Instagrammable Weekend in London


It's been 14 years since the last time I was in London, but one thing remained the same, the Tower Bridge was the first thing I wanted to see! Big Ben was under construction and will be so until sometime in 2020, as was the Palace of Westminster and Harrods so I didn't get pictures of any of them.  England isn't famous for its weather, but I got really lucky as it was 85F and sunny when I went at the end of August.  I always thought I was a Paris gal, but now I think I'm a London girl and can't wait to go back again soon! I was only in London for 2 days so I didn't have time for museums, tours, boat trips or shows. I just spent all day walking around viewing the sights and eating; averaging about 35K steps a day. I flew British Airways which only lets you select your seat 24 hours in advance, which means you better set an alarm on your phone because I tried 8 hours in advance and every window seat was gone.  Anyway, I have so many beautiful photos to show you!



Where to Stay
I stayed at the Tower Hotel which was right next to the Tower Bridge and had affordable rates. My room didn't face the bridge, but I still had a great view on a high floor of London's skyline and the marina behind the hotel. The room was super tiny though and the a/c wasn't the strongest. Being that close to the bridge allowed me easy access to see the bridge at sunrise. I felt incredibly safe walking around at that time. My hotel was about a 15 minute walk from the subway station and a £14.23 uber ride to London City Airport (not Heathrow) where I departed from.


Getting Around 
The best way to get around London is to take the Underground subway otherwise known as the Tube. I bought an Oyster card at Heathrow airport and took the Tube to my hotel. It was an hour ride and cost £2.40, about $3. They have an express train for $30 into the city but I wasn't in a hurry to get to my hotel.  You pay a £5 refundable deposit to buy an Oyster card. At the airport there a ton of employees there to help you use the machine to purchase it. Using the Oyster card is 50% cheaper than paying for single rides and works on the double deck bus as well. The card caps at £7 per day in zones 1 &2. That means after x number of rides, you no longer pay! When you leave London, just go back to a machine and "deposit" your card and you get all your remaining money back! When you ride the train you will hear "mind the gap" repeatedly announced because being one of the oldest subways in the world opening in 1863, the trains don't line up with the station platforms. There is a 5 inch gap in both height and width that you have to jump down from the train to the platform. For someone with luggage you really need to be careful. London is huge so be sure to plan your itinerary by neighborhood. I saved all the locations I wanted to go to on ‘mygooglemaps’ (which is different than regular google maps, mygooglemaps is linked to your gmail account and saves all points of interest in a city for you). It works offline and the map moves on my phone as I walked without wifi! 


Money
Don't exchange money at the airport, they weren't giving a good rate. Look up the exchange rate before you go and find a place that exchanges money close to that rate (use this list) or use an ATM machine. But I also found I could use my credit card everywhere so exchanging money wasn't even necessary. I wanted to show you what the British banknotes look like. They are made of plastic so they don't crease when you bend them, they can go through a washing machine, and have a clear circular window on the left so they are hard to counterfeit. When you buy anything in a store they will charge you 5 pence for a plastic bag.
The most photogenic landmarks 
The top four photogenic spots that you need a picture with in London are:
1. Red Telephone Booth
2. London Eye
3. Tower Bridge
4. Big Ben
You can't go to London without a picture with a red telephone booth! Some of them are locked, some are just for show, a few are used as free libraries, one is a photo booth and a few I've actually seen people using. There are 5000 left in the UK and you’ll recognize them by the crown at the top. 

There’s London Bridge, Tower of London and Tower Bridge, these are all different landmarks not to be confused with each other.  The Tower of London is a 900 year old castle guarded by Beefeaters and home to the crown jewels. Tower Bridge has always been the symbol of London to me. Walking across the Tower Bridge gives you a magnificent view of the city across the River Thames and the Shard, a 95-story glass triangle skyscraper. Walking across the London Bridge gives you a great view of the Tower Bridge. If you’d like to go to the top of Tower Bridge you can wait in line and buy a ticket for $10 to do so.  It’s worth a close up look at the amazing architecture. The bridge is always crowded with people and just hope a boat doesn’t pass or else you’ll be waiting for the bridge to open and close. I went at sunrise to get the bridge to myself and to see the gorgeous sky at sunrise. 

The London Eye, opened in 2000, is an observation wheel that is 804 feet tall. It used to be the highest public viewing point in London until the observation deck on the 72nd floor of the Shard opened in 2013. The London Eye has 32 air-conditioned capsules that takes 30 minutes to do a full revolution. It doesn’t stop to let people on as it moves very slowly, but they will stop it if you need extra assistance to board. Tickets are $30. 
Big Ben is the most iconic sight in London. The bell has chimed for 158 years but is currently under a 3-year renovation project. But you can take a picture with Little Ben in the interim. lol

Once you’ve checked that off your list, then you may want to check out these places:
Chinatown with its vibrant gate, bubble waffles, and Chinese restaurants.  Piccadilly Circus - their version of Times Square on a much smaller scale. St Pancras Renaissance Hotel - Grand Staircase next door to the King's Cross subway station where the  9 ¾ Harry Potter platform is located. I waited one hour for a picture there. lol Trafalgar Square (below) in the center of London is surrounded by the National Gallery which is free, the fountain and the fourth Plinth whose statue changes from time to time. You’ll often find demonstrations near by which I did. Buckingham palace is a short walk away. The square is always full of people and energy so you can take a seat and enjoy the atmosphere.


Churches
London has a lot of beautiful churches. To me the most iconic are St. Paul's where Princess Diana got married. Tickets are about $20 to enter. Westminster Cathedral is pictured below, not to be confused with Westminster Abbey where Prince William was married. What I love about Westminster Cathedral is the beauty and uniqueness of the red and white stripe design. It's free to enter unlike the Abbey which is also about $20 to enter. 


Afternoon Tea
You can't go to London and not have afternoon tea. While deciding where to go, I found the average price for it was £40. We went to afternoon tea at the Kensington Hotel because they made a beautiful array of London landmarks into desserts. I also bought some tea to take home from Fortnum and Mason which has been selling tea since 1707.


British Pubs
You’ll find that many pubs in London are covered in elaborate floral displays and people drink outside on the sidewalk. We went to the Churchill Arms for a typical British drink - the gin and tonic, the pub also serves thai food. 

Floral Cafes
Outdoor floral displays are something that Londoners cannot get enough of and I'm sure you've seen plenty of on Instagram. Here are a few places to see flowery decor of rose walls, flower arches and wisteria curtains: Peggy Porchen, Elan CafĂ©, Dominique Ansel Bakery, and Saint Aymes.


One thing I really missed was going to London's Sky Garden , I only looked into it 2 weeks before my trip and then all the free tickets were already gone. So be sure to plan head if this is something you really want to do! I also plan to go to Notting Hill and Portobello Road on my next trip.



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