Step 1: Book a cheap, last minute plane ticket to London. Do this preferably less than one week before you depart!
One night while talking with one of my roommates about our semester abroad, it quickly occurred to us that our time in Europe/the UK was going to go by extremely quick (even though we are here for a whole semester). With all the places we want to see and all the things we want to do, we won’t have any trouble filling our days. All the sudden, we looked at each other and said, “Want to go somewhere this weekend?” The answer was most definitely. After searching on some travel sites, we settled on a last minute trip to London. After all, how hard could it be?
Step 2: When you land in London, ask some people to help direct you to the bus you’re supposed to get on in order to get into the heart of the city. [Pro tip: Ask someone in uniform TWICE because you can’t understand what they said the first time.]
Our plane touched down at the London/Gatwick airport, and we had pre-booked our bus ticket to Victoria Station, which was about an hour away from the airport. After a stern British woman in uniform scolded us for trying to get on the wrong bus, we waited in the airport for a while longer, finally hopped on our bus, and arrived at the bus station an hour later.
Step 3: Embrace your inner American tourist qualities and hang out in front of the gate at Buckingham Palace! Even if you don’t get a glimpse of the queen, wait for the elegantly-dressed families who are making their way out of the palace gates (they will likely be British, so listen close to their accents).
Fresh off of the bus, we tried our hardest to get a glimpse of the queen herself, but couldn’t quite see her. Its okay though, maybe next time. However, there was a formal event going on at the palace, and streams of well-dressed families were exiting the gate. Interesting.
Also, the birds in London really freaked me out. They are used to being fed by people and will fly extremely close to you – I feel extremely fortunate that I didn’t get pooped on by a bird while I was there. After we were finished at the palace, we took a stroll around the park to find a bathroom, and discovered that they make you pay in order to use the toilets…and yes, I think it was in this moment when I first truly missed the United States.
Step 4: Make your way over to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. When you realize you have to pay in order to enter and tour Westminster Abbey, but can alternatively attend the worship service for free, you attend the service for free. [Pro tip: Trying to sing louder than the British woman beside you should significantly help you improve your fake British accent.]
Big Ben and Westminster Abbey were probably my two favorite parts of our trip. The architecture was unreal. We were able to walk around Big Ben (we even got to see Big Ben lit up at night) and then we went to Evensong service in Westminster Abbey (which is where William and Princess Kate got married!).
Step 5: Walk across the London Bridge over to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels. [Disclaimer: This will not help your British accent at all, but getting to see a 530 caret diamond is worth it.]
Good news – we walked over the London Bridge and it did not fall down. Sorry, had to make that joke. But what I found to be an even more impressive view was the Tower Bridge, just a short way down the Thames River. The Tower of London was another highlight of the trip – there is so much history there. Aside from the historical aspects of castle which was built around 1070, the Crown Jewels are all housed there as well. If you go to London, everything from the Coronation Robes (made of gold thread and weighing about 30 pounds) to the evolution of the crowns throughout the years are a must-see.
(Above: On the London Bridge with the Tower Bridge in the background)
(Below: A picture from inside the castle grounds of the Tower of London)
Step 6: Continue sightseeing for the rest of your time in London, get stuck in traffic on the way to the airport the morning that your flight leaves, barely make it to your gate in time to board the plane, realize that your British accent still sounds terrible, and enjoy the flight back to your destination. 🙂