A Moment of Spontaneity in London: A Travel Diary

It all started one night in 2017 when I called my best friend. I was checking flight prices on a whim, just like how I would check out which dogs were available for adoption or what homes were for sale in the area. I didn’t have any intention of buying, but the flights to London were a lot cheaper than I originally thought. When I called her, the first thing I said was, “do you want to go to London?” And of course, she was all over it. I was half-joking, but when we really started talking about it the more I realized that this was actually feasible. And thus started the planning.

That conversation happened in February, and we were on a plane by the end of April. 

 

April 29, 2017

We had a layover in Keflavik, and while I had been to Iceland the year before with my parents and knew what the climate was like, I was shocked when we got off of the plane to catch our flight to London. When we left my apartment that day, it was 85F in Philadelphia. Because of that, I wore a t-shirt, jeans, and flats knowing that I would also be comfortable in that once we landed in London where it was supposed to be 65F. But, when we got off of the plane in Keflavik, it was 30F, snowing, and icy. Great. Cue me walking (well, sliding), across the tarmac trying to get inside of the building as fast as possible.

Once we arrived in London and got through customs, got on a train, and arrived at our hotel, we freshened up a bit before heading back outside. It was around 3pm at that point, so we had a little bit of time left in the day to get our bearings in this new city. Neither of us slept on the plane the night before, but at that time, we were running on adrenaline and food from Pret a Manger. We wanted to see the sights as soon as we could, even though it felt like 9am to our bodies after pulling an all-nighter. 

Luckily, our hotel was right by St Pancras station, so traveling around London was easy. Our first stop was to Piccadilly Circus. After using the underground to get to our hotel, using it to get to Piccadilly Circus was not difficult, and actually reminded me of how the metro in Washington DC is laid out. When we arrived, we finally took full notice of the double decker buses, red telephone boxes, cars driving on the opposite side of the road, and the pubs. While we had already experienced a little bit of London in getting to our hotel, we were more focused on figuring out where we were going, rather than taking our time to soak everything in. Since that was now behind us, I felt like our vacation had truly started.

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We walked through Trafalgar Square and walked down towards the Thames. On our way to the Thames, we found a cute little park called Whitehall Gardens. The trees and flowers were in full bloom, and almost every bench was taken up by people enjoying the nice day. It was the perfect place to spend an afternoon with a book, if either of us had bothered to bring one.

We had no concept of what day it was. But, when we arrived at Parliament, it was clear what day it was. It was Saturday. And there were people everywhere. We quickly got some photos of Parliament, listened to a bagpiper play Thunderstruck by AC/DC, and walked towards a much less crowded area outside of Westminster Abbey.

We could see something that looked like a courtyard from where we were standing in front of the Abbey. When we walked a little closer, we realized it was a place called Dean’s Yard. There were a few people walking around, so we decided to check it out. It was a small square which lead to a more residential street. We walked around a bit, ogling at the blooming wisteria.

By this time, it was getting close to dinner time and we were both feeling the effects of not sleeping much the night before. As much as we wanted to see as much as we could, our bodies were telling us to stop for the day. After all, this was only our first day in London and we had a few days left. We finished up exploring that area before heading back in the direction of our hotel in search of a meal.

 

April 30, 2017

When we woke up the next morning, I thought back to that nice park we had seen the day before. It was going to be a nice day, we didn’t have any solid plans, and I remembered reading about a used book market that was set up beneath a bridge. I did a search online and found it– the Southbank Centre Book Market under Waterloo Bridge. It wasn’t open for the day yet, so we took our time getting ready and went downstairs to eat breakfast at the hotel.

On our way to the book market, we passed by Parliament again. While it wasn’t as crowded as it was the day before, it was still crowded for being around 10am. We made our way through the crowds and crossed over Westminster Bridge.

When we got to the book market, the vendors were still setting up. We took a look at the books that had already been laid out, but nothing appealed to either of us. At this point, we didn’t have a destination in mind. Neither of us really felt the need to wait in line to go on the London Eye, so we walked along the Queen’s Walk. It was nice not to have a destination or someplace we needed to be at a certain time. We popped into a couple of stores, and even witnessed a sand sculpture contest on the bank of the Thames.

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We crossed back over the river and made our way to Covent Garden. I knew markets were pretty popular in London, so we walked through Jubilee Market and Covert Garden Market, looking at the crafts, the antiques, and goodies. I really loved how this area was a pedestrian only area, and not only that, but the streets were all cobblestone. It felt quaint, even though we were in the middle of London.

Afterwards, we made our way towards Seven Dials. There was only one thing in the area that I wanted to see– Neal’s Yard. After getting a little turned around with all seven roads, we finally found it. We walked down a pretty inconspicuous alley which opened up to colorful buildings. We took a seat on a bench and rested for a little while after our morning of walking. I remember telling my friend that I could have hung out there all day. But, after a rest, we were off again. There was more to see (and it was also lunchtime).

We grabbed some lunch in the theater district before taking a short tube ride to Oxford Circus. And if I thought the area around Parliament was busy… man. Oxford Street was a madhouse. We went into some stores– John Lewis, Liberty, River Island, & Other Stories. At that point, I was snaking my way through the people on the sidewalks, while my friend held onto my backpack. To get away from the crowds, we decided we had enough shopping and went back to our hotel to chill for a couple of hours.

Back at the hotel, we watched episode after episode of Tattoo Fixers, and then realized it was time for dinner. Neither of us felt like going to a sit down restaurant. Really, we both wanted something sweet. I found an ice cream shop that was only a short walk from the hotel, on the other side of Kings Cross.

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We had some great gelato and sorbet for dinner, and then we decided to walk around some more. On the canal that the ice cream shop was next to was a canal boat bookshop! We didn’t go onto the canal boat, but we did admire it from afar.

 

May 1, 2017

One of my must sees while we were in London was the British Museum. I love museums– art museums, science museums, natural history museums, all types. We didn’t want to visit the museum during the weekend since we figured it was going to be crowded, so we waited until Monday.

We got there shortly after the museum opened. I was already in awe with the lobby. The first section we went to was a room called “collecting the world”. There were shelves upon shelves and drawers upon drawers filled with things. I would have been satisfied if that was all the museum was, but there was so much more to see.

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We went through the Americas exhibit before heading upstairs to see the Asian exhibits. After the Asian exhibits were the Egyptian exhibits, and these were probably the exhibits I was most excited about… and apparently everyone else was as well. Once we walked into the mummy exhibit, you couldn’t move. You had to push past people while you hoped to get a glimpse of the mummies. It was a huge bummer since the rest of the museum wasn’t crowded like those exhibits were. The moment we stepped out of the Egyptian exhibits were where the crowds really thinned out.

Both my friend and I really hate crowds like that, so as we were walking around the rest of the exhibits, we had sort of lost interest in the museum entirely. We decided to leave and search for lunch.

I wish it hadn’t been so crowded because I could have easily spent the entire day there roaming through the different galleries and looking at the artifacts. If I ever go back to London, I know this is one place I am definitely going back to.

Once we got lunch, we decided to go to the Sherlock Holmes museum. There was a little bit of a wait for us to get in, but the man who worked at the museum guarding the front entrance was very entertaining. We got a tour of the house and even got jump scared by a couple of mannequins who were standing in some of the rooms.

After we were finished with the museum, we realized we had yet to see Buckingham Palace. So, we hopped on the tube.

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We walked through Green Park to get to Buckingham Palace. As we stood in front of the palace, dark clouds started to roll in. I kept my eye on them for a little while, knowing that there was no place to take cover in the nearby area; there were only parks. As we were walking back towards Green Park station, it started to rain. Hard. There wasn’t much of a point for us to start running since we weren’t near any sort of shelter. I put my hood up and we continued to walk.

When I was originally packing for this trip, I packed a lot of things for the supposedly dreary weather that England was known for. But this was the only time it rained during our trip, and luckily, the rain only lasted for about twenty minutes.

It was only the middle of the afternoon by that point, but we had nothing else on our agenda for the day. Since we had an unsuccessful time on Oxford Street the day before, we decided to check it out again and hoped it was going to be less crowded. (It was).

 

May 2, 2017

This was probably my favorite day in London. We got up a little earlier than usual because we were planning to visit the Tower of London. Everything that I read online said that the ticket lines could get long, so we made sure to get there right as it opened. Not only was I glad we got there early to beat the crowds, but also because it was massive. It wasn’t just the tower like I originally thought, but there was an entire compound behind the walls.

We walked along the top of the walls first, going into each of the towers and seeing how they would have been used back in the day. About half-way around the wall, we saw the Tower’s notorious ravens. Two of them were perched on a railing showing all of their best angles to the crowd. From the wall, we could also see a lot of animal sculptures which depicted the animals who were kept at the tower back in the day– there were elephants, lions, and baboons. Who knew?

After we walked around the wall, we decided to see the Crown Jewels. To get there, we walked through the gree. It was sort of surreal walking through here. With all of the different buildings, it was like we were in a whole separate town. There were also people walking around in period garb which made it feel like you were in the Middle Ages. When we got to the Crown Jewels, there was no line to get in, luckily. We hopped onto the human conveyor belt and ogled at the different gems on the swords, tiaras, and crowns.

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The tower was next on our agenda. There was a sign right outside of the tower that warned people about the number of steps that were inside. We were a little concerned since there aren’t too many places that warn you about the number of steps. But, we decided to go in and I was glad we did. Inside of the tower were displays of armor and weaponry. It was pretty cool.

After we had walked through the tower, we decided to it was time leave. While there hadn’t been a line to get inside to see the crown jewels when we had gone in, the line was now dozens of people deep. Satisfied that we had seen everything, we left and decided to walk to White Chapel to get something to eat for lunch.

Once we refueled, we decided to take the tube to St. Paul’s Cathedral, not only for the cathedral, but for something that we thought was equally as important– the Twinings store. We admired the cathedral before walking the short distance to Twinings.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that we spent a good hour in the store trying to choose teas to bring home. There were so many to choose from– loose teas, bagged teas, fruity teas, floral teas. We ended up buying some teas for ourselves and some teas as gifts to bring home to our friends and families.

 

May 3, 2017

Originally, we had planned our final day for a day trip. We wanted to go to Paris or Bath, but when we woke up, neither of us had the energy. We had done more walking on this trip than I had in years, and I didn’t want to push my body beyond its limits. We didn’t want our last day in London to be a total waste, so I hopped onto the internet and searched for something that we could do. 

There were the obvious things– the Natural History Museum, the Tate Modern, a walk through Hyde Park– but nothing was jumping out at us. Then, I searched for other places within London that we could go to via the underground. Hampstead popped up, which I had seen during my original research into London. It looked like a cute little area with shops, restaurants, and a large park. We decided to give that a try. After walking around London for days, both of us needed a slower pace.

On our way there, we somehow managed to get on the wrong train and ended up heading in the opposite direction. Luckily, it only took a couple of stops for me to notice, before we got off of the train and walked over to the other side of the track to catch the correct train. When we arrived and left the station, we realized we were right in the center of Hampstead. There were restaurants and shops in all directions, so we picked a direction and started walking.

It was approaching lunchtime at that point, so we found a small Italian restaurant and ate there. Afterwards, we continued our meandering journey and went into a few shops and walked through some quiet neighborhoods, pointing out which homes we would love to live in. Once we walked back to the center of town, we decided to walk towards Hampstead Heath which was a large park that was a short distance away.

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We found the edge of the park and started to walk down a wide path which was lined with trees on both sides, allowing the path to be completely shaded. Up ahead, we could see a man stood in front of a painting easel, painting the scene before him. It looked like a scene out of a movie. It was so picturesque. My friend and I were the only ones walking on the path at that time, so we felt like we need to be quiet and maintain the peace.

We continued walking through the park, turning left here, turning right here, hoping to find Parliament Hill to get a great view of London. There were no path markers or maps, so we were hoping we were going the right direction. And finally, we reached an open space. At first, there wasn’t much of a view, and it certainly wasn’t the view of London we were hoping for. But then we started to walk a little more, and we found it. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t as spectacular of a view as I was hoping for, but it was still cool. We walked around the park for a little while longer because we started to make our way back to town.

We wanted our last night to be an early night, so once we got back to town, we took the tube back to our hotel. We needed to get up early the next day for our flight back to the US. I wasn’t ready to go back home and go back to work. I had really enjoyed the trip and the fact that we had gone with the flow and didn’t have a set itinerary. Little did I know that four months later we would be planning our next trip.

 

  1. I was in Long about a year ago but it wasn’t at all as spontaneous as this! I hope to be able to do spontaneous trips like these with my friends soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Travelling spontaneously is so much fun. I have never been to London but would love to make a quick trip. London is always been in my bucket list but I am surely going to visit London once things get better to normal

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love spontaneous trips. Looks like you had 6 wonderful days of touring London. I am planning on visiting London, probably next year.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so in love with London. I am French, but I live in Los Angeles, which I love. But when I was in Paris, one of my favorite weekend gateways was London: the people, the building, the culture, I loved it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We’ve been to London every year for about 5 years now. Each time we find new things to do. I suggest Tower bridge tour, Catch a show, Covent Garden, V&A, science museum, Hyde park… oh so much to see!

    Liked by 1 person

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