Touched Down In London Town: Sometimes Having No Plan, Is The Best Plan

I’m a Virgo so I like to plan things. I have planning and to-do list apps galore. BUT, one of the things I wanted to focus on while abroad was going with the flow and being more spontaneous. Through that, I realized that I actually have the most fun when I don’t set expectations and just let the day take me wherever it takes me! That being said, I’ve compiled a list of things to do in London when you don’t have any plans, or just want to get outside with your friends. Some of these things may require some additional planning, but they’re totally worth it, I promise!

Notting Hill

If you’re studying abroad in London through BU’s program, you will be living in South Kensington. Notting Hill is only about two or three Tube stops away, which makes it the perfect, spontaneous sightseeing spot. Here are some of the highlights:

Colorful houses on multiple streets, perfect for photoshoots!

Ottolenghi’s Deli in Notting Hill is the original location for the famous chef’s recipes. 

Portobello Market on Portobello Road runs every day except Sunday, with Saturday being the main day. Antique booths and street food carts line the street for the ultimate market experience.

Camden

Camden takes about 45 minutes to get to and from South Kensington, but don’t let its distance deter you. It’s the perfect place to spend the day, and even stay throughout the night!

Camden Market is the main attraction in Camden, filled with food, shops, and unique vendors to check out. You could spend hours at the market and still not see everything. 

The Cereal Killer Cafe is a must-go for cereal and dessert lovers. The 90s’ aesthetic and cereal-themed foods are the perfect treat to ending a stroll around Camden Market.

Happy Hour in Camden is also really big! Lots of pubs, like Simmons, offer cheap drinks from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., which you’ll want to take advantage of before you head out of Camden. 

Museums

I took an art history course that involved field trips to various museums around London every day. I chose to take this course specifically for the museum trips because I wanted to get more acquainted with the city of London, and this turned out to be a perfect way. We took double decker buses to get to every location, which allowed me to familiarize myself with the London landscape by looking out of the window during our trips. I learned a lot about art and was able to see some of the coolest museums in London. Here are a few that I’d recommend checking out:

You can actually travel across the river by a museum-sponsored boat that will take you between the two museums!

Tate Britain and Tate Modern

The British Museum

National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery

The NPG is actually closing for an extended period of time for renovations.

Becoming a royal for the day

OK, not actually, but you can visit where the royals live! Whether you decide to go inside the palaces or not, the exteriors and grounds are reason enough to visit.

Kensington Palace

Buckingham Palace 

Coppa Club

Coppa Club is located on the Thames River by Tower Bridge. During the winter months, the restaurant offers a heated igloo dining experience along the river, so you can enjoy food and drinks in a cozy atmosphere with a beautiful view. The cocktails and dishes were amazing, and the view at night was incredible. This is certainly a place you’ll have to reserve beforehand though, as most of the tables were booked months in advance. 

The later you go at night, the more likely you are to snatch an igloo.

Dishoom

Dishoom is a modern Indian restaurant with a live jazz band and some of the best food I had in London. There are several locations, but I typically went to the one on Kensington High Street. While it is recommended to get a reservation, I always went on impulse and had to wait 45 minutes to an hour. However, it was totally worth the wait and it meant that I got to try yummy cocktails at the bar!

Fortnum and Mason

Fortnum and Mason is one of the most iconic British places to visit in London. Beyond its tea room, it has a department store for fine tea shopping. Whether you want high tea or afternoon tea, or even just to snack on some delicious pastries, budgeting time in to go to Fortnum and Mason is a must for the authentic London experience.

Piano Works

Piano Works has two different locations: one in Farringdon and one in the West End. I went to both, but my experience at the West End on Valentine’s Day was the best. My friends and I bought a ticket deal online for a 10-pound entry after 11 p.m., which included a glass of prosecco upon arrival. On Valentine’s Day, you could request love-themed songs for someone you came with or for someone that caught your eye that night. All the music was played live by a full band. All of the cocktails were named after popular and highly requested songs. I have to say, every cocktail I tried was more delicious than the one before. 

Dumplings Legend

My favorite restaurant and overall experience was Dumplings Legend. It’s actually amazing that I have not written about this place yet. Considering that I visited this restaurant four times within the first two weeks of being in London, I think that saying this place is good would be an understatement. 

By the time I left London, my friends and I would enter the restaurant and be greeted with a “welcome back” as the host shook our hands … They practically knew us by name. 

This Chinatown-based restaurant truly lives up to its name with its “legendary” dumplings. During lunch time, you can even order an XL soup dumpling (this thing is probably the size of my head) for only three pounds. My personal order? #3 Pork Bao Dumplings and a large order of egg fried rice. To make it even better, Dumplings Legend is open until 2:30 a.m. and in the perfect location to go to after a night out in Piccadilly Circus or SoHo.

Things to see

The London Eye and Big Ben

The London Eye and Big Ben are two of the most popular attractions in London and luckily, they are literally a few feet apart from each other. While Big Ben is currently under renovation and looks very underwhelming right now, it is still a sight to see! Whether you go on the Eye or not, these two sights in the city can’t be missed.

West End

See a show in the West End! I saw Mama Mia, and for some reason, it brought me to tears? Some friends of mine also went to see Wicked and Hamilton, which were significantly less expensive in London than on Broadway — makes sense because it’s about American history! You can get same-day tickets for many of the shows for discount prices.

Sky Garden

Sky Garden is a free terrace with a wonderful view of London. There is an indoor and outdoor area complete with a bar and restaurant. Tickets do need to be secured online in advance, but once you are there, it’s a perfect spot to hang out, relax, and enjoy the view.

Harrods 

There is a reason why I’m putting Harrods under “things to see” and not “places to shop.” 

Harrods is a great place to check out for window shopping, but before going, I did not realize that nearly everything in the store is designer. Instead of shopping, I looked around at all the beautiful clothes and furniture, and decided to pick up some food to eat in their market. If you have been to Eataly in Boston (which is my absolute favorite place on the planet), you’ve seen nothing compared to the market at Harrods. It would be a dream to do my grocery shopping there every week. The food in their selection of restaurants is also amazing. I would highly recommend grabbing a bite to eat after browsing around!

Tower Bridge and Westminster Abbey

Niche things to enjoy

Karl Marx’s grave

Before I came to London, I knew I wanted to visit Karl Marx’s grave. I figured that no one else would want to see this attraction with me, so I had planned to do it alone. However, I became friends with a bunch of political science majors who were actually eager to check it out. So we went! It took over an hour to get to, but it was a fun adventure and an opportunity to check something off my bucket list!

Airbnb experience

I found an offer for a “Zodiac Wine Tasting,” just by chance, after booking an Airbnb for a trip. It came up as a suggested “Airbnb experience,” and upon reading the description, the combination of two of my favorite things — wine and astrology — was too good to pass up. 

The event is held monthly at “Grays and Feather Wine Bar,” and it includes a tasting of six different wines, as well as a horoscope reading for whatever astrological season is approaching. Every participant receives a rock/stone that holds a symbolic meaning for whatever the participant needs, going into the upcoming months. My stone was a beautiful blue, while others were sparkly or iridescent. We had a very thoughtful discussion with other attendees about different cultures, since we were all from different places. We talked about our goals and intention-setting for the months ahead. 

We went to this event during the second weekend of study abroad, so it was a great opportunity to figure out what we really wanted to get out of this experience. For me, this helped me realize that I needed to go with the flow and live in the moment more! I’m usually on a college budget when it comes to wine, so having the opportunity to taste some very high-end wines was very cool! We even met a sommelier who taught us more about each wine. I would definitely recommend similar events if you’re interested in learning more about astrology and wine. 

Wimbledon tour

I haven’t played on a tennis team since middle school, but attending a Wimbledon tour was extremely cool. My British & International Marketing Strategy class took us there, where we were able to learn about Wimbledon’s unique brand image and take a close look at the courts and facilities.

Courtfield Gardens

There are three dorms at the Boston University London campus: The Crofton, Sorbonne House, and Courtfield Gardens. The Crofton is generally the most popular dormitory, and though I wanted to live there, I was placed in Courtfield Gardens. 

I ended up loving Courtfield Gardens. There were a ton of non-BU students in the building, which gave me the opportunity to meet students from different universities. Also, it is by far the most convenient location out of all the dorms, as it is only a block from the main academic building and two blocks from the nearest Tube station, as well as the Tesco Express grocery store, which is open 24 hours. The garden that the building is named after is private, but it is absolutely beautiful and has a cute gazebo inside. I really loved living in Courtfield and it was a great way to blend BU and non-BU friendships!

When I go back one day…

The weekend after I left was when I had originally hoped to go to Dublin. However, with the threat of COVID-19 impending, it seemed like a safer option to stay in London. I wanted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the right way, so I had planned a “Guinness Pub Crawl.” I researched the best pubs and places to get an authentic Guinness experience and mapped out a tour route for the celebration. Since I left early, this never happened, so when I eventually return to London, I want this pub crawl to happen … or even better, get the chance to visit Dublin!

Another stop on my list is Sketch. It’s a restaurant/tea room with funky bathrooms. I think it’s mainly a photo-op for people, but still, I want to have the full study abroad experience, no matter how cliche it may be!

A destination that I really wanted to hit was The Loop nightclub. A friend recommended it to me because of its fun disco music (I love disco!). I think it would make for a really fun night of throwback hits.

Finally, I would love to have done more shopping in London. Most of the stores I went to were retailers that you can find in the U.S. Plus, I didn’t have much time to go looking around for smaller, local businesses. When I return, I will certainly look for more London or European-specific brands to shop and come home looking like an authentic study abroad student!

Channing Capacchione, Study Abroad Correspondent

Channing Capacchione is a Junior at Boston University in the College of Communication
studying Advertising and minoring in Sociology. Currently, she is studying abroad in London as
she completes courses and an internship. She loves to try the best restaurants, shop around the city, explore the coolest neighborhoods, and find cheeky travel tips! Keep up with Channing as she takes on London and more during her semester abroad.

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