London Travel Tips

September 26 2013 |

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Oh, London. The whole time we were there, Mr. Lovely and I felt like we were in an alternate universe of NYC (but with more tea and fewer bums). I really loved it. In London, we kind of stayed off the beaten path (surprise, surprise) and tried to experience the city in a really relaxed way. I’m so glad we did; it led us to so many cool spots and people. Obviously, London has some major historical sights that are must-sees if you’re headed there, but the lesser-known neighborhoods were just as exciting to me. We met and chatted with so many kind, happy locals, and it felt like a place that people truly love to live. xoxo

To See, Do, and Eat

We were kind of shocked about how expensive it was to go inside lots of the London monuments. For both of us to just walk in to Westmister Abbey while there was no church service would have been about $60! It was similar for lots of the other spots we wanted to see and it would have added up quickly. So we decided to give ourselves a walking tour of all of those awesome places. We grabbed this Fodor’s app (which saved us so many times) walked to each spot, and read its history from the app. For me, that was enough. So we used that method and in one day took a walking tour: London Eye, over the Westminster Bridge, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, The Horseman’s Guard, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Buckingham Palace, Green Park, Hyde Park, Marble Arch. SmartyPants Tip: This is a ton of walking. If your feet are killing you, get an Oyster card and hop on and off the big double decker red buses. Ride on the top and it’s such a cool way to see the city.

While most of the museums in London are free (rock on!), we were kind of museum-weary after all of our Paris travels. But definitely take in some museums if you can!

Wander through the West End/Soho/Covent Garden area. We fell in love with it here, obviously partially because of all of the great theatre, but also because it’s such a great area. It’s somehow simultaneously charming, quaint, and really happening. A maze of tiny cobbled streets hides world-class theatres, impeccable shops, and pubs with people drinking their pints outside. SmartyPants Tip: If you’re into it, definitely see a show. You can get cheap tickets at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, or walk up to any theatre last minute and see what tickets they have left. And if you’re going any time soon, see Matilda. Just do it.

Go to the Shoreditch neighborhood and wander around. We stayed at the Hoxton in Shoreditch and it was a perfect location. I can’t tell you how cool and inspiring this neighborhood is. Some of the most beautiful shops I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, packed with fun markets, and street art here is taken to an entirely new level. It’s also got quite a rich history, including Jack the Ripper’s rampage, WWII bombings, and more. Don’t miss it. SmartyPants Tip: While you’re in Shoreditch, don’t miss out on my favorite shops — Aida, Labour and Wait, and Boxpark (a popup mall). Some really killer Shoreditch eats are at Ruby, The Breakfast Club (get the bacon banana french toast), and Viet Grill.

Another favorite neighborhood of ours was Notting Hill. Go ready to wander and gawk and the rows and rows of pristine white and pastel-colored homes, and find a few shops that are absolute gems. It’s a beautiful spot.

Go Marketing

I know sometimes I have difficulty expressing my feelings without using superlatives, but the street markets in London are unbelievable. Each has its own distinct vibe, and there are more than you can count. Some of them only run on specific days, so be sure to check the websites before you go. These were my faves.

Old Spitalfields Market. Indoor market that’s been around for quite a while. It’s got a gorgeous and really informative website, so be sure to check it out! Goods rotate on certain days of the month; I made sure to take Mr. Lovely when it was vintage vinyl day — piles and piles of records to sort through. Lots of stalls of really great handmade clothing, accessories, home goods, and the like. I might have picked up some new kicks at Shoe Embassy. Also, a bird pooped on my head here. If you see him, tell him off for me.

Brick Lane Market. This, my friends, is where the cool kids hang out. It’s a mecca of vintage clothing stalls and Indian food as far as the eye can see. (Get a masala chai from the street. They ladle it out of a big pot and it’s to die for.) Be sure also to pop into the actual shops on Brick Lane as you go down the market. And if you make it to the indoor food market, get some dumplings from one of the stalls. The most legit dumplings I’ve had other than the dumpling carts in Shanghai.

Portobello Road Market. If you’re a Bedknobs and Broomsticks fan, you have to go just for posterity. And if you’re not, go because it’s crazy and fun. On a weekend day it’s pretty packed, but we found it to be perfect on a Friday morning. There are antiques galore and lots of fun shops and cafes along Portobello road to see as well.

Columbia Road Market. We had some “I’m inside of a postcard” moments here. The guys playing street jazz, the flower sellers barking about how much peonies cost, the people leaving with armloads of hydrangeas — it’s all too good. Columbia Road, again, is tightly packed with awesome shops, so be sure to see more than just the market. And wander around, because there are a few corners with mini antique markets as well.

Broadway Market. This was my market. Surely they made this place for me. The market stalls were so beautifully curated and cared for you could just tell that the owners have such pride in what they do. Beautiful fresh breads and tarts, olives, smoked salmon on toast, curry — you name it, you can find it. Definitely go hungry and pick up a few things to eat for lunch. Aside from the food, there are some gorgeous handmade stalls with baby clothes, accessories, and other fun stuff. And maybe it was just me being giddy, but everyone was so nice. SmartyPants Tip: There are two smaller markets around the corner. Be sure to find the Netil Market and the Schoolyard Market as well (on Saturdays). Also, if you keep walking up Westgate Street you’ll find a vintage photobooth. Stop and take some snaps.

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14 thoughts on “London Travel Tips”

  1. I LOVE that you said fewer bums. That made me think there were less people than in NYC as bums means bottom to me. Sounds like you had fun over here in London. So glad!

  2. I’m going to be in London and Paris for a few weeks next May and was wondering… Did you guys take your phones and use them over there, rent phones, or something else? Just trying to figure out how I can use all the awesome travel apps without running up my phone bill.

    1. Ahhh, such a good question! We both took our iPhones but turned off data and put them on Airplane Mode. Then we enabled WiFi, so we were only able to connect to the internet when there was a WiFi source. (FYI, in Paris every McDonald’s has free Wifi! We would pop in if we needed to look something up.) The Fodors app that we used did not need WiFi, so that was helpful. We also carried a pocket Metro map at all times, and would load maps with our destinations to our phones on the WiFi where we were staying before we went out for the day, then saved them so we didn’t need an internet source for them to load. In case of emergency, we could have turned on our phones to make calls, etc., but we never needed to. So our phone bills stayed the same for the month. Hope that helps! xo

  3. Lovely to read about my home city from an outsiders perspective! Makes you think about the streets you walk daily in a different light. Sounds like you had a blast here, I’m so pleased!!! 🙂
    Mx

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