Alright, so I've been in England over a month yet but haven't made it to London- that is until last weekend! I've been up and down the Southern Coast and visiting friends around the country, then I got a job (unexpected but good news!) so in celebration of the new job & finding ridiculously cheap train fare (£10) I booked myself out to London to catch up with a friend (Kate) I met while traveling in Central America 3 years ago.
From Brighton you can hop on the train and in just about an hour you'll find yourself at London Victoria, a hub for transit throughout the city. Kate had suggested downloading the CityMapper app before I came up & I'm so glad I did (promise this isn't an ad of any kind, just love from a girl who is notorious for getting lost). The app gets you from point A to B (or all the way to Z) giving you details for all kinds of transit (underground, bus, ferry ect) or just plain old fashioned walking & definitely saved me a few times while in London. If you plan to spend any time in London and be using public transit I would totally recommend getting an Oyster card and topping it up when you first arrive (the day pass isn't worth the money from my research), that way you can use all methods of transit (even the clipper boat) to get around town. There are kiosks located at all the stations and you can top up using cash or your credit card, then you're good to go! I traveled out to meet Kate in her neighbourhood, and then it was a quick refresh & off to get exploring! Kate has lived in London for the last few years, and was just as excited as I was to take in some of the major sites (what better excuse than having a friend visiting right?). So we set off making our first stop at Buckingham Palace and while I didn't get a glimpse of any royals I was in awe to see it up close for myself after seeing it so much on TV or in the news.
From there we walked around the surrounding gardens making our way up to Big Ben, which funny enough is the nickname of the infamous clock. It’s actual name is Elizabeth tower and the bell that chimes is actually Big Ben, not something I knew before Kate told me. Erected over 150 years ago, this clocktower is probably one of the most iconic landmarks (for me) when it comes to thinking of London, and just a few days ago I heard that it was going to be under construction, and was scared that I wouldn't be able to see it. The scaffolding for the repairs goes almost half way up at this point, but I was told that they will be doing the repairs 1 side at a time so that the whole tower will never be completed covered at any given time. So I hope that doesn't deter people from going to see it even if it isn’t in full view (until 2020 that is). We strolled around the area and then it was across London Bridge and towards the Thames and my first view of the London Eye. This giant ferris wheel is just under 450 ft high with 32 pods to take goers around giving them incredible views of the City over the half an hour you’re on board. When it was first built in 1999 it was the highest ferris wheel in the world, but that record has now ben bestowed upon The High Roller in Las Vegas only a few years ago.
Surprising to me and everyone who may not believe me, the sun was out in full force & we welcomed the breeze along SouthBank while we had some lunch and then made our way into the TateModern to see what free displays they had, have a drink & wait on some of Kate’s friends before continuing on to see The Globe Theatre (Shakespeare lovers eat your heart out), St-Pauls Cathedral & another of my must see spots ; Millennium Bridge ( Harry Potter lovers out there you’ll recognize this!) before making our way outside the hustle and bustle out to the borough of Angel to soak in the last bits of warmth and a drink by the canal watching all the houseboats come and go through the locks.
We ended our night with an awesome dinner at a tiny Italian restaurant out on the cobbled streets under sunset before heading off to the Shangri-La hotel at The Shard, synonymous with one of the best views of London in the city. While we weren't able to get a seat at the bar on the 57th floor we did sneak out at the 35th to have a look, and the view was pretty incredible, you can see the whole city lit up from The London Eye to Tower Bridge (plus it had the flashiest bathrooms ever!) which made it worth the stop in before heading back to Kate's, in Hackney for the night.
Day 2 was devoted to exploring some new & unheard of spots before my late night ride back to Brighton, and it started off with a wicked breakfast + coffee at The Parade Cafe in Hackney Downs & then we set off with Greenwich via cable car! Yep, you read that right, a cable car right in London. Set up by Emirates Airline to hopefully be used as commuter traffic to lessen the stress on the roads & underground but sadly not taken by many local it’s still an awesome way to get in some sights.
We took this over and made our way along the river to Greenwich Village stoping in at the Maritime Museum and then up to the Royal Observatory and one fantastic view down in to the village/city. This is also where you’ll find the Greenwich Meridian line where East meets West at Longitude (you can see it through the fence if you want to avoid paying just to see the line itself). We wandered through the village, stopping in antique shops & feeling as if I had stepped back in time with the amazing buildings and vibe. Late in the afternoon there was one thing left on my list of must see’s before leaving, so we made our way over. Tower Bridge, a structure that has had my attention for a few years since I first saw a photo of it. We were able to take the clipper from Greenwich right to the bridge in less than 15 minutes & you get a great view coming up to it on the water.
The Tower of London is (obviously) right next to Tower Bridge but when I saw the line for entry to the Tower it only made sense to skip it and just take a look from the outside (summer = tourist season). The bridge is connected by two large castle looking towers and a rising middle (suspension bridge if you will) that can be raised when ships too big to scoot under need to pass. Although we didn't see that we did get the chance to go up into the towers thanks to the Tower Bridge Exhibit where they have installed sections of glass floors to be able to see down on to the bridge from just about 220 ft above. The bride is an iconic landmark of the city and now that I’ve finally seen it for myself I'm even more impressed than before.
And then, just as quickly as I arrived I was back on my way to Brighton with a camera full of photos & a love of London. While I don't spend much time exploring cities when I travel (too much chaos and overwhelming crowds), I can definitely say that London has caught my attention in the best way. There is so much and the city is so big that it's got something for everyone, so I'm definitely looking forward to my next trip to London and exploring some lesser known locations (takin suggestions now). Also to anyone afraid or worried for themselves or loved ones visiting London, I can honestly say I never once felt unsafe being there. So please don't keep yourself from visiting this magical city because of fear, be mindful but never let the fear of something keep you from experiencing what the world has to offer.