Recently I was lucky enough to grab a few days free and fit in a quick trip to London. Since London has almost become a tradition of mine at this time of year, I thought I’d share some of my favourite spots to go – be it for shopping, coffee, going out at night or just a spot of brunch. London can also be quite an expensive city, (a lesson I learned specifically after leaving my purse on a National Express Bus only hours after arriving) so I’m also going to share some of my favourite ways of saving money in all aspects of your trip you’ll want to plan. Also, as London is such a big city, and I’m much more familiar with certain areas than others, I’ll be focusing on the Soho, Shoreditch and Camden areas primarily but may mention some others.
This post was getting far too long so I’ve decided to divide it into two parts – part one: where to sightsee, shop and stay, and part two: where to go out, eat and go for coffee. I’m also coming from a point of view of advice I’d give someone who’s never been to London, so if you have I hope you find something here you haven’t experienced before.
WHERE TO: SIGHTSEE
This will by no means be a comprehensive guide, as London is so big that I could write a book and it wouldn’t even cover it, it’ll be more of a look at some of my favourite things I’ve experienced there. Some of my trips to London have involved Work Experience and London Fashion Week and have therefore involved being a tourist at night instead of during the day – seeing shows at the West End and exploring Soho at night offered the perfect tourist experience in these instances. Other trips I’ve been a pure tourist the whole time and have had more time to explore museums and areas such as Camden during the day.
By far my favourite thing to do in London is to see a show – the most recent show I saw was The Phantom of the Opera in Her Majesty’s Theatre and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The music gave me goosebumps in almost every song, the actors were amazing and the set and stage were breathtaking. We got our tickets at the TKTS stand in Leicester Square, which allowed us to pay £35 for tickets that had a value of £45. If you don’t mind what you see and want to save money this is the way to go, you can get tickets for as little as £5. However if you want to see a show with a lot of hype that isn’t a permanent West End fixture, buy them online from the show’s own website for the best value.
Shows I’ve seen include Dreamgirls, Aladdin, and Kinky Boots as well as The Lion King in Dublin, but with the West End cast and none of them have disappointed at all. The buildings themselves also add to the experience – they’re all beautiful! If you’re looking to see a show that’s sold out and you didn’t get tickets, such as Hamilton, many of their websites have daily ticket lotteries that you can enter or you can use the Today Tix app to enter front row lotteries for certain shows – still not over winning front row to Dreamgirls but only seeing the email after my time to claim them ran out! Don’t plan your evening around a lottery though because so many people enter these so there are no guarantees.
I’m yet to get to get to the National Theatre – however I’ve heard rave reviews about Cate Blanchett’s current play there, When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other. It is fully sold out, but a certain amount of cheap day tickets go on sale at the box office every day. This one does contain adult themes and violence though, so if you’re with your kids stick with Aladdin!
All of the museums I’ve been to in London have been free, which is such a bonus when it’s such an expensive city. My favourite is definitely the V&A museum, which honestly has exhibitions to suit whatever your interests are. I always love the photography and musical theatre exhibitions, and the fact that they’re always being changed and updated means there’s always something new to see. It’s so big that you won’t be able to see all of it, so when you enter get a map and plan the sections to see so you don’t get overwhelmed! I also love the fashion exhibitions, and seeing how style has changed over the last few hundred years. Other museums to spend an afternoon are the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, both also in the Knightsbridge area, and the British Museum in the Soho area – I’d recommend seeing the mummies in the Egyptian exhibition here.
This one speaks for itself really – its such a nice area to wander around, from Piccadilly Circus, to Leicester Square, to the West End, to China Town. If it’s your first time in London, have a walk around here and just admire the buildings, visit M&M world, the Lego Store, just explore the tourist spots in general – this area has an abundance of them!
Camden is the perfect place to spend an entire afternoon. Whether you’re looking for quirky shops with cool slogan tees, or old school record stores, coffee, food, or just an afternoon out, Camden offers all of this. The street food here is so good – the further into the markets you go, the better the finds in my opinion. Check out the Dr. Marten Store – there’s a really cool hall with Docs signed by members of My Chemical Romance, No Doubt and loads of other musicians and bands. Around the corner is Cyberdog which is like shopping combined with a rave. When you’ve had enough, there’s a really cosy coffee shop across the road here that you can relax in. Honestly, once you reach the markets in Camden you don’t need much guidance – just explore!
Tower Bridge Area
This is also such a nice area to explore, especially if you get a nice day. As well as having Tower Bridge itself to offer, there are really cute market stands, a hidden little marina which makes for a lovely brunch spot at Café Rouge or Côté Brasserie.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour
This one isn’t free, but is very much worth the money. Tickets are around the £40 mark, and if you are or ever have been a Harry Potter fan, you won’t regret it. It’s amazing to see what’s behind the magic and really experience how it all happened. If you are planning to go to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, the one thing I will say is book in advance – when, or even before, you book your flights. It’s currently booked out until April so you really need to book around 3 or 4 months in advance. They also always change the exhibitions so check online what they have on – since I went they introduced the Hogwarts Express, and they have displays relating to the season too. Gringotts is opening in April so that should definitely be worth checking out.
WHERE TO: SHOP
This is something I haven’t been as focused on when I’ve been to London, as I’ve either been working or broke when I’ve been over there. However I have managed to find a few gems, depending on what you’re looking for. If you want a full afternoon hitting the shops hard Oxford Street is the place for you. This is where you have you Topshop, H & M, Gap Store, Miss Selfridge and all of the similar high street fashion stores as well as my personal favourite Kiko Milano for €3.99.
Alternatively if you’d prefer more of a bargain one off shopping experience, Camden Market Stalls are my absolute favourite for this. I’ve found some absolute gems here, such as vinyl records for €5, slogan tees, hoodies and wall prints of iconic art. This is just a tiny sample of what you can find here.
For the ultimate tourist shopping experience, Harrods and Hamleys are what you’re looking for. Both worth a visit, Harrods is a 6 floor luxury department store with halls for everything you can think of, from food, to homeware, to kids toys, to a book store. Especially if it’s raining, it’s the perfect place to pass a few hours and within walking distance from all of the museums in Knightsbridge. Alternatively, Hamleys is the childhood dream of toy stores. Also 6 floors, with displays of different toys, games and magic tricks everywhere from the moment you walk in. You won’t leave without being sold a magic bubbles set or the likes that you didn’t even know you needed in your life, but its definitely something to experience whether you have kids or are a big kid at heart.
WHERE TO: STAY
The final thing I’m going to discuss in this post is what your options are to find accommodation. If you’re trying to save money, a hostel is probably the way to go. I stayed in Wombats which is somewhat near to Shoreditch, and it was definitely good value for money, however the only fault I’d have of it is it was a bit out of the way to get to. It was such a lively hostel though, particularly the bar which had the likes of jenga, beer pong, darts and pool to play. The music played by the bar staff was equally lively, and at one point we were even given a fully choreographed rendition of a song from Sister Act by the girl behind the bar and her friends. Definitely somewhere you could spend a good portion of your night. Hostelworld is a really helpful website if you’re going for this option.
I’ve also stayed in Soho, which was more expensive but much more central and so handy to walk home after a night out. We paid about €300 for a three person apartment for two nights, which wasn’t a bad deal at all for the location. We found this apartment through Airbnb, which is your best bet if you want to stay in a central location – you won’t easily find a hostel around here. You can also find options for apartment rentals on Booking.com.
That’s it for my recommendations of where to sightsee, shop and stay – stay tuned for part two!