UK Part 1: London

My parents don’t like giving me material things or money as graduation gifts; instead, they give me a few weeks or months off to travel, and it’s no different now that I’ve graduated with a Master’s degree!

This trip came about due to perfect timing. A couple of months before my graduation, my sister received news that she got accepted for a PhD program in London, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to travel to the UK. After all, my mom and I had to help her with shopping and moving in until she completely settles into her student accommodation… and when classes start, we could do whatever we wanted.

But because we were so busy thinking about the things she needed, we weren’t able to plan much for this trip. We weren’t even able to research about the must-visit spots! All we had for our UK trip was a UK visa, a 3-Day London Pass, and a BritRail Pass… and the rest was just pure YOLO!

This is going to be a bit long, so you can skip ahead to specific days if you want:


Day 1: Arrival

I got sick a day before my flight, so the whole flight experience was terrible. Stuffy nose + pressure = P A I N. My ears hurt so much the whole time and I could not pop them because my cold was so bad that swallowing felt icky. By the time we landed at Heathrow, I was already practically deaf.

My sister was busy with school stuff in the morning so my dad’s cousin came to pick my mom and I up from the airport. She has lived in the UK for more than 10 years so I no longer remember her – this was my first time to meet her and her family. I usually feel awkward around my dad’s relatives, but this family was super nice and accommodating so I never felt any awkwardness at all. It was also my first time to meet her son, Christian. I’m not so used to talking to people who are younger than me, but I eased up to him soon enough.

After dropping us off at my sister’s dormitory, we got her stuff sorted and can I just say, her student accommodation is teeny-tiny. I mean, my dorm room back in Taiwan wasn’t very large too, but her place is just too cramped for my taste.

As soon as we finished unpacking my sister’s things, my dad’s cousin picked us up again for lunch at Nando’s, near my sister’s campus. I think spicy food helped with my cold; I felt my airways and ears clear up a little bit after that meal XD We didn’t do much after lunch though because it was already afternoon and we still had to sort out my sister’s room. But once we were done, we had the whole day to relax. After all, we just came from a long and exhausting flight!

Days 2 and 3: Squeezing in some sightseeing

We allocated two days to help my sister with whatever more she needed. But with her erratic class schedule, we found ourselves waiting for her for a few hours at a time, so we decided to use this time to explore some of what London has to offer!

For the first day, we decided to use some of our free time to claim our London Passes near Leicester Square. It’s a really nice area with lots to see and do! I really enjoyed strolling around the area and taking in the sights; even people-watching was fun because the surrounding area was just so vibrant!

Oh and I also saw a Lego Store, and my inner kid just freaked out! I looooove Lego so much, so you can just imagine how excited I was to look through all the stuff they had on sale!

I just had to! <3

And for the second day, we had the opportunity to explore The British Museum for a bit since it’s just near my sister’s campus!

One of the museum’s many rooms. I would need to stay in the museum the whole day if I want to see everything!

Our sightseeing escapades were cut short though since we had to rush back to meet my sister in school. It was alright I guess; I still wasn’t fully recovered from my cold anyway so I didn’t feel that I was up for so much walking and exploring for the first few days. I got more sleep than usual during these days, so I didn’t feel sluggish anymore by Day 4.

Day 4: Strolling around London

For our first full day of sightseeing, we activated our London Passes and availed of the hop-on-hop-off bus tour that came with it. I always see buses like this in Taipei but I never really had the chance to get on them. They have guides on board so I think it’s a pretty convenient way to learn more about the city, and listening to the descriptions helped me decide which places I wanted to explore! On this day, I also realized that it was my first time to really see London in its full glory – and I loved what I saw!

First thing on our checklist for the day was to visit Tower of London, because I love historical buildings and fortresses (and my mom loves learning about anything related to Henry VIII)! I find it really cool that places like this are so well-preserved, and I definitely enjoyed all the exhibits – my favorite ones were the Medieval Palace and Prison exhibits!

We spent so much time at the Tower of London, much more than my mom would have liked1. Well, that’s what happens when I get engrossed in reading all the exhibit descriptions!

While flipping through the London Pass guide we also realized that we were allowed entry into Buckingham Palace‘s state apartments, and that this day was the last day! We came in a hurry to see it, but we were a few minutes late and we failed to catch the exhibit. Too bad, so we just snapped some photos and went for a walk at the nearby Green Park. Sometimes people find it funny that I’m so fascinated with parks, but they should understand that we don’t have these where I live!

My sister called us inviting us for dinner, so we met up near her place and looked for a nearby pub to dine in. It was funny because there were signs outside the pub that said: “Home Fans Only” and the like. We didn’t know what those signs meant so we didn’t go in at first. Turns out that there was a football match going on that night, and the pubs were supporting different teams XD Oh well, it was a nice experiencing an authentic pub night in London complete with a great football game! Definitely the perfect way to end our day!

Day 5: Kensington Palace, London Bridge Experience, HMS Belfast, West End theatre experience

My mom is a huge fan of anything related to the royals, so she was pretty excited when she learned that our London Pass included a visit to Kensington Palace. Plus points for her when she found out that there was an exhibit about Princess Diana’s clothes inside! Well, as for me, my favorite part was the King’s State Apartment and The Crown Jewels exhibit.

I wonder how royal parties were like back in the day! I don’t think I would leave after hanging out with nobles at a ballroom like this one!
The Grand Staircase looks more like an art gallery to me!

Besides the interior, which was stunning, The Round Pond and the gardens outside the palace were amazing too. Everything looked so serene! This has got to be one of my favorite sights so far.

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At Princess Diana’s Memorial Fountain.

We left Kensington Palace and Hyde Park in the afternoon and headed to HMS Belfast, a British warship converted to a museum. As a former Naval ROTC cadet, I was very excited to explore the ship and experience what navy life must have been like for servicemen during World War II.

My inner navy girl was squealing inside when I saw the HMS Belfast for the first time.

Finally, we walked for a few minutes and arrived at the London Bridge Experience. It’s a shame that we weren’t allowed to take photos or videos inside since it was an interactive attraction, but gosh. What can I say? It was pretty nerve-wracking but super unique because the attraction doesn’t just present the usual history lesson about London, it presents the city’s dark history2! Too bad my mom is super scared of zombies and ghosts and all that, so we skipped the second part of the London Bridge Experience. She literally had to drag me away from the group so that we could leave as quickly as possible!

Oh well, we headed straight to London’s West End to watch Kinky Boots, which we got last-minute tickets for. I’m so glad we chose to watch Kinky Boots, it was such a heartwarming and enjoyable show. I’d definitely love to see it again! Hmm, Broadway? *wink*

Balcony seats, but not bad for the price we got the tickets for!
The streets of London at night.

Day 6: Windsor Castle and Harry Potter Studio Tour

That morning, we realized that our London Pass also came with free train rides to and from Windsor… and free entrance to Windsor Castle! So, why not? We had a few hours to spare before our Harry Potter Studio Tour anyway!

Windsor Castle was lovely! Only a small portion was open for tourists since it’s still a fully operational castle and people still actually live here, but that’s okay. I enjoyed looking around the castle grounds and seeing the state apartments anyway!

St. George’s Chapel

After snapping photos and finishing the whole audio guide (much to my mother’s chagrin), we hopped on a train going back to London, then went to Watford Junction, where a shuttle bus for the studio tour guests was waiting.

I swear I went mental at the sight of the Harry Potter sign on the bus and outside the building! It’s really happening! And when we got inside, I couldn’t contain my excitement when I saw the walls covered with footsteps ala-Marauder’s Map style! Everything’s so extra already… and we haven’t even entered the main exhibit rooms yet!

I love how the exhibits still look so magical even in real life. These things are just some of the stuff that will greet you once you enter the exhibits:

It’s Halloween at Hogwarts!
Umm, yeah, I wouldn’t want to get on Professor Snape’s bad side…
And I certainly don’t want to be devoured by a snake!
I would prefer to chill at the Gryffindor Common Room, thank you very much.

Of course I wanted to feel like a legit Hogwarts student, so I went to Diagon Alley…

I did my best to avoid the Death Eaters though!

went through Platform 9 3/4…

hopped on the Hogwarts Express…

and even had butterbeer at Hogsmeade!

Even though we spent quite a lot of time in the studio tour, I still felt that it wasn’t enough. I tried all the activities and read through everything, and before I knew it the tour was closing for the day. 🙁 Take me back!


And there you have it for the first part of my UK travel! I hope you enjoyed reading and looking at the photos as much as I enjoyed exploring the country! Stay tuned for part 2!

  1. My mom and I have different preferences – I like reading all the descriptions, and she likes to just look at things and move on.
  2. The London Bridge Experience also explains why London Bridge fell down!

18 Comments

  1. YASSSSSSSSSS! I’m excited to see these UK blog posts come out, I really can’t wait to read up about your trip although we did chat about bits, it’s always nice (I find this anyway) to have everything written down and presented on a blog (that is why I do it anyway 🙈) Huge congratulations to your sister again for getting into a PhD programme, that is amazing news! I’m so glad that she has found something she’s so passionate about.

    Reading through your days in London makes me want to make a trip down there again that isn’t related to work or conferences – I think that is actually the only time I go to London…for work or conferences. 😂 I need to change that! I’m so glad that you had fun on the Harry Potter tour, I really want to go one day (soon hopefully!) It looks like a LOT of fun!!!

    1. Haha you really should explore more of London… for fun this time! 😛 I bet you will love the Harry Potter tour. Walking around there definitely feels like you’re part of the movies as well!

  2. Congrats to your sister on getting accepted for PhD! I’m glad you had a good time in London despite having a cold. The British Museum is a favourite place of mine to visit whilst I’m in London, it’s so beautiful!
    I’ve never been on the Harry Potter tour, maybe I’ll have to go too!

    1. The British Museum was amazing! I feel like I have to spend an entire day inside if I really want to see everything in-depth!

      I highly recommend the Harry Potter studio tour! It’s so fun and it’s nice to see how the whole Harry Potter universe was created! It makes you appreciate the movies more 🙂

  3. Congratulations to your sister for getting accepted to a PhD program! The attractions you’ve visited looks gorgeous. The buildings look super historic – interesting to see Mod Pizza out there! The Harry Potter Studio looks exciting! Love that it actually feels like you’re in Harry Potter. Glad you enjoyed your UK tour so far!

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

  4. I love that your parents gift you with travel rather than things! There is definitely nothing else I’d rather receive than an amazing trip. Heathrow must be bad luck for being sick because when we retuned from Milan and flew into Heathrow, I was SO sick. It was awful! It looks like you still had a blast though. So much fun stuff to do there!

    Susie | http://milehighdreamers.com

    1. I prefer travel over material stuff too! The memories I create from my trips are all priceless :’)

      Man, flying into Heathrow was terrible especially with the long lines at the border control. But I enjoyed my stay in London so the initial hassle was worth it!

  5. Oh no, that would have been such a pain that you got sick the day before your flight! I’m glad that the spicy food did help to relieve it, you must have felt so bad, especially after the flight as well. There was so much to see and do! It would have been fantastic to see so much of London, the fact that everything is so old is magical. Speaking of magic, the Harry Potter Studio Tour looks awesome!! 😀

    1. I loooove London so much precisely because of all the vintage-looking buildings! I really love architecture and it amazes me how they were able to preserve all those buildings :’)

      The Harry Potter tour was definitely one of the best parts of this trip! Everything looked so amazing <3

  6. I would absolutely love to visit that Harry Potter experience thing!! But I think that staircase earlier in the post looks like something from Harry Potter too. How nice to see some more about your trip. And I know all about flying with a cold. So much pain! 🙁

  7. Sounds like a fun trip! Shame you were sick for it though! That’s the worse! Hope you’re feeling better now!

    Lots of great pictures! And the Harry Potter tour! You’re so lucky!

    1. I recovered pretty quickly, so I was able go enjoy the rest of our UK trip! Thanks Megan! 🙂

      I really fought to get well so I could enjoy the Harry Potter tour to the fullest! Haha! 😉

  8. Your trip looks so fun! I would love a trip as opposed to gifts. I am especially jealous that you got to see the Harry Potter part. I want to go to something like that one day.

  9. Ahhhh. That’s amazing that 1. your sister got accepted to study in London 2. you got to explore London and 3 had a fabulous time!

    London is definitely full of history and one of the few cities that I’d love to visit.

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