Monday, September 7, 2015

London in a Couple Days: Tips and Tricks

London: the city of double-decker buses, a celebrated monarchy, and rich history. It's a somewhat pricey, but oh so worth it city that can't be missed. Serving as stop two on our sixteen day adventure through Europe, London wowed us with its amazing underground transportation and beautiful, mostly-free-if-you-want, sights. Although we only spent two days in London, we were able to see pretty much everything that we wanted to, without feeling like we missed out. If you've got a day or two to check out London, here are some of our tips and recommendations for making the most of transportation, hotels, and attractions during your stay.

London Eye, Big Ben


When you fly into London, there are five different airports to choose from: Gatwick, Stansted, Heathrow, Luton, and London City. London City is definitely the closest to the heart of London, but flights are often more expensive there. Be prepared to have a 45 plus minute transfer into the city from any other airports, unless you take an express train in (which can be pricey). We flew into London Gatwick on RyanAir for $28 a person. It was a no frills airline where we walked up steps and boarded our plane, but the service and flight were great, especially for the value. Be warned, they have extremely small carry-on allowances and charge quite a bit to check a bag, which is one reason why we only took backpacks for our entire adventure of a trip. They do allow personal items.

From Gatwick, we took easyBus into the city for $7 a person and found it was easy. On our way out, we took the easyBus to London Luton (which was a longer ride) for $6 a person. We took an easyJet flight from Luton to Paris, which cost us $52 a person, not too shabby for a Saturday evening flight as lots of people take weekend "holidays" from London to Paris. I'm so jealous that Europeans can just hop on an easyJet flight and got visit other countries on long weekends, especially when it's cheaper than I can fly from KC to Chicago!


Boy, oh boy, were we super impressed by London's public transportation! Their underground (or "tube" as they call it) was incredibly well run, pretty dang clean, and very efficient. We could get anywhere in the city in a hurry, and everything was well marked. We got an OysterCard with 10 pounds per person pre-loaded, and it was perfect for our two day stay. The card got us around zones 1 and 2 of London, and it maxed out at 6.40 pounds per day in those zones, so we basically got unlimited travel on our first day for less than $10 a person (which is less than our travel pass in Philadelphia cost us!). Once you're in the heart of the city, the OysterCard is definitely a great way to go. It's easy to "top off" or re-load with your credit card, and we only had to do that once on our last travel day. The signature red double decker buses are included on the card, so we were able to ride those around as needed, or even use them as a fun (already paid for) "bus tour" to see the city. 

London Double Decker Bus

WHAT TO SEE AND DO (on a Budget)

In an effort to stay true to our budget, we decided we were only going to pay to visit a couple of sights, and that we would enjoy the others from the outside. Thankfully, the weather cooperated for us and we were able to spend our days walking the city and using our OysterCard. After figuring out that we wanted to see all of the heavy hitters, but only pay to visit two, we used Discount London to book our visit to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre visit and tour, and the Tower of London. 

The Globe Theatre Inside
Even though it's not the original theatre where Shakespeare performed his plays (since that once burnt down), it was still really cool to see the true-to-time-period interior and exterior, as well as the exhibits.
Globe Theatre exterior
Globe Theatre Exterior
The Tower of London was amazing! Crown Jewels, various historical towers, and places where many famous monarchs were executed made for a very interesting experience in a place where you could spend hours and hours. The Beefeaters also give free tours which are very informative and humorous, so don't miss out on those every hour.
Tower of London
The Tower of London
Beefeater Tour
A Beefeater Tour
Of course, you can't miss the big name attractions like Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the London Eye. We saw all of these places and got some really great photos, but didn't spend big bucks to visit or tour all of them. And don't miss the changing of the guard. I'll let you in a secret: they also have guards in front of the Crown Jewels, and there is a "parade" where they do it again late in St. James Park. My suggestion? Take your time getting to the main event, see the Palace but don't wait in line for hours, and then watch it elsewhere for a much better (less crowded) view.
The Changing of the Guard


Sleeping in London is expensive with a capital E. It just so happened that we were going to be in the city on Friday and Saturday night, so we knew it could get a little pricey. We averaged $50 a night or less for our entire 16 day adventure, and our hope was to stay in that range. Thankfully, we had a free Hyatt Rewards Credit Card night to use. We majorly cashed in on it, by using it at the amazing Hyatt Churchill, one of the nicest hotels in London that was worth around $700 a night. We struck gold here, as they had a "platinum member lounge" where we were able to get free snacks and drinks (including wine and alcohol) pretty much whenever we wanted. It made for a great breakfast, and enough of a snack that we didn't have to really eat much elsewhere. Since it was just days before my birthday, we celebrated it there. They left us with a glass of champagne and this sweet treat. Not bad for a place we stayed for free.

I must admit, the night before, we didn't stay anywhere quite so glamorous. Nope. We stayed in a hostel- The Walrus at Waterloo. With 20 other people in the same room. Now before you go crinkling up your nose and such at that, let me tell you it was a nice, very well-run, quiet, and comfortable hostel with free breakfast and lockers. The bathrooms were small and we avoided showering there, but we knew we were coming in at 12:30 am to sleep and get up and go by 7:45 am, so it didn't matter that much to us. Plus it was right around $50 total for us both, so we stayed on budget. If you're going to try a hostel to save money, stay there the night before you head to a bit nicer hotel where you can shower and check in early. It makes it totally doable. 
Big Ben, London
Big Ben
All in all, London was good to us, and it was a place where we felt like we could definitely go back. The city's public transportation system was top notch, there was plenty to see and do, and even thought it's an expensive place to visit, you CAN do it on a budget. Have any places you love to see in London? Questions about travel? Contact me here or let me know in the comments below! Also check out my travel guide on Ireland.



  1. What a great post about London! I have never been there! But reading your post makes me wonder about paying a visit or just take a little time for me there. Thanks for visiting my blog today!


    1. Thank you, Tayrina! It's definitely a place that you should check into. We were just amazing by how great the underground was. Thanks for stopping by as well, loved your blog :)

  2. What a brilliant read and what gorgeous photos! Suz x

    1. Thanks so much, Suz! You are too kind. I love love love how our pictures turned out!!

  3. Hi Kelsie,
    Did you find me on Twinkly Tuesday? I teach about Medieval Times and castles and just visited London for the second time. Nice meeting you today.

    1. Hi Janice! Yes, I did. That is SO awesome that you teach about these topics. My husband also teaches word history and is finding good use for our trip photos :) I enjoyed meeting you as well! Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Ooohh I am SO jealous! I seriously love London but have only been once (ok, I am grateful I've been at all haha) and it's been about 13 years. I remember the Tower of London being super duper entertaining too! And I am really glad you mentioned staying in a hostel. My family stayed in a ton of hostels when we went to Europe and I think a lot of Americans are scared of them but many of them, especially outside of big cities, are really quiet and pretty nice! Or at least a cheap place to get a night's sleep. Definitely worth checking out when a classic hotel is so expensive.

    1. It was GREAT Claire! And agreed, I'm thankful just to have been once. Definitely loved the Tower, and honestly the hostel wasn't too bad! I agree that you can sleep well in them for a decent price, and there's really nothing to fear :) Thanks for stopping by!

  5. These photos are gorgeous and make me seriously want to go back to London. The tube puts American subways to shame! #twinklytuesday

    1. Thank you Meredith! It was a lovely trip and a lovely place. I agree- American subways have nothing on the tube :)


Have a question or comment?