Tips and advice for a trip to London and Paris
May 6, 2013 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I finally saved up enough flyer miles for a flight to Europe and I am super excited since I've never been. I'm planning on a week in London and then a week in Paris, advice for things to do while I'm there would be much appreciated.

So I'm probably going to stay at an airbnb or hostel in London, and then take the Chunnel to meet my friend in the suburbs of Paris. I LOVE walking and wandering cities and taking various modes of public transport everywhere.

I have no idea what there is in London other than like... Big Ben? Buckingham Palace? (I am totally ignorant about England and would like to fix that.) I love cities but I also don't mind a day trip to the seaside or countryside if that is doable. But I'm pretty sure there may be well more than enough to fill my week stay in London with city stuff. Open to suggestions and things I should not miss in a week. Don't mind being a little bit of a tourist but I am most interested in local type things. I'll probably nom on all sorts of meat pies and street foods but will probably save most of my food coin for Paris.

As for Paris... I will be in the suburbs for a bit but then I plan on hitting up the Louvre for a few days and obviously see the Eiffel Tower. Other than that I don't know other things I should do. I love food, where are good places to eat that is not outrageously expensive and good for a potentially solo traveler? Not totally sure if my French friend will be joining me in Paris or not yet. I am also not picky in food and would like to try something authentic/local to the area. Oh and will probably go to the catacombs, so neat things like that too. I like museums but I like more of a balance of all things rather than spending most of my times indoors.

Oh and last question... I have an unlocked iPhone 4... what is the best SIM card I can get for a weeks data plan in England and France?
posted by xtine to Travel & Transportation around London, England (21 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to mention, but I am planning on going in October of this year.
posted by xtine at 12:17 PM on May 6, 2013

Museums! They're all free and all pretty fantastic.

Sir John Soane's Museum is weird and cool and definitely worth a peek inside. Ask the guard to please open up the walls in the painting room so you can see all the Hogarth.

The Hunterian Museum
is just across the square and is also weird and cool and as a bonus is full of jars of weird and cool dead things.

I was also really impressed by the Museum of London for doing a great job of being really modern and current, which aren't really things you think of when you think of museums.
posted by phunniemee at 12:24 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do some walking tours with the various guides. Last time I went to Europe I didn't start doing these till I was a couple of countries in, but they were great. A lot of the time you'll have history graduate students with a flair for the dramatic putting them on, so you can get some great enthusiasm and knowledge.
posted by bswinburn at 12:29 PM on May 6, 2013

We took a 1/2 day bus tour of London. I usually roll my eyes at such things, but this was great. The spry old gentleman took us all to the best place to see the changing of the guard, and then back on the bus! His historical knowledge was AWESOME and I learned a ton.

I've been to the Tower of London twice. It's really amazing and you can see the crown jewles and Henry VIII's armour.

I loved the Victoria and Albert museum, The British Museum, Apsley House (***** on that , it was so great!) The LondonPass is a good deal and you don't have to stand in any lines. Also, you can buy one with a 6 day Underground pass. If you're really into museums and attractions (and you should be) this is a very good deal.

Take away fish and chips are great for a meal, pubs are good too, although some can get spendy. Pret a Manger, or a Marks and Spenser sandwich is good as well. Tesco has really yummy crumpets and those are nice for breakfast with some coffee.

In Paris you can get cheese, bread, etc and munch al fresco. Sandwiches on the streets are fantastic. Strawberries at the market are amazing. The ladies in the stalls will ask you when you plan to eat your fruit, so it will be perfectly ripe for then.

I love Europe so hard!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:32 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can get to the beach in Brighton in an hour from London, totally doable in a day trip and a gorgeous city to wander around too.
posted by ellieBOA at 12:41 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

In London, Hampton Court Palace and the Tower are both excellent. Go to one of the big parks - they're completely different from parks in the U.S. Eat in pubs. Go to Baker Street Underground station. If you want a day trip, take a train to Brighton and see the Pavilion.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 12:45 PM on May 6, 2013

Best answer: We were in London last September and I've been back and forth to Paris a couple times over the past year-ish for work. October should be a fine time for travel, but bring rain gear.

In General:

Our travel style is definitely of the "walk around and stop in a lot of bars" variety. This is very doable in both cities. I generally like to pick one "big thing" to do each day, have a leisurely breakfast, and generally be done in early afternoon. That leaves plenty of time for drinks, dinner, after-dinner drinks, etc.

For London:

The big tourist sites were really kind of a letdown for me. I liked the museums better - the British Museum has something for everyone, and I also liked the Victoria and Albert. The Hunterian and John Soane's were both very good. The Tower is insanely expensive to get into and not worth it, in my opinion. St. Paul's was expensive but more worth it, in my opinion, especially the views from the top of the dome.

For a beautiful walk, start at Regents Park and follow the canal up to Camden High Street. You can detour up to Primrose Hill or gawk at some of the large houses in the area. At the locks in Camden there's a large market you can easily get lost in.

For other food, we did both enjoy Borough Market. If the weather's nice, you can get all the fixings for a good picnic and take a short walk to the Thames. We took a "foodies" walking tour (here) which was very interesting historically if a bit light on the actual, you know, eating. The walk up and down the Thames is also very nice, and there always seemed to be something going on.

Go to the Princess Louise for a drink one day and enjoy the private drinking stalls at the bar. St. John (we went to the one in Smithfield) was absolutely excellent. Chinatown would also be a good bet; I think this is the restaurant we had dim sum at and it was definitely among the best I've eaten.


Musee d'Orsay.

Paris is another good town for walking. Start at the upstream end of the Canal St. Martin (Stalingrad or Jaures metro stops) and walk back to the Seine. Walking the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame is very pleasant.

I liked Sacre Couer, but it's not a particularly nice neighborhood otherwise. Get to the Catacombs early - like, half an hour before they open - or you'll be waiting in line all day.

For food and drink, go to Le Baron Rouge (David Leibovitz recommended!), the Grizzli Cafe, and Barav - go next door, buy a bottle of wine from their cave, then bring it back and they'll cork it and serve you food.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:47 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've actually stayed at the London Central hostel twice now - it's pretty well located and in a decent neighborhood, you can walk a lot of places from there (I think about 15 minutes' walk from the British Museum, for starters), and the staff is really nice. Speaking of the British Museum - give yourself more than a day, or plan your attack carefully. I tried doing the whole thing in one go and after three hours I had a full-on "I need to leave, my brain is full" attack.

I fell totally in love with the boats along Regents' Canal - I've always been a bit boat-obsessed, though. But the canal towpath itself made for a nice walk. Most of the companies that offer "boat tours" of the canal just go back and forth between two neighborhoods - one, Little Venice, is a nice walk, and there's a little cafe right on a boat near the tour boat dock where the barista gave me a free cupcake just because; and the other, Camden, is kinda boho-scensterish-with-a-bit-of-hitting-up-the-tourists mixed in, but still way fun (their food carts were fantastic, actually). One of the tour boats also makes a stop at the London Zoo so you could make a day of it.

The London Eye was...well, it was okay. A bit overpriced, though. I actually had just taken a kayak tour of the Thames the day before and liked that view better. I wanted to see way more of The Globe than I got to, but they were in the middle of rehearsals for something...

Stonehenge was actually doable as a half-day trip from London. But they don't let you get right up next to it (understandable, but still unfortunate). And yes, do a pub. And try to see some kind of theater if you're that way inclined.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:48 PM on May 6, 2013

Best answer: Paris - day trip to Versailles and of course Jardin de Luxembourg, Montemarte and Champs Elysees.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:49 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Keep an eye on Eat street for some of the best London Street food.

For local events keep an eye on Londonist. Good for some slightly off the beaten path events.

London is very good for public transport. Get an oyster card and go nuts.

Be sure to check out Richmond, and the park there for a taste of the west.

Also lookout for some small local gigs or events in Brick Lane or Shoreditch for a taste of the east.

Don't forget this link, for a tour of London pubs.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 12:49 PM on May 6, 2013

Oh, and Westminister Abbey was neat. And do go for the audio-commentary phone doohickey thing they give out to you - it helps you catch up with all the "this is the grave of which queen and this king was who now?" English history that everyone else around you already knows.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:50 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

For street food in London, get to Borough Market. It's right by London Bridge tube so a good morning trip and stop off for Tower Bridge, the Crown Jewels or south bank. Go early and feast on exotic meat sausages and the free samples away from the tourist times - I have to go early on Saturday mornings and it quickly gets busy, but Thursdays & Fridays, still early, like before midday, are less rammed. I hope you have a lovely time!
posted by symphonicknot at 12:57 PM on May 6, 2013

Best answer: I also love cities and walking in them so my London question, although probably a bit more specialized, may be of use to you.

Some things I'd recommend, not at all exhaustive:

- A long walk through London. I walked from Angel Islington to Borough Market in a very leisurely way (via Shoreditch, Whitechapel and the City to Southwark). While I enjoyed nearly all the tourist sites, the afternoon I took for this walk was probably my most enjoyed experience.

- Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, it's a lovely escape, easy to get to and has beautiful views of central London

- I took one London Walks tour and would recommend it. I did the This is London tour the morning of the day after I got there, and hit up a lot of the touristy attractions (Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, etc) at just the right pace. They're cheap and if you like walking I found it preferable to the bus tours, since as I said above I think walking around London is one of the best ways to really experience it.

- If you go to Westminster Abbey, I would really opt for the verger tour. It's an extra £3 on top of the admission charge but it allows you to go in some areas that you normally can't get access to and a lot of the context they provide is very useful. I went to London in February and there were only 3 people on my verger tour which was awesome; I'd imagine October is busier than February but probably not by too much.

- Finally, if you are taking the Eurostar you will be passing through St Pancras. It's one of the most beautiful train stations I've ever been to and if you like architecture I'd go just a little bit early so you can wander around the station and appreciate it.
posted by andrewesque at 1:21 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

For London: Do you like dancing? (Related question - how old are you?)

I love big warehouse-type crazy dance parties that feature (good) electronic music. If this describes you, you absolutely cannot miss the internationally known and renowned Fabric.

Seconding a sojourn out to Richmond. If you walk up through town to the top of Richmond Hill (passing many cute shops and pubs), there is an absolutely stunning view of the Thames.

Do you enjoy Middle Eastern food? Then North End Road is not to be missed; take the Tube to West Kensington and turn left. It's been a while, so check your map, but I believe the walk down North End Road will take you all the way to Fulham Broadway station. Great food and great fun.

Make sure to check out the Harrods in Knightsbridge. Trust me - I'm not a great lover of shopping, but you won't want to miss it. It's an incredible spectacle/maze. There are also a great many high-fashion shops in the area for window-drooling.

If you get off at Gloucester Road, you can walk toward High Street Kensington (Kensington Road), and check out the beautiful Kensington Gardens which is just east of Hyde Park and just west of all the action on the high street. This is a great place to start a jam-packed day; many places are walkable from here and there are Tube stops galore. Here, look!

Have fun, and eat at a Nando's for me! You've made me miss the city where I left my heart.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh - and do get a Visitor's Oyster card! It will make travel hassle-free, and it's less expensive than other options.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 1:59 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Paris' Nuit Blanche is happening on October 5th this year – might certainly be worth planning around. Millions of people flood the the streets for the all-night arts festival. There are art installations all over the city, and museums and galleries stay open all night (along with restaurants and bars of course). When I was there, I watched an electric guitar orchestra on the steps of the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, played a art/video game on a massive screen outside the city hall, and saw Notre Dame for the first time.. with a giant color-shifting Jesus projected on the front facade. Doesn't look like they have a website up for this year yet, but you can google for previous years.

If you're there a bit later (Oct. 9-13), you can check out the Montmartre Wine Festival, which is great for sampling wines, cheeses, foods, etc. though it can get crowded. But be sure to walk around the beautiful hilly streets of Montmartre even if you're not there during the festival. In Montmartre, try dinner at Le Refuge des Fondues for some thoroughly mediocre fondue, wine in baby bottles (yes, really), and an always drunk and boisterous crowd. If you're traveling alone you'll make instant friends here with whoever you end up squeezed between on the long benches. Definitely a unique experience.
posted by Kabanos at 3:10 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

British Library - Beatles lyric sheets, cool medieval Bibles.

Churchill War Rooms, frozen as they were when the war ended, near Parliament.
posted by Freedomboy at 10:28 PM on May 6, 2013

Best answer: When I lived in Paris, I loved the Musée de Cluny. It's right next to the Cluny-Sorbonne metro exit and hard to miss.

If you visit the Louvre, make sure to see the new Islamic Wing. It's amazing.

I haven't eaten there myself, but Chez Gladines is very popular with my friends. My French teacher spent ten minutes raving to me about it.

The galettes at Crêpes à Gogo were some of the best I had while in Paris. Make sure to order them along with a glass of cider.

The crepes you can find at stands in the touristy areas can actually be pretty good. Don't pay more than 3 euros for one, though. I recommend banana and nutella or egg and cheese. They're especially awesome at midnight after a few glasses of wine. I had a lot of fun exploring the neighborhoods around Montparnasse, Bastille, and of course, Montmartre. Paris has so many lovely parks- it's great having somewhere to sit down after walking all day. One of the things I miss the most about France.

One of the best things about the Paris area is how easy it is to have spontaneous picnics, when the weather allows. Try to stop by a boulangerie and a Monoprix and grab some tarts, a baguette (definitely buy this from a bakery and not a supermarket) and cheese, fruit, and whatever else looks good. This will definitely be cheaper to do in the suburbs than in Paris. Like, astonishingly cheaper.

As for the Eiffel Tower- I recommend walking around, taking the required pictures, then going on and doing something else. It's extremely easy to be pickpocketed there if you aren't careful, and there are so many vendors harassing you that it can kind of ruin the experience. Going to the top can be fun, though, if you're willing to pay the money for it. Great views of the entire city!

I also highly recommend paying to use the Velib' system for a week. You'll see Velib' stations all over. Riding a bike through Paris is so much more fun than taking the metro or a taxi everywhere, and many parts of the city have well established bike paths.

And most importantly, bring a good compact umbrella with you. A cheap one from H&M just isn't going to cut it.
posted by mollywas at 12:26 AM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

So no one's mentioned my favorite little gallery, the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House. The last time I was there, eons ago, it was closed for renos, and I'm very excited to go back to it in a couple weeks. I'll also be riding the Eye, even though it's very touristy, just because they were building it last time I was there and it will be fun to see it in real life, since it's in the background of every movie and TV show filmed in London all the time. If you like shopping, definitely go to Harvey Nichols, Harrods, Selfridges, and Liberty -- you may not be able to afford anything, but it's fun to look around.

Splash out and have an afternoon tea at someplace grand like The Ritz, the Dorchester, or Fortnum & Mason.
posted by emcat8 at 1:13 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely search for all the other London threads. I will repeat the advice I always give:

Buy "Londonwalks" by Anton Powell. It is out of print, so you'll have to buy a used copy on Amazon (and you'll have to ignore the restaurant reviews and museum opening times, which will be out of date)-- but it will give you some fascinating, in-depth walking tours.

Also, since you have an iPhone, download Time Out London's "Time Out Things To Do" and "Travel Guide" apps. "Things To Do" really works best when you have a data plan-- it will tell you cool things like which exhibitions are on at galleries near you.

If you don't end up finding a cheap data plan, (and maybe even if you do) I recommend TripAdvisor's City Guides app, which lets you download a bunch of data for a city, then access it offline.

For eating on the go, Pret A Manger and Eat are two reliable sandwich chains.

Most of the famous touristy stuff is worth doing. The one exception is the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, which never really impressed me.

My personal favorite things to recommend to tourists: The Tower of London (make sure you (a) take a Beefeater tour, and (b) see the Crown Jewels); the Churchill Museum & War Rooms; and the Museum of London.

Also, don't forget London has world-class theater. You can get half-price tickets at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. (But don't be fooled by all the other shops with names like "The Official Half-Price Ticket Shop Of Leicester Square." The off-brand shops will sell you perfectly legitimate tickets, but they are often pricey. I would stop by the TKTS booth first, as I think that's likely to have the best deals.)
posted by yankeefog at 6:43 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

As for the Eiffel Tower- I recommend walking around, taking the required pictures, then going on and doing something else.

This reminded me...
I agree – get up close, enjoy the surroundings of the Eiffel Tower, take some pictures. But instead of waiting in line forever to get to the top, instead go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Cheaper, shorter lines (if any) and a fantastic 360 degree view of Paris, that includes the Eiffel Tower.
posted by Kabanos at 6:54 AM on May 7, 2013

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