London has long been on my bucket list, but it wasn’t originally part of our 2 month European itinerary because I didn’t think we had enough time or money. However, we found an affordable non-stop flight from Singapore that we couldn’t pass up, so Anthony and I spent a few days dabbling in what the city has to offer and it turned out to be a great introductory visit for me. Here are my top recommendations when visiting London including a suggested 3 day itinerary.
Tap on the Tube with your phone or Pay Wave
The Tube is extremely extensive. And to make London’s public transportation even more user friendly, you can tap on and off with your phone’s wallet or any credit card that has PayWave. No need to buy a metro card!
Buy a SIM card at the airport
Anthony actually bought a SIM card from a vending machine while we were waiting for our luggage. If you will be traveling Europe, consider purchasing a plan with EE which that allows you to “roam like you’re home.” Our EE SIM worked for us throughout the UK, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Research which provider will serve you and your travel needs best.
Exchange your cash at the Post Office
Thanks to a travel guide, we found out about this one. Apparently, they offer some of the best rates in town.
Stay near Trafalgar Square
London is a very large, very spread out city and there are tons of neighborhoods to choose from when booking accommodation. My number one priority is always location and we found Trafalgar Square a convenient, central place where we could easily get to our top attractions. London accommodation is not cheap, but we lucked out on hotels.com and found a reasonably priced room in student accommodation at the LSE Northumberland House. It’s kind of funny that we stayed in a dorm, but it was a great money saver!
What to eat and drink
Nothing says England to me like pies, bangers and mash or fish and chips- all staples of the British pub menu. We were really surprised that the majority of traditional pubs we found all had the exact same food menu. After consulting with my friend Mr. Google, apparently selling alcohol is the main priority of a pub and the food comes second.
A hand pumped beer is also so British to me and we had some amazing ones when we were there. Some people are turned off because cask ales are served “gently chilled,” but who needs an ice cold beer when it’s gross and rainy out anyway?
Only people “in the know” would notice these little green huts around the city. If you’re looking for a quick and cheap meal, a cabman’s shelter is the place to be. They were designed for cabbies as a place to eat and hang out with other drivers, but anyone can walk up and order through the window. Every morning, Anthony and I ate at breakfast at the Embankment Place Cabmen’s Shelter near where we were staying. Hard to beat £2.70 for a fresh, huge BLT.
How to spend 3 days in London
There’s enough to see and do in London to easily fill a week, so if you’re short on time you’ll need to prioritize. In 3 days, I feel like we got to see the major sights while still making time to wander the city. For me, visiting London was more than just a check list city of famous landmarks. Some of my favorite moments were simply seeing firsthand everything that makes London so iconically English: riding the Tube, watching the black cabs pass double decker buses, spotting red telephone booths on the corner, listening to accents at the pub. Whatever your sightseeing priorities are, I would recommend choosing two sites a day and exploring them to the fullest instead of running yourself ragged trying to see everything at once.
Day 1: Hop on-hop off bus
When we landed it was raining (I would have felt very cheated if it hadn’t been), so we decided to fight our jet lag by spending the afternoon on a hop on-hop off bus. It was a great way to get a feel for the city and its layout, and the commentary was certainly amusing.
Day 2: Tower of London and Tower Bridge
Once a castle, once a prison, the infamous Towel of London holds more history in one place than you could ever imagine, but it’s probably most well known as the home of the Crown Jewels. (And please don’t be like that American who asked an employee “What’s in the Crown Jewels?” because yes, that actually happened.) We waited in line for 45 minutes to see the coveted royal bling and it was totally worth the hype. There were beautiful gold everythings, a 100 carat stone on display and even a 500 carat diamond the size of a baby’s fist. It’s crazy to think that each royal has their own set of jewels, too. I can only imagine how heavy those crowns must be to wear! And I wouldn’t even be able to wrap my head around their worth. They’re an absolute must see when in London. After you’ve fully explored the Tower of London, take a stroll across the Tower Bridge which is right nearby.
Day 3: Changing of the Guards and Kensington Palace
Check the schedule to see when the Changing of the Guards will be happening while you’re there. Since the procession takes 45 minutes over three different locations, Anthony and I thought it best to join a paid walking tour, but I’d like to do it differently next time. I personally would have preferred to get to the front of the Buckingham Palace gates early and get a better view of the guards instead of constantly moving around for an hour, but at least it gave me a good overview and ideas for next time. The Changing of the Guards gets crowded, so research your attack plan before you arrive.
To extend your royal tour, visit Kensington Palace afterwards. Prince William wanted his children to grow up in London, so he moved the family into Kensington Palace. It’s a beautiful estate to walk around and try to make time to enjoy the Sunken Gardens, they were Princess Diana’s favorite. Stop into the nearby Churchill Arms later for a drink.
What to pack
- Waterproof windbreaker
- Shoes that can cope with puddles
What to watch on the plane
- Mary Poppins
- Spice World
- Friends episode “The One with Ross’s Wedding”
What to listen to on the plane
You can’t go wrong with anything British, but here are some of my favorites to get your playlist started!
- “London Calling” by The Clash
- Abbey Road by The Beatles
- “Under Pressure” by Queen
- “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse
- “Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure
- “Life on Mars” by David Bowie
- “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John
Would I go back?
Absolutely! London is awesome and was one of my favorite stops of our trip. And since this was my first visit, there is still so much of the city left to explore. I would love to return when Big Ben is not covered in scaffolding and use the city as a base to travel more of England.
Have you been to London? What other tips and travel hacks do you recommend? Comment below to share with other fellow travelers!