In February 2018, Riki and I had a few drinks at our apartment in California and spent the evening showing each other “our London” (aka where we lived, went to school, and hung out during our study abroad semester in 2009) via Google Maps. We declared we desperately missed our favorite city and even looked up last-minute flights from LA to the UK. We didn’t pull the trigger then, but I did put a reminder in Riki’s phone that read, “London, baby!” He looked at that reminder every day for 18 months. This week, he finally checked it off his list as we spent four days in London together.
Day 1: Drenched in UK history
Having both been to London three times previously, we were less concerned about hitting as many tourist attractions as possible (although we did fit in quite a few!) and more interested in showing each other our favorite spots in person. As per Riki’s arrival-in-London tradition, we began our trip at The Rocket, a pub near Euston Station, for pints of Snakebite. While the drink was a staple during Riki’s study abroad experience, friends had told us The Rocket no longer served it, but we lucked out with a bartender who was familiar with the mix of lager, cider, and black currant syrup. The icy magenta drinks were exactly what we needed on what was confirmed as the hottest day in UK history. As in, it’s never been hotter there. Ever. It was 101 degrees! And London isn’t big on air conditioning.
We sat in the pub for a few hours, trying not to move too much and holding glasses of ice water against our skin, until we were able to check in to our Airbnb. It also wasn’t air-conditioned and the shower wouldn’t drain (it was so bad we couldn’t use it…do not get us started), so after a sweaty nap, we headed out to find a restaurant with AC. We landed at Pizza Express, a popular chain restaurant, where Riki got pepperoni pizza and I got delicious calamari.
The temperature dropped slightly as the sun went down, so we walked off our dinner in Regent’s Park, where Riki’s school from back in the day, Regent’s University London, is located. If you didn’t know it was there, you might never realize there is an entire university tucked away among the trees. It was so beautiful! Riki then showed me the walk he used to take home from school, his flat, and nearby attractions such as the filming location of Sherlock Holmes’ (aka Benedict Cumberbatch’s) flat and all the Sherlock stuff around Baker Street. It was really cool to see the area he called home for almost four months in 2009!
Day 2: Top attractions and hidden gems
On our second day, we experienced a good mix of acting like tourists and living like locals. We also got caught in the rain many times, so it really felt like London. We started our day with pastries and fruit from a small local grocery store. Pro tip: Throughout our trip, we relied on grab-and-go food from places such as Tesco Express and Sainsbury Local to keep food costs low. It’s cheap, fast, and easy, and we were able to keep breakfasts and lunches between £4–10 (about $5-12) for both of us.
We took the Tube to Westminster to say “hello” to Big Ben. Unfortunately, he’s completely covered in scaffolding; only the clock face is visible. We knew this going in, but I love Big Ben so it was still disappointing. Parts of Parliament and Westminster Abbey were also covered, so be warned if you’re planning a trip to London soon.
We then stopped at Elephant & Castle so I could show Riki my school, London College of Communication. The area was almost unrecognizable to me; so much has changed in 10 years! It was fun to see how the corporate-looking tower building of my school, which is in the middle of a busy intersection, was completely different from Riki’s more traditional university in the middle of a peaceful park.
We then went to Borough Market and walked along the South Bank to Potter’s Field, a park between Tower Bridge and City Hall. This is, in my opinion, the best way to spend an afternoon in London! Borough Market is a brilliant maze of food stalls where you can get raw meat/fish, endless types of cheese and spices, and fresh produce if you’re planning on cooking while in London, or prepared food for a quick and easy meal and dozens of treats for dessert. I love wandering the stalls and grabbing a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade and, in this case, a heaping portion of Pad Thai for lunch. In Potter’s Field, I was amazed once again by how much the area has changed since I was last there five years ago. That’s the thing about London: it holds so much history but it is always evolving, offering surprises each time we make it back.
After lunch, we walked along the glass walkway at the top of Tower Bridge, then headed back past Borough Market to Millennium Bridge, which leads to St. Paul’s Cathedral. At this point we needed a break, so we put our picnic blanket down and read/napped while listening to the bells of St. Paul’s. It was a lovely way to refresh before meeting up with Riki’s friend Alex for a night out. Alex, a dashing 6-foot-tall Englishman and loyal Steady As We Roam reader, introduced us to his sisters, a few friends, and some of the coolest bars in central London, including a rooftop bar with a gorgeous garden that we never would have known about had we not had a local connection. This only solidified our belief that meeting locals is crucial to getting the most out of our travels. This is something we missed in Argentina, so we’re trying to work on it during this leg of the trip.
Day 3: A brief trip to Oz
London’s West End boasts just as many musicals and plays as New York’s Broadway, and you can get discounted day-of tickets at one of the booths in Leister Square. We got tickets for Wicked (in the second row of the first balcony) for £47 (about $57) each. After getting tickets, we walked around Chinatown and got dinner, then headed to the theater for our evening in Oz. It was great!
After the show, we went to Piccadilly Circus, which has large video screens similar to Times Square, to take in all the lights. We then rode on the top deck of a double-decker bus down Regent Street to return to our Airbnb.
Day 4: Going out with a bang
We really packed things in on our last full day in London. We took the tube back to Westminster, said “hello” to Big Ben again, passed the Prime Minister’s residence, and pet the lions in Trafalgar Square. We then made our way to Covent Garden where we checked out a few shops and enjoyed the music of a three-piece ensemble and an opera singer. We then met up with Alex and his girlfriend for brunch at a cute spot called The Black Penny.
After brunch, we headed to my old stomping grounds: Old St. Station and Pitfield St., where my flat was in 2009. Once again, I was amazed by how much has changed in just a few short years. We stopped in my pub, The George & Vulture, for a pint before heading to Oxford and Regent streets for a little shopping at Paperchase, Primark, Accessorize, and, best of all, Ben’s Cookies. When we got overwhelmed by the crowds (which is easy to do in that area), we turned a corner and stumbled upon a slightly less hectic shopping area called Carnaby Street. It was a great little escape!
We finished the day, and our trip, effectively, with fish and chips at a pub. It was a great way to bring our short stay in London to an end. Leaving London is never easy for either one of us, but we know we can, and will, always return.