To read more about my trip, scroll down.
I know that spending less than a month in London doesn’t make me an expert, but it does mean I have some knowledge. So, here’s my list of Do’s & Don’ts for spending time in London. Also, I was broke throughout almost my entire stay, so you can guarantee that my tips are budget-friendly.
Also, I realized after I wrote this that this shouldn’t be called “A Girl’s Guide.” This is a pretty universal list. Whatever.
- Go for afternoon Tea. This is the best way to experience a variety of English traditions all at once! Depending on if you go for afternoon tea or high tea, you’ll get to sample a variety of finger sandwiches, scones, desserts, and (obviously) tea. It’s a wonderful and relaxing experience.
- If you’re given a choice of which tea to have, don’t get green or herbal tea; just get the plain ol’ English breakfast tea. Because you’re in England.
- Tour the Houses of Parliament.I did a self-guided audio tour on a Saturday morning, and it was one of the coolest things I did in London. It’s a very historic place, but unless you’re a historical junkie, you don’t necessarily need to pay for the private guide. Make sure you research the dates and times that tours are given! And show up early!
- Unlike the cafes in museums in the States, the ones in England don’t suck. I had a latte in the cafe right after my tour of the Houses of Parliament and loved it. So if you find some food or a drink for a good price, don’t pass it up just because you’re not in a cafe.
- Visit as many museums as possible. A lot of the museums in London are free! I went to the classics like the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, and the National Gallery, all of which are completely free. However, don’t discount the funky museums London has to offer, like the Tate Modern.
- Although the museums are free, many of them will ask for donations. Maybe this is pretentious, but I preferred to wait until after I toured the museum to donate.
- Take a spin on the London Eye…but make sure you go at sunset! It’s pretty no matter the time of day, but watching the sun set over London is truly remarkable.
- Load an Oyster Card. I can’t imagine getting around London without the Tube. Some tourists assume it’s just for locals, but that’s not true. It’s incredibly easy to use, too.
- Download the Tube app (free in the app store). It works without cellular data and tell you the fastest and easiest ways to get to your destination.
- Go grocery shopping. Sainsbury’s was my personal choice when it came to grocery shopping. If you eat out for every meal, you’re going to blow through your budget very quickly. Even if your hotel or flat doesn’t have a full kitchen, you can pick up sandwiches, croissants, fruit, and drinks at Sainsbury’s to pack a lunch.
- Unlike in the U.S., they actually make their baked goods there. I’m not kidding. I used to go to Sainsbury’s first thing in the morning for a warm chocolate croissant. Yes, warm.
- Research walking tours to do by yourself. You don’t necessarily need a tour guide to see all of the famous landmarks. I used Pintrest for this.
- But if you do decide to hire a guide, make sure it’s a good one! Check out TripAdvisor and make sure you schedule a really good guide.
- Visit Westminster Abbey. It’s really cool. And old. And if you close your eyes and try really hard, you can picture Kate Middleton getting married there.
- Go to tea at Claridge’s. If you have the money left in your budget, by all means, go to a fancy tea room! But for those of us who prefer not to break the bank on an hour-long excursion, there are plenty of good tea rooms that are still charming but aren’t all glamorous.
- I used Pintrest to search for tea rooms ahead of time, but if you want to find one that’s close to where you are, you can use sites like Yelp to find a good one.
- Load your Oyster card for your entire trip. If you lose your card while it still has money on it, that money’s gone for good. Plan to refill your card a few times throughout your trip. You’ll also ensure you don’t overload your card.
- Take a taxi. They’re expensive, so unless you’re stranded somewhere, don’t hire one. In London, they’re essentially professional drivers.
- Yes, the Tube will shut down at some point (it doesn’t run 24/7), but the buses run late and you can often times use your Oyster card for buses too. If you’ll be out late, research ahead of time and plan your mode of transportation home.
- Limit yourself to Hyde Park. You’ll probably be in the area a lot, so it’s tempting to just hang out in this one massive park. Don’t do it. It’s where most of the tourists hang out, so food and souvenirs will likely be pricier. Don’t get me wrong: it’s beautiful! So definitely visit it once or twice, but be sure to stroll through other parks too, like Regent’s Park, Victoria Park, and the little gardens, like Russel Square.
- Buy anything at Harrod’s. You should definitely go there, but everything – from the beautiful macaroons to the glamorous clothing – will cost you an arm and a leg. So walk around, go up and down the escalators, and people watch – but don’t buy anything. Food, especially, will be overpriced.
- Try and take a photo in Westminster Abbey. Have you ever been screamed at by an old British docent in a quiet church? Well, if you even so much as pick up your phone, you’ll get to experience it first-hand. When they tell you not to take any pictures, listen.
May – June 2015
This past Spring, I had the privilege of studying abroad for 3 weeks in London, England. Prior to starting my studies in London, I visited some family friends in Charlbury, a small town near the Cotswolds.
Our first outing was a day trip to Bletheim Palace, where Winston Churchill once lived.
After a few days filled with tea, wonderfully dreary mornings, and a day trip to Oxford, I headed to London.
I saw all of the touristy sights – and the not-so-common ones, too.