A first-timer’s guide to London

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Good day, blokes! I haven’t been keeping up to date with this blog because Cecilio and I traveled to London and Paris for about a week. I’ve always wanted to visit London, especially because a lot of the bloggers I interact with are from the UK. I then became interested in the culture, history and fashion. We’ve planned this trip for 9 months since I purchased the plane tickets in February. I will share with you all our first time journey in London.

Unfortunately, we only spent 3 days in London (actually 4, but we took a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath). But we made sure to squeeze in as much as we could during those 3 days. And on our first day, we were extremely jetlagged and didn’t do much until later at night when we had dinner.

We stayed at an AirBnB in Croydon, which we deeply regretted. Croydon is a borough south of London, and I guess it would’ve been fine if we stayed near the train station. But we had to take the bus everyday and back to go to the East Croydon station and then take the train to central London. That took an hour each way. When you’re traveling, time is precious, especially you only have a few days in your itinerary. Those hours spent could’ve been used to getting lost in the city or more sightseeing.

Whether you are a shopaholic, bookworm, or pub aficionado, you’ll have a blast for your first time in London!

If you have more time for the perfect UK getaway, be sure to include Ireland in your itinerary!

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On the double decker bus sipping the Bonfire Spice Latte from Costa!
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Tottenham Court

Hangin’ in Hyde Park

We took a bus from the Victoria station to explore Hyde Park. It is 350 acres and half the size of NYC’s Central Park, but still takes a while to walk around. I wanted to go all the way to the other side to see Princess Diana’s memorial, but we were on a time crunch since we wanted to stop by Harrod’s and we had London Eye scheduled for 5:00. We got to walk by the Serpentine, the 40-acre manmade lake and see a lot of ducks, swans and geese. We even saw some people boating! (Which I wanted to do too but we were crunched for time)

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london, first-timers guide to london, hyde park, london hyde park
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london, first-timers guide to london, hyde park, london hyde park, the serpentine london, the serpentine hyde park
The Serpentine

Hoppin’ around Harrods

After strolling around Hyde Park, we walked over to Harrods. Harrods is London’s luxury department store, like Saks 5th Avenue in NYC or Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

All of the clothes and furniture are just oozing with opulence. Most of the people inside seemed to be tourists just like us, and it was so easy to get lost. Harrods was set up like a maze, and there were not a lot of directions but that was part of the experience. There was no way most of us could afford much other than the food or the gifts (although I saw some people get personal styling services).

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I was deadset on getting the teddy bears, but I was getting a little hungry so we passed by the food hall to get some food to tide us over: I got a quiche and Cecilio got a scotch egg. Unfortunately, there was no place to sit down and eat, but we ate our food right before heading to London Eye. We did finally make it to the gift shop to get the Guardsman and Greenman teddy bears and a double decker bus magnet.

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Viewing the whole city through the Eye

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After walking around Harrods, Cecilio and I took a few stations down to the London Eye, the observation Ferris wheel that takes 30 minutes to ride in and gives you a 360° view of London and River Thames.

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I purchased the tickets online in advance and opted for the Champagne Experience, one of the VIP Experiences. With the Champagne Experience, you have your own personal host along with a small group and the ability to skip the line (or queue, as the Brits call it). Your host will also offer a glass of chilled champagne while explaining the sights to you as you rise to the top.

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We got to see attractions we didn’t get to visit such as The Shard, House of Parliament, Big Ben (which we wouldn’t have been able to see because it’s covered in scaffolds and under construction), and Palace of Westminster.

Fish & chips at Fishcotheque

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After the Eye, we got hungry but didn’t want to go somewhere out of the way for dinner. We decided that we would have our fish and chips once and for all, and Cecilio found Fishcotheque on Waterloo Road. It’s actually one of the older chippies in the area and has been around since 1964. When you first come in, it seems like a hole-in-the-wall type of place, but let the food surprise you. I ordered cod cakes and chips, which were kinda bland. But Cecilio just ordered regular cod and chips, and the cod filet (not the cod cakes I ordered) was delicious. It has just the right amount of crispiness and oiliness. The prices were not at all bad either (FYI though: they only accept cash).

An unimpressive dinner at Nandos

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I don’t know why I was so deadset on going to Nandos for dinner the next day when we came back from our Stonehenge/Bath tour. All I can say was that I was extremely let down. We ordered halloumi chips and the standard Nandos peri-peri chicken, which was dry and not amazing. The halloumi chips were really salty too. We also ordered garlic bread that tasted stale. I know we wanted to try Nandos because it was right at Earls Court where we got picked up and dropped off for our tour, but there were a million other places we could’ve gone to instead. It was sadly a waste of money and calories on my end.

Walking in and around Westminster Abbey

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london, first-timers guide to london, westminster abbey

On our last day, we decided to go to more attractions. Our original plan for our first day in London was to go to Westminster Abbey for free to go to a church service but that didn’t happen. We also didn’t want to be bound by a specific time so we decided that we would just pay £23 each ($29.50 USD) to go inside instead. The cathedral was ornate and I loved seeing the work and craftsmanship it took for the building to come to life (that’s one of my favorite parts about traveling: seeing the attractions I learned about through art history classes).

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london, first-timers guide to london, westminster abbey

We couldn’t take photos inside (but I accidentally took a few snaps, oops!). We got to walk where Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge wed. We saw many burial sites for the monarchs. We even witnessed nonroyals sites such as Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton.

Day trip to Stonehenge and Bath

Sometimes you get overwhelmed by London’s big city frenzy. This is always why I suggest taking a day trip to the countryside or coast.

I was reluctant about taking a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath, but I am so glad we did it, especially because I got to see Stonehenge in person after learning about it in an art history class. Especially because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

For the more adventurous types, the UK also has amazing mountains to climb (and hike!) in.

Busting into British Museum

The British Museum was at the top of our list of places to visit. It is also free, which was a breath of fresh air considering how much we spent for this whole trip (not including Stonehenge, Bath and Paris). The British Museum has artifacts from all over the world from ancient civilizations to today. My favorite part was seeing artifacts from the Parthenon in Athens displayed in its own area in the museum. The Greek government has requested in the past few decades for the British Museum to remove all of the artifacts from the Parthenon, but the museum argues that displaying them shares a piece of Athenian history to the millions of visitors around the world.

Within the context of this unparalleled collection, the Parthenon sculptures are an important representation of the culture of ancient Athens. Millions of visitors from around the world admire the beauty of the sculptures each year – free of charge. They also gain insights into how ancient Greece influenced and was influenced by the other civilisations it encountered.

The Acropolis Museum allows the Parthenon sculptures in Athens to be appreciated against the backdrop of ancient Greek and Athenian history. This display does not alter the view of the Trustees of the British Museum that the sculptures are part of everyone’s shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries. The Trustees remain convinced that the current locations of the Parthenon sculptures allows different and complementary stories to be told about the surviving sculptures, highlighting their significance for world culture and affirming the universal legacy of ancient Greece. More about the Parthenon and its history can be found at theacropolismuseum.gr

From the British Museum
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Last dinner out at Bloomsbury Tavern

After our stint at the museum, we looked for the closest pub for dinner and drinks. We found Bloomsbury Tavern, a pub built in 1856 with open stained glass windows. Since it was two-story, we decided to go on the second level since the lower level was packed with people (we like having more open space to ourselves). I ordered a double shot of gin and tonic and Cecilio ordered a lager (which I ended up drinking since he is pretty much a teetotaller). For food, I ordered a vegan dahl with cauliflower rice and a side of mushroom soup for my throat.

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london, first-timers guide to london, bloomsbury tavern
london, first-timers guide to london, bloomsbury tavern

Overall, Cecilio and I had a wonderful time in London. We love the vibe, and the energy the city has. It’s quite unexplainable. It’s so much fun being a part of the crowd and getting lost at night. The only thing we really regret was staying in Croydon (especially far away from the East Croydon train station). I know we saved money that way: I wanted to find a hotel or AirBnB near Hyde Park but they were all out of our budget. It was just exhausting going both ways, especially because we had to take the bus going to the train station and coming back. The upside is that we got to experience the UK almost like a local and not just staying in the super touristy areas.

This just means that we will come back in a few years, and we definitely will because we love London that much! I’m thinking we would want to come back once the Big Ben is fully restored. I want to go see Big Ben, Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. I also definitely want to spend more time in Hyde Park (especially to see Princess Diana’s memorial) and still attend a church service at Westminster Abbey. I want to go to Camden Markets (we definitely didn’t have enough time!) Cecilio would like to go to Abbey Road to take a photo like the Beatles did, and visit the Imperial War Museum. And we will definitely be on the search for better restaurants.

Stay tuned for our itineraries in Stonehenge, Bath and Paris!

Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.

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