Heading To London? Here's The Tea On Everything You Need To Know About This Historic City

Cheerio, luv! Shall we stroll to St. James’ Park or smell the roses at Kensington Palace Gardens, then take afternoon tea? We shall!

By Anna Hugoboom6 min read
Pexels/Wesley Davi

It’s easy to romanticize places like England, especially if you’re a history buff or a literature fan of authors like Jane Austen, J.R.R Tolkien, J.K Rowling, or Beatrix Potter. And although England has its faults like any other place, it definitely has a ton of historic and natural beauty. There is so much to see and do! 

London is not just Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. It is indeed expensive, crowded during tourist season, and has its unsafe areas, but it remains an iconic city to explore (at least once in your life), especially if you hit the town when the weather is “obliging.” 

I had always been curious about London and had heard mixed reviews, so I decided to hop over to see it for myself when the opportunity presented. I stayed for a week in mid-July, which ended up being a nice mix of cheery, cool, and sunny weather and moody, drizzling rain. I met some locals and connected with other international travelers. Between my own experience in the city and tips from others, I collected a fair bit of info on the mysteries of one of the most popular cities in the world.

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What To Bring

I was able to get around the city just fine using my Visa credit card, instead of converting USD to British currency (though it’s fun to feel the jingle of coined pounds and pence). Even with transportation, you can use your credit card to “tap and go” instead of buying a ticket for the train (above-ground or underground) or bus. When exploring shops, souvenir spots, and outdoor markets, most vendors and checkouts have credit card readers. But if you choose to keep some change on you, you can order the currency ahead of time with your bank or exchange it at the airport or train station when you arrive.

Be careful of where you keep your money though. The best way to carry your valuables like your passport and credit card is in a travel pouch or passport wallet you can wear under your clothes or inside your jacket. You can keep your smaller cash/coins and camera in a crossbody purse or belt bag (I bought a belt bag from TJ Maxx that looked identical to the Lululemon bag, and there are also some cute ones on Amazon). If you go this route, make sure to stick with waterproof options. It’s London, England, so you simply have to embrace the fact that it will rain at some point. Needless to say, a travel umbrella is a must-have. 

Bring your street smarts and pay attention to your surroundings. As a young woman, it’s not the safest idea to roam the city solo unless you’re familiar with it and stay in safe areas (definitely avoid walking out alone at night). If you were able to pack pepper spray in your carry-on suitcase, it’d be a good idea to keep it in your purse for quick access if you walk out for dinner in the evening. And it never hurts to brush up on some self-defense skills before traveling.

What To Wear

Speaking of walking, break in your cutest walking shoes before your trip! I used these Dr. Scholl’s white platform sneakers with orthopedic arch support, and they’re now my favorite shoes! They’re super comfy, very cute, matched with all my outfits, and lasted really well over days of walking. They’re worth the price, which is pretty reasonable considering they’re orthopedic shoes.

If you plan on doing any hiking outside the city or day trips out to a national park, don't forget to pack a pair of Chacos or your favorite hiking shoes that are waterproof and durable.

Since I went in the peak of summer, I packed a few summer floral dresses, a black dress, a white denim jacket, and beige linen pants I wore with a short-sleeve white top from TJ Maxx. Check out these linen pants from Old Navy or these 100% European linen pants from Quince. It gets chilly in the mornings and evenings, especially when it rains, so you want to have some light layers. I was also recommended to bring a classic trench coat, like this one from Nordstrom, J.Crew, or Gap. A trench coat is undeniably a great investment buy for a capsule wardrobe, no matter where you are.

Where To Stay

Some of the most charming (and safer) areas to stay in London are Richmond, Chelsea, Mayfair, Covent Garden, Notting Hill, South Kensington, and Belgravia (pricey but beautiful). Westminster Borough, Liverpool St., and Leicester Square stations are the areas with the highest crime rates, so be careful when walking there if need be and avoid them at night. Try to plan your trip with a friend or two and use your street smarts while walking around.

Check out for affordable yet comfortable and historic stays! Personally, I prefer to Airbnb because it also includes hotels and bed ‘n’ breakfast stays. Airbnb often slips expensive cleaning fees into the final price, which ends up costing much more than the initial offer, plus it doesn’t include breakfast.

Sights To See

When you’re living the tourist life, of course, you want to see the main attractions (popular places are popular for a reason). But don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path and immerse yourself into the culture when you can – if you have time to burn, just wander and see what you find! 

However, if you’re on a schedule and want to make the most of your time with multiple tours, you can buy a London Pass (see options here). There are options for indoor tours of monumental buildings, as well as activities like a hop-on-hop-off bus tour and boat ride on the River Thames. At some point, be sure to ride the top front seat (second level) on one of the red buses – it’s quite the experience and gives a fun view of the city, like a much cheaper drive-by tour. And it’s a set rate (like one pound) per hour, so if you use multiple buses to get somewhere within an hour, you don’t have to pay for each one. 

Some popular sites that are free to enter or publicly visible include the following:

  • Big Ben: Visit the outside for an Instagrammable London picture.

  • Natural History Museum: Requires a free ticket. Book ahead of time here.

  • Victoria & Albert Museum: Free to walk in, and there’s also a dining parlor where you can enjoy afternoon tea.

  • Harrods: Even if you just want to window shop or try on dresses for fun, you can feel like Blair Waldorf while you stroll through the famous department store (it also has a lavish food court inside).

  • The Sky Garden: Also known as the Walkie Talkie, this features London’s highest public garden. You need to reserve your free ticket far in advance. 

  • Westminster Cathedral: A beautiful Catholic church, different than Westminster Abbey.

  • All the parks are free to roam: Hyde Park, Kensington Park, the Queen’s Rose Garden, and St. James’s Park near Buckingham Palace. You can even rent a bike to ride around.

  • You can watch the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 10:45 a.m. (around 45 minutes). Go early to get a central spot, either next to the main front gate or opposite the main gate on the Victoria Memorial steps. Be ready for a swarm of tourist cameras once the iconic ceremony starts.

Some main sites that charge for entrance or require tickets include the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, inside tours of Buckingham Palace (but only on certain days), London Eye Ferris wheel, and the Tower of London. If you’re a literature buff, you can visit the Marshalsea Prison in south London, where Charles Dicken’s father was imprisoned for debt and where Amy Dorrit from Little Dorrit grew up. 

Where To Eat

Obviously, stop and treat yourself to a spread of English Afternoon Tea with scones! You can have tea in the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Park Room, or the Kensington Hotel. If you’re willing to treat yourself to a splurge, try Corinthia London's tea house or The Ritz London. See here for more options and varied prices. Beware, it’s London, which means it will be pricey, and the English Afternoon Tea is quite the hyped experience, so be ready to consider this…an experience.

A very pretty and aesthetic spot is the Peggy Porschen café-bakery, where you can also make reservations for afternoon tea. It has a very feminine, Barbie-fun ambiance, though is a bit overpriced, in my opinion. 

One of the most highly aesthetic and Instagram-famous cafes is EL&N London. Be sure to wear a cute and girly outfit for your visit to capture some Pinterest-worthy pictures! If you've been obsessed with all things Barbie-related this past year, this is the spot for you.

A popular destination for delicious and healthy food is Farm Girl, known as one of the best local brunch cafes and is located in Notting Hill, South Kensington, and Soho. Try the house-invented Rose Latte or Lavender Latte – delicious! 

Right across from Harrods in Knightsbridge (also next to an EL&N), I stopped by the Carpo coffee shop for my favorite, a chai tea latte – it was one of the best I’ve ever had. The chocolate-nut sweets and truffles were drool-worthy, and the barista was very generous with the samples (our favorite kind of place). 

There’s also the famous Sherlock Holmes pub in Northumberland Street. Definitely a must-see!

There are plenty of rooftop bars if you’re okay with paying a premium. And remember, you can always grab some food from a local outdoor market and set up a whimsical picnic in one of the parks! This is a much more economical and creative option than always eating in restaurants. There are also a ton of grocery stores like Planet Organic, Whole Foods, M&S (Marks and Spencer), and Tesco. These stores have gluten/lactose-free food options if you're looking for something tailored to your dietary needs. Grab some smoked salmon or poultry, some goat chèvre/local cheese, some tea scones, fruit, and a beverage (or get a latte to-go somewhere). Even if you forget a blanket, set up shop on a park bench, and voilà, you are set for a dream tea! See if you can find some pretty flowers to grab on the way to add the last touch to your picnic setting. London has plenty of darling flower stalls and shops.

Day Trips

London is lovely and has more than enough to see, but if you’re in the area for an extended vacation, then you may want to plan a day trip to get out of the busy city and see some of England’s variety. Luckily, public transport makes it easy to hop out of the city via bus and train. Use the Trainline app and check your Maps app for options (and don’t be afraid to ask for help with directions – you’ll never see those people again, and it saves you from possibly taking the wrong bus).

Easy day trips include:

  • Bath, where Jane Austen once lived and regularly referred to in multiple novels. If you go in September, you can attend the annual Jane Austen Festival, where everyone is dressed in Regency outfits!

  • The Cotswolds, which has a charming village setting filled with picturesque spots all over. Perfect place for a picnic near a stone bridge and bubbling brook!

  • Oxford/Cambridge – visit either or both of these lovely, historic cities and see the famous colleges! In Oxford, you can visit the Eagle & Child Pub, where authors J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to meet to brainstorm writing ideas. 

  • Although it’s a longer train ride up north, York is a special place and one you don’t want to miss! It’s a very doable day trip. I left Victoria Station around 9 a.m. and returned around 8 p.m. after a full day of touring. York is one of England’s oldest cities, dating back to the Middle Ages with King Richard the Lionheart. The historic street, The Shambles, is one of York’s most famous landmarks and one of the most well-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe. It features cobblestoned streets with overhanging shops and small, medieval buildings – it makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into the legends of Robin Hood. A theatrical center, you’ll often hear singers busking in the town square.

  • Dover/Eastbourne/Brighton: Hop down south to see the cliffs! You can see the famous white cliffs of Dover, or the bigger-but-less-known Seven Sisters, a series of chalk sea cliffs that are part of the beautiful South Downs National Park. These are amazing to see, and you get a nice countryside getaway from the city busyness of London.

Closing Thoughts

If you appreciate city vibes, adding London to your travel bucket list is a must! It’s filled with rich history, delectable food, and culture you'll find nowhere else. It’s just like visiting a place like New York City – there are ups and downs, traffic and crowds, but if you plan your time well, then the possibilities are endless!

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