I will start off this post by saying that weather plays a major role in how much I like a new destination. I will also say that it rained every day I was in London.
Now, I will say that London, unsurprisingly, has some of the best attractions in Europe. Between the different museums, iconic landmarks, and plentiful day trips, you can be sure to be entertained for a day in London, a week, or longer.
I will say, that as I’ve traveled throughout Europe and the rest of the world, I’ve found less and less interest in the typical big-tourist cities, i.e. London, Paris, Rome, New York, etc. However, I can’t say that I felt as though I had nothing to do.
While I wasn’t that interested in visiting London, I decided to visit to see two of my friends, and I discovered some personal, unexpected highlights.
Some of the more typical London attractions that you want to see may not end up wowing you like you might thought they would, at least they didn’t for me. I thought Big Ben was cool, but I wouldn’t say I had the reaction most do. The London Eye I’m happy I did, but the line is incredibly long and the views are shrouded by a crowd of tourists. Trafalgar Square is crowded and, as I learned the hard way, not a good meeting point when you don’t have wifi. And the Tower of London is quite costly.
However, some of my favorite spots in London came from museums I didn’t know housed some of the most famous pieces of art and history you’ll find in Europe. While I know Tate Modern is an internationally recognized museum, I didn’t know that most of the pieces in the museum were the famous pieces I learned in school. From Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe diptych to Piet Mondrian’s geometric colors, I was surprised as to how many pieces I recognized.
Also, the Museum of Natural History housed some famous works as well, including the skeleton of the iconic Lucy, the oldest known skeleton of human history. While the museum was much more interesting than I thought it would be, be careful of the crowds, as even on a weekday it will be quite crowded.
And finally, while the British Museum is a must see in London, the crowds get to be annoying. After waiting patiently for my turn to gaze upon the Rosetta Stone (which I didn’t know was even at the British Museum), I was pushed and shoved by impatient tourists with selfie sticks to snap a photo.
I believe that one nice day trip from London is to Stonehenge, one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations. While many think that Stonehenge is the greatest thing about England, I would disagree. While I find the mystery of Stonehenge very intriguing and the monument aesthetically pleasing, I do find that it is objectively a stone monument in a field. A part of the reason I feel this way, is that there can’t be much information provided about the monument that isn’t totally speculation. While the mystery is intriguing, without answers, is short lived. However, I do think that it’s a great day trip as it is certainly a bucket list destination and one of the great mysteries of the ancient world.
If you are a budget traveler, be warned, it is not a budget day trip. The trains typically cost around 40 pounds, upon arrival to the train station, taxis to the monument are 50 pounds – although there is a bus for 15 pounds but it left my friend and I and we were forced to grab a cab with two nice women we met at the station. Then, at the monument, tickets are just under 20 pounds per person. Be prepared to spend some cash if you want to do this trip. Surprisingly, there are many organized day tours to Stonehenge from London that are more cost efficient, but then that means you’re stuck with a tour group which I am personally not a fan of when traveling.
In all, London gets a bad wrap when it comes to being a budget destination. I went into London expecting to go over my daily budget my about $300 for 6 days. However, if you’re strict about it, you can do quite a lot in London within a budget. Tate Modern, the National Gallery, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Science, and many other attractions are free. However, when an attraction does cost money, it costs a lot. You can find cheap food at the big chains but if you want a nice meal expect to spend probably 20 pounds. In total, I still went over budget, but that was because, in typical Leather Backpacker fashion, I wasn’t willing to give up on some of the things I wanted to do, such as Stonehenge.
While London wasn’t my favorite city, and I feel satisfied with my time there, I definitely think it could be a great destination, especially for some first time European travelers. One of my major complaints in London were that many of the biggest attractions didn’t feel necessarily British, likely because of their imperialistic past. Some of the best food was Indian, the British Museum is known for its Greek and Egyptian artifacts, and much of the art isn’t of English painters. The city is certainly a global city, which may be good for some, but I was hoping for a more English experience. If you are like me as a traveler, and like visiting destinations more off the beaten path and genuine to the local culture, you will likely find yourself overwhelmed by some of the crowds and globality in London.