Earlier this year I went to the UK to visit family. I spent a few days at their house in a small town, but beyond that I managed to stretch my stay and fit in three days of sightseeing in London. I had only been to London as a kid so I was there to see some of the main sights. I had very limited time so it’s a fairly intense itinerary!
- Budget: £140 all included (transport, accommodation, food, etc. but not the flights). I was supposed to have more money, but I made the mistake of exchanging money at the airport!
- Travel style: cultural sights and architecture are my main interests, I am perfectly capable of spending a few minutes staring at a wall if it has some historical significance. I enjoy walking long distances over taking the underground. I also wake up and go to sleep early every day to make the most of daylight hours!
Where to Eat
I kept hearing that London is a very vegan-friendly city, so I looked up a restaurant or two for every day before going and left it at that, sure that I would have no problems finding food. I was wrong. The truth is, I clearly didn’t recognise any of the British food labels, so I had no idea what to buy when going to a supermarket, and I had constant bad luck where it turned out almost all the restaurants I’d planned turned out to be closed, hard to find or only accepted credit cards. Overall, I lived off small spicy sandwiches from Tesco, grapes and oreos. I would recommend other vegans come more prepared (or, if you have access to the internet while out in the street, you can just look up happycow listings as you go). The restaurants I did manage to try were:
- Ila Vegan & Veg was the best restaurant I tried. Very affordable prices and wonderful healthy food!
- Borough Market has a few vegan options, mostly cakes and fruit but I did manage to find some curry takeaway for lunch.
- I initially intended to eat at Yeda near the British Museum, but they only accept credit cards. Wild Food Cafe is just around the corner, a bit expensive but good.
- At Gatwick Airport I had some Veggie Gyoza Udon at a place called Itsu. They had other vegan options available.
I arrived at Victoria Station around 1pm after taking a bus from Gatwick Airport. Because I was coming from Spain and it was a short trip, I didn’t need to be concerned about jet lag, tiredness or luggage and I was able to start my sightseeing right away (I ate a packed lunch on the bus).
Today’s route was a simple walking tour: from Victoria Station to my hostel. I started at Buckingham Palace for a glimpse of the guards, then crossed through St James’ Park. I was very excited to see squirrels since they’re hard to spot where I live, and there were also pelicans and plenty other birds, it was a lively area. Next onto Trafalgar Square, they were doing some construction so I couldn’t pass through the square to see the lions close-by, but I was able to enter the National Gallery. I walked around most of the different halls by myself but halfway through my visit I came across a tour group and joined the guided visit, the guide apparently works at the museum and does regular guided visits, I highly recommend joining since it turned out to be fantastic and he had a great sense of humour.
After the museum I just wanted to see some of London’s typical streets and atmosphere, so I just walked around town for the rest of the afternoon, first up to Diagon Alley (from Harry Potter; it did look like a dodgy little alley and someone had placed a fake owl on the windowsill!), then through the little Chinatown and to Piccadilly Circus. By this point it was both dark and raining, so I got to see the lights of both places reflected on the ground. Continuing to my hostel, I made it along Regent Street and Oxford Street, the Christmas lights were up but hadn’t been turned on for some reason, and finally all the way to Marylebone through some of the smaller streets.
I woke up quite early! I wanted to make it from Edgware Road down to South Kensington, be there by the time they opened the museums, but I vastly overestimed how much time I’d need to cross Hyde Park. Anyway, I was already dressed and awake so it was too late to go back to bed! On the plus side, it was still dark when I got to the Marble Arch and it looked quite nice lit up, I also got a view of the illuminated London Eye in the distance. The area was busy with early commuters on their way to work, but the depths of the park were eerily silent. I saw the sunrise from one of the bridges. I had plenty time to see the Peter Pan Statue, the Kensington Palace from outside and anything else I came across.
After freezing outside for an hour too long, I was one of the first into the Natural History Museum when it finally opened, most of the rooms were pretty much empty but the area with the skeletons and café seemed more popular. I greatly enjoyed the Victoria and Albert Museum next door, it ended up being one of my favourite sites in London.
I took my first underground to the other side of the city and visited the Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden (it looks much better in photos than in reality!) and to the Tower of London, before crossing Tower bridge and walking west along the other side: passing The Scoop until Borough Market, where I stopped for some lunch. They were doing a violin performance at Southwark Cathedral when I stopped by (free entry but no photos allowed). Finally, I crossed London Bridge and went to Leadenhall Market before going back to the hostel, but it seemed to all be closed.
I spent most of my third day in the British Museum. I had been advised to start at the Egyptian displays since they are very popular and get crowded later on; the main hall opens at 9am but the different galleries open at 10am, so I followed the advice and waited in front of the door to the Egyptian area. It was good advice and I had a good half hour there by myself before the first group of school kids arrived. Since the museum is free, I went out for lunch nearby and then came back in for the second half of the day. I was most interested in the displays of countries and cultures furthest from my own (Egyptian, Babylon, Sumeria, Native American, etc.) so I sorted out my priorities before going, but with a whole day in the museum I managed to see most of the halls either way. I thought of skipping the Romans since I’m from Spain but the displays they have are actually quite impressive even for those used to seeing Roman sites and artifacts.
After the museum I went to see St.Pancras Station and Platform 9 & 3/4, both from Harry Potter. There was a long line of people waiting to get their photo taken with the trolley half stuck in the wall, so I just took an empty photo before catching the underground back to Edgware Road.
I also started my last day in London fairly early. I got off at Westminster and went to have a look at the Big Ben. It was covered in scaffolding but I did get a nice view of London Eye, Westminster Abbey and the church from outside. I crossed the bridge and walked west along the other bank, stopping at ila Vegan & Veg for breakfast, before crossing the river again and heading to the Tate Britain. It had both old paintings and more contemporary displays, it was a calm way to spend the morning before I headed back to Victoria Station and took the train out to my family’s house. Someone with three full days could combine this morning with the walking route of day 1.
#vegan #london #culture #museums #walking #harrypotter