Traveling across the pond? Natasha’s got your London travel guide with her first-hand experience.
Two years ago, I was lucky enough to live in London. I would set out every day on a mission to explore and discover something new – even if it was just an adorable tree-lined side street or bakery tucked-away from the hustle and bustle. Living in the heart of the city, I tried to integrate myself as a local as best as I could (one of my goals was to fool people into thinking I was a true Londoner, hah!).
When my guy and I hopped the pond recently for a return trip, we wanted to experience as much of the city as we possibly could. We had our favorite spots from living there to see again, savoring the city’s diverse and historic sights, smells and sounds. Although you can check off most tourist attractions within a few days, we decided to take eight days so we could really soak in the city (and avoid crowds as much as possible). Big Ben’s hometown is really big so make sure to have a game plan or itinerary to ensure you see as much as you can! That being said, I don’t think you could ever possibly see everything the city has to offer but here’s a start:
When I lived in London, I lived in the posh neighborhood or “borough” of Kensington and Chelsea. The streets are lined with black & white Georgian facades. It’s also home to Will and Kate’s London address, Kensington Palace, and home to the Beckhams. Although it’s a little quieter than the bustling Soho area, I love how serene and charming it feels. Yet, you’re a quick stroll to High Street which is beaming with top British retailers and just seconds away from Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. I may be biased, but this borough has so much to offer – from cafes, to little shops, and museums. I could get lost strolling for hours on hours.
Park International Hotel – We stayed here on our most recent trip and loved the convenience of being a two minute walk from the tube which would take you to the heart of the city in 15 minutes or less! The hotel provides you with a free phone which you can use unlimited data on, perfect for google maps and exploring. Even though we pride ourselves in knowing our way around the city, it definitely came in handy!
Airbnb – For our next stay, I am itching to rent a flat! I loved living in London and even though hotels are so convenient, I want the feeling of believing I’m a Londoner even if just for a few days.
Soho – If you’re looking for nightlife, endless food options and a theatre or music scene, this is the place to be!
South Bank – Gorgeous views of almost every part of the city. Home to the London Eye, The Shard, Tower Bridge and my absolute favorite market: Borough. If you’re looking to splurge on a place to stay, check out the Shangri-La Hotel At The Shard, the 365-view is so worth it.
Regardless of where you stay, make sure you’re a few seconds away from a tube stop. The tube is London’s subway system – it is seriously so efficient, clean and can get you just about anywhere!
I could give hundred and hundreds of recommendations on what to do when visiting London. But the most important thing to note is: find what it is you want to see and love to do and tailor your itinerary to that.
Big Ben & Westminster – This one goes without saying. Even though you think you know what to expect, the size and intricate detail of Big Ben + the houses of Parliament will leave you speechless. Before you cross Westminster Bridge, be sure to get an iconic red telephone booth picture. Did someone say London calling?
London Eye – From the pod Big Ben and the red buses driving by look so small and far away. This is one tourist attraction I would do again and again. There’s something so magical about seeing the city from up high.
Tower Bridge – If you’re a history buff, be sure to check out the Tower of London (the crown jewels stole my heart). Since we did this on our last trip, we decided to bypass this time around. Instead, we strolled across the Tower Bridge and took in the view from the South Bank.
Buckingham Palace – Be sure to stop by and see if you can sneak a peek at Her Majesty. Take a stroll through St. James’s Park and pop into Fortnum & Mason for classic afternoon tea.
Parks – Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are on my must-do and must-see lists. I love grabbing a coffee and people watching for hours. On the other end of the city head to Regent’s Park for beautiful blooms and greenery (and the zoo!). If you’re looking for a panoramic view of the city, stroll to the top of Primrose Hill. Grab some lunch on your way over, pick a spot and try to point out buildings and sights.
Boris Bikes (or Santander Cycles) – OK guys, seriously, this is one of my absolute favorite things to do in the city. My guy and I have done this both when living in London and on our return trip. It only costs two pounds to rent a cycle and you can grab one at almost every point in the city (we haven’t mustered up the courage to take these through the city yet). I recommend taking these out on a sunny day in Hyde Park – stop by the Prince Albert Memorial, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, the Italian Gardens and Serpentine Gallery.
Museums – London has a countless number of museums and the best part is: they’re totally free! My favorites is the Natural History Museum (plus, the architecture is stunning). Look familiar? Night At the Museum was filmed here! Also check out the Victoria & Albert for fashion, the Tate Modern for modern art and the British Museum to see the famous Rosetta Stone and it’s iconic white, modern aesthetic.
The Shard – I can’t recommend this attraction enough. The views are unparalleled, a breathtaking, totally clear, panoramic view of the city. I love going up around sunset and staying to see the sky slip away while the city turns into a hundred twinkling lights below. Grab some bubbly and enjoy the views.
Sky Garden – The views up here are gorgeous too. My favorite thing about viewing platforms is that each one offers a unique angle of the city. The mood is super mellow and laid back with soft music, the clinking of glasses from the bar and the hum of an espresso machine. Did I mention it’s free?
See a show in the West End – I am a total musical junkie. Last time I was in London I saw Wicked (my all-time favorite) and the Phantom of the Opera. So this time, I made it a mission to see another show. London is known for it’s theater – shows are constantly playing and you can score tickets at amazing prices. In a true British fashion, we journeyed to the TKTS booth in Leicster Square the day before to see which shows were available. We ended up seeing Aladdin (a childhood dream come true).
Wander – Although this isn’t necessarily a “place” – it’s one of my favorite things to do, especially in London. There are so many neighborhoods, side streets, boutiques and shops to get lost in. You can learn and see so much if you simply just take it all in. In my opinion, there’s no better way to really get to know a city than exploring on foot.
Shop looks from the post and see my fave look for city sight seeing:
What are your must-dos when visiting London? I’d love to hear suggestions for next time. Stay tuned for Part Two of the London Travel Guide: foodie heaven and a shopping addict’s dream.