‘Twas a cold and blustery week, but one I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Last week, I had the absolute privilege (and I do mean privilege) of going back to my third home, the place that started this whole thing: London! I went with my friend, Ilse, who is no stranger to my blog posts. We arrived last Monday and unfortunately had to head back home on Friday, but we made the most of it.
I would like to apologize in advance for the photos that I have (or lack thereof) as they are mostly coming from Snapchat/Instagram. Something we did not anticipate was how windy it happened to be last week, especially after London received a full seven days of sunshine and 80-degree-weather the week prior. Just my luck, right? Between the wind and the random sprinkles, my camera had to spend a lot time tucked away. Nonetheless, we still pushed through and this is what we got up to!
◊ Westminster: Zone 1 (Circle, District, and Jubilee lines)
On Monday night, after an unsuccessful shopping trip on Oxford Street, we jumped over to Covent Garden to explore and get Nando’s (of course)! We continued in the Westminster borough on Tuesday still fully jet lagged, but on a mission. For those who do not know, Big Ben is currently under construction and will be for the next four years. 😦 You can still experience the magic from House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey though! We then took a 15-minute walk over to Buckingham Palace where a woman mistakenly took us for British women (yay!) and strolled through Green Park before heading over to Soho.
◊ Soho: Zone 1 (Piccadilly, Northern, Central, and Bakerloo lines)
Is it bad that our motivation to trek to Soho was completely based around ramen? We both love ramen SO much and my friend, Brad, actually introduced me to this tiny ramen restaurant in Soho tucked away on Peter Street called Bone Daddies. I can’t tell you what makes their ramen so good, but you just have to take my word for it. So much so that we went two days in a row. However, Soho is definitely worth visiting even if you aren’t a ramen fan! It is historically an LGBT neighborhood and it has this eccentric yet grungy feel that makes it so unique from other areas in central London–the only other place to rival that look and feel in my opinion would be Camden due to its history with rock and roll. It is just such a fun and youthful area that I absolutely love and the ramen is just all the better excuse to always make it a pit stop on my visits. 🙂
◊ Imperial War Museum: Zone 1 (Bakerloo line)
I have been to the Imperial War Museum one time by myself and I though it was super interesting and informative, especially for understanding World War I. Seeing that we wanted to get out of the cold, I suggested this as a place of interest and to my surprise, Ilse fell in love with it. We also ran into the cutest pitbull along the way! But back to the museum–it gives an in-depth look at WWI, WWII, MI5/MI6 (undercover operations), and the Holocaust from the British perspective. The Holocaust was the longest of the exhibits, but worth seeing in its entirety.
We were in there at a minimum of three hours and eventually were kicked out by the staff since it was well after the museum had closed for the day. I am sure I have mentioned this on my early posts, but the museums in London are completely free! I would highly recommend this museum for any history buffs out there or if you are looking to see another side of London that is a little off the beaten path (Elephant & Castle/Lambeth North area).
◊ Tower of London: Zone 1 (Circle and District lines)
I will get into more details below about lodging, but our hostel was in Tower Hill which only made it mandatory for us to go to the Tower of London right across the street! I have been to the Tower about four times now, but I am still completely enamored by The Crown Jewels. It was admittedly a rough morning and the wind vortex was out for blood despite the sun being out. Aside from The Crown Jewels and the chapel, the tour of the Tower of London is outdoors. I generally enjoy the tour, but that morning, I was ready for it to be over.
Note to self and everyone: go outside and test the weather before purchasing tickets. The Tower of London does not sell tickets at time slots, so you can buy online at any time or buy at the gate for a couple of extra pounds!
◊ Neal’s Yard: Zone 1 (Bakerloo, Piccadilly, and Northern lines)
I could have put this under the Westminster tab, but I thought it needed its own brag. This was a new place for me to visit, but after seeing the pictures on Instagram, I could NOT resist visiting Neal’s Yard! It is even more tucked away than Bone Daddies near Seven Dials. You turn a corner and it is literally a colorful wonderland! There are some small cafes within the little ‘yard,’ but we just used this as an opportunity to get at least one photoshoot in. We started to get some rain so we didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked, but that’s okay! I will definitely be returning. 🙂
◊ Shoreditch: Zone 1 (Northern and Central lines and London Overground)
For all my night crawlers out there, Shoreditch is the place for you! I mean, it is pretty dead during the week, but for a Wednesday night, we found a couple of places that were pretty happenin’. We met up with my friend Ksenia at a place I previously researched called Golden Bee. Golden Bee is really nice (read: smart) and given the fact that most Londoners are fashion-forward, there were plenty of people there straight out of work in what they would call ‘casual clothes.’ But for my Americans out there, think upscale when it comes to dress and you will blend right in. They have a rooftop bar that is heated (hallelujah!) and an additional two or three floors that I assume really come alive on the weekends.
From there, we walked over to a bar called Callooh Callay which was very cool! The music was great, the drinks were even better, and their bathroom was also really unique. It was the perfect place to give you that “night out” feel, but without having to scream at the top of your lungs to talk to people–perfect for a lowkey Wednesday.
We tried to go to my favorite dance club, Cargo, but of course that was dead. As expected, the real fun doesn’t begin until Thursday night, but if you are visiting during the warmer months, the Shoreditch rooftops are the place to be regardless of the day of the week.
◊ Natural History Museum: (Circle, District, and Piccadilly lines)
We had a bit of a late start on our last day due to checking flight loads and such (#standbylife), but with how intense the wind was, we knew it was going to be another indoor day. Enter: the Natural History Museum!! This is hands-down my favorite museum in London. It is remarkably detailed, impossible to scale in one day, and also just the most beautiful building to ever house a museum. After going through the most popular zones (dinosaurs and human biology), we found that a special exhibit was going on called The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 53. The Natural History Museum hosts this exhibition every year which showcases the best photographers of the previous year for different wildlife categories, including photographers that are under 10 years old! Ilse is really into photography and nature so this was more in her wheelhouse, but I was more than happy to tag along and glad I did so.
Special exhibits at all museums do have a cost, but if you have your student ID (no matter what country you come from!), you can view this at a discounted rate. It was easily in my top three exhibits I have ever paid to experience and it is on through the first of July!
◊ Gordon’s Wine Bar: (Circle, District, Northern, and Bakerloo lines)
This is where we ended our day on Thursday. I felt it was worth mentioning simply because it is unlike any place I have been before in terms of places to drink. Gordon’s Wine Bar is a submerged bar near Embankment Station that takes you into a cave-like structure (potentially formerly a wine cellar) that has exactly two lights and the rest is lit by candlelight. We ordered a half bottle of Rosé which was sadly the most disgusting Rosé I have ever tasted, but the experience made up for it. I would say the crowd skews older, but I thought it was cool and would love to go again when I go back. I will just have to stick to a classic red or white wine next time.
♦ Transportation and Lodging:
Ilse and I stayed at Wombats City Hostel in Tower Hill which we booked through HostelWorld. We stayed in a six-person mixed room which ended up being fairly nice! The rooms were very spacious with an en-suite and the toilet, shower, and an additional sink were all separate so there wasn’t much piling on top of each other in terms of getting ready.
Wombats was very close to the tube station (see tube stations listed above for Tower of London) and had some great small restaurants and pubs nearby. They also have a huge bar on the basement level, provide towels and a locker for each bed in the room, and have a luggage storage area in the lobby. If I had to complain about anything it would be the bedding since they not only require you to make your own bed (they don’t have fitted sheets!), but they also require you to bring your sheets down when you check out which is not fun when you have luggage and you have to be up much earlier than your roommates.
Though we preferred the double-decker experience, we mostly used the tube to get around because it ended up being the fastest mode of transportation due to street traffic. We also opted to walk places despite the weather because it was obviously a short trip and we wanted to see as much of the city as possible; this helped us save on cost for using public transport.
If you are in London for a short trip (three to four days), £30 (~$40) should be enough loaded onto your Oyster (read: travel) card to comfortably switch between using the tube and the bus in Zones 1 and 2 (central London) without worrying about topping up. I opted to pay £34 for the unlimited seven-day travel since it is just an additional £4 for unlimited rides, but the benefit of loading money onto your Oyster card is that it will stay on there for your next trip unlike the unlimited pass.
London also still uses uber! As far as I know it is not near being outlawed despite the black cab complaints. With uber there, they offer uberPOOL (even to and from the airport!) which was a life saver as we did not spend more than £6 while out and about in the city at night after the tube closed. Considering the tube is £2.50 to go one way (no charge to switch lines), you are barely paying double that to potentially get somewhere faster so I made sure to take advantage of that. Wish we could say the same for Dallas!
♦ Total costs (after conversions):
Seven-day unlimited travel pass: $46.81
Tower of London: $31.77
uber: $59.40 (including the trip to the airport)
Wildlife Photographer of the Year 53 exhibition: $12.39 (with donation)
ALL (excluding costs of food and drinks): $150.37**
Overall, this trip was not at all what I imagined, but in the best way possible! Playing tour guide and pairing that with my planner personality, I was so anxious about making this an amazing trip for my friend as this was her first time to London. But that went away as Ilse ended up loving the trip overall. Our explorations were more spur of the moment and we had a lot of down time, but in hindsight, that was perfectly fine.
Vacation should be relaxing, and if you are visiting a city you have been to before, it should be different every time. While I captured a lot of the trip on my phone and camera, I spent a lot of my time being in the moment and trying to relive my Londoner days. It also brought some much-needed girl time that I think a lot of us ladies forget that we need! Simply put, I cannot wait to go back and do it all again. ❤
As always, please make sure you are following me on Snapchat (@alexasdrawde) and Instagram (on the sidebar) to see what is happening live on my trips!!
**I spent an additional $160 roughly in cash across the four days on food and drinks because we paid for all of our meals; however, HostelWorld gives a filter option to have “breakfast included” in your search for a place to stay, or you can always buy groceries there for cheap and in small quantities at a Tesco or Sainsbury’s