• London

    Harry Potter Studio Tour Sold Out? I Can Help

    So this is for all of you potterheads out there! I am an avid Harry Potter fan and this was my absolute must-go destination on this trip. Word of advice: book three months in advance to secure your date. These tickets sell out fast and if you don’t act quickly, you will lose them and you might have to pay double to amount with a tour group. If you realize that your tickets have sold out, don’t fret. I can help you and give you tips on getting the best deal.

    Tip #1: If you see that your dates are sold out, don’t scramble and start looking for tour bus + ticket combinations. Those can set you back around £50 per person and it’s really not worth it.

    Tip #2: Be flexible! Don’t have a single day when you MUST go to Harry Potter Studios. (If you do, there’s still a chance you can get those tickets). It’s much easier to get tickets if you are able to move your schedule around to fit it in.

    Tip #3: Check in daily for tickets on the official website. That is where you’re going to get the best price. Tickets that aren’t sold by the tour websites are put back on sale 6 days before the visit date around 01:00 GMT . I was actually able to snag tickets during my layover in Iceland (06:00 GMT) which was exactly 6 days before the day the ticket specified. 

    I hope these tip help you get those tickets and you enjoy the magical world of Harry Potter!

  • London

    London Day 5

    Our fifth day in London was also sort of a walking around and exploring day. We actually started at the British Museum, which was just gorgeous and so interesting to walk through. The British Museum is the oldest public museum in the world and it did not disappoint.

    To me (please remember that I am no architect), it reminds me of an ancient Greek temple and it is beautiful. When you walk in for the first time, you have no idea what’s coming. Holy is the interior stunning. The Great Court the massive center of the museum and has a huge column in the middle that has stairs going up and around either side. The roof has hundreds of glass triangles that allowed natural light in whilst creating a magnificent pattern above.

    The most interesting artifacts to me were the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian mummies. We spent around an hour to an hour-and-a-half here. If you are also interested in Asian, Middle-Eastern, or European artifacts, you might want to plan more time here.

    The British Museum
    Grand Court and the Glass Ceiling

    We walked down to Covent Garden and then Leicester Square and Chinatown. There were many Stoke City fans rallying to support the game that night (but Manchester United all the way, if you follow football) so it was probably much more lively than usual. Covent Garden is a luxury shopping and entertainment hub that has a gorgeous two-story shopping “centre” though it’s not really a centre. It is laid out as a rectangle with shops and restaurants lined along the sides. There is also a market next door where you can discover hand-made trinkets and artwork from local vendors.

    Leicester Square is the most crowded place in London. It is a huge tourist hotspot with street artists drawing crowds you have to squeeze by to get across. This is a cultural hub filled with entertainment like cinemas and theatres, restaurants, clubs, bars, shopping, casinos and luxury hotels. A lot of people say its a tourist trap but I think there is so much to see here and I love the vibrant vibe I get here.

    Covent Garden
    Bread Ahead Bakery

    By the time we left the Leicester Square it we were feeling peckish so we headed to the  Soho and Carnaby area to pick up some Bao and visit (for the third time this week) Bread Ahead Bakery.

    Bao Soho Food Guide available here.

    Bread Ahead Food Guide available here.

    Bao Soho

    We headed south down Regent Street and past Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square where the National Gallery is. Of course, like every other place in London, Trafalgar Square was beautiful and there was so much life there. People bustling around taking photos and drinking coffee. Street artists performing their heart out and drawing massive crowds. We ended up sitting in Pret a Manger, one of the largest coffee shop chains in the UK. We sat by the window in the Pret a Manger and enjoyed our view of the Equestrian Statue of Charles I and the Admiralty Arch which is the beginning of the Mall (the famous street that leads to Buckingham Palace) 

    Just a side note: Let me tell you that all three of the major coffee shop chains in London (Pret a Manger, Costa Coffee, and Caffe Nero) are great. They are far superior in quality than Canadian coffee shop chains. From the decor to the coffee to the food and to the service, everything is top-notch.

    The National Gallery
    Nelson's Column

    After our coffee break, we walked down the Mall to the most famous palace in the world: Buckingham Palace. The view of the palace as you are strolling down the Mall is a sight to behold. The gold angel on top of the statue glimmering in the sunlight as it stands tall and proud in the front and centre with the Buckingham Palace and its gates behind it in all its glory. There isn’t much to do here other than take some pictures and marvel at the grandiosity of the royal administrative house.

    Our next stop sadly no longer exists but I think it’s really cool because I am a huge fan of films (especially action ones). Kingsman is a spy film set in London and they use a tailor shop “Kingsmen” to cover for the secret organization. All of the weapons are hidden in the suits or accessories and they actually had a display window for the Kingsmen shop. You couldn’t go in but it was amazing to look and fangirl at. 

    Kingsmen Shop Front Display

    After a long day, we decided to walk back up Regent Street to see what the heart of London is like after it gets dark. Piccadilly was of course, still flooded with tourists taking the famous electronic adverts and Leicester Square was bustling with people catching West End Shows or out for a pint with their friends. We ended up at Carnaby again (this time for dinner) and I’m so glad that we did. Carnaby had these beautiful lights above their pedestrian walkways and provided excellent lighting for photos. It seemed like no matter what time of day it is or what day of the week, this area will always be crowded and lively. 

    Carnaby may attract many during the daytime with its shops and services, in the evenings it is all about food, wine, and beer. Having a good time with friends and family. Every single restaurant in this area and in Mayfair is so beautifully decorated and seems like an upscale place. I recommend visiting this area (even come back) to experience and taste some of the food they have to offer.

    Carnaby
  • London

    London Day 4

    Our fourth day in London was a pretty laid back because it was our day to walk around and explore London. We started on Oxford street, where roamed some high-street shops. We found another huge Primark so we spent some more time browsing the multi-level store (this becomes a trend during out trip in Europe). A lot of Oxford street was under construction at the time so there were a lot of trucks and workers on the road and that led to a lack of images. 

    One image that I do have is South Molten Street just off of Oxford Street and Bond Station. It’s a beautiful pedestrian road that leads from Oxford Street to Brook Street. The Mayfair area is gorgeous and has stunning architecture where every building is different and designed perfectly for their brand.

    Despite the fact that each shop is unique, they all work together and there is a sense on unity down the boulevard. This is not something commonly seen in North America. When you look at these buildings it leaves you a sense of awe and you never want to leave.

    South Molton Street, Mayfair

    From South Molton Street we ended up on Brook Street about a block from Claridge’s, a luxury hotel in the heart of Mayfair. It is one of the two prestigious afternoon teas in London that are on everyone’s afternoon tea bucket lists. This was the most amazing experience and the service was stellar. They treat you like you are the most important person in the world. 

    My Claridge’s afternoon tea experience is available in the London Food Guide and linked here. I definitely recommend that you check it out and hopefully, you’ll be inspired to go yourself.

    Claridge's Afternoon Tea

    We emerged from Claridge’s absolutely stuffed and we decided to walk off everything that we ate down Regent Street. It is just like Oxford Street in the sense that it is also a major shopping boulevard. The difference is that Regent Street has more upscale brands and the buildings look the same down the street all the way to Piccadilly Circus. The buildings all look the same when you look at the upper levels but this time, the shop-fronts are different. The tops of the buildings connect down the boulevard so it looks beautiful but there are still distinguishable difference in the shop-fronts.

    Right beside Regent Street is Carnaby, a pedestrian street that offers tons of dining and shops. Much like South Molton Street, all of the buildings are different but work together so well. All of the roads are brick-paved and well maintained so it’s easy to walk on. There is a beautiful sparkly, glitter, and shimmery Carnaby/British flag sign and it is so eye-catching. Mayfair is so busy and full of people which I normally don’t like but it just adds to the whole experience of London.

    After a long day of walking, shopping, and exploring, we headed to the Prince Edward Theatre in Soho for a West End production of Aladdin. The theater was absolutely stunning (no surprise) and had Aladdin decorations everywhere. LED screens, actual gold lamps, banners. Everywhere. Upon entry, there are bars available upstairs so you can have a drink whilst you wait for seating to begin.

    The show itself was spectacular as expected. Entertaining, colourful, and great for both adults and children. I highly recommend you go see any West End Show. Just experience it. 

    Soho
    IMG_6635
    Prince Edward Theatre
    Aladdin LED Poster

    Today was our first wandering day and it was so much fun. You aren’t stuck to a schedule and you can truly enjoy the city.

  • London

    London Day 3

    On day three, we got up bright and early to head to the St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral was massive, and was even more grand than Westminster Abbey. The architecture is stunning and it is my favourite structure in London, maybe even Europe. The intricacies in the stone could make me stand there forever, memorizing every detail. Inside the cathedral makes you feel tiny, my heart felt like it was being pulled down into the black and white tile floor (But in a good way). The statues are beautiful and each tells you another story. When you look up at the dome you can see the stunning painting of columns stretching up to the top. The spandrels under the dome had mosaics of the prophets but they weren’t just any mosaics. They sparkled up they and highlighted the other monochrome paintings. 

    You could walk up a WHOLE LOT of stairs (my legs were still sore from the stairs of The Monument) to the three levels of the dome: The Whispering Gallery (257 steps), Stone Gallery (376 steps), and the Golden Gallery (528 steps). The Golden Gallery offered a panoramic view of London which was obviously stunning.

    After our visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, you walked across the Millennium bridge. From the bridge, you can get an excellent photograph of the Cathedral. The Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian bridge takes you across the River Thames from the Cathedral to the Tate Modern. 

    View of St. Paul’s Cathedral from Millennium Bridge

    We returned to Borough Market for lunch and the delicious details are available in the London Food Guide here.

    From the Millennium Bridge we found our way to London Bridge City. It is the area that has a lot of business skyscrapers and city hall. The City Hall is an interesting building that to me, looks like a cross between a rolled up armadillo and a wood bug. You can visit inside the building on weekdays but we decided not to. The reason we visited London Bridge City is the view of the Thames.  In my opinion, this is where you can get the best photo of Tower Bridge

    There is a walkway down the Thames and you can get pictures of different city views like the Walkie-Talkie building, the Gherkin, and of course the Tower Bridge. If you try to sit on the ledge, someone might tell you to get down so take your photo fast. We actually took the walkway to a stairway that takes you onto the bridge. My word, was it crowded. Many people pushing past each-other and an extremely long queue to go into the Tower Bridge museum (which we opted not to visit). On the other side of the bridge is the Tower of London a historical castle that doubles as a museum. 

    The Tower of London is one of my favourite museums because every aspect is interesting, from stories of executions, torture, and missing children. If you are interested in more morbid or medieval stuff, I think you would also have a good time there. My mom enjoyed the torture devices and the execution sites less than I did. If you are like my mom, fear not, there is till something in the Tower of London for you. 

    The Tower of London is also the home to the Crown Jewels, some of which are still in use by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in ceremonies. They are gorgeous pieces of art that are just mesmerizing to look at. The Crown Jewels include tiaras, spoons, plate, swords, orbs and a whole bunch of other sparkly items. There will definitely be a queue when you go because of security checks and the sheer number of people who visit this exhibit so plan around 45-60 minutes just for the Crown Jewels.

    I would recommend that you plan 2-3 hours for the Tower of London, depending on how fast you walk and read.

    The Tower Pier is near the Tower of London and you can take a number of Thames cruises to get some excellent photos of the riverside. We decided to take the Thames River Boat Cruise from Tower pier to Westminster pier and back again. There are four stops total for the cruise, Westminster pier, London Eye pier, Tower pier, and Greenwich pier. You have to option of going on the deck (if you want photos, I would recommend) but it is ridiculously cold out there so make sure you bundle up. For the majority of the cruise, it was a relaxing hour as we sat inside and ate our Bread Ahead Doughnuts (which are the best doughnuts ever. Full review available here.)

    London Bridge City

    Coca-Cola London Eye/London Eye Pier

    As we disembarked the vessel we were starting to get hungry so our last stop of the day was dinner and Emilia’s Crafted Pasta who makes fresh pasta in-house and delicious sauces that match the noodle shape. Emilia’s Crafted Pasta is available in the London Food Guide here.

  • London

    London Day 2

    We got up bright and early day two and took the tube to Kensington Park where our first stop of the day was. Kensington Palace, the official home of Princess Diana. It was interesting learning about the history of the royals that have previously lived there but to give my honest opinion, it wasn’t my favourite place. It was cool but not magnificent. The garden had some nice photo spots where you can get some pretty cool shots, though. We spent around an hour here, including outside so you don’t need to plan too much time around here.

    Kensington Garden

    From there, we headed to the City of Westminster to have a look and unfortunately, the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben was under construction at the time. There were dozens of people and vehicles driving by with polar opinions about Brexit. They had signs and were protesting in the streets between the Palace of Westminster and the Westminster Abbey.

    Westminster Abbey was marvelous. The place where coronations take place, where royalty are wed, and where royalty are buried. The building itself was grand, like a single sound would resonate forever within its’ stone walls. There was so much history in that place. You could sense that everyone was feeling the same thing in that building. Living the same experience. We all felt wonder at the tombs and statues at every wall and corner. The only way I can describe how I felt in there is minuscule. Sound just bounces off of the walls making the whole building seem endless and it is incredibly humbling. 

    Westminster Abbey

    From there we found our first red telephone box and of course, I had to take a photo. I’m going to be frank, I wouldn’t actually go inside one of these because it smelled terrible in there and it didn’t look very good either. There wasn’t actually a phone in there so I guess it was just for decoration but, it makes for a cool image

    Our next destination was Borough Market and my favourite place in London. We spent well over an hour here so make sure to set aside some time to explore and definitely come hungry. Since there is so much to talk about in Borough Market and it is mostly food related, I’ve made a separate post in the London Food Guide here.

    Southwark Cathedral is located a two minute walk from Borough Market and though it has a smaller community compared to St. Paul’s Cathedral, I really enjoyed it. In order to take photos, you need to make a £1 donation to the cathedral which I didn’t mind doing since entrance is free and it is a smaller cathedral. But with that donation, you get some beautiful photos of the architecture and the stained glass windows. Since the majority of cathedrals will not allow photography, this is somewhere you can go where you are able to snap some.

    One of the special things about this place is that it is also home to Doorkins Magnificat who was once homeless but since 2008 has resided in the cathedral. She is beloved and has merchandise available to purchase in the gift shop and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of her.

     

    Southwark Cathedral

    Afterwards, we decided that we wanted to take a walk across the London Bridge to get some pictures of The Shard, which is that giant pointy glass building that actually looks like a shard of glass. We were lucky that day to have the rare sunny day in London so we had excellent lighting for our photos. The structure itself was gorgeous, though. The blue of the sky and the clouds reflects off of the glass to create an aesthetically pleasing image.

    The Shard

    Our plan was to go up the Shard at around 21:00 to watch the sunset and the night scene from the top of the Shard but it was still early so we decided to go to the London Bridge Experience, located south of the River Thames.

    The London Bridge Experience is an interactive and theatrical tourist attraction that tells you the history of London, like the Great Fire of London and Jack the Ripper. It’s a really fun way to learn more about London without having to read through a museum in silence. All the staff are in costume and character and act out scenes to give us a laugh. That was the first part of the tour called “the Experience”. The second part of the tour is called “the Tombs” which is a haunted house that you get to walk through. I thought it was a fun idea and different to most of the attractions in London. 

    Personally, I prefer the London Dungeons near the London Eye, which is a similar attraction but I had a little more fun there. Really, there’s no need to go to both and I would actually recommend the London Dungeons, which I will talk about in another guide.

    We walked across the London Bridge to the business district where the huge skyscrapers are. It a clean and modern area of town where everyone is in suits or dressed for the office. As we strolled down the street, the Monument to the Great Fire of London and we made the insane decision of climbing it. It is 311 steps of narrow, winding steps that goes up 61 meters. The view is pretty nice and you get a work-out out of it. Once you get back to the ground, you also get a certificate congratulating you for climbing to the top. Just be aware that the Monument only takes cash payment so be prepared.

    The Monument to the Great Fire of London
    View from the Monument

    Finally, the sun was setting so we headed back across the London Bridge to the Shard. We took the elevator all the way up to level 72 to the indoor viewing deck and the open-air Skydeck. It is the highest building in Western Europe and has a stunning view of of London. There is also a bar available in the viewing deck that serves snacks, beer, and champagne. Be sure to wear a jacket if you want to go onto the Skydeck as it’ll get chilly.  It’s worth spending the £25 for a ticket and definitely worth a stop during your trip. The View from the Shard is the perfect place to end your evening whether you day was a family outing, romantic date night, or just to see a beautiful view.

    The View from the Shard

  • London

    London Day 1

    The first day of our 39-day Europe expedition began in the heart of England and one of my favourite places in the world, London. My mom and I touched down around 11:00 at Heathrow Airport and descended in wonder into the underground station to purchase our Oyster cards. Coming from a city where the transit system is always late and the bus schedule is eons apart, (not to mention the train stops at home are kilometers away from one another) I had such a fun time riding on the tube and therefore didn’t mind at all staying outside of central London.

    Instead of taking the Heathrow Express which would have taken us to Paddington where it was farther from our Airbnb and would cost more than the standard fare for the underground, we took the Piccadilly line to Hammersmith station to switch trains. Since it was still early, we decided to stay in the Hammersmith area to mingle around a bit.

    We emerged from the station and headed straight into a Starbucks for a cup of coffee to keep us going. As my mom and I sat inside the coffee shop and watched the busy Londoners go by, we saw a number of them walk around with this odd pastry-like thing in their hand. My curiosity got the best of me and I found myself going to investigate. It led me to a little booth in the wall of the station about ten meters away called “Hasty Tasty Pizza”. The shape of the pizza was oval and was served in a cardboard sleeve to make it easy for commuters to eat as they go. If I’m being honest, the mushroom pizza was a bit dry and didn’t have the most flavour however, if you are in need of a quick bite and you’re craving pizza, I would recommend it.

    After our little stop, we took the Hammersmith & City line to Shepherd’s Bush Market station where our Airbnb was located and got settled into our little flat. Though it was a small flat, it had all of the things we needed for our ten day adventure in London. It was perfect for two people. We had two hobs for cooking, a microwave, and a mini fridge so we could save some money and cook ourselves.

    From there, we explored the area we were living in and it felt safe to me. To be honest, it looked a bit sketchy on first glance but as we familiarized ourselves, it really grew on me and I quite enjoyed staying there. Many tube lines were available in the area with Shepherd’s Bush Market station running Circle line and Hammersmith & City line and Shepherd’s Bush station running Central line. Getting to Central London was extremely convenient and relatively quick with each journey averaging about 30 minutes.

    We spent the rest of the day at Westfield London which was a mall located a fifteen minute walk from our flat. Let me tell you. This mall was GIGANTIC. The shopping centre is two stories with a stunning glass ceiling that lets natural light in. We couldn’t even get through the whole mall in a few hours.

    The first thing we did was purchase a SIM card from 3 Mobile that offered unlimited data so we could access the web for navigation purposes for only £35. The plan itself was a pay as you go so when the 30 days are up, you can purchase another unlimited data add-on for another £35. The great thing is that this plan allowed roaming in Europe free of charge so I could use data as we traveled across the continent. The reception was pretty good with only a few minor issues so I would definitely go that route, again.

    Now, this is when my mother and I discovered our first Primark. Cute, stylish clothing at low prices. They had options for every occasion. Work? They have sophisticated blouses and skirts. Lifestyle? They had a plethora of jeans and trendy clothing. Beach? They have swimsuits and cover-ups. My mother and I spent over and hour that day roaming and trying stuff on. I hadn’t even gotten through my first day in Europe and my luggage was already significantly heavier.

    We strolled down the walkway with a whole bunch of restaurants and noticed a supermarket called “Waitrose”. We were beyond excited to see what Londoners eat and have available to them on a daily basis. It was one of the most interesting experiences I had there. They had intriguing flavours of yoghurt that I wouldn’t have dreamed of and we bought the most British things we could find. Jaffa cakes, ginger beer, tea biscuits, crisps, and so much more.

    I have a deep passion for baking and the British have all the ingredients I wish I could work with but are not accessible to me. They’ve got double cream, crème fraîche, vanilla paste, coffee essence, gelatin sheets, and once again, SO MUCH MORE. I ended up bringing home 4 packages of gelatin sheets and quite a number of vanilla beans. I am excited to share the result of my baking when I get a chance to experiment with them.

    Here is a weird thing I have to do everywhere I go. For every country I visit, I have to taste the milk. I know it’s strange, but I’m very picky about milk and the taste of it. So this is Mel’s Milk Review:

    The milk in London tasted better than the milk in Canada. Maybe it’s a perception thing, but I felt like it’s more fragrant and tastes more like dairy. Like how milk is supposed to taste. 8/10

    Overall, the first day was exhausting but absolutely incredible and it gave us insight on how Londoners live and the things that they purchase. The first day was how any first day in a new country should be; it got us even more excited for the real adventure to begin the next day.

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