I was about halfway through my B.F.A in film production when I felt like I was totally losing my mind and losing perspective. My work was dragging and my personal life was an awful rut of mundane scriptswriting, uninspired photography, and watching too much Netflix with my cat. What’s a girl to do in all that boredom? Hop on a plane to London of course! I packed my camera, dropped my cat off with my sister, and just went for it. For the record, my friends told me I was absolutely insane for running off all alone as a petite little 20something, but the only scary part was my dyslexia getting me lost in the airport.
Travel was life experience, something I desperately needed to bring some creative insight back into my work. It was a whim and I spent the holidays alone, but I had the time of my life. I also spent some time with my aunt in Portsmouth but London was the experience.
With a very long list of things to do, the adventure began. The first thing I had to do was find a place to stay. I cannot recommend the hostel I chose enough! I stayed at Travel Joy which is right above The King William IV pub. There were a couple of room options from 12 person mixed gender rooms to private rooms. I opted for the 6 person girls only room which was 14 pounds a night. It included sheets, towels (one of my biggest criteria) and breakfast. Dear god that breakfast was delicious! Full array and made to order omelets were down in the bar every morning. Plus, their chef from when I ordered dinner was great. Everyone that worked there was my age, international 20somethings that were experiencing new cultures too! The hostel also had a lot of specials, including discounted pub crawls. Transportation was great too, the bus stop was right outside, the coach station was only a 20 minute walk, and the underground was about six blocks down the street.
The first thing I did was find a tour. I went with “The Original Tour” which is a bus that you can hop on and off and comes with an audio guide. Yes, it’s one of those famous double-decker buses! I picked an open top one, which was great until it rained. My plan was to ride the tour to see the city with a map in hand to mark down all the places I wanted to go. The audio guide points out most major places and gives you descriptions, plus I got a feel of how far apart things were. From there, I picked out a rough sketch of what parts of the city I would go to each day.
One of the first tourist attractions I went to was King’s Cross station. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, my entire generation grew up with it. I got my picture taken at platform 9 3/4. If you have your own camera or smartphone, you can get your picture taken for free, Hogwarts scarf and all! If you don’t the professionals there will take it and sell you the prints at the Harry Potter shop. That themed shop has tons of Harry Potter stuff that you can only get there. I made sure to stock up on my Slytherin wear.
Make sure you take a walk down Oxford street. Any big brand store you can think of is there and those stores are huge! You can find major designers from Apple to Burberry and it feels quite similar to NYC’s Time Square. My personal favorite stop is the Burberry store, it’s got incredible architecture.
My favorite place in London was Camden Town. It’s a street market dedicated to the quirky and funky side of the culture. I usually walked there from the bus stop at King’s Cross, but there’s a tube station there which I took back to hostel in the evenings. It was a 25 minute walk down a river looking at beautiful graffiti along the way. Part of Camden is actually underground. The food variety there was absolutely amazing! Vendors fill the streets selling their wares at really great prices. It was heaven for my broke college student self to get gifts and souvenirs. Everywhere I looked was something new and exciting since a good bit of Camden is dedicated to alternative fashion. I found a store that went underground that was completely dedicated to raves and another that was filled with Victorian style fashion.
On one of my trips to Camden Town, I fond myself lost in an underground tunnel where I stumbled across a really wonderful tea house. It was so much more affordable than the ones in the middle of the city and I met some really great street performers. The vibe of Camden is happy and welcoming, I still keep in touch with those guys from the tea house.
Another location I made sure to go to was Harrod’s, a luxury store in the heart of London. Being someone that works in photography, I absolutely had to go. Thanks to my status as a majorly underemployed student, I couldn’t actually afford anything in Harrod’s besides a milkshake and a clutch from the gift shop. That’s right, it’s a giant store that has it’s own gift shop! That milkshake also cost about $15 and was pretty much the cheapest food I could find in there. Yes, it was the best milkshake I’ve ever had. Even if you’re not into shopping, I strongly recommend Harrod’s if only to appreciate the beauty of everything from the sparkling jewelry counters to the stunning architecture in the themed areas.
There was an entire two days dedicated to the museums. Thankfully, they’re mostly all located along the same street. It was a fabulous day of not spending any money since the museums are all free to enter. My personal favorite was the Victoria & Albert museum, which is full of decorative arts and a lot of historical pieces. There’s such a huge difference between seeing Ralphael paintings on the internet and their massive glory in person. It really does take a few days to get through the museums so schedule accordingly or pick out what interests you the most.
In my opinion, the London Eye Ferris Wheel was overrated. I saw the huge line outside of it and gave up. Instead, I took a photo of it and then went to the nearest pub for a glass of cider. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but it was fine because London had some amazing hard ciders. My personal favorites were Bulmer’s and Crazy Goat. Bulmer’s come in a few flavors, I really liked the berry one. Crazy Goat was my absolute favorite and I miss it, it’s a pear cider. Definitely try it!
Overall, London is full of life and was an incredible adventure. I had some amazing food, saw things I would never see anywhere else, and made friends along the way. Something absolutely key in such a large and busy city is to make a plan. Don’t just aimlessly wander around, at least decide which part to wander around in.
My two last notes about London:
Always, always, ALWAYS have an umbrella with you. No matter what the sky looks like, it will eventually rain.
And DO NOT leave London without trying some Devon Cream scones and tea. That melt in your mouth goodness is a piece of heaven.
Natalya Pobedova is a nomad backpacker from beautiful Brno Czech Republic. She is 27 and makes her living as a freelance web developer to support her traveling needs. She runs Travelsiders, a low-costers flight search website for backpackers, as a hobby. She dreams of visiting Brazil and speak Portuguese fluently. She’s been to 14 countries already and most of them are European.
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