Last week, I traveled to London with my boyfriend, Kris, and his family for what was my third trip to England‘s capital city. If you’ve ever traveled somewhere for work and traveled to the same place for pleasure, then you’ll understand how incredibly different the experience can be. I’m so grateful to have been included in the trip and I learned a ton about what you can accomplish in just one week in London.
You may think that one week is too long to stay in just one city, and while that may be true for some places, I’d argue that London is an exception. It’s HUGE. There are many different areas to see and literally dozens of attractions to visit. I don’t think it’s possible to be bored there.
Here’s a rundown of everywhere we ate, drank, and visited during our stay in London. We rented a house in East London, so many of the restaurants we dined at are on that end of the city. I’ve included some helpful tips about getting around, planning, budgeting, and overall cost throughout the blog.
Day One – Saturday – Arrival
If there’s one thing I can impress upon you, it’s that Heathrow Airport is GIANT. It took us a little time to coordinate our meet-up point, as there were six of us coming in on three different flights in three different terminals. Luckily, I had pre-booked an airport transfer with Peter of Men in Black Cars, which made getting to our house much easier (and stylish!). Tip: Pre-booking a transfer is a seriously worthwhile expense. If you’re looking for something a little bit cheaper, try Heathrow Express. It’s an underground tram system that drops you at Paddington Station, where you can then take the Tube to your accommodation (or a taxi that will be cheaper than taking a taxi all the way from the airport).
We knew we’d be pretty beat from the overnight flight, so we didn’t plan on doing too much during the first day. Since we had a house, we went grocery shopping to stock the kitchen for the week. Prior to our trip, we had discussed which things we didn’t want to leave London without doing and from that list, we were able to plan out our days based on each item’s location within the city. Every afternoon, we’d sit down together and plan the next day. These sessions helped us stay on track, but not feel like we didn’t have any wiggle room in our plans. The area we stayed in was just above the Tower of London and it suited our needs beautifully. We were less than a 5-minute walk to the nearest Tube station and had hundreds of restaurants nearby. We explored our area, had some lunch, took power naps, planned the next day and ordered “take-away,” as the Londoners call it. (Tip: If you must nap, set an alarm. Keep it to one hour so that your body can still regulate to the time difference.) Kris and I were still feeling a bit restless, so we grabbed pints at The Chamberlain Hotel & Bar around the corner from our house. A great end to our first day!
Day Two – Sunday – Southwark Cathedral & Tower Bridge
Easter Sunday! Truth be told, we did run into a few problems with places being open Sunday and Monday, which happened to be a Bank Holiday. Nevertheless, we took the opportunity to do quite a bit of exploring on foot. Throughout the week we walked close to 50 miles and really felt like we got to know our way around the city. Our first stop was beautiful: Southwark Cathedral. Southwark is the oldest cathedral church building in London, dating back to 606 AD. We could still smell the incense from Easter Mass as we entered to view the beautiful stained glass windows, impressive architecture, and phenomenal organ pipes lining the altar wall. I lit prayer candles in memory of my grandparents, who always loved the Easter holidays. After a pub lunch at Mudlarkone of a number of Nicholson’s Pubs we visited during our trip, we continued on to an iconic staple of London: Tower Bridge.
During the exhibition, we learned about the 120-year history of Tower Bridge. We climbed the roughly 140 feet to the high-level walkways above London (there is an elevator for those who aren’t as adventurous) and took advantage of the photo opportunity while standing on their glass floor walkways, looking down at the streets of London below. After heading back to the house and planning the next day, we ate a delicious Italian dinner at La Pietra (the only restaurant we went back to twice – so good).
Day Three – Monday – Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens
Today, we took advantage of the Oyster Cards that I pre-purchased, hopped on the Tube and headed west to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Tip: You can purchase Oyster cards before your trip and have them mailed to you in the States. I ended up getting £30.00 cards for everyone, which ended up being the perfect amount for the week. You can use Oyster cards on both the Tube and the bus. Being a bank holiday, we knew that a number of the places we wanted to go would be closed, so we took advantage of the free public parks.
First we visited Kensington Palace. You can take a tour here, but at nearly £20, it was a little more than we wanted to spend. You can walk around the beautiful gardens of Kensington Palace as well, which cover roughly 270 acres of land. I imagine these are even more stunning during the summer, but they were still wonderful. Tip: There are public restrooms in both Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. If you’re planning on wandering through both parks, try to hold out for the Hyde Park restrooms. Just trust me on this one. We walked a bit and found ourselves at the Albert Memorial. Unveiled in 1872, The Albert Memorial commemorates the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, who died of typhoid fever at the age of 42. The memorial celebrates Victorian achievement as well as Prince Albert’s passions and interests. Widely thought of as one of the most ostentatious pieces in London, this memorial, I’m pretty sure, actually gave me a sunburn.
Continuing on, we crossed over into Hyde Park. It was a beautiful day, and school vacation week, so there were plenty of people out and about. We sat by the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain for a bit of a rest before having a pub lunch at The Rose and Crown. We walked a lot today, and therefore had a pretty down afternoon, only stopping for a pint back at The Chamberlain. After relaxing at home for a bit, we planned the next day, then headed to Lupita for dinner. I’ve been to Mexico, and I can say that Lupita has some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten.
Day Four – Tuesday – The London Eye, London Dungeon, Vertigo 42 and Leadenhall Market
Talk about a jam-packed day. Tuesday was definitely the busiest day during our one week in London. We started with delicious coffee and breakfast at Cucina Cafe Bar & Restaurant, while waiting for The London Eye to open. The top attraction in London, the Eye offers 360-degree views of the city from 443 feet in the air. Each of the thirty-two pods holds twenty-five people, and the lines move fairly quickly, despite attracting thousands of tourists each day. It takes about a half-hour to make a full rotation. Tip: Be ready to jump! You get on the pods while they’re moving, so be prepared. Afterwards, we opted for a little fun at The London Dungeon. Part-show, part-attraction, you walk through “the London dungeons” as each area highlights some of London’s grizzlier stories. Yes, it’s sort of kitschy, but it was a lot of fun. It’s also long – the full attraction takes 90 minutes. We had a pub lunch at The Red Lion before walking around a bit more to take pictures of Westminster Abbey (it was closed for touring by the time we got there), and the Statues of Parliament Square.
From Westminster, we decided to take a walk along the Thames to get us to our next destination: The Blackfriar, for pints on the patio. We had just enough time to head home and freshen up before our reservations at Vertigo 42. Located at the top of Tower 42 (one of London’s highest buildings), Vertigo 42 is a pretty swanky champagne bar that offers panoramic views of the city. We were hell-bent on being able to watch the sunset from here, and holy moly was it worth it. Tip: You will not get into Vertigo 42 without a reservation, so plan ahead, and make sure to adhere to their dress code. We only stayed at Vertigo 42 for a drink before wandering over to Leadenhall Market for a delicious Italian dinner at Giorgio at Leadenhall. We walked in just before they closed the kitchen, but they were more than hospitable to us. The manager kept coming by with more and more bread (presumably to get rid of it, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth) and at the end of the night he offered us complimentary limoncello.
Leadenhall Market may look familiar to a number of people as it was a filming location for the Harry Potter movies. I wish we had been able to come here during the day, but it was still a great little area to walk around. You may think we did enough in one day to call it a night here, but when in Rome -er- London, right? Kris and I ventured to The Oliver Conquest after dinner for some insanely good gin drinks. Phew! Okay, that was the end of the night.
Day Five – Wednesday – Changing of the Guard, Neal’s Yard, and Covent Garden
I’m not sure how you can spend one week in London without visiting Buckingham Palace – at least for a photo op. We stayed for the Changing of the Guard which happens nearly every day starting at 11:15 AM and lasts for about 45 minutes. There are a couple different vantage spots for viewing: right up against the fence closest to Buckingham Palace and on the steps of the Victoria Memorial, which is facing Buckingham Palace. Most of the Changing of the Guard takes place within the fence and the Palace, so if you’re not close to it, then it’s a bit tricky to see. Therefore, if you choose to stand on the Victoria Memorial, try to get up as high as possible. The Changing of the Guard, according to their website, “encompasses colorful spectacle and British pageantry,” and the guards have been carrying out this tradition since 1660. Tip: If crowds give you anxiety, then you should probably skip the Changing of the Guard. It’s a lot of standing around and waiting amongst thousands of other people. After leaving Buckingham Palace we walked along St. James Park which I’ve heard houses some very tame pelicans who have no problem joining you for lunch. (Unfortunately, we did not experience pelican friends for ourselves. Boo.)
We ended up stopping for lunch in Chinatown, before heading over to Neal’s Yard and Covent Garden. Neal’s Yard is a brightly-colored back alley in Covent Garden, full of little shops. It was beautiful to walk around, and one of the must-see places I had on my list. We did a little bit of shopping here before stopping for a pint at Two Brewers where we snapped a group selfie (obviously). Anddddd then we stopped for another pint at the Craft Beer Co. Craft Beer Co. has 45 taps and even had one beer called the Molotov Cocktail which boasted an impressive 13.0 ABV. (I wanted to try it, but they were out. There’s a chance it would’ve killed me anyway.) After a pint (read: two) we all headed over to Covent Garden proper, which contains a number of artisan and food markets alongside designer shops. The ladies and I decided to explore the markets while the men went for a drink at The Nag’s Head. They had some fabulous street performers. We’d been touring quite a bit, so decided to have a down night. Some of the group were looking for a little American comfort and decided on KFC for dinner (because, why not?). Kris and I went a bit more on the adventurous side and ordered some great Indian food from The Empress in Aldgate near our house. We definitely needed a night in after a number of long days and enjoyed a few rounds of cards before calling it a night.
Day Six – Thursday – Notting Hill, Portobello Road & Hawksmoor Spitalfields
Kris and I set off on our own today to go record shopping in Notting Hill, which ended up being the farthest west we’d venture during our trip. We met up with one of Kris’ friends from college and had a fabulous lunch at the cafe within Jamie Oliver’s Recipease. We then walked a ways down Portobello Road, stopping to browse the little shops that lined the streets that decorated its walls with antique sewing machines. In our quest to find the last record store, we stumbled upon this great, colorful street, which seemed to be pretty characteristic of the Portobello Road area.
Day Seven – Friday – River Cruise & Unintentional Pub Crawl
We slowed things down a bit on our last day and booked a sightseeing City Cruise on the Thames River for the morning. The cruise took just about an hour, and they even had a little cafe on board that served snacks and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). We had unbelievably amazing and exceptional weather for our week, so the cruise was absolutely beautiful (even though the Thames River is decidedly not). For dinner, we went back to La Pietra because it was amazing the first time around. Afterwards, we spent our last night in London playing darts at The Black Horse next to our house and having one, two more drinks at The Dispensary across the street. We had to get up early the next day for our transfer back to the airport, so most of our group went back to the house after The Black Horse, but Kris and I stayed out to meet up with one of my friends from middle school(!). All in all, it was a great night, a superb trip, and an unforgettable experience.
Two pieces of money advice for travelers:
If you don’t have a Capital One credit card, get one. They are the only credit card company that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. Foreign transaction fees are usually between 3-5%, every time you use your card.
Check with your regular bank before you leave to see if they have any sister banks abroad. I discovered that Bank of America and Barclays are sister banks, which means that I didn’t have to pay the $5.00 BOA fee for using an outside bank, nor the 5.00 GBP fee from Barclays, and only had to pay BOA’s 3% foreign transaction fee when I wanted to take out cash from an ATM. Keep in mind, if you’re going to use your debit card, that it’s best to only take cash out with it, and not use it for point of sale transactions. You’ll be hit with that 3% fee on every transaction.
SEE LONDON CITY-STAY TOUR