Julie Travels: London

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s a busy weekend for me, and I’m looking forward to a nice mix of work and fun! Today, I’m sharing all about my time in London with my Girl Scout troop.

London was our last stop on our great adventure, and it was the perfect place to end our trip. If you missed my previous posts about our time in Italy and Paris, be sure to check those out – we had a great time in both those places too!

So, in similar format to my other #julietravels posts, here are the details on where we stayed, where we ate, and what we did!

We took the Eurostar from Paris to London, and it was great. This was my second Eurostar trip, and I just think it’s so cool that this high speed train can get you between the two spots in three hours, and it’s also pretty cool that you travel under the English Channel. One thing I didn’t love was that most of our seats were facing backwards (insert queasy face here!), so if you ever take the Eurostar, I highly recommend you make sure the seats you choose are facing forward, if you need that sort of thing like I do.

Where we stayed

We arrived in London and we were greeted by chilly temps and rainy weather, which made us Seattleites feel right at home. After a quick ride on the tube (that’s what they call the subway), we made our way to Belsize Park, the neighborhood of Pax Lodge.

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Pax Lodge is one of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS for short) World Centres. There are five of these centres all over the world (London, Switzerland, Mexico, India, and Africa), and they provide sleeping accommodations and Girl Scout programming to Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from everywhere. They are open to non-Girl Scout/Guide members too, so it’s a perfect option if you’re looking for hostel style lodging.

I love Pax Lodge because it’s inexpensive, very clean, super safe, and in the cutest little neighborhood in London.

Where we ate

We were fortunate to eat at several great restaurants in London! I actually would consider all of them a hit!

Gourmet Burger Kitchen: this place was amazing! They had vegan, vegetarian, and meat burgers plus so many topping options, so our entire group was very happy with this meal. This is a U.K. chain, but it has a small neighborhood vibe so it feels like a little local joint. Highly recommend this option!!

Admiralty Pub: OMG YUM! We ate at this pub during our royal bike tour (more on that below), and it was so amazing! This definitely wasn’t a great choice for our vegan travelers, but we planned ahead and got them lunch from Pret (U.K. chain that now has some US locations – also a great spot!), so they were happy. I split a pie sampler and it was so so good! I love trying samplers, because then you get to taste a little bit of everything and this one did not disappoint.

Harrod’s Food Hall: Harrod’s is an amazing place in the department store portion alone, and the food hall is like nothing I’ve ever seen. They have everything you could possibly imagine. Plus, they have over a dozen restaurants (yes, you read that right, restaurants!) inside the department store. When we arrived to the food hall, everyone split up so they could explore on their own, and the group I was with opted to try one of the restaurants for dinner. We went to Harrods Cafe, and it was lovely. It was tucked into a corner of the store, and they had a braffle (hybrid of a brioche and waffle – YUM!) sandwich, which is what I ordered. It was delicious! For dessert, we perused the endless rows of desert display cases back in the food hall, and I settled on a classic favorite of mine – the chocolate chip cookie. It, too, was amazing!

Mother Mash: This quaint little spot is in the Soho neighborhood of London. We went there on a Friday night, and the whole neighborhood was lively and fun! I loved the ambiance here as much as the food. This restaurant served several combinations of bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes), and even had vegetarian options. Bangers and mash is a traditional British dish, so I was excited to find a spot that served this and served it well.

Mad Hatter’s High Tea: We saved high tea for our last full day in London, which was also the last full day of our trip. It was the perfect celebratory meal for the end of our trip. The whole experience was so well done, and every detail was thought of. A few girls in our group are Alice in Wonderland fans, so this was also really fun for them. Everyone got to pick out their own tea, which was themed to Alice in Wonderland, and then we got a tiered tray filled with sweet and savory themed treats. Everything was delicious, and we all left feeling very full and really pleased with our experience.

What we did

We filled our days in London with so much great stuff, and even though we were busy, I still feel like we didn’t even scratch the surface of all there is to do there. It reminds me a lot of New York in that regard – you could go numerous times, and still feel like you have more you want to see and do.

Royal Bike Tour

We did this the morning of our first full day, which was perfect! I feel like it really helped orient us to the city center, and gave us the opportunity to see a lot of sights. We went with Fat Tire Bike Tours, and they were wonderful to work with. The pace of this tour is very easy, so even the most amateur bike riders felt confident. We saw Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Trafalgar Square, and Hyde Park, just to name a few.

Bus Tour to Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Oxford

Sounds awesome right? In theory, yes, it is. In practicality, not so much. I love the concept of this tour – getting to see three iconic sites in one day. The reality is these places are all very far apart and there is a lot of traffic between the sights.

To give you some perspective – our bus tour left at 8:30 a.m. and returned at 7:00 p.m.. We spent a total of 4.5 hours off the bus – one hour at Stonehenge, two hours (one of which was waiting in line to get in) at Windsor Castle, and 1.5 hours in Oxford. So, that means that the other 6 hours were spent on the bus. The luxury of the bus was nice (free wi-fi, restroom on board, captain’s chair seats), which was good since we were on it for six hours. 😉 I just don’t know if I would do this again and/or recommend it to anyone.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love that we got to see all three of these places. If I were to do this trip over again, I think I’d pick one or two of these sites, and if I did two, possibly split them up between two days.

Tower of London

This was really cool! Like I mentioned in my previous posts about our trip, my method is to pick the earliest entrance time, and the Tower of London was no different. We got there right at opening and it was very empty! We spent about three hours exploring all the exhibits, which I felt was plenty of time. By the time we left it was super packed, so we were happy to head out. I would highly recommend this stop to anyone going to London. The history of the place plus the very well executed exhibits make it a win in my book, especially for people traveling with kids/teens.

Camden Market

I would definitely call this stop a favorite among the girls in our group. This market was filled with artisan vendors selling jewelry, clothing, home goods, unique souvenirs, etc.. We spent a few hours exploring all the vendors, and everyone came away with something special to take home. The streets leading up to the actual market itself reminded me of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco: super hip, quirky, and full of life.

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As you can see, we saw a lot of great places, ate a lot of awesome food, and made the most of our time in London.

On our last day, we were able to sleep in a bit, then made our way to Heathrow Airport. Our flight had a layover in Iceland, and I sent the girls on their way back to the states and I headed out for another week of adventures with Chelsea in Iceland! Next week, I’ll be recapping my time there, both with the girls and with Chelsea.

In the meantime, as they say in the U.K., cheerio! And party on!
JW

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