London – First Impression & Westminster

Getting there

London has five major airports: London City, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted. I arrived at London Heathrow at 6:30AM after an overnight flight from Raleigh-Durham. American Airlines has a direct flight that takes 7 hours, and as an added bonus I had the entire row to myself on the plane to spread out! Once you’re at the airport, the cheapest and easiest way to get into the city center is by taking the London Underground. The Piccadilly line connects Heathrow airport to central London and takes about 50 minutes. Then you can switch lines to your final destination from there.

Currency

The exchange rate at the time of this post is 1.00 US Dollar = 0.77 British Pound.

Accommodation

My first 4 days in London I stayed at an AirBnB with my friend Dara. She joined me for the first couple days of my trip before I met up with my tour group. I spent a lot of time researching places to stay before making the final decision. Places in central London were pretty expensive, so I opted for something outside the city center. The B&B we ended up picking was located in south London and the neighborhood was really cute. Here’s the link to the AirBnB website if you’re interested in checking out the full listing…

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8528101?adults=1&children=0&infants=0&location=Ely%20Cottages%2C%20London%2C%20United%20Kingdom&s=tjxe9sG

First impression

I immediately fell in love with London. The architecture, public transportation system, history and diversity were all incredible to name a few. Even though it was my first time I felt like I’d been there before. Maybe this has something to do with the hours of research I did planning this trip. I love reading travel blogs and guidebooks in my free time. The United States is only a couple hundred years old, while civilizations in Europe date back thousands of years! This trip really opened my eyes to the concept of time.

Architecture

Most cities in the US are built on a grid system with streets that run perpendicular to each other. In London, this just wasn’t the case. Take the photo below for example, you look down the street and your eyes are met by a huge grand building!

Public transportation

I was really impressed by the public transportation system in London. It’s known as “the Underground” or more simply “the Tube”. We never waited more than a couple minutes for a train. I rely heavily on a car where I live, so using public transportation and walking everywhere in Europe was very different for me. However, I absolutely loved it and felt so active. I could basically eat whatever I wanted, and I took full advantage of that as you will see.

Tip: Purchase an Oyster card if you’re staying a few days. You put down a $6.50 deposit to get the card (which you get back when you return it) and then you deposit money on the card as needed. Several people recommended this to me and it made getting around super easy. You can purchase one at any tube station.

Pub scene

There’s basically a pub on every corner in London. How great is that?! We had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes pub one night and had some really good fish and chips. On the second floor of the pub there’s even a replica of his study, which is pretty neat. Just a reminder that if you order chips in Europe you’ll actually get fries. What we consider chips go by crisps in Europe.

 

Big Ben

I’ll never forget the feeling I had seeing Big Ben for the first time. It’s so iconic and something I’ve looked forward to seeing for a long time. I think the view from Westminster Bridge is one of my favorites. It was cold and windy that day, actually it was cold and windy every day we were there, but I didn’t mind at all. I was so excited to finally be there!

 

The London Eye

The London Eye is located directly across from Big Ben on the River Thames. It takes around 30 minutes to go around and the 360-degree view from the top is pretty amazing. I bought tickets in advance from the website linked below, but we still had to wait in line so I’m not sure it was worth buying in advance.

Entrance fee: Tickets are a little pricey at $30.50 a piece, but it’s definitely something worth doing once in your life.

Opening hours: Differ depending on the season, so definitely check before you go.

https://www.londoneye.com


Westminster abbey

The history of this church dates back over one thousand years! I bought a ticket in advance, but still had to wait in line over one hour to get in. It was definitely worth the wait and something I highly recommend seeing. (Tip: If you want to avoid long lines go early in the day.) Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside, so I only have one of the outside. Here’s the link to pictures of the interior if you want to take a look…

http://www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/picture-gallery

Entrance fee: $28.50 per person and includes an audio guide. I would definitely recommend utilizing the audio guide otherwise you wander around aimlessly and have no idea what you’re looking at.

Opening hours: Open daily 9:30-4:30, till 7:00 on Wednesdays, closed Sundays

http://www.westminster-abbey.org

This concludes my first post. I hope you enjoyed it and found it helpful if you’re planning a trip to London. I have a lot more to share so stay tuned!

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