If you’re traveling to London for the first time, I’m so jealous! It’s a beautiful city and you’re about to have the time of your life! But before you can hop on a plane and start your overseas adventure (assuming you’re traveling from the U.S), there are a few things you’ve gotta do to prepare properly.
My husband and I just traveled abroad together for the first time. We started in London, then Paris, Barcelona and ended in Madrid (I’ll be doing a travel guide for each city so stay tuned!). I definitely did my fair share of stalking the internet for all the travel tips I could find. I researched hotels, neighborhoods, top tourist attractions and even made a list of the most raved about restaurants. Some of our days I planned out to the last minute, others I gave ourselves wiggle room to explore and be a little spontaneous.
What I’m going to share with you are the ways we prepared before our trip, tips I learned during our travels, and how we spent 72 hours in London.
TRAVEL TIPS BEFORE VISITING LONDON
BOOKING HOTELS + FLIGHTS: After you decide your budget and how much time you want to spend in London, book your flights and hotels! A friend of mine recommended the website EuropeanDestinations.com and it made planning our trip super easy. Basically you can completely customize multi-city trips that include hotel and air (plus they arrange your travel from city to city). You can either choose from their itineraries or create your own. They give you a group of pre-selected hotels and flights (at their lowest price) but you can switch them out for ones that better suit your travel plans or hotels in a more desirable area. The price changes accordingly so you can really stick to your budget. I highly recommend starting here because it’ll give you an idea of price and everything will be booked through one website!
CUSTOMS: Make sure you’re aware of the necessary documentation you’ll need during your travels. You can check out the UK Border Agency website and the U.S. Passports and International Travel website for all the information.
WIFI ABROAD: There are a ton of different routes you can take for getting wifi abroad. You can get an international plan from your service provider, but it can get pretty costly. Or if your phone is unlocked, you can buy a SIM card for each country you’re visiting. We decided to go with a portable pocket device. The one we rented was TEP Wireless. The service was spotty in London but it worked great in Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid. It was $9.95 a day and we picked ours up at Heathrow Airport (you can also pick up at Paddington Station). If you place your order well in advance, you can have it shipped to your house for free. Make sure to charge every night! To text fam and friends we used the WhatsApp app.
SOCKETS: If you’re traveling from the U.S., your regular plugs won’t work in London. You have to get an adaptor. Since we were also heading to other cities we opted for the Insignia Global Travel Adaptor Set. You can just switch it out depending on what plug you need at the time. TIP: Buy multiple adaptors. Sometimes you’ll want to charge your phone while you’re blow drying your hair and one won’t cut it.
MONEY: London is an expensive city and our dollar is worth a lot less than the pound so naturally, you’ll want the best exchange rate which you’ll find at their Post Offices. You can also apply for a Travel Rewards card. We went with this one and loved it! It’s no annual fees and no foreign transaction fees. You can just pay it off when you come back or you have one year with no interest. Just remember to download the app and approve large purchases throughout your travels.
DOWNLOAD THE CITYMAPPER APP: This app will be your lifesaver when trying to get around. It gives you the best routes and you can even save them so that if you lose wifi you’ll still have them.
BUY AN OYSTER CARD: You’ll need an oyster card to get around in London – it’s how you pay for the underground (their subway system) and double-decker buses. Depending on how many days you’re visiting London and where you’re traveling to will depend on what type of Oyster Card you need. All the info can be found here.
72 HOURS IN LONDON
Where we stayed, what we did, and where we ate:
HOTEL: Royal Horseguards
I highly recommend this hotel! You can’t get much better when it comes to location + the staff was lovely and super helpful! It overlooks the River Thames and it’s opposite The London Eye, which we took advantage of every night and sat by the water to people watch. The Houses of Parliament (Big Ben), Westminster Abbey, Covent Gardens, and Trafalgar Square are all only small walks away too.
The nearest underground is Embankment Station.
- We arrived at 8 a.m. on Thursday, May 11 at Heathrow Airport. From the airport, we took the Heathrow Express (the fastest way to get to central London – only 15 minutes) to Paddington Station, then an Uber to our hotel. We did so to avoid trying to figure out the underground with all our luggage at hand. TIP: The sooner you buy your Heathrow Express ticket the cheaper it will be.
- By 10:30 a.m. we were out our hotel door and ready to explore Notting Hill (super tired but very excited!).
- Breakfast: Egg Break. My husband ordered the french toast (loved it and told me to tell you guys the bacon was the best of his life) and I had the avocado toast with poached eggs and chorizo. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
- After breakfast, we explored Notting Hill and Portobello Road Market (remember to bring cash to the market). I completely fell in love with Notting Hill and I highly recommend not skipping this on your visit. It was so much fun exploring and even getting lost a bit with my husband. At the market, we picked up our souvenirs for the trip, teacups! TIP: Give yourself enough time to wander! At least two or three hours.
- Reservations at The Orangery at Kensington Gardens for afternoon tea. The atmosphere was great! Tea as well but the pastries weren’t my fave. The location is amazing because it’s on the grounds of Kensington Palace.
- Kensington Palace and Kensington Gardens: The Palace is a little underwhelming but the Gardens are stunning! Don’t miss Princess Diana’s Remembrance Garden! It was so peaceful and beautiful, I could have spent hours there.
- After Kensington Gardens we walked down Hyde Park (so gorgeous!) down to Sloane Square. From here you can head over to Harrod’s (because you’re close) but I really wanted to see Peggy Porschen Cakes (a super cute, chic bakery) so we explored the high-end shops a bit then took a taxi to the bakery. I loved it and my hubby even said the pastries were delicious! TIP: Avoid black cabs. They’re expensive and will almost cost you double.
- After Peggy’s we went back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. We wanted to experience pub life so we made reservations at The Red Lion, a Westminster pub on Parliament Street. The walk from our hotel to the pub was great because Big Ben and Parliament were all lit up for the night. We both ordered pies (similar to pot pies) and they were delish! After dinner take a walk around the River Thames. It will not disappoint!
- Brunch at Hot Box. My husband ordered the chicken and waffles (he says it was the best meal from our entire trip) and I, a creature of habit, ordered the avocado toast, which was the best I had the entire trip as well. I also ordered the Smoked Meat Mash and it was incredible. This is definitely a boozy brunch place, with music blaring and endless mimosas and bloody mary’s so if that’s not your speed, I’d go to Duck & Waffle instead and enjoy a panoramic view of London. The Breakfast Club is also a popular spot. TIP: Nearby is the meet-up location for the Jack the Ripper tours which happen at night. You can always go to dinner at Hot Box and end your evening with the tour.
- After brunch we took the underground to Tower Bridge. (You can also go see the Crown Jewels before heading to the bridge.)
- We explored the area for about an hour then took an underground to Harrod’s for some shopping and afternoon tea at Ladurée (located in Harrod’s). This was the first time I EVER had a macaroon and it did not disappoint! The pastries and the tea were my favorites from our trip!
- Next was Buckingham Palace! All I can say is WOW! It was beautiful walking the grounds and you can even rent lawn chairs and enjoy the parks nearby.
- We walked back to our hotel along St. James’s Park and made a stop at Westminster Abbey.
- Dinner was at Franco’s, which my husband chose. It was definitely the most American-style restaurant we ate at during our entire trip (makes sense since the hubs picked it out lol) but I have to admit, the fish was amazing! TIP: The Ritz was on our way to Franco’s so if you want to enjoy an elegant, high-end dinner you might enjoy this spot!
- After dinner, we decided to head back to the River Thames to people watch. I loved doing this every night of our trip because it gave us a chance to talk about our day, relax and take it all in.
Make this day your own! There are SO many more things you can do in London but just to name a few:
- Covent Gardens
- Primrose Hill
- Borough Market
- Explore Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and Carnaby Street
- Churchill War Rooms
- The View From The Shard
- Leicester Square
- The British Museum
- Piccadilly Circus
- Harry Potter London Tour
To say we had a blast in London is an understatement! The city was probably the cleanest out of all the cities we visited and their subway system (the underground) was by far the easiest to understand and use. Trust me, you’ll have very little issues getting around.
I loved that we started our trip in London because it felt very similar to New York City so the change wasn’t that drastic. Plus everyone speaks English so we were able to accommodate quickly.
If you have any other questions I did not answer in this post, do not hesitate to ask! I had so many questions before we traveled abroad so I hope I’ve been able to answer all of yours!
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