United Kindom: London, England

Let me start this off by saying that whenever I book international trips, I ALWAYS fly in and out of hubs as a way of saving TONS of money, rather than booking direct flights into smaller locations. That’s how this trip started, London was supposed to be a base for us to get our bearings in a new part of the world and then it would be off to our actual target location (Scotland). Well, I’m very pleased to say that London was so much more than I was expecting and it’s now become one of my favorite places in the world and I see myself returning many times in the future.

We landed in London Heathrow Airport shortly after 11a on a Wednesday. The airport is BIG but easy to navigate and the Heathrow Express (£22 per person) takes you right into the city center from the airport in about 15 minutes. It’s the best and cheapest option for getting into the city center quickly.

The hotel we booked, Somerset Hotel, is just around the corner from Marylebone station and made a great hub for exploring the city. It’s located right around the corner from both Regents Park and Hyde Park so there was plenty to see and do right around us. The hotel itself was in the middle of an extensive remodel so needless to say, it wasn’t the prettiest place we’ve stayed in, but it’s getting there! It’s all about the location anyways, right??

The first night in town we walked around the city. We ended up walking about 5 miles just the first night, but we were able to see so much in a short amount of time. Along our stroll we saw the Marble Arch, walked around Hyde Park, saw the Wellington Arch, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Big Ben, and after all of our walking around we stopped at the wonderful Sherlock Holmes Pub for some cold pints of Gamma Ray, a local IPA, and a moment to rest our feet before heading back to the hotel.

The next morning we woke early as we had tickets to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio tour and being in Leavesden, it was about 45 minutes away from our hotel and we had no clue how we were going to get there. We started this leg of our journey by walking over to Marylebone Station in order to catch a cab, and much to our great surprise, the first 3 cab drivers said that they didn’t know the location, or that it was outside of Greater London so they weren’t authorized on driving outside of the city limits. Ridiculous. Finally on our 4th try, and mind you we had about 20 minutes to get there at this point, we found a cab driver that was willing to take us to our destination. Unfortunately, it cost us nearly £90 (or quib, as it’s called) to get there which was well over our spending budget for the day.

Upon arrival to the Studio Tour, I was immediately reliving my 11 year old dreams. The entrance consisted of live size Chess pieces to commemorate the epic game of wizard’s chess accomplished by Ron in the first book. (I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series, can you tell?!) Along side an array of Hogwarts letters strung from the ceiling in a way that makes you feel like they’re zipping through the air. Even before entering the space, the magic in the air could be felt throughout the establishment.

Once you enter the main room, you’re greeted by the giant dragon that infamously guards the lower depths of Gringotts, along with a small cafe featuring some of Harry Potter World’s most infamous treats. From there you meander along a corridor taking sight of Harry’s broom closet along with an intro into what to expect throughout the tour. Basically, magic brought to life.

The tour begins with you walking through the massive double-doors into the great hall where you see the house tables decorated with plates, goblets, and wizardly treats. On display are the costumes used by some of the professors throughout the film. After making your way through the great hall, you walk along a corridor that elaborates on the making of some of the props and costumes until you reach another set, the Gryffindor boys dormitory. It’s one of the few sets that never changed through the filming of the series.

From there you move on to see the Gryffindor common room, potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office, Weasley’s Hollow, the Leaky Cauldron, the Chamber of Secrets, the Gringotts vaults, the Forbidden Forest, then platform 9 3/4, before hitting the outdoor pavilion. At this section they had a small food court where they were serving authentic butterbeer. The best way to describe it is like liquid butterscotch with a thick, white foam on top that tastes like unbaked meringue. It was a little odd, not going to lie. From there you walk out onto an outdoor pavilion where you can tour the Knight Bus, the infamous Hogwarts bridge that nearly takes Neville out as it collapses in one of the later films, and lastly, you finish the tour off with a stroll through the home where it all began, Privet Drive #4.

All in all, the tour was a great experience and I’m glad we managed to make it there despite the headache that it caused. Could have used better planning on my part, I guess. Anyways, after the tour we ordered an Uber (about £50) to get us back into the city. Little did we know that due to the unforeseen costs of getting to and from the studio tour, the day ended up costing us more than any other day during our trip!

We arrived back to our hotel around 4:00p, laid down for a quick nap and were back walking the streets of London by 6:00p. Both drivers on the way to and from the studio tour had mentioned a restaurant called Poppies in an area called Camden for some great fish and chips so we made our way over to that part of town. Luckily, our drivers weren’t lying. The fish and chips were great and we got to check out a rather eclectic part of London.

The next morning we were heading off to Edinburgh but we had just enough time to grab breakfast with one of Joe’s (my boyfriend) childhood friends that had recently moved to London with his Scottish fiancé. We met them at a cute little restaurant in a part of town called Chelsea. After that it was back to the hotel for our bags and back to the airport.

My overall impression of London was wonderful. I love how polished parts of the city area, how nearly everyone lives in a townhome with a different colored front door (I LOVE townhomes), LOTS of great pubs, it’s safe, there’s tons of history, you can walk to SO many different things, and the people are simply amazing. I’d love to go back to London and explore more parts of the area and England as a whole. We barely scratched the surface of such a wonderful place.

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