7 of the Best Experiences in London - The Escape Life
I love cities that have a ton of history. So naturally, London was at the top of my list of places to visit. When I found a travel deal to London in December 2016, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Fast forward 4 months, my friend and I are on the 11-hour flight to London. I’m not going to lie…the flight was awful. But I’m not here to give a negative review for the flight. The point of this post is to share my most memorable moments in London. December is one of the peak travel seasons for London. The flight was crowded, the streets were crowded, and just about everywhere else and there’s a reason why. London is beautiful during winter time. The city is dressed in Christmas lights and filled with great energy. Here are 7 of the best experiences in London that you can’t miss. 1. St Paul’s Cathedral St. Paul’s Churchyard, London EC4M 8AD, UK St Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral built in the 16th century and is the most astonishing experience I had during my trip to London. I had no expectations going into St Paul’s Cathedral because my friend had included it as a stop in our itinerary, and I hadn’t done any prior research. I like to start my day off early when I travel so that I’m not wasting any valuable time in a foreign country. We planned to arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. The streets were surprisingly empty, so we were able to get some great pictures outside the cathedral. The external architecture of the cathedral was enough to make it to the top of my list. It was absolutely breathtaking. We spent roughly 2.5 hours exploring inside. Definitely opt-in the audio tour, as it will provide great insight into the history & design of the cathedral. If you’re up for it, attempt to climb hundreds of stairs to the top of the dome. I stopped before the last flight of stairs because it was super foggy and I couldn’t see past a few blocks. The view would’ve been the same. But if you happen to be there on a clear, sunny day, then try to climb to the top! 2. Afternoon Tea at Fortnum & Mason Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1A 1ER, UK If you are planning a trip to London, then afternoon tea or high tea should definitely be on your list of things to do. After visiting Buckingham Palace, we walked through Green Park, straight to Fortnum & Mason. Fortnum & Mason is a five to six level store/cafe extravaganza. Anything you could ever want is here, which makes it the perfect place to buy gifts and souvenirs. That’s what we did! And British YouTubers like Tanya Burr and Zoella have gifted baskets full of Fortnum & Mason products to their friends and family. What’s great is that you don’t have to worry about fitting everything into your luggage because they offer to ship everything [to California] for a flat rate of £30. My friend claims that the royals drink Fortnum & Mason but when we asked the representative they couldn’t confirm nor deny. We spent roughly 1.5 to 2 hours drinking tea and snacking at their afternoon tea service, and another 2 hours shopping in the lower levels. Afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason was an amazing experience that I would love to try again. Next time, I’ll save more room for the cake trolley. 3. Westminster District Big Ben (or Elizabeth Tower), Houses of Parliament, Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey are all located right next to each other in Westminster District. Although Big Ben is being closed for renovations until further notice, I believe everything else should still be open. We only went inside Westminster Abbey and had to wait in a very long line to get in. The line was probably a couple hundred people long but we weren’t going to not go in, so we waited. It was so crowded inside that it was hard to actually take a good look at everything but it was still quite an immersive experience. Even if you are just strolling around outside, Westminster District is definitely worth a visit. 4. Double-Decker Bus Tour I recommend that you plan to do this the first day you are in London. It is a great way to experience the city and get a quick preview of all the different neighborhoods in London. We were able to finalize some details in our itinerary after one round around the city. But if you are planning on visiting London in the winter time, then you need to bundle up. If you are sitting at the top level of the bus in 4°C, then you need layers, a scarf, and everything else. I wasn’t prepared and was close to freezing to death. There are many different companies that offer the hop-on-hop-off bus tour. It’s really up to you to decide which one you want to go with. If you are planning on buying the London Pass, then you can only ride on the ‘Golden Tours’ buses as part of the package. If not, then I think you should be okay riding any of them. 5. Tower of London St Katharine’s & Wapping, London EC3N 4AB, UK If you love to see historical artifacts or just enjoy learning some history about London, then the Tower of London is a must. It’s an extremely popular landmark, so plan to see a crowd. The most popular exhibit at the Tower of London is the Crown Jewels exhibit. We didn’t go inside because the line was insane! If you want to check it out, then make sure you schedule an extra hour or two so that you aren’t rushing. My favorite part of the Tower of London was the view from the river. You can check out my pictures to see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the best picture spot if you want to capture a picture of the Tower Bridge and the London skyline. 6. The View from the Shard 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG, UK The Shard is one of the most beautiful buildings in London. It very well may be the most beautiful, modern building in London and holds the title of being the tallest building in the United Kingdom. This part is going to be short because I didn’t actually get to experience The View from the Shard. If you want to go to the top of The Shard for what will most likely be the best view of London, then you have to reserve tickets in advance. We did but the weather was terrible the day that we went. So we ended up having to wait in a different line to get our ticket refunded. But I still went to their gift shop and bought myself some souvenirs for my Christmas tree. 7. Buckingham Palace Westminster, London SW1A 1AA, UK I actually didn’t want to include Buckingham Palace as one of the best experiences because I didn’t experience anything. My friend and I arrived at the palace around 9 am, and there were already thousands of people crowding the palace gates. It was a struggle to see anything. We waited for about 45 minutes before figuring out that we weren’t going to see anything. Even so, my friend (the same one that was on this trip with me) convinced me to include it as one of the experiences because how can you go to London and not go see Buckingham Palace? So, she convinced me. I would advise that you check to see if there are any tours or events happening while you’re in London so that your experience will be more exciting than mine. Bonus: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is the biggest Christmas festivity in London. It is hosted annually in Hyde Park for about 2 months. If you are planning on visiting London in the winter time, make sure to include Winter Wonderland as one of your stops. It’s very similar to a carnival, but decked out in Christmas lights and instead of carnival food, you’ll get traditional Bavarian food. The park is massive, so give it at least 2 hours of your time to really explore the park. That’s it for the 7 best experiences in London. I hope you found this helpful, and I would love to hear if you have any suggestions. Been thinking about traveling to Asia? Check out my posts on 5 Must-Try Restaurants in Taipei, The Best Restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and A Day in Universal Studios Japan in Osaka for my tips on the best stops in Asia.