Welcome to our Weekend Getaway series! While it’s our preference to discover a country slowly and thoroughly, realistically time often only allows for a long weekend of exploring. Each week we’ll focus on a different city and highlight how to get the most out of a 2-4 day stay. Sometimes we write about the city ourselves, while other times we’ll have awesome guest bloggers giving us the low-down.
If you’re interested in guest blogging on this series, shoot us an email!
Welcome! Tell us a little bit about yourself (don’t be shy), your blog and where you’re currently traveling.
We are Julie and Drew, an American expat couple currently living in London. We started our blog, Drive on the Left, for our parents back when we moved here. But as these things typically go, we got more and more into travelling around Europe, we spent more and more time on the site and now it’s Drew’s full-time job! We are definitely based in London, where we have a flat and where Julie has an employment contract, but we travel a ton, and mostly on the weekends. We’re currently trying to figure out how to visit all of the European countries before our visas run out.
What makes London a good place for a weekend getaway?
For better or worse, London is a very expensive city, which makes a weekend visit more feasible for most people. Many of London’s best known attractions are located in a small area, and you can see Buckingham Palace, Parliament and Westminster Abbey in about 30 minutes. No kidding. London is also easy to get around, has great food, and is basically a must-visit…at least once!
What’s the best way to travel here?
Lots of people fly to London because it is THE central hub of most of Western Europe. You can literally get a direct flight to anywhere. London has five airports, and each airport has some kind of Express train to help get visitors into the city. Alternatively, if you happen to be elsewhere in the UK, or in Paris, you can just jump on the train and come in that way instead.
Public transportation: Is it available in this city, and is it easy to navigate?
London is serviced by a massive subway system (called the Underground, or Tube), which is a quick and easy way to get around. It’s not cheap, however, about $4USD per ride, so make sure you get a weekend pass to help offset some of the cost. Alternatively, the double decker buses are our favorite way to get around, because they’re cheaper ($2.50 or so) and who doesn’t like sitting upstairs on a bus? There are maps everywhere to help figure the bus system out, and if you happen to have a smart phone (that works!) with you, the best app to get around is called CityMapper (it’s free, we adore it
What is the typical cost of a taxi to get from one side of town to the other?
Ouch. Taxis are super duper expensive and this is why: the men and women who drive black cabs are seriously skilled. In order to get a proper black cab license, they must pass a test called ‘The Knowledge’ which is known as being the most difficult test in the world. Basically, they need to know every single street, pub, random park, square, everything in the entire city, by heart. People study for years to take the test. Thus, the resulting cost is quite high, about £25 to get across town (or $40).
There are alternatives, like Uber, which are popular and cheaper, but we mainly stick with public transport or walking around!
Do you have any recommendations on a luxury or boutique hotel in the area?
Ok, we have a single, but amazing, recommendation in this category. Two summers ago, when we were moving here, Julie’s company sent us over to find a place to live. While on the company’s dime, we stayed in an amazing hotel, which we talk about to this day. It’s called the Dorset Square Hotel, and it’s located in an area that is perfect for a weekend visitor. It’s right near two major Tube stops, and is walking distance from a bunch of major attractions. Plus, it’s funky and stylish and has an amazing breakfast.
How about those looking for a more budget friendly option?
Our visitors have had the best luck renting out an apartment (or flat, as they’re called) instead of staying in hotels. We’ve found places on AirBnB, of course, as well as HomeAway and VRBO. Many rentals allow for a weekend only, though some have a three-night minimum. Just check ahead of time.
One of our favorite things to do while exploring a new city is to take part in the outdoors scene. What are some adventure and/or outdoors activities (such as hiking, biking, waterfall rappelling, skiing, skydiving, etc.) to enjoy here?
It’s the middle of the summer in London when the entire city moves outside. We like to picnic in one of London’s many gorgeous parks (Regent’s Park is a favorite, and you can’t go wrong with Hyde Park either). There is also a thriving outdoor movie scene. Basically, rooftops and alleyways turn into makeshift theaters, and on a random evening you can drink a beer, eat a burger and watch ‘Cruel Intentions’ on a beanbag under the stars.
Are there any local entertainment events that we should know about when planning a trip to London (such as South By South West in Austin, a Football match in England, or running with the bulls in Spain)?
Definitely! We love attending Wimbledon each year (in late June, early July), as Drew is a huge tennis fan. Julie also attended a lesser known event called the Henley Regatta, which is a major global rowing event held in a little town called Henley-on-Thames (early July). Basically she had to wear a hat, a dress below her knees and pretend to be a proper lady all day, which was a bit of a fail. An English Premier league match is another major fun local event, with 7 local teams currently in the EPL. The season lasts from August – May, so there are plenty of chances to see a team in action.
Name one phenomenal attraction (museum, monument, etc.) that shouldn’t be skipped and why.
The British Library. It is often overlooked, but a perfect place for a quick visit. It is a functioning library, but has a “treasures” room, broken down into music, literature, historical and religious sections. You can view sheet music written by Beethoven (including crossed out notes), the original handwritten copy of Alice in Wonderland, or a letter written from Michelangelo to his father, informing him that he has completed the Sistine Chapel (“the Pope was pleased” he said). And through September of this year, they have Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the three remaining copies of the Magna Carta on display in a special exhibit. So much history packed into a tiny room.
Where should we go if we want to blend in with the locals?
A local pub is always a good bet. Brits love a good pub, so meeting people and blending in is very easy. Order a pint and if it’s nice weather, take it out to the sidewalk to enjoy it alfresco. Just remember, you don’t need to tip. Leaving money on the bar will definitely make you look like a tourist.
Let’s talk about an important aspect of travel: Food. What are your absolute favorite restaurants in the area?
This is probably the hardest question to answer because there are so many! For Indian, we love Dishoom, which has locations in Leicester Square, Shoreditch and Kings Cross. It’s authentic cuisine in a fun environment and it is not too expensive.
The Dairy in Clapham puts out quality food and for a reasonable price (about £45 for a tasting menu). The homemade bread with bone marrow butter is ridiculous.
Foxlow in Farringdon is meat centric and delicious. The steaks can be pricy, but the fried chicken is on point, and with a few sides, can be split between two people.
Finally, for a splurge, I would say it’s a tie between Clove Club and Gymkhana. Clove Club does tasting menus and does some interesting, modern cuisine, but in a fun, whimsical way without any stuffiness. Gymkhana is a high end Indian spot in posh Mayfair. The food is spectacular and brings the heat. The suckling pig vindaloo there is real deal spicy. It will make you cry at the table.
What’s one local dish you’d recommend someone to try while they’re here?
Fish and Chips. It’s a UK staple and is done very well here. The portions are massive, so it is not a small meal. Sprinkle some salt and vinegar on the chips, splash a little tartar sauce on the fish and your good to go. And don’t order it at a fancy restaurant. Instead, go to a “chippy” for the real, authentic British experience.
We’re from the US where waiters and waitresses make a living solely from tips. What is the tipping etiquette in London?
Tipping is not as essential as it is in the US. In a restaurant, 12.5% service charge is normally included in your bill. The amount will be disclosed on the itemized check. Be careful though, because at some places, it is not added, in which case you can leave around the same percentage in cash. And remember, at pubs, no tipping is necessary for grabbing a drink at the bar.
If we’re craving a night out on the town, what are some cool local spots we should check out?
There is good night life in London. We are not dance club type people, so we tend to stick to bars. We love Ladies & Gents in Kentish Town in North London. It is a tiny cocktail bar, set below street level in refurbished Victorian public restrooms, hence the name. Definitely a unique setting!
We also LOVE Dalston Street Feast. It’s held all summer on Fridays and Saturdays, in an industrial lot which is cobbled together to resemble something like a street food shanty town. There is live music at night, over a dozen vendors selling barbecue to lobster rolls and multiple bars scattered throughout. It’s definitely a fun night out with friends!
Anything we should know about the local culture and customs (so you don’t offend people, or get offended by something!)
On escalators, stand on the right, walk on the left. Standing side-by-side with a friend and blocking traffic walking down will definitely result in some annoyed looks and maybe a comment or two.
Queues, or lines, are also taken seriously. Jumping to the front or trying to skip is almost a crime. Always respect the queue.
What is the currency here and how much would a typical pint of beer cost?
The currency is the Pound Sterling. A typical pint is between £4-5, so a night out can get expensive quick.
Where should we go for the city’s best photo op?
For the best view of the skyline of London, head up to Primrose Hill for a great shot of the modern architecture of the city, including buildings that are lovingly called the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, and the WalkieTalkie.
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Jimmie & Shelly