May 2021 is the last time I visited Birmingham and I lived there for a few weeks. Birmingham has been mostly closed due to Covid but it’s slowly opening back up now.
WHY VISIT BIRMINGHAM, UK
I’ve visited Birmingham from London more than seven times already and lived there for a couple of weeks while I was renovating a flat. When I asked in my Instagram stories I realised no one really visits Birmingham, but it’s quite an interesting city! Some of the things that make it special are that it’s actually the second largest city in the UK and also the youngest city with over 40% of the population being under 25 (fun! right?).
Also, Birmingham is home to more canal waterways than Venice and is home to the Bullring Shopping Centre which is one of the biggest shopping centres in Europe. If you ask me personally, I really like the industrial vibe of Birmingham, the mix of old and new architecture and the artsy vibe the neighbourhood of Digbeth breathes. On top of that, Birmingham boasts of fine arts, fine dining and greenery. It is the home for some of the most ground breaking music in the world (metal was born here!), Cadbury’s chocolate factory and the Peaky Blinders!
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Around over two hours from London by car, the Jurassic Coast makes a wonderful day or weekend trip from London if you are looking for stunning seaside views and cute towns.
Wait! Jurassic Coast? Am I going to see dinosaurs?
You wish! The 154km long Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site on the English Channel coast of southern England. It spans from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset.
Why is it called Jurassic Coast? Well, this site has around 185 million years of geological history. Erosion in the coast has exposed rock formations from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, and this is why it is a World Heritage Site. The fossils of the various creatures who lived here have been preserved in the rocks. You can actually see sea shells, and who knows what else, encrusted in them.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!