The United Kingdom is a place I've only just begun exploring. Comprised of England, Scotland and Wales, the possibilities are endless. There are dense cities, like London, as well as rolling hills and farmlands in the countryside not too far away. Both spectrums are beautiful. Going from the lively hustle and bustle to the serenity outside is magical.
I don't know about you, but as soon as I hear a British accent, I'm mesmerized. There have been studies that Americans immediately find people with British accents to be more trustworthy and wise. It gets me every time. You want what you can't have, right? Maybe it's because the dialect and phrases are so unique to the US? Who knows...
Generally, the UK is rather expensive in comparison to the US. Lodging is very pricey and meals can add up quickly. Being a part of the EU, the UK currency is also the Euro. Remember as you are traveling, that the Euro is quite a bit stronger than the dollar. Again, I suggest to take out some cash, so you can monitor your spending a little better.
Coffee is just a million times better in Europe. Everything about it; the flavor, the aromas, the artistry. Stop at a few of the many cafes and enjoy the ambiance. Pastries and jams are also an essential to your diet. The typical English Breakfast is sunny side up eggs, toast, sausage or bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes and baked beans. There's a whole 'blood sausage/black pudding' thing that I still don't understand. If the concept grosses you out, just don't eat it.
The UK also eats a lot of fried food. Everything comes with 'chips,' aka french fries, and a lot of the seafood dishes are deep fried. Traditional meals are fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd's pie etc. Don't worry, you will still be able to find quite a variety of foods if the traditional meals are not your thing.
I know there's this stigma about the Brits not liking Americans. That's not true! There are so many expats in the UK. Just don't be an asshole and you'll be fine. If you channel your inner traveler and not be a tourist, you will fit right in.
THE GHERKIN OR THE SHARD
London has some amazing spots to get 360 degree views of the city. The Gherkin and the Shard are only two. It is definitely worth a visit to see the sprawling city from end to end. Go during the day for the view. At night you can also grab a cocktail and have a fancy dinner overlooking the city.
The castle of London is a historical tourist hot spot! It was actually the original residence of the royal monarchy, prior to the Buckingham Palace. This beauty is located right beside the River Thames and is a must see detour. It is much larger than it seems from the river walk. Once you venture through the outer walls, you can see her in all her glory. It does get extremely crowded, so try to get there early.
WALK THE RIVER THAMES
Walking right alongside the River Thames, is a highly enjoyable way to explore the city and see quite a bit of its sites. The main section of the walk is called the South Bank. Hop on and off the path as much as you want. You can always pick it back up as you go.
As I've said, I have a lot more to see and do in England. Luckily, we have friends that live in London who inspire our travels. In England itself, I've only really spent time worth noting in the city of London. During our future travels, we intend to explore the countryside and all its beauty.
London is an awesome city. From an aesthetic standpoint, I think London is similar to Boston. Obviously London being the driver of that. London has such a variety of things to see and do. You can explore the heart of downtown and the financial district, as well as its many neighborhoods surrounding. Go from the true city vibes to a more low-key and eclectic feel. Explore the Gardens and visit the royal family at the Buckingham Palace. Tour various museums and the theatre district. Go on the London Eye. Immerse yourself in the wild 'football' culture. Whatever you are in the mood for, you can find.
London has that 'just big enough' feel from a size perspective. Not too big and not too small. It is also very commuter friendly. If you are up for it and have the time, walk where you want to go. Wear good sneakers and explore. You'll see so much more of the city this way and can stop off at anything that piques your interest. You can also rent a bike or scooter if you prefer. The 'Tube,' aka the London Underground, aka the subway, covers the entire city. There are signs and access terminals everywhere with ticket booths. It is the easiest way to get from the airport to the city and around. The tram, which is above ground, is also an option for exploring. Finally, Taxis and Uber are a great idea for late night after a few drinks. If you never have, take a Taxi. They are so much cooler and have that true British feel.
London is great to visit at all times of the year. We've been there both over New Years as well as during the summer. Both seasons have their own perks with lots to do. Around the holidays, London is beautifully decorated with all things Christmas. Lights everywhere, wreaths, trees, faux snow and ornaments galore. The Christmas markets are also very fun and festive. They create a mini villages of decorated huts, which sell gifting items, as well as food and drinks. Concerned about visiting in the winter? It really doesn't get that cold. Just grab your jacket, gloves, a hat and explore around. London is also great in the winter because a lot of restaurants, bars and pubs have cozy fireplaces. Cuddle up by the fire with a great group of friends and a cocktail! What more could you need? Spring/Summer in London is fantastic. Everything is so happy and lively. Neighborhoods and parks are covered in flowers and greenery. Flower shops at every corner with the most beautiful plants you've ever seen. Outdoor dining and cute cafes are on every street. The city is also full of lively outdoor events that warrant a visit.
If you want some tips or 'must dos' from a true local's perspective, I can get you some insight. Shout out to the Regos for their modeling and gorgeous photography skills, which are a million times better than mine :)
Walk over to the Royal Palace. It is a must see for anyone who is slightly intrigued by the royal family. The palace and its gardens are immaculate. Depending on your timing, you get to see the 'Changing of the Guards.' This tradition is cool to see in person, especially after hearing about it your entire life. You obviously can't get too close to the palace. It is fenced in and has quite a lot of security.
RELAX A BIT
IN HYDE PARK
Take a stroll through Hyde Park on your way to and from the palace. It is very large and is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are a few paths you can follow to explore around if you would like. You can also stay on the main walkway, which is the most direct path back into the heart of the city. There are a few small cafes within the park. Grab a coffee or a snack and enjoy the ambiance.
ABBEY AND BIG BEN
When in London, you have to go see the iconic Big Ben clocktower. It still chimes every hour! You can also tour Westminster Abbey right next door, if that is your thing. Across the way is the London Eye. I actually haven't taken a ride on the massive Farris wheel, but you can't miss it from the ground. It is said to have some of the best views of the city from up top.
EXPLORE THE NEIGHBORHOODS
There are many cool neighborhoods in London. Camden is super unique across the board and is definitely worth a visit. Shorditch is lively with tons of bars and restaurants. Soho is known for its day and nightlife. Bond and Oxford streets are your shopping meccas. Honestly, there are too many to list. Decide what kind of vibe you are feeling. You will have many options! Just wonder around and you will cross quite a bit off your list.
VISIT THE MARKETS
Like I said, there a lot of cool markets throughout the city. Some are daily markets and others are only certain times of the year. I love the open-air markets that are located right on the river. They have the perfect setting and are very lively. Each market has a variety of things to offer. Anything from local shops and artisans, to delicious eateries from around the globe. Depending when you arrive, festivals may also be incorporated.
AND BE MERRY
Day life and nightlife are always happening in London. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, happy hour and dinner. You can't go wrong. Find the vibe that works for you. Whether it's ritzy or more chill, you can find it here! Don't forget to stop into a pub on game day to see the Brits get a little rowdy. Have fun and enjoy! There truly is something for everyone in this city. Remember, this is Europe. No one even bats an eye if you have a drink first thing in the morning.
We were in Wales for only two days for a friend's wedding. The countryside was beautiful and truly is as peaceful as it comes. You'll see sheep being herded, in the traditional manner, from pasture to pasture. Enjoy relaxing restaurants that overlook the rolling hills, farmlands and forests.
There are also hundreds of castles in Wales. Some of which have been renovated into resorts. If you would like, you can stay overnight in one of the original rooms. Other castles have tours and offer lunch and dinner, looking over the vast grounds. Overall, it was very pretty, but we did not have much time to explore. We had more exciting things to attend to ; )