September is my birthday month, and for my birthday I was able to get a wonderful gift. Finally, I was able to travel solo (sort of). After 20 years, I have never done things by myself, and traveling is one of them. I wasn’t alone per se. I stayed with my sister, who was on a business trip in London. She was there for a week. I decided to catch up with her and do some sightseeing as well.
My sister and I bought a two-day unlimited London pass to save some money on attractions. On the first day of the pass, we did the Hop-on Hop-off Bus as our mode of transport. We were able to see the notable places and attractions across London as we listened to the audio guide for a little historical background. It was nice to sit in the open-top area so you have the best view of all the nice places in London. We decided to finish the whole “red route” of the bus tour after we decided where to head next.
We got off at Tower Bridge and decided to climb up the bridge. Tower Bridge is famously known as London Bridge, which in reality, was not. The London Bridge is a completely different common-looking bridge. You climb the tower either by elevator or by stairs. The stairs offer scenic views but will cost you your energy and legs. We chose to use the lift because we had a whole day of walking ahead of us. When you reach the top, you’ll cross the bridge to go to the other side.
After that, we visited the Tower of London which was just nearby Tower Bridge. We explored the areas included in our passes like the armory, treasury, and crown jewels. We walked back to the Tower Bridge and decided to hang out at the park near the bridge while waiting for our scheduled reservation at the Shard.
Climbing up to the top of the Shard is included in our London passes, but you have to make a reservation beforehand. It was suggested to go up near sunset time for a breathtaking view of London, but slots were quickly filled. We took the 4PM schedule, which was not the ideal time but it’ll do given our situation.
On our second day of using the London Pass, we used the Thames Uber boat as our mode of transport. We explored the town of Greenwich. We spent the whole day in Greenwich. We walked past the massive Greenwich Park and climbed uphill to the Royal Observatory, where we saw the Prime Meridian line.
After walking back down to Greenwich Park, we stopped at the Greenwich Market for lunch. It is a small courtyard located nearby the Royal Naval College. We had some Asian wok with Matcha Latte. After having our fill, we walked our way to the Royal Naval College to check out the amazing Painted Hall. It was a small room but boy, it blew my mind!
After wandering around the college, we went to visit the Maritime Museum and admired some nice old ships. After wandering four floors of ships and sea things, we headed out to see the Cutty Sark before using Uber Boat to head back to Westminster.
We weren’t able to see and do many tours from the London Pass since most of the attractions we liked were closed at that time in observance of the wake of the Queen. Most roads were also blocked and redirected because of it.
While my sister was busy working during the week, I was also busy exploring London by myself. I have made a list of all the things I want to try and see in London. For my first day of solo adventure, I headed straight to King’s Cross Station to check the Platform 3/4 that was in the Harry Potter film. It was a bit of a letdown as the King Cross station was modern, yet there is this platform beside the Harry Potter store that had a long queue for a photo in Platform 3/4. I was told that the Warner Bros Studio tour had the better (and more realistic) version of Platform 3/4.
I headed to Camden and explored the Camden Lock Market. I spent much of my time there while it rained all afternoon. I can compare Camden Lock Market to Bugis Market in Singapore. There were a lot of these independent unique stores and food stalls. As the rain eases, I made my way to Mayfair to check out the infamous “posh villages/streets”. I also did some thrift shopping in the area and saw a lot of good deals.
During my solo adventures, I went to join a lot of free walking tours. I joined the Westminster Abbey tour which was hosted by Free Tours on Foot. It was an interesting tour despite all the roadblocks we had. There was limited access to Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace in preparation for the Queen’s State Funeral. Our guide was very happy to spill all the drama and secrets that surround the Monarchy, which is new for me as I am not in tune with the royalty drama and gossip.
I also joined the London Food tour by See the Sights Tours in the afternoon. We walked around Shoreditch and Brick Lane Market. I tried some nice bagels and wings and had seen some of Banksy’s art spread across Brick Lane.
It was nice to join these walking tours, especially if you are traveling alone and wanted to be immersed in the culture of each town across London. We ended the food tour at the Old Spitalfields Market.
My sister and I attempted to take a peek at Buckingham Palace despite all the fuzz and roadblocks for the State Funeral. It was an impossible mission as there were a lot of people trying to get in and see it as well. We were out of our luck as all entry points were either closed down or clogged with people wanting to pay their respects.
Being a Potterhead, I did not miss signing up for a Harry Potter Walking tour. I booked the Get Your Guide tour and reminisce about the scenes from the movies. As a fan, it was an amazing experience. It was a short tour because most of the Harry Potter movie locations were spread across London, but we were able to cover as much as to send us into a nostalgic mood. Also, the tour guide made it as interesting and fun as well.
Jollibee was on my list as well because it is something that reminded me of my homeland. After my morning walking Potter tour, I had lunch at Jollibee. It was interesting as most of the diners were Filipinos. Yet, the Jollibee menu I tried (chicken joy and spaghetti meal) tasted different, kind of bland as far as I remembered it.
I also booked theater shows during my visit because it was Theatre Week! It means all shows were discounted! Lucky Me! I first watched Mamma Mia. I watched the movie version with Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried in it. My first theater experience was a blast! The amount of nostalgia and discipline (not singing along) I had was surreal.
After watching theater shows, I walked around Covenant Garden Market and shopped a little, and dined out with my sister. Let me tell you, London easily became my ultimate favorite because of the sheer amount of food options you can try. The food scene is so culturally diverse and there is something for everyone’s budget.
I also did the Nottinghill Market and Culture tour from Free Tours on Foot. Their tours and guides were wonderful and I was happy to give a tip despite it being free. I think I was able to cover all the significant places on my list because of these walking tours.
On our last weekend in London, I showed my sister around my favorite places I visited. First, we went to the Victoria & Albert Museum and Nature Museum. The V&A Museum was interesting because the artworks in it were mostly recast, aka a copy of the original piece. They have massive sculptures of famous artworks that I have seen in their original locations. We did not join the tour so we just wandered aimlessly across the museum.
Also included on my list to try was to have an Afternoon tea in London. You see, the British like to take leisure Afternoon Tea breaks. But most of the recommended places cost an arm and leg. We searched for an affordable Afternoon Tea place near Kensington Palace and found The Muffin Man nearby.
I also showed my sister around Portabello Market and walked our way to Paddington and Little Venice. It was a long walking route, but the Portabello Market was super interesting. It was a tiring whole day of walking around. We had a glimpse and learned a thing or two about British culture.
As the night starts, we decided to check out Harrods. It was currently in renovation at that time, but we didn’t miss checking out the luxury brands and interesting British souvenirs and hampers they have. Before heading back, we had dinner at Pasta Evangelists.
Walking Food Tour is also a thing in London where you get to explore their food markets and what they uniquely have to offer. We also booked a Borough Market Food Tour and Maltby Street Food Market from Free Tours on Foot. The Borough Market is something that as a foodie, you have to explore in London. It is the oldest food market and serves almost all the good things London has to offer. We were able to try some fresh local oysters, sausage rolls, and pies. Though the tour was limited to a few stalls in the market, it was sufficient as it was two food markets in one tour.
The Maltby Food Market was less overwhelming than Borough Market. The Maltby Market is in a small alley with notable food options. We tried some duck fries and local gin in the area.
After being full, we attempted to get in the SkyGarden, but the lines were too long and we didn’t have reservations. We just walked around the London Monument and made our way to Leadenhall Market, which was unfortunately already closed. We explored the area and took lots of pictures as it reminded us of the Diagon Alley scene in Harry Potter.
We traveled to Kings Cross Station to check the Harry Potter Platform and store. I decided to get something from the store and regretted not booking the Walter Bros Studio tour to fulfill my Potterhead dreams. We went back to Westminster because my sister was meeting some childhood friends. So I was left to explore Picadilly Square and Carnaby/SOHO by myself while trying to get reservations at two Dishoom locations. Alas, all attempts failed as the lines at Dishoom are incredibly long and reservations are already full for the week.
And with a sick coincidence of events, I was able to experience a monumental event, the Queen’s State funeral. A week before our trip, the Queen died. The death of Queen Elizabeth II, who has been the longest-reigning monarch in British history, was a significant event in the United Kingdom. Her state funeral was a grand and solemn occasion, attended by dignitaries from many countries, as well as members of the British royal family and the public. The funeral was a time for the British people to reflect on her long and accomplished life and the contributions she made to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. A lot of people all over the United Kingdom came together to mourn her loss and pay their respects. And the whole week I was there, I saw how the British people mourned for her. I was fascinated by how the people loved the Queen.
It is one epic birthday celebration that I will surely treasure. I surely can’t stop talking about it.
London was pretty nice and I can’t wait to go back.
Which places should I check out next in London?