When I was given the option to take the AIFS flight package and go to London for a two-day pre-orientation, at first I was hesitant. I was so eager to get to Austria and settle into my new home for the next four months — why would I want to lug all of my luggage somewhere else first? Thankfully, I overcame the laziness and decided to sign up for it.
I took a red-eye from New York and landed in London at 6:30 AM GMT with just short of a full three hours of sleep. This comical amount of rest fueled me for an entire day of exploring the city. We were given the freedom to do anything we pleased for the entire day. I had a personal tour guide for my first day there thanks to my boyfriend, who has been studying in London for the past month on his study abroad program.
Here are a few of my personal favorite and obligatory stops from my 36 hours in London.
1. Hyde Park
I recommend starting off your London stopover with a stroll through Hyde Park to get your legs up and moving after being sedentary on the plane ride across the pond. If you are lucky like me, you will get a sunny day in London, which is rare, and be able to people-watch (and dog-watch) all of the Brits in the park. My personal favorite was seeing people roller ski as a form of exercise, which I guess is super popular in London!
2. Borough Market
If you love food, I would definitely say go gorge at one of London’s famous food markets. As it was my first time in London, I ordered my obligatory fish and chips meal that is raved about in the UK. I went for the haddock and a dash of malt vinegar! If fish and chips aren’t your thing, you can pretty much get any food you want — the market is ginormous.
3. British Museum
London is famously known for giving students free admission at most museums, which is helpful because everything else in the city is a little expensive. The British Museum is one of the top rated museums in all of London and, unless you plan on spending multiple days there, you will never be able to get through it all. The exhibits there were incredible and ranged across multiple countries and cultures — definitely artwork and exhibits for everyone!
4. Sky Garden
While I did not have the pleasure of seeing this place myself, I’ve been told that the views are outstanding and the food is impeccable. Just a tip: make a reservation weeks or even months in advance before coming to London. It is almost impossible to make last-minute reservations.
5. Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Eye and Westminster.
AIFS planned a three-hour tour early Saturday morning to give us a full view of the entire city of London and to hit these major attractions. This tour really made me feel like I could actually conquer the city in the short time we were there.
Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, and Westminster Abbey are staples of London. Buckingham Palace was so large (about 750 rooms!). The Queen only stays there Tuesday night through Thursday night (not enough rooms for the rest of the week, I guess). St.Paul’s and Westminster had beautiful architecture and definitely fall under the category of “must sees.”
6. Battersea Pie Gardens
One of the other famous foods of London are meat pies! We went to Battersea Pie Gardens in Covent Garden, which is another attraction with loads of restaurants to pick from. I recommend the minced beef and onion meat pie. As a whole, you definitely will not starve while visiting London.
We were told it would be an hour and a half wait for a table for two at Padella, one of London’s highly rated homemade pasta restaurants in Borough Market, so we decided to stroll through Westminster to find a pub just to get a quick bite to eat. While we actually mapped out another place, we happened to find Bill’s. I give this restaurant 10/10 service, 11/10 food. With specials every night of the week and an elaborate allergy menu for people with those needs, this place was incredible. I recommend the Glow Bowl. It was a nice break from the fried fish and chips and croissants carb-fest I took advantage of the entire time I was in London.
Little tips for London:
- Invest in an Oyster Card for public transportation. London is walkable to an extent, but being able to ride the Tube made getting around London that much easier to explore this insanely large city feel smaller.
- If you get out of the super touristy places the meals become much more affordable, like most big cities.
- When charging your credit or debit card, I recommend always pressing Pounds/Euros. The exchange rate will be a lot better.
- No matter how hard you try, the guards at the palaces will not laugh if you make silly faces at them — but they do like to be entertained by tourists!
- And finally, don’t pass up the opportunity to do the London stopover if you’re given that chance! Lugging my bags to one hotel and back was so worth being able to meet a lot of the other people on my program and experiencing another city before heading to my new home of Salzburg for the next 4 months.