I'm back from my trip to London and Paris! I'm starting my write up of all we saw and did. But whew boy is it a lot!! Here's the first part of our trip of three and half days in London.
I started off my first international trip with six hour flight from Orlando to Reykjavik with Icelandair! I really enjoyed my flight on Icelandair, even though I was in economy class each seat had TVs and a USB port for charging. There was even a pretty awesome selection of free movies including Wonder Woman and Baby Driver. I watched part of Wonder Woman and then tried to sleep for a few hours. My flight was an overnight flight that left around 8pm. I arrived in Reykjavik around 3 am EST and I even got to see the faintest flicker of the Northern Lights on way into Iceland so that was pretty cool!
I spent about 45 minutes in the Reykjavik airport which was kinda strange cause there were so few seats in and around the gates, but I just hung out on the floor for a little while before taking the shuttle back out to my new plane that would take me to London.
I arrived at Gatwick around 1245pm local time and made it through customs and passport control with little fuss. I then bought myself a national express bus ticket to Heathrow as I was meeting my friend there after her flight arrived. I was so excited to see some fall leaves on my ride there since it had been about 80 degrees when I left Florida. I met up with my friend and we took the Heathrow Express train into London which was super easy. We then hopped on the Tube towards our hostel, which was fairly easy but a little hard to navigate with our big bags. Not to mention that because it was unseasonably warm for October I was of course sweating buckets. Not a good look.
We made it to our hostel mid afternoon and checked in. We ended up staying at the Wombat’s Hostel London. We booked two beds in a 6 bed female dorm. We were pleased with the room; it was on the main floor so no stairs needed. When we first checked in all the beds were occupied but by two days later it was just my friend and I and another girl left which was nice. Our room had a private shower and toilet room as well as separate sink, which was nice. The floor were wood and the room felt clean, the shower seemed to be cleaned daily. I’m sure hostel dorm rooms depend on your roommates but we got very lucky and had quiet, chill roommates.
After dropping our bags and showering off almost 24 hours of traveling we headed out, walking to the Tower of London which was only about a 7 minute walk away. We walked along the Thames and over the Tower Bridge and then back along a super cute walkway along the river. There were tons of people out and we enjoyed all the sights and cute pubs and restaurants. We eventually ended up at a restaurant that as cute and kitschy inside. The food wasn’t bad but unfortunately our service was sort of terrible, it took over an hour for our food to get to us. We walked back by the Globe Theatre and talked about doing a tour of it. We headed back to the hostel and off to sleep soon after.
On Sunday we woke up early to get to the Columbia Road Flower Market because we were curious to see the market and I love anything to do with fresh flowers. We took our first spin on the double decker red buses, which was a bit of a bust because even with my citymapper app I found it pretty confusing of which bus to use and in which direction. It didn’t help that when we got on and I asked our bus driver if our stop was on there he said yes initially the said he actually wasn’t sure and tried to look at it on my app… didn’t inspire much confidence. Regardless we eventually got to the stop we wanted and made our way to the market. One bus experience was definitely enough and we didn’t venture back and instead stuck to the Tube.
The Columbia Road Flower Market is on Sundays only from 8-3ish in East London. I read lots of things saying to arrive early though as the flowers go quickly. I was worried there wouldn’t be as many flowers in October but there were still tons and some truly gorgeous flowers I’d never seen before. One tip is to be cautious, as some stands don’t allow you to take photos or video of their flowers. I was sad we didn’t have anywhere to display flowers or a vase to put them in or I definitely would have bought some.
We then walked to Beigel Bake for breakfast and had an amazing bagel and pastry! Careful as I believe they are cash only.
After our bagels for breakfast we headed by tube to stop by and see Buckingham Palace. I managed to unwittingly get us there just in time for the daily changing of the guards. The crowds were so gigantic I actually thought the royal family might be appearing… but no apparently that was just a normal crowd day at Buckingham Palace. Regardless after pushing our way through way too many people we made our way to the other side and the green area near the park there which was gorgeous. We then walked to Harrod’s to check out the curious things they sell. We managed to get rather incredibly lost inside looking for things and kept walking in huge squares.
After a stop at a Café Nero for coffee we headed to the Science Museum, London for a bit. I enjoyed the exhibits a lot and there was a lot to look at for adults, not just children. We stopped in the Natural History Museum briefly then grabbed some Italian for dinner at Rocca. Next we stopped by Hatchards the oldest bookstore in London. I actually managed not to buy any books!
We walked through St. James’ Park to Parliament Square and saw Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. Funny story, we definitely took pictures in front of Westminster and somehow missed that that’s what it was, we thought it was a different smaller church so we went back a day later to see “Westminster Abbey” and discovered we’d actually already seen it! We walked by Big Ben which is under quite a bit of construction and Parliament. We went back out for dessert at Motown in Whitechapel that night and enjoyed some ice cream.
On Monday we headed to Breakfast Club for breakfast on my dad’s recommendation. It was tiny but we only waited probably fifteen minutes. After we headed to the British Museum and wandered there for a few hours. We had a ridiculous amount of fun making up funny snapchats for the different works of art, although I promise we were respectful. After we started to gloss over we walked to Chinatown to get a snack at Bubblewrap London. You should definitely try their egg waffles that you can fill with all sorts of sugar and toppings. Next we headed to Trafalgar Square and looked around the National Portrait Gallery briefly.
After that we took the Tube to the Florence Nightingale Museum, which I was especially looking forward to as a nurse who learned about Flo in nursing school! We spent about two hours there, which was probably way more than my friend wanted to see. We came outside at 3pm to what appeared to be either a tornado or darkness falling. It was incredibly strange and after I texted my dad (the resident family weather man) to ask if the world was ending, he told me it was Hurricane Ophelia that was hitting Ireland. It had picked up dust and sand from the Sahara and had formed a giant orange cloud over London. It was disturbing and the only way I can describe the strange feeling was the way it looks before tornadoes in the US. I have no recollection of what we ate for dinner nor photo evidence…
On Tuesday we got up early to do laundry and grab Dum Dum Donuts in Bethnel Green. They are in a tiny shop there. The donuts are gorgeous but definitely on the heavy side. We also grabbed bagels again at Beigel Bake for snacks later. We tried to go to the Hunterian Museum but I belatedly realized they are closed until 2020 for and extensive renovation… so that was a bust. We hopped back on the tube, making a stop at King’s Cross Station to see the Harry Potter themed Platform 9 ¾. It was a bit underwhelming honestly, to someone who has visited Harry Potter at Universal. We were glad we didn’t go out of our ways to see it. We then made our way to Portobello Road Market to wander a bit in Notting Hill. We ate at a cute café called Gail’s for lunch.
After we headed back to see Westminster Abbey although we then realized we’d already seen it. We debated paying to go inside but eventually decided it was a lot of money, we did stop in the gift shop though and picked up some super cute gifts. I have to say I think my favorite places that we bought souvenirs were strange places like museum gift shops and the stationery section at Harrod’s which had some amazing postcards!
Next we headed to our prebooked time at the Sky Garden to see London from the 34th floor! You do need an advance ticket to visit the Sky Garden and you should arrive during your ticket’s time period. But it's free and you can stay as long as you like. There are also a couple of restaurants in the Sky Garden you can eat at. After a few photos there and a snack we headed to Oxford St to buy me some new sneakers (sidebar London and Paris are no joke, BRING GOOD SHOES) and to Selfridges to get a backpack I’d been eyeing since my carryon seemed in danger of breaking. We then hopped on the tube and headed towards Spitaelfields Market and ate some fish and chips at Poppies. It was a little underwhelming but I really felt like the food just needed better seasoning (how’s that for typical English fare for ya).
The next morning we were booked on the Eurostar to Paris so we grabbed some breakfast and sprang for an Uber to the train station. The weather had been particularly strange and HOT, in the 60’s and 70’s and sunny every day we’d been there but the day we left it was rainy and much more what I would have imagined as typical London weather.
Overall I think my favorite part of London was the London Science Museum and the Florence Nightingale Museum. London is incredibly easy to navigate in my opinion, especially with an app like Citymapper. I found the Tube to be incredibly clean and well organized. We almost never waited more than a minute or two for a train to arrive and there were workers all around if you needed help. I felt very safe on all the trains and platforms. It was a nice change of pace after using the subway in New York the last year and half as the delays get longer and longer.
London is expensive but we managed to get pretty lucky by eating at places where there were half price menus or other cheaper options like street food or cafes. Almost every museum we went to was free or very low cost which was awesome.
The biggest downside I see with London is how similar it feels to the US. It feels like a big city anywhere. This is probably comforting to an American not wanting to venture too far outside of their comfort zone. I did enjoy the history of London though and how much older the building are obviously. Plus I love an English accent! I’m looking forward to returning to London but moreso to use it as a base for traveling to see the rest of England like Bath, Darcy’s House and the Harry Potter Studio tour which we didn’t have time to see this time.