London: Our Gateway to Europe


London is one of those iconic destinations for Americans who want ease their way into experiencing Europe. There is hardly a language barrier and very little cultural shock. Naturally, we chose it as the launching point for our trip.

To-Do List:

I found this guide particularly useful!

Day One

After a slightly turbulent 10-hour flight from Seattle to Heathrow, we finally made it to Europe! Before hopping on the train to our hotel in the Hackney borough of London, we needed a quick jolt of caffeine.

Cafe Nero is similar to Starbucks in its decor and burnt, bitter tasting coffee. It's available in several high-traffic footpaths in London. It isn't the third-wave coffee I'm used to in Seattle, but the flat white and lemon poppy seed muffin were godsends after a long flight.

The train ride on the London Underground from Heathrow to Hackney was a about an hour and a half. We hit all the major stops in London, many crowds came and went by the time we reached our final destination.

The Re Hotel is a fancy and modern lodging option in a seemingly gritty and youthful neighborhood. Lined along Hackney Rd are small shops and bodegas offering everything from fried chicken to iced coffee. It's similar to Capitol Hill in Seattle while it was in it's older, grungier phase: a little run-down, but in a hip sort of way.

After locking our belongings with my REI cable-lock (there was no safe in the room), we ventured out in hopes of drinking beer at an English pub.

We found a renovated 18th-century pub nearby on Bethnal Green Rd named Old George. As soon as we walked in, it was clear this was the place to be! We made our way through the crowded and lively bar to the festoon-lit beer garden in the back. We asked the friendly bartender for his best recommendation for beer and watched as he "pumped" a blonde ale from the tap into our glasses.

After enjoying our first beers in London, we left Old George for another pub hidden in a back alley named Sebright Arms. To get to this bar, we followed a dark, barb-wired alley known better as Sebright Passage. Risky, yes, but it opened up to beautiful wood-paneled pub known for its live music and ale selection!


While the salty chicken strips and spicy mayo at Sebright Arms were tasty, the drunken walk home left me hungry for the cheap eats at Fresh Cook Grill. It's essentially fast food, but the stale fries and dry chicken were excellent beer-munchy fixes!

Day Two

To start off our second day in London, we made our way to Ozone Coffee Roasters on Old Street for a pour-over coffee fix. The roaster is actually a coffee shop and restaurant, with the chef preparing meals right in the middle of the dining room! We opted for Brundi Munyinya Hill roast, poured over with a Hario V60 accompanied by an apple-custard turnover.

Energized, we made our way to Cafe Oz for an authentic English breakfast. A true English breakfast is a thing of great debate, but we had read good things about this cozy little cafe near King's Cross. No more than five minutes after ordering, a platter of hash browns, black pudding, fried tomatoes, etc. were served to us. It was very hearty and, whether or not it passes as "authentic", we loved it!

Our next stop was Camden Market, but on our way to the London Underground, we made a quick visit to Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Train Station. We're not the hugest Harry Potter fans, but it was a fun little pitstop.

Camden Market is reminiscent of Canal Street in New York: tons of small, unique shops and tons of crowds. The storefronts are known for their unique, and often strange, artwork.

We eventually got lost fighting our way through the crowds, but found ourselves among the narrow corridors of the Stables Market. 700 individual shops line this historic marketplace, offering a diverse range of products.

While leaving the market, we stumbled upon a small ice cream shop named Chin Chin Labs, which specializes in nitrogen-cooled ice cream. We were interested enough to stop in and order a burnt caramel scoop with pistachio on top. A sweet treat for surviving the labyrinth of the market and the crowds!

The walk to Primrose Hill was much quieter than the market. Tall brownstone homes lined the cobblestone streets, similar to the way the Painted Ladies in San Francisco hug the streets near Alamo Square.

The view from the top of Primrose Hill was vast. The London skyline isn't exactly as breathtaking as, say, the New York City skyline, but it was nice to see it all.

After riding on a double-decker bus back to Hackney, we walked a few blocks from our hotel to The Marksman for a Sunday Roast. We had been walking around all day, it was time for some food and drink!

While the food was a bit "fancier" than I had expected, it was extremely unique and delicious! Roasted meat and cold beer was a great way to end the day.

Day Three

Our last full day in London was a marathon! We saw most of the major attractions London has to offer.

We started by taking the crowded tube to Piccadilly Circus. It was Monday, so there were crowds of people commuting to work.

Piccadilly Circus reminds me of Broadway in New York: bright screens with ads and theaters strewn about. There are plenty of places to eat and shop, but we stopped into a Starbucks. Feeling homesick, I suppose!

After enjoying our coffee, we made our way towards Trafalgar Square.

In Trafalgar Square, massive statues of lions surround a tall monument with some kind of war hero on top. I later found that the square is named after a significant naval victory during the Napoleonic wars. We tossed some quarters into the large fountains, made a wish, then made our way towards The Mall.

The walk along The Mall was a bit long, but there were interesting things to see along the way. The entire road is lined with British flags. Occasionally, guards with horses would ride up and down the road, patrolling the area.

At the end of the road, we arrived to a large crowd at Buckingham Palace!

There were many lined up along the golden gates of the palace to witness the Change of Guards, where the guards change shifts in traditional and ceremonial fashion. We ended up skipping the show, but managed to catch a marching band playing the Star Wars theme in a courtyard nearby!

We continued our walking tour by heading down towards the Thames River to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.

The large gothic towers of Westminster Abbey was breathtaking. Not too far away is Big Ben, which we arrived just in time to hear the bells of the clocktower ring it's eleven o'clock song!

We crossed the Westminster bridge towards the London Eye. At this point, the crowds of tourists were out in full force.

The London Eye is a large Ferris wheel that gives visitors sweeping views of the entire city. It takes about twenty minutes to make a full rotation and the viewing capsules aren't jam-packed. So, we were able to wander around and snap photos from many different vantage points!

At this point, we were cold and hungry. So, we made our way back across the Thames towards Covent Garden. We were on the quest for our first official meat pie!

Battersea Pie Station is a small meat pie shop on the bottom floor of Covent Garden. It's popular, so seating space is quite limited, but I didn't mind the crowd because my minced beef and onion pie was flaky, warm, and delicious!

It wasn't on our list, but we decided to make a run by St. Paul's Cathedral. We grabbed coffee at a nearby coffee shop named Artigiano. I will say, the baristas there made me one of the best Americanos I've had so far in London!

The rain started coming down as we made our way across the Millennium Bridge and past the Shakespeare Globe Theatre. Rather than walking along the Thames River, we hopped on a bus to the London Tower Bridge.

The Tower Bridge is an engineering marvel, towering high up and over the Thames River allowing cars and pedestrians to cross. The pedestrian footpath is now a viewing observatory with glass floors! Looking down gave us vertigo, but it was fun to see.

Like the traditional English breakfast, authentic fish and chips is a hotly debated topic. We found a small, but popular "chippy" joint in Spitalfields called Poppie's Fish and Chips. The venue emulated a 1950s diner and the jukebox pumped out great music. We enjoyed a generous serving of cod, haddock, and plenty of chips. Also, it wouldn't be a classic fish and chips meal without mushy peas!

London was an excellent introduction to Europe and I wouldn't mind spending much more time exploring the city. I'll definitely have to come again someday!

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