Flashback Friday: London, United Kingdom

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Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Oxford: Day Trip

While on vacation in London a few months ago, my sister and I decided to get out of the city for a day to visit Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Oxford with Evan Evans Tours. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to discover more of England besides London, as it takes you through the vast countryside and far away from the chaos of the city. I wish I’d had time to do another tour, the company has a variety of options and I was very happy with the service. All up, the tour cost 84 pounds per person but because I was a student I paid 79 pounds.

First stop: Windsor Castle

I’ve always been fascinated with the British Royal Monarchy. Monarchies in general greatly interest me and it was nice to see the British monarchy still thriving till this day, given that many monarchies around the world have dissolved or are slowly dissolving.

While the Queen resides in Buckingham Palace on weekdays, she likes to spend her weekends at Windsor Castle and I can understand why. It is truly magnificent. The architecture is breathtaking and just being on the grounds takes you back in time.

We were given some time to roam around and were pleased to see that much of the Castle’s interior is open to visitors although photography is banned in most rooms. After watching the changing of the guard ceremony, we made our way to St. George’s Chapel where many monarchs are buried. We then visited the State Apartments and got a quick glimpse of Queen Mary’s Doll House (easily my favourite piece in the Castle) before making our way back to the coach.

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Second stop: Stonehenge

What’s intriguing about the Stonehenge is the mystery behind its formation. The impeccably large stones were placed in the middle of nowhere with nothing but endless green fields surrounding them. The only way to get to the site is by shuttle bus, and we were given about an hour to spend there. We were provided with audio guides to use as we walked around the site, but after about 20 minutes my sister and I were ready to leave. Although it’s unlikely I’ll return, I’m glad I got to see this landmark up close and was able to take plenty of nice photos. It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, however, I don’t believe it’s worth an entire day trip on its own.

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Third stop: Oxford

This charming town was definitely the highlight of my day. After a 30 minute walking tour we were given about two hours of free time. It wasn’t nearly enough to see all that Oxford has to offer, I wish we’d had more time there. Nonetheless, we made the most of it.

Oxford is known for its high academic standard and there’s a university at just about every corner. It’s not unusual to see students walking around in their formal dress robes. For the Harry Potter fans, the town looks a little like Hogwarts and I was delighted to learn that many scenes from the Harry Potter films were shot in Oxford, as per the request of J.K. Rowling.

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Have you been to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, or Oxford? What were your thoughts?

6 Misconceptions About London

After finally visiting London this past summer and experiencing firsthand what it’s like to live there, I can now say that not all of my expectations were met. I managed to crush a few stereotypes and misconceptions during my stay, but hey at least I became a more informed individual in the process.

1. The Size of London: The city of London is actually very small covering an area of only 1.12 square miles with a population of less than 15,000 people (2010 estimate). Nowadays when people speak of London what they are really referring to is the Greater London area which consists of many boroughs and 8.1 million people (2011 estimate).
 
2. Tower Bridge is Not Falling Down: When I first arrived in London I couldn’t help but notice the extravagant Tower Bridge. Of course, I was quick to assume it was the bridge that the popular ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ song speaks of, but in fact that was another simple, less extravagant, boring bridge. Bummer.
 
3. The Weather Isn’t THAT Bad: While I was in London the weather was surprisingly pleasant. Some may disagree considering I was there in June; others may say I got lucky, but after speaking with some locals they shared the same opinion. It’s true they experience harsher winters than other cities but during the spring and summer months temperatures can reach a high of 25 degrees Celsius. I wore short sleeve clothing each day of my stay, only throwing a jacket on after the sun set and it got a bit chilly. Note to self: with so much to do in London, you can’t let the weather bring you down and you most definitely cannot use it as an excuse to not go out (Well, maybe sometimes but not always).
 
4. Openness of the Royal Family: Being a tourist, I was surprised at how much the royal family allows us to see. Large sections of the royal palaces and castles are open to tourists; even the crown jewels are on display for all to see. While tourists pay a price to visit these landmarks, I can’t imagine the security concerns that they are faced with each day.
 
5. The Red Uniformed Guards: I’ve watched countless movies where people attempt to make the royal palace guards laugh since they are required to be serious and keep a straight face all the time. When I was at Windsor Castle a group of teenage Spanish tourists were laughing at one of the guards and a police officer approached them and told them off for being disrespectful. It’s a great honor to be asked to defend the sovereign of the country, only front line armed forces can do so therefore it’s best to just take a photo and not linger around and poke fun at them.
 
6. For The Love of Tea: Many people tend to associate British people with high tea intake but while I was there I saw people drinking more beer and coffee than I did tea. Maybe I was going to the wrong places but tea is simply not as popular in England as foreigners make it out to be.
 
Do you agree with this list? Is there anything you can add? Let me know in the comment section below.

7 Days in London

I recently got back from the most wonderful week in London with my younger sister. Not only did I finally get to check this spectacular city off my bucket list but I was lucky enough to have family living there to show me around, and I was surprisingly blessed with good weather!

Although 1 week isn’t enough to see all that London has to offer, my sister and I had a pretty productive trip. I believe our itinerary provided us with an authentic British experience, hence here below is a suggested 7 day itinerary for all those looking to spend a week in London. I’ve also included a photo gallery at the end for you to browse 🙂

How to get around: London has an excellent public transport system. We mainly used the subway and our own two feet to get around, with an occasional bus here & there [Note: the subway closes around midnight, it’s best to take a taxi after that]

Where to stay: My sister & I stayed at our cousin’s apartment in Lancaster Gate. It was the perfect location, a quiet area not far from wherever we needed to go. It was adjacent to Hyde Park, a 5 minute walk from Oxford street and a 10 minute subway ride from the city. For those considering a hotel, The Lancaster hotel was located right across the road from the apartment.

Day 1 [Monday]

Arrive in London, go for a walk through Hyde Park.

Go shopping on Oxford Street/Regent Street.

Have dinner in Saint Christopher’s Place near Oxford Street.

Day 2 [Tuesday]

Do the Big Bus Hop on/Hop off tour to see all the main sites including Big Ben, London Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Saint Paul’s Cathedral (make sure to climb to the tip of the dome for a breath-taking 360-degree view of London), Trafalgar Square, Harrods  etc. [Note: You can purchase tickets for this tour at any bus stop, just look for a person wearing the uniform. Also, a free walking tour of Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard as well as a free Thames River cruise is included with every ticket purchased]

See a musical in the evening (my choice was The Lion King)

Day 3 [Wednesday]

Take a day trip outside of London with Evan Evans Tours (highly recommended!) to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Oxford, or any other destination of your choice. Check their website for details.

Pack a picnic and have dinner at Saint James’ park.

Day 4 [Thursday]

Madame Tussauds wax museum in the morning, then do the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter studio tour in the afternoon (Potterheads, you won’t be disappointed.)

Go out for drinks in the evening at Maddison rooftop bar in the city, followed by dinner at Burger&Lobster across the street [Note: a lobster meal here is only 20 pounds! Really good deal in my opinion considering how expensive lobster tends to be]

Day 5 [Friday]

Visit the Tower of London where the crown jewels are kept, then take a ride on the London eye.

Have lunch at Borough Markets, one of the largest and oldest food markets in London.

Visit the Victoria and Albert Museum where entry is completely free! [Note: on the last Friday of every month the museum has an evening reception complete with drinks and music]

Dinner at PING bar and restaurant.

Day 6 [Saturday]

Morning walk through Kensington Gardens & visit Kensington Palace.

Shopping at Portobello Road Market [Note: this market only opens on Saturday], then continue shopping at Westfield mall.

Dinner at Brasserie Zedel followed by an evening walk through the city.

Day 7 [Sunday]

Traditional High Tea at the Chesterfield Mayfair.

Walk through Regent’s Park by the canal then go to a pub afterwards and watch a sport match (tennis, football etc.)

Sunday Roast dinner at the Victoria Pub Paddington (Order the Shoulder of Lamb, one of the best I’ve ever had)


Please note that this itinerary is ideal for the summer months and for travelers aged 18+ who aren’t on a budget. I’ve only included dinner options on this itinerary because I assumed you will be having breakfast at the hotel. As for lunches, besides Friday at Borough market my sister & I tried a different pub each day.

Some useful tips:

– Purchase tickets online in advance to attractions such as Madame Tussauds, Lion King Musical, and Warner Bros. Tour to benefit from a discount and skip the long queues when you get there.

– Upon your arrival in London, purchase an Oyster card at the subway and fill it up for 30 pounds. This will last you a week and is very cost-efficient and convenient as it allows you to use the subway and busses at any time to get around the city.

– Download the ‘City Mapper’ app on your smartphone. This app provides you with different routes to anywhere in the city via subway, bus, taxi, or walk. It also includes the price and approximate travel time for each route.

– London is considered one of the greenest cities in the world so make the most of the parks around the city. Also, there are plenty of free things to do – for example, most of the city’s museums are free so try to do more than one.

– Always ask about family, senior, or student discounts before you purchase tickets to any attraction.

– VAT in London is 20% so if you’ll be doing a lot of shopping make sure to ask for tax-free receipts which can be exchanged for cash at the airport.

– During the summer months it doesn’t get dark in London till around 10pm so be efficient and make the most of the long days.

I hope this was helpful, any adjustments to this itinerary are welcome!