How to Prepare and What to See for a Quick, First Trip to London, England.

{for the nitty gritty tips, scroll to the bottom of post}

A few weeks ago, I tagged along with my husband, Ryan, on a road trip to a small film festival in Ft. Worth, Texas. It was a quick getaway, just the two of us, to provide us the chance to spend a little time together and acquaint me with his “peeps” in the film industry. Oh, and for a little bed jumping.

Well….on the road trip back home we stopped at a gas station. I went to the bathroom while Ryan pumped gas in the car, and as I was walking back to the car Ryan yelled, “Want to go to London?” He had JUST received an invitation to a film festival in London. So, we decided to go to London and left two weeks later. #becausethatishowweroll

We had never traveled internationally before (we had only gone out the country via cruises) and, of course, had not never been to Europe. Basically, we had no idea what we were doing.

Here are a few highlights from our trip, as well as some things we learned along our journey (because we were total NEWBS).

Did I mention that were were only visiting for 3 days? Yeah, that too.

THE TUBE.

Before we left for London, we asked our friends and family a few questions about London and everyone kept talking about the Tube (subway system). The Tube this, the Tube that. So much talk about the Tube.

The Tube in London, England

I was totally sold on the Tube from the start, but Ryan was very hesitant and originally wanted to *gasp* RENT A CAR INSTEAD. Somehow I talked him out of it and I’m SO GLAD I did. The Tube was easy to tackle and extremely inexpensive. Plus, if we hadn’t been using the tube, we would have never ran into Deep Roy. OMG, so random!

Deep Roy on London Tube

What is EVEN MORE random? Ryan has just meet Deep Roy on a panel at Supercon in MIAMI, Florida a few weeks prior. QUIT FOLLOWING US, DEEP ROY!

More info on the Tube in the “nitty gritty” section at the bottom of this post.

The Shard in London, England.

THE SHARD.

The Shard is hard to miss in London. It’s a, well, shard-like building that is 87 stories tall that allows visitors to travel all the way to the top to take in the view. Since we were only in London for 3 full days, The Shard offered a great way to see the entire city at once in an amazingly unique way.

View from The Shard in London, England.

View from The Shard in London, England.

View from The Shard in London, England.

View from The Shard in London, England.

View from The Shard in London, England.

I’m so glad that this was one of the first touristy stops we made in London. Not only was it beautiful and stunning, but it helped us get our bearings of the city, too.

WESTMINSTER ABBEY & BIG BEN

Did you know that Westminter Abbey and Big Ben are practically next door to each other? This surely made our sightseeing a bit easier! All we did was jump on the Tube and headed to Westminster. You’ll also see the London Eye in Westminster, too.

Westiminster in London, England

Big Ben in London, England

Big Ben in London, England

Westminster Abbey in London, England

Westminster Abbey in London, England

Westminster Abbey in London, England

Westminster Abbey in London, England

Westminster Abbey in London, England

Westminster Abbey in London, England

Westminster Abbey in London, England

BUCKINGHAM PALACE & ST. JAMES’S PARK

As I said, we only had 3 days in London and part of that time was spent at the film festival, so we tried to see as many of the obvious sights as possible. Our last stop was to Buckingham Palace, with a walk through St. James’s Park afterwards.

Buckingham Palace in London, England

Buckingham Palace in London, England

Buckingham Palace in London, England

Buckingham Palace in London, England

St. James's Park in London, England

St. James's Park in London, England

St. James's Park in London, England

FOOD

We had a variety of food while in London, and as you may suspect, fish and chips was on the menu most every time.

Most of what we ate was pretty yummy, but almost always needed salt and pepper (cue Gordan Ramsay). An English thing, perhaps?

Fish & Chips in London, England

Fish & Chips in London, England

Most fish and chip dishes were served with beans or mashed peas. Again, an English thing!

I REALLY loved the chicken Caeasar salad at Muriel’s Kitchen.

spaghetti bolognese from the GoodFare Italian Cafe

And this spaghetti bolognese from the GoodFare Italian Cafe was AMAZING. The best I have ever had.

Minstrels, a popular English chocolate candy, was just “meh” for me. I’d rather have good ‘ol American M&M’s.

English steak and chips

Steak from the Marriott hotel wasn’t too shabby.

Peroni beer

This Peroni beer was practically everywhere we went. It wasn’t bad!

London Starbucks

Oh, and Starbucks. Because duh.

tips for your first trip to london.

NITTY GRITTY TIPS

So…heading to London for the first time yourself? Here is a quick list of what NOT to forget before leaving and when you arrive.

  • Passport. Yes, you will need a passport, so take care of this ASAP. Leaving in a couple of weeks? Get a passport rushed. It costs a little more, but you gotta have it.

note: Did you know that you can own two passports at once? Yup, a 10-year and a 2-year. Why would you need two? Well, in my case, I had to send in my 10-year passport for a visa application to India (this trip will be announced soon!), which left me with no passport to fly to London. So000, I applied for a second, 2-year passport in order to travel to London. Now I have two! 

  • Currency. You’ll need pounds to spend money in London, so take care of this at your bank before you go to make life easier. You can also use an airport exchange center (but, lines and higher fees) or any ATM machine in London to pull out pounds (just remember your PIN number before you go).
  • Alert Your Bank. I am usually horrible at doing this before leaving for a trip, but it’s a great thing to remember. If you do use your debit or credit card while traveling internationally, you want to make sure that your bank(s) have your account(s) flagged so that they don’t suspect fraud or a security breech. The last thing you need on your lovely vacation is a debit/credit card that will not work when you need it to.
  • Cell Phone Plan. If you plan on using your smartphone or cell phone as you do at home, call your service provider and add a small international plan before leaving. Plans are usually pretty affordable (I think I paid $50 or so for additional data and minutes) and you will be glad you did it. Of course, when you have wifi available to you, always use that first.
  • LONG Flight. If you are not accustomed to long international travel flights, and I certainly wasn’t before this trip, let me be the first to tell you that these long flights are a little rough in the economy section.
    • If flying overnight, try to sleep as much as possible. For our 8-hour flight from Chicago to London, my husband and I took an over-the-counter sleeping pill right after taking off to help us sleep during the flight. If sleeping pills aren’t your thing, you could also try melatonin.
    • It also helps to bring a travel pillow and fleece travel blanket. Even though most flights will include a pillow and blanket, they are usually not the fluffiest of pillows or the warmest of blankets.

note: Sitting by the window makes it much easier to sleep, but it is COLD. If you are cold-natured, you will definitely want to bring your own fleece travel blanket.

    • I also recommend a travel sleep mask (this particular one includes ear plugs, too!), which I REALLY wish I had remembered myself.

note: I know that all of these sleeping suggestions may seem like overkill, but if you are in an economy seat that does not fully recline, you need all the help you can get!

    • Your long flight *should* include a meal, which *should* be delivered shortly after take-off, so make sure you eat first before settling in for sleep. If you miss the meal due to sleeping, you may not get a hot meal later.

note: The airline (United) food wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. There was only one meal – lunch on the return flight – where I didn’t eat the sandwich because it wasn’t appetizing (VERY salty pretzel bread). 

    • Even if you do get some shuteye on the flight, you will probably still arrive in London feeling tired and jet lagged. Work some rest time into your first day schedule because you will need it to push through the rest of your trip.
  • Customs. Each time you enter a new country, you will be forced to go through customs. It sounds scarier than it really is. All you do is present your travel documents (a form that the airline will give you before you land & your passport), answer any questions you are asked (like why you are visiting, how long you are staying, etc.) and send your carry-on luggage and items (and YOU) through security. If you checked luggage, you may need to run those through security as well if you are catching a connecting flight (we brought carry-on luggage only).
  • Transportation. When the Tube is available, take the Tube. Take the train if you have farther to travel. You will save A LOT of money doing so and it’s just as fast as taking a cab (but FAR cheaper), or in some cases, faster. We were staying WAY southwest near the airport and could still take the Tube all the way into the heart of the city (about a 45 minute ride). Also, this inexpensive London Mapguide was SO helpful for us and included a Tube map AND city map. It was also small enough to fit into my purse.

note: To make public transportation ever easier, grab an “Oyster” card and fill it up at the kiosks in the stations (they are everywhere in the stations, can’t miss ’em). You can pay with pounds or credit/debit card. Again, remember to alert your bank before traveling internationally.

Have questions that I didn’t include in this post? Please leave a comment! To see more moments from my trip, look up #AmyTakesLondon on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Happy traveling! xoxoxoxo Amy

*This trip was not sponsored in any way. This post does include a few affiliate links. All photography was taken by Amy Bellgardt or Ryan Bellgardt and is property of Mom Spark Media.