Monday, January 18, 2016

How to See London in One Day

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My sister visited us here in Berlin in December and we had a totally awesome time. Not only did we show her all the great sights here, but we also fulfilled her lifelong dream of spending the day in London. London was never on my list of top travel destinations, but I'm so glad we went. It was way cooler than I ever dreamed.

Here I will write a post for you about our day in London and give you as many tips as I can so your experience in London can be as fun as ours was.




 


The Basics


How can I fly to London for cheap?

After I found flights to get us to Berlin for $500 in September, I am always referring people to Skyscanner for the cheapest flights. For example, you can fly from Boston to London for only $314 in April and there are round flights as cheap as $22 from Germany. So, do yourself a favor and use Skyscanner.


Where to stay? 

My favorite way to find lodging in any city is through Airbnb. It can be way cheaper than a hotel, plus you get a chance to experience the life of the locals.  You can click HERE for a free $20 Airbnb credit from me to you!


What kind of ticket should I get for the public transportation?

If you are staying for any extended amount of time, it may be best to get an Oyster Card. Basically the way it works is that you load up your Oyster Card with money and then use it as a ticket. If you have the Oyster Card, you'll only pay a maximum of £6.50 a day for fares. However, it does cost £3 to get the card initially and you have to have it sent to you before your trip. I think the minimum credit you can initially put on the card is £10, so it definitely isn't worth it for one day. Instead, we got the day travel card for about £12. So, long story short, for one day, the day travelcard is definitely the best way to go. You can ride on any bus or train in the whole city, plus it's good for the Gatwick Express which will take you directly from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station.


Does it matter which airport I fly into?

We made the mistake of flying into Stansted. This is a ways north of the city and you'll have to pay for a bus to take you into the city. We flew out of Gatwick and getting there was so easy. As I mentioned above, your day ticket will also be good for the Gatwick Express, so just hop on at Victoria Station and you'll be at Gatwick airport in 30 minutes. 






Samuel and I decided to write up this little travel rating chart to give you an idea of what it's like there. We personally loved it and will definitely go back if we find a ridiculously cheap flight out of Berlin again sometime.


Food

I only gave the food in London three stars. I'm not saying it was bad, but it's not what I came home talking about. I think the street food scene was lacking and the cuisine was just not anything too exciting, but still... it was good.


We ate at The Volunteer which is right next to 221B Baker Street (yes, we are Sherlock Holmes fans). I would highly recommend it. It seems like a lot of locals were hanging out there and the pub atmosphere was charming.

My suggestion is that if you want a good taste of London, you should order a plate of fish and chips, a good ale, and maybe some sticky toffee pudding for dessert. We were all too full for the pudding, but it is one of my favorite desserts, so you should try it if you get the chance.

What we ordered was kind of a sampler of British Sprats, Confit Duck, and Stout Cured Smoked Salmon and a plate of fish and chips with green pea smash.

 


The Beer

(Samuel wrote this section because I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about when it comes to beer...)

The beer was bitter, full, and refreshing.  Well maybe not that refreshing... I will never understand why the English drink their beer warm.  But besides that, the beer suited my American tastes well.  I noticed a variety of the beers on tap, so I asked the bartender which beer she would recommend.  I told her I will try anything as long as it isn't German, since we live in Berlin.  So she passed us five different beers to try.  Besides the one darker stout, they were all nice hoppy ales.  Complex tastes, sometimes sweet, but with a nice bite.  I wish they were cold, but I was happy to drink a beer that didn't conform to the German beer purity laws, and so they were a bit more unique.  So if you like ales and a more complex taste, London has what you're looking for.





Culture

Going to London was an awesome cultural experience. Not only are they rightly proud of their red telephone booths and buses and their old fashioned black taxis, they really hang on to their old ceremonies and traditions too, like the changing of the guard for example. If you see something weird going on, like two dudes sitting on horses without moving or blinking for twenty minutes, don't be shy to ask a local what's happening. There's no point in paying for a tour guide in London when all of the locals are so friendly and ready to tell you something about their city. 







People

Speaking of which, the people in London are so friendly. First of all, the fact that they actually speak English is very refreshing for a Berlin dweller like me. They're also very eager to help you out. We asked a couple of cops at this ceremony what the heck was going on and they gave us the whole history and origin of the tradition and even gave us more tips on where to go and what to do. At one point we were trying to get to the British Museum and didn't know where it was. We stopped a guy who was clearly on a mission, walking fast with a trench coat and brief case. He didn't know where it was, but looked it up for us on his phone and was really acting like he had nothing better to do all day than help a few confused Americans find their way. We also met a girl on the train who was helping us figure out the fastest way to get to the airport who was also very friendly and helpful. Overall, the Londoners get an A+ in my book for their down-to-earth, friendly attitude. Plus they have British accents which makes everything more fun.






Weather (Is it okay to go to London in the winter??)

We went to London in December and totally lucked out on the weather. Without the harsh high or low temperatures in London, the only thing you have to look out for is rain. Just make sure you bring an umbrella, and if it does rain, just consider it adding to the eerie atmosphere which is actually kind of fun. For us though, we had a cloudy morning with a sunny afternoon with temps in the high 50s (Fahrenheit of course). It was actually crazy that by going a little bit North, it was like going forward a few months into the spring for us. There were flowers blooming, green grass, and even some palm trees. It was very refreshing and I would highly recommend a trip to London in the winter. Plus it's off-season so it's less crowded and everything is a little bit cheaper.










 Walkability

Getting around to the different sites in London was very easy by foot. Everything is fairly close together other than the Tower of London and the London Bridge. Luckily we rode by them in a bus on the way into the city, but otherwise we wouldn't have seen them. The trains come very quickly too so overall I think it was very easy to get around.





The Tower of London




Cleanliness

London was a very clean city. Other than a few ripped seats in the underground train, I really thought everything seemed pretty tidy, clean and well kept up.


Big Ben




Natural Beauty

London has lots of pretty parks. It was a treat for us seeing so much green and flowers blooming in December. There are tons of birds in all the parks that love to be fed. The squirrels are also very tame and Samuel even got one to eat right out of his hand. If we go to London again, I will skip most of the sights and just walk around in London's many beautiful parks.



Regent's Park


Wallet Friendliness 

This was really the only downfall of London. It's very expensive. With the British Pound currently sitting at $1.43, you have to be careful about not seeing £30 and saying in your mind, "Okay, that's about 30 bucks then." I would give London 1 star for wallet friendliness, but I'm saving that for the Scandinavian countries which I'm sure are even worse. Although, most of the museums in London are free, so even though we didn't have time to take advantage of that, it is awesome.




St. James Park


Public Transportation

I touched on this a little bit above, but I think the public transportation in London was great. It was fast, easy to figure out, and not ridiculously expensive. Of course, it's a lot more expensive than Berlin, but most places are. You can take the double-decker red buses or the trains. Don't take the taxis. It's tempting because they're so cool looking, but not worth it. We did take a taxi because we were getting frantic to get to the airport in time at the end, but I don't think it saved us any time. The cabbie was a friendly, little old man though, which made it almost worth it. 


221 B Baker Street



Things to do in London

You'll mostly want to be hanging out around Westminster if you only have a day in London. If you really want to see the tower of London or the London Bridge, you're going kind of out of your way. I'm glad we got to drive by on our way into the city, but you might not have time if you're coming from Gatwick Airport.  Here's what we did:

    • Start at Victoria Station 

    • Take a Train to Buckingham Palace

    • Walk through St. James park to the Changing of the Horse Guards which takes place at 11 a.m.
    •  
    • Take a picture in a red phone booth.
    •  
    • Walk to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. 
    •  
    • Take the train to Piccadilly Circus (kind of the little Times Square of London)
    •  
    • Take the train to Baker Street to see the apartment Sherlock Holmes and grab a bite to eat at The Volunteer.

    • Take a walk through Regent's Park

    • Take the train to the British Museum (free entrance!)
    •  
    • Get back to Victoria Station and take the Gatwick Express back to the airport. 







We didn't actually get a chance to go into the museum. Once we were about to go in we realized, "Holy cow, we have to get back to the airport or we're going to miss our flight!"

If you have time though, I would definitely try to do that.





Overall, our trip to London was totally worth it and I hope we get a chance to do it again sometime soon. Let me know if you enjoyed this post, because we hope to do a lot of traveling while we're living in Europe so I will hopefully have a few more posts like this within the next couple of years. Next stop... Rome! 











Buckingham Palace








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