London was one of our last destinations on our trip and was by far one of my favorite cities.
Whilst we were there, several of my close friends from Sydney were also in London either working or travelling so I got to spend lots of time with them which was super special after not seeing anyone for 5 months. Lucy was nannying for a family that lived in Fullham so I spent a fair bit of time there (in their ridiculously nice (7 story) town house).
We were in London in early November and it was pretty cold, averaging at about 7 degrees. Everywhere you go has heating however, which may sound nice but it essentially means taking your massive coat on and off and carrying it around with you for most of the day.
Because it was nearly Christmas the city was decorated with a ridiculous array of sparkly lights and trees which made our days exploring extra special (I am a Christmas fiend).
Being the end of the trip, Ebbs and I were mere shells of ourselves and didn't put much effort into going out at night (also because it would have been impossible to get home after as we were staying in Croyden) I don't really regret this because I know Ill be back in London at some stage in the near future and I'll have plenty of time to go out then.
We had 2 full weeks in London that were broken up by 5 days in Ireland in the middle for the Metropolis (a music festival) that was in Dublin. My days in London were long, i'd leave the house by at least 8am everyday and not get home again till 11pm. London is a crazy city; 9pm on a normal Tuesday night in Piccadilly Circus looks like 10pm on Oxford street in Sydney during Mardi Gras.
How to get there
I flew in from Salzburg with British Airways and the flight, from memory, cost around $70. I landed at Gatwick Airport and then had to catch the 22 pound ($40) airport train into Victoria Station. Ebbs arrived from Paris by bus which traveled through a tunnel under the English Channel and costs roughly 17 pounds. You can also get the Eurostar but be prepared to pay big $$$. When Ebbs and I flew into London for the second time from Ireland we landed at Stansted and got a 10 pound bus to Victoria Station which was far more cost effective that Gatwick's train. Our flights to and from Ireland cost us $25 return with RyanAir (because we left our luggage in London). London has 6 airports which are scattered in many directions from the city, Stansted was a 2 hour drive away from the center of the city (with traffic) but was better than the 40 minute train from Gatwick because of the cost.
I must place emphasis on that LONDON IS VERY VERY VERY VERY EXPENSIVE especially because of the pound (and the state of the Australian Dollar). To make it easier for you, you can calculate how much money you'll need by knowing that everything costs the same as it does at home but in pounds. So once you convert it to Australian Dollars you'll realize the coffee you are buying for 4 pounds is actually $9... I had great difficulty paying for anything in London because I could not stand to think about the conversion rate and I was actually pretty upset about the amount of money I was having to spend when we first got there. I think within the first 3 days of being in London after going to Thorpe Park, paying for my airport shuttle, buying some groceries, our Harry Potter studios tickets and my train pass I had spent over $400!! (which believe me is FAR more than I had spent ever on the trip). If you can, book in advance, stay somewhere with a kitchen or better still, stay with family or friends!! Buy a travel pass but try and walk as much as you can and don't plan on going out or eating out a lot because you will just blow all your money.
As far as transport goes, London is ridiculously efficient (albeit a little crowded). The tube is direct, runs every 3 minutes (on average) and is usually on time although they do stop mid trip occasionally and i'm not the biggest fan of small, hot, crowded places that are several stories underground... but who is? The only way to really avoid this is to not travel at peak hour and always give yourself an extra ten minutes to be anywhere but it will always be busy and you can't predict when there is going to be a hold up.
There are ticket checkers, so don't try any funny stuff or you will get caught. They have at least 3 guards watching the entrance booths and conductors that check tickets on the train too. The fines are hefty so even though it may be tempting due to the ridiculous ticket prices don't risk it!!! The tube map also takes a little getting used to. I downloaded an app that had the map on it and if you entered in where you wanted to go it would calculate your route for you (which made things a lot easier). We were staying in Croyden which was a zone 5 and not on the tube line meaning we had to get an overground to and from the city (which sucked A LOT) they were rarely on time and cost SO MUCH MONEY. So if you can help it stay inside the tube zone!!. I had to buy a weekly transport pass which (because of the zone 5 situation) cost me 54 pounds ($125 painful dollars).
Buses run everywhere as well and they are super fun and red and Double Decker !!!! (no, the novelty does NOT wear off) Although the city is massive, you'll never get bored of what is surrounding you and if you have good walking shoes walking is probably the best way to get around and see the city (plus it means you wont feel as bad eating all those bagels (I think Luc and I ate an entire bag in one sitting).
How long to stay
I would recommend no less than 5 days in London and no longer than 2 weeks (unless you have friends there like I did) 9 days would probably be the ideal amount of time if you want to really see a lot of what the city has to offer (and not be running around like a crazy person like I was). Due to the expense of London, a long stay might not always be possible so don't stay here longer than you can afford to!! I added it up and 9 days in London staying in an average hostel dorm whilst paying for food and transport would cost similar to travelling in moderate luxury in Morocco for just over 2 months. Its pretty depressing.
Ebbs and I stayed with his cousin and uncle in Croyden which was a 20 minute overground train ride from Victoria Station. It wasn't an ideal location for exploring the city, but it was really nice staying with Ebbs family and accommodation in London is ridiculously expensive so we were happy to make the commute to and from the city everyday. This did however mean once we left the house in the morning there was no coming back and also meant spending $125 a week (54 pounds) on a public transport pass.
Make sure you book your London accommodation well in advance, Airbnbs are low in abundance and London hostels are notoriously awful and overpriced (so good luck). If you can, avoid the weekend because (like Amsterdam) hostel bed prices increase ridiculously on a Friday and Saturday night (from 15 euros a night to 85 euros a night for a bed in a 12 person dorm)... I would stay as close as you can to Piccadilly Circus (although I have no idea whether there is actually anywhere affordable to stay there) if not, anywhere near a tube station is a-ok (: If anyone does have any good London accommodation recommendations please let me know because I was really stuck on finding anywhere good (before I knew we were staying with Ebbs' family).
As I before mentioned, we had 2 weeks in London and i'm sure if we stayed another 2 I would still feel as though I had only just scratched the surface of possible activities and things to see (and buy and eat etc). Below is my feeble attempt to list what we did in our time here, combined with a few memories (don't judge pls) because I have to write them down somewhere or they will be gone forever!!!! anyway yep, ENJOY!
On my second day in London Luc and I went to Thorpe Park which is a roller coaster/theme park about 40 minutes on the train from the center of London. Tickets cost 24 pounds when you buy them online however because it was Halloween weekend ours cost 40 pounds each (we weren't going to go but changed our mind last minute and I am SO glad we did). The park is open from March through to November and it closes for winter. Make sure if you go you get there super early and try to avoid school holidays and weekends as there are so many rides and we spent way too long in lines. Because we were a little disorganized we didn't get there until nearly midday despite this we went on the Nemesis Inferno (Inbetweeners fans rejoice) at least 4 times (and yes it is as good as Will thought it would be).
When you are in London you must see at least one West End show!! We saw Billy Elliot in a theater near Victoria Station and it was amazing!! I really wanted to see Wicked too but we ran out of time ): Ebbs and I got our tickets online the day before for 25 pounds each. We went on a Monday night because that is when tickets are usually cheapest.
I somehow ended up at Portobello markets more than 3 times during my stay in London. They are pretty fun, but fairly generic, you'll have difficulty finding anything that different and affordable here, but its still super nice to stroll down the colorful streets of Notting Hill, coffee and bagel in hand whilst inspecting overpriced fur coats and gold jewelry. If you keep walking to the middle/back end of the markets they have more funky clothing/second hand goods for sale but they are still quite overpriced and touristy. Friday and Saturday are the most popular days for the markets and are when the most stuff will be on. The surrounding streets are lined with cool cafes as well so you wont have trouble finding anywhere to eat. For my birthday Lucy took me to EggBreak which was a Thai restaurant-turned-funky-hipster-brunch-spot in Notting Hill a few streets over from the start of the markets. The eggs were delicious so i suppose they lived up to theri name.
Ebbs and I also went to Camden markets (in Camden) which didn't really make much of an impression on me. They were a little touristy and overpriced (and generally crap). If you don't have much time in London I would give these a miss.
Lucy, Georgie and I spent an unhealthy amount of time on Oxford and Regent street moaning and groaning (and drooling) over the beautiful window displays and overpriced handbags and coats. I actually bought a fair few things (given that I don't spend money this is a big deal) however it was my birthday and they were mostly from Primark so it doesn't really count. Regent street also introduced me to my new favorite store, Anthropolgie, a shop so magical Ebbs didn't even complain when I dragged him in there for the 14th time.
The area Georgie was staying was definitely one of my favorite parts of London. She was in Marylebone near Marylebone High street which was a street lined with shops and beautiful lamp posts that looked exactly how London should (in my head at least). Make sure you come here and have a walk around (I doubt you'll be able to afford anything). Her suburb was also home to THE WORLDS BEST CHAI LATTE... Lucy and I would catch the tube for 20 minutes just to go here and even though they were pounds each I DIDN'T EVEN CARE (and that's saying something). It was called Amanzi Tea and I miss it everyday...
London is full of amazing parks. For my birthday Ebbs took me to Holland Park to eat cupcakes (and cower from the wind). The area surround this park (also called Holland Park) is super beautiful with lots of identical white houses and tree lined streets. Hyde Park, Green Park and Regents Park are also pretty nice. Hamstead Heath was probably my favorite as it has an amazing view over the city (and for skins fans is where they filmed the Freddie/Effie park scenes). We spent an awesome afternoon there with Lauren because she lives nearby! Richmond Park is also meant to have deer that roam freely but I didn't have time to go there ):
Make sure you dedicate at least a day to site-seeing the obvious places. Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square are all 100% worth visiting and most of the site-seeing can be done in a day if your dedicated. Make sure the British library, the Tate museum, Neal's yard (near Covent Garden), The Globe Theater and Harrods are on your list of things to see.
Even if you arn't a Harry Potter fan, the Warner Brothers Studios will be the best thing in the world. Ebbs and I spent 6 hours there taking in more Harry Potter than we ever thought possible. We saw all the sets from Dumbledore’s office to the shops of Diagon Alley and the costumes and special effects. It cost us 30 pounds each and make sure you book online prior to going, i'd also get there before 2pm as it closes between 6 and 10 and you want to have enough time.
Go for high tea!! I never did because I ran out of time (and was scared of spending money) but its a very British thing to do and I definitely will go next time!
Go on a free walking tour, this is another thing I never got around to doing but i'm sure they are super interesting here. You can find plenty of companies online.
As far as shopping goes (other than Oxford street) I found some pretty cool stuff in Shorditch and the Brick Lane markets are pretty funky as well, plus there are heaps of really nice cafes near it which made for a super fun Sunday morning with Georgie and Luc.
We all went to a super cute cafe/restaurant called Bills in Soho which I would recommend (it wasn't cheap though). Covent garden also has heaps of groovy bars and restaurants.
On my first night there I went to a Chanel exhibition with Luc at the Saatchi Gallery. It was a super glamorous gallery and often has cool exhibition open for free to the public so make sure you check out whats on there.
We saw the new James Bond movie in Leicester square on my birthday in the biggest cinema I have ever seen. Student tickets were 10 pounds and if there is a movie out that you want to see I highly recommend going there just to experience the scale of it.
One thing we did in London that i'm sure was a once in a lifetime experience was walk in the Lord Mayors Parade dressed in as Christmas characters (alongside REAL reindeer omg) for the Red Cross. The family Georgie was working for and living with were organizers and needed people to walk in the parade for them. It was a pretty cool experience walking through the streets of London waving at the crowds of people who had come to watch and also getting to look at Luc in a Mona Lisa costume (idk how its Christmas related), Georgie as a Christmas Tree and Ebbs as an elf. He was ridiculously enthusiastic taking this role and somehow over the 3 hours of walking never tired of waving and smiling.
I spent a lot of time at Lucy's house in Fullam making cupcakes, reading magazines and generally doing not much. We hadn't seen each other in a long time so it was great to just sit around and talk. It was Halloween whilst we were in London and the people decorated their houses like crazy. The streets were covered in fake cobwebs and pumpkins and all the kids (and some adults) dressed up and went trick or treating. I've always thought Halloween was a really cool holiday so it was fun to see it properly executed.
One final tip... make sure you always have a bag of Sainsbury's chocolate chip cookies. They are literally the greatest thing you will EVER EVER taste and only cost 2 pounds a bag!! (bring me back some pls)