London at Christmas Time

When moving to the UK, one of the places I was most excited to visit was London. This November, some friends and I decided to take a short trip to the city to escape from school work and enjoy all the Christmas vibes London has to offer.

24 November, 2021

After our afternoon class on Wednesday, Ariëlle, Bailey, Ginny, Alex, and I headed to the train station in Stirling. Our journey into London was quite uneventful- between trains in Glasgow, we stopped at Tantrum Donuts for donuts and coffee/hot chocolate, and then had a six hour ride into England. Ariëlle and my seats were right next to each other so we got to finish watching Season 1 of Good Omens together!

Once in London, we took the DLR to Greenwich, where we checked into our hostel and dropped our bags off. It was 10:00pm at this point, but we were hungry and restless from the long journey. We walked to the closest McDonalds, where I got to try the new vegan burger (the McPlant) which was surprisingly very good! I never thought I’d be eating a burger at McDonalds again, but life is crazy. We walked around the area a little bit, enjoying the Christmas lights. Greenwich Market was empty at that time of night, but the lights were still glowing, so we played some Christmas music and danced a little before heading back to the hostel.

Life is always throwing curveballs and we were *so lucky* that our first night in the hostel was very eventful. We made it into our room only to find a shirtless man in my bed and my stuff thrown all over the floor. It took far too long to discover that there was a mix-up and the man was in the wrong room (of course). At 1am I finally got fresh sheets and we were able to go to sleep in our bunk beds.

25 November, 2021

After an uneventful morning in the hostel, we headed out early for our first full day in London! We started out climbing a hill for a nice view of the city (Greenwich Park viewpoint). There were school children everywhere, but it was still very pretty! From there, we walked to Greenwich Market, which had a ton of cute stands and shops to explore. Then we got vegan pastries and drinks from Ruby’s of London. Everything tasted amazing (I love being able to try my friends’ food, yay for all vegan restaurants)!

Next, we walked through a tunnel under the river and began exploring the city of London! We walked through docks areas and Canary Warf, taking in the sights of the water, buildings, and more. We were still pretty far from the main touristy *city* area, and it was super nice to see areas of London that might not be typical for visitors. We also saw a teardrop-shaped object that we had to take a selfie in, which became a tradition every time we walked past it (which was a surprising number of times by the end of the trip).

We stopped for a late lunch at Honest Burgers, where I had another delicious vegan burger and chips. It was also nice to rest our legs since we had been walking all day. It was only 3:00, but it was starting to get dark, so we rushed to our next destination: Tower Bridge! This iconic bridge looked great in the fading light, so we stopped for a few quick pictures.

We walked past the Tower of London, which looked like a castle and reminded of Scotland, before heading to the closest Underground Station for our first official Tube ride! Ariëlle helped us get Oyster Cards, which made traveling around London much easier, and then led us through the complicated underground system. When we finally came above land again, we were greeted by beautiful Christmas lights. They were everywhere and it made me so happy!

But the Christmas lights were only beginning, because then we headed to Hyde Park for Winter Wonderland! We had no idea what to expect with this, and we were surprised to see a Christmas-themed carnival when we first entered. We walked towards the booths and spent several hours walking around the market, looking at various items and foods. Ariëlle, Bailey, and I got mulled wine (which was delicious) and although we didn’t pay for any of the rides, it was fun walking around, dancing to Christmas music, and soaking in the atmosphere.

We took the tube back to our hostel, where we got a late snack (there was a bar underneath the hostel) before heading to bed. There weren’t any strange men in our beds that night, so it was a chill night!

26 November, 2021

After a quick breakfast at the hostel, we headed out bright and early, taking the tube all the way to Camden Town. We spent hours exploring Camden Town- there was so much to see, and we didn’t even get to all of it! There were so many quirky little shops, booths, and food stands. I was tempted to buy something every five minutes, especially things with Freddie Mercury on them (I ended up buying the print in the photo below).

Once we got hungry, we all got food from individual stands and found a little pod to sit in. An interesting burger place caught my eye, and although it was hard to justify the £10 price tag, I’m so glad I did. It was one of the best vegan burgers I’ve ever had, mixing so many unique flavors that somehow worked together.

We spent some more time looking around and even managed to squeeze all five of us into a photobooth! I wish we had more time to keep strolling around, but that just gives me another reason to explore another day!

Back on the Tube and to a different area of the city! We stopped at a Starbucks for warm drinks and a chance to sit and warm up for a bit. With drinks in hand, we set out to look at Christmas lights. Our lovely tour guide, Ariëlle, led us around to the best sights. It was very cold outside, but it was a ton of fun dancing under the lights.

We crossed a footbridge and explored more areas of London, looking at more markets and Christmas trees. We even got to cross the foot bridge that was destroyed by Voldemort in Harry Potter (which was treacherously cold and windy). We stopped for dinner at an Asian restaurant called Wagamama, which was delicious! Half of their menu is plant based, which was a lovely surprise, and it was amazing.

After eating, we braved the cold again for more exploring! We saw lights, another Christmas Market, and even walked through Soho! The giddiness of seeing all the Christmas decorations helped keep me warm in the 4 degree temperatures. (A sad note about our adventures is that we walked past Sondheim Theater, which Ginny and I were excited to see, and then found out only a couple of hours later that Sondheim had passed away.)

At one point, we stood in the middle of the road at a median-crosswalk and set my phone on a pole with a self-timer to get a group photo because ~innovation~ Eventually we got too cold to keep walking around, so we went back to the hostel for the night!

27 November, 2021

To begin our last full day in London, we got drinks and breakfast from 15 Grams, a coffee shop near our hostel! They had vegan banana bread which was incredible. I also had to swing into a store we had visited a couple days before to buy a glasses holder that I hadn’t stopped thinking about. I named him Christopher, after our hostel.

We took the tube back into the city, stopping first at the Victoria and Albert museum. None of us had any idea what to expect, and there was so much to see. I think I speak for all of us when I say that our favorite area was where we got to try on “period costumes”- I felt like Sherlock Holmes. We spent a couple of hours wandering through the various exhibits, and we still didn’t see everything!

Then we headed to Buckingham Palace, which was huge and beautiful. I loved the gold accents all around on the gates and statues. There were people everywhere, and of course we couldn’t go in, but it was cool to see! Next we took a quick trip into St. James Park right next door so that Ariëlle and I could take a photo reenacting a scene from Good Omens– we are Crowley and Aziraphale, so we couldn’t resist the photo-op.

Next on our walking tour was Big Ben (which wasn’t very exciting because it’s under construction) and the house of Parliament. Right next door, we stopped for lunch for my favorite UK delicacy, Gregg’s! I was very excited and obnoxious about this. We walked across another bridge to get a good look at the London Eye (which we did not ride because expensive) and had a little look around the Southbank Book Market. We didn’t spend a long amount of time there because it was very cold, but it was cool to see! We also passed “Shrek’s Adventure” right next to the Eye which I found very humorous. I’ll visit next time.

Ariëlle left our group to meet up with her cousin, so it was up to me to lead our group to the British Museum. We made it about an hour before they closed, but we were very cold and exhausted by this point, so we took our time walking around. The museum was very beautiful inside, and we only managed to see a fraction of it before we had to leave.

We met back up with Ariëlle and headed to Gay’s the Word, an independent bookshop in London devoted to LGBTQIA+ books! It was super cool to look around and know that everything we saw had representation in it! I ended up purchasing a book about asexuality, which I’m super excited to read! After making our purchases, we searched for somewhere to eat and ended up choosing a Greek restaurant called Taste of Greece. The food was very yummy and it was much a needed break from walking in the cold.

Our last stop was Covent Garden, which had live music, Christmas decorations, and good vibes. After looking around for a little bit, we said goodbye to the city of London and took the tube back to our hostel for one last night of sleeping in bunkbeds in a room with 11 other people.

28 November, 2021

Our trip back to Stirling was one of those days where if something could go wrong, it did. We were tired, we were missing home, and we just wanted to be back in Scotland. A part of our pre-booked trip, however, was cancelled. A lot of trains into Edinburgh were cancelled because of weather, and the only train we could get on was a fully booked train to Newcastle.

And so, we found a hallway on the train with as few people as possible and parked ourselves there for three hours. Three hours in a crowded hallway full of bodies and suitcases. Every time someone passed through to purchase snacks, I had to press myself against the wall to make room, and I felt like I was being harassed every two minutes. At one point, we noticed that my water bottle had exploded all over my backpack, spilling on my book, laptop, and iPad. I no longer felt any shame and burst into tears (shoutout to the group of moms who were also squeezed into the hallway and gave Ariëlle tissues to clean my things while I sat on my suitcase and cried).

Eventually, enough people got off the train that we were able to sit down(!!) in seats(!!!). Once in Newcastle, we took a break from people and got food and drinks from Costa. Then we got a train to Carlisle, then to Glasgow. Passing the border of Scotland was exhilarating, we were so happy to be back. In Glasgow we stopped at McDonalds (I got another McPlant, I wish they had them in Stirling) before getting on the train to Stirling. What was supposed to be a seven hour travel day turned into a 12 hour day from Hell, but we somehow survived and lived to tell the tale!

Overall, our trip to London was a ton of fun! It was great exploring and seeing so many areas of the city (thanks again to Ariëlle for being our five-star tour guide). I made so many great memories with my friends, and after surviving the bad parts, now I have stories to tell! Being in London also made me appreciate Scotland even more, and it feels even more like home than it did before. I’m excited to see what December holds and to experience Christmas in Scotland!

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