LONDON CHEAT SHEET
- Visa: No for US / Canadian / Australian Citizens for tourist stays less than 90 days + no necessary vaccinations
- Best Time to Travel: Peak season is Spring and Summer from May - August. Instead try March-April, September - December
- Currency: GBP - 1 Pound(£) = $1.52USD / $2.17AUD / $2.03CAD
- Cost of Typical Meal - Inexpensive Pub Meal 10£ and up
- CC friendly: Yes.
- Transportation: Purchase an Oystercard for the Doubledecker bus or the Underground. Cabs are expensive.
- Airports: Heathrow (LHR) and Stansted (STN) with budget airlines flying to Stansted.
- Language: English
- Typical Drink - A Flat White (coffee and milk)
ONGOING RUMOR: British food is terrible.
MY EXPERIENCE: Nope, it was delicious. Continue scrolling down to see more.
FORGET WHAT YOU'VE HEARD,
THE FOOD IS DELICIOUS
London has always been a favorite city of mine due to it's cheeky humor. If anyone grew up watching John Cleese in "FawIty Towers" or "Monty Python" and more recently, anything from Ricky Gervais, you should be well aware of the dry charm that is characteristic of being English. From the moment I landed, the charm was palpable.
There is no better way to start the day, than with a good ol classic English breakfast or "Fry Up". The meal consists of eggs, baked beans, a slice of tomato, ham, mushrooms, toast and hashed browns. There's all sorts of variety, but I reckon you can find a good one in any neighborhood joint.
The Sunday Roast, once a meal reserved for post church dinner is now an all day affair on Sundays. It makes me think of olden days during the Winter while maidens stoked the fire and airily started conversations with, "Tis a cold winter, madam". Most pubs offer Sunday Roast on their menus. This meal includes roast beef or chicken, with Yorkshire Pudding, vegetables, gravy and potatoes.
England is also known for their Indian food, so be sure to try some of that!
WHAT'S A GIRL GOTTA DO TO GET
SOME GOOD DIM SUM AROUND HERE?
My first stop of course, was Chinatown. After more than a month on the road, I was more eager to get my Chinese food fix than a mom trying to fit in on Facebook. So before any major sightseeing was done, I made my way down to London's famous Chinatown to get my Dim Sum fix. Dim Sum, for those of you that don't know, is a traditional Chinese Brunch served "tapas" style. Little old ladies push freshly steamed dishes in carts around the restaurant, and guests simply call them over and pick and choose. It's a lot of fun, filling and cheap to boot.
As we walked through the street, we passed by several restaurants and shops and fell into the typical tourist predicament. How do you find an authentic, delicious and decently priced restaurant in such a touristy neighborhood? For Chinese restaurants, there's always one fail proof option and I find that this advice has worked for me across all the Chinatowns I've visited across the world from NY to SF to London.
Look into the windows of these restaurants. Search for old asian grandmas or entire chinese families eating.
If you only see tourists, leave. If there is a healthy mix, pick up your chopsticks!
Old people have no patience for bad food, so if you see congregations of oldies, then take it as a good sign! After a little saunter gazing through the windows like Oliver Twist, we ended up getting some amazing dim sum at Golden Dragon.
TOURIST FOR A DAY
GET READY FOR SOME SERIOUS WALKING
Start off in Soho, a neighborhood teeming with young professionals. On a good day when London sees sunshine, hordes of people lounge outside in the grass and enjoy a rarity called a "tan" during their lunch breaks. Grab a flat white or tea and enjoy people watching at the Anthony Bourdain recommended, Bar Italia.
Venture onto Carnaby Street for vintage clothing shopping at the many British Pop stores. For all you film buffs, Austin Powers had his flat here! Head on over to both Regent and Oxford Streets for some more contemporary shopping. Not too far off is London's Hyde Park, which is said to be the inspiration that caused Napoleon III to rebuild Paris into the beautiful city we see today. The British Museum is also within walking distance, and houses the Rosetta Stone.
You could also make your way over to the Covent Garden. Formerly a street market for farmers to sell fruits and vegetables, the area surrounding here became a bit of a "red light district" in the 18th century. Today, Covent Garden is a tourist trap, but worth a walk through.
Small shops and vendors sell everything from faux fur jackets to Magic toys!
Make your way over to the National Gallery, and get your panorama shots.
A five minute walk away is The Admiralty Arch, which if you look closely has a NOSE stuck in the concrete. It's rumored that cabbies all over London use this NOSE as a point of central reference. Afterwards make your way to the Duke of Cambridge Statue in front of Whitehall, it made tabloid headlines in 2012, when a naked man climbed to the top of the statue and broke his two front teeth trying to bite the head off.
Finally, you've reached Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings, with the London Eye just further down. The London Eye is a 30 minute ride, costing £19.35 / $29.45USD for a general ticket and £28.35/$43.15USD for a fast track ticket. Lines are long so expect to wait. The walk along the Thames is a beautiful one, studded with street performers, restaurants and views of the city. Take a visit to the SouthBank Centre where events, concerts and festivals are always happening right beneath the London Eye. Stay along the water to catch the sunset.
LIVE LIKE A LOCAL
Visit Islington's Upper Street, for a a wide avenue of shops, restaurants and cafes. The Islington Farmer's Market takes place on Sundays, and you can find a bevy of fruits, vegetables and knick knacks. A man sells Nokia cases from 2003, if you don't go for the food, come at least for the sight seeing. Along the way take a visit to the Camden Passage, a narrow street that turns into an antique market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A mix of assortments will catch your eye here, from buckets of silver spoons, to children's textbooks from the 1800's. If you're here early on the weekend, grab brunch at THE BREAKFAST CLUB, because DUH you have to represent John Hughes in London. For a quick lunch, New Yorkers should grab a burrito at Chilango's and see how it measure's against Chipotle!
THIS CIDER AIN'T FOR SISSIES
Euston Tap Cider Bar is a tiny mausoleum looking building situated outside of a bus stop. The drinks at Euston have some serious brews, order the Troggi Seider and see if it makes your knees weak after a pint. It's a whopping 7.1% alcohol percentage. Across the street is it's sister bar that sells only Beers. Turn it into a game with your friends and order a drink at each bar and run back and forth like a frat bro with low self esteem with something to prove. If you want to have more beers - visit the PorterHouse by Covent Garden.
Take a walk along the Regent's Canal to Camden Market. Locals lounge along the water here during the weekends as canal boats slowly pepper through the canal. Some boats are even for rent, so if you have enough money you can find yourself having a party on a boat. As the walk closes in on The Camden Market, the neighborhood and the people begin to become more and more unique.
M I L L W A L L
GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS IN REAL LIFE
MILLWALL fans have quite the reputation of being the most violent, passionate and somewhat scary fans. The words "Riots", "Fire", "Racist" and "Brawls" usually come to mind when the word MILLWALL is mentioned. If you've seen Green Street Hooligans, you might have an idea.
Apparently the riots were so bad, the stadium had to implement signs that say "NO racism is tolerated" within the walls. Beers are also no longer allowed in the stands, and plastic bottles of Beer must be consumed in waiting areas. Today, the crowds reveal nothing of the 1980's Hooliganism they were known for.
A NIGHT OUT IN HACKNEY
WHAT IS ELECTRO-SWING?
The three makings of a gentrifying and hip neighborhood,
a. Beautiful Street Art
B. Overpriced, restyled classical foods
C. Really inventive and fun bars.
Check out Aeronaut, with an outdoor section designed to look like booths in an old circus, different sections play host to a circus show and stage. At night that section opens up into a dance floor where the DJ plays a variety of mixed beats. This is definitely a local spot and I highly recommend it. If something a little more unique is what you are looking for, then check out Electric Dreams for their rowdy three floor parties filled with Electro Swing music, and live Congolese shows. Artsy, hipstery crowds fill the area and these are definitely places on the outlier to check out.
WHERE I STAYED:
Hackney - I stayed with a friend in this up and coming neighborhood. Try getting an Airbnb in Hackney or Shoreditch, both hip and young neighborhoods.
NEED SOME INSPIRATION:
The Inbetweeners - on Netflix - Hilarious series about 4 British school boys trying to make it through Secondary school.
Fawlty Towers - classic 70's John Cleese