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?
14 thoughts on “Redemption For London”
I’m so glad that London had ‘redeemed’ itself this time for you! I agree that where you stay does make a big difference. Im heading there end of the year and though I have no touristy plans, I’m quite excited!
I hungrily second the Eating London Food Tour as a must do. It is, by far, THE BEST walking and/or food tour I have ever been on. The weaving of cultural, immigrant history, architectural stories and their effect on the food of the East End of London is masterful. Never mind that the food is also wonderful!
It’s amazing, isn’t it. That tour really brings to light what everyone else is doing wrong.
I remember reading your earlier post saying that you were giving London one last chance and I am so happy to hear that this visit was much more successful for you. London is one of my most loved cities so I always love hearing about how others experience it. As for my not so great experience with a city, me and Bangkok have never got on well but I’m really hoping I can get back there again soon now that I have a lot more travel experience and knowledge of the city.
Paris.i first visited Paris as a 20-something with my parents (trip sponsored by them). I didn’t have very much impression of the city and London remained the winner in my heart all my life. I recently visited Paris this summer and I am now in love with the city. I love the old building architecture, the bridges and canals, its pebbled streets. I hope to go back to Paris again in the near future and spend more time soaking the city.
So glad to hear you finally came around to London! It’s one of my favorite cities ever, so I’m happy to hear you had a good time there at last. (And now I am totally itching to buy a plane ticket there… this will be the first time in the last 3 years that I haven’t been to London!)
Beautiful photos Matt :-) I’m English and I totally agree with you that my first few visits to London did not leave me with a fantastic impression of my country’s capital. It just seemed busy, overpriced and held no charm or appeal to me. However in recent years one of my close friends has moved there and visiting her has allowed me to see a completely different side to the city – or rather lots of different sides. I’ve noticed the diversity of the place and really been able to get under the city’s skin. I’ve met some wonderful, creative people from all walks of life, and I now love going back to London at every available opportunity :-)
Woo hoo for London this time! I have a few friends that have also discouraged me from visiting but I hope when I go, it’ll be a decent if not great experience. Thanks for the Eat London recommendation – I’m also a big fan of walking & food tours. :)
My first visit to London was kind of blah but I think I would have a much better experience with a few organized tours. The Eat London tour is right up my alley, I love food tours!
So glad my favorite city redeemed itself! I had a great time on my unofficial eating tour of Brick Lane last visit but would love to take a real London food tour. So glad you took in a West End show, too. That to me is a quintessential London experience–especially enjoyable on a rainy afternoon with a few drinks:))
I’m so happy to hear that you loved it this time! The touristy things are definitely fun – I loved going to West End Shows, Tower of London, Thames Cruise and the many Museums – and I lived there! The guided walks in London are fantastic – I have done the Jack the Ripper walk, Old Hampstead village walk, Highgate Cemetery walk, Nunhead Cemetery walk, East End Street Art walk and WestEnd Murder and Mayhem walk – this was over a 6 year period though! I will definitely check out the food tour next time as I love the food in London – especially the many food markets
Britain’s food culture has improved so much over the last generation … glad you got to enjoy it!
I haven’t been back to London in almost 20 years and I have a feeling my stomach will be dragging me there quite soon. So much culinary talent is coming from the UK as a whole it’s hard not to stand up and take notice. Now all I have to do is scrape together enough pennies to procure a business class seat on Virgin Air. Haha. I guy can dream.
Hooray! Glad you liked it this time. :)
I’m lucky–I get to stay with family whilst visiting there. So I get a different experience than I would staying in a hotel or B&B.
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