In March of 2018, I was visiting London for the very first time. I know it might be just another city for many people, but for me, it was a big deal. It was the UK after all, the land of Prince Harry and british accents. I mean c’mon, it’s fancy. So, when my flight first landed at the Heathrow Airport, there was this sense of excitement (excitement of this little girl landing at her longed-for destination).
Now, I had flown via the Heathrow Airport multiple times, but this time I was going to actually get out of the airport, it was big, I was happy!
The first thing I actually saw after getting done with immigration was Costa Coffee. And when in London, you gotta have a cappuccino at Costa! They have the best cappuccinos. 🙂 )
I stayed at the Regency House Hotel. And it is a decent hotel, apart from the room, which was really tiny, barely able to fit the luggage of two people. The location of the hotel is really great though. Many cafes nearby and multiple popular locations only about a 20-30 minute walk away. But if you don’t prefer walking, then taking the tube is a great option, (the tube station is really close by as well). I took the paper Travelcard metro card (for which I needed a passport size photo) because that was the cheapest option according to my travel plans, but you can go through the various options available to suit your travel need: London Travelcards.
After checking in to my hotel around 3:30 PM, my Day 1 had officially begun! First thing, the little girl inside me wanted to do was go checkout the fairy tale of a palace – The Buckingham Palace.
1. Buckingham Palace
We took the Tube to the Buckingham Palace and got down at the Green Park Station. The walk up to the palace through the gardens was absolute divine. Now, you *have* to watch the changing of the guards ceremony at the palace. So, make sure you reach there before 5 PM and get yourself a good spot right in front of the gate.
Even though I was jet-lagged and it was practically midnight my time, I was still getting a bit hungry. So, we decided to check out the famous Dominique Ansel Bakery.
2. Dominique Ansel Bakery
Sure, you will find this bakery in New York, Los Angeles and Japan as well, so if you’ve been to either of those locations before, you can skip this. I still preferred to go there because hey! I absolutely love their cookie shots and their flower hot chocolate is a thing to show off to your buddies. I’ve heard a lot about their cronuts as well, but never really got a chance to try one because apparently they sell out almost within an hour or two of opening. So, if you can get there early in the morning, wait in line, then sure go for it!
Since, we had just landed that day, were terribly jet-lagged, and the day was almost over as well, we decided to grab an early dinner at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
3. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Hey! You’re in London, the city of the Royal family, why not treat yourself with a fancy dinner. We did.
Now, this is a fancy place guys, so dress accordingly and get ready to be pampered. Right from the moment you enter the building till the time you’re seated at your table, you’re greeted nothing less than royalty.
As the dishes began to come in, I knew I was gonna enjoy the ride. I know I have a weak spot for beautiful looking dishes, and their Meat Fruit dish, meat mousse enclosed between an impeccable orange gelée, is definitely worth mentioning, but what really stood out for me was their Tipsy Cake. A melt-in-the-mouth cake that will definitely leave you tipsy (because of its lusciousness) at the end of your meal.
It goes without saying that months’ advance reservation is definitely recommended.
On this sweet note, our Day 1 had come to an end and we decided to retire for the day.
Now, if you want to explore every possible bit of London (and more) in 5 days, like we did, you have got to have an early start to the day, (like really early). Meaning be ready to leave by 6 – 6:30 AM to get the most out of your day.
One thing, you absolutely cannot miss when visiting London is the Stonehenge.
I won’t lie that I had read a lot about Stonehenge not being worth the hype, that they are just rocks put together, but trust me, the first site of those mere rocks standing proudly right in the middle of that perfect grassland, braving the extreme winds, makes it all worth it. And I’m glad to say, it was definitely one of the best things I did during my London trip.
It’s about an hour and half drive from London, so try to get there as early as possible. Their first entry slot is at 9:30 AM and we reached there around 9:15. So grabbing a parking spot and getting inside was very smooth for us, but we did notice huge lines when we were exiting.
Also, be prepared for extreme winds when you’re out in the grasslands. And when I say extreme, I mean really extreme like 16 km/h or even more. I wasn’t prepared and I was almost dying because of the cold. So, get proper jackets and caps.
Another thing that I would recommend is the Windsor Castle. It’s right on the way to Stonehenge and is a really precious experience. We missed visiting it because we wanted to go to Oxford instead, because, well, we wanted to see one of the most coveted universities in the world – The Oxford University.
Oxford is a sweet little city, in the heart of which lies the Oxford University. It is an amazing one-day-escape from London if you want to get a more laid back European vibe, compared to the fast paced vibe that London offers.
After admiring the architecture there, we decided to head back to catch the sunset at the Hyde Park.
4. Hyde Park
It’s definitely a great place to stroll or get a quick jog! And I wish it wasn’t so cold that day, but we still managed to get some really good photos at the park’s Serpentine Lake. I’d recommend going there first thing in the morning. Grab a warm cup-a-joe and enjoy your stroll in the park (much like we do in Central Park in New York).
I know, nobody wants to miss visiting the famous Harrods, when in London. But, unless you’re stinking rich, I’d say it’s not worth it.
5. The Shard
Want to get great views of the city and yet don’t wanna spend £30 on tickets? Maybe you could get yourself a funky drink instead while you enjoy the amazing views of London. Then The Shard is your answer.
It is the tallest building in the UK with a bar called Gong on the 52nd floor. It has floor to ceiling windows, offering stellar views of the city. I’d recommend going at night to soak in the lit-up London (look out for St. Paul’s Cathedral illuminated by dancing colors at night). Much better than wasting money on tickets, right?
The food lovers that we are, Day 3 for us, had to have some food tours. So, we headed out to Covent Garden.
6. Covent Garden
It is a nice area where you can shop, eat and drink, much like the ones found in any other city.
After grabbing the Full Monty breakfast from The Breakfast Club, we decided to get some chocolates for friends and family and of course for ourselves, from Hotel Chocolat. And let me tell you, the chocolates were absolute divine. Hotel Chocolat has many locations spread throughout the city, so choose whichever is convenient to you.
Subsequently, we headed to Barrafina, a Spanish tapas restaurant that serves these otherworldly “tortillas“, so melt-in-the-mouth from the inside and yet so crispy on the outside, almost like a fluffier version of a scallion pancake but better.
Next, was time for my favorite part! Desserts! If there is one thing, and only one thing, you want to try at Covent Garden, then Hot Chocolate with Toasted Marshmallow from Chin Chin Dessert Club is it. The creamy rich hot chocolate topped with a big dollop of freshly made marshmallow fluff, torched right in front of you, giving it that theatrical and smoky appeal, almost made me cry. I must’ve done something real good to deserve it!
I have a huge sweet tooth, and desserts are never too much for me. So, right after this chocolaty goodness, we decided to try some more chocolaty goodness at SAID dal 1923. They serve these small (or large) portions of really thick and decadent drinking chocolate, and you can choose from either milk, dark, white or their famous hazelnut hot chocolate, or if you’re like me then maybe all of them?!
After being stuffed like pigs, we had to resume our touristy activities. We took the tube to Westminster Abbey, strolled around the area, enjoying views of the Parliament, the Big Ben, and the River Thames; crossing the Westminster Bridge to reach the London Eye. Now, the reason I did not put London Eye as a separate list item is because, I think it is really not worth it. I mean, c’mon, who are we kidding, in London it’s raining most of the time and the times it’s not raining, it’s cloudy AF, so do I really wanna go see more clouds from the top? No. But, it was still worth mentioning because well, no London list is complete without it, and much like us – the tourists, people will still line up everyday to go up the wheel. So, if you still must go, then don’t bother buying tickets in advance, maybe you get lucky and the weather gods decide to bring out some sunshine, one of the days!
7. Piccadilly Circus
Well, if you really love the Times Square in New York and can’t get enough of its razzle-dazzle then you will surely love this little sister of a Times Square, called Piccadilly Circus. Do I need to explain more what you can do here? Of course, you can shop, eat and involve yourself in some people watching.
But, when at Piccadilly Square, you need to go to this restaurant called Dishoom. It’s the best indian restaurant in the whole of London. Sure, you will have to wait outside in line for an hour or so, be it cold or rain (we did too), which will make you really hangry, but then their creamy melt-in-the-mouth butter chicken will make all your anguish go away.
8. Notting Hill
It’s a colorful little neighborhood, perfect for your morning stroll. So, grab yourself a cup of coffee and let the colors sink in.
The next thing on the list, is the best, absolutely the best, thing to do in London.
9. Tower of London & Tower Bridge Lift
This is the area that the little girl inside me had been dreaming about. A fairytale-castle-like-place, that’s all London was about to this little girl (she still cries a little once in a while for missing the Windsor Castle).
Tower of London is basically a Royal Palace and fortress, which is home of the Royal Mint, and the Crown Jewels of England (one of the major attractions there). Take in the breathtaking views of the fortress with the Tower Bridge in the background; a great place to get one of your best “London” photos.
One thing you must check before going, is seeing the schedule for the Tower Bridge lift. It usually happens 3-4 times a day, but you need to grab yourself a good spot, well in time, to enjoy this amazing demonstration.
Time for some lunch now. Let’s head out to the Borough Market!
10. Borough Market
A great place to try out a little bit of everything. Multiple local vendors come together under one roof to give you a taste of their deliciousness. Try free samples of items like banana walnut bread, amandine, gelato, mulled wine, cider, cheese, freshly made breads, and more.
Apart from these list items, some other things worth mentioning, if you have half more day in London are — Mad Hatters Tea Party at the Sanderson Hotel, because when in London, do like the brits do, high tea and in style! For £75 per person, you get a wide variety of mad hatter themed assorted pastries and sandwiches, and their collection of teas is great as well. Their rose tea and vanilla tea are a must try!
If you’re a Sherlock or a Harry Potter fan, then head out to 22 Baker Street or Platform 9 3/4 at the King Cross station to fulfill your zeal for either.
With this, it was end of our amazing trip to London and it was time to head back home.
Until my next travel plans, Go Dream, Go Discover, and… Go Live.