As you already know from previous posts, I will be traveling out to Europe and Asia for the next six months or so and my first stop was London. It’s funny actually because originally this trip was planned only to explore Asia but since it was cheaper to fly out from London, I was planning to stay in the city for a couple of days and then fly out to Asia. My travel plans changed to now spending a couple of months in Europe and then off to Asia
So here goes, stop numero 1.. London.
I had never been to Europe expect for France so I haven’t the minimalist clue on what’s up with this city. I am also the kind of “go-with-the-flow” girl in regards to travel, so I don’t really sit down and plan my itinerary, my transport or sleeping situation ahead of time so here goes to adventure and spontaneity. I did however, book my transport from the airport to London because I knew the airport is huge and didn’t want to walk excessively to get all the information needed and figure out where to go, plus I’d probably be very hungry and/or tired so didn’t want to deal with that. So I booked with EasyBus, a company by Easy Jet, which offers transport between London Gatwick airport and major rail stations in the center of the city. It doesn’t matter if you don’t fly out via EasyJet you can still book with them. I payed 4.99 pounds when booking ahead of time and 9.95 on the way back because I bought it directly from the driver so in this case, I do recommend booking ahead if you know your fly out dates. If you buy online though you MUST present your ticket so if you can’t print it figure out somewhere to print it or pay the driver because they won’t accept it an email of PDF on your phone. If you are buying from the driver make sure to have a credit card because they don’t take any cash either. I figured it probably wouldn’t get any cheaper than this and indeed, I came back to Gatwick airport exactly the same way because they have centrally located pickup stations, flexible schedules and they are the cheapest of all. I did have some trouble finding the easy bus stop when coming back to the airport though, probably because it was 5:00 AM and I did’t even know what I was looking for. If you are staying close to Waterloo Station, which is where I was, easy bus has a pickup location at Waterloo station but not at the actual station, at the corner on York Road right past the tunnel that is close to the main entrance. So when looking for it, don’t head out to any of the underground entrances look for a little orange kiosk at the end of the street, further from the entrance, that says EasyBus pickup, it looks like any of the other city bus stops. The trip usually takes about an hour but with traffic, it can really take up to two hours. Thankfully there was traffic on my way getting to London which I was in no hurry and not to the airport otherwise I would’ve missed my flight so, make sure to head out with spare time just in case. I got off at Victoria Station rather than Waterloo, which are the only two central locations Easy Bus will take you, and I chose Victoria station because looking at maps of London this wasn’t an area I was really out to explore or stay except for certain attractions so i figured I’d get this area off my list. The Victoria bus station is about a 10-15 minute walk to Buckingham Palace.
So off I go, to the 1 degree Celsius cold, with a 20 lbs pack on my back. And so far, it is all pretty smooth, I’ve packed just what I needed because I am not even a little cold and my pack seems pretty light no problem whatsoever. That wasn’t the same story 2 hours later of walking non-stop, just FYI and you will be walking a ton so plan to leave the pack in the hostel first! In Victoria area, I recommend heading out to Buckingham palace and if possible during the change of guards, quite the spectacle, and then head out to walk around the parks nearby like Saint James Park and green park, you will see them right across the street, along with Wellington Arch. Then just keep following the river towards the center of the city, towards the London Eye and you will come across Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the War Rooms. This is all I considered to be the basic in Victoria area but if you have more time to explore I am sure there’s a lot more to do.
The rest of my stay was pretty much more of central London and there is a lot to do! I was here for five days and there were still many places I wanted to visit but you have to pick what you like to do the most of course. For me it was art and food and I made a post just about my cultural round being that I am an art freak so please be sure to check it out through this link; there is more info on the Tate Modern, the British Museum, Tate Britain, and Saatchi Gallery which is right by the University of Arts. If you have the time head out to the University which is in Chelsea, head out at night to check out some awesome light installations that are on at nighttime only. You will find info on which exhibits to visit, hours, directions as well as visiting the British Library which houses the King’s collection of books, sounds boring I know, but you won’t be reading them, you will be staring at the four levels of shelves contained in a glass structure that sits in the middle of the library. I had never seen anything like it, I highly recommend it, it is totally worth the walk. Another fun thing to do if you area heading out to this area and if you are a fan of course, head out to the Harry Potter shop in King’s cross Station, the actual station not the underground part, and take a pic at the famous Platform 9 3/4.
The underground train, or the tube as the English call it, will be your first and best friend of all, here in London. As soon as you hit a station get an oyster card and pay as you go, you can reload them at any station with cash or card. There’s a station at least every 10 minutes walking distance so it will truly help you move around the city, not as cheap as the bus but faster for sure. What I did, and I concluded is the most efficient, is to grab a map of London and pinpoint what you want to see and then go by the stations nearby to those attractions and see what’s close by that way in one day you check out areas more than a certain spot to visit. Otherwise you will probably lose more time moving from one place to the other to check out a certain thing a certain day. And so I did, I went by areas and explored the signature monuments as well as the characteristic neighborhoods and unique spots in London.
For the monuments you must check out London Tower, it’s an extremely well kept part of history. A building from the 1100’s that still stands in perfect conditions. I also think it’s interesting that the city has evolved architecturally but yet retains spots like this mixed in with the new. Next to the London Tower, there is Tower Bridge which is another bit of ancient history still standing. You can walk it out or even climb up the tower and pay about nine pounds to stand on a newly added glass structure that sits 45 meters above the street level. I didn’t want to pay for it honestly but the structure basically sits right on top of the bridge where the cars drive by and you get to see the river as well. There’s the Big Ben which you can head out on your way back to the more central area and from there off the London Eye where you will get the best view of London, and it is as amazing during the day than it is at night but I highly recommend it at night, London is a completely different city all lit up at nighttime and what a better way than see all of it at once, you can also escape he cold for a bit of 25 pounds.
For the foodie stuff do head out to Borough Market in the Borough area. Wow! You can also read about this on an individual post about Borough Market. We have this in the states as well but we call them farmers market. Except Borough Market is a farmer’s market on steroids! Same concept of fresh produce vendors and International cuisine stands but this place has existed for over one thousand years, so you do the math of the magnitude of the market. If you have the time make sure you talk to some of the vendors, they will tell you everything about how they produce and maintain their shops as well as all the chefs at each stand, most of them are foreigners and will make you the most authentic dish from their country. I know I had the best falafel I have ever tried here and I am sure it must be the same for the rest of the stands. Come hungry, very hungry if possible so you can try more things. Another neighborhood I explored for food was Soho, nothing like New York Soho’s this is the number one Soho. The cutest and most unique restaurants all over, a million bars with a varied selections of beers and very nice people, the younger crowd to be honest. So head out here for some drinks too. For some fun all around and of course a must here in London, Piccadilly Circus, the Times Square of London full of shops, signs, bars and restaurants and if you are here you might as well roll around Chinatown, why not. And if you are looking to grab some drinks and meet some people at nighttime, I would say head out to Brixton.
For my stay, again not a big planner, so I have been relying on the hostel world app. An amazing tool because you can filter in wether you want hostels, or bed and breakfasts or cheap hotels and you can also filter by area or by proximity. Plus you can also get the current rate so depending on your budget and location you can find the best fit. I took into account both reviews and pictures because even though I a I am “roughing” it with the backpacking life, I want to make sure I “rough it” the least possible. So my first night I was exhausted by the time I got to London eye, had already been walking with my pack for about four hours so I checked for a hostel close by and the one that came up was “London Eye Hostel”. The hostel has the nicest staff, they are certainly there to help you get you where you want to go and suggest on how to get the best London experience. Accommodations are perfectly clean, I actually have seen people come in and clean thoroughly every day, there’s a luggage room which is locked all the time and only staff have the key available, plus there are lockers for rent for your small but sacred personal belongings (my laptop for example) and the showers are probably nicer than the showers at my house. There’s four showers I believe and all are a single shower room that you can lock, don’t think its a community shower room, and they have hot water at all times of the day. The hostel also had a kitchen with everything you might need, complimentary coffee and tea at all time and a big bonus, free breakfast. Lastly, the common area or TV room, very decent installations, movies on TV all the time, computers to access the internet for free and the best of all here, the people I met. Not sure if I was lucky but I guess being such a centrally located hostel many pass by. I got to meet great people with whom I know I will remain friends and if you are traveling by yourself I think this is a big plus because isn’t that the whole point of traveling, meeting cool-interesting people? And also, if you get along pretty well you can even join ventures. I highly recommend this hostel, there are cheaper options close by but it’s totally worth the splurge to feel at home and to feel safe.
-Oyster Card upon arrival
-Use EasyBus as transports to and from Gatwick airport but if you can it’s better to fly out from Heathrow or if traveling locally through London city, just because you can take the tube.