One of Kevin and I’s favorite things to do together is travel and explore new places. It’s been one of our goal over the last couple of years to travel more and I’m thankful to say we’ve done quite a bit of it! Last August we traveled to England to explore the city for the first time together and to visit some of our close friends. This August we planned visited our friends again and then continued to head east all the way around the world before heading home.
I’ll tell you more about the second leg of our trip soon but today I’m sharing some highlights and my favorite things to do in and around London.
Choose a hotel near an underground station
While in the city we stayed in East London at the Andaz on Liverpool Street. While this hotel is situated more in the financial/banking side of the city, it’s right next door to the Liverpool Street tube station which was super convenient. Whenever you’re traveling to a city, I highly recommend choosing a hotel that’s close to a subway/train station. This made it easy to travel all around town.
This hotel was gorgeous! It super modern lobby and foyer had a spiral view to the floors above that resembled the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The rooms are in a much older part of the building which while still modern and chic had tons of charm.
Pick up a SIM card
After checking into our hotel our first stop always is to grab a SIM card so we can stay connected. When visiting the UK for less than a month, one of best deals is to grab a SIM card from Three which gives you 12 GB of data (plus calling) for £30. And if you plan to use Uber while you’re there, you can update your phone number in your account so your driver can call you.
Leave room in your suitcase for shopping
While tons of U.S. brands have stores in London, there are also tons of UK only brands that you may want to check out. I swear I think I should have been British because nearly all my clothing and accessories are from English brands. I intentionally left almost half my suitcase empty because I knew I wanted to do a little shopping this trip (even though I almost never do much shopping when I travel since I prefer to spend money on experiences and food).
My favorites? Orla Kiely, Cambridge Satchel, Cath Kidston, and Liberty.
Visit the markets
My favorite food market of all time is the Borough Market, which is located on the south side of the Thames. Grab some bread, meat and cheese to enjoy later in your room or on a picnic. I promise you won’t regret it! While some of the vendors take credit cards, most only take cash. There’s a Post Office nearby, which usually has the best exchange rates, although this trip we found better exchange rates at individual ATMs.
After visiting the Borough Market it’s about a 10 minute walk to the Tate Modern. Which if you love art museums, this is one of the best in the world!
Other markets to check out: Brick Lane Market (then visit Nude Espresso after), Columbia Road Flower Market (on Sundays), and Broadway Market in Hackney.
Much like L.A.’s Hulu bikes and New York’s Citi bikes, London has Santander bike rental kiosks all around the city. Hopping on a bike is a great way to explore a city but if you’re a little nervous about riding in traffic (and on the left side of the road) I highly recommend heading to Hyde Park. There are several kiosks on all corners of the park but taking the tube the Marble Arch station brings you to the northeast entrance of the park and right next to two kiosks.
Explore other neighborhoods
On your first trip to London you gotta see some of the sights. Check out Covenant Garden, Buckingham Palance and the London Eye. But if you have more time, I recommend checking out other areas of the city.
Hackney: We meet up with Fran and Teri at the Hackney train station and headed to the oh so Instagramable Palm Vaults. This area used to be a little rough around the edges but is now one of the hippest neighborhoods in the city.
Islington: Stroll up A1 street and wander in and out of all the shops. Don’t missifeelsmug.com and Present & Correct if you’re a stationery lover like me. Stop in Byron for a burger if you’re craving (posh) comfort food.
Travel Outside of London
If you have the opportunity I highly recommend exploring the villages outside of London. Our friends live in a small village outside of the town Market Harborough. It’s just over an hour train ride from central London and has a cute little “downtown” with shops and is home to the first Joules store, which of course I had to visit and lucky for me they were having a summer sale!
Foxton, the village they live in, is mostly just residential and farmland but it does have some delicious food. We celebrated our friend’s birthday at The Bell Inn which looks like a small neighborhood pub but has incredible food. And The Black Horse Pub has a gorgeous garden that you can sit in and enjoy a pint or gin and tonic while admiring the English countryside.
Other Things to Note…
Visit the SkyGarden
If you find yourself in the banking side of East London, stop by the SkyGarden for a great view of the city. It’s an indoor garden and tropical oasis right in the middle of one of London’s tallest buildings. There’s a cafe counter where you can get coffee and pastries or Darwin, a restaurant that has delicious avocado toast.
It’s standard to not tip at restaurants and bars. You will probably get some funny looks if you do.
Ask for tap water
This seemingly obviously thing can actually save you tons of bucks if you don’t mind drinking tap water. If you order still water 9 times out of 10 you’ll get a fancy glass bottled water that’s way overpriced.
Any type of food can be found
Whatever you’re craving, chances are you can get it in London. From fish and chip stands to Good & Proper Tea and great Italian, Indian and Thai food you can find it all. If you love homemade pasta, definitely check out the tucked away La Tagliata in East London. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Pick up an Oyster Card
An Oyster Card is the reloadable plastic smart card you can use on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, Tfl Rail and most National Rail services in London. You can pick one up at any train station and you can load and reload them with a credit card so no need to get cash out for this.
Navigating the underground is easier than you think
Google maps makes it super easy to figure out which lines you need. Just be sure to look up directions before heading underground, where you won’t have service. Take a screen shoot of the directions to reference.
P.S. If you followed my Instagram Story while I was traveling you might have noticed that we traveled on first or business class the entire trip. That’s all thanks to Kevin’s travel hacking skills and he’ll be sharing more about that in the near future!