What to Do: London

We’re about two months out from the start of a three week visit to the U.K. and I’m very excited to have just started planning all the details. Being so busy on the show this season actually worked to my advantage as I was not able to google all day and start scheduling things any earlier. I think sometimes my habit of planning so far in advance can actually work against me. I’ll commit and pay for things early on, and then as we get closer I’ll realize that a different plan makes more sense logistically, or something we didn’t know about before but really want to do comes into conflict with something more mediocre we’ve already scheduled. It’s actually already happened to some degree. You see, we are starting in London and then moving on to cities in Scotland and Ireland afterward. We thought it might be fun to stop in Liverpool for a day because we’d never been there, and thought why not break up the train trip a bit on our way to Edinburgh? From what I have learned, Liverpool is a pretty inexpensive city, so when I found a super cute hotel room for one night at a steal of a (non-refundable) price I snapped it up in an instant. It’s only now since we’ve started to try and book trains that we’ve discovered that one way trips to Liverpool from London are oddly pricey. I think we’ll have to eat the cost of the night in the hotel and skip our Beatles plans. Luckily our AirBnB host in Edinburgh has no problem with us coming in a day early and in truth, I think it will be great to have four days there instead of three.

Planning our travel is one of my favorite parts of the whole experience. I love the build up of the anticipation. I love coming home and telling my hubs about a food tour I found, or passing him the I-Pad while we’re lying on the sofa and saying, “should we do this?!” I used to get worried that I wouldn’t plan perfectly. Or more that we would miss something that was really a “can’t miss”. The more we travel though the more I’ve lost that anxiety and instead found a comfortable reassurance that with a balance of planned and fly by the seat of our pants days, the Universe will provide a most surprising and excellent experience.

I utilize a combination of resources when I plan a trip. I rely on different sites for different things and also often employ a bit of a cross-referencing system that I think can be really useful. For example, we research food pretty extensively; we really want to sample cuisine that’s representative of the culture, and we don’t want to end up in tourist traps. For that reason, I never use Trip Advisor for our culinary conquests. Instead I usually depend on publications like TimeOut, Eater, and Thrillist. I make a special note of restaurants that show up on more than one list, add them to others that interest me, and begin to run those names through Yelp so I can weigh critical opinion vs real people’s reviews and photos. The last step I take before securing a reservation is running the restaurant’s address through Googlemaps to see if it’s in a convenient location either to where we are staying, or a site we may be visiting. My stomach always wins out over convenience though. If some hole in the wall is a little out of the way but reviews say it’s out of this world–we’ll go the distance! Restaurants that are smaller or more casual and don’t take reservations, I usually just bookmark on Yelp and add any key notes that I found helpful from reviewers (like a time to get there by to get a table or a dish that’s a can’t miss). Generally, I think the bookmarking function on Yelp is incredibly helpful. If all of the sudden you’re in the Marais in Paris and not sure where to eat, you can pull up your bookmarks by location and it will let you know what you’re near. (Although honestly, I’m not sure there’s anywhere bad to eat in Paris!)

Blogs are another resource I use frequently to research travel. I think the best travel bloggers are the ones who stay true to themselves. By that I mean, they present what they love about a place, not what they think we want to see. The top of the Trip Advisor lists are gonna give you the best of the stuff everyone does when they are in a city. I think a good travel blog tells you a bit of which of that stuff is legit (and is at the top of that list for a reason) and a bit of what’s best off the beaten path–the things you’ll only find if you look outside the normal tourist guides. I get excited when I find an authentic voice and can feel the vibe of the blogger–it makes me feel like I’ve got a bit of an inside scoop on a place. It’s almost as if you’ve got a friend guiding you towards your best adventure.

Although this blog is not exclusively about travel, I do love to feature our exploits as often as I can. I learn as much about life (or maybe even more!) from venturing into other cultures as I do from running or yoga, so I’m always inspired to share where we’ve been whether it’s near or far.

This time, instead of solely filling you all in when we get back in the summer, I wanted to try something different. I’d like to create a bit of a forum–one that I hope will not only aid me in planning the rest of our activities while in the U.K., but that will also be available for you all to reference in case you decide to make a similar journey. I came up with this idea through the last piece I posted about goals. There was SO much good content in the comments. Not only did you guys have me looking at things from a different perspective, I think I actually might have changed my mind on a few things throughout our conversations. It made me think: I’ve got so many well traveled blogger friends and ones living in or native to the U.K., why not crowdsource some ideas for things to do/see?

Admittedly, I’ve got a bit of a jump on the London planning. My friend Jan at JanCanRun has been the most amazing pal and resource the past couple months. She’s given me so many tips on restaurants and things to see that I’m getting more and more excited every day. This will actually be our second time to London. This time we want to focus a bit more on day trips, as we only took one the last time we were there. (We went to Stratford-upon-Avon and toured Shakespeare’s birthplace, and saw Merchant of Venice on stage at the RSC. It was thrilling.)

So, here’s where I (and everyone else) need your help:

What day trips from London would you suggest? Or not suggest? Right now we’ve got tentative plans for a day in York, one in Brighton, and one in Oxford. The one in York is set–train tickets are purchased already. (So if you have food or to-do tips for York, please share!) I know the two hour train ride is less than ideal, but there is something about the history and charm of the place that drew us both in–it had to be on the list. What about the other two? There’s a bike tour in Brighton that looks like a blast. I thought it might be fun to see a more casual and laid back beach town just to get some contrast. What about Oxford? Is it worth our time? Or should we skip it and plan something in the city instead?

If you’ve got any suggestions for things to do in London proper, we’d love those as well. Also things to skip are equally as valuable. I wish someone had told us before we went the last time not to shell out the arm and a leg for the London Eye–it was totally not worth it to us! If there’s a tour you’ve been on or a museum we shouldn’t miss, please let us know.

You all know my stomach is a number one priority. Where should we eat? Admittedly, this is where we have the LOWEST expectations for London. Despite plenty of research, we found the food to be pretty terrible the last time we were there. It really shocked us since it’s such a major world city. Even the Yelp reviews really let us down. Diners would give a place five stars and we’d leave confused and often still hungry (and with much lighter wallets too! Pricey buggers!) I am hoping with your help, we will fare a bit better this time!

Where should we run? Parkrun BABY!!!! All my U.K. running pals know I’m always yapping about how much I envy these awesome FREE neighborhood 5ks you guys have going on. I CANNOT wait to participate in some. Please let me know–which one should we do in London? I am assuming there are several to choose from? We are staying in an AirBnB in Islington so I am hoping there is one close by. I know I can google this one but it’s fun hearing from you all as well. If you have a suggestion on somewhere we should run that’s not a Parkrun, please let me know that too!

What I am hoping to get here is your most honest answers–what do you love? What would you tell a friend to skip? Where’s the best fish and chips you’ve ever had? (Ok seriously, I need some help with this one. Last time we went Poppie’s in Camden and I’m sorry, I was not impressed!). Your answers are not only helping me, but all other fellow London and London area travelers, so please speak up!

I’ll be putting together a similar post for Scotland, and one for Ireland as well so I hope you all will continue to participate. Participating means suggesting because you know but also suggesting because you’ve dreamt! If you’ve yet to go someplace or do something but have always had it on your bucket list–let me know about that too. Who knows whom or what you’ll inspire?!

 

 

 

 

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48 thoughts on “What to Do: London

  1. Pingback: What to Do: Scotland – cat h. bradley

  2. Yeah, laminate your barcode and go to Bushy! You have to! The motherlode.

    York: go to the Jorvik Viking museum, it’s really good. And you won’t be the one embarrassing your husband when you correct the Old Norse of one of the guides, after all. Ahem.

    Walk in London. Some of the Tube stations are only a few minutes’ walk apart. Walk by the river. Shad Thames and the South Bank near the Globe are great.

    A shame you’re not coming to Stratford as I’d have bobbed along to see you, living close by.

    I can’t wait to see what you get up to!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am bummed out, I think we are gonna be traveling on all the parkrun days–I did not plan that well!

      I almost tried to get my hubs to go to Stratford again and see another play because we enjoyed it SO much the last time. But then we saw that Hamlet was playing at the Globe, on my birthday–so we had to go for that instead! I am sorry we will miss you–that would have been fun. Stratford is so cute, we really loved it.
      I am with you on the walking in London! I always laugh in NYC when I see tourists get on at one stop and then off at the next. They don’t realize they could have just walked two blocks and seen stuff while they were walking!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I might be able to pop down still, I will see – I am just being terribly British and non-pushy! I gave you my email before, drop me a line with your schedule, or don’t if you don’t want to / have time and I promise I won’t be offended!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. tumbling into wonderland

    Here’s my posts of London and Edinburgh. You might find something you like in there?
    https://tumblingintowonderlandbooks.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/london/
    https://tumblingintowonderlandbooks.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/edinburgh/
    I love Camden, there’s tones of incredible little market stores and street food. I love liquid nitrogen ice cream from ChinChin Labs and getting freshly squeezed orange juice from the market stalls, which they serve in little milk bottles.
    Someone mentioned the sky garden before. It is free but you have to book tickets and they only release them the week before and they go super quick. Keep an eye on it but don’t pin your hopes on it.
    There are loads of amazing museums which are all for free. My favourites include Museum of London (St Paul’s), V&A (South Kensington) and the British Museum (Holborn).
    For Edinburgh, the best place I ate at was the Boozy Cow. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. And you definitely have to go to the zoo! But book online and book panda tickets, if you go in person they all sell out really quickly.
    I hope you love the UK!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just got back from a trip to London and I loved it. I’ve been there many times, so I really tried to do some “different” things this time and it has worked out great.

    One thing that I would definitely go and do, is see the Painted Hall Ceiling of the Royal Naval College up close while you can: https://www.ornc.org/painted-hall-ceiling-tours-tickets#MA5hwR3pYRPWc6rH.97

    I also highly recommend seeing Matilda the Musical, based on the Roald Dahl’s book, with music and lyrics from the brilliant Tim Minchin. https://uk.matildathemusical.com/?_ga=2.210750677.1740392593.1524953132-740543578.1519340176

    A restaurant recommendation (although I’m not sure you need more of those) would be Vasco & Piero’s, a great little Italian place. http://www.vascosfood.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is excellent Mirjam, thank you! Also, I can ALWAYS use more restaurant recommendations, always!
      The painted ceiling tours look really interesting, thank you so much for suggesting it. I love when you get to go to a place more than once, you really get a chance to uncover the gems that are outside the usual, I love it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sent my last by accident 😂 epic slide at the Olympic park, I’m heading there in October before seeing Michael McIntyre. For a good view and drink there’s the Continental Hotel right next to the O2. Also had a good meal in the OXO tower, again a good view 😁. There’s the glass walkway over Tower bridge. I’m not a massive fan of London, more of a countryside girl, but just looking at the historic buildings is good for the soul. I had my 30th in Oxford, I can’t remember a great deal, but my friends loved it. I have an American friend from Texas and his Mrs joked with him that Oxford is older than his country 😉. I’ll have some Edinburgh tips when you get that blog, have been a lot, Love it there. Can’t wait to hear about your travels round my fair isle chick 😁 x

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The GF says Oxford is good for a boat ride. I would say see what the weather is like, as British Summer time is unpredictable 😂. Brighton is good for the pier and beech, it’s a pebble beach though just to warn you. Bath is good for history and a wander about. Fingers crossed you’ll have a sunny visit 😎 x

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I love visiting London! Running around the Serpentine in Hyde and Kensington Parks is lovely, I would totally recommend doing that. I also love going to London zoo and walking all the way through Regents Park to get there. If you want a fancy night out with good British food, The Ivy was lovely – if you can’t book a table you should be able to book at the bar which is just as good. And if they still have their Baked Alaska, that was the best dessert! If you fancy a plane ride for a day trip, you should come over to Jersey! It’s such a beautiful island 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So i think one thing is for sure, we need to do some serious park strolling while we are there! Your comment reminds me of the last day we were there the last time–we finished some activity way earlier than planned and needed to pass some time before our dinner reservations. We were in Kensington, and we found this park (no idea which one!) and we sat in there and also walked around for like 2 hours. Almost the whole time we daydreamed about what our lives would be like if we lived there. Total fantasy land. It was magical. MORE Parks! Thanks for the reminder!!
      Honestly Heather, before you, I didn’t even know what Jersey was–I had literally no concept of the Channel Islands at all! Same when we went to Portugal last year– I had no idea there were all of those islands off of their coast either. The world is so freakin’ big and amazing! Hopefully we will get out to you someday! How long is the plane ride from London?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds awesome! We are so tiny, not many people have heard of us 🙂 The plane ride is about 40 minutes (although it’s normally listed as an hour for taxiing time etc) and if it’s clear you get great views. Definitely put it on your list for one day!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Emily

    Wow, only a day late and already so many beat me to the suggestions! Well I know you’re feelings on the food of London, but I think I’ve found a few places you may like…If you want a great view and a decent “higher end” meal, I would recommend Duck & Waffle (east London), but it may be difficult to get a reservation I would try to book ahead…Also loved a couple places in my Kensington neighborhood, but not sure if you’ll be over that way or not. Delish Indian food at Thali on Old Brompton Rd., also Dishoom (there’s a couple locations) was very good middle eastern/indian food. The Nando’s shoutout is so funny! I found that Londoners did love that place, but it wasn’t my favorite…another place on the inexpensive chain line is Franco Manca’s pizza…a few of my “real” Italians friends claim they have authentic pizza and you can get a personal pie for like £6. I agreed it was quite tasty for cheap pizza 🙂 These are a little all over the place so not sure what you’ll get to depending on your location. Bumpkin was also a super cute pub that I remember having a nice fish n chips at…but again it’s in Kensington. I have a friend who did a job in Edinburgh so I’m going to ask him for food suggestions 🙂

    As for day trips, I would def. put in another bid for Bath. I loved it, adorable little town, with a few nice pubs/restaurants for tea etc. Also you can see the baths which were fun and also the Jane Austen museum is a fun little side activity. Nat claims that the coffee shop directly across from the roman baths (with outdoor tables) near the abbey has the best scone she’s ever had in her life!
    I didn’t find Oxford to be all that, but on the same day I visited Blenheim Castle and that was lovely, I think combining the two makes a good day trip. York was also so great! I loved the northern towns, so anywhere else you can make it up that way is a plus. We stopped at Warwick castle and the surrounding town, and Windsor castle…a little closer to London were both interesting and nice walks around the town, but maybe this is too many castles?? I was also thinking it will be the season when Highclere Castle is open to the public…very difficult to get tickets, so I would try to look now. They take a few walkins also, but who could pass up getting a little Downton fix?!

    I’m so jealous you’re going to Scotland…my next trip to the UK will HAVE to include more northern England and Scotland!! I’m sure I’ll think of more, but this comment is already ridiculously long. Talk soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was actually thinking of Stratford-upon-Avon and then you mentioned it! I lived in the UK for four years while I was studying and going to Shakespeare’s hometown still stands out as one of my favourite experiences. I lived in Canterbury in Kent which is a quaint little town with a lot of history. But sadly not that much to do or see. It has a beautiful cathedral though.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Stratford was amazing–I almost wanted to go there again just cause the memory of that day we spent there was so fantastic. Instead this time we are opting to see Hamlet at the Globe. I think that will be really special as well!
      I have heard Canterbury is lovely–but kind of glad to hear you say there is not much to do there–not everyone is honest about that so it’s nice to get a heads up! thanks lady! x

      Like

  9. Wholeheartedly agree on shunning food recommendations from TA unless there are NO other options.

    Dave and I will be taking our 4th visit to London in October, and extending our trip to Scotland for two weeks. I fear my experiences in London to this point lean towards touristic, but I feel like I’ve knocked most of the “sites” off the list and can spend more time exploring the corners. My favorite of all the touristy stuff is the Tower of London, FYI.

    We will take the train to Bath for a few days, which looks charming, and pick up a rental car from there to head to Edinburgh with stops in Stonehenge, Cotswolds’, and York (we’re taking a couple days to drive).

    I will follow your trip to get ideas of my own! Safe travels!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Loved Tower of London too. We did a Jack the Ripper tour that incorporated some of it’s history too that I really loved.
      We are still considering Bath as well–looks like it’s def worth a visit. From what i have seen of the Cotswolds, the villages look very similar to Stratford-upon-Avon, so I think for times sake we are going to skip those. That is so nice you guys are driving through and will be able to take your time. We will be in Europe a total of three weeks so I am not complaining, but really we would spend even longer if we could afford it!

      If you come up with any gems/ great ideas while you are planning, please share! I will be checking your blog as well–so glad to have connected with another enthusiastic traveler! x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jack the Ripper tour – check! My first trip to London was with my mom and daughter, and we did all the tourist stuff. The tour was a hoot. I will definitely let you know if we come up with anything before you leave! Have a great trip.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. twinklemitchell has it pretty much covered on the parkrun front. Bushy is the original and I believe the biggest one, never done it but from what I understand it gets 800-1000 runners every week, so it’ll have a great atmosphere. And if you sign up for a free barcode, just print it out (if you can laminate it that’s ideal as the paper can get crumpled easily or weather-worn) and it works at any parkrun worldwide. The US is getting more parkruns all the time, and it’s always good to get some run tourism in when you’re travelling 😛

    The only other place I’d suggest checking out if you haven’t already is Camden Town. And again this is second hand experience as I haven’t been there, my mum has been last two times she’s been in London (including this weekend whilst I was meeting friends running the marathon). It has lots of street food, market stalls, etc. She doesn’t stop raving about it so I’ll take her word for it! I can vouch for the quality of cookie dough from one of the stalls she visited 👌

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the lamination tip! I was a little confused on how that worked–if there was a new barcode for each run? But that makes sense, I will laminate and then we can bring them to each one, that’s great. Thanks Paul!
      Camden Town is great! We went there last time. Super cute shops and food stalls and stuff. It’s SO funny to me that you mention cookie dough cause our favorite stall there was these two lady bakers. I think almost everything they made was vegan/gluten free so not sure it’s the same one you were talking about–but we are def ready to go back!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No worries! That’s the great thing about it, as long as you have a barcode, you can rock up at any parkrun worldwide and get a recorded time.

        I must make sure to hit Camden next time! Quite possible that it may have been the same one as mum said it was a VG/GF stall. Also got some amazing dairy free fudge which I don’t anticipate lasting much longer than tomorrow!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m probably a bit out of the loop about London – it feels so long since we lived there 😦 I agree with charliesbird – you have to do Bushy parkrun. We used to live near Crystal Palace park and I wish I was a runner back then – I think it would be a great place to go running (particularly if you know the history of Crystal Palace – I’m a sucker for history).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Third vote for Bushy Parkrun–getting excited about this now–sounds like it’s quite a big one. That would be so fun to run with so many Londoners! Although I am googling it now and it seems quite far from where we are staying–might need to find a more local one!
      I am a sucker for history too–I will check out Crystal Palace!

      Like

  12. Honestly the only good food I had in London was the chicken sandwich I had at 2 am in Shoreditch… there is also a good Oaxacan restaurant but since everything in London is so expensive I would just get Oaxacan food in New York. I liked most of the pastries or bagels I had from different hipster coffee shops, but all restaurants I went to were very underwhelming.
    I would also recommend going to the Tate Modern. Well, I recommend all the free museums in London, but this one in particular has a viewing deck at the top and you can get a great view of London, including the Shard without paying… I dunno, whatever it costs to get to the Shard viewing deck.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Right?! I’m not convinced yet that good food is really a thing there–not sure if we just have different tastes or what!? I am hoping with all the personal help I have had this time that we will fare a bit better–I will def let you know!
      Thanks for the Tate Modern tip as well–haven’t been there yet! x

      Liked by 1 person

  13. charliesbird

    Yes, be a Parkrun tourist, there are lots all over the UK. I know France has them, and Germany are starting. They are huge here in South Africa!
    If you make it to Edinburgh, I can thoroughly recommend the Scran and Scallie for a meal.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am SO excited to be a Parkrun tourist, I can’t wait!
      Also, super excited to hear another person mention Scran and Scallie. It’s already on my list–nabbed it from someone who ate there after they ran actually and then posted about it, lol. Glad to hear it seconded, it’s a go now for sure!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I hope you enjoy your time here! If you’d like a great view of the cityscape, I recommend going to the Sky Garden. This is located at the top of an office tower near the Shard, except it’s free (the Shard costs £25 per person) and also less well known than the Shard (so less busy and more relaxed). They serve cocktails up there too and you get pretty much the same view as the Shard 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. In London you need to go and visit Little Venice – such a little known gem in the heart of London, can talk a lovely walk along the canal system as well!

    For food, if you’re feeling fancy try and get into the Savoy – even if it’s for afternoon tea, or even try and go to one of the restaurants at the Shard (the view from the top floor is amazing!) On the other end of the budget, Nando’s is always nice and something we Brits rave about haha!

    A bit of a different way of viewing London would be to jump on the Ducktours, it’s part bus part boat. Very odd when you drive off the road and into the Thames!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Little Venice looks amazing–i did not know about it at all, thank you!
      Also, thank you for the Nando’s tip! I love getting a mix of ideas–especially like knowing what natives actually eat on a reg basis. If someone were coming to NYC for example I would suggest Shake Shack to them. Totally casual, but a really delicious burger and to die for shakes!

      I have heard of Duck tours. It looks crazy but it has come up enough times now that i figure we will have to try it at some point, lol. Your suggestions are wonderful, thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

  16. The original and first Parkrun was Bushy Park, London – this is where it all started, so it would make sense to run there! Remember to sign up for free – you need your barcode to get your result! Brighton is lovely, you’ll love it! What about Winchester? (Very pretty, lots of history, former capital of England). Chester is also amazing and historical, Bath is pretty cool and the Roman baths are a wonder! There is a 7 mile Princess Diana walk/run through 4 of the London parks (you can find the route online). Have fun!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ah! I did not know about Bushy Park–it would be so cool to run the original–especially if it’s a big one, that would be so great, thank you!
      I am going to go google Winchester now–I hadn’t even heard of it (which is a bit embarrassing I guess if it used to be the capital, lol whoops!). Thank you so much for this!

      Liked by 1 person

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