These past couple of weeks of dreary Indiana weather have really started to make me miss my adventure filled European summer when all I had to worry about was catching my flights and eating too much. Carefree and laughter-filled, studying abroad was hands down the best decision I have made during my college career so far. However I’m not writing to convince anyone to study abroad, even though they should — I’m writing simply because I have been overcome with nostalgia for my summer travels.
That being said, I wanted to share my travel experiences, pass on suggestions, and lend advice to any adventure seekers who are interested in visiting some of the wonderful areas I have been lucky enough to see. This is the first in a series I am calling “Been There, Done That,” which will recount my favorite memories of my travels and adventures, including landmarks, cities, food, pubs, and just general experiences.
To kick off this series, I’m starting with none other than London.
London, England, UK
London is by far my favorite city in the world and if you ever get the chance to visit you will understand why. Its diverse, beautiful, historical, and lively — but that being said its also very expensive. London as a whole has a great public transportation system, including the Underground (subway or “tube” as the locals call it) and buses. Passes to ride are easy to buy and riding either can take you to all the popular spots. From Big Ben to the British Museum to Buckingham Palace, there’s so many sights to see. Let’s just say that there is always something to see and do in London.
Things that you shouldn’t miss if you go to London:
- Big Ben & Palace of Westminster & Westminster Abbey & London Eye
- Kensington Palace
- Tower Bridge & Tower of London
- Hyde Park
- Globe Theatre (Shakespeare)
- Royal Observatory
- Natural History Museum
- Borough Market
Things in London that are over-rated:
- Riding the London Eye
- Sherlock Holmes Museum
- Abbey Road
- Changing of the Guard @ Buckingham Palace
Piccadilly Circus, London
With its big, bright signs that echo those of Times Square, the street junction of Piccadilly Circus holds a bustling scene of social life. Piccadilly is located on the west end of London and houses many unique sights, like the Shaftesbury Memorial, statue of Anteros and London Pavilion. It also has several major retail stores as well as popular night clubs and bars. The area is fascinating to see in person! Plus, its a place where you can wonder around and find some neat little pubs to play cards in or energetic clubs that are packed with fun music and interesting people.
My favorite spot in Piccadilly is a corner pub called The Glassblower, named so because it resides on Glasshouse Street. I went there on my second night in London when it was buzzing with co-workers who were unwinding after work. The pub felt laid back and was a perfect place to casually talk with friends while playing some cards. I loved sitting around, sipping on my pint, people watching, and chatting with my friends. If you ever find yourself in the area, its certainly a spot to check out.
Caffe Forum, Kensington, London
This quiet, hipster-like coffee shop was located a couple blocks from my flat and I enjoyed their wonderful lattes frequently. Caffe Forum was one of my favorite spots to relax and unwind after a long day in class. My professor originally recommended that I should stop by because they offer free croissants in the morning, but I ended up going back time and time again for the cute cups of delicious coffee. This is definitely a place to swing by if you are in Kensington or find yourself looking for a place to stop after you get off at the Gloucester Road tube station!
Tower Bridge & Tower of London
The Tower of London is definitely a must see for anyone who visits London or for any history lover. The Tower was very busy when I went and the tour groups had about 30-40 people, but despite the large crowds I loved listening to the history while wondering through the castle. Fair warning if you do decide to visit — be prepared to spend at least half a day touring throughout the Tower!
Fun Facts I learned about the Tower:
- The crown jewels are housed here but you can’t take pictures of them.
- There have only been 7 executions (by beheading) within the walls of the Tower, the most famous being Ann Boleyn.
- The tour guides are Yeoman Warders, aka Beefeaters. In order to become one you must serve 22 years in the armed forces and have been awarded the “Long Service and Good Conduct” medal.
- There’s a moat! (but theres no water in it)
- The White Tower, which is located right in the middle of the castle, has an impressive collection of medieval armor and gifts that have been given to the royal family.
The Tower Bridge is located right by the Tower of London and it is just as amazing in person as it is in pictures! The photo above of the Tower Bridge I took from one of the walls of the Tower of London that faced the Rive Thames! The bridge itself is bustling with traffic, both on foot and by car. Tours are offered to the top of the bridge, but I didn’t want to spend the extra pounds to go up.
Borough Market, Southwark, Central London
The Borough Market is a charming farmers market nestled in the heart of London. Its homey feel is apparent as you wind through the various booths stocked with products varying from chocolates to wheels of cheese. My favorite part of the market was interacting with all the shop owners, who surprised me with ample knowledge of their crafts. One cheese stand that I wandered up to had 30+ types of cheese and the owner insisted on me trying all of his samples as he explained how he made each. It was fascinating until I ate a soupy-looking, sour cheese that I later found out was a Spanish sheep cheese.
Besides all the cheese, chocolate, and deli shops, there were also several cider booths and spicy noodle stands. I did partake in cider sampling (which was amazing), but I steered clear of all the hot food stands because I’ve never gotten along with spicy food.
Kensington Gardens, Kensington, London
Residing just behind the Kensington Palace where William and Kate live is the beautiful Kensington Gardens. Exploring these gardens was an adventure in and of itself because there is so much to see! I wandered around the hedges and arches of vines for a good hour before I popped out by the pond in Hyde Park near a statue of Queen Victoria. The area is busy with park goers and visitors checking out the palace, but within the gardens it is very peaceful.
My favorite part about the Kensington Gardens was when I happened upon the Kensington Palace Cafe, which had a patio right beside the gardens. I ordered a latte and sat out on the patio to admire the beautiful views of the garden. It wasn’t too busy so I got the opportunity to relax and enjoy my coffee all while watching visitors zig-zag through the hedges.
Baker Street, London
“To a great mind, nothing is little” -Sherlock Holmes
Being a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, 221B Baker Street has been an address I have always wanted to visit but when I ventured out one day to find it I found out the awful truth — it doesn’t exist! Though I was heartbroken that my favorite detective’s flat was purely fictional, I still was intrigued by the Sherlock Holmes Museum that resided in what was presumed to be 221B Baker Street.
5 Things I learned about the Sherlock Holmes Museum:
- Admission is £15 and its the biggest waste of money.
- The museum is a two-story flat that has mannequins and memorabilia of all the different Sherlock books, but its incredibly boring and old.
- The gift shop is the best part.
- Although the gift shop is the best part, it is extremely over priced.
- I tried on a deerstalker (pictured above) with full intensions of buying it only to find out it was £45! I then proceeded to purchase a shot glass, but I still to this day wish I owned a deerstalker hat like my dear Sherlock.
Though Baker Street wasn’t what I originally thought, the day spent in the area was well spent. Around the corner from Baker Street is the famous Madame Tussauds wax museum and nearby is Regent’s Park.