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I first visited London in 2017, and boy was I unprepared! I had never been to a city so large, spread out, and full of people. My ADD went into overdrive trying to process every sensory thing coming at me. You can read about my previous experience here. I only got 24 hours in London the last time I was here. With a bit more preparation, I was excited to spend a week in this gorgeous, historic city!
HOW TO GO:
This year, I came across an amazing deal on Skyscanner for a last-minute flight to London. With a little under a month to prepare, this would be my most spontaneous trip ever. If you know me then you know I am not a spontaneous person; I am someone who craves structure and enjoys proper planning. While I was feeling overwhelmed with a lot of life happenings, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I figured a solo trip to London was a great way to kill two birds with one stone!
As I mentioned above, I found this flight on Skyscanner. I frequently use this app for random searches, seeing where I can buzz off to at a moment's notice. I normally save or watch flights to my dream destinations abroad, even occasionally look at domestic locations too. Using their "Search Everywhere" feature, putting in the month of November just to see what popped. I was absolutely shocked when I saw a flight to London for only $430! Right before the holidays, flights like this are normally $1400 at minimum, so of course, I thought it had to be a hoax. I went to the airline's website to confirm and, sure enough, the tickets were there.
I am terrible at making decisions, I can argue both sides of almost any situation. This decision took me almost 2 days to make. Figuring out the things that I could better use that money on or whether or not my mental health was really worth the hop across the pond. I talked to my partner about it and he gave me the extra nudge I needed to throw my card on the table. London here I come!
I had heard some not-so-nice things about IcelandAir - about them being a budget airline, uncomfortable seats, and super strict luggage rules. I'll be honest...they were amazing! A large selection of in-air entertainment, my own pillow/blanket, and decent legroom. I flew on a 2-3-2 sized plane out of Seattle, landed in Reyjkavik for a 1.5-hour layover before bouncing to London Heathrow.
The only spot of trouble I ran into was with my carry-on bag in Reyjkavik. The flight attendants in Seattle didn't have any problems with it and it fits perfectly fine in the overhead bins. When I went to board my flight to London, the IcelandAir flight attendant made me try to fit my back in their size box. I was forced to remove items in order to make it fit, even though when those items were inside my bag fit perfectly once on the plane.
C'est la vie!
WHERE TO STAY:
With less than a month to plan it, I booked this trip with very little forethought to where I would stay. When I mentioned to roommate the killer deal on flights he opted to tag along. He works in retail and with it being the week of Thanksgiving/Black Friday he'd only be able to come for part of the week before flying home ahead of me. We discussed our choices and decided the majority of our time together we'd stay in a hostel. After all, we weren't coming to London to hang out in a hotel the whole time!
The Generator Hostel - London
We booked at The Generator Hostel, one of the best hostel chains and top-rated in London. We got a great rate for the 5 days we spent there, opting for a private 2 bunk room with complimentary towels and shared showers. The hostel comes with a laundry facility, a cafe, a bar, and a chill-out area. I am a light sleeper and one of my favorite things about The Generator is that they are really aware of 'quiet hours' and do what they can to enforce them. They have a separate entrance after 10 pm, monitored by a security guard. I even saw someone out by the main street trying to keep people leaving a close pub relatively quiet before walking into the hostel!
The Generator is about a 5-minute walk from the closest underground station (Russell Square). Also, about a 10-minute walk from St. Pancras and King's Cross Station. Either of these stations will lead you into bustling parts of the city. If you don't mind huffing it through the brisk weather then you can always explore the city on foot! Right when you land be sure to get your Oyster Card set up at the airport. You can load the card up with as many funds as you think you'll need. I put £50 on mine and it lasted me the whole week!
Hotel Indigo - Leicester Square
My roommate headed back to Seattle a day or so before I did. Instead of just extending my hostel stay, I decided I wanted a bit of luxury for my last night in the city. I had been staring at photos of Hotel Indigo - Leicester Square for several month and, thanks to Trivago, I found a great deal on a room rate!
Located right in the center of Leicester Square, Hotel Indigo is a gorgeous boutique hotel. Hotel Indigo prides itself on designing each of its locations based on the heritage surrounding the community. Leicester Square has a long history with theaters and was amplified in the 20's when cinema hit the scene. Some of the rooms are decorated with stage lights, framed scripts etc. This beautiful, art-deco inspired hotel combines modern luxury with 1920's glamour. Gilded light fixtures and velvet curtains adorn the rooms. The bathrooms are updated with spa features without detracting from the aesthetic. They have a rooftop restaurant/bar with a great view of the London skyline.
I seriously can't recommend them enough! I was shocked that with them being located right in the middle of Leicester Square, there was never a noise problem. Their location is perfect for vacation since your activities will be spread across London. Staying somewhere central on your first trip puts you in the best position to try and tick everything off of your must-see list. It’ll give you less commute time overall if you plan ahead of time!
HOW TO GET AROUND
There are a few different ways you can navigate the city. If you've researched London at all then you know The Underground is by far the easiest way to get from one end of the city to the other. London is HUGE, greater London is 1600 square kilometers and somehow a little over 7 million people populate it! There are major Underground stations peppered all over the city that can get you where you need to go. When I landed at Heathrow airport, I loaded up my Oyster card with £50 and that lasted me for 5 days, included a few bus rides.
Which brings me to your next option, a signature London icon, the double-decker bus. These beauties are all around the inner-city but even more so if you journey outside of the city centre. They're great if you need to go short distances but not across town. I used a combination of Google Maps and CityMapper to help me navigate which mode of transpo would be best.
As a final resort, you can always look to a taxi option. Lyft doesn't exist in London but they do have Uber and the black taxi cabs that you see roaming the city. After a particularly exhausting day of walking, my feet were screaming at me. It was another 3/4 mile to the closest underground stop, and my body was not having it. I turned my back, stuck out my hand, and hailed my first cab! The reason I state that this should be a last resort is the cost. Taking a taxi or uber will cost you, depending on your location, 3-4 x's what it would cost you to take a bus or the underground.
WHAT TO EAT:
Nestled in the heart of Covent Garden is the cutest little gingerbread house! Balthazar is the place you go when you want to indulge in delicious food while relaxing in a classy atmosphere.
The Breakfast Club SoHo -
This was one of the top recommended places I came across. They have a few locations but the SoHo one is the first. We headed over around 9am and the line was already around the block! The wait was around 30-45 minutes but the line moved quickly and thankfully the weather was cooperating. When we finally got inside I understood why it took so long. It was another 'intimate' experience, with shared tables and limited seating. I got the breakfast sandwich while Douglas got their eggs florentine. They were both divine and totally worth the wait!
Balan's SoHo Society -
I was surpised that a bustling city like London pretty much shuts down after 1 or 2am. I had terrible jet lag for this trip. Unfortunately, that means I was waking up around 3 or 4 am each morning absolutely starving! When we stayed in the hostel there was nothing around that was open. I ended up heading to the local Tesco and bought sandwich supplies to keep my mornings from being miserable until other shops opened. When I switched to the hotel, options were still limited but I stumbled across the Balan's SoHo Society Café. They make the best 4am banana pancakes a girl could want!
LUNCH / DINNER
This place was recommended to both of us by A LOT of people. They caution that there will always be a wait and they weren't kidding. We stood outside, in the freezing cold, for about an hour. The awesome hosts were handing out warm cups of chai tea and the closer you got to the front door, the more you could feel their space heaters working for those outside. They really try to make your wait as comfortable as they can, which we appreciated. But you know what? The food was more than worth it! Seriously, both Douglas and myself were practically drooling when we left!
Patty & Bun -
They have a few locations but I hit up the one in SoHo for some late-night eats! There was definitely a wait and for such a small space they were packed. When I finally got seated, I had the 'Ari Gold' Cheeseburger on a yummy brioche bun. It was so yummy and whatever is in their house-made 'smokey p&b mayo' I need ASAP.
Pho Soho -
When the rainy weather hits, sometimes you just need some good old fashioned broth to warm your bones! Nestled in the heart of SoHo, this pho restaraunt is a big bowl of yum that I was happy to put in my belly.
Ping Pong -
We were starving and cruising through Selfridge's when we realized it had been several hours since our last meal. We quickly worked our way through Yelp and came across a tiny dim sum restaurant around the corner called Ping Pong. We had delicious spring rolls and yummy dumplings, complete with a bottle of wine! Pretty basic but delicious meal but the hostess was very sweet and the menu had a lot of options.
DRINKS / SMALL BITES -
Coppa Club -
After waiting in line for hours, I was able to get a reservation at the coveted Coppa Club igloos by Tower Bridge! The view was gorgeous but the igloos were definitely an intimate experiment haha. Pretty tight space-wise but definitely an experience I don't regret. We had a couple of delicious drinks and a few yummy appetizers. I loved the bramble spritz and the blood-orange sidecar for drinks. For food, we went with the warm sourdough bread and the crispy fried truffle gnocchi!
We came across a gorgeous patisserie window display on a way to The Breakfast Club SoHo. It was so tantalizing that on our way back I had to grab a sweet treat! L'ETO had award winning cakes and boy did they deserve it. Douglas got the tiramisu while I got a raspberry tart. Both of which are things I could eat every day for the rest of my life!
M'aître Choux Artiste Patissier -
I found this gem among my list of recommendations and thankfully it was around the corner from my hotel! These decadent small treats are melt-in-the-mouth fantastic! I had the 'milk chocolate hazelnut treasure' and I will dream about it forever.
Pret a Manger -
If you need a quick cup of tea to start your day or maybe a quick take-away sandwich on the go, head to Pret! They're practically on every corner and not only are they affordable, but they make a great turmeric latte.
WHAT TO DO:
We crammed a lot into these 6 days, many of which I've written separate posts for but here's a quick overview of what we did!
Harry Potter Mania -
I grew up with the books, I have symbols tattooed on my body, and I look forward to the day I can tell my children about 'The Boy Who Lived'. There are quite a few Harry Potter related activities in London. Our first stop was Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station followed the next day by a tour at the Warner Brother's lot where it was filmed. Read all about that magical tour here.
Go See A Show -
You can't come to London without seeing a show at the infamous West End. They have plays, musicals, comedy shows etc, so even if you're not a theatre geek there is sure to be something for you! I opted to see Ian McKellen's one-man show. I've long been a fan of his work and the opportunity to see him in such close proximity was one I couldn't pass up. The show was an absolute delight and if you're able to see it before it closes in January then you must!
Check Out The Historical Sites -
Obviously London is a city rich in history, so why not experience some of it! There are so many options, so depending on what you're into I'm sure there is something out there. The Crown Jewels Tower of London Tour is amazing! Be sure to check out some of the beautiful cathedrals. St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey are two of my favorites. They are beyond gorgeous and you could sit in them for hours.
Christmas Markets -
If you visit London after the 2nd or 3rd week of November, you've arrived just in time to see Christmas decorations go up! There are a lot of options to choose from around Central London. Thankfully, I've done a lot of the hard work for you! I've listed my top 8 favorite Christmas Markets or displays in London!
Have A Cup Of Tea -
For this, we turned to the ever-so-cute 'B Bakery Bus Tour'. They set you up in a cute double-decker bus, complete with blankets and space heaters in the winter. You choose your food in advance and they pour you a cup of tea (or something stronger) while you cruise through historical sites in the city! Tea in London is obviously a must, but it can get very expensive quite quickly. Most good afternoon tea experiences will run you £80-100+ each. This tour gives you tea, food, and a bus tour of the city, all starting at £45!
Walk Around -
This is an insanely walkable city. My feet had blisters but my heart was full. You'll see amazing window displays, come across whole-in-the-wall restaurants, and explore this amazing town. There are some awesome walking tours available. I opted in for the 'Jack The Ripper' tour and it was amazing. I learned so much and got to see a lot of the city my activities wouldn't have led me to.
Here's A Collection Of Some Other Trip Photos!
A Few Things I Still Need To See
- Notting Hill
- Tea at The Ritz
- Explore the Southbank
- More walking tours
- The British Museum
I am sure that I'll never be able to see all that London has to offer. Frankly, I doubt anyone ever has. I'm excited to keep trying though! I'm heading back to Seattle but can't wait to plan my next trip to ' The Big Smoke '. Hopefully, this post inspired you to plan your own trek across the pond!
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