March 5-9, 2020
Jolly old England! It has been over 20 years since I last stepped on British soil. During that long period of time, I have become increasingly intrigued with revisiting England and making new memories as an adult. I literally immersed myself in the English culture during my trip and made sure to visit London’s number one tourist attraction, Harry Potter. Get ready to dive into my London experience and learn, see and do!
- Oyster Card: This is the best thing you can buy to save you on transportation costs around London. You can load up to 50 British Pounds on the card. It is imperative to keep in mind that it cost 5 British Pounds to activate the card, so make sure to put additional money on the card to account for this fee. You can also purchase the Oyster Card online before you arrive in the country. Unlike other metro cards, the Oyster card can be used for all forms of public transportation; the underground, overground, city buses and the railways.
Munch Tip: Make sure to download the free app CityMapper. This is a great app to plan your route. It allows you to track the best forms of transportation to use, whether it’s the underground or walking.
- Changing of the Guard: Everyday at 11 AM the changing of the guard takes place outside of the famous Buckingham Palace. The pageantry show gives you a glimpse of the accuracy and precision of the British military. The Queen’s military band plays a melody of music before the Queen’s Guards begin the ceremonial proceedings. This is one of the many free events that you can partake in during your visit.
Munch Tip: Arrive early to get a good vantage point of the show. I suggest you head up to the fountain area, so you can get an excellent view as the Queen’s Guards leave the palace and begin their march down to St. James’s Palace.
- Windsor Castle: The Queen of England heads to Windsor Castle during the summers to enjoy the slower pace of the town. This has been occupied by the Royal Family for centuries, but it wasn’t a household name until Queen Victoria christened it as the summer home of the Royals. Full of history, this is where you can see the state apartments where the Queen host guests for horse races and the crowning ceremony of knights. By exploring the grounds you can see the church where Prince Harry and Meghan Markel got married. It does not look as grand as it did on TV, but it still was a once in a lifetime experience.
Munch Tip: Head straight to the back of the castle to see the state apartments. The line can get extremely long. Also, photography is not authorized inside to castle, so be prepared to take a mental picture.
- Free Tours By Foot – East London Food Tour: Free Tours by Foot is an excellent way to learn about a city without going broke by spending large amounts of money on a tour service. Tour guides work on a pay what you can system. This company offers everything from food to architectural tours. To get the best of both worlds, I booked the East London Food Tour which started in the financial district of the city and ended in the culturally diverse area of Shoreditch. The first stop on the tour was the bakery, Konditor. This establishment is known for their brownies. Reasonably priced, you can purchase one brownie for 3.40 British Pounds ($4.17). The second stop was to a Rajmahal Sweets, a Pakistani shop where you can order a traditional hand held snack. The chicken samosa that we purchased for 1 British Pound ($1.28) was stuffed with spicy chicken and peas. This could have been more enjoyable if the samosa was warmed up. The highlight of the tour for me was going to an authentic “Chipper”. Poppies is one of the well known fish and chip restaurants in London. Mr. Poppy sits at the front of the restaurant everyday to oversee operations and ensure that no bad meals are served. This fish and chip combo consists of 4 pieces of fried cod and piping chips (french fries). Sprinkle a little salt and vinegar on your combo and don’t forget to ask for the tartar sauce in the jar, that they keep behind the counter. To balance out the savory fish and chip combo, the tour guide took us on a brief pit stop to the black owned business, Dark Sugars. All of the chocolate that is made in this shop is produced with cocoa from Ghana. The last stop on our tour was to the Beigel Bakery which is known for their Hot Salt Beef beigel sandwich. Be prepared to know what you want to order, or else the women behind the counter will quickly tell you off and direct you to the back of the line. Since the bakery is open 24/7, it is the go to place for a midnight snack.
Munch Tip: After the tour, stay in the neighborhood and explore the many markets in the area. If you go on a Sunday, there is a great street market with lots of food stalls and vendors in the Shoreditch area.
- Stonehenge: The circular stone structure is a marvel to human history and well deserving of being recognized as a World Heritage site. Built 5,000 years ago, these large stones were transported to the open area to create a place of worship for the inhabitants of the area. The Neolithic people were mystical and in tune with the Earth and astronomy. There are even burial grounds that surround the structure. Stonehenge was also used as a sundial to predict the time of day. Walk halfway around Stonehenge and you will see an arrow on the ground that shows you the sunset line.
Munch Tip: The admission fee includes a shuttle ride up to Stonehenge. However, visitors have the option to walk up to the site and experience the English countryside.
- Roman Baths: Bath is best known for their ancient Roman Baths. I was really impressed on how much preservation has taken place since my last visit over 20 years ago. I really enjoyed the interactive displays and the many stories of the people who visited the baths. As part of the tour, you receive an audio walking tour that explains each exhibit throughout the museum. Similar to the spas of today, Roman Baths were a gathering place for people to get a massage or just sit in the steam room. I also found it interesting that there was a temple dedicated to the Roman Goddess, Minerva that was on the compound. Roman Bath visitors would leave prayers and curses asking Minerva for assistance. You can actually see some of the written curses on little pieces of metal that were found in the ruins. If time permits, I highly suggest that you look around the quaint town of Bath.
Munch Tip: At the end of the tour don’t forget to try a sample of the mineral water that comes from the springs. It might taste a little funky, but it’s supposed to be a cure all antidote. Don’t worry, the water has been treated.
- Harrods: Spend, spend, spend! Looking to make a big purchase during your next trip? Harrods is the place to go. Similar to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City, you will see high end brands such as Versace and Balencgia. After you tire yourself out from shopping, head down to the food hall. There you will find tons of sweets and savory foods. Harrods stays open until 9 PM which allows for plenty of time to window shop.
Munch Tip: To find something in a more economical price range, take the escalator down to the ground level to the Harrods gift shop. This is a great place to buy souvenirs and a couple of gifts for yourself.
- TWA Hotel at JFK Airport: This hotel is a one of a kind location that transports you back to the 1960’s. Half hotel, half museum you get a glimpse of what luxury travel was like. There are several bars scattered throughout the hotel, but the highlight is the Connie airplane. When you board the plane, you can order specialized cocktail drinks and light appetizers while relaxing in luxury. There are many exciting hotel attributes to explore, such as the food hall were you can get a Mr. Softee ice cream or an Italian panini. On the second floor of the lobby, you can see the different flight attendant uniforms that were designed by high end designers such as Valentino and Ralph Lauren. The price of a one night stay at the hotel is comparable to what is offered in downtown New York City. The TWA Hotel is the perfect pit stop before the next leg of your journey.
Munch Tip: If you have time, head to the Howard Hughes wing and take the elevator to the top floor. From there you can take a dip in the heated pool or have a drink at the ski lodge themed bar and watch the planes take off.
- Dominique Ansel Bakery: Forget doing your traditional afternoon tea at a posh restaurant. Head to this creative bakery where you will not see a cucumber or tomato sandwich on the menu. When ordering afternoon tea, there are three options, ranging from reasonable to extravagant. I choose the Signature afternoon tea which came with 4 sweet and 4 savory tea snacks. Earl Grey tea was the drink I chose to accompany my snacks. The artistry and execution of each tea snack was exciting and refreshing. My top three favorite snacks were the peas in the pod, mushroom croquettes and the apricot & mango. The server was so attentive and thoughtful, that he brought us macaroons as a parting gift.
Munch Tip: If you don’t have time to do a proper English afternoon tea, you can order treats from the bakery to take to go.
- Borough Market: This outdoor public food and vegetable market is the oldest market in London. This is one of the many food paradises in the city that offer artisanal cheese, tea and olive vendors. Among the plethora of options available, my radar was focused on the seafood vendor. I ordered a plate of steamed mussels with french fries for only 9.50 British pounds ($11.56), which is a crazy good price! The mussels were steamed perfectly in a white cream sauce. The french fries were hot and crispy and a great compliment to the mussels. My next food stop was to the goat ice cream vendor. I chose the vanilla honeycomb flavor which cost me 3.50 British pounds ($4.29) for a single scoop. I am a huge fan of alternative milks and this ice cream didn’t disappoint. The tanginess from the goat milk and the sweetness from the vanilla and honeycomb were a perfect combination. I would definitely buy a pint of this if it were in the grocery store.
Munch Tip: Don’t miss out on the food court that is located in the back of the market. One vendor in particular that you must try is Rudie’s Jerk Shack. The jerk calamari with the green hot sauce is a must try.
- The Making of Harry Potter – Warner Brothers Studio Tour London: The ultimate fan experience! If you want something more authentic than Universal Studios, you have to make this part of your London itinerary. Tickets must be purchased in advance and are known to sell out. So plan and purchase accordingly. From the start of the tour, you are immersed into the world of Harry Potter. A short video gives you a recap of the movies and the film production. Once the intro is over, you literally get to step into the movie sets and explore. Interactive videos allow you to fly on a broom and ride the train to Hogwarts just like Harry Potter. As like any theme park, you are presented with several options to purchase trinkets and photos along the way. The estimated time to see the studio lot in its entirety is 3.5 hours. Personally, I could have been there all day. The last tour scheduled starts at 4:30PM. I highly suggest that this is the ticket you purchase so you don’t have to compete with the crowds.
Munch Tip: Transportation to the Warner Brothers Studio can be quite difficult to get to without access to a car. The most economical way is to take the “Railway” train to the Waterford Junction train stop. From there you can purchase a ticket on the Warner Brothers Studio shuttle bus that takes you directly to the venue.
- Yuu Kitchen: This restaurant is located in the Shoreditch area of London. The decor is warm, hip and has bird cages that opt for lighting fixtures. It has a whole indoor/outdoor feel. The menu is made as a series of small bites that are designed to be shared. The speciality of this restaurant are the bao buns. Within my party we tried the tofu & kimchi, soft shell crab and wagyu beef bao buns. For the sides we ordered the fried octopus, pork belly, gyoza and rice. The food was hot, delicious and was the perfect meal to the end of a long day. For my cocktail, I ordered the oolong mojito that came in a teapot with ice. This was such a creative take, that I almost forgot I ordered something cold.
Munch Tip: The staff was amazing! They were very accommodating and knowledgeable about the menu. Order the desert to close out your meal. You will not be disappointed.