LONDON 101: the essentials to your first visit

london portobello
london hyde park
Sunset in Hyde Park

Welcome to the most amazing city in the world! If it’s your first time, well sir or madam, you’ve got your hands full! There is a gazillion things to do in London, more than someone could ever do. But you gotta start somewhere, so start with the below. If you’ve managed to finish these then check out my list of more unusual things to do.

Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park & Kensington Palace, St James Park, Green Park

Buckingham Palace, the Royal icon of London, is surrounded by beautiful parks: Hyde Park, St James Park & Green Park. Make sure you walk them all and burn those fish & chips! Although you can visit it on your own, I recommend you take the free tour from Sandemans instead to get a bit of context on what you are seeing. It covers these areas and a bit more of what I mention below. If you are around at 11.00 AM you can see Buckingham Palace’s change of guard.

Last, towards the most western part of Hyde Park you will find the lovely Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace which you can chose to visit inside.

Covent Garden, Soho, Regent Street & Oxford Circus

These are all mostly great shopping & eating destinations just in the heart of the city. Again the guidelines are to just walk around and go check out the places that call your attention. Start in Oxford Circus and check out the big stores.

If you are the artsy type the most prestigious art galleries in the New Bond St and they are free of charge, usually with pretty cool exhibitions. If you are the luxurious type or just like window shopping the expensive brands make a turn on Regent Street. A nice store to visit is the Liberty London Tudor builiding building, gorgeous on the outside and inside.

After that, walk into Soho for more shopping or eating. The best bars and restaurants are here. If you are a music lover drop by Ronnie Scotts, a legendary jazz club, or Ain’t Nothin but Blues Bar – which I also mention in this article. Last, head to Covent Garden’s pretty cobbled streets, walk through the Seven Dials, where seven streets converge, and make another shopping stop at Covent Garden Market.

london liberty
Liberty London

Westminster Abbey & Big Ben

Also a stop in the Sandemans tour, you can’t leave London without a picture of the most famous, tallest and biggest clock tower: Big Ben. Close by you’ll find Westminster Abbey where the coronation and burial ceremonies of British Royalty take place. It’s a majestic gothic abbey but if you are not into churches at all it’s fine to skip and just enjoy its outside as it’s pricy.

Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus & watching a West End musical or play

The famous Leicester Square is well known due to its concentration of cinemas and theaters, this is typically where the big movies premieres take place so if you are lucky you may spot some celebs. Then walk down to Piccadilly Circus, the British version of the Times Square for a picture of its neon signs.

Your visit to London isn’t complete without watching a musical in the West End. If you haven’t seen Les Miserables, the West End version is impeccable. Have an inner child? Then you might try Wicked. Looking for something different? Then go with Book of Mormon, from the creators of South Park. There is no rule for buying the cheapest tickets unfortunately, what I usually do is check Amazon tickets  and the app TodayTix and then compare the prices with the play’s official page. If you are unsure about the seating, then SeatPlan is your friend.

london camden
Camden Town

Camden Town

This London neighborhood is famous for its markets: Camden Lock Market, Stables Market & Buck Street Market. You can find all kinds of things, from clothing to antiques and great street food. Camden is also famous for selling bizarre & “alternative” clothing and items. You mustn’t miss the Cyberdog store, it will blow your mind! The are also has great pubs & bars, some with live music, great for a night out.

Notting Hill and Portobello Market

Another London neighborhood, most famous for the Portobello Market, the largest antiques market in the world, and for, well the movie! The main street features colorful houses and cute antiques & vintage clothing stores, great for a photo op.

The Tower of London & Tower Bridge

Tower of London, one of my favourite tourist attractions, this historic castle, founded in 1066 is a gem of British history and great entertainment. Don’t be put off by its entry price, it’s worth it. Make sure you allow enough time to visit and try to book online to skip the line.

Right outside you’ll find the famous gorgeous bridge you see in all London pictures which is not London Bridge, it’s Tower Bridge so don’t confuse them!

Tower Bridge London
Tower Bridge

The pub, a pint, fish & chips & English Breakfast

If I have to choose something that represents the UK and brings its inhabitants together, I choose the pub.

The pub is everything! The pub is for eating, drinking, meeting with family and friends, etc. Grandmothers and grandparents go alone, or with their children and their grandchildren, even if they are newborns. In the morning, at noon, in the afternoon and at night. It’s always a good time to go to the pub.

You must try the English Breakfast or “Full English”, which typically consists of eggs, bread, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, roasted tomatoes and hash brown. A delicious bomb! And in many places they make their vegetarian or vegan version. Perfect to start a long day of sightseeing.

At lunch or dinner, have Fish & Chips. It consists of cod or haddock breaded in a mix of beer, eggs and flour, and then fried. Finally, many chips as a side. And to drink, have a pint of beer!

St Paul’s Cathedral, walking along the Thames, Shakespeare’s Globe & Borough Market

Start by visiting the beautiful Cathedral of St Paul, if you wish to go inside you need to pay. The Thames river is also one of London’s main icons and walking along it is a lovely experience. Alongside it you’ll find the Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Elizabethan Globe theatre. The original theatre was created in 1599 and demolished in 1644. You can go see a play for as little as £5 (standing). It is also beautiful inside. As a warning, your English level will affect your experience – most plays are in old English and even natives struggle to understand it!

Last, you MUST go to Borough Market. It’s one of London’s largest food markets which means lots of variety, yumminess and free tastings! Try to avoid weekends if possible.

London’s FREE museums

Start jumping up and down, London’s museums are free and there is lots of them! Below a list and a brief description so you can chose:

British Museum: Go if you are into ancient stuff.

Imperial War Museum: Go if you are into knowing more about WWI & WWII.

Museum of London: Go if you want to learn more about the city’s history.

National Gallery: Lots of old art, think from Renaissance (think Italian religious art) to Modern (think impressionism) but no new stuff.

Natural History Museum: Think lots of stuffed animals, dinosaurs. For nature fans.

Science Museum: Go if you are really into science, all kinds of machines and how things work.

Tate Modern: Newer art, you’ll find modern (from not so long ago) & contemporary (from today) art here. It’s on the Thames so you can visit it while you walk along it.

Victoria & Albert Museum: Decorative arts, really awesome colorful things to see!

Regents Park & Primrose Hill

Another gorgeous park of the city located in Central London. Bring yourself a nice picnic, and head to Primrose Hill, also in the park, for great views of London.

primrose hill london
Primrose Hill

Abbey Road: get your version of the Beatle’s cover!

Follow the steps of the fab four and take picture on the famous zebra crossing featured on the Abbey Road cover. This is a real street used by real cars so just try to not get run over by a car. Right besides it is Abbey Road studios. Also, be careful, the crossing is not on the Abbey Road tube station but on St John’s Wood station which are in completely different places in the city.

Harrods

Although the only thing you might be able to buy here is food, this luxury department is a must visit. You’ll find the crème de la crème on everything: clothes, decoration, electronics,  food, toys, health & beauty and the list goes on. Be prepared to be wowed by the offerings, and by how expensive they are!

Viewing London from above

Your visit to London is not over without a great picture of London from above! For this you have several options: The London Eye, The Shard or the Skygarden. As I explain in this post the Skygarden is the best and most budget friendly option (it’s free), but it gets booked really in advance so you might have to consider the other two if you are a bad planner!

london eye
London Eye

Hampton Court Palace

This royal palace and it’s gardens are beautiful, fun and full of history. I do recommend visiting them – better on a sunny day! The visit takes at least half day as it’s located in Greater London and there is a lot to cover. You’ll take great pictures!

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Tenerife: It’s Not All About The Beach

tenerife
tenerife
View while driving towards the North of the island

I was expecting Tenerife to be just another beautiful beach destination, packed with British tourists longing for warmth and sun. Well, it’s sooo much more than that. Mixture of beach with mountains, and a forest-meets-jungle kind of vibe, it has something to offer for everyone. Or better, everything to offer for everyone! In case you still don’t know, because of various geographic factors, Tenerife’s weather is pleasant all year round. This makes it a popular destination for those trying to escape Europe’s winter. The island, together with the rest of the Canaries, is part of Spain but it is actually closer to Africa than to Spain itself (it’s right beside it).

Before I dive into what to see and do, some word of advice. Tenerife has, because of a mountain range which divides the island, two climates in a very very short distance. The north is very humid and more likely to be cloudy and rainy. Think tropical: banana trees, palm trees, lots of green, views and landscapes to die for. Contrarily, the south of Tenerife is hot and dry, think arid climate and desert landscape, almost no rain.

In my opinion, you should rent a car, stay in the North and use your car to visit the South. The North is a lot more visually beautiful, hence this would force you to drive between enchanted forests, mountain ridges and literally through the clouds to get to the south. It is also quieter, as package tourists go to the south of the island where the Canarian culture is replaced by the British & German ones. This area is tailored to make them feel at home, so English pubs and English breakfast are common currency. This, among other things that are definitely out of place, are for me a bit of a downer. However, some of the best beaches are in the south, plus, it’s the most developed area so it also has some great restaurants. For example, this organic vegan friendly cafe blew my mind.

Now without further ado, see below some ideas of what to see and do. These should keep you busy for quite some time.

What to see and do in Tenerife

Teide
Parque Nacional El Teide

1. Parque Nacional El Teide

This famous National Park is named after the Teide, a 3,718-metre volcano which is the highest peak in the island and of Spain. Teide can be viewed almost from all over the island when driving. Although it’s definitely the park’s protagonist, this National Park has a lot more to offer! You could spend your entire holiday in Tenerife just on the park. It has numerous trails and multiple different landscapes which, because of the volcanic geography, makes you feel like you’ve taken a trip to Mars.

Getting to the top of the Teide is one of the most popular pursuits, as the views from such altitude in a clear day can definitely be rewarding! There are multiple options to get to the top, the easiest and quickest being a cable car which takes you almost to the top (3555 metres). From there, you can hike the Telesforo Bravo path for 30 mins and get to the actual peak. Do bear in mind you need a permit for this, as the number of people that can hike this last stretch is limited which you can get here for free but you must get it in advance as it books up fairly quickly.

For the more adventurous, you can avoid the cable car and walk instead taking the Montaña Blanca path. The trail is around 8.3 km and would take you 4-6 hrs up and 9-10 hrs in total (up and down). You can do this hike either early in the morning or late in the afternoon and stay in a refuge (refugio de Altavista) to then wake up to hike the last stretch just in time for dawn. There are other possible combinations, such as walking up and take the cable car down or vice versa which would take you 4-5 hrs instead. Another nice and shorter hike (2hrs) is the Roques Garcia walk, you can find the details here.

Teide
Mars like views at Teide National Park

2. Barranco de Masca Hike & Los Gigantes

Although I greatly enjoyed the whole trip, I have to say this was my favorite experience in Tenerife. Masca is a tiny tiny city located in the Macizo de Teno mountains, at an altitude of 650m. The city and the drive to the city are charming but the interest is mostly in the hike which starts here.

The most popular version of the hike consists on hiking down to Masca Beach (around 3hrs hike) chilling there for a while and then taking a boat to Los Gigantes, a major Tenerife landmark consisting in huge cliffs which make a great view.

To achieve this, you can either drive to Masca, leave your car there and then after taking the boat, take a taxi (~23 EUR) from Los Gigantes to Masca. You could also take buses but buses are not at all frequent. There is no direct bus from Los Gigantes to Masca or vice versa, so you would have to take one from Los Gigantes to Santiago del Teide (city in the middle) and then one from there to Masca. Some people park their car in Santiago del Teide, then take a bus to Masca and then a bus from Los Gigantes to Santiago del Teide.

In my case I decided to hike the whole thing. It took us ~ 5/6 hrs in total with 2.5hrs down and 2.5/3hrs up with 0.5hrs in the beach. The hike is magical. This is due to a combination of amazing flora – palm trees, cactus with yellow flowers, bamboo and more – with the dramatic scenery of the massive gorge surrounding you at all times with different shapes and colors. Some extras include mini streams, ponds and geckos.

The hike is not physically straining specially if you only go down. What is not easy is that it’s quite rocky and sometimes requires going up or down large rocks which may be cumbersome for the unfit or elder hikers. The path is marked but it’s not super obvious. We derailed from it at some point and ended up walking up the edge of the gorge on what seemed to be a tunnel for a big pipe. This added a few minutes but was quite fun as it made us go through the mountain on a pitch black mini tunnel. We eventually got to the beach, which was lovely but nothing too crazy. Made of rock, it meant getting to the water was slightly uncomfortable. To me, the hike is really the thing, the beach is just the carrot to the horse!

Masca
Rock formations at the Masca hike
Masca
Views in the Masca hike
Masca Beach
Masca Beach

3. Kayaking With Dolphins

A great vegan friendly excursion my boyfriend found on TripAdvisor, the reviews tempted us so we went for it! The excursion lasts about 3hrs 45 min. Dominique, a lovely frenchman, runs it and he takes you together with other kayaks to find dolphins!

We met Dominique and he took us to the shore where we got geared up and hopped on a two person kayak. We kayaked on the open sea to an area where dolphins usually come, and waited, kayaking around to find them. In our case, we saw them multiple times just swimming and jumping around. I loved it because it is absolutely natural, we didn’t bother the dolphins in any way. Of course, as the dolphins are free wild animals, seeing them is not guaranteed. There is also a nice cliff with a cove to explore close by. Then we kayaked back, got dressed, and went to a small bar for complimentary beers and snacks. You can book here, no payment needed in advance.

 

los cristianos
Los Cristianos city (South)

4. Beaches

Ok now that you’ve heard about Teide & Masca, time to introduce the islands beaches! These spread out across the island. I’ll include some of the best here and a brief summary so you know which ones to chose.

Playa Las Teresitas: golden Saharan sand, lots of space, beach kiosks, turquoise waters, palm trees… This plus Anaga mountain and a charming village in the backdrop make this beach many’s favorite.

Playa El Bollullo: an all natural beach with black sand and primitive facilities surrounded by banana plantations. It takes effort to get to it which make it not as popular which is a plus point. Two other pretty beaches sandwich it, so you might want to check them out as well.

Playa El Jardin: this beach has been landscaped with beautiful gardens, hence its name, “Garden beach”. You’ll find black sand and a resort but as locals also frequent this beach, it offers a nice mixed vibe. Plus it has Mount Teide kind of above it which makes a helluva view.

Playa del Duque: located in ‘upmarket’ Costa Adeje an area surrounded by luxury hotels, the beach is separated from them by a rocky hedge with a mock castle which adds to the luxury look & feel. Facilities are good and water is of a beautiful turquoise.

Playa El Médano: the cool kids beach of the island, frequented by surfers, windsurfers and kite-boarders – you guessed it – it’s windy. You’ll find golden sand and a relaxed local vibe, same as in the surrounding bars.

Playa La Tejita: another natural beach with beautiful golden sand, lots of space and a red mountain make it great to relax and work on your tan. The cove underneath the mountain is nudism friendly in case it’s your thing.

Playa Abades: this beach has a remote feel to it and if you are lucky, can be incredibly quiet which makes it very attractive for some. It also has an abandoned town nearby which adds interest specially and can make great photo material.

Garachico
Garachico city

5. Garachico City 

Garachico is a tranquil little town, located in a deep valley between slopes covered in tropical green flora. It is considered the prettiest and unluckiest city in Tenerife. It was once the most important harbour of the island but in 1706 the Montaña Negra volcano erupted in full force. Rivers of lava waved the harbour goodbye forever. But that wasn’t the only bad thing. Garachico went through other disasters over the years: disease, plagues of locusts, fire and flooding.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, they say. The people of Garachico didn’t give up. They took care of the city and made it probably the best preserved city in the island today. What does this mean for you? Well, it means you can enjoy a nice stroll on the city’s squares, narrow cobblestone streets, admire the Canarian architecture, visit the San Miguel Castle and enjoy the sea view. While you are there, also have an ice cream in Fragola, it’s awesome! Also, Garachico is most famous because of the Garachico pools. These are natural pools of sea water formed by the lava of the 1706 eruption. These are just on the shore, you won’t miss them. They make a nice activity for a hot sunny day.

Garachico
Views at the coast in Garachico (close to the Garachico pools)
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NON TOURISTY THINGS TO DO IN LONDON

london columbia road

Do you live in London or have been too many times? Had enough of Big Ben? Then you’re in the correct place.

London is undoubtedly the best city in the world. Well, I may be biased, but it is pretty awesome. Part of its awesomeness is that there are unlimited things to do which range from simply the unknown to the most ridiculous. Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of non touristy things to do in London. The list is never ending: as soon as I experience more non touristy things to do in London, I will include them here, so remember to pin this post.

1. Have afternoon tea at a Cat Cafe

If you don’t know it already, Cat cafes are a thing. And London couldn’t be left behind in this feline trend. Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium offers a chance to have tea with kittens roaming around. To add more to the fun, it’s vegan friendly! Just remember to book in advance.

non touristy london
Cat Cafe
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BIRMINGHAM: ONE DAY ITINERARY

birmingham

Having visited Birmingham four times in less than three years, I thought it was high time to write something about it.

red palace birmingam

My last visit to Birmingham, and a few before, were to attend concerts. The last band I saw was Black Sabbath, whose members are Brummies, and chose the city as their last spot for their last ever tour show. So, yes, heavy metal was born in Birmingham! That may make it more interesting for some of you.

For those with less context, Birmingham is the second largest city in the UK, but small in comparison to London. So one day is actually not bad to get a good look at it! It’s actually very easy: almost everything you need to see is within walking distance from the station.

1- Main Square & St Phillip’s Cathedral:

You will most likely start from the train station. If you are driving, the Town Hall parking is not expensive or you can park further out and walk your way back to the center. After leaving the station, walk seven minutes to Victoria Square. This is one of the most beautiful squares of the city. Here you will find the City Council which is beautiful, stop for a picture! You will also find the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery which is also interesting and it’s free so you can at least pop in for a few minutes. After that, walk four minutes to the baroque St Phillip’s Cathedral. Walk around the square and admire UK’s third smallest Cathedral from the outside or inside.

st pauls church
St. Paul’s Church

2- St Paul’s Church & Gallery:

Exit St Phillip’s by Church street and walk straight, you will get to St Paul’s Church & Square which is also very nice. Walking an extra 2 more minutes, you will arrive to St Paul’s Gallery. This is one of my favorite spots in Birmingham! It’s the world’s biggest exhibition of album cover fine art. It includes pieces signed by artists and band members including Pink FLoyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, etc. I bought a print of Pink Floyd’s album cover Meddle signed by the cover artist and Nick Mason here! There are also a few pop art pieces as well.

st pauls gallery
Cover art at St Paul’s Gallery

3- Jewellery Quarter:

The Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham is Europe’s largest concentration of businesses involved in the jewellery trade, and produces 40% of all the jewellery made in the UK. But what do you care? Well, the reason why it has become a tourist attraction is that many of the workshops retain their 19th century appearance. What stood out for me is a lot bright red bricks, the architecture does look actually pretty cool. A short walk around it will do – try to find the giant padlock sculpture for a photo op (see below).

giant padlock birmingham
Giant Bronze Charm Bracelet which marks the start on one of the Jewellery Quarter’s pavement trails. Photo credit: Erebus555

4- It’s curry time: 

As most of the UK, Birmingham also has great Indian food. I found out about Hen & Chickens on TripAdvisor on my first visit. When I went there I was a bit skeptical as the place is basically a run down pub, but my skepticism vanished when the food arrived. It was glorious. I ate there four out of four times I visited the city. I wasn’t a vegan then but came back recently and it is vegan friendly (I had the Tharka Dhal). If you are not fond of Indian another great option is The Warehouse Cafe a Vegetarian award winning cafe with tons of Vegan options. They had me at vegan chocolate brownie with ice cream!

hen & chicken birmingham
The curry at Hen & Chickens

5- Now, let’s go shopping:

Walk back to the center to The Bull Ring, Birmingham’s major commercial area which has been this way since the Middle Ages! Today, there is a huge shopping center there which encircles the church of St Martin in the Bull Ring. You will quickly recognise the area because of the Selfridges building which is covered in thousands of shiny discs and looks pretty cool. While shopping or roaming around, take a picture with The Bull, a tall bronze sculpture of a bull inside the shopping complex which is a symbol for the area.

the bull birmingham
My dad and I being tourists with The Bull

6- It’s tea time:

Probably all the walking has made you hungry again. On my quest for a vegan treat I found the Cherry Red’s Cafe Bar. They have tons of vegan options, sweet or savory. I had the Vegan Red Velvet cake which was amazing. The decoration is quirky and fun.

vegan red velvet cake
Vegan Red Velvet Cake at Cherry Reds Cafe

How to get to Birmingham

You can take a bus or train from where you are in England, use GoEuro that shows you all the options in the same search.

Where to stay in Birmingham

Need to spend the night in Birmingham? No worries I’ve got you covered, I’ve pre filtered the best and cheapest hotels, click here to start booking one.

Last, if you need a visual of my itinerary please find the map with the walkways and main sights below. Hope you enjoy your visit!

itinerary birmingham

Birmingham One Day Itinerary

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