Finally, here it is!
PLACES TO GO…
For a quick grab-and-go meal:
-Pret a Manger. Fairly cheap, and really good, fresh, pretty healthy food. Their claim to fame is that they make everything daily, and it’s delicious. They have hot and cold sandwiches and drinks, as well as soup and snacks. Their staff are really friendly, too.
-Café Nerro/Costa: Two coffee chains, both with good food and prices (much cheaper than Starbucks.)
-Brick Lane: famous for its Indian food. I’ve only hit it up once (despite it being ten minutes from where I lived), but it was really good. Even if you don’t think you’ll like Indian food, try it just to say you tried it, as London is famous for it.
Also, note about dining at these places: they charge you more to eat in. This is a European thing, and it’s a bit weird, but common there.
Be prepared if you go to a big chain like Starbucks to pay through the nose. They don’t change the numbers when they change the currency, so that three dollar fifty drink will be three pounds fifty. Double that and think whether it’s worth it.
-Pizza Express: a casual yet very classy pizza place with delicious… well, pizza. They have flowers on all of their tables. It’s awesome.
-Strada: really good Italian food.
-Café Pasta: if you read this blog, you know how I feel about this restaurant. Their food (again, Italian) is really delicious, and their portions are good sizes, too. And of course their garlic bread is to die for. The service is good, too.
-Bella Italia: I bet you can guess what kind of food they serve here. The service is kind of slow, and a lot of their dishes have more to them than you might be used to (e.g. rather than just some pasta, they usually throw in some mushrooms or meat or something.) They have very good prices, though, and their garlic bread is yummy.
-Gourmet Burger Kitchen: I haven’t actually been here since I went two years ago, but as I remember, they make great burgers (also, their portions are huge. I don’t know who started the rumor that American portions are ginourmous compared to other countries. For the most part, it’s not true; they’re sometimes dwarfed by the stuff I’ve had here.)
-Fish and chips!
-Brick Lane. There are tons of restaurants (mostly Indian) there.
There are way too many places for me to list all of them, but here are a few of my favorite places to go:
-Covent Garden: full of shops, entertainers, and restaurants. The stores range from high-end to normal people prices, so you should be able to get something, if that’s what you’re looking for.
-The Imperial War Museum. I haven’t been here since my first visit, but I remember it being really awesome. The world wars are extremely important to the English, and their very proud of their actions and the people who fought. There are some great displays here and the museum itself is housed in the old Bethlem Royal Hospital (a.k.a. Bedlam insane asylum.)
-The Tower of London (which I can see from our flat window as I type this.) This is a very cool place to visit. In warmer months, they have people working catapults and other weapons, and they invite audience participation. Definitely go on a tour with a yaoman. They’re really great tour guides that speak loudly and of course they know everything there is to know about the Tower. You can also see the crown jewels, armor and weapons, and the dungeon. This is a place you can spend hours upon hours in.
-Westminster Abbey. Admission is a bit up there, but it's definitley worth it. It's beautiful and you won't believe all of the people that are buried or commemorated there.
-Portobello Road: lots and lots of shops from vintage clothes to Poundland (like the Dollar Store), as well as an outdoor market on certain days.
-Hyde Park, St. James’ Park, Kensington Gardens, Holland Park… just go to parks. You can also ride horses and bikes through Hyde Park.
-Harrod’s. It’s basically a mall, but more intense. First of all, unlike an American mall, it’s not a long hallway with stores on either side. Rooms just flow into one another. If you need a helicopter, a grand piano, a puppy, or the new Marc Jacobs bag, it’s all here, as are diamonds, ridiculously expensive pens, and food you didn’t even know existed. There are also more affordable things, like books and regular food and clothes. Even if you can’t afford to buy the first things I mentioned, just going to Harrod’s is an experience.
-Brick Lane, but this time for the vintage clothes shops. Some of them have amazing prices, others have the higher ones that you would expect.
-Camden Markets, where you can buy handmade leather journals, incense, clothes, posters, books… anything you can think of will be here. There are also good Chinese and Thai places in this area.
-St. Paul’s Cathedral. Really awesome, but rather expensive to go into. If you attend a service, it’s free (or so they say.)
-Parliament. Go inside and sit in on one of their assemblies. It’s pretty cool.
-The Eye. Again, a little pricier, but really worth doing at least once. If you go, do not go in the late afternoon. The glare of the sun on the plastic walls of your little pod thing will ruin all of your pictures. Night is cool, but I’ve heard going earlier in the day is just as good.
-The National Theatre. Always top-notch shows, and their most expensive seats are the price of the West End’s cheapest ones. You cannot go wrong with a show here. They’ve also got a great bookstore and the tours are wonderful (and cheap.)
-The Science Museum. This is a cool museum that combines history and science. In addition to having facts about scientific instruments and artifacts.
-The Bush Theatre. Tiny, intimate theatre that does really good quality shows. Their tickets are cheap, too. Note that it’s hard to find- the entrance is just a normal-sized door.
-The West End. Here run your more standard shows, ones with names that you’ll recognize. The ones I’ve seen have been great.
-The Churchill War Rooms. Very interesting, and they’ve set it up how it would have been when it was in use.
-Shakespeare’s Globe. Take the tour, see a show. Groundling tickets are only five pounds.
-Jack the Ripper tour. There are many, some official, some unofficial, all creepy.
-Victoria & Albert Museum. They have great displays here, and their theatre exhibit is stellar.
Outside of London
-Windsor Castle. You can see the ornate dollhouses that were played with by the princesses and the rooms set up as they always have been. Lots of portraits on the walls, too.
-Stonehenge. There are old rocks there.
-Bath. Beautiful, and the Roman baths are really interesting to tour. A good place to spend a weekend, if you can. I just love this city.
-Wye Valley. The border between England and Wales. It’s beautiful, and you might as well go to Wales while you’re around there.
-Canterbury. The cathedral is, of course, very cool and there are lots of shops and other museums to visit. Definitely worth a day trip.
-Herne Bay. This is where I went on homestay. It’s in Kent, very near Canterbury, and it’s a beautiful seaside town.
-Cambridge & Oxford. Two lovely university towns.
THINGS YOU CAN SKIP
-Warwick Castle, unless you have small children. For anyone looking to find a historical display, this isn’t it- it’s very hokey, and the overall quality isn't great; a lot of their signs had misspellings on them.
-The Sherlock Holmes Museum. I may not have enjoyed this because all of my knowledge of Sherlock Holmes comes from Wishbone, but the price seemed a little steep for the display.
-The Drury Lane theatre tour. I’m sure the shows here are wonderful, but the tour seemed really dumbed down and overly silly. Then again, I’m kind of a snob when it comes to theatre tours :p
-Kensington Palace (at least until February 2012.) At the moment, this palace is host to a “seven princesses” scavenger hunt. While the rooms are beautifully decorated, it’s definitely aimed toward younger girls. We were really glad we got in for free.
-The British Music Experience. Despite the name, this “experience” contains almost no music, which is really disappointing. There are lots of things to read, but this display sells itself to be an interactive musical thing, and it’s really not. It really let me down (not to mention that in the part that was interactive, most of the stuff was broken.)
So that's it! I hope this was helpful to anyone who's going abroad in the future.