With a rich history behind, of almost two millenniums, London is one of Europe’s most significant cities. Founded by the Romans in the 1st century AD, under the name of Londinium, it played a key role in the history of mankind, especially from the start of the Modern Era. As one of the leading global cities, London is a true financial powerhouse, a worldwide leader in the banking sector, and a benchmark in many other fields, like arts, commerce, entertainment, fashion, media, research, tourism, and the list can continue.
I have always been impressed by the greatness of London, by both its past, represented by the great architecture of the Victorian Era or the cobblestone streets, and its present, represented by the cosmopolitan feel. But every single time I started making plans or searched for airplane tickets, something else came up. Luckily, a trip to Iceland, which I had planned for months, offered me the perfect opportunity to make a three days stop in the capital of the UK. For those who are not aware, flying to Iceland via London is extremely affordable, but I’m going to leave all the details for my next article, about the Nordic country.
Discovering all of London’s major sights, in three days, is highly unrealistic. You could probably spend a lifetime exploring the city, and you would never stop being surprised. So, in spite of the fact that I walked an average of 25 kilometers per day, I wasn’t able to see or do all the things I made plans for. London is overwhelming, and it’s so easy to deviate from your plans and wander its streets for hours, without a clear direction.
How to get to the city from the airport
Well, I can probably write a separate article, just to cover this topic. London has the busiest airport systems in the world, by passenger traffic, being served by 6 airports in total. During the whole trip (flights to and from Iceland included), I used three of them: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Despite the fact that these are located outside the city limits, at a noticeable distance (from 15 to 40 miles), all are really well connected to the center. You have many options to get to and from the airports, so I’m going to present the ones I’ve tried:
- London Tube – only available for Heathrow, a ticket was £5 per person;
- Uber – used it from Heathrow to the city, trip was around £30;
- Stansted Express – a dedicated train line, the quickest option for Stansted (45 minutes), cost was between £15-17 per person;
- National Express – a coach company, the slowest but cheapest option for Stansted and Gatwick; it took more than an hour and a half, at a cost of around £5-10 per person.
As you might know, London is huge and pretty expensive, so choosing the right accommodation is a key factor, from both a budget and an itinerary perspective. If you’re not willing to spend a small fortune (and I’m not, in most of the cases), you’ll have to settle with either a bad location or a small and old room. And since the location is more important for me, I stayed at Falcon Hotel (11 Norfolk Square, Paddington), where I “enjoyed” the same dull English breakfast, three mornings in a row. The room and bathroom were pretty small and outdated, but at least the hotel is located in a nice area, and the staff was friendly and helpful. Prices aren’t low, but guess what? London is not cheap…
Guide to London
Since this was my first visit, I tried to see as much as possible, and the focus was on the really popular landmarks and attractions. That’s why I was not super excited by the fact that I did not have enough time to explore the secrets of the city; but hey, I want to return one day.
→ One of the best things about London is that most of its museums are free of charge! I love museums, but I’ve always felt that there is never enough time to fully discover them. Which is probably all the time true. Well, London has a ton of world class museums, like the National History Museum, the British Museum or the National Gallery. There are probably more than a dozen that are worth a visit, so it’s up to you to decide which ones fit your interests. I wanted to see all three from above, but ended up with visiting only the first two. Maybe next time…
→ Visiting museums is a fun activity, but in the same time it can be pretty tiring, so in case you need to relax, Hyde Park is a good solution. It was very interesting to discover that the city’s biggest park has a special alley for horses. I know that horse riding is a popular activity in England, but still, having a dedicated alley for this, in a park in the city center, is really cool.
→ Belgravia neighborhood, situated south of the park, is the perfect example of the English high class, being packed with elegant residences, stylish hotels and fancy stores, like the famous Harrods. Just take a stroll along Brompton Road and be amazed.
→ To the west, you have the beautiful district of Notting Hill, with its well known multicolored houses and Portobello Market, one of the largest antiques markets in the world. This part of the city is great for an early morning walk.
→ Who hasn’t heard of the Buckingham Palace, the Big Ben, Westminster Abbey or the Houses of Parliament? Located in the City of Westminster, relatively close to each other, these major landmarks are true symbols of London. Although touristic and crowded all day long, the area is full of history. Right across the river Thames, you can ride the London Eye and have a beautiful panoramic view of the city.
→ Covent Garden is the perfect location for all shopping lovers. And that’s not even half of it! In this central district, you’ll find the Royal Opera House, many theaters, restaurants or bars, along with unlimited history and culture. Neal’s Yard, a little courtyard named after Thomas Neale, one of the great developers of the city, has become a hotspot in the past years. It’s a nice place to make a stop and have a drink – either a glass of wine or just a coffee.
→ And if Covent Garden isn’t enough for you, then you should check out Soho, one of the main entertainment districts of London. You can shop for fashion on Carnaby Street, enjoy live street performances around Leicester Square, and even travel to China for a few moments, when visiting Chinatown.
→ I’m a big fan of old pubs, and there are tens of cool ones around. You haven’t been to London, without checking at least a couple. So just pick one, and order a pint of beer and a traditional dish, like the fish and chips or an English pie. That’s exactly what I had at The Horniman, a pub located in a former tea warehouse, near the river Thames.
→ It would be a pity to miss the imposing St. Paul’s Cathedral and its 111 m high dome. Well, at least from the outside, since the £18 entrance fee is quite steep, if you ask me.
→ Finally, no trip to London can be completed without a visit to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, the world’s most famous bascule bridge. From here, you will have a great view over the river and the financial district – The Gherkin building, with its unique design, really stands out. And let’s not forget about the tallest building in the EU, the astonishing and futuristic The Shard, standing at 310 meters.
I’ve rarely seen a city so rich in history and landmarks as London. There’s always something going on in this city. The new architecture is brilliantly combined with the old one. The parks and green areas are large and beautiful. The city is buzzing all the time, 24/7. It’s a place where you’ll hardly get bored. But it’s true that all these things come at a price, since London is not a cheap city to visit or to live in.
Author: Marian Bulacu
Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.