London was our first stop in our self-guided European tour and I couldn't imagine a better place for our journey to begin. Here's what we saw, where we stayed, ate, and what I figured out from all of it.
I used Google Flights to find a Delta flight from DTW to LGW (with one layover in YYZ) and left home with only a backpack and day bag.
To see my packing list, backpack review, and coat selection click below:
We landed at LGW around 9 in the morning and got caught up in some long and slow lines at customs (Queueing in Britain, who knew?). The airport was under some sort of construction and we got incredibly turned around trying to locate our bus (Easy Bus $13), and actually missing our scheduled bus pick up time.
Luckily we were allowed on the next bus and made our journey into the city. We were dropped at Victoria station and began our very first Tube navigation attempt to the river cruise port (City Cruises $8). We still had all our gear but the almost empty boat had more than enough seats to accomodate our packs. We floated from Tower Bridge to parliament.
Get an Oyster card. It's worth it completely, and this is coming from someone who did this trip on a super limited budget.
It cuts down on all the wasted time of getting lost when you're walking around, and saves your feet and back with large packs.
After the cruise set off for our hostel, Smart Russel Square Hostel. It was just around the corner from the Russel Square underground stop and in a lovely area. This was our first hostel stay EVER and it seemed typical for everything we had read about hostels. Our room (which we chose to save money) had 3 bunk high beds, that lined both walls of the narrow room that we shared with over 20 people. It wasn't awful or anything just a bit awkward as no one wanted to upset anyone in the room by talking.....ever. Bathrooms were small but private, showers were in stalls nothing terrible, and free wifi and breakfast in the common room downstairs.
Did some exploring and found ourselves walking through Regent's Park and Queen Mary's Rose Garden in a bit of a drizzle..... which then turned into a full on downpour.
Bring a packable umbrella, they make them so small now its not a burden to throw in your day bag. We knew enough to bring WATERPROOF jackets (not just water resistant) but our shoes and legs still got soaked, and umbrella would have been wonderful.
Being the Sherlock fans that we are we set out to find BBC's version of baker street and stopped at Speedy's for breakfast. It was just a little place but they had photos of the visiting cast up on the walls and was fun to see.
We booked our first walking tour through Free Tours By Foot. We had a spunky and wonderful tour quide bring us through Green Park to Buckingham Palace and then to a much less crazy and tourist filled spot to watch the changing of the guard. all the way to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. The tour was a full history lesson as we walked and we were really impressed with our guide.
I'm not sure how, but we managed to find Borough Market and nab some snacks and drool over some of the best smells in the city. More exploring took place where our tour left off and we crossed the Millennium Bridge (or Wobbly Bridge) and went on to stand in pure awe in front of St. Paul's Cathedral. Which I wish we would have gone inside of, because I couldn't believe my eyes just looking at how massive it was from the outside.
Literally the best thing we did in any city was to join a pub crawl. You meet the best people who are all traveling just like you. It can make or break a trip being around people who you have something in common with when you're in a new place.
We booked our pub crawl (Nights Gone Wild $18) and met up with our guide and fellow crawlers near Piccadilly Circus. Not only were the crawlers great, but our guide was stirring up fun and games the whole night and stayed with us until he made sure we all knew how to get our drunk selves home.
Even though I'm not a tea person, we decided to try out an "afternoon tea" though when we booked it we weren't aware of the actual location. It was just outside of Canary Wharf station and quite a ways from our hostel. And the area didn't have much to do besides shop, which wasn't a very desirable activity for two budget travelers.
Aside from me feeling bad about ordering coffee at a tea, the little treats that came with it were amazing. Little mini sandwiches, scones and jam, mini cakes and creams... we were actually full off of all the mini foods.
From there we went back to our little cubby home and napped off all the food until our second walking tour with Free Tours By Foot, the Twilight Along the Thames tour.
We went on a food tour (also through Free Tours By Foot) which I wish we would have done in every country, but alas we didn't know better. There was a bit of a mix up with our tour confirmation and they sent us to the wrong meeting location. Some emails later and we were on our way to Piccadilly Circus again to meet our guide.
She brought us around to her favorite spots in Soho, and started us out in China Town for some sweet buns and hand rolled dumplings. Then to a lasagna shop, a very posh little bakery, Cutter & Squidge, and gelato.
One of the great things that we didn't take advantage of as much as we should have, was London's public (FREE) museums. We did make it to the British Museum and wander through quite a few exhibits, but there was no way we could make it through them all.
After the museum we wandered the streets slowly making our way towards the meeting point for our last walking tour. When we finally met up with our group we realized our guide was the same woman from the food tour! This one was a London ghost tour that took us through all the morbid historical scenes of London from body pits to haunted slaughter houses and literally everything in between. It wasn't my first pick but it was full of a TON of information that I never knew about London.
For our last day in London we made sure to eat as much as we could from our complimentary breakfast and had a very smooth check-out. Then we decided to spend the day in Hyde Park. We found it, and were shocked at how far it spanned in just about every direction, as well as how many dogs were frolicking around with their humans. It was a love/hate moment for an anxious dog lover, as I couldn't figure out if I could just go up and ask to pet all the dogs or if it would come across extremely strange for a random person to ask such a thing. So I contained myself as we wandered through to Kensington Palace. We grabbed some fish and chips a few blocks over and came back to picnic and relax until our bus took us to the airport.