sister lives in the UK so we’ve got a mix of the touristy and not so touristy. I did the chunnel for a day trip to Paris- it is short, but I hit the major sites in a day…I didn’t actually go inside anything, but I saw it.
I’d definitely do the Tower of London and see the Crown Jewels, Maltby St. Market, Burmundsey Beer Mile for some great craft brews (Anspach and Hobday), Covent Garden area and Borrough Market. Obviously the tourist sports of Buckingham, the changing of the guards, Parliament, Westminster Abbey etc are all good for a day and there are the free walking tours that will hit those big touristy things.
Wherever you stay, try to be close to a tube stop..that helps. AirBNB is great, that’s what I did last year and it was nice to save money on food.
Rain coat, sweaters, waterproof shoes and a cross body bag are all musts.
Seconding a beer crawl in Bermondsey! A great non-touristy day out. Brew by Numbers is my favorite brewery.
Thanks for the suggestion, but I’m the only one in my family who drinks.
I lived in London for a year and there is still so much I didn’t do. London AND Paris in 7 days is a stretch. I did a weekend trip to Edinburgh, and that was easy. I also took a day trip to Stonehenge with my dad by train, simple out and back. After Stonehenge we wandered around Salisbury (the departing point), had lunch in a pub, and wandered into the church where one of the copies of the Magna Carta is located, just there like NBD,
I definitely recommend doing AirBnB or an actual BnB instead of a hotel. There’s so much incredible history and character in London. Definitely hit up Spitalfields Market and Borough Market. If you guys are remotely history buffs, the British Museum is a must (I’m not even a museum person, and I think it’s incredible; I mean it’s almost better than seeing the actual artifacts in Greece). Less known spots that are worth a visit are Sir John Soane’s Museum (it’s actually his house filled with all the stuff he basically plundered during his travels) and the London City Museum was pretty cool. The Orangery was my favorite place for afternoon tea (don’t call it high tea!). It has all the frill of the fancy hotels, but isn’t as pricey. The Victoria and Albert Museum is a must for a fashion lover. You could easily spend two days just shopping. The huge, old department stores are worth a visit even if you don’t spend a dime.
Just a fair warning about Londoners, their sense of humor is a little off-putting; you’ll probably feel like you’re being made fun of a few times. Don’t take it personally. And the weather isn’t as bad as people make it out to be.
And here are two of my favorite quotes about my favorite city, both by Samuel Johnson, that I think capture the perfect attitude for experiencing London:
“Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts. It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human habitations which are crowded together, that the wonderful immensity of London consists.”
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”
Jane Graham says:
Pubs are about the conversation and interaction with others. Not drinking is totally fine, so your non-drinking family won’t feel out of place at all. But don’t believe anyone who says the weather is okay. Waterproof leather boots/shoes will make the trip much more enjoyable. Blondo /Aquatalia etc have the best. Gloves too. Its damp and cold nearly all year- I spent a year there and only once wore a short sleeve shirt. Just saying.
Lauren Lewow says:
Restaurant Pick: Hawksmoor https://thehawksmoor.com/; excellent cocktails, lovely vibe. If you’ve never had Pret-a-manger – it’s a great place to get healthy food on the go before hitting a museum or hopping on the train. Lovely traditional pub, order gin or a pint of bitter – https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Tottenham/153022961387173
To Do: I think afternoon tea is a must, such a classically english and relaxing experience. Claridges is $$$ posh, divine and has a live harp player. I’ve heard sotherby’s is just lovely and affordable. I suggest visiting some arcade shops for a stroll like https://www.princesarcade.co.uk/. The Kensington Palace museum in Hyde Park (the central Park of london) was done in a modern and interactive way and a must for ladies complete with a Diana fashion exhibit https://www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/#gs.V9E0zQw. Also, I’d definitely take the tube, it’s understandable and a great way to see how Londoners move about the city. Stations like Kings Cross are historic equivalents of JFK and other major american airports. Also a must would be to tour parliament and sit in on session if its possible. For a picturesque day trip, Cambridge is only an hour train ride away and a must for history buffs, those who fancy punting & picnics, intellectuals and harry potter fans.
She didn’t say visit a pub, which would be a fine spot to get a meal and socialize, she offered a beer crawl. And while I would enjoy that with a different group of people, it wouldn’t make sense to take two non-drinkers from bar to bar to sip water.
I recommend going to Edinburgh or Dublin as a side trip. Logistically it makes more sense, plus Paris is pretty cheap to fly into from the US compared to many other countries so it’s worth saving for another trip.
Similar to another commenter, I used AirBnBs in Italy and they are definitely the way to go. Unless you are going for total luxury or have some cash to burn they can’t be beat. You can get a prime location for a portion of the price of a hotel, however the good ones can book fast.
Jane Graham says:
Also, btw, Chelsea is the grooviest area.
Lauren Lewow says:
Also – you must try Indian food – even if you’re not a fan here; and get a greasy Donner kabob – 2 of London’s best foods.
The Indian food in London is AMAZING. I so second this. If you aren’t sure what to order, I recommend one Chicken Tikka Masala (invented in the UK its a tomato sauce with chicken), Lamb Sahi Korma (a cashew based lamb dish) and then either Palak Paneer (cheese cubes in cooked spinach) or a biryani (kind of like Indian fried rice) for the three of you to share. Also samosas as an appetizer. [sorry if you know all this already from DC.]
I haven’t been to Ireland yet, but Paris is super easy to get to from London and would be reliable/comfortable than flying. You can definitely do Paris in 2-3 days, knowing you can’t head out to Versailles and don’t necessarily need to go all the way to Sacre Couer. I just got back from my 2nd trip there for 4 days and it was one day longer than we strictly needed. Recommend the Eiffel tower, Musee D’Orsay, Musee L’Orangerie, the Louvre, shopping at Merci, if you’re feeling fancy a dinner cruise on Bateau Le Calife, and lots of time to stop in cafes for coffee/pastries or wine.
Definitely get a card without foreign transaction fees and look up which ATMs will have lower fees with your bank. DO NOT exchange money at the airport — it’s a rip off. Your can or tube ticket can be bought on credit card and then you can go to an ATM to get money at a much better rate.
In London, recommend the Covent Garden area either to stay in an AirBnB or for a stroll. British Museum is a must do, as is the Tower of London.
Prepare to be super jetlagged on the day you arrive. Even though you’re going forward in time zones, I typically find myself wanting to fall asleep by like 6 p.m. because you can’t sleep that well on the plane and your body is confused. I suggest planning activities to keep you moving or else like me you’ll wind up nodding off with your fish and chips at a pub.
Hit up Boots and Marcks & Spencer.
Finally, the TripAdvisor forums are really a great way to get specific questions answered and can be a great resource for picking activities thanks to all the reviews. Can’t recommend enough.
Have such a great time planning — that’s one of my favorite parts!
Realizing there is another ‘M’ above with similar sentiments. Love reading all these tips!
Agreed when it comes to not exchanging money at the airport, or even once you get to Europe if you can help it. I usually have my bank exchange money for me before I leave so I have some cash when I arrive – the rates are usually better that way. They typically have to order the currency, so make sure you ask at least a week or two in advance. Have fun!
London is fantastic! We stayed at the Hotel Indigo in Paddington and it was lovely — well-appointed, helpful staff, centrally-located, and not too expensive.
Bring good walking shoes! I visited in Christmas and wasn’t that cold, so you should be fine in April since you’re from a cold climate. I’d recommend layers and a light rain jacket, probably.
Definitely definitely check out the Museum of Natural History, the British Museum, and the Portrait Gallery. If you can catch a show at the West End, the theaters are beautiful.
Pack your Burberry coat! 🙂 The weather changes very rapidly, so be prepared for that. I prefer Edinburgh over Dublin and Paris over Barcelona. I’ve never been to South Wales, but have only heard good things. If you strike up conversations with the locals, be prepared to answer some interesting U.S. geographical questions (i.e. yes, I live in LA and no, I don’t go to NYC every weekend for fun) and defend our political system.
I’ve done Dublin and Paris as weekend trips from London and while you can’t see all of Paris in two days (or two weeks, or two years) you can hit a few highlights.
Oh yeah especially now. I didn’t get any Obama questions when I was there recently, but during the Bush years I was bombarded.
As a Scot I’d say head to Edinburgh for a couple of days. It’s so different from London and is set up for tourists (not sure where the previous comment or got covered in mud). You can get the overnight train to give you a full couple of days to do the bus (do the route with the live commentary which also covers the New Town – not the std prerecorded tour), the castle plus some general wandering.
In London I like either Kensington (real people but not too costly) or out at Canary Wharf (great transport links). I LOVE the British Museum and Sir John Slone’s museum. The V&A is also good. Hampton Court Palace is a lovely day trip out and blows the mind. Don’t forget to add in the Tower of London and Liberty’s of London.
Paris is the rather too obvious choice but I totally LOVE Madrid (or go to Seville or Cordoba if you really want to go alternative). Plus you get to be different from everyone else…
Wear layers (could be anything from 20°C to snow), have a rain jacket and comfortable shoes. And despite what some blogs aimed at Americans in Europe say, trainers don’t mark you out as tourists and people don’t walk about in waterproof walking shoes just because it rains. Whatever you would wear in New York or Chicago will work fine.
I would definitely go to Paris – even for a day or two. It’s an easy train ride and you can always go back for a longer visit!!
Lindsay Jill says:
Just got back from London and Paris, both of which I’ve been to multiple times now. I’d recommend staying in Kensington; it’s quiet and quaint and right off the Piccadilly line, which takes you to LHR. I stayed at the Hotel Xenia this past trip and was quite happy. Pack a good umbrella, warm raincoat, and waterproof shoes, for sure.
There’s more than enough in London to keep you occupied for a full week. The Churchill War Rooms and British Museum are on my to-do list every time I visit. If you must leave the city, I’d say prioritize Bath (could do a night here), Windsor Castle, and Stonehenge or even Bruges for a day trip. (I’ve used the English Bus Tour for Bath/Stonehenge and would recommend them, but it’s also possible to take a train to Bath, Windsor, and Bruges on your own.) Don’t try to do Paris with anything less than 3 days, especially not on your first visit!
You can get anything to eat in London since it’s a huge city, but I find the Indian food is particularly good. I love Gymkhana (go for their lunch deal). Any of Ottolenghi’s restaurants are fantastic and I’d also suggest doing a Sunday Roast lunch while you’re there. I had one at Hawksmoor and really enjoyed it!
London is wonderful – I spent a week in Notting Hill two summers ago and feel like we barely scratched the surface of the city. One of the best ways to get into different neighborhoods are food tours – I haven’t done one there, but I have in several other European cities. I also second the hop-on, hop-off bus tour – hokey, but you can really check a lot off your list. Windsor/Eton is an easy day trip, and if you’re a history buff, Hampton Court is an easy half-day trip. The West End is fantastic for a night at the theatre. The Wolsley is right across from the Ritz (stop in the lobby for a drink!) and is great for any meal, but especially champagne tea. Have fun!
I did a wonderful 10 day trip to England/Scotland three years ago (late August). Highly recommend Edinburgh as your two (or even 3!) day excursion! It was the highlight of the trip – it is an amazing city. We did a walking food tour of Edinburgh, and it was fabulous way to see the sites, learn some history, and also taste classic Scottish foods (and whiskey). We also did a ghost tour of the underground, which was very cool (and scared the crap out of me!). Two days wasn’t long enough!
We flew into London and took the train to Edinburgh, then worked our way south – York was our next stop, then on to London. Afternoon tea, Harrod’s, Buckingham, Big Ben, London Eye (yes, it’s a tourist attraction, but we loved it – fun way to see the city!), Hyde Park, and Stonehenge. I was in London for a bachelorette party, so we had some festivities for that! Then, I went to Bristol for two nights (a friend lives there), and we spent a full day in Bath – that was amazing! We toured the old baths, and then spent an afternoon at a rooftop spa.
Overall, it was fabulous. And I highly recommend Edinburgh as your “two days”!
I vote for Edinburgh also. We took the train from London to Edinburgh and it was a great addition to the trip. I actually liked Edinburgh better than London. Have a great trip.
Not quite in Kensington or Mayfair, but I highly recommend the Bloomsbury (hotel). We stayed there to be close to the British Museum (just 2 blocks away) but it actually turned out to be quite convenient to many popular locations, especially if you don’t mind jumping on the Tube. I usually skip tours, but all of our tour guides at the British Museum, Tower of London, and Globe Theatre were fantastically knowledgeable and had great senses of humor. Definitely worth the time. If you’re not buying an international data plan, download an off-line map onto your phone with GPS location enabled. You won’t get navigation without data, but you will be able to tell where you are on the map through GPS.
We LOVED the Rosewood hotel (https://www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/london). The customer service was above and beyond (just off-hand mentioning to the bellman that I was in town for a big competition, I came back to my room that night with a chocolate cake that said “congrats!”), the rooms were beautiful, and the location was very central.
On the first day or two of your trip, go on a walking tour with New Europe Tours. The tours are tips-based, so you pay whatever you think the tour is worth, the guides are great and it’s a really good way to get acclimated to the city and figure out what else you want to do while you’re there. Highlights for me were Borough Market, the British Library, the Globe Theater and wandering around Harrods. Favorite restaurant was Dishoom, an Indian restaurant in Covent Garden. And definitely take advantage of the amazing theater options while you’re there! Enjoy!
I second this! I love New Europe Tours and have done a few of them. They are great to do at the beginning of the trip and are always incredibly informative
YES! Second the New Europe Tours – I’ve done them in multiple European cities and they are great!
-Don’t wear rainboots! They will automatically single you out as an american tourist. Plus, they’re too bulky to pack and too weird to wear on the plane. You’ll be much more comfortable and anonymous in a sturdy stylish pair of chelsea boots – I like aquitalia or blondo for comfort and waterproofing. Many people will also be wearing stylish black sneakers, and when I was in germany last month, most women were wearing enormous scarves.
-Don’t exchange money (especially at the airports- crazy surcharges), just use the ATM if you need cash. Almost everywhere takes visa, but fewer places take Amex.
-this is picky, but I dont really think Cuba or anywhere else in the carribbean counts as ‘overseas’ … out of the country, sure, but not exactly overseas
-I thought you were calling yourself Abra now?
I’ve stayed at The Bailey’s Hotel in Kensington, and would definitely recommend. It’s a great location, right across the street from the tube and within walking distance of many attractions, shops, and restaurants. Additionally, the rooms are fairly affordable by London standards, and are also quite large by London standards (which is a plus for an American visiting Europe for the first time). It’s a good place to stay with family — not too much of a party scene (while still having a bar and restaurant etc.).
In terms of attractions, I agree with everyone else here, with one addition: be sure to see the Turners at the Tate Britain, and then visit the Rex Whistler restaurant (but be sure to make a reservation!)
You NEED to go to Paris over Barcelona. Especially if you don’t plan to go back to Europe anytime soon, you will be sad you didn’t take a day or two to see the Eiffel Tower while drinking wine and eating cheese. Plus, the train ride is quick and cheap if booked in advance.
I studied abroad in London and I just did a week in London over Thanksgiving! I stayed in the Bayswater area, which is very close to Kensington/Mayfair. I stayed at the Phoenix Hotel which was WONDERFUL. Very convenient to two tube stops with a total of like 5 or 6 tube lines, free breakfast, clean (if small) rooms. Pretty affordable for what you got.
As far as things you should do, you should absolutely go to Windsor. It’s a very easy train ride away and a great way to spend a day. You should also DEFINITELY go to Kew Gardens. You’ll think you’re in wonderland. My mom bugged me the whole time I was abroad to go and when I finally did, I called her to thank her immediately. It’s by far one of my favorite memories from my time abroad.
In my opinion, rather than taking a two day trip somewhere else in Europe where you will eat up a lot of your time with travel, i would travel around within Great Britain and do day trips there. If you’ve never been to Paris, I think going even if it is for a short time would be good. You can hit the very high spots and know what you’d like to come back for! I took a two-day trip to Bruges, Belgium while I was abroad and that is a surprisingly easy trip by train from London. It’s perfect for a short trip too, there’s plenty to do but you won’t feel like you miss a ton if you can’t spend a lot of time there.
As far as other good things to see:
Churchill War Rooms
Sir John Sloane Museum
I took a day trip to Oxford and Blenheim Palace. Highly recommend.
While I studied abroad I went to Jane Austen’s home in Winchester, that was a great trip.
Borough Market is great, Spitalfields and Portobello Road Markets are also good.
I didn’t love the Victoria and Albert Museum but a lot of people do. I think spending more time in the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery (my favorite place to visit), and British Museum is more worth your time.
I’ve heard great things about Greenwich but didn’t go myself.
Harrods/Selfridges and the other big department stores are fun. Especially Harrod’s food hall.
Even though it may be a bit chilly, make sure you spend some time in the parks. Regent’s Park is my favorite, but Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are all great places to get lost if you have some good weather.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of things, but I hope you have the very best time!
As far as things to pack, comfortable shoes that aren’t ballet flats are a must. Think loafer/oxford types so rain doesn’t get in your shoes. A good raincoat and umbrella is also a must (you’ve got that fab Burberry trench to pull out now! 🙂 ) It may not be as rainy and chilly as you think in April, so I would take some layers so you had options. Most of the time even if it isn’t great weather it’s more overcast and drizzle than actual downpour type rain.
I keep remembering more things:
-Keep a journal while you’re there, even if it’s just “today we went here, here, and here.” It will help when you need to remember what to recommend later on!
-I checked out several guidebooks from the public library before I went and looked through them as well. That way you can pick your favorite without spending lots of money or flying blind in a Barnes and Noble.
Not sure what cell provider you have, but on Verizon you can turn on an option that allows you to use your normal plan for about $10 a day. It reminds you to turn your phone on airplane mode if you don’t want to be charged for a particular day. It was helpful for days I was traveling so I didn’t get too stressed if something went wrong.
I’m going to stop replying to myself now, but if you have any other questions, feel free to email!
I love London, it’s been a while since I’ve been there but definitely see the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey (all the touristy stuff). But also spend time on their double decker bus, and even a trip to Harrods is fun and of course walking through the City to get a nice feel for the city and enjoy a pub dinner too! Paris is close enough to hop over for a few days. Sure you need more than a few days to see all of Paris, but 2 days is enough to fall in love with the city and get a nice taste of it- literally- I’ve had some of the best food in Paris!!)
The British Museum is fantastic, I echo that recommendation. Right next to the British museum is the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. In the literal crypt of that church, they have a little cafe. Really cool and a nice place to pop over to from the British Museum for a bite to eat.
Biggest piece of advice: under no circumstances (NONE! EVER!) should you drive in the city of London. It is a literal nightmare. Once upon a time, my travelling companion and I had rented a car to hit some outside of London places and figured ‘Hey! Our guidebook says the hotel has parking available (LIES!), we can just drive to the hotel and drop the car off in the morning.’ NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. We literally drove around a 1 mile square radius for 4 hours attempting to find the hotel, nobody could give us directions by car and driving was a nightmare. We ended up literally paying a cab to let us follow behind him.
Everyone else has good advice- sturdy walking shoes that you’ve waterproofed and a raincoat were musts for me. I’ve done Paris as a weekend trip from London and it was lovely! We didn’t conquer, but we definitely hit some highlights. I’ve also really enjoyed day trips to smaller towns like Cambridge and Oxford.
I just went to London over MLK weekend – it was great!
1. Use the Heathrow Express from the airport (buy tickets in advance for the best deal and there are discount codes for multiples ex: “duosaver”) The trip takes 15 minutes from Heathrow to Paddington Station and is a really nice train!
2. We stayed in Paddington area — the tube is super efficient from Paddington Station and we were able to navigate pretty smoothly (so much better than the DC Metro!).
3. Stop at as many Sam Smith pubs as you can. Good to know: ordering a half pint is half the price as a full pint 🙂
4. Finding regular coffee is hard — we definitely looked like American tourists when we tried to order black coffee (order Americanos instead 🙂 )
I went to London and Edinburgh in January of 2016. I could talk about this for hours. Please add the Victoria & Albert Museum to your itinerary. It’s focused on design and I think you would love it. My favorite afternoon tea was The Orangery at Kensington Palace. Note the best place for souvenirs are museum gift shops and the museum cafes are great stops. Plan afternoon stops for tea and scones; they’re my favorite.
If you are looking for a day trip, please consider Bath. It was my absolute favorite day of our trip. I used Aspiring Kennedy’s guide to Bath. It was all fabulous (really all of her recommendations in London are amazing!). The Roman Baths are fascinating. There’s also a great Fashion Museum in Bath. It’s about 1-1/2 hour train ride from London. It’s so fantastic.
We flew Ryanair very cheap ($50?) to Edinburgh. Fraser Suites on the Royal Mile is a great location and very nice, but not too expensive. The city is gorgeous. Try to do a food tour through Eat Walk Edinburgh. The food is great and you learn a ton about the city too. We were there for just two days, but could have spent 3 or 4.
Hope this helps! Can’t wait to hear more about the trip!
MY FAVORITE SITE FOR RENTING apartments in foreign countries is VRBO – vacation rentals by owners.
Be careful with Ryanair. At least when I flew it years ago, you weren’t guaranteed a seat. They would make people rush the plane, and whoever fit, fit. My friend sat in the aisle. Also, pay attention to what airport they actually fly into. The airport they labeled “Madrid” wasn’t in a Madrid, it was considerably outside the city at a regional airport.
Just a quick chime in on top of the already great advice — I’d add Fortnum & Mason to the shopping stop list, it was a great stop for a treat after wandering around one afternoon (and easy treats to bring home for friends and family). Also, highly recommend National Geographic’s city walking tours. There are 3 for London (see e.g. https://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/city-guides/london-walking-tour-3/) — we’ve done them in London as well as other cities around the world and are never disappointed! OH, and as a political junkie, you should go into Parliament to watch for a few minutes. And then marvel at the differences!
A lot of cheaper European airlines do this,not just Ryanair (although they are the notorious for this).
Your trip sounds wonderful! If you decide to take a few days somewhere else, I’d highly recommend Edinburgh – it’s a short trek and an incredibly magical city. The roads are historied, the castle is wonderful, and a short hike up Arthur’s seat gives you a great view of the city. A day trip to St. Andrews could be nice as well. Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in Europe. Paris is fantastic as well, but for your purposes it might be worthwhile to hold off for a longer trip.
This could be an unpopular opinion, but I think Dublin is overrated! It has a reputation of being “just another European city,” and from my experience it was true – I actually wish I spent less time there than I did. Ireland is fantastic, and the countryside/less major cities can give a better sense of that. For the length of your trip, I’d recommend either Edinburgh or traveling somewhere else within England. It can be nice to have a taste of both city & country side during a week-long trip. A great blog that I’d recommend is http://www.aspiringkennedy.com – she has some really great local travel guides with specific recommendations!
The best tour guide for Europe is Rick Steves
7 day overview
I’ve traveled all around central, eastern and western Europe – hands down most consistent.
The company does a great job of curating all the information out there so you don’t get option overload, but also have a lot of choices.
If you only have 2 days I’d probably stick to traveling in the UK.
Nothing is worse than being to stressed for time to actually enjoy the place you’re visiting.
Maybe add a trip to Bath and then up to Wales?
The roman baths in Bath are awesome!
Schedule 1 Day for each-
– Tower of London
– Kensington Palace/ Hyde Park Changing of the Guard/ Roayl Mews ect (High Tea at the Goring) *Goring is where Kate got ready before the wedding, they have an amazing High Tea. Its a full meal so be prepared.
I love the museums in London
Victoria Albert and the British Museum
Try to see a play – the West End has great shows, and really cheap actually compared to Broadway
I did a side trip to St. Andrews while I was Edinburgh! I may have, um, located the dorm where Wills and Kate met – St. Salvatore’s Hall – while I was there. I didn’t go in or anything creepy, just walked around the quad.
Be careful about packing in too many locations. At least in my opinion, you don’t want to bounce from big city to big city. There is so much to see in Ireland, county cork, cliffs of moher, isle of man, it takes at least two weeks. You don’t want to feel like you were so rushed to see a high volume of places that you missed the depth of really absorbing a culture. (Again, this may be personal preference.) Also, don’t over estimate how much you can do in a day, especially with parents. You will be exhausted and cranky if you are on your feet all day, leave some time to the vacation. Often my best vacation memories are relaxing with people I love and interacting with locals in a natural way. If you aren’t paying for international phone data, download offline google maps onto your phone. It’s not really user friendly to figure out (what the heck google) but you can download maps of cities and save them. Also, we bought a charger that would charge an iPhone and iPad multiple times, it saved me on the crazy long flight. Download lots of movies. Jet lag will be terrible, make yourself fight it by staying awake during local day time and sleeping at the appropriate night time. Expect at least two days of mental fog, be nice to yourself those days. Also, my husband got flashes in his vision and sick to his stomach from jet lag, be aware that it may impact others in your group differently. Oh and of course, the outlets are different, bring an adapter. I’d also recommend cutting back your beauty regimen. No point in wasting an hour every morning getting dolled up when you could be enjoying an amazing croissant, you’ll find European culture take a much more natural approach to beauty anyway. Finally, things will go wrong. Your attitude is what can ruin the trip, not what happens. You will miss a museum you really wanted to see because of long lines, flights get delayed, someone might get a cold, etc etc, remember it’s your reaction that matters. If you can laugh it off and move on you’ll be glad you did. (Also, lots of museums will let you buy tickets ahead of time online.)
1. Hotels: I loved the Hoxton Holborn. It’s at (you guessed it) Holborn, but it’s on both the Piccadilly and the Central lines, so you can easily get to the attractions. Bonus: you can take the Tube straight from Heathrow Airport to Holborn (though I think Holborn doesn’t have an elevator so you need to be packing light enough to lift your luggage up some stairs). I’m also guessing that a hotel at Holborn will be cheaper than the hotels near Mayfair / Kensington. It has great customer service, very hipster furnishing (if that’s your jam), the in-hotel food downstairs is pretty good and it also has an excellent bar. (I stayed there on a work trip. No experience with London AirBnBs, as if I’m there on work I’d stay in a hotel and if there for pleasure I’d stay with a friend.)
2. Food: My favourite restaurant is Ottolenghi. Go to the Islington branch, which has sit-down space for you to eat a proper meal. The food is wonderful – bursting with flavour and innovative to boot – and I love that it’s a restaurant owned by an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Arab. Don’t forget to leave room for dessert! And take some biscuits or pastries to go with you. Also, check out the Marks & Spencer Food Halls if you can – they have the most amazing white chocolate chip cookies that they bake fresh. It’s also an economical option for food if you don’t plan to go to a restaurant for every single meal, and the standard of food is pretty decent.
3. If going to Scotland: you could do a couple of days in Edinburgh, or go on a 3-day tour of the Scottish Highlands. I don’t think you can squeeze both in, unfortunately! I prefer Scotland to Dublin.
4. Attractions: I love the British Museum for history (plus, it’s free) and the V&A Museum, which is great for fashion and design)! Also the Tower of London for a great sense of English monarchical history. Borough Market has great food stalls. Harrods Food Hall just for the experience.
5. Public transport: My London friends swear by the Citymapper app, which is especially helpful if there are Tube strikes. It actually has real-time data, unlike Google Maps which only shows the scheduled time. Get an Oyster card at Heathrow Airport so that you can take the Tube and the buses easily.
6. EE has a prepaid SIM card pay as you go option that charges you GBP5 for a week’s worth of 4G (the SIM card is free) – just find an EE shop and they should be able to set you up.
Hi Belle, just my $.02 as someone who lived there, but a few days in Paris is still worth it. It’s very easy to get to from London via Eurostar and very tourist-friendly. Paris is just one of those places that 100% lives up to the hype, that’s so, so beautiful and magical even when you’re used to it.
If you only have a few days, aside from eating amazing food/coffee, you can see the major monuments (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame) the big museums (Louvre & Orsay, maybe the Pompidou) and wander around some of the best parks and neighborhoods. I honestly would rather have a few days in Paris than a week anywhere else.
If you are really against going to Paris though, Barcelona would be next on my list. Gorgeous weather, some of the coolest/strangest architecture and art in the world, good food and nice people (IMO).
Lindsey L. says:
I just went for 9 nights over Thanksgiving! We treated ourselves to staying at the Savoy because they had a 4th night free deal. The Savoy bars are definitely worth checking out even if not staying there.
I definitely second the Ledbury – get reservations on Opentable now! One of the hands down best meals of my life, maybe beating out French Laundry. I was surprised at how many things were on Opentable and it made booking really easy.
A lot of fun ideas on a lifestyle blog here: https://www.thelondoner.me/. Also check out some of the London pins on pinterest for ideas
Other ideas for meals/teas:
tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace before walking around the grounds and Notting Hill and Portobello Road. The Churchill Arms is a cool pub in Notting Hill.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – another “best” meal
Bob Bob Ricard – they have a doorbell to press for champagne, need I say more?
Duck and Waffle – open 24 hours and amazing views, food was great
Dishoom and Veeraswamy –
Cinnamon Club – upscale Indian food in the old Westminster public library
Tea and shopping at Fortnum and Mason
Hakkasan and Gymkhana – recommended by an awesome waiter at the Ledbury
Duck and Rice
Shopping – Liberty London. Watch the docu-series about the store before you go – it makes for a magical shopping experience. The Burlington Arcade and St. James were also fun for shopping. Hats at Lock & Co., Penhaligon’s for perfume. The shops that supply the royal family (the royal warrant holders) are all here: https://www.royalwarrant.org/
Misc. – check for museums having late hours on Fridays. Also, the view from the Tate Modern looking back across the river
Day trips without really leaving London: Hampstead Heath for a Sunday walk and the Kenwood House followed by a delicious Sunday Roast at the Spaniard Inn; head to Greenwich for great views and the Queen’s House
Other ideas for day trips – Oxford or Bath, both easy to get to and gorgeous.
Seconding these excellent recommendations (especially tea at the the Orangery and Gymkhana for upscale Indian you can’t get in the States). Borough Market is also a great place to visit for lunch–there are a bunch of different stalls with food from different parks of the UK and Europe (my fav is the chorizo roll from Brindisa!) My favorite museums/cultural activities are Tower of London (the guides are the best!), the British Museum, Buckingham Palace if you can visit (only allowed when the Queen isn’t in residence), and the Tate.
Excuse the bullet points but hard to type on a phone! I’m a real life Londoner
– get Oyster cards for you all, you can buy when you arrive if you fly in to Heathrow. The tube is great even though we complain about it all the time. You can also use it on buses, and many routes take you past cool tourist sites. The 24 bus from Trafalgar Square is a good one.
– if you decide to go elsewhere I would recommend Eurostar (Paris, Lille, Brussels) or if flying the try and get a flight from London City Airport as its supper easy to get to on public transport and is mostly used by business travellers so security etc really quick and easy
– there are thousands of places to eat covering all budgets. Someone up thread mentioned Dishoom a Mumbai style cafe which is gorgeous and has a few branches. A good place to wander and decide what takes your fancy to eat is the Angel/Upper Street area. Edgware Road for middle eastern food. Brick Lane for Indian food. Goodge/Charlotte Street has tons of options and some lovely hotel bars plus borders Tottenham Court Road which is full of Homeware stores. I could go on for hours!
– try and get out of travel zone 1. London is similar to NYC in that it’s made up of distinct areas. Hampstead, Highgate, Brixton, Clapham, Battersea will all give you a taste of local life. Shoreditch and East London for a taste of the hipsters.
– visit some of our markets and green spaces! Hampstead Heath, Clapham Common, Blackheath. Parliament and Primrose Hills for views. Columbia Road, Spitalfields for markets.
Have a wonderful time. Londoners are very friendly even though the rest of the country thinks we are grumpy 😉
Me again – I think HAMPTON COURT PALACE would be really interesting for American visitors (well any type of visitors really). It was one of Henry VIII favourite palaces and has a medieval maze and beautiful gardens. The staff are delightful and it’s not a working royal building anymore so no restrictions on where you can go. https://www.hrp.org.uk/#gs.xXMDGiY there are a few other historic palaces too.
Mrs. Jones says:
I’d just stay in London the whole time, or at least not leave the UK. Edinburgh is a great option. Don’t waste time traveling if you don’t have to!
I think two days in Paris is worth it, especially since it’s so easy to travel there via the train. Yes, flights are cheap in Europe, but you still lose time getting to and from the airports and making sure you arrive early enough for your flight. I’d say do Paris, but limit yourself to a couple neighborhoods you’d like to explore so you’re not trying to do everything at once.
Agree with Megan- even though there are ton of beautiful things to explore in Paris (and yes, you’ll probably want a whole other trip to see it), the train ride from London is only a couple hours and not absurdly expensive on the Eurostar. The Paris Métro is also simple to navigate, so you can get from the Gare du Nord where the Eurostar drops off to nearly any neighborhood. Plus, even though the weather may still be chilly, some of the early flowers will be in bloom in Paris, not to mention the beginning of spring menus at cafes and restaurants.
Take me with you! 😉
Yes x 1000! Don’t spend a chunk of your time in transit to another country. I’d really get to know London and do an Oxford or Bath day trip.
I went to London in 2012, so it’s been a while, but I remember everything being more expensive than I thought (as someone else mentioned.) Another thing that surprised me was the air quality — my kleenex were black when I blew my nose at the end of the day. Gross.
Tourist-y experiences we really enjoyed: touring The Globe theater, seeing “The Producers” in the West End, the Eye, London Tower, the Mews (royal carriages and automobiles sounded like a drag, but was not crowded and quite enjoyable), the British Museum, and eating at Wagamama. We also splurged on a dinner at hip, newly opened foodie restaurant and had fun people watching and being among “locals” after so many tourists stops. Also, the airport duty free shops for British magazines (they all came with attached goodies like passport covers or shopping bags.)
We also toured the Tate Modern and popped into a department store (can’t remember which one now, and it obviously left an impression on me.) Those things were just okay.
Dublin is a wonderful city that feels more manageable than London. Trinity College area is beautiful (and hosts the Book of Kells) while Temple Bar is crowded and over-hyped. The ethnic food in Dublin is surprisingly good (best Thai and Italian food I’ve ever had was in Dublin) and the Guinness really is better.
Safe travels and enjoy your trip!
Ireland would be perfect for a couple of days away from London. I’m assuming you’d do Dublin, maybe a day in Galway. Dublin is incredibly walkable and just a bundle of fun. I’ve been to Dublin twice in 3 years…it’s that enjoyable. The thing about both London and Dublin that makes them great for first-time travel destinations is that they are culturally rich but not culturally shocking. I lived in Europe for almost 2 years and truly loved both. Take the tube in London, don’t take the taxis. It’ll be such a waste of money and totally unauthentic. Get an Oyster card for the tube. Eat great Indian food. Go to the National Gallery. And for goodness sake, pay to see Westminster Abbey. I’m not particularly religious but some of the greatest authors and poets of all time are buried there. Have a blast!
I’ve been to London many times and love it there. Your trip will fly by; there is so much to see. I wouldn’t try to fit another city in, but if you do, I’d stay in the UK and go to Edinburgh or even stay in England and visit Bath, Oxford, or Liverpool. (My father and I went to Liverpool a few years ago to see some of the Beatles sights and he really enjoyed that.)
Agree with many others that I wouldn’t bring rain boots, and I would get an Oyster card as soon as you arrive in Heathrow. I’ve found it easy to travel via Tube or bus, and cabs are so expensive – with your DC background, you shouldn’t have trouble with public transportation. If you enjoy museums, the V&A (Victoria & Albert) is amazing; the National Portrait Museum in Trafalgar Square is interesting too. The Churchill War Rooms and the Tower of London are also worth a visit. Westminster Abbey, too.
Walk around in Hyde Park and on the Thames. Enjoy the skyline. Stop in pubs. Have a great time!!!
I live in London now, and have a few tips! First, don’t bring rainboots. No one here wears them. I have actually found that the stereotypical rain-in-London doesn’t happen very frequently- if anything I think it rains more often back in the US. If it does rain, it will for like 10-15 minutes and then it’ll be done, instead of several days-long showers back in the US. Bring sneakers- everyone here wears trendy sneakers such as the Adidas Gazelles with every kind of outfit, even going out dresses and skirts. You will need the support especially walking on cobblestone areas. I would not recommend going on another trip because to be honest, a week in London will be packed and you STILL won’t see everything! If anything- take a day trip to Oxford or Cambridge. Both are about an hour outside of London, you can go cheaply with the train and are very charming and have a lot to do for a day.
That’s so exciting! I’m British (Scottish) and lived in London and you’re spot on about the weather. April is a weird month in the U.K. weather-wise and can be really mixed so layers are key. If you’re planning on using the tube to get around it can be really hot even when freezing so that’s worth bearing in mind. My favourite London museum is the Imperial War Museum, definitely worth checking out. I’d also check out Kensington Palace, they have a great royal fashion collection. Edinburgh is a great idea, the train journey itself is really pleasant, you see a lot (plus it leaves from King’s Cross so you get to check out Platform 9 and three quarters!). I’m probably biased because I was at uni there but if you are looking for a quick trip out of London with lots of historical interest VfM Oxford is a pretty fascinating town and is only Roind an hour’s train ride away so a simple day trip. I hope you have a wonderful time!!
I personally love Airbnbs, but one thing to consider is that hotels offer personalized concierge services that Airbnb does not. The majority of times I have stayed at an Airbnb the owner has not been there to help with any city/navigation/restaurant questions that a concierge can easily help you with on your way out. When traveling to places I’ve felt a little apprehensive about navigation/cultural/language issues (I just visited Colombia for example) I’ve appreciated having a front desk or concierge for help.
Additionally, I’d second all the recommendations for Paris even for a short trip! I was only there for 5 days and would love to revisit even for just a weekend. Worth it to see just a few sites!
My husband and I traveled to London and Paris at the end of the April/start of May last year. We encountered only one truly rainy day, but the temperatures varied greatly, so bring layers. As a government buff, schedule a tour of parliament. They are only offered once a week, but you get to wander through both houses. This needs to be booked in advance.
Leicester Square has a half price ticket booth for day-of theater tickets on the West End. Take in a play at the Globe Theater. The standing tickets are cheaper, but after walking all day you will be happy to pay to sit.
The tallest building in London, called the Shard, has restaurants with amazing views of the city. The food is pricey, but the atmosphere is worth it. Get a late reservation, as it stays light later than in the US. Order a Visitor Oyster Card in advance of your trip. It allows for unlimited travel through the city on public transport in Zones 1-2.
We enjoyed taking a break from being tourist and just exploring off the beaten path pubs. Also consider going to a soccer game, it is a unique British experience. We took a day trip to Brighton and talked with more locals that we did the entire trip to London.
It is worth it to visit Paris, even if it’s just for 2 days. The chunnel makes this an easy trip. The best thing we did there was take a private food tour and tasting. Paris by Mouth will set you up with a guide in the neighbor of your choice and take you to bakeries and cheese shops you would never find on your own (especially if you don’t speak French).
I’ve been to London three times in the last few years, and it’s my favorite place in the world. Here are my top picks:
–The Churchill War Rooms and Churchill Museum – preserved secret bunker for Churchill’s War cabinet, and a VERY good museum of his life (closest Tube stop is Westminster).
–St. Paul’s Cathedral – don’t pay the entry fee and take the tour, it’s not really worth it, just show up a little before 5 PM for choral evensong, it’s beautiful and takes about 30-40 minutes and you still get to experience the building.
–This is everything you need to know about touring Parliament, which I SUPER HIGHLY RECOMMEND BECAUSE IT IS AMAZING.
–You can go see a play at the rebuilt Globe Theater (the one that Shakespeare built) and it’s about the coolest and also most affordable theater experience you’ll ever have. You can stand on the floor in very authentic manner or for a couple pounds more you can sit on a hard wooden bench., but the whole thing is staged exactly as it would have been in Shakespeare’s day.
–The British Library is great – they have one big exhibit room full of all their treasures (everything from the Magna Carta to Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn) and also fun stuff rotating exhibits – when I was there last fall they had a big exhibit on the history of punk rock in Britain.
–Take a boat ride down the river – it’s the best way to see the city, and it was the city’s highway until the late 19th century. Best is to board at Westminster pier and take it down to the Tower pier – takes about 30 minutes.
–If you find yourself in Trafalgar Square, go to the Crypt Cafe in St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church for a quick, cheap, but good afternoon tea. If you’re standing in the square facing the National Gallery, the church will be off to your right just across the street. When you get to the front of the church, go around to the left and take the elevator or stairs down. The cafe is actually in the old crypt, so yes, there are people buried in the floor, but they’ve been there for a few hundred years so they don’t care.
–For a fancier tea option, I cannot recommend the Orangery at Kensington Palace highly enough. Spring for the champagne tea – which is, yes, a glass of bubbly to accompany your pot of tea and delicious tiny snacks.
–Borough Market. How do I describe Borough Market? It’s like D.C. Eastern Market and Union Market had a baby and then that baby swelled to ten times normal human size and also was the most British thing ever. Just below London Bridge on the South Bank and only open Friday-Sunday, Borough Market has every kind of deliciousness one can imagine. Everyone has free samples – from amazing cheeses and smoked meats to artisan honey. Best cheap lunch in the entire world: get a duck confit sandwich.
–Maltby Street – Also a street market, also on the South Bank, Borough Market’s slightly classier sibling. Lots of fun little antique shops. Go to the tapas place and mow your way through a plate or three of meat and cheese, and then for dessert stop by the chocolate truffle sellers’ stall.
–The Shard. Tallest building in London, so named because it looks like a big shard of glass sticking up in the air. You’ll hear people suggest you should take a trip up the London Eye to get the best view of London. Do not do that, as it is stupid and also way more expensive that its worth. Instead, go to the Shard on a Sunday or early-week weeknight (dress to impress) take the elevator up to the bar on the top floor, get a table by the window, and enjoy a drink or three while gazing up on the most beautiful, magical vista you’ve ever seen.
Oh, and up above I recommended Windsor for a day out – it’s amazing. For a longer trip, Edinburgh is wonderful, and from there you can do a quick side trip to St. Andrews’.
Scotland, hands down. I went to the UK last summer and my only regret is staying too long in London instead of in Scotland. Here’s what I would recommend.
Spend 3 or 4 days in London. We wanted to see the British Museum, Tower of London, and see Big Ben/House of Parliament, and were able to do all of that in a day.
Scotland – Everywhere we went was amazing. Went to Glasgow for a day, then to Oban, where you can take a day trip to Fingal’s Cave, then Skye, Inverness, and Edinburgh. I would go back to any of them in a heartbeat. If you prefer cities, you’d probably want to go to Edinburgh or Glasgow, but if you want to do some walking or appreciate the natural landscape, Oban, Skye, and Inverness were all great. If you look on Scotrail they have a lot of options from London to all of these places (although with Oban and Skye you may have to rely on bus if you don’t want to drive).
Other things you may want to check out are Bath and Stonehenge, which would be an easy day trip from London. Canterbury Cathedral was also very cool and pretty close to London.
If you decide to go to Ireland, I’d recommend staying in London and then doing a day trip out to the Cliffs of Moher or Blarney Castle. I preferred the Cliffs as Blarney is more of a tourist trap but both were cool. Have a wonderful time!!!
I stayed at the Dukes Hotel (very close to Buckingham Palace). It wasn’t cheap but the rooms were large and the hotel is super charming with a great martini bar and it was accessible to the underground. I would pack as if you’re going to New York (London has NYC sensibilities, I think). There is some amazing ethnic food in London. Make reservations at Gymkhana for Indian food (Michelin rated). If you have the chance, you should go see a session of Parliament. I wish I could have done that when I was there. DO NOT miss the tour of Churchill’s bunker (located close to 10 Downing Street). Such amazing war history and really well done museum. Have a great time!
Also, check with your credit card company to see if one of them gives you no fees on foreign transactions. I always use my Capital One card when I travel oversees because it has no foreign transaction fees.
Also, to reiterate something from above, but so that you know now and don’t plan on it – Buckingham won’t be open at all to visitors while you’re there, sorry to say. It’s only open to tourists in August and September. Now, if you can wrangle an invite to one of the queen’s spring garden parties… (Take me!)
I’ve never been to Paris. But since you’re a fashion person, I’m sure you’ll make it back over there for a multi-day trip. So I recommend Barcelona! You could do it in 36 hours since (I assume) you won’t be visiting the party scene with your parents!
Stay – Le Meridien. Very chic and right on Las Ramblas (the main drag). Great people watching day and night.
Lunch – Mercado de La Boqueria. The open air market and just a few blocks from the hotel. Iberian ham, manchego, and fresh fruit juice. Exquisite.
Activity – Sagrada Familia. You have to do it. Get the tour with audio guide + tower access (if not afraid of heights). Easily accessible by Metro.
Casual Dinner – Cal Papi. Hole in the wall down by the water, full of locals. We are still raving about the cod fritters six months later. Take a cab here.
Nice Dinner – Restaurant 7 Portes. Open since 1836. Get the paella. Also sparkling water in Spain is slightly salty and complements seafood perfectly. Easily accessible by Metro.
Check out Bruges for a side trip! It’s a super close train ride, and can be done with one over night. Super cute Belgian town, lots of cosy cafes and belgian waffles, beer, and chocolate. I just went in November and found it charming. Stay at Bruges Grand Casselburgh Hotel.
I’ve been living in London for the past year and love it! There’s also a Burberry outlet (Anya Hindmarch, Bally, Pringle in Hackney ( it’s called ‘Hackney Walk’ in East London, on the tube). It would be good to go either when the Broadway Market is on (Saturday) or Columbia Road Flower Market (Sunday) as both are nearby. There is a cafe in Broadway Market (open all week) La Bouche it’s a great place to stop and have a coffee or people watch, and their almond croissants are a little too good!. I love all the markets in London (Portabello Road, Spitafields or Borough Market are great). The museums are amazing – and it’s nice to grab a quick bite to eat / coffee in the V&A for the setting alone – so gorgeous! Monmouth Coffee is delicious as are Konditor and Cook Brownies 🙂
My fiancee proposed in Kew Gardens so that is high on my London list also. There is so much to see and do in London, I probably would just stick there, or maybe do day trips to Oxford, Cambridge or maybe the Cotswolds (stunning).
Bruges is lovely but the guides tell you it was mostly rebuilt after WW2 as it was flattened.
Was just in Bruges in August and did not find this to be the case at all. We stayed in a beautiful garden home off a main house that was built in the 1500’s. Throughout town you’d see building proudly displaying the year they were built, many (maybe most) were built before the birth of the USA. Maybe there was a region of the town that was flattened, but there is a huge amount of architectural history there that’s still standing. This is where we stayed. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/183081 The owner is so kind, and it’s really magical.
What a fun trip to look forward to! Whilst in London eat at Wahaca – I still dream about their taquitos. Seven days in London seems like a lot, I would definitely see if you can sqeeuze in another city for 2-3 days. I visited Dublin about three months ago and (sadly) was a little underwhelmed. You can walk everywhere and see the most popular sites in one day. You could fly to Amsterdam for 2 days (Ryanair and Easyjet have amazing deals). Barcelona is fun and sunny, but personally I would visit Paris. It is such a beautiful place. I wish I could visit it for the first time again.
Whatever you end up doing – have fun and enjoy!
Favorite (FREE! but amazing) London activities: London Museum, Harrods (the stationery department in the basement is one of my favorite places in the world), British Museum, Covent Garden, just strolling the riverbanks. Not free but still worth the price: Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, the London Eye. Have never been to the Imperial War Museum or the War Rooms but definitely want to!
Certainly recommend a day trip to Windsor Castle and Bath. If you’re looking for a good 2 day trip elsewhere in Europe, I would strongly recommend a city like Prague or Budapest. They’re quite small (geographically) and very do-able for a short amount of time, while giving you a completely different flavor for Europe. The benefit of both cities is that they’re also incredibly inexpensive! And you can find a palace of a hotel for not much money.
If I were you, I’d stay in England and visit some of the places outside of London. For Ireland, you could easily get to Dublin but then you wouldn’t be seeing the soul of Ireland which is the west coast. April in England should be nice enough for the countryside. I would go to the Cotswolds for two days and visit places like Daylesford Organic Farm (their location in Notting Hill is divine). In Notting Hill – don’t miss Biscuiteers, Westbourne Grove for shopping and wandering (it’s where Daylesford Organic is), The Hummingbird Bakery for red velvet cupcakes, and Ottolenghi. In South Kensington, wander the King’s Road and visit Sloane Square. Cafe Colbert is the perfect spot for breakfast. In Marylebone, I love The Marylebone Hotel, Daunt Books, La Fromagerie and Emma Bridgewater (the main street, Thayer, is so charming). The Ivy is classic London near the theater district. In St. James/Piccadilly don’t miss Fortnum and Mason, London’s oldest department store, now a multi-level emporium of very English gifts and food. Right near by is Hatchard’s Book Shop, London’s oldest bookshop. And The Wolseley is arguably London’s best breakfast spot.
Have a wonderful trip, Belle!
I did London and Dublin in one trip, and Dublin is very doable in a couple of days. Aer Lingus is a great airline for flights to Dublin/Other Ireland destinations. Cheap, but not like Ryan Air or the other super budget options.
While in Dublin, I stayed at the Ariel House, which I 100% recommend. Beautiful B&B in an old row house, and a block from the Metro.
You can EASILY fill your time in London though, I did 5 days, and there were still many things I didn’t get to. St. Paul’s cathedral is beautiful and the British Museum is a full afternoon, if not a whole day. I would make sure you want to split your time before booking any additional flights.
I lived in London for a year and agree with a lot of what has been said above. London is such a great city for a first trip to Europe!
– Take the Tube everywhere you can. Stations are everywhere, especially in Central London, so you never have to go far to find one or to get out of the rain when you exit a station. London is also really walkable, especially if the weather is nice, so I recommend figuring out where you want to go and then mapping out a few walking routes where you can hit multiple locations in a day of walking. Many of the major attractions are within a comfortable walk from each other!
– Check out the Brick Lane neighborhood for really superb Indian food! It’s some of the best I’ve ever had!
– Follow the LdnCheapEats Instagram account. They have a list of some of the best cheap eats in London on their website, all under 8GBP. Eating out in London can be really expensive over the course of a week, but you can definitely find delicious and cheap options too!
– Afternoon tea is definitely worth the cost. It can be a bit pricey, but it is a quintessential London experience! My friends and I went to The Georgian Restaurant at Harrods, which was a reasonable cost. Some also offer upgrade packages for champagne, if you’re feeling like something a bit more special.
– For shopping, check out the shops in Covent Garden or on Oxford Street. Oxford Street can be a bit overwhelming and crowded, but it’s got tons of great shops and department stores. For touristy gifts, I recommend museum gift shops and Harrods (touristy gifts and snacks from the Food Hall is all I’ve ever been able to actually shop for at Harrods, but the experience is unique).
– Spend an afternoon in Greenwich. The Royal Observatory and Prime Meridian are worth a visit, the parks are gorgeous, and there are tons of really cute pubs and shops scattered around! The best way to get there is to take the Tube/DLR to Island Gardens and then make your way to the river and take the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. It’s a really fun and unique experience!
– The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew Gardens is worth a short trip outside the city. They have some of the most beautiful botanic gardens I’ve ever seen, along with nice guided tours and exhibits.
– Take a boat tour. It sounds super touristy, but even as someone who used to live there, I loved cruising on the river and hearing about the history of some of London’s most iconic buildings during my visit last summer. There are a number of companies that run river cruises, but the live narrated ones are the best (the tour guides are really fun).
– The Crypt Cafe at St Martin’s in the Fields is a fun experience. It’s exactly what it sounds like: You can drink tea or have lunch in the church’s crypt, surrounded by the historic gravestones. The architecture is gorgeous!
– Museums: Definitely go to The British Museum, The National Galleries and the Portrait Gallery, as well as the Tate Modern. The Tate Modern was once a power station and they’ve created a really unique space for modern art, including a huge addition that opened last summer. The Tate Modern also has a really great gift shop with prints, household goods and trinkets that make really fun, unique gifts.
– If you have a chance for a day trip out of the city, Oxford and Cambridge are both beautiful in the spring. The campuses of the Universities have incredible architecture and a lot of really interesting history, plus each city has lots of nice green space and historic pubs and restaurants. And you can rent a boat and go punting on the River Cam!
If you’ve never been to Paris before, I think you can do the highlights in seven days – I did this past October and included two day trips (one to Normandy and one to Versailles).
If you’re looking for some tours in London, I used Context Walking Tours for my Paris trip and they have people in London as well. They do small groups (3-6 people max) and have a bunch of different topics for people. https://www.contexttravel.com/cities/london
I did an incredibly complicated European trip last year involving 4 countries and 8 stops in about 3 weeks (my first overseas trip). It was manageable mainly because once we landed on mainland Europe, we stuck to trains and rental cars to get around. Airports are a huge waste of time, but trains are very easy. I’d recommend Paris by train because of that. I spent four days in Paris and I could have spent a year there without feeling like I saw enough. I did two days in Barcelona and felt the same way. You’ll always want to go back to places that you love.
A few people have mentioned Rick Steves- read not only his guidebooks, but look at the online forums. They’re helpful for things like “which tower of Segrada Familia should you buy tickets for” (I did the nativity tower). You can post questions and people are very helpful. I also really liked the Phaidon city guides for both Barcelona and Paris.
Make sure you update us on which trip you choose- I have very specific museum, restaurant, and general sight-seeing advice!
There are so many good suggestions on this page. I’ll add/reiterate a few. (1) Take a waterproof jacket (not water resistant) with a hood. It’s much easier than carrying an umbrella. It’s damp cold, not dry cold so plan accordingly. (2) I really enjoyed having afternoon tea. There are so many good places. I found several in Rick Steves’ guidebook, which I highly recommend. (3) The British Library is fabulous. (4) I wouldn’t try to fit too much into the trip (e.g. jetting over to Europe). There are plenty of wonderful 1-2 day trips from London within the UK. Some great options: Bath, the Cotswalds, Highclere Castle (not sure if you’re a Downtown Abbey fan) and Edinburgh. It’s easy and beautiful to take the train from London to Edinburgh for an overnight trip. I’ve seen the Cotswalds by small tour van and by person car. They’re definitely better by car since you have the ability to stop wherever and whenever you like, but a tour company is a good option if driving scares you. (5) Finally, I took my mom a few years ago (I was 27; she was 55.), and we had a wonderful time. It was one of my favorite trips. I think the UK is a great way to experience a foreign country/Europe for the first time for many reasons (language, friendliness, ease of getting around, safety, etc.). Enjoy your trip!
You have so many great recommendations already! I don’t think anyone has mentioned the Saatchi Gallery yet. I recommend checking out what is showing there and making a visit if it looks interesting to you. The gallery was important in launching Damien Hirst’s career and the Young British Artist movement. I first went there in high school and it inspired a lifelong interest in contemporary art and design for me.
I agree with the recommendations to look at shorter trips if you want to get out of London, like Bath, Oxford, or Cambridge.
What you should do is bring me along as your tour guide. Don’t let the fact that I’ve never been to London stop you.
Emily Rumble says:
London: National Portrait Gallery is the best gallery in London as far as I’m concerned – small enough that you can see everything, but with some truly amazing paintings. More about the history than the art, but in a good way. Eat at Ottolenghi (there are a few of them). Go to Granger & Co (amazing Australian style cafe). Try Evensong at St Paul’s for an amazing choral experience. Walk across the Millennium Bridge. Do a daytrip to Oxford – it is beautiful (I should know, I live here.)
Don’t go to Scotland or Ireland, or Barcelona. Scotland and Ireland aren’t that different from London, and the weather won’t be great at that time of year. Go to Seville or Granada. They’re both an easy flight from London, are amazing standalone cities in its own respect, and will give you a much better sense of Spanish culture than Barcelona (which is Catalonian rather than ‘Spanish’) – and are just more enjoyable places to visit full stop, to be honest. The best thing is that they are both small enough to see in a couple of days and you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. The Alhambra in Granada is one of the best places I’ve ever been, and in spring it will be glorious. Plus, Spain is one of the most affordable countries in Europe.
Monica T says:
If you want to leave London but don’t want to spend precious time travelling consider seeing things in the local countryside. Oxford is a beautiful town at an easy distance, and you could also arrange a visit to Stonehenge. I think that both Paris and Dublin justify their own trips if you only have a week in London. I spent a month in a little village outside of London and I would just take the train in and wander around. There are so many museums, and squares and parks to explore. Give yourself permission to not see everything in Europe and take the time to absorb this one place. Enjoy yourself!
I also suggest Edinburgh if you’re going to leave London. Flying from London City Airport is extremely easy / much quicker than getting back out to Heathrow or Gatwick. You can find inexpensive mid-week flights and the flight is very short.
Edinburgh is a perfect size city to explore on foot for a couple of days. It has a very different vibe than London. Lots of extremely touristy, kitsch things to explore on the Royal Mile, fantastic architecture and comparison between the Old Town and New Town, historic spots, fun ghost tours, cute pubs, free art museums, etc.
Weather can vary – last March when I visited London it was in the mid 30’s (F) the entire trip and rainy, whereas the year before when I visited I didn’t need more than a cardigan for the entire week and it was unseasonably sunny and warm.
In London, I loved visiting Hampton Court Palace – a quick train ride out of the city and perfect for a short day trip.
I had tea at Sketch (as seen on every London blogger’s Instragram/Real Housewives), and while it was pricey, it was a very memorable experience and something I highly reccommend (and I definitely took advantage of the unlimited sandwich aspect of tea). I don’t think the London Eye is worth the price. Climbing to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral was more my style.
If you’re in London on a Sunday, going to a church service at Westminster Abbey is a great way to experience it even if you’re not particularly religious. Also, check out the royals’ schedule for when you’re in town. I’ve been lucky enough to see every member of the royal family (except Prince Harry) at various events in my travels to the UK and that’s a fun thing to be able to say.
And for beauty tips, beware of travel adapters for flat irons – I definitely blew more than 1 fuse with my US GHD in London and may have started a small fire in my hotel in Edinburgh. Just something to keep in mind.
Oh and as a lawyer, I had to stop at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (just across the street from Westminster Abbey) and open to the public. I dragged my 2 friends in with me to listen to a tort case. I had a ball – found a few cases I had read in 1L – they were less than thrilled. But it was a fun (and can be a quick) experience!
R SIrey says:
I would second the recommendations for :
– Cabinet War Rooms
– Hop on hop off bus. If you just sit and go round on your first day, when you’re a bit too jet-lagged to think straight, you will have seen all the “must-do’s”, got a feel for where things are relative to one another, and hopefully kept awake – and you won’t have got frustrated trying to find your way around while your brain’s not firing on all cylinders.
– Tower of London -but consider going in the evening for the Ceremony of the Keys. You have to book ahead, as there are limited numbers – but you get to see the Beefeaters (Yeoman Warders) carrying out a centuries old ritual, with relatively few other visitors about.
– Boat trip down the river – go to Greenwich and see the old Royal Observatory, stand astride the Greenwich Meridian with one foot in each hemisphere. And see the city go past as you go. Greenwish is also nice to wander around (you could even try the pie and mash shop….)
– Globe Theatre – you can do the tour and exhibition, even if there aren’t any performances (https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/exhibition-and-tour)
– Oyster cards for travel
I would also add to that a visit to the Skygarden (https://skygarden.london/). It’s in the City, so you will see a bit of the Square Mile (and the Bank of England). It’s free, but you have to book ahead online. I would say go before 11:00am to avoid too many people and a queue. It’s opposite to the Shard, and looks down into the Tower of London, amongst other things – there are views all around. There’s also a coffee shop and a bar, as well as the indoor garden from which it gets its name.
If you’re interested, you can now also visit the viewing gallery of Tower Bridge (https://www.towerbridge.org.uk/)- again, book online in advance.
Walk up Whitehall from the Houses of Parliament and look through the railings into Downing Street, see the Cenotaph, pause to look at the guards on duty outside Horse Guards (you can stand next to the horse and rider and have your photo taken – but do not put your fingers anywhere near the soldier’s very highly polished boots – it causes them palpitations!). Oh, and you can see the changing of the Life Guards, too, which is less weel-known nad therefore less crowded than teh ceremony at Buckingham Palace (see https://changing-guard.com/queens-life-guard.html).
Food: Indian food is indeed very good (or can be) in the UK. Thinking of the things I noticed by their absence when I lived in the US, I would recommend that you try meat pies (steak and kidney is traditional, but there are others if you don’t like kidneys); bangers and mash; fish and chips (get a recommendation for somewhere good in your vicinity); scones – do get ones with clotted cream; and steamed sponge pudding (preferably one with golden syrup). For a quick and informal lunch, try a (hot) bacon sandwich.
For hotels, I can highly recommend B+B Belgravia (https://www.bb-belgravia.com/index.php), which is close to Victoria Station (tube, bus station, tour buses, mainline station) and a short walk from Buckingham Palace as well as Hyde Park Corner.
As regards the long flight and jet lag, I always found travelling back to the UK (i.e. west to east) was worse than the journey out to the US. I would recommend minimising alcohol and cafeein intake on the flight, maximise hydration by drinking lots of water, and sleep as much as possible (I am convinced after years of frequent travel, much of it long-haul, that a good part of jet-lag is actually overtiredness from lack of sleep). I do find a neck pillow helps with that by saving you from a stiff neck when your head lolls to one side. When you arrive, take a shower if you can; then get out into the light, keep moving, and try to stay awake (but without heavy caffeine intake, which will dehydrate you.)
(Oh, and if it’s your thing, visit Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station (I gather there’s a Harry Potter shop there now)
Belle, it looks like you have a ton of great ideas here. Sorry if any of mine are a repeat but I guess that is just another vote for that activity 🙂
Food and drink:
– Monmouth coffee in the Seven Dials district is PHENOMENAL and you really should go there if you like coffee. Buy a pound or two to bring home too.
– The best place for high tea is the Savoy, hands down.
– I saw you say in an earlier comment that your parents don’t drink. If *you* would like to have one of the best cocktail experiences ever, I really recommend going back to the Savoy in the evening for a visit to their champagne bar. The prices are totally out of this world but it is so cool. They have an entire drink list of drinks named after famous people who have stayed at the Savoy in years past, and the contents of the drinks are based on what those people loved or would have loved to drink while they were there. They have jazz singers/pianists who play regularly and the place is quite small so it’s really an intimate affair. Highly recommend.
– If you are in the mood for Michelin star restaurants, we ate at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay the last time we were in London and we were not disappointed. The food was fabulous. We are going again this summer and want to try Ottolenghi.
– Remember that all European stores charge VAT, which you can then get refunded at the airport on your way home. I am fairly sure the “qualifying amount” for a refund is 150 GBP (in Europe it is 150 EUR). For this reason, it makes sense to consolidate your purchases where possible – e.g. if you want to shop at Reiss in Seven Dials, then do it all at once rather than going back two or three times and buying one item each time. You need to ask for the VAT refund when you are at the store so that they give you the appropriate form. Many stores will require you to give them your passport number to include on the form at the time they fill it out. This can be a huge PITA if you are out and about without your passport, find something amazing, and try to buy it only to realize you won’t get your VAT form because you don’t have your passport number. I recommend either carrying your passport with you (probably safer than you think), or carrying a photocopy, or writing the number down somewhere and keeping that in your purse at all times. Then you won’t miss out on great spur-of-the-moment opportunities 🙂
– Speaking of VAT, the easiest way to claim your refund is AFTER you have gone through security, rather than before (when you are coming back to the US). But in order to claim the VAT after security, you need to make sure you bring all of the items you are claiming the VAT refund for with you in your carry-on. It’s a pain, but the line is usually quite a bit shorter once you’re past security. Bring a foldable Longchamp duffle for this purpose and call it a day. (Technically you are not supposed to use or wear any of the items you’re claiming VAT on either, but honestly I always break that rule and have never, ever been called on it.)
– Speaking of the airport, shopping at Heathrow is the. best. I highly recommend giving yourself extra time at the airport if you are going through Heathrow on the way home so that you can shop. Seriously…
– Harrods is wonderful, but annoying because it is so busy alllll the time. Go first thing in the morning and expect to stay a couple of hours at most, regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend. It is definitely worth going (so amazing to see all of the different levels and food halls – the food halls!!!) but be warned that it could be a trying experience. (My then-boyfriend now-husband was very glad when we left and we went for store opening, so it wasn’t even as bad as it could have been.) Also, be wary of buying things at Harrods that you could buy elsewhere. It has the lowest VAT refund rate I have ever seen. Most stores give you 10-15% back; Harrods gives you like 5%. Not worth it.
– There is a Laduree in Harrods that is absolutely worth going to since you have never been to Europe. They ship the macarons in daily from Paris.
– I also love Liberty of London (obviously) and Penhaligons (absolutely obsessed with their rose soap).
Things to do:
– You are / used to work in government so you may enjoy a tour of the Houses of Parliament. My husband and I loved this tour because we are Canadian and therefore very familiar with the British style of government, but I think you may enjoy it too. You get to see the House of Lords as well, which used to be the highest court of appeal for all Commonwealth countries and still is for a select few. You need to book this in advance though – do it online long before you go, rather than waiting until you’re actually in London.
– Get a tube pass. It’s really easy to get around London and way cheaper than cabbing. You can also use them on buses which are surprisingly easy to navigate as well.
– I echo the sentiments of many commenters that Churchill’s War Rooms are super cool and worth seeing.
– If you’re a museum person, plan for at least a day in the British Museum. We only had an afternoon and it was too short. The food there is very good so you don’t have to worry about leaving for lunch or snacks.
– If you are a Harry Potter person, go on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. It is amazing!!! (And even interesting for people who are not fans of or don’t know the books, but like the movies, because it’s just like being on one giant movie set.)
– Windsor Castle is neat and I think worth seeing. Queen Mary’s doll house is the bomb dot com. Go early and book your tickets in advance so that you can stand in the fast line.
– The Tower of London is kind of meh and juvenile (it’s really more like a kid’s museum) but if you feel compelled to go because it’s your first time in London, I don’t think it is time wasted. You definitely don’t need to plan a whole day around it though.
General Europe tip: whatever you do, do not let yourself sleep on the day you arrive until at least 9 pm. If you nap or go to bed any earlier, you will not get over the jetlag and you will spend the entire trip waking up at 5 or 6 am. I completely echo the commenters who said to book something to do on the day you arrive to prevent this from happening.
Have an amazing time! We are going back to London in July and I cannot wait.
There’s a lot of good advice here! I’d add:
– If you’re staying in a hotel, maximize their concierge service, especially for tours, day trips, plays or restaurants. A lot of restaurants require advance reservations, but your concierge can help a lot.
– Give yourself a light first day to plan for jet lag, and try to get used to the local time right away
– I like to do the hop on/hop off double decker tours at the beginning of a trip. It helps to orient yourself to the city and get a good overview.
– The cafe at St. Martin in the Fields isn’t super cheap, but is cool: https://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/cafe-in-the-crypt/
– Lunch at the Ritz– there are more hip places to eat, but it’s beautiful: https://www.hotel-r.net/im/hotel/gb/the-ritz-london-3.jpg
– Comfortable shoes– cobblestones are no joke.
– As far as weather, would recommend layers
– The American Chapel at St. Paul’s: https://www.explore-stpauls.net/oct03/textMM/AmericanMemorialN.htm
– Eating at the Savoy– gorgeous
– do a high tea, a lot of the nicer hotels like Brown’s do them, would be fun to do
– Hampton Court! Not a quickie but worth it. https://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/opening-times/#gs.1owVFWY
– The V&A is vast– don’t plan on doing the whole thing in one day. I’d recommend doing a wing or a portion of it. Loved it.
– The British Museum, The Tate, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, Trafalgar Square
– I’d do a day trip in the UK *unless* you and the boyfriend take a day and night to go to Paris for a romantic, quick trip. Paris is it’s own destination, but if you go with the BF, just soak up the ambience, visit the Eiffel Tower, have a nice dinner and walk along the Seine. It really is romantic and my favorite neighborhood is Marais.
– Lastly, because you’re traveling with your parents, I wanted to add that my mom travelled to London and Edinburgh by herself in her 50’s and early 60’s. People were incredibly considerate and helpful to her. You’ll all have a great experience!
totally 2nd the Harry Potter tour!! Its a full day, book tickets for a morning arrival and you take the ‘knight bus’ to the studios.
My family went to London the last week of March of last year and we loved every moment of it. We used the London Pass for 6 days which came with the Oyster Card for transportation. The Tube is fantastic but you will see much more by taking the bus when possible. Get a Tube app and you will not have any difficulty especially since you know the system in DC (very similar). The Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s, Tower of London and Windsor Castle are must-sees. A bus tour (part of the London Pass) at the start of your trip is great for orienting yourself within the city. Check out one of the markets for lunch and definitely check out a show at one of the theaters. Of course, you have to go to Harrod’s and make sure you find the center escalator. We only stayed in London but next time we would definitely take the Chunnel to Paris or go to Edinburgh for an overnight trip. We stayed in the Parsons Green neighborhood and it was lovely. We found it through AirBnB.
Bring comfortable shoes. Everyone was in low-heeled booties or tall boots. I brought rain boots and only needed them once although there was a chance of rain every day. Bring a warm coat as well. I only had a trench coat so I definitely needed warm sweaters and a scarf. Jeans were acceptable everywhere we went. We went to Westminster Abbey on Easter Sunday and everyone was dressed in smart-casual clothing.
Stay up as late as possible the first night to avoid jet lag. Our first day we arrived around noon and by the time we got out of customs and got to our rental is was 3 pm. We dropped our stuff and quickly went to pick up our London Passes (mastered the Tube right away) which was next door to the National Portrait Gallery. We had a quick bite to eat and then went into the museum as it was open well into the evening. We were so excited to just be there that we pushed through it.
Enjoy planning your trip. We love it and plan to go back as soon as possible!
I’m not sure why you reject Paris and consider Barcelona, as it is much further to get to Barcelona. You will also be needing to pack for two entirely different weather systems. I love Barcelona very much (and will be making my third trip there this summer), but it would really depend on how long you can stay there to know if it’s worth it. If I were in your shoes I’d either zip up to Scotland or go to Paris or even Amsterdam, which is a great, compact city which is extremely walkable and doesn’t take a long time to see (I went last May and it was superb). I love Paris too, but there are things about it which irritate me (I have spent a lot of time there so it’s not high on my list). My friend was in London and Paris in April a couple of years ago and she said it was absolutely freezing. Be prepared for everything, and although some comments above eschew rain gear, I cannot stand being cold and wet so I always pack it. Having spent lots of time living and travelling in various European cities, I can tell you that when it’s cold, windy and wet outside, you will wish you packed the following: a) a nice cozy scarf for your neck b) a jacket with a hood, c) an umbrella (though you can buy one there), and d) a nice thin pair of long underwear. Trust me on this.
Buy your Euros here, it’s probably a better exchange (I’m Canadian. I always do that) but don’t take wads of cash. I use Visa and ATMs all over Europe with no trouble. Make sure you have a 4 digit PIN number. Almost everything there uses a chip card. I won’t give you sightseeing pointers. You’ve got plenty already!
There were a lot of great ideas/advice above so I’ll keep it short and sweet: I’ve done London/ Paris in about 10 days time so I would recommend that route. It was doable but we were running around like crazy ( that’s how I prefer my vacations when I travel). London was MUCH more fashion forward then I anticipated and I sometimes felt under dressed, even for touristy stuff. Paris seemed more laid back, maybe because Parisian style is more effortless? It’s hard to run around to other cities with a huge suitcase so less is definitely a more enjoyable vacation. Have fun!
Check the specifications of your electrical items: remember that the voltage in the UK is 240V, not the 110/120V of the US.
Yes, second Anon. Make sure you bring an adapter for your electricals. London also has different plugs than the rest of Europe so be aware. https://www.amazon.com/Ceptics-Travel-Plug-Adapter-Type/dp/B0080R95XI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485304946&sr=8-1&keywords=london+power+adapter
Also, I highly recommend you do the day trips instead of trying to jet to other areas. You’ll be able to stay in your hotel all week and not be constantly repacking, and you’ll get a great feel for that part of Europe.
I’ve heard Edinburgh is incredible.
There’s already a lot of great advice. Having traveled to England with my parents, who are well seasoned at international travel, I would recommend staying in England. Personally, I think a week for London is good, there is SO many cool things to see. To work in some “English Countryside” Chester, York, Cambridge and Conway (in Wales) or Windsor Castle all make for good day trips from London and give you a completely different perspective of the country, it would also be a nice way to break up your days in London and give your feet and parents a rest with a little train ride and scenery. If you’re set on doing another place, Dublin or Edinburgh make a lot of sense. Paris and Barcelona are their own trips in my opinion.
Some other things:
-The weather is damp, wool socks are your friends and because it’s damp, its always colder than you think
-Good shoes that are comfortable are a MUST but also dressier (I couldn’t get into tea at a hotel downtown because my leather oxfords were too casual)
-I always feel the English are better dressed, don’t assume Jeans as a standard and go for black pants/business casual over just casual
-Converters and power adapters are so important to get here before you go.
-If you’re checking a bag, make sure you have some essentials, 2 paris of underwear and a change of clothes in your carryon, this way you can wash one/wear one if your bag goes missing…
-My mother swears by compression socks for the plane because her feet tend to swell
-I put a pair of fuzzy socks in my purse for the plane to take my shoes off/put on so I can curl up and nap
-throw a couple of ziploc bags in your carry on, you never know 😉
-Noise cancelling headphones are a lifesaver, they turn out the loud engine noise and cut way down on travel fatigue in my opinion, so if you’re going to spluge a little on things for this trip, I’d strong consider them.
-Eat a scone with clotted cream at least once
-Try some real ales
-I love the parliament tour and the British Museum
-My favorite travel guides are the DK Series, they never disappoint and the London book has good maps and some nice context/history
April is great time to visit London, in summer the city’s more tourist locations can feel crowded. And April weather can pleasantly surprise you.
Public transport: get a regular (pay as you go) oyster card. They cost a £5.00 deposit and an initial top-up. The £5.00 deposit on new Oyster cards is refundable at ticket shops. The daily cap, the maximum price you can pay on one day, for zone 1+2 is set at £6.60. The tube can be bit confusing but free maps are available at the entrances.
Theatre: The globe is a modern reconstruction of an Elizabethan playhouse from the early 1600’s. Unfortunately the summer program in the outdoor globe theatre will not start until late April. However the indoor theatre (Sam Wanamaker playhouse) inspired by 17th century playhouses is equally beautiful. Early April will feature performances of John Webster’s The White Devil and Othello.
Museums and coffee/lunchbreaks: Most are already mentioned. If you go to the Victoria and Albert museum or find yourself nearby, visit the tearoom museum cafe. Combine a visit to the National Gallery or the portrait gallery with a short visit to the Cafe in the Crypt under St. Martins. The Tower is worth the high entrance fee (£25,- and over 60s receive a £5 discount). Near the tower is a star bucks hidden in the St. Katherine’s Docks located in a lovely historic building. Tate Moderns open viewing terrace offers great view of the London skyline.
Parks: If the weather allow visit one of the many cityparks (Kensington gardens, Hyde)
-Greenwich (Old Royal Naval College, national maritime museum)
-Windsor castle and the Hampton court palace
-Oxford is under 1h30m by train (buy tickets in advance). Can be done with a morning and evening train or stay the night.
2 day trip suggestions:
-Rent a car and drive to Stonehenge (2h) and visit Bath next (40m drive). Drive back through the North Wessex Downs AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and finish with Windsor castle.
-Rent a car and drive to Canterbury, visit Walmer castle & gardens and Dover castle and the white cliffs. Stay the night in Broadstairs (a small seaside town with a Victorian past).
-Fly to Edinburgh. Flybe offers return flights from London City Airport from £100. The flight is around 1h30m.
Cities as Paris and Barcelona are great and you can see the major highlights of cities as Paris and Barcelona in a day. But lower budget EU airlines are starting to offer flights to the East Coast . Prices for Trans-Atlantic flights to European capitals are expected to go down in the next few years.
I second visiting Dover Castle! If you were considering a trip to the beaches of Normandy, this is a similar experience. The Normandy landings were planned in Dover Castle, and there’s an amazing historical tour that goes over what an integral part it played in WWII. Was a highlight of studying abroad there.
If you have seven days, see the UK! Visit the Peak District and see the Chatsworth House, you’ll recognize it as Darcy’s estate in Pride and Prejudice (https://www.chatsworth.org/). In April the mornings will be foggy and you’ll feel like Jane Eyre walking through the moors…Also, Oxford is also definitely worth the trip.
Visiting Greenwich and the Royal Observatory was something both my dad and I really enjoyed, if there are any naval history buffs in your family make sure you go. Take a boat to get there (they take off from Embankment and sail under the Tower bridge!) and then the tube on the way back so you can see how much has been built along the wharf’s.
And finally, the National Gallery & National Portrait Gallery are truly magnificent. Make sure you at least peak in.
We Love To Travel says:
– Schedule a full day for the British Museum. Elgin marbles. Rosetta Stone. Egyptian wing. It’s the London version of the Met. Great shop, too.
– High tea at the Mayfair. Or anywhere. Sandwiches. Scones with lemon curd and Devonshire cream.
Belgium is a short train ride away from London – in fact, when I visited Belgium in 2010 I extended my stay for a few days to see London, so I can vouch for the convenience! I went from Antwerp to London, but if I recall correctly traveling between London & Brussels would be even more convenient (one train ride instead of two). Honestly I wasn’t crazy about London, but the best thing I did while I was there was immerse myself in the British Museum, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Be prepared to be asked your politics. The new American President is a big talking point just now, especially with anyone from America. Also be aware that the view is pretty strongly anti-Trump and so you could end up in a debate. Cabbies are notorious for wanting to discuss current affairs. I’d advise treating the subject the same way the Scots treat the topic of religion. Something not to be discussed at any cost.
I’m not a Trump voter, so I probably wouldn’t end up in a debate.
Definitely, come to Ireland. *Open invite to be your tour guide* If you pick either Cork or Dublin, fly direct on an early flight and back to London on a late flight (commuter flights), you can explore the cities and a little of the countryside while you’re here. It will be the best of both worlds! I wouldn’t recommend fitting both in as it’s a three hour road/bus/rail journey and probably not worth squeezing them both in.
In Dublin you have Oscar Wilde’s House, lovely parks, our parliament is fab (James Hoban, architect of the White House originally designed our Leinster House), then you have the Guinness Experience, Trinity College and the ancient Book of Kells, the Leprechaun museum if you’re looking for kitsch, really cool shops, and fun pubs with Irish music- you’ll be happy to stay out all night with your parents, without it becoming an inappropriate bar. But Dublin is pricey as the capital city has a higher cost of living.
In Cork, you have a cosmopolitan small city, with pretty much all of the benefits of Dublin-cobbled streets included-, plus Blarney Castle (yes you can kiss the Blarney Stone), Blackrock Observatory which is great, again cute stores and pubs, would definitely recommend going to Kinsale the sea side town that is the food capital of Ireland just twenty minutes outside of the city, which has loads of craft stores too. Also University College Cork is beautiful and the quad is pretty much a copy for Hogwarts, so is worth a visit.
I’m a native of Cork, living in Dublin, so can offer both perspectives. If you do decide to visit Ireland, drop me an email and I can give more in-depth advice on where to stay etc., and more tips. I really would recommend it!
Tons of great suggestions here! I’m in the go to Paris camp. I spent a year in Normandy, and I love it dearly and go back as much as I can. But for such a short trip I’d cut down travel time and go to Paris.
Also, when you are in France, it is my opinion that the French get a bad reputation for being rude because they get annoyed when tourists don’t even make the tiniest of efforts to speak any French. A simple “Excusez-moi, parlez vous anglais?” goes a looooonnnngggg way! It’s respectful, and most people are happy to help you! And most people speak at least a little English.
If you decide against Paris, Dublin and Stratford-Upon-Avon are both great in their own ways. Dublin is extremely friendly and fun, and in Stratford-Upon-Avon you can tour Shakespeare’s birthplace and (last time I was there….10 years ago) you can buy day-of cheap Globe Theater tickets and see a show. I saw Judy Dench in the Merry Wives of Windsor!
Have so much fun!
Belle, how exciting for you! I hope you have a wonderful trip!
First off, I strongly recommend buying a good guidebook. It will pay for itself many times over by saving you time, money, and energy, and it will help you have a better experience overall. My favorite guidebooks are by Rick Steves. He has a wonderful travel philosophy, and he has separate editions for London and the UK. His books offer recommendations on restaurants, sights, transportation, and hotels that are worth their value, as well as recommendations on how to allot your time and make the most of your trip. Then, the ultimate decisions are up to you. I’ve used his books to plan at least a dozen trips to Europe alone to squeeze the most out of every travel minute and experience. Oh, and cover your guidebook using pretty paper or a brown paper bag like we did in high school…that way you won’t stick out like a tourist (read: potential target).
In terms of what to pack: layers, layers, layers. Generally, I suggest packing as little as possible…seriously. More clothes won’t make for a better trip. I find that the less I bring, the more mobile I am, which gives me more time to see and experience a country. And there’s always the laundromat if you need to wash clothes…which is a great way to meet locals and really get in touch with a country and its people beyond the major sightseeing stops. Now specific suggestions…A waterproof jacket with a hood is also a must, preferably something that takes up little room and can be rolled up and stuck in your purse when not needed. Comfortable shoes are a must, though wearing running shoes tends to mark you as an American. Although I love fashion, when I travel to Europe, I find that outdoor/active wear are good choices (think REI). Leave your heels at home as you’ll confront cobblestone streets and plenty of stairs when riding the Tube or visiting sites. Wicking fabrics keep you cool when its warm, dry quickly when they get wet, are very durable, and pack well, so you won’t look like a rumpled mess when you wear something you’ve pulled out of your suitcase. Along these lines, you might consider a pair of hiking pants–no, not the kind with zip off leg sections. Those are too conspicuous! Look for a pair of tan or gray that look very similar to regular pants. They’ll work for a wide variety of temperatures (how do they make them to do that?!), and you can wear them multiple times without them looking like it. Also, while you may not win any fashion awards for such attire, the goal is to be comfortable, though it’s also a good idea not to be too conspicuous as an American tourist, and a novice American tourist to boot. The most important single item you’ll need to buy is a money belt that you can conceal under your clothes and use to hold your passport, credit cards, and most of the cash you are carrying. You can carry a small amount of cash in your pocket (preferably a zipped pocket) or a wallet. If you think this is a little overboard, consider the impact and hassle you’ll face if someone picks your pocket, steals your purse or slices your bag’s shoulder strap and runs off. You’ll be spending hours if not days trying to get a replacement passport, tickets, and funds…but not if all your valuables are safe in your money belt beneath your clothes!! Better safe than sorry. A small purse is a good idea…just big enough to fit your guidebook. Carry as little in it as possible. Try to keep your hands free.
Consider staying in Belgravia.
While it’s true that Paris is tantalizingly close and it is one of my top three favorite places in the world, discipline yourself and focus on the UK while you’re there. There’s so much to see and do in and around London that you certainly won’t run out of wonderful and worthy sights and experiences. Dividing your time between London and Paris on a 7 day trip will only leave you wanting more of both. So, I recommend saving Paris for another trip when you can truly devote yourself entirely to that wonderful city. [And when you do go to Paris, make it at least two weeks. Devoted part of the trip to Paris with a day trip to Versailles. Then rent a car in Paris, drive out and tour the Normandy Coast and part devoted to some combination of Loire Valley chateaus (Chenonceau! Chambord!) and D-day beaches (make time to go to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial…you’ll remember it depicted in Saving Private Ryan)…and make sure to make time for at least at day at Mont Saint-Michel (google for photos, you’ll be enchanted), which can be a bit touristy during the day but magical in the early morning and evening when most of the tourists have left.]
Ok, back to the UK trip. In London, I suggest devoting a day to the Tower of London (more than just a tower…leave plenty of time for a Beefeater Tour, see the crown jewels, and to explore the complex) and checking out Tower Bridge (right next to ToL). You can spend a day checking out Banqueting House, taking a photo outside the PM’s house at Downing Street, seeing Big Ben and Parliament, and visiting Westminster Abbey and maybe taking a ride on the London Eye. Devote a day to the British Museum. Definitely see Churchill’s war rooms. You can spend another day just taking a historical walking tour that touches places like Covent Garden and Piccadilly or just explore neighborhoods like the East End or Notting Hill. Devote a day or two to taking an side trip to Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor, where you can see Windsor Castle and St. George’s Chapel–all of these sights are easily accessible from London and if you don’t want to drive you can see these sights with a bus tour. Another side trip option is the Cotswolds.
Have an amazing time and embrace the travel experiences that come your way. I hope your trip ignites in you a love of Europe that never goes out.
If you want to go to the theatre but are not absolutely committed to a particular show, it’s worth checking the ticket booth in Leicester Square (https://www.tkts.co.uk/whats-on-sale/) for discounted last-minute tickets.
Denise B says:
Having just returned from a quick trip to Edinburgh, I would highly recommend it! I spent 4 days in Paris after Edinburgh and there were still things that I would have loved to do but didn’t have a chance. Edinburgh is cosmopolitan, medieval, magical, quaint, but still small enough that a couple of days will definitely do it justice!
Travel planning is one of my favorite things to do! I wish you luck and excitement while you plan your next journey!
Oh my gosh. How timely. I just got back from a week in London (with 2 days in Oxford). I summer studied abroad in Oxford and made four-day long trip to Paris during that summer–don’t do it this trip. Save it for next time. It needs its own week. London is more than enough. You’ll wear yourself out. Oxford is an hour by train from London Paddington Station.
I brought very comfortable black booties and sneakers and a rain shell to layer over a light package jacket. It only drizzled two days.
I stayed in South Kensington at the Doubletree, which was wonderful, close to the tube, and relatively affordable.
Here’s my itinerary, generally, and would be happy to share more:
Days 1: Arrive in morning, nap for 2 hours, go to the Victoria and Albert Museum for decorative arts. Dinner at the back room of the Angelsea Arms Pub.
Day 2: East London-ish
Breakfast at Muriels’ Kitchen (full English). Tower of London, Walk across Tower Bridge, Walk to Borough Market. Walk back across the Thames to Old Bank pub (in a bank!). Detour to see the memorial to the great fire. Tube over to Tayyabs for dinner (Pakistani). Then, a pub, of course.
Day 3: Culture!
British Museum. Lunch at Dishoom (Indian). Walk to Trafalgar Square. National Gallery. Walk down in the twilight to Big Ben/Parliament. See a theater show. Highly recommend the Globe Theater-they have a theater open in cold weather, too. I saw The Little Matchgirl by candlelight. Dinner late at St. John for British cuisine.
Day 4: Tradition/Westminter
Breakfast at Regency Cafe, an old school institution. Westminster Abbey. Go to Parliament if it’s open. If not, try the Jewel Tower and the Banqueting House nearby, Banqueting house is unbelievable and under-rated. In the evening, train from Paddington Station to Oxford.
Day 5 & 6: Oxford
We stayed at the Old Parsonage Inn, loved it. Breakfast at Vault & Garden. Sign up ahead of time for a tour of the Bodleian Library. Tour some of the colleges (Christ Church especially. They also have a chapel service with their phenomenal choir at 6pm most days, check). There’s a chapel Ashmolean Museum. Pitts River Museum. Check out the Covered Market, a collection of shops, and grab a sandwich. Try pubs! Eagle & Child, Lamb & Flag, The Royal Oak, The Bear. Try cask ale. Have high tea at Macdonald Randolph Hotel. Go up University Church of St Mary the Virgin to see a view of the city. Oxford also has great shopping. I loved Nora’s antiques. There are also excellent map/print shops.
The last day, we traveled back to London via train and went to one of the many museums open late on Friday night. Then, we had a late dinner at Gymkhanka, the best upscale Indian food I’ve ever had. https://www.gymkhanalondon.com/ We stayed near Victoria Station to catch the train to Gatwick very early.
I hope this helps!
These links helped with restaurants:
Best Cheap Eats: https://www.timeout.com/london/food-drink/londons-best-cheap-eats
Best Restaurants: https://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/best-restaurants-in-london
38 Essential London Restaurants https://www.eater.com/maps/best-london-restaurants
10 best pubs for food https://www.thedailymeal.com/travel/10-best-london-pubs-food
Best historical pubs https://drinks.seriouseats.com/2014/01/best-pubs-london-historical-bars-england-where-to-drink.html
Essential London Food https://www.seriouseats.com/2013/12/british-bites-guide-essential-london-food.html
Where should I eat in London? https://www.seriouseats.com/2011/04/where-to-eat-in-london-cheap-lunches-brunch-borough-market.html
Lots of great suggestions here. I have visited London over nine times:). I love the city, and I’m sure I will go again. I liked staying near Holborn, or a more central location. Kensington may be nice if you are with family, but personally, I felt it always required the tube…though the more central locations are chaotic, I love to walk, so 6- 12 km a day does not phase me, and it is nice to be close to shopping and food.
I suggest visiting the National Gallery, the British museum, the Coutald institute, various historic churches,as well as the V&A, especially if you like art…visit shops and stroll in between meals, and before a play/ show at night.
Two nights in Paris is what I would do again… I have spent over ten nights in Paris, and a night inNormandy, but for a shorter time just go and enjoy the louvre, and muse d’orsay, as well as the Rodin Museum, and les invalided.
Actual walking shoes…that look good, rather than fashion shoes that are walkable is key. For April, something like flat booties, a flat walking shoe that can be dressed up, and maybe a slick and walkable running shoe. I’m lucky I have custom orthotics, so I can pop them in most shoes…remember, your feet will hurt and be miserable with the wrong shoes.
Enjoy your trip and remember …you cannot possible see everything at once, so just plan to return again like I did:)
Emily Tifft says:
I highly recommend going to Oxford! It’s only an hour away from London by bus, and you can do it in one day. Oxford is very walkable, and the Turf Tavern is a really fun hidden-away pub (There’s a sign on the wall marking where Bill Clinton came to smoke pot as a Rhodes Scholar!). There are walking tours of the city, and all of the colleges are gorgeous. The covered market also has great food and shops.
Edinburgh is so great. See the castle and Holyroodhouse Palace for sure. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, grab a meal or snack at The Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote the first sketches of the stories about The Boy Who Lived. If you’re not a fan, eat there anyway in the late afternoon. Sit in the back room and watch the sunset over the castle. 13 years later, I still remember it vividly. A ghost tour there is pretty fun, too.
I studied abroad at Oxford one summer and love the town. Christ Church College and Cathedral is a must (Lewis Carroll wrote the Alice in Wonderland books while a tutor there), as is the Bodleian Library (it’s the repository library for the U.K., like the LOC is for the US). Oxford’s pubs are pretty cool, too. The Bear dates back to 1242 and the Turf (down an alley of an alley) is where Bill did not inhale. The Ashmolean art museum and the Pitt Rivers anthropological museum are great stops. Any of the colleges are beautiful to tour, but they may limit visitors if you’re there during term. All Souls chapel stands out as particularly beautiful and memorable. Several college chapels play host to classical and chamber music concerts in the evenings. Go punting on on the Isis (as the Thames is called there). The Botanic Garden will probably be in or near full bloom. Man, I want to go back!
The Lake District is wonderful. The scenery will blow you away. Wordsworth and other poets lived in the region.
I also loved spending an afternoon in Stratford-on-Avon. Did the tour of Shakespeare’s homes and caught “King Lear” at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Other than the standard London tourists stops (hello shiny Crown Jewels), I was thrilled to see a play at the rebuilt Globe. I got groundling tickets for the full experience.
In case it’s not abundantly obvious, I was an English minor and still am an English history buff. 🙂
Mary L says:
So excited for you, Belle, and you’ve already gotten lots of good advice. I studied abroad in London and have been to England probably twenty times at this point (family trips and now an English boyfriend who grew up in West London). And I can confirm what others have said, it never ever gets old. To that end, I agree with those who say plan some day trips out of the city but don’t try to cram travel to other countries…unless you truly think you’ll never go back to Paris, then get thee to Paris. Do the touristy stuff in London, it’s all basically worth it. The National Portrait Gallery is my favorite museum in the world (it’s a walk through western history) but the Wallace Collection is a fabulous small museum/former private collection with glass roof covered garden like the Portrait Gallery here in DC. Also like DC the cool neighborhoods with fun restaurants now are the ones that no one went to 10-15 years ago, particularly a place like Brixton. Practical stuff: A 25″ roller suitcase is the largest you’d ever want, otherwise you’ll get over the weight limit. Do not expect to wear flats every day, your feet will freeze with the damp. Accept that your hair will frizz but your facial skin will love the damp. Yes, mid-size cross body bag all day every day for comfort and security–love the Lo&Sons Pearl and you can convert it to clutch. Don’t count on getting to change for dinner, so you don’t need as much as you think. Jeans (colors or black fine too) and skinny black pants will serve you well. You don’t need a lot of dressy clothes or “outfits” in what I consider the American sense, stylish separates are good enough and flexible…especially for those of us who might be over 30! The items on your “weekend packing list” post from maybe 2011 (!?) have been transferred from planner to planner for me for years. I’m loving the chance to pay back the advice. Love your attitude always and keep chasing away that black dog, one step at a time. xoxo
Paris and Edinburgh are both amazing and relatively close, but seven days in (and around) London barely scratches the surface. Plus, both Paris and Edinburgh take a lot longer to get to than it first seems and since your plane tickets are in and out of London, you’ll have to make the journey twice (and possibly, depending on your flight times, come back to London the evening before your flight), which can cut into your fun time.
Take Paris, for example. The Eurostar takes approx 2.5 hours, but you have arrive at the station at least 30-45 minutes before your train. If you are staying in Kensington, plan on about 30 minutes to get to St. Pancras, plus whatever time you’ll need to get from Gare du Nord to your hotel in Paris (few metro stations in Paris have an escalator, so you’ll want to take a taxi). There is also a time difference of an hour, so the travel time adds up…especially if you have to do it twice (and come back the day before your flight).
If you are keen to go to Edinburgh, don’t fly, take the train. The train takes the same amount of time as flying but is more scenic and relaxing (not counting dragging your suitcases through the station and on and off the train).
As much as I love Edinburgh and Paris, I’d make London my base and work in a couple of day trips.
For me, hiking pants and weatherproof gear are overkill. A field jacket and a something like a leather jacket or peacoat do the trick, while still looking cool. Unless it is very windy, and umbrella is perfectly acceptable. I’d also skip the money belt, it isn’t necessary and reaching, literally, into your pants to retrieve money seems super awkward. And don’t change your money before your leave, use an cash machine/ATM once your arrive.
Also, many restaurants in London include a service charge on the bill, in this case, you do not need to tip (you also don’t need to tip at pubs). If there is no service included on the bill, tip–10-15%.
I studied abroad in London last year and agree with everyone above who says the weather will be unpredictable. Definitely pack layers and have a coat that is both waterproof and windproof, preferably with a hood (in my experience, umbrellas are useless in London because of all the wind). Comfortable shoes and thick socks are essential–the best way to get around London if you really want to experience it is to walk.
Skip the London Eye (unless you get an especially sunny day). If you’re interested in history, definitely get a tour of Westminster Abbey. I had a very surreal moment when I looked down and realized I was standing on the grave of Sir Isaac Newton. The evensong services at St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey are free and are a great experience. The Churchill War Rooms are also excellent for history buffs. My favorite museums were the Tate Britain and the National Gallery, but I know art museums can be draining for non-art lovers. If you’re willing to spend the money, I’ve heard the Transport Museum is really good.
For shopping and souvenirs, skip Harrod’s, unless you’re only going through the food hall. Fortnum & Mason is a much more pleasant experience (and has better gifts, in my opinion), and other department stores are just as iconic but don’t have as many tourists. You’ll find them on Oxford Street and Regent Street. I recommend Liberty London and Selfridges.
If you have an afternoon with no plans, pick a neighborhood and get lost in it. Covent Garden, Soho, Notting Hill, and Shoreditch are great.
The best way to spend an afternoon is wandering through any of the markets. Borough Market (closed on Sundays) and Columbia Road Flower Market (only open on Sundays) were my favorites. I didn’t love Camden Market, though the canal is beautiful. Portobello Road Market is another good one.
Other people have talked about exchanging currency, but it would also be helpful to check if your bank has a partnership with any UK banks. If you’re a Bank of America customer, you can use any Barclays ATM and avoid ATM fees (you’ll still incur foreign exchange fees, but the BoA ones aren’t too high). They also have partnerships with BNP Paribas and BNL D’Italia if you visit France or Italy.
It’s been mentioned, but Monmouth Coffee is excellent. I also really liked TAP Coffee, which has a few more locations. My sister had “the best apple fritter she’s ever had” there. My favorite coffee shop to spend a few hours in is TimberYard in Seven Dials (highly recommend the blueberry lemon loaf cake).
Afternoon tea is a very touristy thing to do but is also very fun. There are loads of tea rooms, so you can really tailor the experience. A friend of mine spent many afternoons in Bea’s of Bloomsbury (locations in Bloomsbury, Marylebone, and St. Paul’s). I had tea in the Orangery in Kensington Palace and found it wasn’t worth the money (though the gardens at the Kensington end of Hyde Park are gorgeous, especially in April). If you want to splash out, tea at the Savoy is the way to go.
If you get a sunny day, pick up lunch somewhere and sit in a park for a few hours. You’ll feel like half of London is sitting with you (Londoners really know how to soak up those precious few hours of sunlight).
If you have a night with no plans, see a stand-up show in Soho. A friend and I got last minute tickets for £10 each.
Finally, you should go up to Primrose Hill. The view from the top is the best view of London you’ll find anywhere.
You could spend a year in London and still feel like you have more to see. It is hands-down the most interesting city in the world. Enjoy!!
What to pack? Unless it’s high summer, I always take silk long underwear (top and bottom) or even thin wool plus a hat and gloves. They don’t take up much room but if it’s cold, they are great to have.
BUY an umbrella at M&S – better than anything you’ll EVER get in the US. Stock up for gifts as well.
Shoes – Blondos or Aquitalia are great but if you need sturdy shoes for endless walking….well, I bought my first pair of Danskos before I went a few months ago and never had sore feet. Should I admit that? I’m addicted to them.
I stay in Mayfair, because it’s near my office, and it’s a great area. Check out Fleming’s Mayfair – not too crazy expensive but very London, right around the corner from the Green Park tube station and easy walk to everything (and a perfect little pub hidden away on the next street in Shepherd’s Market) If I were going on my own, I’d stay in Bloomsbury, because I will never get enough time in the British Museum.
Someone upthread mentioned London Walks – they are the best. I always sneak in one of their evening walks and the last time I stayed the weekend, I took a tour of St. Albans on a Saturday. As for leaving the UK – honestly, seven days in London doesn’t even scratch the surface for an Anglophile, I’d stay in London and take day trips to Bath and Cambridge if I were you.
I was in London two summers ago. For the trip from Heathrow to London, I highly recommend booking a car service. London cabs (particularly the famous black ones) are not cheap. I used Simply Airports – https://www.simplyairports.co.uk/ There is a train that goes like every 15 or 30 minutes from Heathrow to Paddington if I remember correctly, but then you still have to either take a cab to your hotel/airbnb or walk and navigate the station with luggage, etc. I went for work, so I was put up in a really nice hotel in the Whitehall area – The Royal Horseguards – and it was right near a ton of major attractions. I stayed about 5 days after (you can check AAA rates). If you love history I can’t recommend doing the audio tour at Westminster Abbey enough. Also, take one of the tours the beefeaters give at the Tour of London. We did the audio tour and then climbed to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral – it’s like 528 steps. It’s steep and windy and after a certain point you can’t come down once you’ve started heading up. It offers an amazing view of London. We also did the Eye, honestly, I could take it or leave it. We did afternoon tea at the National Portrait Gallery which was recommended by a friend – it was a really neat place to do it. Obviously, the Ritz and Savoy do one as well, but it was fun to explore the gallery and then drink tea looking out over Trafalgar Square. I recommend catching a play or musical down in the West End. Try a TKTS booth for cheaper tickets. The tube was really easy to navigate. Citymapper is a great app for helping you figure out how to get around. Halo is a good app for hailing taxis, but uber works as well.
A high school friend lives there and back then she recommended the below restaurants – I (obviously) couldn’t make it to them all, but I denoted the ones I could remember.
The Palomar, Israeli (Piccadilly Circus)
Hawksmoor, Steakhouse (Piccadilly Circus)
Duck & Waffle @ Heron Tower (The City)
Pitt Cue Co Gourmet/refined American BBQ, (Soho)
Flat Iron Steak, (Tottenham Ct Road)
Pizza Pilgrims (Soho)
Mildred’s, Vegetarian (Soho)
The Rooftop Café (London Bridge/The Shard)
Caravan, Brunch (Clerkenwell)
Whitecross Street Market, All cuisines, 12-2pm weekdays (Old Street)
Honest Burger (Soho) — delicious
Pizza East (Shoreditch)
Polpo (Embankment) — went here, tapas style, it was excellent
Tenshi, Japanese (Islington/Angel)
Koya, Noodle Bar (Soho)
Bone Daddies, Noodle Bar (Soho)
The Delaunay Brunch, (Embankment/Covent Garden)
Zayna, Pakistani (Oxford Street/Marble Arch)
Pix Pintos,Tapas (Covent Garden)
Bourne & Hollingsworth, Brunch (Clerkenwell)
Ozone, Weekday Lunch & Coffee (Old Street)
Bars & Pubs
Soho & Central
Soho Grind (Cocktails)
Pitt Cue Co (Cocktails)
Surnaturels Neal’s Yard (Wine Bar)
Gordon’s Wine Bar (Wine Bar)
Graphic Bar (Gin bar & club)
East London & Shoreditch
Nola (New Orleans style speakeasy w/live Jazz some nights)
Callooh Callay (Cocktail bar + speakeasy upstairs)
Happiness Forgets, Hoxton Square (Underground speakeasy)
Owl & Pussycat (Hipster Pub)
Over the river from Embankment
Anchor & Hope, The Cut
The King’s Arms, Waterloo
Scooter Café on Lower Marsh — Went here, very laidback/divey
On a nice day, there is an outdoor bar in front of the Festival Hall on the Southbank, right on the river (and also a street food market behind it)
Department of Coffee and Cultural Affairs
Taylor St Baristas
Fix Coffee @ Whitecross Street Market
Bridget Macfarlane says:
The convenience of getting from central London to central Paris so easily means I would vote Paris on the Eurostar, rather than eating up time dealing with airports. And you could do quite a lot of cool Paris stuff in a few days. The V&A is my favourite London museum – dresses, jewellery, and other amazing collections
You are going to have the best time! I’ve found that the weather in London varies pretty wildly, so plan to pack layers and check the forecast closer to your trip date. I’ve been warm in April and freezing in June.
Westminster Abbey and The Churchill War Rooms are two of my favorite cultural stops.
For shopping, you should definitely check out Liberty. The building itself is gorgeous, and the items they have for sale are pretty unique. The Liberty Beauty Advent Calendar is the stuff of legends.
The Cranley Hotel in Kensington is charming, quiet, and reasonably priced. They do afternoon tea with some of the best scones I’ve ever had. Fortnum and Mason is worth checking out for gifts and shopping, but afternoon tea there is overpriced and underwhelming. Don’t waste your time.
Bumpkin, also in Kensington is a nice dinner spot.
Royal Albert Hall is an incredible concert venue. Depending on your trip dates, it’s worth seeing who might be performing then.
I go to London 2-3 times a year for business. Last May I took my son for a week. I’ve been in feb, nov, may etc. the layering advice is sound. Recommend sky garden for drinks. Churchill war rooms. Changing of the horse guard at st. James, zizzis is excellent for amazing pizza, plan ahead and get tickets to a production at the globe theater. Spend a day in Greenwich, take one of the tour boats there. The first time I went I took a hop on hop off bus tour to get oriented and figure out where I wanted to go back and spend more time the other days. Agree with the heathrow express advice.and while I usually walk for hours, I also recommend the app “hailo”. It’s like uber but brings you a London black cab. We had 3 bad experiences with uber and switched to black cabs. The black cabs know the whole city, have to pass a rigorous test on geography. I asked an uber driver to take me to st. James park from the Tower of London. He didn’t know where it was, kept asking me what was the post code zip code for it . I’m a tourist how the hell do I know!?
While I understand an umbrella is a pain I do r commend one. When my son and I went it rained a lot. He happened to have a red umbrella. The pleasant surprise was the pictures. The contrast was fantastic given the were often gray and monochrome.
I wear a stylish navy trench and always bring a scarf. Cross body bag, Jeans are good nearly everywhere, I usually bring black jeans. Low heeled boots or booties work or comfy flats – never felt like I needed rain boots. Thin wool tshirts, cardi, trench is versatile.
I’m very biased due to being a native, but come up and visit Scotland!! Edinburgh is like no place on earth, and a huge changed from the size and bustle of London. The train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley is about 4 hours, but you get to see the glorious British countryside, and fantastic views of the sea around the Borders, so it’s time well spent. First Class tickets often include food and drink, if you want to treat yourselves – you can book cheap tickets well in advance on thetrainline.com
In Edinburgh there’s the castle, the palace and the royal mile, the national museum, several art galleries, and you can even hike up a hill in the city centre – the views are amazing. Loads of options for food, from super fancy places like the Cannonball, up by the castle, to cheap and cheerful places like Wings, which is just off the Royal Mile, and full of cool nerdy stuff! There is some shopping, although not as much as London. Stockbridge is a great place to stay, or the top end of Leith Walk, or Newington/Marchmont/Morningside. I’d be happy to show you around or give you more tips if you do decide to head up this way. I also know where to get the best whiskys!
Elsewhere in Scotland there are the most incredible mountains and forests and walks and rivers and gloriousness. You can get day trip buses from Edinburgh which take you up to Glencoe – it’s truly breathtaking.
I currently reside in London and there’s loads to do and you’ll have a great time. Here’s the email I send to all the visitors I get….
– V&A is my favorite, it’s got a little bit of everything from all over the world.
– British Museum has SO MUCH STUFF, including the Rosetta Stone so def worth it
– Imperial War Museum has interesting things, though the design of the museum is a bit of fail, especially given it was remodeled in 2014. Churchills War Room (another location) is also great.
– Natural History Museum is also good, and doesnt take as long. It’s equal to the NYC one, so if youve done that before, this is ok to miss given limited time.
– Tate Modern is great and there’s usually pretty unique exhibits, doesnt beat MOMA but still good
– National Gallery is alright, but not personally my style. It’s always crowded bc its close to Trafalgar and IDK, I’ve been to better elsewhere. So unless you’re really into art, I’d give it a skip.
– National Portrait Gallery – is behind the national gallery and much more interesting if you are in that area
– Borough Market is crowded, but if you go early on Saturday it wont be as bad and it’s definitely worth it. You want to spend a decent chunk of time wandering the stalls and tasting things.
– Maltby is near Borough, smaller, foodier – def more Londoner than touristy Borough – which is still fun
– Columbia Flower Market can be a cluster fuck, and only worth it if you need flowers but its def worth it bc the flowers are cheap.
– There’s a few others like Portobello, Clapton etc that are fun, but depends on how much you like doing this sort of thing. I enjoy it, but I also live here and have the time to walk about. 😀
– Hampstead Heath is the highest point in London and is this massive park, larger than anything youve seen in a city, or any city I’ve been in. It’s fun to go up with a picnic and hang out. That will be weather dependent.
– A show. There’s so much theatre in London so take your pick! Good ones I’ve seen include: Lion King, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
– A concert. Music is in great supply here, from indie rock bands to the great orchestras of the world. Royal Albert Hall is an amazing venue and plays everything from the Boston Symphony to The Killers to those weirdo Ice shows. It’s a beautiful building as well, so well worth a visit.
– Again, time dependent but I really loved going out to Windsor Castle (outside of London) and Oxford was also adorable and charming
– Afternoon tea of course. The Orangery in Kensington is the most classic place to go, but there are loads of others.
– Lastly, pack walking shoes. It’s a huge city and you’ll do lots of walking, taking in the sights.
As for weekends away, since your trip is fairly short I’d stick to something domestic personally. Oxford is a great day trip, as is Stonehenge/Bath, or if you’re tired of the manic pace of London perhaps two days in the Cotswolds. If you opt for Edinburgh, make sure to fly dont take the train. Don’t bring rain boots, people only wear wellies in the woods. It’s a bit silly to wear them in London when it mainly just drizzles for a bit here and there. Umbrella essential.
Best day trip you will take. Get the train to York, see this beautiful walled city and meet the locals. The cathedral is breathtaking, the museums are fabulous. Jorvik is a must do. The shambles has the old world charm you won’t believe. I would also second Edinburgh.
Save Paris and Barcelona for another trip.
I doubt there is much I can add here but there are so many amazing places to do a day trip while staying in England. I went to Windsor Castle last time I was there. It was such a cute, charming town. I would love to go to Bath, Oxford and some of the cities by the shore. One great thing I love about London is that most of the museums are free! I did take the train to Paris the first time I went to London, but that was mostly for the train ride through the Chunnel lol. If I had that trip to do over again, I would explore more of England. Have a wonderful time!!
What to pack: When you go to London, you will do WAY more walking than you have ever done in your life and your feet and legs will be dying after the second day so comfortable shoes is a must. You may also want to pack some gel insoles, Aleve, and bring Bengay pads for your back. Seriously. You’ll also want to pack at least 3 different pairs of shoes to walk around in because your feet will get cramped/tired if you wear the same pair. When I was last there a year ago I brought a pair of motorcycle boots, Tom desert wedges, and a pair of riding boots. Definitely bring an umbrella with you because the weather can be unpredictable, so you’ll also want to dress in layers. Also if you plan on carrying a bag while you’re walking around, please make sure it has a zipper on it. Pickpockets in London aren’t as bad as they are in Paris, but its always safer to zip up your stuff. And of course this is something I know you’ll never do, but wearing sweats (hoodies, college sweatshirts, sweat pants) is a huge no no.
Where to stay: Mayfair and Kensington are great, but the last time I was in London I stayed at the Z Hotel in Piccadilly (2 Orange Street) and loved how close we were to a tube stop, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, and about 10 minutes out from Soho and Covent Garden. Yes, you’ll be in a super tourist area but when you go out to Soho and Covent Garden there are loads of cute shops, eateries, and amazing people watching. The hotel is small, but they have a happy hour everyday for guests and the location really is unbeatable.
What to do: Of course you’ll have to see all the big sights, but my favorite places are the British Museum (you can spend a whole day here) and Hampton Court. Hampton Court requires a train ride but you do get to see two times periods in one location which makes it a very unique trip.
What to eat: You also definitely don’t want to miss a visit to Borough Market. Best time to go is during lunch on Friday. Afternoon tea is also a great experience. I highly recommend Fortnum and Mason but if you want something a bit more funky, check out Sketch. The bathroom at Sketch are also an experience. I had a fabulous meal at Bob Bob Ricard the last time I went, but I was mostly sold on going because they have a “Press of Champagne” bell at each table. If you’re into chocolate, don’t miss out an opportunity to try a Galaxy bar. It looks a Dove bar but tastes wayyyy better. And don’t forget to try the Indian food there!
If you want other tips, http://www.thelondoner.me/ is one of my favorite bloggers who gives our great restaurant recommendations around the city.
Oh and how I can forget…..Go in to St Paul’s Cathedral!! I was completely blown away by it. I’m not religious (AT ALL) but was amazed at the sheer splendor of it. It was by far one of my favorite things to see.
Rather than adding another destination after London, I’d recommend looking at flights from Iceland Air and doing a stopover in Iceland. Reykjavik is an adorable little city with some great restaurants, and the area around it has some incredible scenery. Plus, you can relax at the Blue Lagoon hot spring, and see (and rid, if that’s your thing) their famous little Icelandic horses. Plus, you can pick yourself up a nice Iclandic sweater. Would highly recommend, there’s plenty to see but it’s accessible enough that you won’t feel rushed if you only have a couple days!
A few years ago, we did London – Ireland in September. Packing light is key when traveling between the two as we took RyanAir. We flew to Shannon, did an evening in Killarney before meeting friends in Doolin. Also drove around the Ring of Kerry. Ireland is a great destination if you have a skilled driver with you!
As for packing, Streamlining products and clothing items really helped to make us move between destinations easily.
I bought these boots for Italy (mostly wore in Rome) and they were comfortable, waterproof and stylish: https://www.6pm.com/p/ecco-babett-15-gore-tex-tall-boot-black-black/product/8550733/color/183092
I just did a week in Italy – weather was a bit colder than it might be for you but still relatively wet. I took a 3 in 1 hooded jacket (very essential) –
3 bottoms: black jeans, dark denim jeans, zella leggings and black tights.
2 Dresses: boden jersey dress, cashmere turtleneck dress.
Tops: Two cashmere cardigans in gray and beige, one white ralph lauren pique oxford shirt, one j.crew black peplum top, one cotton printed blouse, short sleeve tops in black and gray and two scarves to rotate
Shoes: Ecco boots, brown booties and gold flats (only wore once) – all were comfortable for walking which you will do SO MUCH OF.
I used packing cubes and the Brookstone Dash suitcase; really made it easy to move around with ease and have enough variety (Something like 20 outfit combinations) for the duration of the trip.
Two London favs were Buckingham Palace and J. Sheekey restaurant. Enjoy!
Churchill War Rooms is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. I spent hours there by myself soaking in the history.
In my opinion, both Scotland and Ireland merit trips of their own, but if you choose to do a shorter visit, Edinburugh is a beautiful town to visit – fun fact it’s built on a dormant volcano. Inverness is also beautiful. As far as Ireland, Dublin is a neat city, but the true magic of the country is driving the Southern Loop and enjoying small towns and B&Bs and soaking in the country side.
I’d suggest sticking to England for your trip. There is so much to see outside of London! A few recommendations: Stonehenge, Cotswolds, Windsor, and Oxford are all good places to see!
Also, Rick Steves’ travel books are awesome. He does a great job of giving you info on the touristy stuff, but his suggestions on the “off the beaten path” things are amazing. Highly recommend his England or London book.
Lucky you! I lived in London for 10 years and have been back 3-4x a year ever since for work. Here are my restaurant suggestions:
Hawksmoor- a favorite. The best steaks in London with fantastic, youthful service and art deco décor in cool (never ground level) spaces. 5 restaurants in total, all truly extraordinary: Brompton Road & Yeomans Row (Knightsbridge), Seven Dials (Covent Garden), Air Street (Piccadilly), Guildhall (West End), Spitalfields (City) https://thehawksmoor.com/
Bar Boulud – Daniel Boulud’s casual and elegant French. Amazing elegant burgers and more like pates, sausages (in the Metropolitan hotel, Knightsbridge). https://www.barboulud.com/london/
La Petit Maison- French, adorable (Mayfair) 53 Brooks Mews https://lpmlondon.co.uk/london
Wild Honey – French, casual elegant (Mayfair) St George’s Street (off Conduit Street) https://www.wildhoneyrestaurant.co.uk/
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal- amazing British centuries old recipes updated. Fancy (in Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Knightsbridge) https://www.dinnerbyheston.com/
The Ivy Chelsea Garden – casual British, great outdoor space (197 King’s Rd, Chelsea) https://theivychelseagarden.com/
Social Eating House – contemporary British (58 Poland Street, Soho) https://www.socialeatinghouse.com/?floor=58
34 – meat, game, seafood in art deco Mayfair space. 34 Grosvenor Square. https://www.34-restaurant.co.uk/
The Delaunay – affordable, beautiful & great for breakfast/lunch or dinner at this Viennese coffee house (Aldwych/The Strand); skate in the beautiful outdoor courtyard of the Courthauld Gallery of Somerset House on The Strand https://www.thedelaunay.com/
Zuma – fabulous sushi (5 Raphael St, Knightsbridge) https://www.zumarestaurant.com/zuma-landing/london/en/welcome
Yashin – sushi, small place, ex-Nobu chef (1A Argyll Road, Kensington) https://www.yashinsushi.com/
Umu – artful sushi (14-16 Bruton Place, Mayfair) https://www.umurestaurant.com/noflash.htm
Hakkasan – Cantonese & great dim sum lunch (17 Bruton Street, Mayfair) https://hakkasan.com/locations/hakkasan-mayfair/
Amaya- Michelin-starred Indian (Belgravia) https://www.amaya.biz/
Cecconi’s – elegant Italian, 5A Burlington Gardens (Mayfair) https://cecconis.co.uk/
Ziani’s – casual Italian, 45 Radnor Walk (Chelsea) https://ziani.co.uk/
Il Trillo – casual Italian, 4 Hollywood Road (South Kensington) https://www.iltrillo.net/en/
Bob Bob Ricard. Iconic Soho serving English and Russian menu. Great champagne call button. 1 Upper St James St https://www.bobbobricard.com/
Scott’s Restaurant. Seafood. 20 Mount Street , Mayfair. https://www.scotts-restaurant.com/
J. Sheekey. Seafood. 28-35 St Martin’s Court, Covent Garden. https://www.j-sheekey.co.uk/
The dining rooms @ The Thomas Cubbitt – ground floor pub, 1st floor dining rooms (Elizabeth Street, Chelsea) https://thethomascubitt.co.uk/
The Ledbury – “New French” cooking at a pub (Notting Hill) https://www.theledbury.com/
Bumpkin – fun, foodie, casual pubs (Old Brompton Rd in South Kensington, Westbourne Park Road in Notting Hill, Sydney Street in Chelsea) https://bumpkinuk.com/
The Surprise – homely pub (6 Christchurch Terrace, Chelsea) https://www.geronimo-inns.co.uk/london-the-surprise
The Builder’s Arms – traditional pub (13 Britten St, Chelsea) https://www.geronimo-inns.co.uk/london-the-builders-arms
Tom’s Kitchen – modern British brasserie. Not a pub, but casual like one. (27 Cale Street, Chelsea) https://www.tomskitchen.co.uk/chelsea
The Orange – pub with great Sunday roast, oven-fired pizza (5 min walk from Sloane Square tube station, 37-39 Pimlico Rd, Pimlico/Victoria). https://theorange.co.uk/
No. 11 Pimlico Road – great Sunday roast, brunch (5 min walk from Sloane Square tube station; close to The Orange, Pimlico/Victoria) https://www.no11pimlicoroad.co.uk/
The Grenadier – touristy but adorable pub, drinks only (Belgravia) https://www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/grenadier-belgrave-square/c0800/
I haven’t look at all the comments so sorry if all this has been repeated!
I also went to London in April- when we went it was beyond perfect weather, light jacket and jeans were all that were needed.
I stayed with family so can’t help with lodging.
The best thing about London was just walking around was an adventure. I would highly recommend paying for The Tower of London and Westminster Abby. We took notes from travel writers and visited the Tower pretty much when it opened, we hardly had any lines! One thing I didn’t do but wanted to do was have tea at Kensington palace.
From London we spent three days in Paris- took the train in the Morning and was in the City by mid-afternoon. It was AMAZING and so easy. Again the weather was great- dresses and light jackets.
I think the most important takeaway from my adventure was you are NOT going to see and do everything so just enjoy what you can and plan your next visit if possible
Don’t go to Barcelona. I’m sure it’s an amazing city, but from my experience, I think you’d find a two-day round trip anywhere exhausting (especially one that involved flights on either side!), and not conducive to soaking up the area. I would do day trips from London only, or else I’d split my week 50-50 between London and Paris or London and somewhere else in the British Isles. Minimize traveling and hotel-hopping — that’s my advice. I recently spent a week in Santorini and Mykonos, and I made the mistake of staying in two different towns on Santorini, instead of just settling in to one and going wherever on the island I wanted from there. It was unnecessary and wasted time and energy on pointless packing up and transferring hotels. And that was just a short trip from one town to the next. I say settle in to one place and make excursions from there. And while Paris is absolutely a city that you could spend weeks in, I’d say a day trip (which I understand is very easy) to see a highlight or two — the Louvre, or Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle (incredible, incredible stained glass) — and have a good meal is a fine idea. No reason you can’t get a taste of the city and go back later.
I’ve done a lot of international travel. The best advice I ever got about any of it was, “you’ll be back.” It’s so true! Can’t make it to Ireland this trip? It’s OK, you’ll be back! Paris doesn’t fit into your schedule during this visit? It’s OK, you’ll be back! It reminds me that I’m trying to have an experience, not check things off a checklist. Set some priorities and make some plans, definitely, but then be flexible and enjoy the experience.
Europe and the UK are great, easy places to visit. The only thing that stinks is the jet lag on the way there (most travelers, though not all, will tell you it’s easier coming back). You can often find really good flight deals from larger US cities to anywhere in the area and once you’ve been, it’s easier to come back. It’s true that once you’re there, you can find cheap flights to other countries/cities, but you spend a lot of time messing around and waiting when you fly, and–I don’t think anyone has mentioned this above–if you get delayed on one of the budget airlines, it can wreck your whole vacation, because of limited flight options, fees, etc.
If you’ve never been on a trans-Atlantic flight before, and especially if you’re traveling with older folks who haven’t, I would say don’t try to pack a lot of additional travel in. Enjoy London. Check out restaurants and plays, explore the city, check out museums, go shopping, and take day trips as others have suggested. Rick Steves’ advice is as great now as it was in the 1990s (relax, meet people, be flexible, try new things, pack as little as possible).
After all, you’ll be back.
Do not miss the white cliffs of Dover / site of the invasion of Normandy, even if you just cross to France. If you love history and politics/American foreign policy (as I do, and you obviously do) you just have to. I crossed the channel on D-Day in 2001 and it was incredible. Besides my father, there happened to be four or five WWII vets aboard and frankly it was one of the most moving moments of my life, despite the number of people who didn’t know the significance of the date or their fellows. Do it.
So exciting – the anticipation of a trip is almost as fun as the trip itself!
A couple suggestions – while the weather may not be as nice in Scotland, it’s a REALLY easy jaunt from London to get there. You want to go somewhere that is easy and painless to get to and IMO a place that you can do justice in a couple day. I think Edinburgh is a perfect choice. That’s what I did when I went to London for spring break when I was in college to visit a friend studying abroad.
I will say about Barcelona, an AMAZING city, but you’ll be so bummed to not have enough time there. 2 days just isn’t enough, especially with having to take a flight and all the time that goes into flying. WHich is why I suggest going anywhere that you can go by train. A MUCH better travel experience, and less stressful/wasted time. (you SHOULD put Barecelona on your list though. We just went over Thanksgiving with our son and it was incredible!)
Now, I’m not sure the prevalence of this in London, but I’d guess that if Barcelona has them I’m sure London has something similar: apartment rental. Not like AirBNB or such where someone else lives there full time otherwise, but we went through Booking.com for our trip to Spain. We visited 3 different cities and found fantastic apartments in each. We had a couple bedrooms, an amazing balcony, a kitchen and a place to really relax. This way we each had our own bedrooms, but had a common area that didn’t involve sitting on someone’s bed to relax in, or eat breakfast, or read up on the days activities. It was WAY cheaper than any hotels we found and with 3 people it was better than sharing one hotel room or having to get two or upgrade to a suite.
Also, we went to London a few years ago again and really enjoyed walking tours. We borrowed a lonely planet guide from the library and they had some amazing walking tours. We could then tailor it to our own liking a bit, and also get a chance to pop into a pub, or a shop, or take a quick detour if we found something we wanted to see. Organized walking tours are also great because you really learn more about the history, and we did one of those as well that covered a few areas of the city we really wanted to learn more about. But the walking tours in the guides were helpful because it guided you to many of the “must see” attractions and sprinkled in some lesser known and interesting points of interest. You can’t go wrong either way. But I do think walking is the best way to see the city, outside of going to museums and such, but really getting a feel for the environment and people.
My two cents, or likely 10 cents now… 🙂 Have a BLAST! Safe travels. 🙂
I would definitely say a day or two in Paris may end up more overwhelming than worth it. I spent 3 days there and found myself exhausted from trying to see everything and didn’t enjoy any part as much as I should have. However, if you do end up in Paris – skip the Effiel Tower and go to and up the Arc De Triomphe – it’s much more managable in my opinion and at the top you actually get a spectacular view of the city including the Effiel Tower. I suggest downloading the TripAdvisor app on your phone for whichever locations you decide on – it can be used without service or wifi and was very helpful when we wanted to look at things quickly. A note on breakfast in Europe – if possible a hotel with breakfast available is a good option. Many places in Europe aren’t open for breakfast and don’t open early for lunch. Multiple times we found ourselves starving around 11am because we didn’t get breakfast with most restaurants not opening until noon. Have fun!
London is my second home! Definitely eat at the Fromagerie – it is excellent!
Hey, Belle. Great to hear you’re going to Europe. Here’s a guide from my friend with impeccable taste for things to do in London that are a bit off the beaten path: https://www.crossingcues.com/london.
I would recommend going to Paris, even if for a couple of days. I frequently hop all around Europe and stay in various cities for 2 -3 days at a time. I just recently managed to do Munich in 36 hours and it was very rewarding. You would just need to adjust expectations and tailor the experience knowing that you just can’t do it all. So what do you want to do the most in Paris? Is it to see the Louvre? The Palais Royale? Is it to shop? Is there a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try? Is it to just to take it in and walk around/sit outside at a brasserie with a coffee/wine? I would pick one main cultural experience that you are really keen on and make sure you get it done. The rest can be fluid.
If you want to use guides, I would strongly advise against TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, and all other “big name” guides. Go with Cereal or Monocle guides. In a pinch, Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP online guides work wonderfully! I was skeptical, but used some of the recommendations for Paris and Amsterdam and really enjoyed them all.
We stayed near Gloucester Road tube station and thought the location was fantastic. There were three tube lines and we were able to get everywhere we needed to go off of them. You’ve gotten great advice already on things to do and see, but I wanted to add my 2 cents about the itinerary. I wouldn’t add another location to the trip with only 7 days. Especially if your flights are already in and out of London, you will lose almost a full day to travel by the time you go there and back. There is so much to see and do in London, and also many great day trips. We had 5 days in London and only saw half of what we wish we could have.
Edinburgh is about a 4 hour train ride from London, and easily doable in a couple days. It’s a really beautiful city with so much history and a unique culture, even though you’d be staying within the UK. It won’t be too warm in April, but still worth it in my opinion.
As a longtime reader of your blog who currently lives in Paris (3-4 years and counting), I would say save Paris for another trip. If this wasn’t your first time to the UK/London I would say go ahead and spend a couple of days here but there is so much to see in London and the surrounding English countryside as well that your week will go by fast! I’m not going to add too much to the 150+ comments you received but I would definitely echo similar sentiments for a day trip to the English countryside to either Oxford+Cotswolds, Bath, Cambridge,Stratford-upon-Avon or Brighton. By the way, London is sprawling like New York but minus the endless skyscrapers in Manhattan. That really threw me off when I first came to visit, I was really imagining it to be closer in size to DC because of the architecture (it’s not). My one must-do recommendation for London is afternoon tea. I had my first one ever at the Hansom Lounge in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel with a friend. It was amazing. Enjoy your trip!
I’m so happy for you! I’m a DC-er who just made my first UK trip this summer. It is lovely! I would say you could totally do an overnight to Paris if you want. Especially if it may be difficult to get the ‘rents back on a plane anytime soon. I took the first train out of London one day and came back on the last train the following day, which gave me a two-day taste of Paris for the price of one hotel. You’re going to want more, but if your heart is with Paris, you can do it.
Comfortable (but cute) shoes! Londoners walk *a lot*. And as long as DC raised you right on escalator etiquette, you’re all set for the Tube. You can actually cover a lot of the major sites in a week (and they “oyster” card records all your trips in a day and has a daily maximum charge, so after that, you’re riding for free). Pay for the audio guides – there’s so much history. Check if you can tour Westminster – they don’t do tours while they’re in session, but if you luck out, it’s unbelievable. European credit cards all have PINs instead of signing – they’re fine with it in restaurants (they bring the swipe console to your table), but it’s annoying like at CVS self-checkouts. Use cash if you can at those. Eat in all the pubs. Spring for the Heathrow Express from the airport.
Have sooo much fun! Super jealous 🙂
There’s so much to share about traveling in London & it seems you’ve already received an overwhelming amount of advice! Without being repetitive about the bigger places to hit, I’d like to recommend a wonderful & quaint cafe: Cocomaya (https://www.cocomaya.co.uk/). You can check out their Instagram to get a better feel of it: @cocomayalondon.
It was the first place I took my mother when she came to visit me when I lived in London a few years back. She fell in love with London the moment we sat down! It’s always been a favorite spot of mine – the food & chocolates are incredible and it has a charming atmosphere. It’s not far from Hyde Park so it’d be a great place to stop before or after walking through the park.
Safe travels & enjoy!
Dublin and Scotland are easy trips! You could even fly RyanAir.
Don’t order the vistor oyster card (tube pass). Get one when you arrive so at the end of your trip you can get a refund on the money leftover on the card.
Alexandra P. says:
A few tips from my time studying abroad in the UK…
1. Plan to get an Oyster Card (metro card) ASAP. Buy one from a kiosk with pound notes for the fastest and cheapest way.
2. Kensington is a great place to stay. I loved The Harlingford Hotel. It is close to two Tube stations but still quiet and quaint. Plus the breakfast is GREAT. (and their price tends to be among the cheapest I’ve seen for 3*+ places in London).
3. Plan to walk a lot. Wear comfortable shoes. Always have a general idea of where you are going on street-level, even if you are taking the Tube. I got caught in a Tube strike or Tube maintenance MANY times and it was so helpful to know where I was above ground!
4. Go to Granger & Co. Yes, it is where all the bloggers go…but seriously the food is fantastic. Go on a week day if you can, the lines can be really long on weekends and they don’t take reservations.
5. The Victoria and Albert Museum has some of the best fashion collections you’ll ever see! Also, Kensington Gardens usually has an exhibit relating to the Queen’s clothes or another royal family member. I saw one with Diana’s dresses that was great.
6. You can go to church in Westminster Abbey – and if you at all inclined, you should! You get to see things that you don’t get to see on the tour…plus it is free admission as long as you stay for the service.
7. See if you can get into a session of Parliament — so fun to watch. (Or maybe I’m just nerdy!)
Just went on a similar trip this past fall to London & Scotland. London was unseasonably warm (80+ degrees) when I went so that was a packing issue. I did fine with just Chelsea boots and flats. I stayed in Mayfair and one thing that kind of tripped me up was how bougie the area was – it’s very business-y and “posh.” Not super neighborhood-y. A lot of hotels. This was annoying for trying to find a good pub/bar. One other thing: pubs close at 10pm every night. This was tricky – because “bars” or after hours clubs are the only other things open after 10. We managed to get into a private club (Soho House) one night and stayed out later.
Highly recommend Bar Americain in London – it’s under Brasserie Zedel, so Google maps gets a little confused taking you there. https://www.brasseriezedel.com/bar-americain
We frankly still took Uber in London – was similar price/not bad. The underground isn’t that much cheaper in my opinion unless you’re going long distances.
Afternoon tea: I didn’t personally love it because it was SO MUCH FOOD. Literally don’t eat breakfast or lunch and then you’d be better off.
Save Paris for another trip – go to Edinburgh! It’s so charming and the Scots are great. It’s a 4-hr train from London and can easily be an overnight trip. Old Town & New Town Edinburgh are walkable to each other/it’s generally a small town, and you can stroll up and down the Royal Mile and see the Castle.
If you plan to travel to any other city on a budget carrier (e.g. EasyJet, RyanAir), you must pack light or be prepared to pay. They are very strict about baggage limits, even for carry-ons. On the upside, you don’t have the same lengthy boarding process like you do here as people fight to stuff all of their worldly possessions in the overhead bin!
I second all the suggestions for Ottolenghi (or his slightly fancier, less cafe-ish resturant, Nopi). Nopi is in Soho, so very centrally located/quite close to Mayfair. Or eat Indian food (fancy or casual); London has great Indian at all price points. (I don’t have a particular recommendation here, sadly, but there are lots of good places if you look into it.) At the slightly higher end, we quite enjoyed a meal at Michelin-starred Portland last summer. (This was part of a big food trip to Copenhagen, and Portland seemed to me a bit of England’s take on New Nordic cuisine — light and bright. The tasting menu is surprisingly affordable at 58 pounds.)
Oxford is a fantastic day trip – my mom and I went there on the train while we were spending time in Europe and had a very special, very rainy day wandering around the universities’ campuses.
I grew up in England and my entire family lives there. I visit 2-3 times a year. I concur with the suggestions to not dress like an American (basically, don’t look overdone) and wear good walking shoes. Weather is usually overcast and it can be damp, but by April the sun should be coming out now and then. Pack an umbrella. I take one bag for a 2 week trip. I strongly suggest you visit Paris if only for a weekend. The Eurostar is great fun and you can see a selected number of things in Paris in that time and get a feel for it. If you have any French, use it-if there is anything I cannot stand it’s the common American comment that the French are snooty-I have never found them to be so. I take my sister and my niece regularly, usually for a weekend, and we have a ball! If it were later in the year, I would suggest you attend the Paris Airshow (I am a pilot)-it is amazing, mais helas…. In Paris I dress French (I lived there for 2 years), very little makeup-looking overdone is not a French thing and in Europe generally, less is more. I speak French, so I use it and people are always very kind. Being Indian, I have lots of advice re Indian food. Visit Southall, the heart of the Indian community. There are lots of good Indian restaurants in London too- upscale, modern, cutting edge. Dishoom is good. “For fancy” reserve dinner at the Shard. Tea at the Ritz is also wonderful. Shopping: I go to Eric Bompard for cashmere sweaters, not cheap but superb quality classics that DO NOT PILL (good knitwear does not pill)-there’s one on the Kings Road and several in Paris. I go to Guerlain on the Champs Elysees for perfume, also Caron. I would much rather go to Paris than Edinburgh in April lol. Scotland can be grim in April (I lived there for several years), and there’s a lot to see in England.
Further thoughts. If you are sightseeing, try country pubs for lunch or dinner-they are usually very cozy and have good food and wine-I prefer them when going out and about. Since April is coolish WX, they may still have a fire-I love being at home in winter for this alone. I prefer Paris in November as 1) nobody is there and 2) it is the morel season, but good food at all times. If using the tube in London get an oyster card. Both London and Paris have Uber and I had a good experience with it in Paris (2015). For antique shopping try Gray’s Antique Market on Davies St. It is indoors and you can find wonderful things there. For books: John Sandoe, a wonderful independent bookstore.
The first weekend trip I did to Paris (2013) we stayed at the Hotel Lindbergh, 5 Rue Chomel, in the Faubourg St. Germain. It is a mid priced small hotel, very nice, close to a Metro station, and while it has changed hands, it still commemorates CL (I am, after all, a pilot). Being in the Faubourg, it is close to the Louvre and many nice things, all in walking distance. I would definitely stay there again. For a weekend it was perfect since there were many sightseeing destinations right there, good restaurants, and simply an interesting neighborhood to walk around.
Consider going to Ireland. Extremely beautiful. Dublin for instance.
However, England is small compared to what we are used to, and you can take the trains for day trips. Salisbury is nice, Winchester. If you can get to Cornwall, do it.
My sister, who lives in London, recently advised other travelers (who are our parents’ age): “TodayTix is an easy app for finding and booking show tickets. CityMapper is the mapping/routing map to use, as Google Maps is a bit behind the curve when it comes to points of interest and tube stations.” Apologies if this is a duplicate comment. Have so much fun!
Dublin is fantastic but so is Edinburgh, and Edinburgh is an easy train trip that doesn’t require different currency when you arrive (and the pound is mega cheap right now, relatively speaking).
If you get to Ireland, try to visit Newgrange. It is 1000 years older than Stonehenge and is absolutely fabulous! Here is a link to a recent New York Times article about this fascinating place: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/20/travel/ireland-newgrange-ancient-passage-tombs-mounds.html?_r=0
I have to challeng an earlier commenter who said that “pubs close at 10pm”. That’s not a universal rule by any meas – it used to be but changed over a decade ago. It just depends on the pub’s licence and the area they are in. Ones that are in largely business districts will close early because the clientele will have gone home, but many others run later on some or all nights. It just means you ned to check if you plan to eat late.
Julia Leonard says:
The Caledonian Sleeper from London to Edinburgh (and back) is a great way to get to Scotland without spending waking hours traveling. It is worth getting the berths instead of normal train seats, but purchased in advance, they’re surprisingly affordable. Edinburgh itself is wonderful – Robert Louis Stevenson famously said that “Edinburgh is what Paris ought to be.”
Once you’re there, my single biggest recommendation is the Hairy Coo free highland tour (https://www.thehairycoo.com/Home/). It is wonderful, with amazing guides, and you see a lot of the important things, from the Falkirk Wheel to the Wallace Monument and the castle where Monty Python was filmed. It’s basically a day long, so you wouldn’t do much else that day. It doesn’t really get into the Highlands proper, or out onto the moor, but it’s as close as you can get within a day. I think they’re also now running a tour to St. Andrews, which is BEAUTIFUL, but that started after I left so I can’t vouch for it.
Edinburgh Castle is overpriced but cool. If you’re there long enough, the castle in Newcastle and Stirling Castle are both a little more off the beaten path, but they’re each a daytrip away, cheaper and a little less touristy. I particularly like Newcastle, and it’s also a great city just to wander in. I think I actually liked Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the Queen in Edinburgh, better than the castle. It’s at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the Castle (hence the name Royal Mile.) However, it’s very similar to palaces on the continent or elsewhere, whereas the Castle is very Scottish.
Climbing the Scott Monument is wonderful on a clear day as long as you’re not claustrophobic.
The Scottish Parliament is worth a look at just because it’s so bizarre. If you go to Holyrood Palace or Arthur’s Seat you’ll see it.. just look for the giant silver thing with gun-shaped cut-outs on the side. You can’t miss it.
Grassmarket is a little plaza kind of area more or less in the shadow of the castle. There are a lot of cute thrift shops there as well as some restaurants. A little touristy, but not too bad, and nicer than trying to eat on the Royal Mile.
On George IV Bridge (that’s a road) is The Elephant House. It’s a student cafe with good tea and baked goods at student prices. It also happens to be the place where JK Rowling wrote most of the first Harry Potter books. So you know, there’s that. Of course, if you’re feeling flush, you can to to High Tea at the Balmoral, which is where she wrote the 7th one.
I would NOT do Barcelona in April. I went this summer and it was my absolute favorite of all the European cities I’ve visited, but I think it might be ruined if its raining or cold. Part of what made it magnificent for me was the gorgeous weather, being able to go for walks through town or along the beach with a nice breeze and out in the evenings without having to drag a coat along. Also, you’d need a completely different wardrobe for Barcelona compared to London. London is rather formal, Barcelona is flowy-beachy fabrics, sort of a bohemian feeling. Idk if fitting in style-wise matters to you at all, but I really love going places and not feeling like I stick out like crazy.
Neither would I go to Paris – I went on vacation there a couple summers ago with my husband and we did the City Pass (one price, unlimited admission to most of the attractions) for 4 days and pretty much RAN through all the museums. With having done that, 5-6 days was about how long it took to see most of Paris’ most famous destinations (including Versailles). But this summer I worked outside Paris and really, doing a rushed trip there like that, sort of ruins Paris. It is SO much better when you can visit a museum a day (max, except for the tiny ones like the Museum de Orangerie, which is almost only Monet’s lilypad paintings), have time to wake up late and have a cappuccino and a croissant, take an evening break at a cafe for a glass (or two) of wine and people watching, and then go laze about on the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower with a bottle of champagne.
As for things I WOULD do again:
1) Use Airbnb. Saves TONS of money, you can typically get a place RIGHT where you want to be, location-wise (TIP: make sure you’re close to public transportation…this makes a big difference on how enjoyable your trip is). European hosts, in my experience, are also super friendly and helpful. I’d never have tried staying in a place WITH a person but was really kinda stuck doing it when I needed accommodations in Bologna for a conference. The host was great though – told me all the best local spots to eat, best things to visit, and she even had laundry and a hairdryer she let me borrow.
2) Bring the most comfortable shoes you own. Or maybe buy some before you go and break them in. You will walk 10+ miles a day without realizing it. Born is now my favorite shoe company – I think I have probably close to 500 miles on a pair of boots from them after this summer, without a single blister. Speaking of, I found, even in the summer, booties were the best travel shoes. Your shoes will be filthy after that much walking and you can just wipe them down, plus they go with nearly anything and still look cute, and they’re way comfier than almost anything else. Mine are similar to these: https://www.bornshoes.com/Product.aspx?ProductID=12450. though it looks like they must’ve discontinued my actual pair this fall. 🙁
3) Use YELP. I thought, when we went to Paris the first time, that every place would just be good…because…Paris! Not so. Our random picks were ok…but I’ve never ended up anywhere that was less than phenomenal when I find it on Yelp. Plus you’ll end up at places that aren’t touristy, so you know you’re getting truly local, delicious foods and culture.
4) Write down directions to get from the airport to the place you’re staying and print out a couple maps from Google maps. I always find the first couple hours traveling in foreign places are the worst – you have no bearings and no wifi if you get lost. You can also download offline versions of the cities where you’ll be before you leave home (just make sure they actually download…had that problem once). You can also drop and save pins on important locations. That way even if you don’t have wifi or directions you can at least see where you are relative to where you need to be (with your little blue dot). We never had data overseas, but just having a general idea where you’re going and using the blue dot you can pretty much always figure it out (if you’re willing to walk and patient lol).
5) Travel light. Nothing worse than lugging two (even if they roll) suitcases down tiny avenues that inevitably have both construction and cobblestones. Also bring a small bag for the days. I loved having a medium sized cross body with a zip top. Slows down people if they’re going to try and pick pocket you and prevents you from packing in too much stuff and then having an achy back from having to carry it for 15 hours and 10 miles. I have this one, and it has taken me successfully to 10 countries: https://shop.guess.com/en/Catalog/View/handbags/crossbody-bags/leeza-quattro-g-jacquard-cross-body/JQ455770. ALSO, bring a tote or travel duffle if you’ll be taking your second trip on a discount airline, they only allow you one small carry on to go under your seat.
Good luck! Europe is amazing!
I don’t know how I missed this post, but my husband and I will be celebrating our 1st wedding anniversary in London in April – probably the same time you will be there (April 2-9). Some items we have planned…
Day 1: Camden Market, Abbey Road, Notting Hill, Hyde Park, Harrods
Day 2: 10 Downing, Churchill War Rooms, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Clarence House, Afternoon Tea @ The Shard, National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square
Day 3: Wellington Arch, Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guard, Imperial War Museum, London Eye, Museum of London, Brick Lane (Indian Food), Piccadilly Circus
Day 4: Royal Opera House, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge, Globe Theatre, Borough Market, London Bridge, Monument to the Great Fire, Tower of London/Crown Jewels, Tower Bridge, Platform 3/4 (Harry Potter).
From there we are taking the train up to Liverpool for 3 night to do a Beatles tour and to catch an Everton FC match. The train to Liverpool is ~2 hours.
I would love for you to do an outfit post for this! Also: I skimmed the comments and caught someone said to not bring rain boots. I will be bringing my Hunters because I don’t care if I look like an American tourist… because I am an American tourist. I plan to dress comfortable, but simple.
The Churchill War Rooms are a must-see. MUST-SEE.
Also, the Tower of London has a ceremony called the Queen’s Keys. It’s the oldest, uninterrupted military ceremony in the world. It’s the locking of the Tower of London. Go online and see if you can request tickets. It’s just a very cool time to be there and see exactly what has happened every night since like 1600.
Hi- I hope Im not too late, but I wanted to add two things that I didn’t see mentioned above.
1) Royal Courts of Justice! Very central location, and most of the proceedings are open to the public. Everyone still wears wigs. Defendant sits in what is essentially a wooden cage. Its amazing just for the spectacle! (and the beautiful building!) https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/court-lists/list-cause-rcj
2) The South Bank is amazing. Lots of art galleries and places to eat and pop up fun (at least in the summer). Public art, street performers, skate park- a little something for everyone. The open air used book market is a personal favorite.
And, just for the record- I’ve spent two summers in London and skipped the London Eye both times. I haven’t regretted it for a second.
sherry @ save. spend. splurge. says:
1. British Museum
2. Oyster cards for traveling (Cheaper)
3. London Eye — I got some amazing shots at the top of it
sherry @ save. spend. splurge. says:
Oh, and don’t go to Paris or any other city for a “day trip” unless you plan on extending your trip. London is full of places to go, things to see.. you’ll be exhausted, truly.
I’d say a week per city is the minimum in Europe.. to properly experience it without falling on the ground exhausted and angry.