London for beginners – The full guide (Part 2)

Hello awesome travelers,

As I promised in my last post, this is going to be a full itinerary for a standard beginner’s visit to London, a whole potential week of London awesomeness from which you will be able to borrow ideas or even copy full days. As I recommended in part 1, this takes into consideration the location of things but also things that are happening on specific days (I will point those out), I will also write down my personal thoughts on some of the sites and add a printable map link for you, so feel free to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Phone Booths

The London Mega Touristic Day (Click here for printable map)

Every person who comes to London for the first time has a list of “must see” things, I mean we came all this way, so we might as well see the sites, right?! If you wish to do it ‘The Traveling Unicorn’ way I can fit most of those sites into one day with A LOT of walking so put on your most comfortable shoes and let’s go.

  1. Trafalgar Square – We start our day traveling to Trafalgar Square from which we can start our super touristic day out but first take a look around, appreciate the fountains and obelisk, the “I’m in London” feeling being in the center of everything, and the beautiful architecture of St. Martin’s in the Fields church and the exterior of our next stop, the national gallery.
  2. The National Gallery – is MY favorite London museum and possibly my happy place in the whole world. It offers a superb collection of old masters paintings but if you are not crazy about art or you are more of a modern art person you could just enjoy the beautiful exterior and architecture before moving on to the next stop.
  3. Buckingham Palace – One should see the changing of the guards at least once, if it’s your first time in London this could be a great time to do it. Walk into St. Jame’s Park from Trafalgar Square, on the way you can stop at the beautiful and picturesque Duck Cottage and then make your way to the palace. You can find all the information you need about the ceremony here including times, routs and recommendation of where to stand and watch. The changing of the guards starts at 11:00 usually and I recommend being there at lease an hour, even an hour and a half before if you want to get up close. After watching ALL OF THE FUZZY HATS exit the park back to Trafalgar Square, find Whitehall street to your right and start walking down it. On the way you will pass the Royal Horse-Guard and a memorial for the women of WWII, 10 Downing st. (the residence of the prime minister) and the stunning architecture of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
  4. Westminster Abbey – At the bottom of Whitehall st. you will find Westminster Abbey, the home of Royal weddings and past coronations, you can choose to go inside for a fee (book your tickets here) or just enjoy the beautiful exterior (I recommend going in), either way make sure you stop and appreciate.
  5. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament – A couple of minutes walk from Westminster Abbey you will find Big Ben and Houses of Parliament. A stunning structure that is under conservation work until 2021 so you will see less of its glory until work is done, but it’s on the way to our next stop anyway so why not?!
  6. Sea Life – London Aquarium – Cross Westminster Bridge (don’t forget to stop mid bridge to enjoy the view of London on both sides of the river Thames) and you get to the London aquarium, a highly recommended attraction if you are traveling with kids or like me, just like aquariums. It has been refurbished not so long ago so it is now bigger and better and it has a wonderful collection of sea life (plan your visit here). ***If you plan on doing more than one attraction you can buy discounted tickets on the first one you visit, so when buying tickets to the aquarium and if you are planning on going to the London Eye or London Dungeon afterwards make sure you check out what discounts they have to offer at the ticket office.***
  7. Right next door to the aquarium and possibly one of my favorite attractions is the London Dungeon (plan your visit here). The gruesome history of London is presented here in a fun and whimsical way, and whether you like it or not you go back to being a kid while learning about the less savory history of this magnificent city.
  8. Let’s talk about the London Eye for a sec… I think it is lovely to take pictures of but in my opinion going on it is a bit of a waste of money. Too much money for too little time, if you do decide to go up make sure it is a clear day or you will not see a thing, and the most beautiful thing you can see from it (Houses of Parliament) is being renovated so really not much to see, but again, it is only my opinion.
  9. And last but not least, if you still have some walking energy left in you, keep going on the same side of the river until you get to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater (plan your visit here). Whether you are a fan of the bard or not, the Elizabethan reconstructed structure is a site to see, you can also book a guided tour with tales of the history of the place and even catch a Shakespeare play.

I realize this is a lot to push into one day (Did you notice we were on foot all day?!) but it is a wonderfully touristic day that allows you to check off your list many of what you were planning to see, and leaves other days free for some more London magic to come.

An Awesome London Saturday (Click here for printable map)

There are some things in London that are either better or can only be done on a Saturday, so if you choose to do them here is a complete, fun Saturday for you. Because those are day dependent activities it is a bit more all over the place kind of day, enjoy the awesome London public transportation system 🙂

  1. Borough Market – We start the day nice and early (because around noon the place is so packed one can barely move) at Borough Market. On any other day of the week this is a lovely farmer’s market but on Saturday it turned into an stunning culinary experience. Dozens of booths containing everything from fresh breads to foreign and local cheeses, from baked goods to jams and fruit preserves. It is a celebration of colors, flavors and smells. Come hungry, bring a camera and be prepared to leave some of your money behind!
  2. Once you are full hop on a train and head to our next stop, Notting Hill, it is a bit of a ride but it will be worth it. As soon as you get off the train and come up to the street you start seeing the beautiful houses, each in a different color, which gives the neighborhood it’s famous facade. Walk around, enjoy the beauty, take some Instagram worthy photos on your way to our next stop.
  3. Portobello Road Market Just follow the signs from Notting Hill Gate station and withing a few minutes you will be in this wonderful antiques market. On any other day this street has a collection of lovely shops but on Saturdays it comes to life with booths, music, market food and antiques that will make amazing gifts.
  4. The Hummingbird Bakery – Inside the market, on your left hand side, you will find the Hummingbird Bakery. Look for it or you will miss it as it is a small branch but it is also the original one and it is ALWAYS a good time for a cupcake!!! If you had to choose only one their red velvet is heaven, but I would try more than one if I were you 🙂
  5. After we are done with the Notting Hill area we head to Holland Park, a beautiful park that is just perfect for a Saturday stroll. Bring nuts or berries with you (you can get them at Borough Market, how convenient), the squirrels are friendly and are always up for a photo if you give them something yummy but please, make sure it is something such as nuts and berries and not something that can hurt our little, furry friends.
  6. Kyoto Garden – In the middle of Holland Park you will find the stunning Kyoto Garden, a little piece of Japan in the midst of London. I highly recommend a visit to this little corner of serenity.
  7. As it is not a super exhausting day this would be a great evening to catch a musical or a play at London’s West End, or if you are not so crazy about the theater, there are some great pubs in the area.
  8. Piccadilly Circus – In the West End you can also find Piccadilly Circus which is lovely, all lit up in the evening so you might want to take a walk in this direction before heading back to your accommodation for the night.

London Sunday is Always a Fun Day (Click here for printable map)

I absolutely LOVE a London Sunday! All the shops open late and close early so it’s a great day to do anything else but shopping. My idea of a perfect Sunday is this: breakfast, market, street art, hot chocolate followed by some more street art and a stunning dinner. Everything you do on this day is in walking distance, a little bit different and as the title suggests, fun!

  1. The Breakfast Club @ Liverpool Street – The Breakfast Club is a great place to start a day, there are a few branches so make sure you make your way to the right one. It is rare to get there and not already find a line so I recommend getting there about 30 minutes before you plan on having breakfast 🙂 At the Breakfast Club you will find a great collection of well, breakfasts. Healthy options along side decedent ones, the design of the place is fun and in the evening you can go into the fridge and find yourself downstairs in a secret bar.
  2. Spitalfields Market – A very short walk and a goat statue away is the lovely, covered Spitalfields Market. This market has unique designer booths where you can find beautiful clothes, hats, jewelry and souvenirs.
  3. Our next stop is about 15 minutes walk away, the art packed Brick Lane. A long street with many food shops and even more street art hiding in plain sight on every turn. On Sundays there is also a food market, a vintage market and street performers, the general vibe is that of a party. Make sure you turn into every side street and alley as they are packed full of high quality, super creative street art that you do not want to miss.
  4. Dark Sugars Cocoa House – In the middle of Brick Lane there is the most rich, amazing chocolate shop EVER! Pralines of incredibly imaginative flavors and hot chocolate that is to die for where they shave actual chocolate into your cup. Don’t skip!!!
  5. After you had this stunning hot chocolate keep on walking on brick lane, there is a lot more art to see. But when you are done make your way to Duck & Waffle. Make sure you reserve a place here a few weeks in advance as this is a very popular restaurant. Also make sure that at least one person at the table orders their flag dish, Duck & Waffle, it might sound like a bizarre combination but it really works!
  6. And if you still have some energy to burn head over to Shoreditch High Street where you will find a great collections of pubs and dance bars to spend your evening.

Let’s Go Shopping (Click here for printable map)

London is a great place to do some shopping! The most recent fashion in affordable prices and if you remember my last post, this is the reason we packed so lightly to begin with. Let’s be honest, it is super fun when someone asks you “where did you get this AMAZING top/dress/shoes?” and you get to answer “oh this, I got this in London!” In the map you will see more restaurants than usual but that is only because between each of them we go back to Oxford Street to continue shopping 🙂

  1. Let’s start bright and early at The Breakfast Club Soho as one should never go shopping on an empty stomach (I’m sure I read it somewhere…). Same rules apply as the Liverpool St. Breakfast Club, there is almost always a line so be prepared for it. The menu is the same throughout the franchise so you will get a chance to try more types of breakfasts 🙂
  2. You can start walking Oxford Street from 2 directions, Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road, I prefer the later but you choose what works better for your daily plans. Either way start walking down Oxford Street where you will find all the best shops: Primark – great for basics, accessories and super cheap clothes; M&S a bit on the older side of fashion but there is no competing with their lingerie department that is super reasonable and amazing quality for ALL sizes, Zara, Bershka, H&M, Stradivarius, Pandora, Clarks, Benetton, River Island, Urban Outfitters, Uniqlo, Top Shop, Disney Store and many many more! If you are looking for something it is most likely that you will find it while shopping Oxford Street.
  3. When you get to the center of Oxford Street, carrying some new shopping bags, turn into Regent Street for out next stop – Carnaby Street. This amazing street has high end shops but the real reason for visiting is the changing light art between the buildings and at times some very cool pop-up shops. So if you find what to buy there or not it is still very much worth a visit. Don’t forget to look up!
  4. On the way back from Carnaby Street to Oxford Street you MUST stop at Hamley’s – a 7 floor toy store for all ages. If you have kids, are a kid or have the spirit of one this store is just perfect! You have everything in that store: soft toys, consoles and computer sames, puzzles and board games and everything in between. Just keep an eye on the time as it literally flies in this wonderful place.
  5. With all that shopping we must have a little lunch break and what better place to have it than the best burger joint in town?! Patty & Bun @ James Street – Just a small turn off Oxford Street and possible 10-15 minutes wait there is this tiny little place for every burger lover, make sure to stop by and renew your shopping energy.
  6. If you did as I suggested and started your quest at the Tottenham Court Road side of Oxford Street you will finish your shopping spree at Marble Arch and if you take a left at the arch you might find yourself at the London Hard Rock Cafe. The food is great but what I love about it is the shop, as a traveler I have a collection of Hard Rock Cafe shirts from all the places I visited and had HRC. Whichever the reason, be it dinner after a long day of shopping or another shirt for your collection, it is worth stopping there before ending your day.

West London – It’s All About Nature (Click here for printable map)

West London is slightly less visited by first time tourists than the center, but it has a lot to offer and if you are indeed in London for a week or more you absolutely have time to visit the little gems the west of the city has to offer. This day can be taken easy, there are less activities but they take a bit longer. Wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget your camera. We will start our day at our farthest out point and work our way back to the center, of course this is all up to you, feel free to mix things around.

  1. We head to our most western stop and one of the most magical, Richmond Parkwhile not the most impressive park London has to offer, Richmond park has the best residents, while it takes a bit of walking if you have patience you will find beautiful wild deer roaming free. The beautiful creatures are breathtaking to look at and are incredibly photogenic. Just make sure to listen to the rules of the park, be respectful to the animals, stay safe and you are in for a magical experience.
  2. Kew – Royal Botanic Gardens – Our next stop are the stunning London Botanical Gardens. An amazing collection of trees, flowers and plants. Sometimes holiday decorations are infused into the usual scenery, or decorated sculptures… it all depends on what is on at the time but it is always wonderful!
  3. Heading back towards the western side of the city center, our next stop is, naturally, The Natural History Museum – One of the greatest museums London has to offer no matter if you are an adult or a kid. The museum collections are superb and of course, make sure to find out here what exhibitions are on at the time of your visit as the museum (much like most museums in London) hosts wonderful changing exhibits, among which is the Annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
  4. Out last stop is a divided and/or joint one: Kensington Gardens / Hyde Park – The two parks are joint together in the middle so if you have time and are so inclined you can visit both. Kensington Gardens allow you to visit the Kensignton Palace and I highly recommend having an Afternoon Tea at the Orangery which you can book here, it is a magnificent experience and one of my favorite English traditions. Hyde Park houses the famous Hyde Park Speakers Corner where you might encounter people presenting their point of view to anyone who might listen. Both parks are stunning and offer flowers, trees, sculptures, ponds, ducks and squirrels. Same rules always apply, the animals are used to human interaction and would love to take a photo with you but please, only feed them nuts and berries as to not harm them and if you see they are not into the interaction you offer please move on and be respectful, those are live beings and these parks are their home.

A Camden Kind of Day (Click here for printable map)

Camden is one of those places that allow you to be completely who you are, you will find every type of person in this place and if you ever felt the need to hide the fact that you like goth clothes or wearing only pink, in Camden you don’t have to. A collection of shops, markets, food trucks and pubs that makes a whole day fly by. Just remember to look up and take in the wonderfully decorated buildings and the colors and sounds all around you, they are a part of the magic that is Camden Town.

  1. We start the day by taking a walk in what is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful London parks, Regent’s Park. For such a metropolis, I love how many parks and greens London has to offer and Regent Park, with it’s ponds, bridges and trees is by far one of the loveliest and a wonderful way to start a day.
  2. Primrose Hill – While one can spend hours in Regent’s Park make sure you walk in the general direction of our next stop, Primrose Hill. We will not spend long there but it is still worth the walk as from the top of the hill you can see a panoramic view of London, and the hill itself is absolutely lovely, especially on a rare, London sunny day.
  3. From Primrose Hill we head to Camden Town tube station where our Camden day begins. At the station exit we turn right where we find everything Camden has to offer. A collection of small markets that allow you to shop for everything from novelty T-shirts, hand made arts and crafts, jewelry and music. The buildings are wonderfully decorated and if you look around you will also find hidden corners with some awesome street art.
  4. Before we go into the thickness of the markets I highly recommend you stop at Chin Chin Labs – While they offer a superb assortment of deserts, please do not skip on the hot chocolate with the marshmallow floof, the house drink and what they are famous for (make sure to ask for a glass of water on the side as if is super sweet).
  5. Explore the markets around Camden, my favorites are Camden Market and The Stables Market. While Camden Market has the most diversity and most beautiful thing you can buy and enjoy, The Stable Market has the best decor, as it is housed in what used to be actual stables once upon a time, and there are statues of horses all around, it also has some fun pubs if you fancy a drink.
  6. Sushi Salsa – Camden – For either lunch or dinner, this is the most perfect sushi spot in Camden. Ask for the “all you can eat” menu (it doesn’t show up on the regular menu so make sure you ask for it), it will give you 5 rounds of the sushi of your choice and I have yet to meet one person who finished all 5 rounds. Sushi made of super fresh fish, great ambiance and very affordable prices considering you really do get all the sushi you can eat!
  7. and as this is not a super exhausting day this would be another great evening to catch a musical or a play at London’s West End, or a drink at the pub… and another wonderful London day is done!

Baker Street and City Center (Click here for printable map)

There are some fun things around Baker Street that are worth a look, after which we will head to the center of the city, a super touristic yet super fun area that holds much in it. Not too much walking but still a lot to see and enjoy!

  1. Madame Tussauds London – I think the London Madame Tussauds is the best I have seen and while I will not go there on every visit I think it is good fun on your first visit, especially if you are traveling with kids but not only 🙂
  2. The Sherlock Holmes Museum – Two minutes walk and you are at the fantastic Sherlock Holmes Museum, a must for every Sherlock Holmes fan! They have masterfully created what would have been Holmes apartment if our favorite consulting detective was a real person. Famous scenes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are portrayed in the different rooms and you can spend an hour or two loosing yourself in the world they created in 221B Baker Street.
  3. The Globe – Across the street from the Baker Street Tube station there is The Globe pub. If you haven’t had a traditional London pub meal yet, I highly recommend you stop by and have one: classic fish and chips, bangers and mash or a good pie will sort you out till dinner.
  4. Piccadilly Circus – One train and a couple of stops away we get off at Piccadilly Circus but this time during the day. Look around at the fountain and the famous illuminated screens.
  5. Walking down Shaftesbury Avenue we get to the beautiful Chinatown Gate – from here you can take a walk in China Town, scan the shops and when you feel like you are done with China Town go back to Shaftesbury Avenue and carry on walking to our next stop.
  6. Neals Yard – A tiny yard among the Covent Garden buildings that can offer food, drinks, a fantastic cheese shop and just a bit of a different vibe from the hectic city streets. But what is really special about the yard is the building that are colored in bold, different colors, I dare you to visit and not Instagram a photo 🙂
  7. Forbidden Planet London Mega-store – This shop is not for everyone but I am pretty sure almost anyone can find something they love in this nerd heaven! If you love comic books, board and card games and fantasy/sci fi books head to the lower level. On the ground floor you will find collectibles, statues, jewelry, clothes and begs, memorabilia, posters and toys for everything from Harry Potter to Star Wars, from Marvel to DC Comics and anything in between. It is possibly my favorite store in London!
  8. Covent Garden – A lovely courtyard with funky shops, surrounded by mini markets and pubs. Covent Garden is always decorated for something, especially around the holidays so it is always fun to visit. Street artist are around a lot but nothing is better than the opera singers and string quartets you can find there at times, singing among the restaurants.
  9. Dishoom – Covent Garden – If you love, like or even just fond of Indian food, do yourself a favor and have dinner at Dishoom Covent Garden (it is a franchise so make sure to book at the right one). Make a reservation here because it is always packed, and you are guaranteed top level of Indian cuisine. Don’t forget to enjoy a proper chai at the end of your meal. You will thank me later.
  10. On our way to our evening entertainment we should stop at Leicester Square – Take a quick look at the lovely square and also visit the Lego and M&M shop, both have fun things to buy and to look at. And now, after we took a picture with the Lego Queen, we head to our final destination for this day.
  11. The Comedy Store – The reason I recommend doing thins day on a Thursday is because while the Comedy Store is open 7 nights a week, in my opinion Thursday night is the best: 2 hours, 4 acts and one MC that is usually the funniest of them all. I have yet to have a Thursday night at the Comedy Store that I did not enjoy. To make sure you don’t miss out book your tickets here.

Of course this is not everything London has to offer, but if it’s your first time I believe you will do well to start with this my traveling friend, seven full days which you can copy, paste, mix and match, and a printable map for each (which is what made this post take FOREVER to come out) to make life super easy for you. It is not the last post I will write about London, I suspect a Christmas one is coming up, but I really do believe this is the best week for a London beginner.

Me

If you need any more/different ideas, if you have any questions, if you want to run your plan by me and anything in between please feel free to contact me. I hope the first time you see London or any of those places, you fall in love with it just as much as I did.

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x

London for beginners – The full guide (Part 1)

Hello beautiful travelers,

How (and where) have you been? I have been to London (a.k.a home away from home where I lived for 9 years of my adult life) and had an AMAZING holiday. This time I took with me a friend that has never been to the best city in the world and it made me think how confusing London can be, so I decided to finally write a full guide to the London beginner 🙂 This is going to be a 2 part guide (maybe even 3); the fist post will give a general “how to” overview (how to plan your trip for an ultimate London experience, how to get around and my personal do’s and don’ts). The second part will give you a full schedule of a standard beginner’s visit to London and a potential 3rd post might include some fun recommendations but we will cross that London bridge when we get to it.

Planning

London is BIG!!! I have seen so many people waste time just traveling around the city, not realizing that within the center alone it can take 45 minutes getting from east to west. Proper planning of your trip can save you a lot of time that you can later fit other activities into. If you plan your trip right, there is a good chance you could take only a couple tube/bus rides during the day and do the rest by foot, seeing so much more of this beautiful city.

London travel time
Just to give you an idea of how long it takes to get around the different areas

Thankfully there is one thing that can make it easier to plan your trip even if you’ve never been to London. Make a list of all the things you know you wish to see and all the places you wish to visit, then type them into google maps and write down which underground station or stations are closest (different stations have different train lines so the more stations the better). After you have a list with all the respective underground stations use a tube map (that you can easily find here) to simply find the location with the same, or close by stations, that way you know these locations are walking distance from each other as there are about 10 minutes walk between close by stations. It saves you loads of time to plan your days with everything in the same area (as much as possible, as there are things that are only open on specific days and they are not always close to each other so if you want to see them all you will need to travel).

Another common habit I noticed was for people to call/post/text from the airport asking how to travel into London… Plan ahead, the airports are far and while there are several very convenient ways to get into the center, if you don’t plan ahead you might end up paying a lot more than necessary. I will help you with that on the Getting Around section that is coming right up.

Before you pack check the weather forecast for your visit! I know it sounds obvious but in London you can have 3 days of light rain, followed by 5 days of sunshine, followed by a storm… The secret to packing for such weather is layers. Pack a couple of whatever you need (sweater, long T-shirt, short T-shirt, tank top etc), check the weather every morning and dress accordingly, remembering that almost nowhere in London has air conditioning so you might get really hot in shops, museums and theaters but freeze as soon as you go outside. Also, don’t trust your eyes, looking out the window and seeing a supposedly sunny day can be very misleading and more often than not means there are no clouds to buffer and it might be even colder than a cloudy day. Seriously, check the weather!!!

London weather
The upcoming week’s weather in London, you get clouds, showers and everything in between

When I go to London I know there might be a lot of shopping involved so I pack all I need in my hand luggage, put the full hand luggage in an empty suitcase and that way I have a big, empty suitcase for all my shopping and souvenirs. as I layer up I bring many tank tops and T-shirts and less sweaters so I can fit in quite a lot in a hand luggage. No need for 4 pairs of shoes, 2 comfortable ones are more than enough, you might even get more when in London, so you might as well save that space. Before you pack a ball gown for a night at the theater remember this: London has an average of 1,000,000 tourists a day, they are used to people coming to the theater with jeans and a T-shirt and guess what?! They don’t care! Pack smart and you will have that much more room to buy those awesome new clothes to wear back home.

One last thing about the planning: when I go to London I usually don’t take the standard medication pouch I take to places I don’t know. I pack only meds I take on a regular basis and have a prescription for and maybe add antibiotics for good measure. I also don’t pack a lot of shampoo, conditioner and washing soap, just enough to last me for 1-2 days. There are Boots and Superdrug shops on every corner and they are cheap so I just go into one on my first day and get what I need, and in case I catch a cold I do the same. But that’s just me and this is just a recommendation, feel free to take it or not, whichever suits your traveling vibe.

Getting Around

I recommend you download to your phone the CityMapper app, define London as the city you are visiting (you can edit it later to any city you visit that is on the app). This app is basically a Google Maps, Uber, TFL (Transport for London) and A to Z one stop shop. You put in the search bar where you want to go (whenever you can, use post codes, in London they are actually useful and super accurate) and the app will show you EVERY POSSIBLE WAY to get there: by foot (just tap that option and a walking map will open), by car (the app connects to Uber and gives you an estimated price for the ride), by tube (changes are mentioned, best place to sit for a quick exit, best exit from the station… the lot!), buses and every possible combination between everything I mentioned above. Each track will mention how long it will take, how many changes are on the way and an estimate price.

Uber is also very effective in London (if you don’t use it where you live I recommend downloading the app), there is a great amount of cars around and they are significantly cheaper than black cabs so if it’s the middle of the night, or you have a million shopping bags Uber is a great choice.

First let’s get to our accommodation from the airport! If you land during the day you can travel from Heathrow with the underground, the Piccadilly line (dark blue) will take you right to the center. If you land in any other airport there are buses/trains that go into the center regularly and often, you don’t even have to book a ticket in advance.

If you landed at night or have too much luggage to carry around or you are traveling with kids and want the comfort of a shuttle there are great ones you can find online. For trips directly to and/or from Israel I like to use Nahagos , they are very communicative and super efficient but unfortunately work only with direct flight from and to Israel. From all other countries or a connection flight I found this car service pretty great and relatively cheaper than many other. Of course you can also google and find other services as there are many.

The Underground – Oyster Travel Card

Oyster
Oyster Travel Card

On the first tube station you frequent buy an Oyster. The London travel card will cost you a £5 deposit that you get back in full when you return the card. It will continue being active even without use for 2 years so if you know you will be back in London I would recommend keeping it, I keep mine for years now and it is still as good as new.

If you are staying in London more than 5 days I recommend charging your Oyster with a weekly plan, for 4 days and under I recommend Pay-As-You-Go (you charge your Oyster with an amount of money that you choose and it comes off every time you travel until it reaches a daily maximum and then you can keep traveling but it will not charge you any more money, usually a weekly pass costs the amount of 5 traveling days but gives you 7 full days of travel, however if you are in London for less than 4 days but planned your days correctly you might not use the maximum daily budget and so Pay-As-You-Go will be the more economical choice, see all the daily and weekly fairs here).

You will mostly need only zones 1-2 on your Oyster as those are the central and most touristic areas, and even if you did a weekly plan for zones 1-2 and need to go outside those zones once or twice, you can add some funds via Pay-As-You-Go, gotta love a good mix and match travel card plan.

One last thing about the Oyster, as the weekly travel card is based on date I recommend that if you arrive in the morning start your weekly plan the same day, if you arrive at night however start the weekly travel cars the next day, that way you get 7 full days. The Oyster machine allows all option so just take your time and you will do just fine.

The Underground – Finding Your Way

London Tube
London Underground (Tube) Map

The locals often call The Underground “Tube”, I am telling you this just in case you ask for direction and someone uses the term, they are one and the same.

I highly recommend picking up a small underground map (they are free and you can find them in every station) just in case you don’t have an internet connection underground.

Inside the entrance of every tube station you will have signs leading you to all the different lines in that station (and as you were smart and planned ahead, you already know which line you need to take :P), go in the direction of the line you need where you will always have 2 platforms, either north and south, or east and west, depending on the line. On the wall on each side there is a sign displaying all the stops the line is going to, the stop you are at will always be at the top and under it all the following stops the train is heading to on that specific side. If you check the sign on one side and can’t find the stop you need, turn around and check the other side and you will find it there (if you need to change lines in the middle of the trip don’t forget to look for the station in which you make the change and NOT your final destination), if you can’t find your stop on the other side either it means you need to take a second look, or that you might have ended up on the wrong platform/line. Looking at the final stop of each train is another good indicator to help you figure out if you are on the right side of the train.

*** Notice that the northern line (black) splits in two, if you want to use it to go to Camden Town (and you really do, trust me on that, Camden is awesome) it is not a problem as both sides arrive in Camden Town, however to get to stops on a specific side you need to pay attention you are on the right side (either Via Bank or Via Charing Cross) because if you are on the wrong side you will need to change a couple of times to get to your stop, all you need is to pay a bit of attention. ***

Getting In Touch

Nowadays people like to stay connected, posting statuses on Facebook, sharing photos on Instagram etc’. While traveling, having the internet at our fingertips makes it easier to get around, navigate, book a cab and make plans with friends. While many people like to book an internet package in their own country, I prefer buying a local sim card as I find they are often cheaper and give you better coverage. In London you can buy them in a vending machine at the airport (6GB by Vodafone for £20 or 12GB for £30) or via every mobile shop on the high street. If you do decide to get a local sim card at the shops I highly recommend going to a mobile company shop (O2, 3, Vodafone etc’) and not shops that combine all the companies together (Carphone Warehouse, Phones4You etc’) as they are usually more expensive.

That is it my traveling friends, you are now ready to explore and discover my favorite city in the whole world. The next post will give you a full trip plan for the London beginner, it will include what I find to be the “must see” and also several things I know people like to see then they visit London for the first time. Feel free to copy it, take ideas from it and of course, ask me anything you wish to know about it 🙂

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x

“Passport and Boarding Pass Please” – The Traveling Unicorn’s Full Pre-Flight Guide

I travel A LOT! As much as I possibly can, I find it hard to breath if I don’t have a plane ticket booked and ready. Right now, as I write this blog I have 3 tickets for this year, and I promise to share these adventures with you when they happen.

I love the whole process of going abroad from beginning to end; booking flights, booking a hotel/Airbnb, making a packing list, packing, getting to the airport, even going through security, and knowing that all those will eventually get me to the departure gate, to those magical words: “passport and boarding pass please” and to my beloved window seat on my way to another adventure. Be it an old destination or new, a weekend or several months, the excitement is always at a maximum. What can I say?! I have the soul of a wanderer.

Through the years and during my many trips I learned some things that I take with me, things that make my life easier during the whole process of flight preparation, at the airport and more often than not abroad as well. Since sharing is caring please allow me to introduce my Full Pre-Flight Guide. It has a slightly less story telling vibe than usual and it is a bit more informative but if I manage to save you some time at security or a few dollars to be used later during your adventure it will all be worth it.

Booking a flight – When I come to book a flight I start off with two main websites: The firs and also the one I use as a main resource is SkyScanner and the second which I use mostly for comparison is Momondo. After I find good, potential flights I will always check at the airline’s website directly to make sure that I am not missing out on a potentially cheaper flight if I book directly.

*** Things that I would spend extra money on to enjoy the flight more: will pay up to $100 for a direct flight instead of a connection (which is where you can save money if you don’t mind a connection). Will pay for a window seat so I can be comfortable. If I need luggage I will pay for it while booking the flight as paying for them at the airport costs more (a story about that a bit later). ***

Booking accommodation – For a new location I always research the internet and question people I know what are the safe areas to stay in. After deciding on a location and depending on my budget I will book either a hotel or an Airbnb. For a hotel I will go to Booking.com and search usually for something central and always something close to public transportation. As with the flights, I always check the hotel’s  website to match the prices. If I have a tighter budget or if there are no affordable hotels in the area I want, I will usually go for Airbnb where the search criteria will be a bit different: good area and close to public transport are a given, for me I prefer to pay a bit more and have the whole flat and not a room in a flat even though I stayed in a room twice before and the families were AMAZING. If I arrive in the middle of the night I will look for self check-in (little coded boxes that hold a key for you and save you from needing the host to be present) and I ALWAYS read at least 10-15 reviews to see that the place is legit. I know there are some horror stories out there but if you take the time and do the proper research you are more likely to have a wonderful experience.

*** If I stay at an Airbnb I try to bring along some nice chocolate from my country and leave it for the host with a thank you note, it is something small that can go a long way towards your review, and even more important, toward the perception people have of your country (“look how nice Israelis are!!!”), also making a host that was part of the reason your holiday was great feel all worm and fuzzy inside. ***

Packing –  I always make a packing list! I use a packing list app, my mom uses a handwritten list, no matter how you do it I recommend that you do. First of all, making a list gets you in the mood for a new adventure 🙂 it helps you focus on what you really need on your trip and also makes sure you don’t forget anything important.

When I was traveling in New Zealand and Australia with everything on my back I learned to travel light, I was sending more and more of my things home until I was left  only with what I really needed. Nowadays, no matter where I go I can fit almost everything I travel with into my hand luggage. If I go on long trips I put the hand luggage in my big luggage and then I have all that space for shopping and souvenirs. I use the amazing rolling method of packing, you basically fold everything in half and then roll it. I s*** you not, you can fit twice as much, packing that way.  I only pack the essentials, a couple of shirts, a couple pairs of trousers, a couple of layers if it’s cold, make sure everything goes with everything and that is that. There is no need for 12 shirts for a 5 day trip, you know exactly what you are going to wear and it is not that pretty shirt you haven’t touched in 7 months.  Long trips allow you to do some washing, short trips don’t require so many outfits and it is always better to leave some room for some fun shopping rather than carrying a million things from home… just saying 😛

Airport Fast-Tracking – You are all packed, ready to go and excited. You arrive at the airport, looking forward to getting rid of your luggage and go have a drink at duty-free but you find that security takes AGES! Now don’t get me wrong, my advice will not fast-track you through endless queues as this is out of our control but it will make sure that when your turn comes it goes by as quickly as humanly possible:

  • While queuing for the baggage drop have your passport ready, out of any cover and in your hand, that way when they get to you, you are ready and not looking for it and delaying yourself and everyone behind you. It also shows security that you are a frequent flyer who knows what to expect and so they might lax the questioning a bit. With that said, don’t try and be too smart for your own good, we all know the questions that they are about to ask but let them ask them, they are not listening only to your answers but also to your body language and being a know it all might actually cause them to question you more.
  • Be nice (which is a good rule in general)! When you come to the baggage drop be nice to the person siting in front of you, it will at times save you from overweight charges just because you were the only one to smile at them that day (based on several true stories).
  • Make sure that both your hand luggage and your handbag only has liquids and ointments under 100 ml, I mean come on people, this rule has been around for ages now. If you want to take it to the next level (which I always do) put all those baby deodorant/lip balm/hand creams in a zip lock bag in advance that when you arrive at security all you have to do is take it out as is and not fish for those little things in your bag. Take your belt and coat off while waiting your turn, try and wear shoes to the flight without buckles, I know all this sounds obvious but it does save time and who of us didn’t get stuck behind someone taking off their belt and coat only after they were told, holding everyone in line just a bit longer?!

The Unexpected – As promised, a little story: I was at the airport on my way to a holiday, standing at the baggage drop I discovered that I accidentally only booked luggage for the way back. The man working at the baggage drop informed me that now I can no longer pay for the luggage at the app/website for £30 but have to pay for it at the counter for £60! While he was talking I went into the app and lo and behold, I was able to pay for the luggage without a problem for £30. After paying I showed the receipt to the man at the counter, he had nothing to say in his defense so he checked in my bag and I was on my way. I learned a couple of things from this incident:

  • When you book your flight ticket make sure you got all you wanted to get for both directions: seats, luggage etc.
  • If you missed something do not automatically trust what you are told at the counter, check apps and websites as this can save you money and heartache.
  • Even if the person at the counter misled you, or as I like to think of it, made a mistake, accept it with grace and a smile, getting angry will hurt no one but you.

And lastly, if all else fails and you end up having to pay an extra fee, accept it as an offering to the holiday Gods, leave the slightly bad feeling at the airport along with your money and enjoy your time away.

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x

 

London – My epic love story ♥

I know I promised I would post at least once a month but in my defense I am recovering from surgery and the only reason I am out of bed now is to sort of keep my promise, let’s pretend this post is happening in February 🙂 Also, to make it up to you for waiting I am giving you a love story, and who doesn’t appreciate a good love story?!

My love story with London is an epic one; it is not a summer romance like I had with New Zealand or 4 nights of passion like I had with New Orleans, it is an endless love for the ages. A lot of people have that one place in the world that makes them completely happy, the place they would give up other places for if needed, London is mine. If you want to know why just keep reading.

I fell in love with London when I was 12 years old. My parents took me abroad for the first time, a 21 days trip to Scotland, Paris and London for desert and indeed it was the cherry on top of pretty much everything! I kept returning to London time and time again until finally, at the age of 26 when my life felt stuck and unfulfilling I decided to move there. I lived there for 9 years in total (in two batches), and returned permanently to Israel at 2016 because of my lack of European passport and my inability to get a work visa, I know, it sucks!

The first time I moved back to Israel I immediately found a job, got back on track and  dove into a very deep depression, too deep, scary deep. So when I had to move back the second time I did 2 things differently: the first, I didn’t go back to real life right away, I decided to spend a few months at the beach, decide what I want to do etc. The second thing was to go traveling (of course)! I figured I might not get another chance like that , at 36 to go on a few months trip before being a grown up again, so I packed a big backpack and went away for 4 months: New Zealand, Fiji, Australia (east coast) and Hong Kong with 2 weeks in London on the way back to decompress. That was the absolute right thing to do!!! This time when I returned to Israel I was ready to settle down. The move from place to place can give you whiplash sometimes, especially between countries that are drastically different as England and Israel are, if I can give you only one advice it will be to take your time, don’t jump into reality too quickly because it can be a bit harsh. Sort out your heart, because I found that taking the first step means nothing if you are not really prepared for the journey ahead.

I bet you are asking yourselves why I fell so hard for a city that some find too grey (“nice to meet you, my name is Jo and I am a winter person”) or the people in it too cold. Well, I will allow you a glimpse into my heart and tell you.

Natural Beauty – I don’t know about you but I like having random beauty around me, to look up and see stunning architecture, to walk around and see an explosion of spring flowers or autumn leaves, to have parks to stroll in and monuments to encounter every now and then and London has it all. All you have to do is look up, look around you. To be honest, there is nothing better than getting lost in this city and find the less familiar beauty, the things you didn’t know you can discover, the little moments that take your breath away without you being ready and make you fall in love with London all over again.

Dramatic / Romantic Weather – Those grey skies that people complain about are one of the things I like most about London, and if I can’t sell you the grey sky in particular allow me to sell you all shades of sky but white, I’ll explain: as a photographer that believes in #NoFilter and in as little editing as possible I can tell you there is nothing less photogenic than white sky, and while I don’t mind warm weather, completely blue sky with no white, fluffy clouds are also less photogenic. In London you will almost always have either very dramatic grey skies with a million shades and textures or on beautiful warm days you will almost always have the white clouds to add character to your photos, that is on the photography side of things. On the weather side of things even when it is cold it is almost never freezing, the rain is mostly light so you can get away with a hat and when it is sunny and warm (which happens for longer and longer duration in the past few years) people crave it and love it so much that the whole city feels like one big party. Beer gardens and parks fill up in seconds and the vibe is that of complete freedom.

Restaurants – London is full of amazing restaurants that allow for a slightly different eating experience (food is also a part of it but it will have its own section). An afternoon tea on the 42nd floor overlooking the city, a dinner at a magical igloo with a Tower Bridge view, a futuristic bathroom… you can find all those around London if you want an evening that is more than just about the food.

Which brings us to All of The Food – As London is a metropolitan full of people from all over the world you can find in this city every type of food you can possibly imagine. And as I am sure one day London got sick of hearing what crappy food it has and being compared to Paris in that respect (or at least that’s what happened in my head) you can also find AMAZING restaurants ,pastry shops ,chocolate shops and food markets all around town. It doesn’t matter if you like cup cakes, humus or Italian food, if you are a food truck kind of person, only willing to eat in chef restaurants or looking for a fancy afternoon tea experience, London has it all, your every heart’s desires, and the kitchen is always open!

The Music – I love going to live music concerts and there is nothing better than going to a gig in London! EVERYONE has concerts in London, anyone you ever listened to, anyone you ever wanted to see live, anyone that is doing a comeback and anyone that is super hot right now. You can see your favorite artist in a 50,000 seat arena, in a 2,500 people hall, or in a secret pop up concert in a cafe in Camden Town. Prices are super reasonable and for £50 you can sing your heart out with your favorite band from the front row (photos from front row for £50 below). Not all gigs are that cheap but hand on my heart, a concert was never so expensive that I had to think twice if I can afford to go.

The Culture – Whether you love museums, musicals, theater, opera, football or festivals you can find it all here. Most museums offer free entry and those who do have an entry charge take a very small amount that will be used for the conservation of the art you are about to see, and the selection is breathtaking, there really is something for everyone.  In every production you can find cheaper seats, or better, more expensive seats but the experience will always be amazing and will cost you about half the price it costs in New York. You can see some serious names from the cinema doing incredible, time limited productions at the West End from anything between £10-£120. Football games are a bit more expensive but well worth it to go at least once if you are a fan. So whether you are a visitor on holiday or you live in London and looking for a special day/night out there is always something amazing to do and you don’t have to break into your savings to do it.

The Fandom – Like me and many of my friends you can be a comic book nerd, collect Funko Pop figures, be a film buff or count the days until your next convention, in London you can find anything you are a fan of. Collectibles, many incredible conventions, stunning movie premiers and the ability to meet the stars you admire if you want to. All you have to do is a bit of research because things are always happening in London, you just have to figure out when and where.

Street Art – Of course there is the stunning Shoreditch that is packed full of graffiti and street art of every kind but you can also find some stunning creations in Camden, in Soho and everywhere around the city really. Some big names in the street art scene started their way in London and others come from all over the world to leave their mark on its walls so if street art is what you like just take to the streets and it will be waiting there for you to find and enjoy.

And of course there are the insanely beautiful Christmas decorations and markets, the best Pride parade ever, the acceptance of every person, no matter what you like or what you wear, the amazing people who on the one hand don’t shove their nose into your business but on the other hand are the warmest, loveliest, most fun loving people I had the privilege of calling my friends. So much to do, so much to discover, so much to experience and so much to Love!

Me and my London.JPG

Those are some of the reasons why I will always and forever be in love with London and I hope I gave you the desire to taste a bit of what it has to offer. Feel free to message me or comment if you want any more specific recommendations or to follow my blog as I promise you this will not be my last post about my beautiful London.

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x

A band-aid for wanderlust

Nachal Mearon Natural Reserve

Happy Sunday fellow travelers! Before I dive into all my stories I would like to share with you a little secret I’ve learned that might help you chase away the wanderlust blues, even if only for a little while.

The Hexagon Pool

When I lived in England I used to take a few days every now and then to travel the country, to discover the new place I was now calling home. So even when I didn’t have a plane ticket I still felt like a traveler. I found (and please feel free to let me know if you agree or if you think I’m wrong) that moving back from living abroad or coming home from a long trip can sometimes… who am I kidding?! most times, bring about what I call ‘the wanderlust blues’. The feeling that an incredible adventure has come to an end: no more daily excitement, no more new places to discover, no more complete sense of freedom, a feeling that can be a bit overwhelming especially when combined with a nine-to-five job and a hectic routine.

Ramon Crater

I also found that my born and raised London friends very rarely travel inside England as for them it was not really considered traveling. I always found it funny because they were missing out on so much but then again… wasn’t I doing the exact same thing back in Israel??? When I lived here before moving to the UK I almost never took trips around the country, I would hear from tourists I’ve met how amazing this country is and would look at them in bewilderment. This country? amazing?? Seriously???

beer tuvia
Beer Tuvia

When I moved back to Israel, when I came back from my 4 months trip to New Zealand and Australia, when I returned from a month in the US, all those homecomings were fun at first, everyone wanted to see me and hear stories and look at my photos and I felt very loved and missed. Also, by sharing my stories and photos over and over again I got to live my adventures a little while longer, and know that I did something not everyone gets to do. But then it would all be over, I would have to get back to work, to my less lively social life (as I left 70% of my friends back in London and also because for some reason I seem to be more fun in the UK) and the blues would just kick in, the wanderlust and the need for a trip would sometimes be so strong all the rest would just feel depressing.

Sea of Galilee

But then, thanks to my cousin Michal who loves to travel (no matter where) and that invited me to join every time she and her friends were going on a trip, I discovered that magic can also be found locally and not only across an ocean. I discovered Israel’s stunning beaches and sunsets, mountains and deserts, rivers and valleys and wildlife and everything I look for when I go on a trip abroad.

rosh hanikra
Rosh Hanikra

I realize it’s not the same, it’s less exotic and in Israel’s case it’s also less big which is why I call it a band-aid for wanderlust and not a cure. However, think of it this way: it is much cheaper than going abroad which makes it more accessible on a more regular basis and you never know what wonderful things you might find. It also makes us all better ambassadors for our own countries because now when I hear a tourist telling me Israel is amazing I can say “I know, right?! but have to been to…?” and show them there is much more to see.

Caesarea

So next time when you are feeling the wanderlust blues, and there is still a while to go before your next trip abroad, round up some friends (alone is also cool) jump into your car, make a wicked road-trip playlist, take to the open road and go exploring your own country. Find a new beach with a new stunning sunset, a new area of historical ruins, a new river to cross and a new story to tell your friends and family when you come home.

Negev Desert

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x

New year’s resolutions…

I don’t know if any of you even remember but a year ago I’ve started this travel blog and had exactly ONE introductory post for a whole year… Not the best way to get going, is it?!

it is now 2019 and I had a million new year’s resolutions this new year’s, some more successful so far (start a saving account, enroll in a French course) and some I manage to stick to almost every day but not as much as I would like to (get out of bed before 7am, read a book for at least 30 minutes each day…), as they say, I am a work in progress.

“What does one have to do with the other?” you ask, well, one of this year’s resolutions was to write a blog entry at least once a month, not too much to get me overwhelmed but not too little, hopefully I will get myself inspired and write more than that.

So here I am, re introducing myself: my name is Yael Jolie, but you can call me Jo (everyone else does), I am 38 and reside in Israel but for 9 years of my life I lived in London, the most amazing city in the world. I fell in love with it when I visited it for the first time when I was 12 and it is a love story for the ages, so you can absolutely expect some posts about London and all that I love about it. I have an M.A. in Art History so some travel museum content is also coming your way but only because I really love it, not just because I studied it 😛

 

Me at the airport
At the airport! Because this is where every amazing trip starts.

I chose to write a travel blog because I travel quite a lot, it is one of my biggest passions and I like to tell people about the things I saw, great places to visit and stay, differences in cultures, local attractions and the food! ALL OF THE FOOD!!! Which brings me to my second passion, cooking/baking and since I don’t like to limit myself every now and then my home-made creations might find their way into this blog… I hope you don’t mind (and I promise it will always come with  a recipe).

I promise my next entry will actually be about travel, most likely London related, even though I am getting so many Facebook memories from my trip to New Zealand I might be tempted to write about that. I just really wanted to re-start this blog and invite you to join me on this cyber journey. Have a great weekend y’all and see you next time.

Go wander, your Traveling Unicorn x

 

The Traveling Unicorn

Hi everybody,

I’ve wanted to start a travel blog for a while now. To share my photos, experiences and adventures with whoever might find them interesting and along the way maybe re-live some of the incredible moments I’ve collected.

2018 is about to begin and what better way to start it than by doing something new. I invite you all into my world of travel, to share some of my stories and to tell me some of yours.

I hope this will be fun for you to read as much as it was for me to experience… just remember the immortal words of J.R.R. Tolkien: “Not all those who wander are lost!”