London, England

Just touch down in London town

How come every time you come around
My London, London bridge wanna go down?
Like London, London, London
Wanna go down like
London, London, London
Be going down like…

Yeah, needless to say that when we were walking around London, so many songs came to mind and stuck with me, including those two gems. Not to mention The Clash’s London Calling every time I saw one of those red phone booths.

We were surprisingly in London for a while. From Dec 27th til January 1st, which meant we pretty much got to do all the big stuff there is to do in London, with a little extra geared towards our interest.

Of course, like any other trip, we started our tour off with a Free Walking Tour.

Free Walking Tour

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We started our tour off in Covenant Gardens which is like a little street market. Interesting fact is that the place is actually privately owned. Which means that the street performers here audition before they’re allowed to perform… so they must be good right? Well James Blunt was discovered here.

Moving on we went to see all the highlights of London, including..

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Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace was actually quite small seeing it in person, we definitely expected it to be bigger. But no one of the royal family lives here, it’s mainly for celebrations or addressing the nation. But the yards around the palace were beautiful, especially their golden fences.

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St. James’ Park

St. James’ Park was actually gorgeous to walk through. You had so many ducks and then people feeding the ducks. And, get this, people were super excited to see squirrels and feed them.

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Westminister Abbey

Westminister Abbey was also actually very impressive, it’s a lot bigger than I thought and the attention to detail on the building was very pretty. There are also a lot of famous people buried here as well, like Charles Darwin.

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Big Ben and Parliament

And of course, the famous Big Ben and Parliament. It was the first thing we saw when we came to London and the subway station is literally right across from Big Ben. It was quite the grand entrance when getting off the tube. I was in awe. However, Big Ben only refers to the bell within the tower, the tower is actually called Elizabeth Tower.

London Eye

We had a pretty busy morning with the free walking tour, and in the afternoon, around sunset, which was at like 3:30, we had the London Eye. After lunch, we walked on over to the area of the London Eye. Thankfully we bough our ticket online because when we walked passed the ticket book, they were sold our for that day. And on the ticket, it says to go there half an hour early to guarantee you’ll get on and within  your limited time slot. We actually got there an hour early since we were just walking around, and once we saw the huge line, we stood in it immediately. Good thing we did because it took an hour waiting in that line to finally get on the Eye.

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It takes half an hour to go around the eye, or so it says. And I have to say, I was surprised at how tall the Eye was. Unfortunately, we had a big of fog rolling in, so sight was limited, and the sun was setting over Big Ben which also limited our sight, but nonetheless we still had great views. And thankfully they didn’t over stuff us in the pod. Was the London Eye worth it? Depends. It’s quite the expensive view, but a great view at that.

Fun Fact: The eye was first called the Millennium Wheel for the year 2000 and was only suppose to run during that time, but because it was so popular, it became a permanent installation.

Soho

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Oh, Soho. It had all the shopping London could offer with it’s big boxed stores. And at this time of the year (between Xmas and NYE), it’s the busiest time of the year, even more so than in summer. And we definitely felt it, where ever we went. For us, it was a major turn off for the city. Constantly held up by large crowds and bumping shoulders with every second person. It was just a nightmare walking through here.

The Natural History Museum

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The grand hall of the museum looked like it was from Hogwarts and the whole place was so visually appealing and one great thing about London was that the museum was free! Now, having been to The Natural History Museum in NYC, well i liked the NYC one better, but that’s because it’s a lot more spacious and they had more dinosaurs on display. The dinosaur exhibition here was quite sad, small and hardly any dinosaurs on display. But I found they did have more information on display and a little more interactive.. mainly because it was geared towards children.

Because we were running out of time (spent a little too much time in the aquatic mammals exhibition, learning about whales and dolphins) we didn’t get to explore the volcanoes and earthquakes exhibition. I guess next time.

The museum was a little tight and small; it seemed even the displays themselves were touching shoulders. But i did find it gave more in depth information about the displays they had.

Tower Bridge and the Financial District

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It really is such a shame that the days are so short, after rushing through The Natural History Museum, we wanted to see Tower bridge and the financial district in daylight.

Tower Bridge was nice, nothing too special to us, and same with London Tower, which is right across from the bridge. We were told however that the tour of London Tower is probably the best paid thing to do in London, however we skipped it since it was quite our taste. Instead we headed over to the financial district and more importantly, to see the Gherkin, which is the egg shaped building.

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The Gherkin

It was so nice heading towards the Gherkin, the street were so quiet, finally away from all of those crowds. And the architecture of the area was marvellous too. We loved seeing modern architecture with character.

The British Museum

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Another free museum! Now, there are a lot of museums in London and choosing them was based purely on taste. Of course I love natural history, but for the British Museum what got me here were the Mummies!

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The museum itself isn’t all too big so navigating around and seeing everything was easier than the Natural History Museum. We stayed mainly within the Egyptian history and their displays were wonderful. They had so many mummies on display, bodies wrapped within the cloth and then they had the mummie tombs, all in their hieroglyphics glory. It was amazing to see the amount of detail that went into their tombs and the process and beliefs that went with mummification. I was very impressed.

Nightjar

Going to the Nightjar was something we heard about from my boyfriends friend who lived in London and also the so many reviews it has gotten. And in my opinion one of the best bars I have been to in my life, purely for the quality of their cocktails. But be careful because you can only get in with a booking and it can sell out even a month it advance. Even finding the place was a little tricky. Since it’s underground you can only see the door from the street. It is purely black with only a little logo of the bird.

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The Samurai: first came out the wooden box with had burning incense and once the cup was placed on the box it went out. theory was that the smell enhances the flavours of your drink.

All of their cocktails had a beautiful and unique presentation. And not to mention the menu was huge! We kept seeing other people’s cocktails and wanting them, or just purely curious in how they presented their cocktails. And if you weren’t amazing by their presentation, they tasted even better. Such unique flavours and mixtures they created. I cannot recommend this place more.

Notting Hill

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Yes! Exactly like Notting Hill from the movie with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. It was so good to be out of the crowded areas of downtown London and into this neighbourhood which was quiet and had such charm. The houses were brightly coloured and so posh. Even the store that lined the roads were cute posh boutiques. But I can’t say I recognized anything from the movie here.

New Year’s Eve Fireworks

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Rung in the New Year with Big Ben! To see the Fireworks from the banks on the Thames, you need a pre paid ticket. They started ticketing this event last year to help with crowds, suuuure. But they were spectacular! They all went off around the London Eye and at the start were even in sync with the chimes of Big Ben. After that, they had music playing. Coming from Vienna last year, whose fireworks were underwhelming to say the least, this year, they definitely went off with a bang. They were constantly going off, the sky never dark and were massive fireworks, and not just one at a time either, always multiple. The fireworks went off for almost 20 minutes.

What was even more impressive was how the event was handling people. Since transportation was closed right at the event, we had to walk to the next stop to catch the tube, and with more than 100,000 people we were so skeptical that we’d get home at a decent hour or even get home at all. But they handled it beautifully. We never stopped walking, never had to wait in line. Even when we got to the tube, we could get on right away. We were blown away.

Overall Impression

London is a huge city and very expensive at that. Everywhere we wanted to go, had to take the Tube. We were also so disappointed in the tube as well! we were expecting something new-ish and clean, like it is in the rest of Europe, but the tube seemed so backwards. And that’s also what made London so expensive! The public transportation. Getting to and from the airport burned a hole in my wallet and then getting around London itself, we were spending a lot on public transportation itself. But thankfully, with the Oyster card, which acts as visa card that you just tap before entering the station, it allowed lower prices on fares and a limit spent for each day. For example, each tube ride was 2.50£ (within zone 1) but after you spent 6.50£ you could keep traveling on the tube without it charging you. So each day we spent about that much.

We stayed in the neighbourhood of Shoreditch which is a new up and coming neighbourhood, kind of Hipster too. A mix of old industrial with small hipster shops. It was a great area to stay in with the Nightjar right around the corner and close to public transportation which could take us to all the places we wanted to go within 15-20 mins. The area also had a lot of nice restaurants and some night clubs.

Overall, London was a great city with so much to offer, however I just wish it wasn’t so crowded. I think we just went at the wrong time.

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