For the Bayram holiday, I decided to return to the UK.
In 2009, I went to England for a weekend because one of my friends from Salzburg College wanted to see a comedian perform in Brighton. It was pouring rain the entire weekend. Not just rain. I literally mean pouring. When we returned to London for our flight, we tried to spend the day seeing the sights, but as poor college students, we tried to walk it all rather than spending a couple pounds on the tube. We clearly hadn’t realized how large London was by looking at the map. We walked for hours and barely covered any distance. We had some laughs, but between the rain, wind, and cold of November, we felt pretty miserable.
Therefore, it was time to give London another try.
London 2016: Arrival
I flew in to London Gatwick, bought an Oyster Card and took the train to London Victoria. I had read online that the Gatwick Express train takes 30 minutes, runs every 15 minutes, and costs 20-30 pounds. Not interested in paying that much, I figured I would take the bus for 2 pounds even though it takes longer. When I asked someone in the airport, they said bus tickets are only that cheap if you buy them in advance through Easy Bus, but they will put you on a National Express bus.
They said to buy an Oyster Card and get on the train. The bus would cost 8 pounds day of. I got on the train, 11 pounds was deducted from my card, and it was fast and direct to London Victoria, so I can only assume I was on the express.
Note: The Oyster Card is intended to be used for the tube, but you can also use it on the overground trains. It just costs a little extra because they are different companies.
After arriving at London Victoria, I had to walk a short ways to the London Victoria Coach Station where I stashed my bag for the day (5 pounds, as compared to 11 or 12 at the train station), and made my way out.
Despite the rain, I tried to make the most of my day. I went to check out Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster (which was closed by the time I got there), sat down at a pub for my first of many fish and chips, and wandered through the Covent Garden area.
Now, at this point in my travels, I don’t feel the need to pay to see all the tourist attractions, but when you remove them from the the agenda there is a lot of spare time essentially allocated to wandering and eating. At about 20-30 pounds per attraction (no joke), I am perfectly content to just admire the architecture from the outside.
Feeling satisfied with the use of my day, I made my way back to the coach station and waited for my overnight bus to Edinburgh. RyanAir flights are cheap and much faster, but at only 3 pounds each way (depending on when you book), no airport transfer, and no hotel expense for the night, I highly recommend traveling with Megabus. With a little airline neck pillow, the bus was plenty comfortable and punctual.
I spent three days in Edinburgh before returning to London, again via overnight Megabus.
When I returned to London, I wandered around the Victoria station area in search of breakfast. Leave it to me to stumble upon a Turkish place. Kazan was delicious, cheap, and the staff was really nice.
Tube – Oyster Card
Back at the underground station, I was about to put a week long pass on my Oyster Card since I figured I would use the tube enough in three days that it would pay for itself. Luckily, one of the workers explained to me that there is a daily cap at just under 7 pounds, so it’s not worth getting a week long pass unless you’ll be in London 5-7 days.
After breakfast, I went to my hotel, Euro Lodge, to drop off my bag. Euro Lodge was in South Clapham and I would never ever recommend it. Hostels are far better than this hotel. You’d be much more satisfied with an AirBNB in the Whitechapel area.
For about $65 a night (cheap for London), there was no AC, no free wi-fi, no breakfast, they made me pay to leave my bag there until check-in time, and the room was so small that there was nowhere to set my bag without having to constantly step over it. On top of that, when I checked in, they told me that this room, 123, was an upgrade from the one I originally booked because this one had an en suite bathroom. I was like, “you mean to tell me that for $65 a night, I wasn’t going to have my own bathroom?”
In the morning, I asked to change rooms. They agreed, but when I came back that evening, they hadn’t done it. At first I was told they were fully booked and that I could only go back to room 123. After looking a minute, the receptionist said he’d show me another room. Room 404 was hot and smelled like mold, but it had a bigger bed, a fan, I could walk around the bed, and there was somewhere to set my bag. Having been through this before, I decided to go with room 404 with the agreement that they provided internet access, breakfast, and changed my room again for my third and final night.
The next day I was in “one of their best rooms” – 222. I thought, “Third time’s a charm.” It had a smaller bed than 404, but the room had better circulation.
Now, if I had read up on the hotel more before booking it, I would have saved myself some disappointment. That said, shame on them for having such inconsistent accommodations.
The weather was perfect.
I took the tube to London Bridge where I explored the Borough Market open Wednesdays through Saturdays. One of the things I loved about London was the availability of international food. We don’t have that in Istanbul. The Borough Market had international food vendors as well as pastry and sweets stands, fresh fruits and veggies, and so on. It was a delight! I ended up going back to the market later for lunch.
Next, I walked across the bridge and around to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Like I said, I didn’t feel the urge to pay to go inside the Tower of London or do the Tower Bridge exhibit, but I did enjoy walking across the bridge and hunting for good picture spots. Given the sun at noon, this wasn’t easy.
Nearby the bridge is Shakespeare’s Globe and Tate Modern. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the Globe in time for a tour or a show (a recurring theme on this trip…do your research first), but I did get to enjoy the Tate Modern museum (free) for a bit.
Finally, I went to Hyde Park for a walk. As there wasn’t much daylight left, I didn’t stay long, but I enjoyed watching everyone ride bikes. On my next trip to London, I’ll have to rent a bike, too, especially if the weather is as nice as it was. If the weather is nice, I recommend going to the park early in the day so that the day doesn’t get away from you.
This was probably my favorite day. I spent most the day exploring Camden Market. Arts and crafts, food, and cheap clothing everywhere! When you first get out of the underground, the area is kind of punk. When you get to the lock, it’s a little more cheerful looking. The stalls and the people running them are all fantastic.
That afternoon, I went shopping around Soho, Carnaby Street, and Oxford and Piccadilly Circus. I grabbed a quick dinner and then went to see The Lion King! I cried during the opening number because it was so outstanding. The costumes alone amazed me.
After the show, I took a walk around the Embankment station to enjoy the evening view of the skyline.
The highlight of Day 4 was seeing The Book of Mormon. As a Mormon, I found it obviously profane yet hysterical. The music was fantastic and I’m sure I enjoyed jokes that non-Mormons missed.
Earlier in the day, I returned to Carnaby for some more relaxed shopping. I stumbled upon a truck offering free hair braids in preparation for Fashion Week.
I grabbed some lunch then went to check Kensington Palace off my list. Guess what? I got there just as it was closing.
Moral of the story: You can have a great time exploring a city without the agenda of all the typical, expensive sights. That said, make sure you’ve organized yourself enough that you have time to see the things that you DO want to see. I couldn’t believe how many times I just barely missed something in London. I’ve never been so unorganized.
London can keep you as busy or chill as you’d like to be. What would a perfect day in London look like for you?