With only $390, we flew roundtrip to London during Columbus Day weekend, and now I am back and ready to report on the ultimate 3-day London itinerary. When we told people we were going to London for 3 days, they called us crazy. They obviously didn’t know Pat and I. Yes the city is sprawling, but you can do it in 3 days as long as you keep up the pace.
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I had been to London before. Pat had studied abroad in London his junior year, so I ended up going to visit him and our friend Max over Thanksgiving Break. From there we traveled to Berlin and then Amsterdam…it was quite a wild and cold adventure to say the least, with many stories to tell, but that’s for another time. Till this day I had not written a London itinerary or travel guide because at the time we were broke college students counting our pennies and saving up for nights at the bar. So I never got to truly enjoy the full blown English experience, the one where I get to splurge on fun and unique experiences. But now that I was able to revisit one of my favorite cities in the world with a bit more cash, I am able to report back on the ultimate London itinerary!
We landed at 12PM on Friday and took the train and then the tube straight to Trafalgar Square, where our hotel was located.
Heads up: Patrick forgot that, unlike the NY subway cards, you couldn’t put £20 on an oyster card (that’s what they call their subway cards) and split the card amongst two people. Once you scan, you can’t scan the card again; so one card per person or you won’t have access to the subway!
We unpacked, grabbed a coffee, and were off to revisit one of our favorite cities in the world.
FIRST STOP: TRAFALGAR SQUARE
The heart of London. It’s one of London’s most vibrant spaces; I like to compare it to New York’s Washington Square Park because of the number of inspiring artists, musicians, and dancers. Every corner of Trafalgar Square is lined with a museum, gallery (the most famous is the National Gallery), cultural space, and theater. Captured below are some of the most iconic symbols in London, the red double decker bus and the fierce Lion. Yes, for those of you who do not know, the Lion is an iconic symbol in London. Infamous as a place of torture and executions, and home to the Crown Jewels, the Tower of London was also home to lions, which became a charismatic symbol of the monarchy. More to come on Tower of London in my next posts on the Ultimate 3-day London itinerary. The lions presence in the royal “zoo” at the time and their representation as fierce, dignified, and prideful animals is why you find statues of them “protecting” Trafalgar Square today.
SECOND STOP: BUCKINGHAM PALACE
The walk to Buckingham Palace brought back memories of when I was here November of 2014. Pat and I would walk down the main street lined with trees leading to the Queen’s quarters, glove in glove. The palace is only open to tour groups from July 22 – September 30, so we didn’t get to go in. But Pat’s gone before and can tell you all about it, he says it’s quite a spectacle! Similar to Versailles in a way. Since the palace was not open to visitors, we settled for watching (behind bars) the traditional changing of the guard.
THIRD STOP: HYDE PARK
Last time I was in Hyde Park was during London’s annual Winter Wonderland experience. The vibe this time was a little bit different. Rather than puffy winter jackets, hot chocolates, gloves, and rollercoasters, I was enjoying a long walk around the lake with its ever-changing fall colors with a light scarf, leather jacket, and a latte in hand. Our eyes were in for an autumnal treat. Fiery reds and buttery yellows lined the Serpentine Lake. Like Central Park, you can boat on the Serpentine or enjoy a nice glass of wine or warm coco at the edge of the lake at the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen or at Lido Café. We chose to head to the edge of the lake for a view of London’s spectacular nature.
As we made our way out of Hyde Park and navigated towards Mayfair and Marylebone, we came across The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences iconic Victorian Penny Farthing. Why are these perfect for European cities? The larger front wheel is said to make the Penny Farthing smoother over cobbles and rough roads, so it is a handy accompaniment for the unstable European roads. And yes, you will occasionally and rarely catch some people still riding them. This might not be on everyone’s London itinerary, but if you are feeling adventurous I recommend you rent one and take a ride around the streets of London (beware..London drivers don’t necessarily get along with cyclists so be prepared).
THIRD STOP: MAYFAIR AND SOHO
Mayfair is full of cafes, Victorian pubs, and boutique shops in its narrow streets. It is considered a high-hat area and lives up to its stigma. You won’t find as many tourists in this area as you will middle-class Londoners, but that’s what makes this area so unique.
You have not experienced the ultimate London itinerary until you spend time in Soho. Before entering the vibrant, eclectic and mulit-cultural neighborhood of Soho, where rock n’roll’s legends such as the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and David Bowie began, we caught one last glimpse of the quaint and quiet London streets behind us.
I feel like the concept of “Soho” is the same across the board for all major cities. It’s an eclectic area popping with entertainment, nightlife, and unique boutiques and experiences. Aside from the adorable coffee shops, winding streets, and pubs, the number of barbershops in London was incredible. I mean it is almost equivalent to the number of Starbucks you’ll find in New York City. There is one on every other block and each and every one of them is unique in their own way. Each has a vintage London charm to it that just beckons you to go in. I tried to convince Pat to walk into every one of them to get his haircut or beard shaved just for the luxurious experience. No luck unfortunately, maybe next time..!
FOURTH STOP: WEST END AND LEICESTER SQUARE
Neon signs, flashy billboards, loud music, and movie and theatergoers—remind you of anything? No, it’s not Times Square, but close, it’s Leicester Square. The theater area known as West End occupies a majority of the area. Theater is a big leisurely activity in London and West End offers sensational musicals, comedies and classic plays year-round. Leicester Square is also home to the Odeon 1,683-seat theater, where a lot of UK premieres are released and red carpet debuts appear. Dinner and a show has got to be on every one’s London itinerary, more to come on my experience at a West End show in my coming posts.
FIFTH STOP: OXFORD STREET, REGENT STREET AND CARNABY STREET
Oxford Street and Regent Street are the equivalent to Fifth Avenue and Madison in New York or Via Montenapoleone and Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Milano. They are pretty to walk on, but you don’t want to necessarily shop there. The streets are packed, it’s hard to move, the prices are pretty high, and there are so many options your head starts to spin. But in the winter time Oxford and Regent Street are a sight for sore eyes with their beautiful Christmas lights and elegant store displays. Right off of Oxford is Carnaby Street—the lesser known shopping area among tourists. The center of London’s fashion world may now be in the east, but in the mid-60s Carnaby Street was where it was at. Today, it is filled with unique boutiques, restaurants, and one-of-a-kind pubs.
SIXTH STOP: OTTO’S RESTAURANT
When in London, you are never really sure what to eat. London, like New York, isn’t exactly renowned for their own personal cuisine (aside from maybe fish and chips and scones!). What they are known for though is the many Chef’s from all parts of the world that come to showcase their worldly cuisine. While rummaging through Google for reasonably priced places to eat while in London I came across Otto’s Restaurant. It’s pretty central (it’s in Saint Pancras), has classic French dishes, the prices are reasonable and stay below £30 per main dish, and the atmosphere is quaint and intimate. We went in not expecting much and left with our mouths wide-open. To repeat Pat’s words “This is by far the best meal I have ever had…in my life.” It is a must to add to everyone’s London itinerary. If you want to know more about what a night at Otto’s is all about, you can read about our sensational experience in The Best Old School French Restaurant in London: Otto’s.
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