1. Eat a Traditional English Meal at a Traditional English Pub
English food always gets a bad rap. People say it's boring and tasteless and there isn't any creativity. What are they talking about? They bake sausage in Yorkshire pudding and call it "Toad in the Hole". And they throw in all their leftovers into one dish and call it "Bubble and Squeak". I'd say that you can't get more creative than that! Although I do have to agree that some British food doesn't excite my taste buds, AUTHENTIC British food is bomb. When you go to London, you've got to try REAL English food. It's the melt-in-your-mouth kind of deliciousness. Try their Fish n Chips obviously, their Bangers n Mash, their Sunday Roast, Toad-in-the-Hole, Shepherd's Pie, and their breakfasts. You haven't had a real breakfast until you've had an English breakfast.
2. Drink Tea
There's no doubt that the British are serious about their tea. They're so serious about it that some tea rooms have timers to tell you exactly when your tea will be perfect. There's an endless amount of tea rooms in London, so have your pick and just soak in the experience. Don't forget: Pinkies up!
3. Have a Pint at a Local Pub
To carry on the whole food and drink theme, have a beer at a local English pub. Just keep in mind that the British like to step out of their offices and directly into a bar or pub after a long hard day of work, so finding a spot to sit might be difficult if you're going around the end of the day. Chances are, you'll be standing outside with your beer (no joke, people order their drinks and then find a place to stand outside when it gets too crowded inside). But the experience of being in a typical London pub is well worth it, you've got to dive into the local culture while you're there.
4. Drink at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
Step 1: Enter The Breakfast Club Restaurant.
Step 2: When the waiter comes to seat you, tell them you're looking for The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town.
Step 3: Follow the waiter to the 70s fridge.
Step 4: Enter fridge.
Step 5: Pick up your socks, because they will have been blown off.
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is a secret underground bar located inside a fridge, inside a fully functioning restaurant. You wouldn't' t even know it existed unless you knew the secret password. Their decor is awesome, their atmosphere is awesome, the experience is awesome. You're gonna want to go here.
5. Typical London (Big Ben, Telephone Booth, Tube Station, Double Decker Buses)
You've got to hit up all the infamous London landmarks. There's THE PERFECT photo op location for your typical London picture: located on Great George Street just west of Big Ben. If you frame it right, you can get a shot of a telephone booth with Big Ben in the background, and if you time it right too, you might just be able to capture a Double Decker bus driving by. Just a heads up: It smells like pee inside the phone booth. Below is a map to show you where to find it.
There's no doubt that Londoners know how to move people. I've never seen anything like their public transport systems and how they can still stay organized when there are THAT many people is beyond me. They've got everything down to a tee, so riding The Tube is definitely something you should experience while you're there. Get an Oyster Card (it's like a travel pass for all your public transportation needs) and JUST GO!
Here's a map to help you find the perfect photo op location. There are tons of red phone booths around but the one circled captures everything perfectly.
6. Westminster Abbey
Sure, you know when you visit London, you're supposed to see Big Ben, The Tower of London, London Eye, St. Paul's Cathedral, etc. But if you're short on time (like we were), Westminster Abbey should still be a priority. The entrance fee is not cheap (at about £20/pp) and you'll have to go early in the morning if you don't want to be pushed through the self-guided tour by the crowd that makes their way into the Abbey later on in the day, but it's SO worth it. From the moment you spot the building, you won't be able to take your eyes off the intricate detail in its design and architecture. Inside, there's so much to look at, to learn, to read, and to feel when you're there. The headset tour walks you through all the public areas of the building and teaches you about historic events that have taken place at Westminster, like royal weddings and coronations; the history of the building; and shows you the burial places of famous historic individuals, like Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. It's hard to explain the feeling you'll get when you visit Westminster Abbey, it's a mixture of sadness, love, awe, and wonder all at the same time. Just take my word for it, the beauty and history of the building is a must see for anyone traveling to London.
Ps. They don't allow photos in Westminster Abbey, so leave your selfie sticks at the hotel for this one!
7. Visit The Rosetta Stone
The British Museum is an impressive museum that draws in hundreds of people each day, but the most impressive artifact that they have is The Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone is basically a giant engraved rock that helped decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics by translating the recording of a decree on March 27th, 196 BC, into 3 languages: Hieroglyphic, Demotic, and Greek. All in all, The Rosetta Stone taught us a lot about Egypt's past. What's cool about its display at The British Museum is that it's the REAL Rosetta Stone on display. A lot of museums today create replicas or copies of ancient and precious artifacts because they're either too delicate or too valuable to store for public viewing, but when you press your nose up against the glass at The British Museum, it's THE real one!
8. See Banksy Tunnel
Banksy is an anonymous English graffiti artist and political activist who is well known for his controversial and sometimes disturbing street art. There's a road in Lambeth, London called Leake Street, but most well known as "Banksy Tunnel", because of a graffiti art event Banksy held here in 2008. Now, the tunnel is painted with loads of graffiti art (not necessarily belonging to Banksy) where graffiti art competitions and events are held frequently. Walking down this tunnel is an event all on its own, so take a walk and enjoy the view!
9. Take a Bike Tour
There's no doubt that there's A TON to see in London. On our recent trip to England, we only managed to squeeze in 2 full days in London, so we tried to do EVERYTHING. Worst idea. We were exhausted, tired, cranky, and worst of all, we couldn't fully enjoy the experiences that were happening. My advice to you: Any time you go somewhere new that's full of amazing things to do, but have little time to do so, pick a few things that you want to do the most. Then do those things fully and take your time. After all, you're on vacation! Plus, you can always go back on another trip and do the things you weren't able to do the first time.
We took a bike tour in the morning of our first day in London, and I have to say, it helped us a lot. Not only was is entertaining and informative, it helped us understand where the major landmarks in the city are and helped with directions for the rest of our time there. If you're looking for an unconventional bike tour company, we went with BrakeAway Bike Tours. They made it a priority to not only take us to some of the major landmarks of the city, like Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, but they made sure to show us some less known places like Benjamin Franklin's house, the World's Smallest Police Station, and the oldest wig shop in London.
A bike tour on your first day in London will help get you set up for the rest of your stay there by showing you what you might want to go back to and see in more detail.
10. Walk Around
Although Londoners like their public transit systems (which they're very good at, might I add), they do A LOT of walking. Which reminds me- make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes with you if you visit. You'll be walking a lot. And when you are walking around, take your time. There's a lot to see, experience, and discover while on foot. Like Covent Garden, for instance. It's a cute little market in a squared off, brick-road area with little winding paths down the sides of buildings and SO MUCH to explore. It's not something you'd be able to explore via public transit.
Most importantly: Pick a few things you want to do and do them fully. DON'T try to do absolutely everything because it's exhausting, stressful and it makes you cranky. Well it made us both cranky anyway. And being cranky on your vacation is no fun. We learned from this and I hope that you can learn from our cranky experiences too.