“The man who can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world”
– Oscar Wilde
London is to Europe what New York City is to America; a place where everyone strives to make their dreams come true. London is an absolutely vibrant and buzzing city with incredible technological advancements (contactless credit cards and toilet flushers anyone?), amazing food from all ethnicities, a hip pub culture, and every single accent and language you can possibly think of. Nobody is a minority or majority here, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with (and even adopt a bit of) the sophisticated and classy-sounding British accent.
Just like Seattleites love coffee, Coloradans love biking, and Germans love hiking, London loves indulging in the frequent social activity of imbibing. They drink outside of pubs whilst standing, they drink on lawns when it’s sunny, and they are a highly social culture. Not many people drive in the city because the cost of owning a car is so high, which makes it tough to do day trips on the weekends. Unlike Seattle, which has mountains and water all around, London is fairly land and city-locked, so people tend to stick around for the weekends and hang out in their neighborhoods with friends.
We spent a total of 7 days in London in May 2017 and got really lucky with the weather, which was in the high 20’s C (80’s F) and sunny.
Things to do in London
Where to even begin?! Well, if you’re a foodie like me, then you start at the markets! And there are no shortage of colorful markets all over the city on every day of the week!
Borough Market was my favorite because of the vibe and excellent food stall options. This market is open every day of the week except Sunday. Hours vary but most days they open at 10:00 AM (Saturdays at 8:00 AM). This is an artisan food market with everything ranging from Italian cheese to fish & chips to the best fudge I have ever tasted in my entire life. I may or may not have spent £10 on some fudge to eat over one week (okay, let’s be honest, more like two days; that stuff has a magical disappearing act.) 😉
Even though we walked on average ten kilometers (six+ miles) a day, we seemed to have gained a few pounds in the 7 days we have been here. (Hmm…I’m starting to see the correlation between the £10 spent on fudge.) 😉 London is quite expensive even though the currency exchange rate is the lowest it has been since 1984. (Read through to see our spending analysis at the end of the post.) Especially after coming from Colombia, we were definitely sticker-shocked.
How to Choose the Best Food Stall
The only good answer for this is to sample as much as you can! This market reminded me a bit of Pike Place Market in Seattle where many stalls offer samples of what they are serving. There have got to be well over 40 different ethnic foods here ranging from Egyptian to the Balkans to Mediterranean, British and Colombian. We went with The Gourmet Goat, which serves up Eastern Mediterranean bowls where you select your own salad and meat, halloumi cheese, and/or veggies. For £8 (multiply by 1.3 for current exchange rate to get U.S. Dollars, so approximately $10.40), it was delicious. Here’s a photo of our bowl. That huge pile of white sauce is tzatziki. Let’s not think about the fact that we could have purchased this exact same dish in Colombia with super fresh ingredients for only $3 USD. Oh well, that’s Europe for you.
KERB Camden Market
Camden is another excellent market with lots of food stalls and more artisan shops selling clothing, jewelry and other hand-made goods. This market is quite a bit more touristy, so expect to feel like a sardine as you try to squeeze through crowds, and it would be a good idea to not wear a white shirt (bumper-humans, white shirts and colored sauces don’t mix well).
Here is where you will find the highly anticipated pasta served in a cheese wheel. That’s right, you heard me. P-a-s-t-a i-n a c-h-e-e-s-e w-h-e-e-l. Can we just say it again to get the Pavlovian salivation going? Here it is, my friends:
Located in the hip, young neighborhood of Shoreditch, this market happens every Saturday, followed by a flowers-only market on Sundays.
Side note: Scotch eggs…not a fan.
All museums in London are free with the exception of special exhibitions, which are free to members only. I can’t imagine that even a local will visit all the museums in London throughout their lifetime there are so many! My suggestion is to research what is currently on display as well as what you’re hoping to see, then pick a day and go!
We did this museum over two days because it was so big and overwhelming. It is near in proximity to Borough Market (about a 15-minute walk) right on the waterfront. This museum is thought-provoking and includes many different installations and exhibitions from all over the world. The building was a former power station built in 1947, now converted into ten floors of art. Very recent is the tenth floor observation deck, where admission is free. We found this to be quite funny because you could literally see straight into the apartment building across the way…I’m talking so close that you can make out facial expressions (this must be the new place to go for peeping Toms!) There is even a sign on the viewing deck that says “please respect our neighbours’ privacy.” How about don’t open a public observation deck ten meters from an apartment complex with floor-to-ceiling windows! Poor residents.
Outside the Tate Modern is a sculpture by a Russian artist about moving forward during hard times. The word in English means “ahead”.
Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A as the Brits call it)
Founded in 1852, the V&A Museum houses a permanent collection of over 4 million objects and spans over 5,000 years of human creativity. It contains mixed media and modern exhibits (even as modern as several months ago with the Pussycat Hat during the anti-Trump women’s rally in February.) There are exhibitions of design and development through the ages including jewelry as well as powerful photography documenting political issues. To me the most moving one was a Russian photographer who documented the struggles of refugees migrating to Europe and the rough journey. It was quite emotionally evoking.
*Did you know*
That the Victoria and Albert was the first to build a restaurant inside of a museum? And it sure is beautiful!
While I lived in Seattle, I worked for the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass at the Seattle Center. Dale Chihuly’s work is in over 400 museums worldwide, and one of his gorgeous pieces is here at the Victoria and Albert Museum right at the entrance. His style is very recognizable, and the staff was passionate about and proud of the piece. I don’t blame them!
People sit outside the lovely courtyard which contains a cafe where kids (or adults, no shame) can run through the fountain and lounge on the sides in the sunshine (when there is sun.) I found this photo to be a hilarious juxtaposition of a couple who is embracing the old and the new.
The British Museum is dedicated to history, art and culture. Its permanent collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the entire world, documenting human culture from beginning to modern-day. Established in 1753, The British Museum has been a target of controversy for whether or not museums should be allowed to possess artifacts taken from other countries. I found it to be quite funny that in the ladies room there was written graffiti all over the inside of the door, similar to what you would see in a high school stall. However, instead of curse words and negativity, it was filled with positively bright comments such as “you look lovely today“, “peace begins on your plate. Go vegan“, “you are loved“, and “as a Brit, I apologize for stealing your beautiful artifacts.” I guess if you’re going to vandalize property, make it positive, right?
This was the most striking and jolting artifact in the British Museum. This is a real decayed body.
FREE WALKING TOUR
This was our fourth free walking tour in our six weeks of international travel so far. We did tours in Quito, Bogota and Medellin. As with all “free” tours, you are expected to pay a tip to the guide at the end; they typically suggest an amount, but it’s truly whatever you are comfortable with and can afford. This tour was through a company called London Walking Tours and focused on the people who made London history. The story I found most interesting was Hodge the cat. Let me tell you about Hodge…
Samuel Johnson was a famous London poet and author who created the first dictionary. He was a cat-lover who owned over 15 felines, but Hodge was his favorite and received preferential treatment. Back in the 1700’s, seafood was considered food of the poor in London because it was the most inexpensive and easily-found fare. Back then, it was considered shameful to be seen purchasing oysters because it meant you were poor. You would never want to be caught hosting a dinner and serving oysters (can you imagine?!) Hodge was fed a diet strictly of oysters, and Johnson did not want his servants to be subjected to being seen purchasing oysters, but he wanted his precious Hodge to have his favorite (and only) food, so he went down to the docks to purchase oysters for the cat, himself. He was judged and shunned and many people thought his whole career was over. But Johnson didn’t care. He did it all for Hodge.
Here is a staue of Hodge cat with oysters as a commemoration of the beautiful and treasured feline in front of Johnson’s house.
WALKING AROUND IN LONDON
London is a walking city, easily navigable via double-decker busses and the Tube. However, if you’re not from Australia, it will take you a while to get used to looking right before left when crossing the street. Luckily, there are helpful signs to help you avoid getting hit by a vehicle.
There are all kinds of bikers about everywhere, as London is very biker-friendly. There are also city share bikes that have a green bicycle laser that projects about three meters in front of the bicycle to alert cars that there is a biker approaching.
I mean, I had to…come on, it’s London.
We really lucked out with the weather. We visited in May and temperatures were in the high 20’s (low 80’s F.) and sunny!
It has been said that Seattle is the London of the U.S. After living in Seattle for nearly three years, I would mostly agree with this statement except London is more technologically advanced. One similarity to Seattle is that it rains quite a bit and is gloomy and grey most days of the year. When the sun comes out and sticks around for a while, all the pale Brits are out in full force, occupying every inch of green space in the city. And ice cream…there’s a lot of ice cream. 🙂
WHERE TO EAT
There is no shortage of brilliant food here in London. I’m not a fan of traditional British fare, but there is such a vast variety of different ethnic foods. Here are some of the excellent places we dined:
The Long White Cloud – great for brunch, reasonable prices ££
Bull & Gate – pub with an enormous space, plenty of seating and surprisingly excellent, healthy food (we ordered the aubergine (eggplant) dish). This is a great place to chat for hours with friends, and the pub section is dog-friendly. (There is a fancier section in the back that seats larger parties.) £££
Nkora – adorable cafe in Shoreditch (East London), but locations are around other areas of London. I recommend their mocha, as they grind house-made chocolate chips and fresh coffee beans to make your highly-appreciated cup of chocolate coffee.£
Pizza East – fabulous pizza and home-made lemonade and ginger beer. ££
Bibimbab Cafe – on Museum Street just across from the British Museum. Korean. £
Dark Sugars Chocolate Shop – artisan chocolate. Enough said. ££
LONDON SPENDING ANALYSIS
*Prices are for the two of us. Prices are in USD (U.S. Dollars)
Total spent in 7 days: $693
Average per diem for two people: $99
Conversion rate to U.S. dollars: multiply £1.00 by 1.3
(I.E. £10.00 –> 10 * 1.3 = $13.00 USD)
Categories of Spending:
EATING OUT: $438
TRANSPORTATION: $112 – We purchased the Oyster card for seven days, which gives us unlimited rides on the bus (which are all double-decker closed-roof) and the tube in most zones within downtown London. You can load as you go, as well as receive a refund for whatever you have not used at the end of your time in London. We redeemed our refund at Gatwick Airport on our way to Russia, and received £5.70 each, which went back onto our credit card. I love returned money!
ACCOMMODATION: $0 – We stayed with one of Sasha’s close friends from Boulder who has lived here for 8 years.
MEALS COOKED AT HOME:
NEXT UP: MOSCOW, RUSSIA