Only 36 hours to do London justice? Challenge accepted.
To be fair I can take absolutely no credit for how efficient we were exploring the city. A huge shoutout to my Uncle Chad and Sonia (with a special appearance from Selina) for planning a wonderful itinerary and for such generous hospitality before, during, and after our stay.
Ryann and I departed LAX at 12 noon and flew 10 hours non-stop to Gatwick airport in London. We, being the stingy college students that we are, decided to save on airfare and BOY was it worth it. Tip! Book with Norwegian if you can. Their flight was cheap so we weren’t expecting much but we were pleasantly surprised. We did upgrade to priority for our baggage but the flight was still way less expensive than any other airline. We opted for extra legroom (major major win) and were sat in the front row of the back half of the plane. They served us 2 decent meals, the seats were decently comfy, in-flight entertainment aka endless current episodes of The Big Bang Theory was amazing, and service was friendly! Bonus: we were seated next to a wonderful South African man who coincidentally moved to my hometown 20 years ago and lived on the same cross streets. We struck up a friendly conversation and it started our trip just right.
Honestly, I tried to sleep on the plane. I really tried. But both Ryann and I were much too excited for that. So we arrived at 6:30am local time and decided to run with the adrenaline high and embark on a full day exploration. It was an ordeal finding Uncle Chad.. with the unmarked pick-up, the lack of international cell service or Wifi and so on. But eventually he did manage to find us and we were off.
30 minutes later and we were in the heart of London, parking our car for the day. We were about to explore London as locals. Above ground on the streets and below on the tube.
The first 24 hours
2. Leadenhall Market and the Bank- Then we began our walking tour of the city. Many buildings were closed due to the weekend but it was still amazing to walk through Leadenhall Market, established 1321 (sorry Uncle Chad, I had to look up all the dates because I didn’t write them down as you recited them). It was a wonderful outdoor market with the cutest shops. I also found an interesting representation of both the British Royal Family, which I learned a lot about from the locals, and of our leadership… Let’s just say they were represented quite differently. Then we walked over to the Royal Exchange which was also closed but the architecture was beautiful nonetheless.
3. The Tube- This was our first tube experience. While it was intimidating at first, I found it to be super efficient and honestly enjoyed it much more than the subways in New York. The trains seemed to come more quickly and were less packed, though we were there on a weekend so maybe that is why. I’d take public transport in California if it existed like that!
4. Borough Market- Oh man Borough Market was WONDERFUL. The minute we stepped in I was flooded with wonderful sights and smells. Each stand was bustling, giving out samples of amazing food. London is so diverse that I was quickly reminded of home as I passed the stalls of Mediterranean, Thai, Mexican, etc. We ended up getting delicious paella and calamari from a stand near the entrance. Plus a lamb wrap a little deeper in. Finally, we had to try Pims which I can only describe as similar to sangria. The cool, fruity drink was so refreshing as we escaped the body heat in Borough. But we did brave our way back in for baguettes, which proved a perfect snack for the rest of the weekend.
5. St. Paul’s- Across the bridge we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. This may have been my favorite part of the whole trip. The cathedral is beautifully built with the most gorgeous interior I have ever seen. The pictures won’t even do it justice but it was breathtaking. As if we hadn’t already walked plenty, we decided to increase our cardio and walk up all 500+ steps to the top lookout, stopping at the Whispering Gallery for a break and to try out the famous whisper walls. We were met by another wonderful rooftop view of the city. So worth the sweat and burn.
6. Somerset House- For another impressive piece of architecture, we headed over to Somerset House. We opted to go out to the courtyard and enjoy ourselves in the square rather than pay for any of the interior exhibits. So, so beautiful. There was some sort of display art that kept the square misty and cool for us.
7. Covent Garden Market- This was the most crowded portion of our day but well worth the bustle. The architecture, again, was wonderful. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that coming from my humble background of beige adobe houses in Orange County. There were adorable stalls and street performers. But alas, it was time to eat.
8. Dishoom at King’s Cross- To give you an idea of how amazing this authentic Indian food is, we originally tried to go to the one near Covent Garden but the wait was over 2 hours. So we decided it was worth it to relocate 20 minutes to the King’s Cross location. It started to rain and they handed us umbrellas in line, or the queue as they say, and served chai as well. Once seats opened up, they allowed us into the dimly lit bar area to wait for our table. By this point, Ryann and I were honestly losing steam and were only alive for the thought of food. And it did not disappoint. Once seated, we ordered family-style quickly and were met with the most amazing Indian cuisine I have ever had. Thanks to Sonia for recommending the place and taking us there. I am jealous that she gets to go so often because the gunpowder potatoes, daal, lamb, etc was sooooo good. So good. A must try if you are ever in London.
The last leg
2. The London Eye and Big Ben- Full bellied, we walked down to see the London Eye. It is truly impressive to look up at but we were not keen to queue up, especially after our own breathtaking views. So we took our pictures and went to see Big Ben. Poor thing is under some serious construction but is still quite a wonder.
3. Trafalgar Square- A beautiful square to sit and hang out on. It was too bad the fountains were turned off but it was a gorgeous walk nonetheless.
4. Buckingham Palace- We missed the Queen’s birthday by a day but I was glad for how nice and empty the Mall and the palace front were. Union jacks hung from poles all down the mall. I was amazed by the flowers surrounding the palace and the gorgeous architecture which included the balcony I have seen on TV a hundred times.
5. Green Park- The parks in London are one thing I wish I could have spent more time in. They rent adorable 50’s style chairs to sit on and enjoy the nice weather. They’re gorgeous with trees and fountains. I could spend an afternoon picnicking for sure.
6. Harrods- The final stop of our short trip was Harrods, a department star too glamorous to even be called a department store. Floor after floor of displays and shops. We especially enjoyed the food floor and each room dedicated to a different category. Our final “meal” was a decadent ice cream sundae and milkshake inside Harrods. Hazelnut and honey comb? I’m obsessed.
And that was it! A whirlwind I know but I’ll be back. Thanks again to Uncle Chad and Sonia for a wonderful time. If you’re reading this, you rock. Most of what we did was free, with the exception of food and transport, as we didn’t want to spend too much time inside exhibits in order to see the city.
What do you think? Any suggestions for WHEN I go back?
By Kaitlyn Raymundo