Although England is a small country in terms of land mass, the English reach has extended to much of the world throughout history. One of four countries that make up the United Kingdom, England is rich in culture, history, and attractions. London
in particular is one of the most popular cities in the world. England has many other things to see and do throughout the country and it's pretty easy to get around. The weather in England is pretty gloomy most of the time, but spring and summer seem to have their occasional warm, sunny days. Definitely bring your rain gear. England, as with pretty much all of the UK, has a strong drinking culture (beer and tea) so you can surely partake in those activities anywhere. There are a variety of British accents depending on where you are. I absolutely love the kind you typically see in the movies. The Brits' superior linguistic skills either sound super intelligent or super sexy.
Suggest Staying: 1-2 weeks
Transport: Taxi, bus, train, metro
Highlights: City, museums, history, culture, nightlife
Suggest Staying: 5-10 days
Stay Around: Central or West London
London is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s huge, full of culture, and has lots to see. It’s also a place that is both good to visit and to live. It is a very expensive city, one of the most expensive in the world, so you’ll want to factor that into your budgeting. Many tour operators only start/end in London but don’t really spend much time there because of the cost. Instead you usually can extend on your own one or more days on the front or back end of the tour. This is what I did. English food is pretty terrible except for the pasty which is excellent and can be found all over the city, including metro underground food stalls. Luckily London is a very international and culturally diverse place, so there are different cuisines from all over the world and taste true to their country of origin. There are many museums that are free. I only listed below what I was able to cram into a few days, but there is so much to see and experience!
See & Do
- British Parliament / Big Ben. Seat of the UK government with attached clock tower. Big Ben looks amazing lit up at night.
- Westminster Abbey. Protestant abbey hosting daily services and coronations.
- Tower Bridge. One of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.
- Tower of London. One of the world’s most famous fortresses that has seen service as a royal palace, prison, armory, and zoo.
- Trafalgar Square. Famous square in London. We were there during Canada Day and got to watch a game of roller hockey.
- Victoria and Albert Museum. Greatest decorative arts museum in the world. Renaissance sculptures, medieval English treasures.
- National Gallery. Hundreds of the most beautiful paintings in the world. Located in Trafalgar Square.
- Wellington Arch. Busy traffic interchange at Hyde Park corner. One of the most viewed landmarks in London.
- West End. Famous for theaters, tourist attractions, hotels, shopping.
- Piccadilly Circus. Popular area located in the heart of London with plenty of shops and theaters. Like Times Square in New York City.
- SoHo. Trendy, hipster, vintage shops and restaurants. Also a popular area for gay bars, sex shops, and strip clubs. Kind of like the Castro District in San Francisco, but bigger and cooler (in my opinion).
- Fleet Street. For Sweeney Todd fans.
- Camden Town. Hip, bohemian neighborhood. Bit sketchy when I visited, but cool area with plenty of potential. Hopefully it has been improved.
- London Eye. Giant ferris wheel with enclosed capsules that allow you to see spectacular views of the city. I typically don’t do these types of things, but this was well worth it.
- The O2. Popular, large music venue.
- British Music Experience (BME). Awesome interactive rock music history with exhibits, signed guitars, outfits, and posters from famous rock stars of each decade. You can even play and record playing your own song and scan the stops on a card that you can then look up on the Internet when you get back home to see what you visited there. Located in The O2.
- London Film Institute. After learning that Dali Universe no longer existed, we were recommended this wonderful hidden gem. There are tons of movie artifacts and replicas from films like Star Wars, Batman, and more. Awesome place to take fun and creative photos.
- Buckingham Palace. Residence of the UK’s reigning sovereigns.
- Hyde Park. Huge, beautiful park.
- Kensington Gardens. Fancy neighborhood with fancy gardens. Very beautiful. Look for the Peter Pan statue.
- Tate Modern. National gallery of international modern art for Britain. Skip if you don’t have the time.
- Platform 9-3/4. For the Harry Potter fans. Located in The Tube at King’s Cross station.
- Harrod’s. Large department store.
- Fortnum & Mason. Department store.
- Getting Around. The Tube, London’s expansive metro system, is awesome, clean and inexpensive. It’s huge rail network will take you all over the city. Get an Oyster Card for the best deal and to avoid having to keep getting tickets every time you ride. You can simply re-up the balance on the card.
- Currency Exchange. If you hate foreign exchange booths, you can also exchange money at Fortnum & Mason (at least when I was there).
- Food. “Fries” are called “chips” and “chips” are called “crisps.”
- A/C. Doesn’t work very well and ice is in short supply.
- London Eye. Get a ticket and you’ll be given a time to return. If there is a wait, make that wait long enough to go and do something else in the meantime. London is very spread out and takes time to walk or taxi, not to mention the time to actually visit the attraction. Get there early so you can reserve your space and reduce the wait time. Arriving early in the day will free up the rest of your day.
- Drink. If you like cider, or want to try it, give Strongbow a go.
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Mathews St.
Liverpool has a long history of producing great British rock bands, most famous of which are The Beatles. The city is generally very young and artsy and you can catch live music any night of the week. I loved Liverpool, probably mostly because of the rich music history, but it also seemed pretty laid back and a little more raw than say London. Nice contrast from the big city, cathedrals, and castle ruins we saw during the rest of our trip.
See & Do
- Albert Dock. Dock of buildings and warehouses with nearby restaurants and galleries.
- The Beatles Story. Museum of historical facts, sets, instruments, and recording equipment from the Beatles’ time in Liverpool. Located at Albert Dock.
- Cavern Club. The famous club that showcased The Beatles. Now they have live music of all kinds, but a lot of bands focus on Beatles covers or covers of other British bands. The quality of musicianship is outstanding. Funny story, I visited with my friend and sister and while we were sitting at a booth, this middle aged man sitting by himself dressed the same as I presume he did back in the 80’s kept staring over at our table. Of course we assumed he was checking out my sister. We went over to purchase t-shirts while my friend held our table. We returned only for him to ask us not to leave him alone again. Apparently the guy was checking out my buddy and the two of them had a super awkward conversation. Of course my sister and I laughed hysterically, and a joke that would be retold on future travel adventures was born.
- Getting There. Take the train.
- Cavern Club. If you go early (I think we went right after dinner) you can get in for free and avoid the cover charge for the evening lineup.
- Safety. In general Liverpool seemed pretty safe in the main areas, but we were staying out of the center a bit and had an interesting (probably uncommon) experience. I tell it more for the story than as a cautionary tale. After a few hours at the Cavern Club, we headed back to our apartment. I passed out immediately and woke up the next morning to my friend and sister asking me if I heard the previous night’s ruckus? I apparently slept through some very large drunk dude constantly banging on our door throughout the early morning hours convinced that either we were some girls he was trying to get with or it was his room. He even tried to kick the door in a couple times. I was both amazed someone would actually try to do this and the fact that I slept through the entire thing despite my bed being next to the door into the apartment. I guess the moral of the story is to beware of crazy large drunk dudes.
Manchester United Stadium
Highlights: Football (soccer), shopping, museums, nightlife
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: City Center
Home of the famous Manchester United football club, Manchester is a large city with plenty to do or you can see most of the main attractions in a day. There is good nightlife and beer. It was here I learned that a lot of people in Britain prefer beer at room temperature and for cider to be served chilled with ice. Apothecary and Odd Bar were two bars we liked.
- Getting There. Take the train from any major city in England or fly from outside of England.
Highlights: The stones
Suggest Staying: 1/2 day
Salisbury or London
Some people don’t think looking at a bunch of rocks is interesting, but I thought Stonehenge was pretty cool. It’s very curious how these massive rocks were placed the way they were. We also got to see a Druid ceremony which was pretty cool. It is located in Salisbury, a nice little town, which is not far from London or Bristol.
- Logistics. This was included in our tour, but there was a very long line to get in and obviously you have to purchase a ticket to get in. Consider purchasing ahead of time online which requires you to pick a time window during which to visit.
Highlights: Roman baths
Suggest Staying: 1 day
Bath is very beautiful and most well known for the ancient Roman Baths. The city is actually built over naturally heated pools. It is an easy day trip from London or you can stay in Bristol if you don’t want to stay there or in Bath.
The Lake district is very beautiful and pretty large, Windermere being the largest lake. We stopped there on our way to Scotland for a boat ride which was a nice break and also got to ride on an old steam train. We also made a quick snack stop in Grasmere to a very famous gingerbread place Grasmere Gingerbread, which I remember being pretty outstanding.
This is a great stop for Shakespeare fans. His birthplace is located in Stratford-upon-Avon and you can tour his house. The town of Coventry is also nearby which is worth a quick stop if you’re out that way to see the Coventry Cathedral ruins.
This is most known for the university which teaches classes in its old castle. Just a small, charming, friendly town I really enjoyed.
Chester used to be a Roman fortress and is a cool medieval town. In the old city, there is a main shopping district with 2-level covered arcades and Tudor-style buildings. Looks like the influence for Harry Potter Land at Universal Studios in Orlando, FL. You can also take a side trip or pit stop to Ludlow Castle because why not see a castle on your way south towards Bristol or coming from the south on the way to Chester.
York City Center
Another great place to stay or just to stop if making your way farther up north or going south towards London. No doubt another directly influence for Harry Potter Land at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Remains of the Roman Empire’s fortifications.
Just a stop along our tour route, but seemed like a popular place for bachelor/bachelorette parties and apparently those that like to dress up in costumes. There are many bars and restaurants along the river. It's a pretty major city so sure there is more to do there, but we only slept there for a night and moved on.
- Cost. At this point I wasn't keeping as detailed records as I do traveling now, but for budgeting purposes, I would say a good rule of thumb is about $5,000 for 2 weeks, which includes airfare. Obviously it totally depends on your travel style and where you visit, but this has been a pretty good target for several trips (on tours) to major European cities and expenses came out pretty close to that.
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