QUICK FACTS Planning: Plan for all kinds of weather, especially rain. Summers are short so try to go between June and August. They say the winters are bitterly cold without the majesty of a winter city so best to avoid winter in Jolly Ol’ London. Average Cost Per Day: $100 - $200 is a safe budget. Must Do: Thames River Cruise Don’t Do: If you’re not a Harry Potter fan avoid King’s Cross Station. When I was there the lineup for a photo op was huge. It’s not worth checking out if you don’t care about the movies.
Hectic Scale: Since you need special passes to get into everything I’d say most of your planning and work would happen before you even arrive so it’s not all that hectic. I’ll say 2/5 on the hectic scale.
So, this trip was very unique for me. I was dropping a friend off at the airport and realized I had nothing to do for the week. I went up to the ticket counter and asked where I could go for a week that wouldn’t completely break the bank. Turned out, there was a flight to London in the UK on a seat sale, so 2 hours later I was headed to the Queen’s country.
I had no luggage, clothes, toiletries, or anything except the clothes I was wearing and the money in my pocket (God bless credit cards … sorta). People looked at me like I was crazy but that’s okay … I kinda am! Obviously, the first stop had to be a mall so I let the hackney (cab) driver guide me to the mall that suited me best. We ended up at BoxPark, which is a shipping container mall that had everything I needed. It’s a super cool spot with stores ranging in price for everyone. If you care about labels (I don’t) then there are a lot more shops for you than I but luckily I made it work.
My next mission was to figure out where I would stay. After some conversation with several locals while I ate some fish and chippies at BoxPark I settled on my hotel.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN LONDON
I stayed at the Pullman Hotel for a week and enjoyed every minute I spent there. The staff was extremely courteous, the room was fantastic, and their breakfast buffet was one of the best I’ve ever had! One of the front desk staff ended up spending a couple of days with me on her day off, showing me the sights and introducing me to the more intimate side of London. I’m not going to cover much of that though because I can’t guarantee the same experience. She knew everyone so it made things pretty interesting. I’ll stick to the stuff I did without her.
The Pullman Hotel is conveniently located near King’s Cross Station (you should check it out), main transportation routes, and plenty of restaurants! I was set!
TRANSPORTATION IN LONDON
There are 2 authentic ways to get around London. First, hackneys or cabs. They look just like they do in the movies and seat 4 - 6 people, which is kinda nice. Of course, I had to take a couple of rides on the world-famous double-decker buses, too!
THE SIGHTS As I said, a lot of what I did was off the beaten path and I only discovered it because I was with a local. It was like spending time at home … but not. So, I’ll leave that stuff out and focus on the sights you’re guaranteed to enjoy and will have access to. I only remind you of this because with 6 days in London you might wonder why I didn’t see more. That’s why.
KING’S CROSS STATION + PLATFORM 9¾
One block away from the Pullman Hotel is King’s Cross Station. I find it incredibly interesting to see how other cities and cultures get around. In Winnipeg, where I’m from, we’re still stuck in the past. There’s no real train or subway around the city. We’re just now getting Rapid Transit. The station is architecturally stunning and even though I’ve never seen a single Harry Potter movie to the end, of course everyone should stop at Platform 9 3/4. It was pretty lined up for a photo op so I didn’t grab a pic (next time) but for you hardcore Potterheads out there, they’ll give you a prop wand and scarf for your picture. Just don’t forget to tip! Here’s a pic my new friend took on a previous visit to the station.
London without checking in on the Queen and her controversial family. The Palace is a sight for sure. They really did build better back in the day. I took a nice long walk through the park nearby to get to the Palace and enjoyed the beautiful weather. I went in July so it was hot but not really sweat-producing. Since I flew to London on a whim I couldn’t get in the Palace and on the day I went there was an event happening anyway. People really dress up for galas at Buckingham Palace. I’ve never seen such elegant gowns and so many bowties. High-class hats were all the rage with this group as well.
The birdcage walk is a street in the city of Westminister within London. It’s a popular place to have a picnic and explore, which is what I did. For almost the entire day I wrote, read, and enjoyed the views of nature. Here, I noticed the many beautiful women and not one had RBF. They all looked positively elated with their lives. A few stopped to talk to me and a group of women shared their ice cream with me as we talked about how Nicholas Sparks movies are great but the books disappoint.
London has a lot of beautiful parks, and if you like calm in your life I suggest a picnic to be one with nature.
When I played Sim City as a kid I always had to have Big Ben in my city. I’m not sure why, but I always had an attachment to the tower. One remarkable point about London is they maintain their historic landmarks better than anywhere else I’ve been. I went to London just in time to hear some of the last chimes until 2021 I believe. Currently, they are renovating Big Ben but chimes still take place for special events.
RED TELEPHONE BOOTH
Another landmark that you can find throughout London is the red telephone booth. I wonder how long they’ll last. By the mid-2020’s I suspect there will be but a few in a tight spot that will become a truly historic landmark. We’ll probably even have to explain what they are in a generation or two.
THAMES RIVER CRUISE
This was my favourite activity in London! You get to see everything including the London Eye (I didn’t go on but will next time), London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, and the unique architecture of the city. It’s really interesting how closely they built the roads and sidewalks to the water. It’s almost perfectly level in places. You don’t see that in Canada. I got my ticket at the Westminster Pier and boarded from there. We cruised to Greenwich. Here are photos of what I saw along the way:
Hate the name, love the view! 😂The Shard has an observation deck on the 95th floor of the skyscraper. It’s a bit trippy at first, then surreal, then stunning. I timed it so I could see the sunset. While you’re there, go to the washroom. Yep, you read that right. You’ll be shocked in the best way possible.
THE BRITISH MUSEUM
London is a place that can at times feel frozen in time. They respect their history, and as such it’s only appropriate to visit a museum. The British Museum is a hot spot for sure. I showed up an hour before opening and the sidewalk just before buying tickets was packed. The line went quickly though and inside the people all seemed to be on their own little missions so the crowd scattered.
I spent 4 hours in the museum and took in everything. It’s worth it, and that’s coming from a guy who doesn’t often find much joy in museums.
Towards the end of the trip I went with a group of people I had met through my new friend at the hotel to Camden Market. One of their friends was playing a gig there so we went to support and it was a great evening out. You really get a taste for local fare and you’ll also experience residents of London at their most natural here (my experience).
THAT’S A WRAP For a trip I took on a whim, I saw and experienced a lot. Most of the time I was there I either kicked it like I was at home or hit local bars and a couple of shows. If you want that local pub vibe I recommend The Mayflower and the Radio Rooftop Bar.
The phone numbers take some getting used to, as does the terminology but once you have both down, London will feel like home pretty quickly. Enjoy your trip to Jolly Ol’ London. Until I have a video (next time) here is a vlog by Miss Mikayla G: