I’m back in London, but this time with my mom and sister! Our last stop on our Europe trip this summer was five full days in London and I was beyond excited to show my family around the city I fell in love with last year and always want to return to.
The world had other plans for us. We got off the EuroStar from Paris and got in a black cab to our hotel. When booking this trip, I booked us a Hub by Premier Inn to stay in in Westminster because it was the perfect size for us two and we thought my sister was staying with her friend and her family. After booking that hotel, she informed us that her friend will be a few hours outside of London and that she had to stay with us. We managed to cancel the Hub and I found a hotel that could accommodate the three of us for six nights without spending any extra money. I booked us a place that seemed nice and was in the Lancaster Gate area where I stayed last year.
We got to the hotel, got up to our room on the fifth floor, opened the door… and lasted four minutes. It was basically an attic with three twin beds, bugs everywhere, and just disgusting on every level and since this is supposed to be a happy post, I’ll stop there. Thankfully I had my laptop and in a panic pulled it out to find somewhere new then dropped the room key on it and for a few seconds, my screen was a solid bright blue. Great. We went back to the lobby, my mom freaked out at the front desk about the room and then we all walked to a Starbucks. Or at least, my sister thought she was leading us to a Starbucks. We ended up stopping at a cafe, getting iced tea since it was a really warm day, and I hopped on their wifi to find anywhere else to stay.
After hunting for any AirBnb or hotel that could take three for six nights and not cost an insane amount and preferably not have carpet for my mom’s respiratory issues, I found us a place! The AirBnb host seemed very accommodating and we got a cab right over. Let’s just say… this place was no better. Nothing like the photos, moldy, and horrible plumbing and sewer smell issues and we “slept” on the wood floor in the living room since it was pushing midnight and there was nothing we could do. Before things got too bad there however, we stepped out to get dinner and my sister had her first Nando’s experience and fell in love… hard.
Around 4 am our time, my dad had landed back in LA to a million phone calls and texts and by 6 am, had booked us a new hotel! We were all exhausted and had been through hell for almost a full day and my mom experienced her first anxiety attack and wanted to just go home, but I reassured her that it would be fine and I wanted to prove to her that London is great, we just had a very rough start.
We got to our new hotel and dropped off our luggage then headed to Oxford Street before our 2pm lunch reservation at Sketch. When booking Sketch, we wanted Afternoon Tea but they only had lunch available and it was amazing but if you want to go, reserve your spot way ahead of time! To kill time before our reservation we shopped along Oxford High Street where there are tons of massive stores including the Topshop flagship store. We spent hours in this massive Topshop because the day we were there, they were having a huge sale and everything was just a few pounds! We walked around a bit more then walked down the street to lunch. (P.S. Oxford is the street name and “High Street” refers to an area of a road with a bunch of affordable stores and places to eat).Sketch is a beautiful 18th century building off of Regent Street and has been awarded a Michelin star. It is so pretty and Insta-worthy inside thanks to David Shrigley who transformed the Gallery at sketch as part of a long-term programme of artist-conceived restaurants. Lunch was served in a room that looked like a fantasy garden and tea is in the pink room that’s featured all over Instagram along with their spaceship-egg bathrooms. And what people don’t tell you about Stech, is how amazing it smells since it’s lined with Diptyque Choisya candles everywhere. (I want one for my apartment SO bad because of it’s amazing scent but haven’t been able to pull the trigger on a $65 candle… yet)
After lunch (and dessert), we went back to our hotel to officially check in and finally rest and relax in a nice clean room! We all took a nice nap and then my sister and I walked to Nando’s and brought it back to the room for us all to eat!
The next day we had a quick breakfast at the hotel (because we were running behind of course) then got to Kensington Palace for a tour and to see the Princess Diana exhibit. In the spring, I worked on a royal wedding special where I did tons of research and watched so many documentaries on Princess Diana and her fashion so to see all of the famous outfits in real life was amazing. This exhibit focused on her fashion and told a story of her life through what she wore. Kensington Palace was also amazing and filled with so much history. After walking around inside, we had tea and shopped around in the little cafe then walked in the Diana Memorial Gardens. From there, we strolled through Hyde Park to The Serpentine and sat along the water watching everybody in the paddle boats and all of the swans swimming around. After Hyde Park, we walked to St. James park and got ice cream along the way and eventually made it to Buckingham Palace. The Union Jack was up which means the Queen wasn’t home (when she is, the royal crest flag is up instead) but the tours for Buckingham Palace are only a few weeks each year and are booked out long in advance. After stopping by Buckingham, we continued our walk to Westminster to see the parliament, cathedral, and Big Ben who is completely under construction. We walked even further and went across the bridge to South Bank and decided to get dinner there. Of course, my sister wanted Nando’s. There were no Nando’s close to where we were so we walked another TWENTY minutes to go further down South Bank, past Borough Market, to finally get to a Nando’s. After we ate and realized how much we walked, we hopped on the tube and got back to our hotel. That night we rested a bit more then got tickets to see “Oceans 8” at a very nice movie theater near our hotel called Curzon. The movie was good and on our way back we saw a fox running through the streets which was a hilarious end to the night! By the end of the day, my mom liked London so much more which made me so happy!
On our fourth day in London, we took it very slow. A bit too slow for me but for my mom and sister, it was much needed. We desperately needed pedicures after all of the walking we had been doing so after breakfast (lunch) we went across the street from our hotel to get manis and pedis. Since it was lunch break for a lot of people, our wait was pretty long but they did a great job! Afterwards, we all headed off to get tattoos! My mom and I had talked about getting one together forever and we figured why not while we’re in London. We went to King’s Cross Tattoo and my mom got three hearts on her wrist (one for me, for my sister, and my dad) and I got a little paper plane. While there, my sister decided that she didn’t want one at first but then started to change her mind and wanted to get a heart outline on her finger. At that tattoo parlor they didn’t want to do her fingers since they’re so small so she thought about it more as we went and got coffee. I searched online and found another tattoo parlor with great reviews on Oxford Street called West One Tattoo. She got her little heart and then we went to a Boots to get ointment and bandages to keep them covered while we travel. After picking up those items, we stopped at a few souvenir shops then took the tube back. For dinner, we finally got something other than Nando’s! We stopped at Shake Shack and had dinner and milkshakes then FaceTimed my dad to show off our new tattoos.
Day five was spent a little outside of central London and we went up to Camden Town to shop around Camden Lock and Camden Market! We got food at a little cafe (I got avocado toast that I was missing dearly) and walked around the super hip area. It was covered in graffiti, color, and alternative styles that was so different from other parts of London. While shopping around there and picking up cool shirts and knick knacks, my sister also wanted to stop by Urban Outfitters. After a few hours of shopping, we walked through Regent’s Canal up to Primrose Hill. This is one of the many places in London with beautiful pastel homes and if you walk around a corner, you’ll see a classic row of houses of each color. I had proposed that we do dinner or a picnic Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park because you can see all of London from there and it is said to be beautiful in the evening as the sun sets. My mom and sister were too tired by that point so I got the photo of the colorful houses that I wanted and we walked back through the canal to get to the tube. I hope the next time I go to London I can spend a bit more time at Regent’s Park and maybe even stop by the zoo or botanical gardens there! That night, we agreed to do the London Eye the next day so I bought our tickets online and got a student discount for my sister and I!
The next morning we found ourselves back at Buckingham Palace! We wanted to get there early to see the changing of the guard which begins at 11am sharp! We got there about 15 minutes early and it was already packed. We were along the side so while we didn’t see all the action behind the gates up close, we still saw the guards, horses, and band march past us! We were also still able to hear everything from where we were standing. From there we walked to Harrod’s which is one of the most famous department stores in the world with mostly high-end designers and a fancy food court. I looked at almost every purse in store, we got a lost a few times (it is massive and quite confusing) and stopped by Gucci to look at their belts (because we are #basic) but I couldn’t decide what I wanted while we were there. One thing to note if you do decide to stop by Harrod’s is that they do have a dress code to be mindful of.
After Harrod’s we made our way over to Covent Garden for lunch and a bit more shopping. Covent Garden is near London’s theatre and entertainment area and has more shopping, lots of dining, and the Royal Opera House. If you’re familiar with Los Angeles, I’d compare it to a smaller version of The Grove or Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica since it has nicer brands but still in an affordable price range and lots of street performers drawing large groups to the center. We had our lunch and stopped by Levi’s so my sister could do a bit of shopping and I could get new socks because almost all of mine somehow disappeared when we were packing to leave Paris. At Covent Garden, we also stopped by the Kate Spade store and got a few things on sale and I got a purse that you can customize that isn’t yet available in the US! We finished up our shopping and got on the tube to head towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. I had hoped that we would have enough time after shopping to go to St. Paul’s and the Tower of London before it closed and we had our London Eye entrance time but it was cutting it too close so we decided to just to St. Paul’s!
We got to the cathedral and there was mass occuring inside but we were still allowed to go in and take in all of its architecture. Inside was just as beautiful as I imagined and I felt so much happiness as my mom prayed and I walked where Princess Diana did on her wedding day! My mom and sister weren’t up for it, but you can buy tickets to to go to the top of the dome and get an amazing view of London. As it began to close, we walked around it outside and then stopped to get food before we had to make our way to the London Eye. We took the bus to get to the London Eye and sat on the top deck and joked that it was a very cheap hop-on hop-off city tour since it took us back through Westminster.
We got to the London Eye at 7pm which was the perfect time to see the city as the sun gave it a beautiful golden glow! We got great views and some photos to celebrate our last night in Europe together! After the ride, we got desserts at a cute little coffee van and walked back over to the bus to take us back. We entered through the back door of the bus but our Oyster cards had run out of money but since there was nowhere to reload them, I told my mom and sister to just run up the backstairs! They didn’t know why until we were sitting at the top and I told them that we didn’t really pay for our ride and my mom looked at me and said that we’re criminals. We were all laughing and my mom didn’t want to get in trouble and we sprinted off the back once we got to our stop. We had a few shopping bags on us and managed to hit the walls like crazy people as we ran off and a group of guys were yelling at us to “Go! Go! Go!” It was hilarious and we had to run back to our room before my mom peed her pants. For dinner that night, we got the English pub staple of fish and chips and my mom and I each got a beer called London Pride. My sister, not a fan of fish, ordered bread and butter and it came to the table as plain untoasted white bread with butter on top and we laughed at how literal it was on the menu. Filled with fries and a little bit tipsy, we got back to our hotel and packed up!
On the morning to leave, I wanted to still try and make it to the Tower of London. My sister was tired and done with the tours and I said it would be fast if we bought the first tickets online and got there at 9am. My mom told me to go alone but I didn’t want to because I didn’t go last year alone in hopes of going with people I love to experience it and see the Crown Jewels. After a bit of back and forth, I didn’t go alone and figured I’ll for sure be back in London soon and can go with my friend Sarah who loves London equally but has never done the tour. We checked out of the hotel, put in a request for a cab, and got Nando’s for the last time. To remember all the Nando’s, we each got a peri-peri seasoning salt (just to now know that they sell it at Ralph’s). We got back to our hotel and got a cab which almost didn’t want to get us because of the big England World Cup game. Our driver wasn’t the happiest that he wasn’t watching but he listened to it on the radio and was much happier as he dropped us off and the first period was over with England up by 5! We did our VAT Tax Refund (which is a much longer line than anticipated but a kind woman took my mom up to the front so we could catch our flight) and then went to Gucci in the airport. I got my belt and then we got on the plane 30 minutes before departure which was apparently “late” but we made it on and had a quick flight home!
That was the end to our six full days in London, England and I loved it even more than before! I was also happy to have turned my mom’s opinion around and have her love London too.
Places to see that we didn’t make it to this year (some I stopped by last year!)…
Tower of London is a 900-year-old castle and fortress in central London that is notable for housing the crown jewels and for holding many famous and infamous prisoners.
Sky Garden has a viewing gallery on the 43rd floor of the Walkie Talkie offers panoramic views over London from their foliage-filled atrium. With floor-to-ceiling glass windows, this lush urban jungle provides fantastic views of the famous rooftops of London.
Shakespeare’s Globe is the complex housing a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse associated with William Shakespeare. The original theatre was built in 1599, destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and then demolished in 1644.
The View from the Shard The Shard isn’t only the tallest building in London, it’s the tallest in the whole of Western Europe, and offers guests a sensational experience, starting when you enter on the ground floor. I went here last year and you can get a discounted ticket with your student ID.
Borough Market is a wholesale and retail food market in South Bank. It is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, with a market on the site dating back to at least the 12th century.
Shoreditch is an artsy area with fashionable clubs and bars that surround Shoreditch High Street, Great Eastern Street and Old Street. An eclectic dining scene features everything from trendy chain restaurants, gastropubs, artisan coffee shops, and noodle bars. It also has tons of vintage and design shops!
Royal Mews is £10 entry ticket each and is one of the finest working stables in the world. The Royal Mews houses the state vehicles, both horse-drawn carriages and motor cars, used for coronations, state visits, royal weddings, the State Opening of Parliament and official engagements including the Gold State Coach.
Natural History Museum exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history.
British Museum is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection numbers some 8 million works, and is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence. It is also home to the Rosetta Stone.
Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design with a permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects. It houses displays of fashion, textiles, furniture, ceramics, photography, jewellery, photography and fine art. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
Tate Modern in South Bank is Britain’s national gallery of international modern art and is based in the former Bankside Power Station. Tate holds the national collection of British art from 1900 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art. Tate Modern is one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world.
I hope you enjoyed my final travel guide for this past summer in Europe! If you haven’t already, read my Barcelona and Paris ones to see what we did before London. Now that I’m pretty stuck in LA for awhile, I want to do all of the touristy things available in my own backyard and I hope to share that all with you!