I recently turned 30 and I was honestly not at all upset about it. I have no problem with aging gracefully. Although, it has made me more aware of what I haven’t yet accomplished and what I’d like to focus more of my energy on (or not). I’m feeling the urge to check more and more countries off my bucket list ASAP!
Since it was a big birthday, Dan surprised me with a birthday trip. He didn’t tell me where we were going until we got to the airport, which I was totally fine with because I love an adventure.
So if you don’t follow me on social media (you should follow me @sarah_likesfood), I’ll fill you in… he took me to LONDON!
I’d never been (unless you count flight layovers, which you shouldn’t) so I was super pumped to take in this amazing city. It was everything I imagined it would be and more. I fell in love.
We were there for about a week so I was able to see and experience most of the things I really wanted to, but you could truly spend a month in London and not see everything. There is SO MUCH to do!
When I was younger I loved a big party and really thrived on the energy of it all, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve really started to loathe crowds. I just do not have a great time in a throng of people running into each other.
Since Dan was surprising me with the trip, he laid out a few ideas, but left the itinerary pretty open so we could do whatever I wanted. I typically prefer a more low-key laid back vacation, so we decided to try to find some off-the-beaten-path activities for this trip. Plus, everyone knows about the hot spots and cool tourist attractions in London from T.V. or just experience, so I don’t really need to fill you in on those.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t do all of the tried and true stereotypical touristy London things—you totally should, and I did many of them! I’m just saying… there are options.
So, this is a good round up if you’ve been to London before and are looking for something new to check out this time around, or if you are just someone who likes to avoid the crowds (me). I’ll also fill you in on things that I personally could’ve done without, and things that I loved.
You already know- The London Eye
Don’t get me wrong, this is a popular tourist stop for a reason. Everyone has heard of the London Eye. It’s a major landmark of the city— and a pretty cool one at that! But I’m gonna be honest with you… spending 27£ to wait in line forever isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.
Must See- The Emirates Air Line cable car
At a fraction of the price of the Eye, you can get a bird’s eye view of the fastest growing area of the city while floating high above the River Thames.
While searching for something else online, this popped up as a targeted ad, and I’m so glad it did! I’d never ridden a cable car that high up before and it was an awesome experience, but I wouldn’t recommend this one if you’re afraid of heights.
I recommend taking the train to the Royal Docks near Canning Town to start, and riding the cable car over to Greenwich. From there you can catch a show at O2 arena (you can even walk on the roof) or just wander the adorable streets of Greenwich like we did.
The cable car is actually part of the tube system of London, so the pricing is super cheap and you can pay with your Oyster card. The ride is only 1.70£ one way or 3.50£ for round trip. We did one way then took the tube back to home base.
This was such a cool, different way to see the city, plus, hardly any line! We waited only a couple minutes for a car, and you can’t beat the price.
You already know- China Town
China Town is awesome and if you’ve never been to China Town in a major city, you should definitely stop by. However, if you’ve been to China Town elsewhere and only have a few days in London, I’d say skip it and spend your time doing something else.
Must See- Brick Lane
Brick Lane is a trendy area that is known for its Asian cuisine and fun bar scene. Since it was once the hub for the Bangladeshi community in London, there are Bangladeshi restaurants to choose from, but also a large assortment of other Asian food spots to check out.
You will see an endless amount of curry restaurants here, which gives it its nickname of Curry Row. With the limitless options, it can honestly feel a bit overwhelming if you’re like me and have trouble making decisions when you’re hungry. They all looked and smelled so good!
You already know- Camden Market
Honestly, I was not a fan. It was uncomfortably crowded to a level I’ve never experienced before. I’ve heard there are cool shops there, but I wasn’t able to make it through the jam-packed crowds past the cheesy souvenir tee-shirt shops to get to them.
However, I will say it was really nice to walk along the water here and watch boaters navigate the locks. If you want to check out Camden, head straight to the water for a leisurely stroll.
Must See- Portobello Street Market
This market was amazing. I love vintage clothes and antiques, and the vintage options at this market were the best I’ve ever seen. I literally could’ve walked away with a whole new wardrobe, but I restrained myself.
There was stall after stall of beautiful fashions from the 40s-90s in pristine condition. Any vintage-lover’s dream. They also had art and food vendors that made this a great way to spend a morning or afternoon.
If you’re into vintage, this is a MUST SEE. It definitely doesn’t hurt that it’s located in the cute Notting Hill borough with all of its brightly colored row houses. After you’ve browsed the market, be sure to take a walk through this picturesque neighborhood.
You already know- Buckingham Palace
If you’re from the U.S. and have no experience with royalty, I know it’s alluring to have the chance to see a palace where actual royalty lives. I totally get it. I had to see it too. It’s a real novelty for us.
However, you can’t go inside because it is still an actual residence, so there’s really not much to see here except huge crowds of tourists hanging around outside the gates. You most likely won’t see a member of the royal family, and the building itself is not that impressive, especially compared to many of the other beautiful buildings in London.
Take a quick peek from across the street and move on.
Must See- Palace of Placentia in Greenwich
Once you’ve taken the cable car to Greenwich, stop by this small-scale palace while you’re there. While it’s not the most ornate palace you’ll find in London, it is free to the public (major plus) and absolutely beautiful inside.
This former palace is now an art museum, so you can take in the art while also getting a history lesson. Plaques on the walls of each room tell you what the rooms were once used for and a bit of history about the people who lived there.
I was obsessed with the architecture and decor of this place. The black and white tiled floor in the main room is mesmerizing and the blue iron work on the spiral staircase was so beautiful against the white walls. The symmetry of it all was so aesthetically pleasing.
Bonus: Must See- Hampton Court
While not technically London, if you’re willing to take a trip outside of the city, then the palace you must see is that of King Henry VIII— Hampton Court Palace.
It was the King’s escape from the city, and by far one of the coolest things we did in England (it’s about a 39 min. train ride from the city). To be where so much insane history took place was surreal and the palace itself is so beautiful and extravagant.
Entry is 21.30£ if you buy tickets in advance (we bought them online on the train ride in), or 23.70£ if you wait and buy them at the door. It’s well worth the price in my opinion, as the entry fee includes a guided listening tour and free roam of the palace and extensive gardens.
The building and surrounding gardens are massive so you never feel overcrowded, even with many other people around, and the listening tour was pretty in-depth. It walks you through the history of each room in the building.
If you really spend the time to take it all in, a trip to this palace will take you at least half a day. Great for history buffs or architecture lovers. I highly recommend it.
You already know- Soho
I was really excited to visit Soho, but left a little disappointed. I don’t know why, but I expected it to be more of a bohemian artsy area, but most of it was more of a tourist trap with huge crowds everywhere and every chain American fast food restaurant you could ever think of. Not my scene at all.
While I definitely did find a few cool places in this area (Maison Bertaux cafe & bakery and the Photographic Arts museum to name a couple), and I’m sure there are probably a ton more, I’d personally probably skip this neighborhood next time I visit London.
Must See- South Kensington & Hyde Park
I loved this area. It was quiet and low key—just how I like things. I really enjoyed just roaming the little streets and looking at all of the perfectly maintained houses with pretty, colorful doors that I’ll never be able to afford; pretending to live my dream life.
As a music buff, Dan loved seeing Royal Albert Hall, although we couldn’t go inside because Mariah Carey was performing that night.
My favorite part of this area was Kensington Gardens. Not necessarily an unknown place in London, but one of my favorites so I had to include it.
The gardens are next to Kensington Palace, but it had already closed for the day by the time we got there. Otherwise, it might have ended up on my list of cool palaces. It’s on my list for next time.
But back to the gardens… they were so perfect! The flowers there are perfectly curated and arranged so beautifully. I loved walking through the ivy-covered arches and literally just smelling the roses. Afterwards, Dan and I found a nice bench on Round Pond in front of the palace and relaxed while watching the ducks and swans. Perfect evening.
As I said, there is SO much to do in London that I could never put it all into one post. But, these were some of my favorite things about this amazing city and I hope you make a stop at them next time you adventure across the pond.
If you noticed some of the photos in this post look different from usual, that’s because we tried to shoot film most of this trip! I have a great little point and shoot that Dan bought me so I could carry it around everywhere without looking like a crazy tourist. 🙂