Seeing London for the first time
For years London had been on the top 3 destinations I have wanted to visit the most. I don’t know why, but I always suspected it would be a place I would love. I also wanted to visit on my own – not for work or while on a press trip, but with my family, which is honestly my preferred way of traveling.
So when my husband had a work trip there, we took advantage of a few extra days after to join him and see some of the best London has to offer.
Maybe it was all the British movies and shows that influenced my expectations of what London would be, but what I immediately found interesting about this great city is how incredibly diverse it is. I found it to be this wonderful melting pot of cultures and religions and ethnicities and styles and lifestyles. I soon discovered that London is a lot more colorful than I expected.
We rented an apartment in the heart of Soho, in the West End, right across the street from Rupert Street Bar, a gay bar, which was festive every night of the week and weekend that we were there. I loved it.
We were steps from Chinatown, where on our first night we chose to eat Chinese hot-pot at Shuang Shuang.
In the mornings when we walked out of our building we would be enveloped in the scents of all sorts of different ethnic foods from the pop-up food stands that would close down Rupert St. during the day with tents and stoves and tables and chairs for diners to enjoy during their lunch breaks.
Though we shopped at the nearby Whole Foods Piccadilly with the hopes of cooking our own meals in the apartment to save money, it was difficult to resist the good food all over town. We had a full English breakfast at the Balans Soho Society, and a few pints from Nicholson’s Pub while overlooking the Thames River in the afternoon. We feasted on some of the best ramen I’ve had in a long time at Shoryu Ramen, and on delicious Indian food at Dishoom (though, honestly, the hour wait was a bit much and I would most likely not do that again).
We also indulged in a fish and chips lunch at Harrods, which I will say was a unique experience and if it fits your budget, you should try it. It is very touristy and I found the service to be spectacular, but much of the clientele was extremely rude to staff. It’s another one of those places that I am glad I went to, but wouldn’t really care to visit again. I did however really love my shopping experience at Liberty. Even still, worth the trip just to see the insanity of things like £96,000 for a pair of gold and leather headphones – because, what is this life?
I was excited when friends told me about the free museums in the city, and I could have easily spent more hours than I did at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but we had this rare instance where the weather in London was warm and sunny every day we were there, except for our last and we didn’t want to spend any of it inside, even though our apartment was in the heart of the theater district.
Instead, we spent most of our time strolling through different neighborhoods and people watching. I loved the after-work scene of co-workers and friends coming together at the local pubs, raising a glass and some conversation before heading home.
Smiling for the camera.
I enjoyed our stroll through St. James park, riding the London Eye, and walking over the gorgeous Tower Bridge.
We lost ourselves in the Borough Market and leisurely took in the scene throughout the neighborhood of Shoreditch.
The energy seemed familiar coming from New York, as we were in very touristy areas, and were often surrounded by many languages. But it wasn’t a draining energy, like I sometimes feel here. The pace was fast, but not rushed. We made conversations where ever we could, a true mark of a tourist, but it was always welcomed and reciprocated. We discovered that the Brits have a knack for long tales, and I like their sometimes dry sense of humor. My favorite part was talking politics, which the cabbies especially loved to get into. I learned so much from them!
Mostly everyone we met was from somewhere else. Even when we traveled out to Oxford and it seemed a bit less diverse, we met a waitress from Poland who moved to learn English and never left, and a waiter who told me he is often in Georgia, the U.S. state. When I asked him why, he said his father is from there. And so it made sense to me how and why there was so much of so many beautiful and delicious and wonderful and interesting experiences there, and it is because the people are equally so.
Oh, and while in Oxford, stop into The White Horse pub. This is when the rain finally came to greet us and it was nice sitting in the warm, cozy space with good food and drinks at our disposal. Also stop into Blackwell’s Books, founded in 1879, and be ready to spend a great chunk of time browsing through what seems like their endless book selection.
And if you are a Harry Potter fan, this will also be a spot to visit since many of the university buildings served as filming locations in the film series. Then there is also the Warner Bros. Studio tour of The Making of Harry Potter, where you get to tour through the real film sets of the movies and see the props, behinds the scenes, and more. It’s about an entire day experience and so worth it.
Dining Hall in Hogwarts. This is the actual set where they filmed.
The “live” portraits at Hogwarts.
Harry Potter’s invitation to return to Hogwarts, streaming into the his house.
Hogwarts at night.
Hogwarts Covered Bridge
It wasn’t a bad way to spend our last, and only rainy day in London, which has a bit of my heart now.
Of course, like anywhere, there are pockets where my experiences might not have been at all how they were in this trip, and surely, I was seeing it all through excited, newcomer eyes in a very few days. But my imagination had set me up for something different, which I expected to be lovely nonetheless, but not in the way it ended up being.
My visit was quick and brief and I suspect over time I would have found so much more to talk about and share, but this was what impressed me the most and what I hope visitors will enjoy it as much as I did when visiting there. We blew the budget a bit, but we have no regrets. I loved everything about London, but I also really enjoyed our little road trip outside of it. After waiting so long to visit, I left feeling like it was meant to be, this affection with the city. The Londoners I spoke to appreciate and know what they have is pretty unique and special, and I am happy to know it now too and can’t wait to return for more.
All photos are property of the publisher and may not be used without consent.
Hey Carol, great post!
My tour company Live The Venture plans on launching a Party Europe tour in June 2018 starting in Amsterdam and traveling to Brussels and then London. Your pictures are great and there’s a lot of information that you laid out in a very digestible way. It’s no fun just reading paragraphs of text, the pictures really add something.
I am also a HUGE Harry Potter fan and really would love to see the studio and all of the attractions. It would be great to incorporate that into our tour. I also really enjoyed your pictures on the corridors because the architecture is amazing and really feels Hogwarts-esque. Great job!
Live, Travel, Love, Learn and Venture On!
Thank you! Your tour sounds like it\’s going to be amazing. Good luck with it!
‘Loved the photographs Carol! I’m really glad that you like England. And I really can’t believe that you had never been to London, so happy that you had a great time.
I’m originally from Manchester although my family moved to Cheshire 30 odd years ago! Having said that, after university, I went to live in London and I had the most fantastic time before I eventually moved to Berlin!
p.s. I won’t be in Ireland for TBEX but I hope to see you somewhere sometime next year!
Berlin is another great city, in my opinion. It took me so long to finally get to London, and I am so happy I did. It really is as wonderful as people have always said. I am still collecting all my photos and stories from Ireland, and looking forward to sharing them here. Hope we connect next year too!
Loved the post Carol!
Planning to visit London soon.. thanks for sharing your post its going to help a lot.
Yay! So happy to hear, and thank you. Enjoy London!
London was the place where I’ve flown by plane for the first time and I was amazed by everything there. Because of that it will always have a special place in my heart 🙂 I’ve visited a couple of times since and I still enjoy being there. If only it wasn’t so expensive… 😉 Thanks for sharing, the photos brought back some nice memories!
We definitely didn\’t worry over our budget too much while there! LOL! But, I find that you leave the main areas of London and even travel the outskirts and like anywhere else, you find it to be more affordable, less hectic, and beautiful in its own way too.
Great post Carol! I haven’t had the chance to visit London yet, but it is in my bucketlist! Do you recommend winter or summer to visit?
Thank you! I am a winter girl, and I love all the holiday lights too, so that\’s what I would recommend. Plus, it\’s never as cold as in NYC.
Awesome – I love London and even though I’ve already been a few times, I still picked up some new things to do from this post. Bookmarked and will revisit this page again for when I plan to visit the UK when the pandemic is over! Thanks for posting.
Thanks for reading!
This is a good guide. London has much to see but for me, it has always been difficult to decide where to start. The city is quite crowded and it takes time to learn how to move efficiently. It’s time to visit London again after the pandemic.
I want to visit so much more of London. I want to explore more of the outskirts too. Definitely must return after the pandemic!