Driving to London
Our weekend began late Friday night when we loaded up the car and set off on our road trip to London! It’s amazing how accessible travel in Europe is; rather than catching a flight across the channel, we decided to drive to Calais, Belgium and take the train that goes below the water. I had no idea there was a train that you could load your car on, but it certainly made for an easy journey! The train ride itself was only about 35 minutes, which got us to the UK around midnight. After taking a quick minute to remind ourselves we had to drive on the left side of the road, we set off on the last leg of our journey to London. We encountered our first bump in the road about 10 minutes into the drive- the main highway to get us to the city was completely closed for construction, including all of the on-ramps! However, the GPS was not recognizing this, and kept trying to re-route us back to the same highway anytime we made a wrong turn. The side roads we kept turning down were not well lit, and the fact that we were trying to navigate roundabouts while driving on the opposite side of the road, without any directions, certainly made for a challenging trip to say the least.
After a short while of trying to find the way ourselves and hoping the GPS would provide us with an alternate route, we finally had to enlist the help of Google Maps! Turns out the side road we were on would take us right to London, and in about half the amount of time that the car GPS was telling us it would take. About an hour later and a few more u-turns because of closed roads, we arrived at our AirBnB near Canary Wharf, right in the heart of the financial district. The skyscrapers were all lit up in the late night sky and made for a beautiful arrival, and we were surprised by how peaceful and quiet the area was. We were able to find the apartment quite easily, but it took some adventuring down a bunch of one-way roads for us to find a place to park. Eventually, we were able to unload the car, locate the lock-box to retrieve the key, and get settled in to sleep.
The apartment was perfect! We were located only a 5 minute walk from the South Quay metro station, it had 2 bedrooms with nice comfy beds, and a lovely kitchen and living area. We called it an early night the first night since we were pretty exhausted from the drive, and we wanted to get an early start the next morning.
Good Morning London!
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day (definitely not your typical English weather- we had sun all weekend!) and headed to the South Quay station to take us into the city. At the station, we found the perfect travel solution- it was a day travel pass for all of the metro lines and public transportation, and cost only 12 pounds per person. The ease and comprehensiveness of the London tube system makes traveling around the city so easy- especially since we had a lot of things we wanted to see in one weekend! First on our weekend to-do list was have a full English Breakfast. After getting off at the Oxford Circus tube stop, we were quickly able to find an English pub to fill our bellies, and we were not disappointed!
Even at 10:30 in the morning there were happy families and friend groups sipping on pints with their breakfast, it made for a great atmosphere to start the day!! We all must have been very hungry, seeing as we ate our fried eggs, English muffins, brown beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, and sausage at record speed; we decided we would be happy to eat the delicious English breakfast everyday. We then set off on the short walk to Piccadilly circus to take in the billboards and lights at London’s very own ‘Times Square’. Unfortunately, there was some construction which was in the way of the billboards, so we were not able to fully experience the excitement. We did however get to see the magnificent and detailed entry gate to Chinatown, which was located right next to M&M world (which we also visited). Too bad we were still full from breakfast, because I’m sure there would’ve been plenty of delicious food to indulge in there as well! Definitely on the list for next time!
Our next stop was to Covent Garden, a very lively, market-like area which was full of happy street performers, antique stalls, and little shops. There were a few shops here that we remembered from previous visits to the city, so it was wonderful to be able to return! This was probably one of the nicest things about this trip; we had both been to London before on separate occasions, but the other couple we were traveling with had never been, so we were able to experience the amazing things that London has to offer together, visit old favourites, and still be able to see the touristy highlights! It made for a great combination of experiences! One of my personal favourites at Covent Garden is the tea shop Whittard of Chelsea- they have tasting area where you can sample some of their many teas, they have a huge variety of tea to choose from, and the containers are super unique! Definitely a lovely place to visit when you are in London!
Getting a glimps of the must-see
After exploring some more shops and window shopping some others, we headed off to see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament. We were able to get some great shots of Big Ben and the Tower of London (Big Ben is just the name of the clock) from both sides of the river. The area was very crowded with people and the traditional red double-decker buses, but it certainly did not take away from the detail and beauty of the buildings! We then crossed the river and headed upstream to view the London Eye up close- it really is huge!! We decided not to go for a ride, because the views from the ground are just as spectacular. Once we finished taking in the sights, we figured it was time to find a pub and enjoy a pint for happy hour. We didn’t realize how much of a challenge it would be to find a pub to sit at on a Saturday afternoon, especially when there was a football match on! Luckily we are able to find a small table to sit at in a lively pub, and had a couple of beers and a Pimms to relax from all of the walking. The chips that many of the pub-goers were eating looked delicious, but we decided we would do a bit more touring before going for dinner. When we finished our drinks, we headed to see Tower Bridge. At this point, the few clouds we had in the afternoon had cleared, and there was a beautiful blue sky! The bridge was amazing, and it was the perfect day for a walk along the water! We stopped for another short drink at a pub before going for dinner, mostly because we needed to use the bathroom, but then we figured why not have another pint! We excitedly searched for another pub to have dinner, craving some classic fish and chips. They were absolutely delicious, and the minty mushy peas are the perfect side! After dinner, we thought about checking out some more pubs, but realized we were exhausted from a busy day of sightseeing, so we instead headed back to our AirBnB to relax a bit before bed.
Sunday morning we got an early start and headed towards Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. Although we were quite early to the 11:30 start time, even with a stop for coffee and breakfast to-go, the crowds were huge and we couldn’t get very close to the gate. The music and marching band were lovely to hear as the ceremony began, and eventually we were able to catch a glimpse of the horses and guards marching through the crowds of people. Despite the business, it was nice to see so many people excited for the ceremony, and nice to catch just a little glimpse of the tradition.
We then battled through the crowds of people and proceeded to walk through a lovely park to one of the most expensive shopping areas in London (just to browse of course) and were excited to check out the iconic Harrods! We could not believe how huge the store is- more than 5 floors with a bunch of different wings and departments, you could get lost in there so easily!!! However given how nice it is and everything they have to offer, I think getting lost inside would be okay! Not only is there amazing shopping, but also an oyster bar, cocktail bar, and ice cream sundae shop- definitely something to please everyone! After browsing the expensive shops, we decided to move on to somewhere a little bit more wallet-friendly, and hopped on the tube to Camden town.
It wasn’t surprising that the streets were packed on such a beautiful Sunday afternoon, but it was even more understandable after experiencing the fabulous Camden Lock Market. The market was huge, with so many rows of stalls you could easily get lost! There were many unique shops and handmade items that we had not seen anywhere else during our London travels. With all of the unique crafts and products, it was hard not to want to buy everything. One of the other highlights of the market was the food stall area- there were stalls with cuisines from all over the world, and unique twists on classic foods like mac n’ cheese. But with so many amazing looking food options, choosing what to eat was almost impossible! There were even small bars tucked within the market. We went to a cuban-themed restaurant that had lots of cocktails, coronas, and beers on the menu; we almost felt like we were at the beach!
It was late afternoon by the time we finished our drink, and after walking through a few more shops, we decided it was time to head back to the car and start our journey home. There are so many lovely things to do in London, and I think the list gets longer every time we go. Aside from the main tourist highlights, there are many more markets and hidden gems to be discovered, and more delicious food of course. For that reason, we hope to be able to return again soon!