London. It’s the city of Queen Elizabeth II, Big Ben, and traffic jams full of red, double-decker buses. Before I even left for my semester abroad in Barcelona, I knew I was going to visit London. I could feel it in my bones. Just how any rational person would react about the opportunity to see one of the most iconic cities in the world, my family wanted to come, too. In May, we all had one-way tickets to what would become one of my favorite cities. We had limited time there before we took the train to Glasgow, so here is my itinerary to make the most of London in just 2 short days!
Oh, boy. Hurdle number 1 in planning a trip to London is figuring out the most cost-effective airport to fly into. For the most part, low-cost airlines within Europe will fly into Gatwick or Stansted. More expensive airlines fly into Heathrow. My grandparents came from the U.S. and were routed to land at Gatwick, and my mom and I were also routed there on a Vueling flight (a Spanish low-cost airline).
Once you’ve reached whichever airport you’re flying into, it’s time to figure out how you’ll get to London. Gatwick is about an hour and a half drive to London, Stansted is farther, and Heathrow is closer. London City Airport is another option that is closer to the city center. We took a taxi from Gatwick to London, but it was expensive. I recommend booking train or bus tickets to the city center as soon as you know your flight details. The train can take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, and the bus will depend on traffic. Because of airport transfer costs, sometimes it’s cheaper to fly into a closer airport and pay a little more for your plane ticket. Sometimes, it’s not. It will help your budget and your stress to factor in those costs with your plane ticket and compare your options that way!
Before you even start planning, I’ll go ahead and be the bearer of bad news. London is a very expensive city to stay in. We managed to find an Airbnb that would comfortably fit all four of us for a reasonable price, and we absolutely loved the location. Our closest tube station was Elephant & Castle, and our apartment was a short walk from the Mercato Metropolitano, this grocery store and food vendor area with delicious cuisine. Our hostess was so kind and helpful in explaining what was near us and how to navigate the neighborhood. She even left us tea and crumpets as a welcome gift! If you’re looking for a place in London, be sure to check out this Airbnb!
London Eye, Westminster Palace, + Big Ben
Our first morning in London, we just strolled down the Thames River and soaked in the city sights. We saw the London Eye, Westminster Palace, Big Ben, and dozens of adorable storefronts and vendor booths. We saw Londoners going to work and meetings, and met other visitors along the way. There is so much to see within such a small amount of space, so start at the London Eye and just walk around!
Buckingham Palace + St. James’ Park
Once you’ve seen the landmarks London is so famous for, it’s time to head on over to the royal palace. It felt surreal standing right outside the gates to the palace of the British royal family! The guards are standing right in front of you, and it makes the experience feel so much more real. I absolutely loved the architecture of the palace itself and the gates. After you get some photos in front of the palace, St. James’ Park is a short walk away and is just gorgeous. I visited in May, so everything was in bloom and it felt just like spring (despite the cool weather)! You’ll be stopping every few feet for photos–the landscaping is just that stunning.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
On the way back to our Airbnb, I asked our taxi driver to make a quick pit stop at the Globe Theatre. Boy, am I glad we did! Touring and seeing a show at this iconic location (even though it’s a model of the original Globe) was at the tippy-top of my London list. I didn’t get to go inside this time, but seeing the outside was enough to have me starstruck.
Ride the Tube
Traveling within London can be such an ordeal. There’s the tube, taxis, those red double-decker buses, and your own two feet. Personally, I like to walk most of the time when I’m in a new city. You create an opportunity to see so many little nooks and crannies of the city that way. But London is one of the biggest, most spread out cities I’ve ever been to. That’s why I recommend riding the tube. The prices per ride are high compared to other cities like Paris and Barcelona, but it’s such a classic London experience and can seriously cut down your travel time in such a huge city. Buses are an equally iconic option along with taxis, but I don’t recommend them as highly as the tube because of London traffic. You’ll sit, and sit, and sit some more at the same traffic light. The tube ended up being the most cost-effective, time-saving transport option in my experience!
Check Out a Pub
Like always, I love checking out local vegan cuisine in my travels. London most certainly didn’t disappoint. I ended up eating most of my meals at the Venezuelan and vegan stands of the Mercato Metropolitano. I also loved a veggie burger I got at a pub near the London Eye. But my favorite meal from this trip was the tofish and chips I got at Norman’s Coach and Horses. It’s the first vegetarian/vegan pub in the city, and I chose their signature dish. Wow! I was amazed at how delicious it was, and will most definitely go back my next time in London. They stay packed, so make a reservation in advance if you want to dine in!
It’s looking like I’ll be back on a one-way to London this year, and I’m stoked! This time, I’ll be checking out as many museums as I can, going back to Buckingham Palace and my fave restaurants, touring the Globe, and snapping pics at the most beautiful brunch spots in the city. Oh, and I’ll probably fall even more in love with London. Don’t mind me…I’m just over here packing my carry-on for a repeat trip to one of the most beautiful cities in the world!