While I was studying abroad in the UK, I promised myself that I would make a stop in London no matter what. Yes, a lot of it had to do with my love for Harry Potter, but I felt like everyone I knew who had been to Europe had been to London and had great things to say about it. When making plans with a friend of mine, I realized very quickly that this was going to be the most expensive weekend getaway I would have. Living in Scotland, I had gotten used to the death of my bank account known as the British pound. While I was abroad the exchange rate was about £1 = $1.60 which adds up so much quicker than you’d expect. Put that together with the most expensive city in the UK and you’ve got… a lot of research to do to save your money.
The easiest and cheapest part of the trip was ironically the flight. I used Ryanair, a budget airline, for most of my trips while I studied abroad. The flights to and from London were each £15 (about $24) and left almost every hour of the day. It flies into London Stansted airport, which is about an hour outside of London, and you take an £8 bus ride to Victoria Station.
Luckily, the hostel I was staying in was about a ten minute walk from Victoria Station. Yes, I said hostel. The Airbnb prices within the city are extremely expensive and the more affordable locations would have taken about 30 minutes on public transportation to get into the city. We decided to settle with a hostel right in the city that I found on Hostelworld. That way we’d save time and some money by not paying for all of that commuting back and forth. The hostel was pretty cool, because it was above an old-fashioned pub. It was a pretty standard hostel for the most part. However, it did cost $45/person each night to stay in a room with 15 other people who were constantly in and out. Which can get annoying if you’re a light sleeper like I am. Another downside was the showers. They were nasty to the point that I took a shower the first night and the preferred waiting until I got home at the end of the weekend to shower again. Unfortunately, I hadn’t bought any flip flops from home and when I looked to buy some, they were only being sold online for $30. Because who in their right mind would think about buying flip flops in November? Only me, apparently. So I was left cringing while I took a shower. So my advice is if there’s any chance that you’ll be staying in a hostel, pack some cheap flip flops in your suitcase. Even though the location was pretty great, being walking distance from Buckingham Palace and we had breakfast included, this is a situation where I might have splurged a bit more for a private room with Airbnb.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to London was to on the Harry Potter Studio Tour at the Warner Bros. Studios. Since the studio is outside of London, difficult to get to without a car, and pretty expensive, I managed to find a deal on a website that offers a shuttle ride to and from the studio and a ticket that gives you three hours in the studio. This ended up working really well. And if you are any kind of fan of Harry Potter I highly recommend the Studio Tour. Without giving away any spoilers, it blew me away. They have almost everything from the sets of the movies and it made me cry more than once. They have indoor and outdoor set pieces. Large and small. My favorite part was probably getting to put on a Hogwarts robe (I asked for a Hufflepuff robe — Badger Pride!), getting on a broom in front a green screen and having my picture taken. A Potterhead’s dream come true! In a perfect world, we would have had more like four hours but it was definitely a sufficient amount of time to see everything in the studio.
As far as transportation goes, my friend and I spent most of our time walking to get around the city. We had a few things that we really wanted to see, but figured it was nice enough to walk the 30-45 minutes to wherever we were going instead of paying for The Tube, London’s subway system. We only used it once when it was raining like crazy, and it was £2.50 (about $4) even with the Oyster Cards my friend had managed to borrow from her friends. Without Oyster Cards, one ride during most of the day is £4.50 ($7.20)! Since it was our first time in London, we decided it was a better choice overall to just walk to where we wanted to go. We got to see more of the city and saved at least £12 ($19).
Overall, London was fun but was not my favorite city. I had grown to love places that have very old architecture and different cultures compared to the US, and I felt that London could have been plopped anywhere in the United States and fit right in. With that said, it was a great place to be but if you’re looking for places that look ancient with their own defined culture, London may not be at the top of your list.
If you’ve been to London before, what did you like and dislike? Let me know in the comments!