I fell in love with London the second I arrived and almost a month later didn’t realise how quickly time had passed and how little of England I actually had the chance to see. Even though I do wish I had explored more I will never take back the incredible moments I experienced in London and the fabulous people that I had met. There is so much to do in London I feel as though a month was only just enough to fully experience everything this fabulous city has to offer.
If you have a little bit of market obsession like I do you can easily spend a couple of weeks exploring the infamous London markets. Try staying at least a week and over two weekends because the best markets do always fall on the weekends.
Camden Market: Overly touristy now days, but still worth having a look at. The food is delicious and those who have been to Asia will notice the similarities in many of the products, though this time they’re ridiculously overpriced. If you wander deep into the markets and get lost among the tacky clothing you will find hidden treasures and other goodies. Souvenirs galore as well as thousands of open air and indoor stalls, each with its own distinctive flavour. You’ll be tempted by the hot food and live music as well as the small pubs in the area. The Camden Market is located on the Camden High Street and open every day of the year except Christmas.
Brick Lane Market: The place to go for your 24-hour bagel shop – don’t let the line freak you out, it’s popular for a reason and worth the wait! These flea markets are ideal for second-hand, vintage and retro everything. There are many different sections to the market and you’ll be hopping in and out of alleyways and old warehouses, but make sure you make it all the way down the end because you’ll pass an indoor food and clothing market set inside the boiler house hall and the food inside is to die for! So many stalls selling quality and well-priced food – the aroma is astonishing. You can find almost anything down Brick Lane from furniture and CDs to fabrics, magazines and electrical equipment. The market is located in Shoreditch and open every Sunday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. but the surrounding shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants are open seven days a week.
Columbia Road Market: Love fresh flowers? Love seeing a bunch of vendors yelling at each other with friendly banter while you see gorgeous colours and enjoying your afternoon beer? Columbia market is small but worth a visit. If you’re living in London or spending time with a friend and actually have the chance to stock up on fresh flowers, this market has it all at a very affordable price. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything, it’s highly amusing to walk down the street and you can enjoy the little surrounding boutiques. Open every Sunday from 8 a.m. until around 3 p.m., located on the East End of Shoreditch and only a short walk from Brick Lane and Spitafields.
Spitafield Market: This market is filled more with arts and crafts, though some shops filled with interiors, original artworks as well as some food, but only a short walk from Brick Lane so worth checking out if you’re in the area. The jewellery is divine and I added too my ring collection in many ways as well. It’s London’s oldest market and also offers regular free events, including lunchtime concerts, festivals, tango classes, fashion shows and much more. The Spitafields Market used too only be open Sunday’s but is now open 7 days a week from 10am until 5pm.
Portobello Market: Are you a fan of the movie Notting Hill? Then you will thoroughly enjoy these beautiful markets, searching for the infamous blue door and book shop. Don’t ask the locals where to find them, they will send you on a wild goose chase just for their amusement. These tourist icons are not hard to find if you do your research before heading to Portobello Road. The markets themselves are fantastic and I could spend an entire day looking around. Check out the second-hand clothing and fresh food as well as old antiques and tourist souvenirs. Keep an eye out for the little bakery stall selling freshly-baked cookies, brownies, donuts and cupcakes, but wait until an hour or so before closing and head back for extremely cheap and delicious goods, plus the owners are simply gorgeous and so friendly. It’s a very short walk from Notting Hill Gate Station and then just follow the crowd! The fashion market and second-hand goods are only out on Saturdays from around 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. but you can find fruit and veg as well as new goods throughout the week.
East End Thrift Store: Not actually a market, but if you’re into vintage and second-hand clothing you will thoroughly enjoy this place! Most items are at ten pounds or less and you can also buy bags to fill with whatever you want for a reasonable price. The East End Thrift Store is located at Unit 1A Assembly Passage, London and open from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Borough Market: Think food, food and more food! Make sure you come on an empty stomach because you won’t be disappointed. Explore with your eyes and not your tummy before you purchase; I had to buy three meals because I couldn’t decide on my favourite! But then you must make sure to leave room for dessert because the bakery section will have you drooling for hours. If you’re being selective on the few markets you can visit because of limited time, please make sure the Borough Market is in your top three! The full market is open Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. It is located right next to London Bridge Station at 8 Southwark Street, London.
Broadway Market: Such a vast range of goods in this fabulous market and people flock there for the organic meat, fruit and vegetables, fresh fish and oysters, cakes, cheeses and fresh bread as well as many stalls filled with vintage clothing and random knick knacks. Walk up and down before deciding on what you want to eat because the second you see the fresh hot food your mouth will salivate and your brain will shut down. The market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and runs from London Fields Park to the Regents Canal. Taking a bus instead of the tube would be your best option.
Netil Market: Tiny little market close to the Broadway market, so it’s worth having a look at if you’re in the area. Beautiful little jewellery and knick knacks, arts and crafts as well as a delicate selection of cakes. While there enjoy a salted caramel thick shake from the Kombi Van. There are usually only about fifteen stalls in total and the idea is to support local designers and independent businesses. The Netil Market is open every Saturday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. at 11-25 Westgate Street, London.
Make it in time to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guards, watch out for pickpockets and zigzag your way through the crowds. Grab a picnic and take a stroll through Hyde Park where you can also enjoy buskers and people watching.
Get geared up for Oxford Street and wear your most comfortable shoes to spend hours pushing people out of your way and bouncing in and out of every store you pass. If you’re in the area and want to check out a lovely suburb go to Hampsteed and stroll through the streets and surrounding suburbs, very beautiful. Take a stroll down stunning Carnaby Street. Enjoy a high tea at Harrods Department store and you’ll understand what the big deal is with the expectations of Harrods – it’s incredible!
There are some great free walking tours in London such as the royal walking tour which takes you to Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Trafalgar square and a bunch of small palaces and parliament buildings. There are many other tours one can take around London such as the old city tour, the grim reaper tour and the Oxford tour but unfortunately they cost money.
If the weather isn’t too good or you’re low on cash, take a trip to M&M world! Though it’s packed with people and screaming children, it’s still fun to run around and look at all the merchandise. You’ll be tempted to buy chocolate from the self-serve section, but I will warn you, they’ve been sitting there for so long the M&M’s have turned stale and not only that, they cost a fortune.
Make sure that while on Oxford Street you take a visit to Selfridges, even if you’re just taking a look at the windows. If you’re from Australia, think the Myer Christmas windows but even more extravagant.
Want to feel like a child? Ignore the little children at Hamley’s and run free! Grab yourself an Oreo or peanut butter thick shake and enjoy the atmosphere and laughter Hamley’s has to offer. A few friends and I spent Halloween running through Hamley’s trying to scare little children – a day well spent.
London’s spectacular range of museums are both affordable and rich in history. Skip the British Museum if you value your sanity. It’s fascinating, but good luck actually seeing anything over the throng of photo-snapping tourists. The Victoria and Albert Museum is the winner. It is as diverse as it is beautiful: exhibitions range from royal portraits to fashion and jewellery and iron works. Sit out in the courtyard and listen to the resident pianist play beautiful tunes. Another stand-out is the London Portrait Gallery. If you’re a history buff, this is for you. We’ve got royals galore, from the Tudors to the hideous official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. Remember that London museums have free Friday night late hours; though some parts of the museums may be closed, it’s perfect for the thrifty traveller.
The weather’s pleasant? Take the journey to Abbey Road and get your typical touristic Beatles photo as you cross the road as well as checking out the Abbey Road Studios. Spend a little money to explore the Tower of London, scene of many a decapitation. Always spring for the audio guide, otherwise you’re staring at old buildings for a few hours. The massive line to see the crown jewels is well worth the wait.
When it comes to grocery shopping in the UK you will notice that there are many supermarkets too choose from, each drastically different in pricing. If you’re staying in the UK for a little while I highly recommend you find a Morrisons supermarket. It’s bigger than anything you will ever find in Australia and the prices are very low and affordable, very worth your while going out of your way too find one if you’re looking to do a weekly shop and want to spend as little money as possible.
Now the part of this blog you’ve all been waiting for… HARRY POTTER STUDIOS! This is a must see and if you’re only in London for a short time please make sure you book in advance to guarantee a ticket! If you’re a Harry Potter freak like me, this will be up there in the top ten most incredible experiences of your life. I can’t even explain how amazing and magical the studios are; I spent the entire time pinching myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Chills ran down my spine and I felt like a child again wandering through this once in a lifetime experience, sipping on my butter beer.
Haven’t fulfilled your entire Harry Potter fan experience? Make your way to Kings Cross Station and have your photo taken at Platform 9 ¾! The official photo will set you back eight quid, but just hand your camera to a fellow Potter enthusiast to bypass the cost.
I was lucky enough to meet many people during both my adventures in Europe whom had moved to London to work and live during their UK working visa and they graciously invited me into their homes for my stay in this brilliant city. Though going off from what others have mentioned to me along my travels there are some brilliant hostels to venture to during your time in London. Let’s be honest though, no matter where you stay in London it’s going to be a little pricey, so best to check out http://www.couchsurfing.org if you will be staying for over a week to save a little of your hard earned cash.
Otherwise any of the St Christopher chain hostels are always incredible, prices start from £18 and they’re known for the clean facilities and lively atmosphere. St Christopher’s has seven hostels located all around the enormous London city so do some research to where you would rather stay in regards to location: www.st-christophers.co.uk. Some hostels also worth having a look at is The Dictionary, a large hostel with squishy rooms and average bathrooms. Though the location is superb in Shoreditch and you do receive a free breakfast of those scrumptious bagels from Brick Lane I mentioned earlier, this hostel just didn’t do it for me. The staff change regularly depending on the travellers cleaning the hostel for free board and I found it very overpriced for what it was, but I have met many people who absolutely loved it. Somewhere I’ve heard great things about is the Generator Hostel, it’s also a large hostel but the facilities are sublime with large spacious rooms, high security and very clean bathrooms. They do have a bar downstairs which is easy to meet people in and the staff are extremely helpful and want you to get the most out of London as possible. Though if I were you I would definitely check out the St Christopher chain of hostels as they seem to offer a much greater experience.
My advice in regards to the Oyster card – your money transport card whilst in the city of London. Depending on how long you’re planning to stay in London it’s worth doing a little research with your Oyster card. They cost £5 for the cards themselves and can easily be purchased and topped up at the main tube stations and many ‘milk bars’ around town. For £30 you have unlimited access to the tube and buses for 7 days and for £20 you have unlimited access to only the buses for 7 days. I preferred to save £10 a week as I stayed in London for almost a month, even though the buses do take a little longer – you’re a traveller, you never have to be anywhere at a certain time! Plus unlike the crowded stuffy tube, you have the chance to sit on top of a double decker bus and see the beautiful city of London. There is also the possibility to top up your Oyster card as you need it, especially if you’re staying less than a week.
Many people will fly directly into Heathrow and take the tube into London city, but that can be expensive so depending on where you’re coming from and how much time you have there are much cheaper ways to make this journey. Many people think the bus is a long and ridiculous way to get to London, but it’s by far the cheapest and like I always say you end up saving on a nights accommodation and you may even be lucky to meet some new friends. Megabus is widely used throughout the UK and by far the cheapest bus company to be travelling with. Sometimes if you’re lucky enough, you may even find fares as low as £1! The prices change drastically throughout the year as the bus company always have special deals, so if you’re not too fussed on when you travel it’s worth jumping on their website every few days to see what they have on offer. Amsterdam, Netherlands to London: £27. Paris, France to London: £35. Brussels, Belgium to London: £25. Edinburgh, Scotland to London: can range from £15 – £30 depending on when you book your bus ticket.
Even though I didn’t end up seeing any more of England, I absolutely fell in love with London. Maybe it was because it reminded me so much of home (Melbourne) or maybe it’s because there is so much to see and do, either way London is such a beautiful place and I really hope you choose to spend a couple of weeks there. Spending almost four weeks in London wasn’t even enough just to appreciate and see everything the city has to offer. I do wish I had explored more of England, as I’ve heard such brilliant things about places like Nottingham and Bristol, but that’s just more reason to come back in a few years and see more of such a fantastic country.