Hi friends! During my studies abroad, I had the most amazing opportunity to visit London with some of my friends. It was a 4 day trip at the end of May so we hoped the weather would be rather smooth.
I fell in love with London, since I visited it for the first time back in 2004, when I was a little kid. I wanted so much to go back sometime, and there it was, the chance that I have been waiting for for so long. I must warn you, I did all the tourist-y things, even though I had researched and found little hidden treasures from books and blogs. I just wish I would have watched Rachel Khoo's kitchen notebook: London, a few weeks before I went there!
I was in a strict budget (as always and like all students are!) so we had to stay at a horrible horrible hostel, in a room with 6 more strangers (yikes)! I must say that this could have been even more horrible that it actually was. It was the cheapest accommodation we could find that included breakfast and had a good location. The thing is, that you have to make some sacrifices in order to visit such an expensive city and still have money to move around and see places so, hostel it is! We weren't staying long at the room anyway and spent most of our time out and about in the city, so it was a successful choice that we made.
Getting here and there
It was a big adventure just to get there, since we took the Eurolines bus from Brussels, Belgium to London and it was a 7 hour trip (!). We still had to cross over the sea in a ferry boat and also we arrived in London at 6am when people still did their yoga and morning jogs in the parks! We weren't able to check-in so early,so we spent almost 3 hours sleeping-laying in Kensington Gardens that was just right above our hostel (great location, 3 minutes from metro).
Well, metro is the only thing you will need to get around in London, so I highly recommend you buy an Oyster card prior to your arrival (you can buy it online) or even when you arrive in London in your nearest train station. If you return your card before you leave you get 5 pounds back. Buying a 7 day card which costs approximately 40 pounds will save you enough money. You will be using the metro everywhere you go and that way you won't skip on culture or fun, trying to save money on tickets. You may think it is a lot to spend, but it is totally worth it since it will be your ultimate travel card!
Planning the perfect trip
During my stay, I had a lot to visit and my days were full of action. I had noted a few bakeries that I HAD to see and a bunch of cool museums that I had visited in my last trip but needed to see again. I also visited a few cute bookstores and a flea market. Now, 4 days are nothing compared to the amount of things there are to see and do in a city like London, but this is what you get!
If you are staying only for a few days, like I was, make sure you fit in your schedule time for the magnificent museums and galleries, relaxation in the parks, visits to the flea markets, bakeries and cake shops and of course for a night out in the local pubs! I will make a little list with the places I really loved during my stay.
Cake shops and Bakeries
When it comes to a trip, the food is the first thing I will look up. I am such a foodie, I just can't stop staring at glass windows and menus at cool restaurants and cake shops. Keep in mind that proper restaurants tend to have more expensive menus, so if you choose one, take a look on the daily menu as this is often the cheapest option. For the rest of you, "eatcafes" are your place! Little coffee shops, that serve nice and hot cups of tea and coffee, along with freshly made sandwiches and lunch options such as salads, soups or even meat dishes, are a perfect choice.
I suggest you have a full English breakfast or a healthy midday brunch in a nice place, that will keep you full and energetic for the rest of the day. For lunch you can chose from a variety of street but healthy food, like vegetarian burgers, fresh juices, bagels and other local snacks.
For a cake stop you can visit the Hummingbird Bakery for fluffy and classic cupcakes. It is my favorite bakery and I have all their cookbooks-I am a big fan. Try the "Blackbottom cupcake" with chocolate and cheesecake base or the all time classics "Red Velvet cupcake" and "Carrot Cake cupcake" for which they are highly known. If your are taking it away you can visit the Notting Hill shop. Otherwise best visit the posh South Kensington shop where you will be able to sit as well.
at the Portobello Market in Notting Hill
Next for a more girly experience, Primrose Bakery is a must on your list. I have previously talked about it here. It is such a lovely place to be on a rainy Sunday afternoon. They have a great selection of delightful cakes, cupcakes and brownies. The best cupcake I tried was the "Aviation Cocktail cupcake" a cupcake infused with gin and lemon so tasty and tangy! Big winner, the yellow facade in the Primrose Hill shop.
Jamie Oliver's Cafe & Cookery School ... Notting Hill Gate
E5 Bakehouse is another gem of London. An artisan bakery and coffee shop, serving the best selection of their products. Their brunch is a real treat and everything is made from scratch by the wonderful staff. What I like best in this shop is the philosophy behind it all. Brilliant people, getting together to create products of high quality and taste. Be sure to try their fresh bread and daily brunch.
So, if you are a brunch person this is the second best place to be when in London! The Breakfast Club serves nothing less but the best brunch in town. Be sure to check it out.
And what is a trip to London without trying out some honest burgers? Honest Burgers give you nothing less than their title! Wonderful atmosphere and super helpful staff. There are a few options on their menu so that makes me think that the quality is top. Every burger is served with freshly made fries with herbs (a winner for sure). Try the homemade lemonade. Thumbs up for the cool music playing inside(Vampire Weekend, Youth Lagoon, Allah-Las...).
Culture and Art
Enough with the food already! We've got some serious stuff to do starting with the museums. Tate Modern, The National Gallery, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of London, the Museum of Transportation, the British Museum, the Pollock's Museum are only a few of the choices you can make according to your interests and taste.
I highly recommend Tate Modern and the Museum of London, which was one of my favorite things to see in my trip. Just make sure you check out the temporary exhibitions and get your tickets on time! The wider range of the museums in London have free entrance (!) so you will not be waiting in terrible long lines to get in. Also, if you are visiting on Christmas, check out the opening hours since a lot tend to be closed on holiday days.
Snuggle up in a warm armchair with a cup of tea and flip through the pages of beautiful books. Most of the bookshops, let you sit and have a look in the books before you buy them. Others also have little coffee spots inside, so you can sit and enjoy your coffee along with the book you just bought. Perfect for rainy and hazy days!
The bookshops are many and it depends on your interests and location. Like a proper tourist that I am, I visited the Notting Hill bookshop and many others as well. There are plenty cosy bookshops all around town, like the "Books for Cooks" that spoke to my heart. Another popular is the "Brick Lane bookshop". I bought the "London Style Guide: Eat, Sleep, Shop" a real treat and treasure for me to keep. I like that I can flip through the pages from time to time and discover little London tips that only a local could know!
Lastly I have another trick up in my sleeve. You can't leave London without having an afternoon tea. You just can't. British Afternoon Tea Guide is an online guide for having some serious afternoon tea in London. Browse through the options and book online, for a luxurious little experience. British tea, is served in beautiful tables with mouthwatering delights such as fluffy cakes, scones with jams and fresh sandwiches. If you're a tea lover and want to indulge in some serious tea drinking with your gals, book now!
I hope I have given you a lot to think about and that this little "guide" will be of some help to some of you sometime in the future! London is a magnificent city, full of gems and secrets. Be sure to find them and maybe share them with us! Until then, lots of love.