I arrived in Ireland on September 5, 2016. I am from India and Ireland is my first foreign destination. Last 3 years, I was unable to tour other countries for various reasons. I had to repay my educational loans (around €25,000), save up for my wedding and when Kavi (my beloved partner in crime, my wife) joined me in Ireland in February 2019, we had to manage with my savings and income for 4 months before she could land at a job remarkably in her first interview here. Not that we didn’t go anywhere in the last few months. In fact, we have traveled to most parts of Ireland on road trips. Yet, a big tour was always on the cards.
So, come December 2019, we believed we had enough savings to embark on a much-deserved vacation and chose London. London, we have heard is a tourist delight, and one of the world’s expensive cities. We spent a week (26th Dec – 1st Jan) and the city was STUNNING. It could be the timing of our visit – the colors, tourists & festive mood (New Year’s eve) – making our trip overwhelmingly positive, yet I strongly believe London would have impressed us anyway.
In this blog, I’ll share our itinerary, where we stayed, what a London Pass is, the places we visited on a day-to-day basis, the food we ate, and I’ll also post some photos we clicked. For each place, we decided to mention the following based on our experience:
- Type (Museum, Gallery, Experience, Guided tour, Icon)
- Rating (on a scale of 10)
- Highlights – what we liked the most
- Caveats – words of caution
Kavi & I retrospected in detail, reviewed our experience place-by-place, rated them individually and debated what we liked or disliked before penning this down. So, let’s get started.
London Pass: For the first 3 days of our tour, we purchased a 3-day London pass online. This is a one-for-all pass that gives you access to London’s 80+ attractions. You could visit any mentioned attraction using this convenient pass for the number of days you purchase. The original price of a 3-day pass was £125 and we secured a 20% discount, thanks to the festive season. So, we paid £109.
Remember, a London Pass might not work for everyone. Not ALL attractions are covered by this pass (the notable exclusions are London Eye & Madame Tussauds), though most important ones are included. So, we’d strongly recommend you draft a list of all places you’d like to visit, calculate the individual ticket price and compare that against the pass to see if you’d save money. In our case, it turned out to be profitable. The individual ticket prices for places we visited is given below:
|Attraction||Adult Ticket Price (£)|
|Tower Bridge Experience||9.8|
|Tower of London||24.7|
|Thames river cruise||19.5|
|The View from The Shard||25|
|St. Paul’s Cathedral||17|
|London Bridge experience||20|
|Shakespeare’s Globe tour||17|
**We saved £87 with our London pass**
Before we proceed, I can’t help but acknowledge the famous London underground or the “Tube”. The London Underground rail network is a great way to travel to and from central London and will be an integral part of most people’s stay in the UK capital. To me, the functioning of this underground transit system is beyond imagination. The complex engineering, meticulous planning and the precise timing of the rails amazed me. This is worthy of a blog on its own, so let’s skip this engineering marvel now. I’d visit London a few more times only to travel on the tubes and play with the maze-like map.
Day 1: Thursday 26, Dec. Arrive in London
2.15 pm – Arrival & Check-in
We flew to London Gatwick (LGW) with Aer Lingus from Dublin and headed straight to Colindale to check-in to The Stay Club where we booked a studio room. The studio consisted of 2 bunk-beds (4 beds), a kitchen area with Microwave, cutleries & pans, refrigerator, cupboards, toilet, and bathroom. The Wi-Fi was fast and uninterrupted. We paid €196 per person for 6 days (reasonable price considering the season) and we’d rate the accommodation between good and excellent for a short stay. It was clean & well-maintained and especially, only meters away from the Colindale Underground Tube station.
7.30 pm – City night walk
After dinner, we got on the Tube to London Bridge station and went for a stroll. We started from London bridge and walked towards the tower bridge; it was love at first sight. The view of the city at night with the lights was eye-catching. If you happen to visit London, we’d strongly recommend that you walk around the city at night along the river Thames and I can promise you’d feel fulfilled.
Day 2: Friday 27, Dec. (London Pass #1)
It was a busy day with a packed schedule. We visited 5 attractions within walkable distance – Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Thames River cruise, HMS Belfast & The View from The Shard. Remember, we bought a 3-day London pass. So, we did not have to pay for any of the attractions (we only chose attractions included in the Pass) for the first 3 days – 27, 28 & 29 Dec.
9.30 am – Tower Bridge Experience: Climb atop the tower bridge and from the high-level walkways take in stunning panoramic views and experience the thrill of seeing London life through the Glass Floor. Read stories about the heroes who have built the bridge, and also see the Victorian Engine room. Personally, we enjoyed the view from the top & the walk on glass-floor more.
|SCORE||7 / 10|
11.00 am – Tower of London: This historic castle is not only the most important set of buildings in Britain but also the most visited of the city’s many tourist attractions. You can see the Crown Jewels, take a legendary Yeoman Warder tour and meet the ravens. It was once a royal palace; had a prison and place of execution; a royal mint and treasure vault; an observatory; and for five centuries, a private zoo.
We did not do the Yeoman warder tours, though we saw a huge gathering around each warder and believe it would be interesting. Give it a try. Sadly, we also could not see the crown jewels – the magnificent world-famous collection of 23,578 gemstones flaunting items that are still used in royal ceremonies today – due to the long queue all the way up to the entrance of the castle.
Highlights: The Ravens. They are burly & look like eagles. The history of the palace and the actors performing live acts.
Caveats: The queue to the famous Crown Jewels seems unending and waiting there would mean you lose time to view other attractions.
|SCORE||7.5 / 10|
1.30 pm – Lunch @ Wagamama: Wagamama is a Japanese restaurant. We tried the Lamb Teriyaki – lamb grilled with thin noodles & Kavi’s favorite Chicken Katsu curry. There’s also my newfound love for Kombucha – a sparkling tea infused with ginger, turmeric, and citrus. The ambiance, buzzing crowd and the service, a pleasant experience.
3.00 pm – Thames River Cruise: Go out and have fun on the River Thames. The cruise is a 90 minute guided tour that runs from Westminster to Greenwich via London Bridge. It offers panoramic views, an open-air deck, a bar and expert commentary from the guides. The boat takes us past many of London’s attractions including the London Eye, Shakespeare’s Globe, Big Ben, Bullet building, The Shard, Shrek’s adventure museum and a lot more. There are 33 bridges across the Tidal Thames, and you cross some – Millennium Footbridge, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, etc. We boarded the cruise from the London Pier, towards Greenwich Pier and returned to London Bridge on the same cruise so we could walk to HMS Belfast after.
Highlights: Our guide was an excellent orator and he kept us hooked for the full 90-minutes with interesting stories & funny anecdotes of some of London’s famous icons.
|SCORE||7 / 10|
|TIME||1.5 – 2 hrs|
4.45 pm – HMS Belfast: HMS is one of our most-liked attractions. It is a warship; the famous Second World War survivor and iconic London landmark. You could journey through the rooms of this ship, climbing up and down ladders to navigate your way around all 9 decks. Get up close to the inner workings of a warship.
It is aptly mentioned the floating city – you get to see everything from a carpentry room, post office, kitchen, laundry place, electrical area, the compass rooms, to captain’s deck. Discover stories of sailors living and working onboard and get exclusive access behind the barriers for the perfect photo opportunity. We were thrilled to learn how warship functions. It is right next to Tower Bridge and we label it as HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Highlights: The ship is built like a city, and it has life-like mannequins adding a unique flavor. You might come out of the tour satisfied learning something new.
Caveats: As you are required to climb up & down the ladders to access different decks of the ship, it might not be advisable for anyone with difficulty in walking.
|SCORE||8 / 10|
|TIME||1 – 1.5 hrs|
7.00 pm – The View from The Shard: The shard resembles the broken nib of a pen. It is a 95-story supertall skyscraper, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, in Southwark, London. There is an open-air Skydeck on level 72 from where you could experience views of London 800 ft above the city. Take in the 360-degree panoramic views of up to 40 miles. There’s also a bar & a thrilling 3D virtual reality experience we didn’t try.
Before getting to the elevators, there’s a chance for you to pose in front of a green-mat and they edit the photo to make you look like you are at the top of The Shard. The editing is highly amateurish.
Highlights: The night-view of the city from the 72nd floor was breathtaking.
Caveat: Another unending queue (we waited 1 hour just to get inside the building). Expect it to be crowded. Also, maybe because of the crowd or the long wait which hyped our curiosity, we did not quite feel surreal at the top. You might feel different, try and let us know.
Day 3: Saturday 28, Dec. (London Pass #2)
This would be another long day involving lots of walking. We visited Westminster Abbey & St. Paul’s Cathedral before proceeding to Leicester Square to indulge in some proper South Indian Cuisine at the acclaimed Saravana Bhavan. Later, we spent the evening in Piccadilly Circus & Chinatown.
10.00 am – Westminster Abbey: Westminster Abbey is a royal church and a World Heritage Site with over a thousand years of history. It has been the coronation church since 1066 and is the resting place of more than 3,000 great Britons. There is quite a lot to be seen here – The lady chapel, The royal tombs, The Quire, etc. among others.
Personally, we felt at peace while in the Abbey and it was worth the wait (look for the QUEUE whining in the caveats below).
Highlights: The architecture, the high ceilings and the atmosphere inside. We suggest you make use of the free audio-guide, the informative content keeps you engaged throughout.
Caveats: QUEUE! WAIT-TIME. The same. We reached as early as 10 am (the abbey opens at 10) and still, had to stand in the cold for over an hour to get inside. Also, photography is prohibited inside the abbey.
|SCORE||8 / 10|
1.00 pm – St. Paul’s Cathedral: Another notable highlight – St Paul’s, with its vast dome, is an iconic feature of the London skyline and known across the world. When you step inside, you can enjoy the sensational interior, walk in the footsteps of royalty and political leaders on the Cathedral floor, and climb the dome to appreciate some of the most spectacular views over London from the Stone and Golden Galleries. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Highlights: The architecture, majestic high ceilings and especially the magnificent view of London city from the top of the cathedral.
Caveats: Again, this involves a lot of climbing up steep stairs and might not be for everyone.
|SCORE||8.5 / 10|
3.30 pm – Lunch @ Saravana Bhavan: We come from Chennai, Tamil Nadu (India). So, it is customary and a no-brainer to eat at Saravana Bhavan – the largest South Indian vegetarian restaurant chain in the world. We chose to go to the Leicester square branch and ordered a sumptuous south Indian Thali. The ambiance was okay, service poor, but the food nevertheless was delectable and soothed our taste buds. If you want to try, I recommend the Saravana Bhavan in East Ham. It is cheaper & better. Yes, of course, we went the day after.
Leicester square (pedestrianized square) is called the beating heart of London’s West End. Filled with theatres, restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops, there’s always something to do 24/7. You can experience the best shows & theatres in the city. Some of the largest children’s stores on the planet make for unforgettable family days-out. Also, there’s the glamour of the casinos, clubs & restaurants. We shopped at the m&m’s, walked around a bit and reached Piccadilly Circus.
Piccadilly Circus is one of London’s most popular tourist destinations, home to the iconic Piccadilly screens and the statue of Eros. The curved building has a series of bright LCD panels for advertisement. We were there by night and recommend it. From there, we walked to Chinatown. It is a neighborhood with restaurants offering authentic Chinese food. Come here to get a flavor of Chinese culture in London. We also tried the renowned Bubblewrap Waffle.
Highlights: There’s something for everyone in Leicester Square. Food, shopping, shows, street performers. If you are in London, this is a MUST.
Bonus to all Sherlock Holmes fans: We didn’t miss clicking a picture outside 221B Baker Street. Most reviewers mentioned the museum itself isn’t great, however, when a photo opportunity beckoned, we grabbed it.
Day 4: Sunday 29, Dec. (London Pass #3)
Last day with our London Pass, we decided to tour the world-famous Tennis attraction: Wimbledon Lawn tennis stadium. Then we also did the London bridge experience tour and Shakespeare’s Globe tour.
10.00 am – Wimbledon Guided tour: Our masterly guide Susan took us on a 90-minute nostalgic tour. We got to see the center court, media center, main press interview rooms, BBC Studio and players’ entrance. Susan also talked about the Wimbledon tournament, recalling incidents from world-famous matches, player-titbits and more. If you are a Tennis fan, this is a place worth all your time. I even got a chance to sit on the chair in the press conference room where legends like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Serena Williams have sat before. I will cherish this moment for a long time to come.
After the guided tour, there’s also a Wimbledon museum worth visiting. Get up close to the Championships Trophies and feel the fabrics of tennis fashions from the Victorian period. There’s also clothing and equipment donated by tennis’ top stars.
Highlights: Susan, our guide. She was witty, friendly & competent. She elevated the whole experience up a notch.
Caveats: This might not suit all types of visitors. If you are not much into sports, give this a miss. There’s a lot of discussion about Tennis, players, matches, and scores.
|SCORE||7.5 / 10|
1.00 pm – London Bridge Experience: Do not confuse this with the bridge itself. This one is supposedly an immersive show to explore 2000 years of London’s gruesome history, in the vaults of the city’s most historic bridge. There’s a narration about the history of the bridge for a good 30 minutes by different performers. Later, we also ventured into a horror tour to come face-to-face with zombies, demons, and monsters in a scare maze.
This was the first & major disappointment of our tour. We waited for a long time to get in and when we did, we didn’t quite enjoy the narration; and the horror experience at the end was ordinary. Neither was it scary, nor entertaining – all this despite honest & sincere effort by the crew. Our heart goes out to them for their earnest attempt, but sadly it quite didn’t work out for us. DISAPPOINTED.
Highlights: The effort by the crew. Immaculately dressed and working in the dark – the performers gave it all.
Caveats: A boring experience. The stories didn’t keep us hooked, and the scare-maze was not scary at all.
This is our personal experience, we’d like to hear your thoughts too. If you’ve been there, let us know what you feel.
3:00 pm – Pizza @ Franco Manca: After the London bridge experience, we suddenly craved for Pizza. So, we walked on the Millennium Bridge all the way towards Franco Manca (Neapolitan Pizzeria) near St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Pizza failed to impress much. It doesn’t hurt to try. Go for it.
4.30 pm – Shakespeare’s Globe Tour: This globe is a replica of the original globe theater in London associated with William Shakespeare. The original was built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s playing company. If the words – theatres, plays & Shakespeare, interest you, this tour is the right choice.
Once again, we were fortunate to get a wonderful guide. She explained how the plays were conducted in olden days, where the audiences sat, how chariots were flown from the top, or how demons appeared from the bottom of the stage. She even talked about the reconstruction process in the 1990s of this replica. Surely, it took us back to the olden years.
Highlights: If you are into theatres and plays, this place would indulge you to a good extent. It is a short tour.
Caveats: This is not for all. Google & read a few sentences about Shakespeare and all his plays briefly; it would help relate to some of the stories during the tour.
|SCORE||7 / 10|
6.30 pm – Tiramisu @ Pompi Soho: Pompi is a dessert cafe serving custom cakes, coffee & gelato, and Tiramisu is their specialty. Their selection of Tiramisu will undeniably delight your palate. They have various flavors like classic, Pistachio, Hazelnut, Banana & chocolate, and even Gluten-free Tiramisu.
Day 5: Monday 30, Dec.
We were done with the London Pass, so we chose the 2 best attractions not included in the Pass – London Eye & Madame Tussauds. We were able to buy a combination ticket on the London Eye website, so we purchased the London Eye & Madame Tussauds tickets together for £40.
11.00 am – London Eye: The Coca-Cola London Eye, the Millennium Wheel, or simply just the London Eye, is a cantilevered observation wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London. This is London’s iconic skyline and a MUST visit. The wheel contains 32 sealed and air-conditioned ovoidal passenger capsules. Get into one of the capsules and enjoy a 360-degree view of London as you go up the Giant wheel. This structure – 135m tall – offers the second-highest viewing point in London, only behind The Shard at 245m.
Just after 15 minutes in the queue, we got our chance to get into a capsule. Each capsule can accommodate up to 25 people. Reminder: Just like The Shard, there’s a green-mat photo opportunity. The tour takes about 30 minutes and from the top, you get wonderful views of London City. You also have a chance to pose for the cameras from your capsule. Unlike the green-mat tragedy, this one is worth a try. Get close to the corner of your capsule and pose. There’s a fair chance you might get it right. (You pay extra for the photos)
After the tour, we went for the 4D experience of the London Eye (included in the ticket). It was another 5 minutes of a fascinating experience. Another attraction HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Caveats: If you go expecting a spine-chilling experience like in the amusement park roller coasters, you’d come out disappointed. This is a slow-moving wheel so expect no adrenaline rush when you go up.
|SCORE||8.5 / 10|
12.30 pm – Madame Tussauds: Where do I start? Madame Tussauds is our TOP RECOMMENDED attraction in London. It is a wax museum in London founded by wax sculptor Marie Tussaud. There are more than 250 lifelike figures of your favorite celebrities, historical figures, as well as popular film and television characters.
The beauty is in the eyes of the
Before entering the museum, I wondered, what could possibly excite me in some wax statues of famous celebrities? Boy, I was wrong. When I saw the level of detailing that’s gone into sculpting each figure, I could not help but stand there spellbound. They are lifelike, they look real. Talk about variety – there are statues of film stars, sports celebrities, Avengers & Star Wars characters, politicians and more.
It doesn’t stop there. Jump into one of London’s iconic black cabs on the ‘Spirit of London’ ride – an exciting journey through the capital’s history. From the comfort of your taxi, witness the historical and cultural events that have shaped London. In the end, another 4D experience with our favorite Avengers characters awaits. It is awesome, don’t miss it.
|SCORE||9 / 10|
|TIME||2 – 2.5 hrs|
3.00 pm – Lunch @ Chipotle Mexican Grill: By the time we came out of the museum we were starving. We tried the Mexican Burrito bowl. The quantity was less compared to our favorite Boojum but no compromises with the quality.
5.00 pm – Mini pancakes & Oxford street shopping: After our lunch, we found a small ad-hoc dessert stall, the board read “Mini pancakes”. Its mini pancakes served with Hot Nutella or white chocolate on top. When we saw how they baked the pancakes and poured molten Nutella on top, we instantly bought it. It was piquant. Here’s a YouTube video of how it’s made. Watch & drool.
Kavi fell so much in love with the pancakes that we would end up buying them for the next 2 days also. The idea was simple: We spot an outlet; we buy a plate of pancakes. The super chef (Kavi) didn’t stop there. Upon coming home, she tried the recipe and nailed it.
After the pancake pleasure, we spent the rest of the evening shopping at Oxford street. There’s a variety of top brands to choose from.
8.00 pm – Dinner @ Saravana Bhavan (East Ham): We HAD to go back to Saravana Bhavan, and this time to the best in London. As said earlier, the service & taste is top quality and it’s a lot cheaper than the Leicester Square branch.
Day 6: Monday 31, Dec.
We were drawing close to the end of our vacation and we didn’t plan a lot for this day other than seeing the Buckingham Palace from outside and roam around Hyde Park. The biggest event had to be the fireworks at 12 midnight.
10.30 am – Buckingham Palace (from outside): Buckingham Palace is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom. Sadly, there was no changing the guard ceremony so we only spent about 30 minutes walking around the palace before walking to Hyde Park.
12.00 pm – Winter Wonderland (Hyde Park): We heard from a friend about the Wonderland but didn’t know its put up at the Hyde Park. While we entered the wonderland we expected to spend around an hour, but would eventually end up spending three hours instead. There were Christmas markets, the world’s tallest transportable Observation Wheel, a new theme ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Magical Ice Kingdom, a Season Ride Pass, Paddington on Ice, jaw-dropping acts in the Circus Megadome, and a lot more. The attraction offered an array of fun rides, activities, and entertainment for visitors of all ages – there really was something for everyone!
Highlights: variety of food & attractions. Clean toilets despite the crowd.
Caveats: The amusement rides are expensive. (You are free to roam around)
|SCORE||8 / 10|
On our way to the V&A museum from Wonderland, we walked past Harrods, a department store located in Knightsbridge, London. The store occupies a 5-acre site and has 330 departments covering 1.1 million square feet of retail space. It is the largest department store in Europe.
4.00 pm – V&A Museum: The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the world’s largest museum of applied and decorative arts and design, as well as sculpture, housing a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects. You could find artifacts from different countries. The museum didn’t engage us apart from some South Indian artifacts (which we could relate to). Honestly, we walked into the museum only for respite from walking. Who knows, on a different day we might have liked it. So, rating this would be unfair.
Highlights: Clean & huge. Variety of artifacts from different parts of the world. FREE. (some exhibitions are ticketed).
Caveats: If you are not a fan of museums and you have other options, avoid this.
11.59 pm – New Year eve fireworks: You would not need an introduction to this. Every year on December 31, @ 12 am The “Big Ben bongs” ring out at midnight and is followed by the UK’s largest annual fireworks display over the Coca-Cola London Eye, presented by the Mayor of London.
Since we didn’t buy the tickets, we had to find alternative spots. We watched the fireworks from near Southwark bridge and the view limited due to the crowd. We highly regret not buying tickets to watch this from close quarters. This is now on our bucket list for next year. Watch the 2019 London fireworks video here.
Day 7: Tuesday 1, Jan 2020.
It’s the new year. First day of 2020 and the last day of our vacation. We checked out of our hotel at 10 am which meant we had to drag our cabin luggage (one each) with us all day. Anyway, we decided to reach Gatwick airport around 5 to catch the 7.20 pm flight to Dublin. So, that left us not much to do. We visited the National Portrait Gallery and Covent Garden.
11.30 am – National Portrait Gallery (NPG): This wasn’t in the plan, in fact, we didn’t know NPG existed. We wanted to see the National Gallery of Ireland but it was closed. Then we discovered NPG is behind the National Gallery building. Thus, the change in plan.
NPG has an extensive collection of portraits of various sitters, portraits, and artists. Around 1,400 portraits are on display at the Gallery in London throughout the year. They are categorized by the year, starting from 1485 up to the 20th Century. Apart from a few famous personalities (particularly from the 20th century), We didn’t know most of the artists or sitters to get deeply invested in the portraits.
Highlights: Free entry.
Caveats: Not a museum/history enthusiast? Try someplace else.
1.00 pm – Covent Garden: This is a shopping and entertainment hub in London’s West End. It is home to fashion stores, craft stalls at the Apple Market, and the Royal Opera House. It’s close to the London Transport Museum, Trafalgar Square, and National Gallery. Covent Garden is an oft-mentioned destination on tourist websites; that’s how we learned about the place too.
We spent about 15 minutes walking around the craft stalls. It actually indulged us to a fair extent. Not every day do you get to see someone selling Fibonacci clocks and explaining how it works. But above all, the highlight was the next 30 minutes we spent watching a street performance by an escapologist. Since the 1660s Covent Garden has seen entertainment by some of London’s best street performers and entertainers.
We saw an escapology act by a Scottish performer. The act itself lasted a mere 2 minutes, but he managed to pull a huge crowd with his funny performance and interaction with the audience. He had us in splits with his witty comments about tourists. We don’t see this every day in our busy lives, so when you are in London don’t miss this action.
Highlights: It undoubtedly had to be the street-performance.
3.00 pm – Lunch @ Melur London: Melur London is a friendly family-run restaurant that serves Malaysian food. We were welcomed by a charming host (an elderly lady); she was enthusiastic and down-to-earth. We ate Squid, Chicken & Rice. The food was delicious, spicy and full of flavor.
So, London done-and-dusted. We bid goodbye to this fascinating city and got back to the airport for our return journey. One thing is certain – we would definitely come back soon. We missed a few places on this trip, but there’s always the next time.
- Kensington palace
- Lord’s cricket tour
- Windsor Castle
- Borough market
- Sky garden
- Camden market
- Royal Observatory Greenwich
- The O2
Ok, I got to stop somewhere. I can’t begin to list all the places, it is never-ending. Simply put, we should probably come back a few more times to absorb all of this. London, see you soon.
I hope you all rejoiced reading about our London trip. Feel free to leave your comments & questions. See ya!
Kavi & Ninja
Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram