travels

Midwest Mermaid Abroad: What to Do, Eat, and See in London, England

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Blogged while watching my all-time favorite summer show ever, Big Brother, which I missed ever so dearly while away in London.


Oh, guys.

I've spent the last week in one of those post-travel lulls, where you spend all your time thinking about the wonderful place you just left. 

A few months ago, I decided that I actually had enough money to fund a trip to visit one of my BFFs, Kayla, during her study abroad trip to London. It was a chance to have a free place to stay and a buddy to explore with and I could not pass that up. Super helpful that by the time I arrived she kind of knew her way around and what things were in proximity of each other. Also should mention her amazing study abroad friends, who welcomed me to the group as if I were one of their own!

And little did I know, I would find my new favorite city. Ahem, my new favorite VERY EXPENSIVE city. Nonetheless, I know an amazing opportunity when I see one, so I hopped on a plane and flew across the pond.

I haven't written very much about the way I travel when I plan an entire trip myself.
Basically, I'm a psycho. I will own up to that. I obsessively research, map, and plan out a very detailed itinerary for myself and whoever I may be traveling with. So far, I have luckily traveled with friends who have been very eager to sit back and relax while I demand a very rigorous exploration of whatever city we've landed in. You think I'm kidding? 
You should see my maps...

I'm going to write a separate post about my personal experience with traveling (in general) and what I do to prepare! But this particular post will be focused specifically on our adventures during my short stay in the UK. What was worth doing, seeing, eating, etc.
It was worth eeeevery penny.

I'll start off by saying, a huge part of my research was done for me by two bloggers that I love to rely on for my travel needs! Emi Rigby, the Well-Traveled Wife, interned in London and has multiple blog posts dedicated to the city. Caroline from The Belle Abroad currently lives in London and also has a website dedicated to her travels! Both are great resources if you're looking for an American's point-of-view on travel.

Now onto the fun part! It's gunna be a long one.

Sights

Big Ben


Let's start with the basics:  When in London, who doesn't want to see Big Ben?  A better question would be, where in London can't you see him... I swear, no matter where I was, everywhere I turned, there he was in the distance! Fun fact, Big Ben is actually just the bell inside the tower. The tower itself is called Elizabeth Tower and it's located at the north end of the Palace of Westminster.

A great viewing point is right under the London Eye (the giant Ferris wheel on the River Thames, more on that later). That's where the top photo is taken from. Cross the bridge and you'll be at a great spot to take a close up photo of good 'ol Ben!


I personally don't know how you could make it to London and back without the typical touristy phone booth photo! After the first day or two, the novelty of it pretty much wears off, seeing as they are EVERYWHERE. Kayla brought me to this one particularly because it has a pretty picturesque view of Big Ben in the background!

Trafalgar Square


Another great viewing spot would be Trafalgar Square. Get off the tube at the Charing Cross stop and you'll be super close to where I took this photo! Trafalgar Square in general is great because of the beautiful architecture that surrounds it. 

And if you're into art, the National Gallery is right there too!


And if you're lucky...you might catch a beautiful sunset too!

The London Eye


If I'm talking about sights to see, obviously I can't skip the London Eye!  From afar, it's pretty cool. But I highly suggest paying the money and taking it for a ride. I think we paid about £29 each (online in advance) for our tickets. It's expensive for a ride on a Ferris wheel, but having the ability to see the city of London from the sky is something you just have to do once. 


If you're scared of heights, just don't be for like 30 minutes, k?

Buckingham Palace

Now obvi, you can't go to England without visiting Queen E herself. Buckingham Palace, here we come! Ironically, I went to the Queen of England's house on the 4th of July.


Buckingham Palace is in a beautiful area (Westminster) with lots of cute places to stop along the way!

Piccadilly Circus

Can't miss Piccadilly Circus while you're there. And no, it's not a circus. It's been known as the Times Square of London! I personally didn't do much shopping there, but there are tons of stores!


Transportation

The Tube

If you couldn't tell already by my photos, there is an Underground station basically on every block! It's SO incredibly easy to get around London using the tube. I had to take it for the first time from the airport to Kayla's dorm. I really didn't have much faith in myself, yet I had no trouble figuring it out! Grab a map so you can figure out which line to get you to where you need to be. Then get yourself an Oyster Card and add some money to it! Most rides will cost you between £2-5 depending on the time of day and whether or not it's rush hour. I definitely made use of their super simple public transportation! Otherwise I never would have been able to see as much as I did!


But please, mind the gap.

Pop Culture Freak

Abbey Road

If you're anyone who has heard music ever, you probably know a Beatles tune or two. You're prob also familiar with their album Abbey Road, especially the cover photo. While our photographer pal didn't have the luxury of standing on a stepladder to take our photo, I think she did pretty well!


If you can imagine a constant stream of tourists running out into the middle of the street to take this photo while stopping all traffic, that's pretty much what Abbey Road has come to. If I lived around there, I would do everything in my power to avoid driving down that street.

The Parent Trap House


And if you're a Lindsay Lohan's-version-of-Parent Trap-loving-90s child like I am, you have to make the trek to Kensington to check out Annie's mom's house. Also a very easy place to find, we conveniently popped out of the tube right in front of Harrod's! From there, it was about a 7 minute walk to 23 Egerton Terrace. 
And it's in the most darling neighborhood ever.


Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre

The theatreeeee! I honestly hadn't heard much about Kinky Boots beforehand, but Kayla and her friends were interested in going to see it live and of course I was down! Turns out this was a great choice, because it was an amaaaazing musical. Uplifting, lively, and funny! And a great message. We got our tickets to the Adelphi Theatre online for about £30 in the upper circle. They were okay seats, we didn't really know what to expect when we ordered. If I were to do it again I might pay a little more, but either way it was awesome!


Platform 9 3/4

And last but not least, I could not leave England without getting a glimpse of Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station. I don't know if I've mentioned it before (or a hundred million times), but you might have an inkling that I'm a bit of a Harry Potter fan. For life. Like it's the only thing I care to be really nerdy about. So Kayla brought me to THE spot where I could actually access the Hogwart's Express.  Thank you.


Who says a Gryffindor and a Slytherin can't be best friends?

I will mention one minor mishap - I had my heart set on visiting Warner Bro's Studios to get the full Harry Potter experience on my trip. Little did I know, you have to buy those tickets SO far in advance that I was unable to get them. My heart broke in half. 
Weirdly enough, as I was sitting on the tube admiring my new golden snitch keychain from the 9 3/4 shop, the man next to me asked if I was a Harry Potter fan. I was like, you don't even know, and he then described two of the scenes he worked on during the 3rd and 4th movies...WHAAAAAAT. He then went on to ask if I was able to do the Warner Bro's tour, and I said no. He got one of our emails and said he'll try to hook it up with tickets since he knows some HBIC from there. Sadly I was leaving, but we'll see if he comes through for my friends!

Markets

If you're hungry, there's no better place to go than one of the markets that London has to offer. Borough will have all food, Camden has a really awesome section of food stands, and Spitalfield's has a bunch of food stands as well as surrounding restaurants. 
I'll give you a glimpse of each!

Borough Market


Obviously lots to eat here! Tons of ready-to-eat food stands as well as things you can take home to use later. You will not leave hungry! Also very important info, the flower shop Chez Michele, shown in my photo, is the entrance to "The Leaky Cauldron" where the Knight Bus drops Harry off in the Prisoner of Azkaban...mwahaha

Spitalfield's Market


Spitalfield's is cool because you have lots of options for art, clothing, etc. in the market. I had great Ethiopian food here. Besides the cool shops and good food, this market is in an amazing part of the city. Brick Lane will be incorporated into my "neighborhoods" section, but make note that it's very close to Spitalfield's!

Camden Market


By far my FAVORITE market, Camden. It's the perfect mixture of things to buy and things to eat! Lots of vintage, artwork, clothing, and souvenirs as well as the best food I had during my entire trip. Right when you get there you'll see an orange juice stand, get the bigger one, just trust me. I had pulled pork in a cornbread pita from a Venezuelan food stand called Arepazo Bros. It is a MUST. Skip the places inside the market that will try to offer you [mall] food, go to the section outside near the river where all the food stands of different cuisines are! Mac & cheese, cupcakes, falafel, burgers, juice stands, and every kind of ethnic food. 
It is amazing. There are also some really cute restaurants around there too.

Food

Besides the fact that I found my favorite foods at the markets, I also visited a couple delicious restaurants that have been on my radar for years!

Top Dog Diner

I watch the show Ladies of London on Bravo, and one of the said ladies, Marissa Hermer, opened an American hot dog restaurant called Top Dog. The process of opening it was chronicled very well on the show, and I of course added it to my list of must-see places in London! Since then, our London foodie at Female Foodie has written one rave review about it.


I got the American dog and it was pretty good! Top-of-the-line hot dog and crisped bun. Although I prefer raw onions on my hot dogs, it was still very tasty! Top Dog is also in one of my favorite areas, Soho. Plus, I went there on the 4th of July because I felt like we needed a little 'Merica in our lives that day.

Amorino Soho

After the hot dogs, we had to top it off with some ice cream. Luckily, Amorino was close by. I have never been to one, and I couldn't resist trying one of their gorgeous flower-shaped ice cream cones.


I got lime-basil, blood orange and ginger, and black cherry and Kayla got chocolate, pistachio, and lime-basil. Gorg!

Cereal Killer Cafe

Personally, my favorite restaurant in London was one that I had been stalking on Instagram for a loooong time! I couldn't tell you exactly when I discovered it, but I'm so glad I did! I hunted down the Cereal Killer Cafe while we were on Brick Lane. Amazing! Basically, you can pick from 120 different cereals, your flavor of milk, and toppings. They also have other offerings like cereal maltshakes and fancy hot chocolate!


I got the Lucky Charms maltshake. The pink cereal you see in one photo is Franken Berry cereal, remember that? Someone else in our group ordered it and topped it with strawberries! The decor in this place is awesome. Murals of serial killers (Hannibal, Dexter, etc) made out of actual cereal. Then make your way to the basement to find basically your childhood bedroom. Beds, character sheets, and TVs with VHS players!

Nando's

I also had to try the Portuguese treat that's so popular in England, the pastel de nata. They are little egg tart pastries filled with custard! And very delicious. This one was from Nando's and it's called the Naughty Nata, which has to be my fave name of anything ever.  PS: Nando's has really good butterfly chicken.


Pret A Manger

And you know how there's basically a Starbucks on every corner in the US? Well that's how Pret is in London! At Pret A Manger, you can stop in for a quick Americano and delicious sandwiches, salads, and other snacks. Grab it to go or stay a while! Perfect for fueling your adventures.


Notes

Best of all, I got to meet the London foodie herself, Charlotte of Not So Basic London! Since I have no idea when the next time I will be returning to London, I knew I had to reach out to Charlotte. So far, she's our only international Female Foodie (see her FF reviews here). She brought me to the cutest coffee shop called Notes, near Leicester Square. Amazing how the Internet can bring people together! (the Internet and...cappuccino)


Shopping

I absolutely loved all the finds at Camden Market, but there are places to go if you're looking for that high end experience as well! We started with Oxford Street and Regent Street.

Oxford Street


Thanks to the Well-Traveled Wife for tipping me off about Primark - it's basically the cheapest and cutest clothes you'll find in all of London, I swear! The store itself is huuuuge. Like, we spent a couple hours there and JUST covered the first floor. It seemed like everything I picked up was between £6-20. Tons of basics, maxi dresses, colored jeans, pretty much anything you could possibly imagine!

Other than that, they had lots of other options to shop like Zara, Forever 21, etc. I mean, there are a million stores to choose from so there's no way I could describe them all!

Regent Street

Here you'll find the usual designer brands!


And obviously since I work in a Kate store, I had to stop in the one on Regent Street! Several times the size of mine, they had every novelty bag (heart eyes omg), the home decor, tons of shoes, the baby clothes, and ahhhh everything! I was carrying my Small Natalya at the time and they all noticed it instantly ;) Super nice staff and a beautiful store, per usual!

Vintage/Antiques

On one completely unrelated note, the vintage finds on Brick Lane were pretty awesome! I picked up some new (to me) jewelry and others in the group found awesome sunglasses, old records, band tshirts, and tons more.


Just to be clear, it took everything in my power to not buy one of those vintage Burberry trench coats. Especially because there was a pink one. I only stopped myself because I was currently wearing a pink trench coat.

Free Museums

Victoria & Albert Museum

One great thing about England is that there is no shortage of free museums! Or free things to do in general. I went to a couple of museums, but my favorite was the V&A Museum. This is unsurprising, seeing as it's the world's largest museum of art and design. I absolutely loved the fashion section, and even paid extra for the Undressed exhibit, which is underwear and lingerie through the ages! Tons of designer items too, it was amazing. And luckily I was there on a Tuesday, when tickets to the special exhibits only cost £5! Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take photos in the Undressed exhibit, but here are some from the fashion section that is there all the time!



Colorful Neighborhoods

Brick Lane/Shoreditch

Now you've heard all this talk about the elusive Brick Lane, and you're probably wondering what on Earth it is! Cool vintage stores, Cereal Killer Cafe, among other things. It is also home to some of the finest graffiti I ever did see, to tell you the truth. We stumbled upon the Nomadic Garden in Shoreditch as well, which would be best desribed in the photos below.


As you can see, it's a super vibrant area with never-ending art covering the whole place!

Notting Hill

I also had the opportunity to take a quick trip to Notting Hill, because I needed to see those colorful beyond colorful houses! Not to mention the doors. Unfortunately, we missed the Portobello Market. But at least we got to see where it all goes down!


To be honest, there's lots more I want to see in Notting Hill. But at least we got to meet a cat named Swampy! Apparently he's a known fixture in the neighborhood, and brings dead birds to patrons dining at restaurants. He scares dogs away and is the talk of the town. We're pretty sure he lives in this house he was waiting outside of, but we've been told he's a man of the streets...

Side Trips

If you can, I would highly suggest doing a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath. 
I'm so glad we did!

Stonehenge

It's one of the Wonders of the World, and for good reason. No one really knows how or why it ended up there, although there are lots of theories. The best one being aliens. Regardless, it's been there for centuries and is truly amazing that rocks like that could be moved with no modern technology involved.


It's worth the short trip!

Bath

After Stonehenge, our tour headed on over to Bath. A city where every piece of architecture is made of limestone! No matter what you build, you're required to build it out of limestone. At one point, the best shopping was in London and the 2nd best shopping was in Bath. That's not so much the case nowadays, but there are a lot of ice cream and fudge shops in Bath! And of course, the Roman Baths. You can drink the "healing water" that sick people used to come there to drink for a cure. It's hot and tastes like salt, but to each's own, I guess.


To sum it all up...

I had the time of my life, yet again! Special thanks to Kayla for letting me stay with her and tag along on all the adventures! Twas a blast.


Until my next trip,

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