It’s been a long time hasn’t it? Well we’ve managed to keep the twitter and instagram world’s going but as far as content is concerned we’ve been dropping the ball. Oh well I suppose this is a case of it’s my party right? However, in that time it’s not as if we haven’t been up to anything. Recently, not that recently, we took a trip to the UK (there’s more than one of us writing here in case you haven’t guessed that by now). I’m sure if you’re following us on Instagram or Twitter you were already aware as the pictures were flooding those feeds. Hey pictures are fun right?
I’ve been working on this for some time and there’s so much to cover so I think this is going to be another one of those multi-part posts. I’ll lay out a really simple how we planned our trip here and then we’ll go a little more in depth in a later post this week. I’m not going to go into getting airline tickets and all that crap. I guess I could but there are a million blog posts out there on that and they all basically amount to go to kayak set up reminders, be flexible, blah, blah, blah. You can figure out how to book an airline ticket can’t you? So, here we go. Four things to help you when planning your trip to the UK (according to someone who has been there once and probably doesn’t have a clue).
1. Brainstorming your itinerary:
So, here’s the thing. There are so many places you could visit and if you’re from the states you may or may not have a distorted view of distances on the other side of the pond. But even with a week to spend (which is what I had) you’re not going to get to everything so if you want to make sure that you’re getting the most of your trip do some planning. I am notorious for just winging it on trips so this went against my very nature but I was so glad I did it. There were two key things that helped so much with planning this trip.
First, we just created a google map and started throwing up everything and anything that may be remotely interesting this helped for a number of reasons. Very quickly you begin to see just the sheer volume of things, in London there just begins to be a huge cluster of stars, there are to do and also it makes planning day to day easier because you can see distance relative to each other. So, if I know that I want to go catch breakfast somewhere in the morning and there’s something else that’s close I can take it step by step or if I know of an attraction I want to see I can also know where I can get a drink in between. Having the map was convenient as well for times when the plan fell apart and/or you had more time than you anticipated. If you’re like me and you always have your phone with you it makes it very easy to just pull up your map and see what else might be nearby. If you want to use our map to get you started feel free to take a look here you go.
Second, once I had an idea of all the things I wanted to see by just brainstorming on the map I broke it to a day by day itinerary (just a spreadsheet for every day with travel times between each place). This helped me plan just how much time I had in the day and what I could make it to/the route I would take throughout the day. It also helped me know when it came to places I wanted to eat when I should be making reservations for.
A brief note on reservations: This is a good idea to do. Again being someone who typically likes to wing it I did run into times when I was near something I wanted to check out and sometimes I was able to just walk on in but I also had instances where I tried to just waltz on in and it was impossible. I had not planned to visit the shard, for instance, thought about it but it wasn't as high on my list. I took the elevator up one evening last second and wished I had made reservations. It was a beautiful view but there were no seats to be had. That said I’m going to immediately contradict myself by saying don’t be afraid to try and get a table if you haven’t made reservations. When we left the Shard we went to Roast, where everyone had told me I couldn’t get in without one, and was able to just walk right in. It just depends on when you catch them.
2. You like trains right?
During the first day or two I spent a lot of time walking and taking Uber. That’s fine. I actually loved walking around London and really got to know the city pretty well that way but things got infinitely easier (and cheaper) once I got comfortable with the tube. Getting an oyster card and adding money to it is super easy and once you get an idea of where you coming from and what stops the things you’re looking for are at your life will be so much easier. Don’t get me wrong being able to call an Uber when you need one is also a good option to have and I took advantage of that when I needed to. As I’ll go into in a little more detail in another post I also took the train up to Oxford and leaving from Paddington Station was fairly easy too. That part, if you decide to take advantage of it, is a little different and you should probably get your tickets sooner rather than later as it is cheaper to do it that way but overall the experience was a good one. Rick Steves does have a pretty useful post on trains in the UK here.
3. Figure out if you want a deep dive in a single location or if you want a broader view
For the record I did a bit of a hybrid on this one. Originally I was thinking I was going to go up to Scotland or over to Ireland or down to Paris (Paris is only a three hour train ride that one was a very serious consideration). There were also recommendations from friends to visit Bath or Stonehenge or a number of other places all of which are perfectly good suggestions. You just have to decide what you’re missing to visit one of these places and by the time it came down to it there were a lot of things that I just didn’t want to miss out on. Besides now I have an excuse to go back and spend a week in Paris some time instead of just a quick afternoon and hop back on the train. I did do one side trip because I wanted to at least see a little of the countryside. I took the second day to go up to Oxford and I am happy that I did. It’s a different
view of things and Oxford was very cool all on it’s own. If you’re going to do that though I recommend doing it earlier rather than later. You will have one or two days where you just want to take it easy I’m sure and the longer you wait the less likely you’ll be to want to make a longer trek out.
4. Walking tours are fun
When I did go up to Oxford I did a footprints walking tour. These are free tours and all they ask is that if you enjoyed it you tip your tour guide at the end. I got a couple people telling me not to do it. Mostly one person a very well intentioned old man that worked at Blackwells bookshop. His complaint was that they’re not trained like the paid ones. He almost talked me out of it actually but at the last second I went on over and jumped in with the group. The kid leading the tour was an Oxford student and the tour was pretty basic he was pretty much just taking you on a walk around the town letting you know what was in each building a little simple history of each college, where some of the pubs were things like that. However, by the time the whole thing was done I had a really good idea of how to get around town and was able to give myself a little more in depth tour. It didn’t cost much, it was fun and it helped make the rest of the day really smoot. I highly recommend it. There are a number of other fun walking tours in London too and it’s a good way to meet people while you’re there.
Another good source for walking tours in London here
That's It for Now
Well there you go. Short and sweet like I promised. Or did I promise that? Those four things will help get you started. Is there more? Sure there is. But hey you’re all smart travelers you can figure it out. At least I think you can. I’ll go a little more in depth into the specific places we got to later in the week. Here’s one last recommendation I’ll leave you with though. Mix it up. The great thing about London is the mix of the old and the new. Do both don’t miss out on a great old pub or doing something because it seems too touristy. Go to the tower of London and then go to Camden too. Cram as much as you can in without killing yourself. I believe in you. You can do it.