5 Things To Do With Your Parents In London

During my study abroad experience, I was lucky enough to have my Mother come and visit me for Thanksgiving. Since they don’t celebrate the holiday here, our week was filled with friends, fun, and exploring the city.

Though it was great to show her my new home away from home, it was daunting to try and figure out what to do. With all that has to London offer, how could we possibly fit everything in?

Here are the top five things to do with your parents in London.

1. Go see the crown jewels at the Tower of London

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This is a must see if you are visiting London, especially if you are a history buff.

This medieval tower has been around since the 11th Century and still stands along the bank of the river Thames, next to Tower Bridge. The tower houses the crown jewels, and is packed with English history. They also offer free guided tours with the historic Beefeaters.

Tickets range from 18-25 pounds (they have a student discount) and is definitely a great place to tour with your parents.

2. Take them on a Walking Tour

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Though you can attend walking tours of the city, I recommend just going out and exploring on your own.

I like to start at Covent Garden (my favourite area to shop and watch the local buskers) and then walk to Leicester Square, home of London entertainment and food. From there, it’s just a ten minute walk up to the beautiful Trafalgar Square then a straight shot down Whitehall to Parliament Square.

You can essentially show your parents all of London’s major landmarks within a day’s walk. Its beautiful and a great way to get a feel for the city.

3. See a West End Show

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London offers a wide variety of fantastic shows; from well-known musicals to smaller fringe plays, London has it all.

If your parents are visiting and looking to get a little bit of London culture, take them to a show. The West End has a great range of musicals showing, and I promise you will not be disappointed.

Theatre in London is also highly affordable and you can easily get same day tickets for a great price.

4. Tour A Palace

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If you are looking to tour Buckingham Palace, make sure to come during the summer months when the Queen is not in residence.

But, even if you are here in the off season, you can still get a tour of one of the other beautiful palaces here.

Kensington Palace is also a London staple, but there are others like Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace that you can tour year round.

Again, tickets are about 20 pounds, but the palaces are certainly worth the price.

5. Get classy at High Tea

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Lastly, you must do a high tea while visiting London.

There are a plethora of places to choose from in the city, so it is up to you to pick a place you fancy.

High tea can range anywhere from decently cheap to outrageously expensive, so it’s important to think ahead. Groupon also has great deals, so if you book in advance you can do high tea for a great price.

Not only are the tea and sandwiches fantastic, you will feel just like a Londoner.

Conclusion

Planning for a visit from your parents may be daunting, but it's an opportunity to show them the London that you love. Whatever you choose, you will make special memories that will last a lifetime.








5 Things To Do in London During the Holidays

The holidays are upon us and festive activities are in full swing all around the city.

Here, the city streets are lined with extravagant light displays, shops and boutiques boast intricate window displays, and cheery Christmas markets transform areas of the city into literal winter wonderlands.

The mood around the city seems to lift with each switch on of Christmas lights across the city and each new Holiday party marked in the diary.

It may be the coldest (and darkest) time of the year, but it’s the perfect time to celebrate all things merry and bright.

Here is a list of great activities that will keep you busy over the holidays!

1. Wonder at the Christmas lights

One of the ways that the city of London gets its residents in the holiday spirit is by throwing ‘Switch On’ ceremonies in various neighbourhoods across the city.

Throughout the month of November, you can go to as many of these ceremonies as you’d like. They’re generally marked with a live band, street performers, and mulled wine stands. Similar to New Year’s Eve, there is a big countdown and then a button is pressed and all of the area lights up in one glorious display.

After that the areas stay lit each night, so you can walk underneath London’s beautiful light displays and stare in wonder at the twinkling lights any time you please.

The most popular light displays? Those can be found on Oxford Street, Carnaby Street, Regent Street, the Strand, and at Covent Garden.

2. Stroll through the Christmas markets

There are several annual Christmas markets that have made names for themselves across the city.

There’s Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival, Christmas by the River with London Bridge City, Winterville in Clapham, and Christmas in Leicester Square.

Each of these markets has its own style, but all of them have a few things in common. Most notably, they are characterised by quintessential Christmas stalls, sweet and savoury food stands, the odd theme park ride, and impressive pop up village bars with all the mulled wine that your heart desires.

They’re popular after-work and weekend destinations, when you’ll see an influx of Londoners making their way to the pop up village bars for a pint (or pints) with their friends. If you’re overwhelmed by crowded places, going on a week day is your best bet. To get the true experience though, I suggest you check at least one of them out on a popular night.

3. Ice skate in a historical place

One of the perks of being in a historical city? Some of those places get turned into ice rinks for the winter season.

You can skate under twinkling lights next to the Natural History Museum, try out your best tricks on an iced Somerset House courtyard, or glide over a medieval moat at the Tower of London. If you’re willing to venture outside the city, you can even skate with royalty at the Hampton Court Palace.

Each of these locations is important to London’s current culture and its history, and everyone has the chance to experience them in a different way during the holidays.

Not one for skating? That’s just fine. In typical London fashion, each of these places has a bar or cafe for those who prefer pints to skates.

4. Go window shopping

We’ve already established that London takes its holiday spirit very seriously, and London’s storefronts are no exception.

Each year, iconic department stores pull out all the stops to create the most extravagant holiday displays. When you’re ready to take a break from your own Christmas shopping, treat yourself to the magical storefront displays of Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, and Harvey Nichols.

I would be remiss to not acknowledge that many boutique shops have their own intricate, albeit smaller, holiday displays that you won’t want to miss. The shops at the Columbia Road Flower Market, for example, have gotten into the same holiday spirit. Boutique shops like this are peppered all around London and you can stumble upon them just by turning the corner.

5. See a Christmas show

When you get tired from walking up and down London’s streets in search of the best light and storefront displays, consider popping in to see a Christmas show.

If you’re a fan of the classics, you can see A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic Theatre or The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum or the Royal Opera House. If you aren’t a fan of stage shows but enjoy the cinema, check out one of London’s many Christmas film screenings and kick back with a bag of popcorn.

No matter what your fancy, you can be reasonably assured that you will find a Christmas show that is right for you.

Conclusion

There is an endless supply of Christmas spirit in London, with festive things to do around every corner. You can’t go wrong with whatever you choose, so just enjoy it and have a happy holiday!

Have you been to London over the holidays? What did you enjoy the most? Share it in the comment section below. I’d love to hear!

5 Must See Shows In London

One of my courses while studying abroad is an Introduction to Theatre in London. The best part about it? Every Thursday our class attends a show and we see a different production, in a different theatre, in a different part of London.

It has been so great to see such a wide range of theatre and has also been a fantastic way to get out and explore London. Since I have been here I have seen a total of 13, but after seeing such a variety of plays, I have narrowed it down to five absolute must sees while visiting London. (In no particular order)

1) JUNGLE - THE PLAYHOUSE THEATRE

This play has closed, but it’s still worth a mention. After all, rumour has it, it will soon be going on tour and moving to Broadway. If it does, I highly recommend buying your tickets ASAP.

This show follows the lives of those living in a refugee camp in Calais France. The writers of the play had visited this camp, and the show is a depiction of their experiences. The theatre itself has been completely transformed to model the camp itself, giving the audience a fully immersive theatre experience. It is brilliant!

2) WISE CHILDREN - THE OLD VIC THEATRE

To explain the plot would take pages, but I can promise you it is one you won’t want to miss. It follows two twin sisters on their 75th birthday, reminiscing on their wild childhood.

The show is cast race and gender blind, and uses dance to express the outlandish lives of its characters. The show is whimsical, dark, hilarious, and a great way to escape the outside world for a few hours. A definite must see!

3) CHICAGO - THE PHOENIX THEATRE

If I’m being honest, I am definitely biased about this show because I have wanted to see it ever since I was five years old. I would have loved anything they put on that stage, BUT, it really was fantastic!

This (amazing) musical follows a woman in the 1920’s who murders the man she’s having an affair with, and finds herself in jail, ready to do whatever it takes to walk free. It is a show about murder, love, lust, and jazz. What more could you ask for in a musical?

Like they say…it would be criminal to miss it.

4) WHITE TEETH - KILN THEATRE

If you are a fan of Mama Mia and looking for a great laugh, then this is the show for you.

This theatre is small, offering a very intimate experience as you watch the stories of these characters unfold. The plot, similar to Mama Mia, follows a young girl in a coma discovering the truth of her mother’s past.

After finding out that she is pregnant, without knowing who the father is, she falls into a coma and learns that her mother’s past is not too different from her current situation. The show is full of drama, laughter, and great music. It is a great way to spend your night and a show you should definitely see!

5) COMPANY - GIELGUD THEATRE

This show has been around since the 1970’s but was recently re-adapted with a gender swapped cast! The lead character is now a female in her thirties, facing pressures to settle down from her friends, and society.

The show is a more contemporary version of the original production, and brings to light the role of a woman in society, and the challenges of being single…and married.

The music is quite fun, and the show is certain to make you laugh and cry. Along Rosalie Craig, it stars Patti LuPone. You definitely don't want to miss it.


How To: London To Edinburgh in Under $250

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While studying abroad, I had a list of places I wanted to travel but, let’s face it, life can get expensive. I soon realized that if I was going to travel around Europe while I was here, it would have to be done on a budget. If I’m being honest, I am not always great with the whole planning a budget and sticking to it, but after my most recent trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, I realized it can be done! So if you are looking to spend a weekend in one of the most beautiful cities ever, here’s how!

Travel

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Flight: $36

Train Ticket: $22

Uber: $20 (roundtrip)

Total Cost: $78

This can sometimes be the most expensive part of your trip, with having to book flights and train tickets, but don’t stress. Europe has a great selection of budget airlines that, if booked in advance, can be really inexpensive!

Keep an eye out when traveling to Scotland, but I recommend flying RyanAir. If you can fit your stuff in a backpack, there is no baggage fee and my ticket cost me $36 roundtrip!

If you do want to pay a little extra you can bring a carry on and get priority boarding for only 8 quid! (That’s around $10.)

Depending on what airport you fly from, the cost of traveling to and from the airport can vary. But for the most part you can get really cheap train or bus tickets. We took the Stansted Express for $22 round trip and it made it very easy to get to and from the terminals. If you are flying out of Heathrow or Gatwick you can also take the tube or check for a bus which you can easily get for $10 or less!

Lastly, once you arrive at Edinburgh airport and are looking to get to your accommodations, the train is right outside the terminals and costs about 7 quid ( $9). If you are traveling alone, this is definitely the cheapest option of getting into the city. If there are two or more of you, it is about the same cost to split an Uber, which can be slightly more convenient.

Once there you can pretty much walk everywhere, so you won’t need to worry about spending anything on daily transportation!

Accommodation

Hostel: $32.45 (Two nights)

It was super easy to find affordable, comfortable accommodation in Edinburgh. You can find an affordable hotel or Airbnb in the city, especially if you are booking in advance, but I recommend going the hostel route. There are plenty to choose from, but we stayed at Castle Rock Hostel, and it was fantastic. It had breakfast for $2 every morning and was located right along the Royal Mile, overlooking the castle. It ended up being about $16 a person for a shared room, but you can upgrade to a more private accommodation, if you want to.

The great thing about the hostel route, is that they also offer free, or highly discounted events. Castle Rock had a pub crawl, beer pong, and even a Highland trip you could sign up for, if interested. It’s cheap and a great way to meet new people while traveling!

Tourism

Ghost Tour: FREE - ($5 donation)  

Harry Potter Tour: FREE - ($5 donation)

Arthur’s Seat: FREE

Total Cost- $10

The great thing about Edinburgh is how inexpensive it is to explore the city! The city is packed with free walking tours. Not only do they have historical guides, but also late night ghost tours, and of course a Harry Potter tour… all for FREE! The guides do ask for a donation at the end of your tour, but it is totally up to you how much you want to pay. This is a fantastic way to learn more about the city and go out exploring while spending little to no money!

Arthur’s Seat

This is another MUST while staying in Edinburgh. Located about a mile east of Edinburgh Castle, just outside the city center, is this beautiful dormant volcano. The hills make up the majority of Holyrood park, with Arthur’s Seat being the peak! There a variety of routes leading to the top, so you do not need to be an experienced hiker. It is absolutely free and, once at the top, you will be greeted with breathtaking views of Edinburgh and the neighboring towns.

Food

Breakfast: $4 (Two days)

Lunch: $32

Dinner: $14.95

Elephant House Cafe: $15

For food, I just recommend giving yourself a budget. We used our hostel for breakfast in the morning, which was only $2 a person. Then for lunch, there are plenty of great shops along the Royal Mile and in the heart of the city.

We did one day with a cheap lunch where we grabbed a quick bite for 6 pounds (around $8) and then did one nice meal. If you are looking for a delicious, and affordable restaurant, OX184 is fantastic! It has a wide range of food and the service is great.

For dinner we usually grabbed something inexpensive, like a sandwich, or popped into a pub. However we did eat at a little diner called Mums Comfort food. The fish and chips were amazing.

Also, be sure to pop into the Elephant House Cafe, if you are a Harry Potter fan. It is where JK Rowling wrote parts of the novels, and it has great views of the city!

The Scotch Whiskey Experience

Platinum Tour: $50

Gold Tour: $35

Silver Tour: $20 (18 for students)  

This is located right along the entrance to Edinburgh Castle, and is a fantastic way to learn more about Scotland’s favorite drink! The cost varies depending on which tour you want to do, but it offers an in depth tour on how Scotch is made, a tour of the largest unopened Whiskey Collection, and of course a Scotch tasting. It’s definitely worth it, and if you are a student they offer discounts! We did the silver tour and it was fantastic.

Nightlife

Drinks and Covers- $15

Edinburgh has a booming nightlife, and again it can cost you little to no money! Most of the pubs and bars have live music every night, for no cover charge! All you have to do is pay for drinks. (If you want to.) If you get a couple of rounds, it ends up being about $10-15 a person!

If you are into live bands-- check out Whistle Binkies. It has no cover charge and it offers a wide range of music genres.

If you are into jazz, I recommend checking out The Jazz Bar. It does have a 6 pound cover charge, but their acts are fantastic and it is a great place to relax and enjoy some fantastic live music.

TOTAL COST: $221.40

So you see, traveling can be done without breaking your bank! If you are thinking of visiting somewhere new, I highly recommend Edinburgh. It's cheap, fun, absolutely beautiful, and can be done in under $250!