A couple of months ago I wrote about a short trip my partner and I planned on taking to London, in spite of the fact I have a dicey track record with the city. While I’ve never had any bad experiences or tragedies happen there per se, I never really enjoyed myself either. In the post I said that this was my last effort as a tourist to like London and that while I will undoubtedly visit again, it wouldn’t be done happily. However, I wanted to give the city that everyone seems to love so very much another chance, to see if I could find something to like about the town. We’ve been back for a few weeks but before the trip was even over I knew that this experience was different from all of my other attempts to enjoy London. Yes, I had a great time exploring the city, but now I’m curious why this trip was so different.
My other attempts to play tourist in London weren’t organized and usually ended up with me lost and confused in some cute British alleyway. Sure, that may have happened yet again on this trip (I’m just no good with maps) but we had a plan of attack this time, something new for my London explorations. I scheduled a couple of tours, but not much else with the idea of keeping our travel schedule light. However, I also did a lot more research and had a firm idea of the things my partner and I wanted to do and see. So instead of aimlessly walking around looking for “cute British things,” I had identified a few museums and sites that I thought would be of interest and we went to them as we had time, not feeling compelled to see everything. Being lightly organized was a great help, but note I use the word lightly. Planning every second of every day is NOT a good idea for any city and will usually result in a ruined trip. But for a city as large and complex as London, a general action plan is indeed a good idea.
Back to those tours I mentioned. I am an unabashed fan of walking and day tours. I think they add a lot to the travel experience if you have time for them and are frankly a lot of fun. My partner and I took a day trip out to explore more of England, which was fun, but the real star of the show was the Eating London walking tour coordinated via Viator. Food tours can be great but this exploration of London’s East End was the best food tour I’ve ever been on and I cannot recommend it enough. It was a highlight of our visit and arguably the best thing we did in London. And that’s the power of a really well executed walking tour; it can have a transformative effect on your trip. They’re not all made the same though, but if you’re ever in London I highly encourage you to go on the Eating London tour. It’s just that good.
In the past I let me wallet dictate my schedule in London, something that we didn’t ignore on this trip but we also weren’t afraid to spend a little to have amazing experiences. I have learned through painful trial and error that if you’re going to commit time and resources to travel, then you might as well do it right. Spending a little more for experiences that in most times will define the trip is what travel is all about ultimately. For my partner and I that meant embracing our inner corny tourist and seeing iconic London. We went to a play in the West End, spent a few hours walking around the Tower of London and even took a sunset ride up in the London Eye. None of these experiences are cheap and all are extraordinarily touristy – but they are also a whole lot of fun. Those experiences, along with the tours, made the trip fun for us. Without them I would be writing a post about how dull London is. I needed this infusion of touristy goodness in order to get the experiences out of London that I craved. Were there missteps? You bet, and getting lost in the Inns of Court while arguing about getting lost in the Inns of Court wasn’t a great time, but instead of allowing moments like that to define our experience in London, we (mostly) ignored it.
Yes, this makes a difference and it’s not just my hotel-loving tendencies coming to the surface. Ok, maybe a little bit. But I am a firm believer in the power of a well-located and comfortable hotel; I know that it can transform the travel experience from something quotidian into a remarkable journey. This time my partner and I stayed at the InterContinental London Park Lane and while it had a few service issues, the overall comfort of the property and its location just can’t be beat. The hotel was next to the Hyde Park tube stop, right in the heart of the city allowing us instant access to all of the sites we wanted to visit. You can save a lot of time and ultimately money by simply picking the right hotel, location is just that important.
I was 22 when I first visited London and for a young Anglophile it was a dream come true. But I was jetlagged and cranky and stressed from my lack of travel experience, not to mention the fact that I was traveling alone. Sure I saw London’s famous sites, but I was in a foul mood and couldn’t wait to leave the expensive city for the countryside. In the years since I’ve made a few other attempts to like London, failing each and every time. Looking back at those trips and who I was as a person I now believe the fault to be mine entirely. I didn’t have the right mindset to enjoy London on those trips; I don’t think I wanted to like London. This time was different though. I was very excited about the trip, about spending time with my partner in a beautiful city and just being on vacation, albeit a brief one. That attitude was key and I approached the city wide eyed, willing to be taught new things. That’s important I think and is a good personal lesson on how I travel and to be oh so careful about prejudging new destinations and exploring them with the right mindset. It’s not always easy, as my previous failures with London prove, but in travel attitude is everything.
Is there a place you’ve grown to like, even though you initially didn’t enjoy it?