Travel Guide: London

This past December and January I got the opportunity to spend two weeks in the heart of London with some locals. There has been nothing in my life more incredible than getting to spend Christmas and New Year's in Central London. It is my new favorite place on Earth and somewhere I plan to return to as often as possible, and potentially even move there. If you are looking into a trip to London, these are some things I think you really need to see for a deeper understanding of British culture, but British history as well. I visited Romantic poets houses, museums, some old pubs, and obviously did the tourist attractions as well.

When preparing for your trip to London, I really recommend bringing some rain boots. I was incredibly lucky in that it only rained my first night there, but otherwise it does rain pretty much everyday. This means the roads are constantly wet. Since London is a very old city, (for some reference, the Tower of London was built around the year 1000) the roads and walkways are very old and uneven. This creates puddles and large bodies of water pretty much everywhere. I made the mistake of bringing new Vans, and they ended up being filthy by the end of the trip. So, if you’re going to buy anything in preparation for your trip, make it rain boots.

I really did not want
 to go on the Eye.

Obviously, the first things you have to hit are the touristy spots. I really recommend knocking these out in the first couple days of your trip and using the rest of your trip to explore the local parts of London. As someone who is terrified of heights, I wasn’t planning to go on the London Eye. After a day or two of convincing, I agreed to go on. IF YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE A RESERVATION, MAKE IT FOR AFTER 4PM IN THE WINTER. The sun is set by this point, and the city is too beautiful at night to not see it lit up in all its glory. After getting off the Eye, walk up and down the river and you will stumble upon some restaurants, museums, the recreation of the Globe Theater (the only thatched roof building legally allowed in London thanks to the fire that burnt down the first Globe Theater in 1613).

What I found to be most beneficial to me was the Big Red Bus Tours and the River Tour that comes with your bus ticket. This would have been helpful to do on the first day of the trip. This is because it not only gives you a brief history of London, but also helps to get your bearings and give you a layout of the city. I learned so much from the tours and it also took us over and under Tower Bridge and London Bridge (which is not what you think it is, by the way).

After doing all the typical tourist attractions, we ventured to the more historically interesting touristy things London had to offer. I am a history dork and an English major, which made me especially fascinated in the museums, palaces, and homes of historical figures. My friend and I spent a majority of the trip in these kinds of places.

You definitely need to visit the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery located just next to Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square, which I would consider to be the main part of Central London. It is free to enter many of the museums in Central London, so take advantage. The Tower of London was 23 pounds, with a student discount, which is quite pricey. It was definitely worth it for me, since the crown jewels are in the Tower, and the history behind it is just fascinating to me, so that is something you will have to decide for yourself, whether the price is worth it or not. The Eye and Bus Tours were also quite pricey, but nothing unmanageable. I found it all to be totally worth it and enlightening to so much I didn’t already know about London from my studies.

I, personally, am obsessed with the Tudor dynasty, specifically Henry VIII and his children. If you think this is something you would also be interested in, I would put Kensington Palace at the top of your list. It is quite far from Central London, but is one hundred percent worth it. I was also lucky enough to have access to a car and someone with a valid driver’s license to make this trip possible. This Palace is not only enormous and will take a good part of the day to get through, but it is also gorgeous. The Gardens and mazes are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. The inside of the palace is just as beautiful and inspiring to see. Much of the hallways still rely on candlelight, and since we went around Christmas time, there were plants everywhere that filled the air with the literal smell of Christmas. It immerses you into the world of the Tudors and really makes the experience authentic.

I am also an English Literature major in college, with a concentration on English Literature. So naturally we had to go see some poets and writers homes. The two we chose were Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill House, and John Keat’s home, which are now museums.

Horace Walpole’s father, Robert, was the first Prime Minister of London, which accumulated great wealth for the family. This allowed their flamboyant son, Horace, to become a writer. He created a new genre called the Gothic, which eventually subverted into two sub-genres--the science fiction and horror novels of Victorian England, such as Jekyll and Hyde, the first Sherlock Holmes novels, and so much more. Becoming obsessive, his home on Strawberry Hill was designed with this genre in mind. Using his father’s wealth, he was able to collect artwork and consistently build upon this house, making it the Gothic style museum it is today.   

Since my best friend grew up, and currently lives in London, it was amazing to be able to go to all of the local pubs and restaurants that I may not have otherwise thought to go into. There are many amazing Asian restaurants in the Chinatown part of the city, we went to nearly all of them. We also went to a lot of places he had never been to either, which is one of the best things about the city. There is so much to do and see, just wander around and find things that seem interesting to you. I didn’t even get to do all the tourist attractions I wanted to, let alone try all the food and restaurants I wanted to.  

We also went to Nando’s, which is a staple when visiting London. They are just about everywhere and won’t be hard to find. I would compare it to the American Chick-fil-a in regards to why it’s as popular as it is. It is a Portuguese restaurant that serves mainly chicken, and it is truly wondrous. They are known for their Peri-Peri hot sauce, which if you love spicy food, get the extra-hot and watch others around you start to cringe. They have a range of spice levels and even some non-spicy options for those who aren’t interested.  

Don't forget to climb St. Paul's
Cathedral as well. It is 365
 feet high!
The biggest advice I can offer when traveling to London, is to not have a rigid schedule. There is so much to do and see and so many things that you might not have seen online and on blogs like this that might catch your eye. The less of a plan, the better, in my opinion. Walking the streets without a plan almost immered me into the culture more than just walking everywhere with a purpose and not taking the locales in. I could go on for hours about all the cool things to do in London, but it's all about preference and what interests you. It is a city full of culture, diversity, and history. It's impossible to be bored and impossible not to meet people that will have a lasting impression in your memory.



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