By Blythe Edwards and Morgane Brière
Thanks to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, people associate London with holiday spirit when Yuletide rolls around. Thankfully, the English capital does not disappoint. Decked out with lights and the smell of roasting chestnuts wafting from street corners, London emanates a certain winter wonderland magic. Heading there the first weekend in December, you will enter London as the season hits its stride.
How do I get there from Reims?
Your first step is to take the train from the Gare de Reims to Paris Gare de L’Est.
Then walk ten minutes to the Gare du Nord and catch the Eurostar train to St. Pancras Station, London. Arrive at least 45 minutes before your Eurostar departure to go through security and passport control. The train ride itself will take approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. Prices on the Eurostar vary depending on demand, standard class tickets can cost between 50 and 150 euros each way depending on the time of day and day of the week.
If you have used up all your absences and can’t miss your Monday morning class, your prices will be steeper. A Sunday night train will cost around 150 euros, compared to only 75 euros on Monday morning.
By Bus and Car:
This option is more frugal but requires more time and is less comfortable. You can get a BlaBlacar to Paris (around 10-15 euros). From there, you can get a overnight bus from Paris to London on FlixBus or OuiBus, it will be a long ride, six to nine hours, but relatively inexpensive (ranging from 15 to 35 euros each way).
Leaving right after your afternoon classes means you can get to London by 9:30 p.m. that night, while paying less than 50 euros there and back!
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland – Every year, London has its own Christmas market complete with fairground rides, circuses, an ice kingdom, themed bars and food stalls, and an outdoor ice rink.
Ice Skating – In addition to the rink at Winter Wonderland, a number of historic sites have public rinks including the Natural History Museum, Somerset House, Hampton Court Palace, and the Tower of London.
Christmas Lights – See the city at its most sparkly by walking around central London in the early evenings. Regent Street, Oxford Street, Bond Street, Carnaby Street, St Christopher’s Place, and Covent Garden will all be luminous.
Marking Advent – On Saturday, 2 December from 6 to 7pm St Paul’s Cathedral hosts a free Advent service with a procession of darkness to light sung by the Cathedral Choir.
Christmas (and other) Markets – In addition to the Hyde Park German-style Christmas market, London has a number of others. Sip on a cup of mulled wine and sample free food samples as you check out one of the famous food markets Borough Market or Leadenhall Market (recognizable as Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies), Old Spitalfields Market, Camden Lock Market Pop Up Festive market, and Southbank Centre’s Wintertime Market. This last one is going to feature a Finnish sauna on the rooftop of Queen Elizabeth Hall – book in advance.
History, Culture, Sightseeing, Eating
Museums, museums, museums… and most are free! With over 200 museums and nonprofit art galleries, there is something for almost every interest. The most impressive of them all is the British Museum. It was founded over 250 years ago and has one of the best collections in the world of ancient artifacts. Beyond the big famous museums like the National Gallery of Art and the Tate Modern, there are also small, but interesting museums. Sir John Soane’s Museum is the home and collection of a 19th century architect and collector. The Churchill War Rooms are the underground bunker from which Churchill directed the British efforts during WWII. The Wellington Museum is the collections of the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon. The Wallace Collection is the London home of Sir Richard Wallace, housing a remarkable collection of art, armory, and furniture.
London is home to an explosive art scene. Galleries dot the neighborhoods, auction houses have daily viewings, and street art is everywhere. One of the best neighborhoods to explore for street art is Shoreditch. The gateway to London’s once downtrodden East End, Shoreditch has undergone a renaissance and while still having an edgy vibe. It is now home to a vibrant mix of graffiti, stencils, murals, bars, bistros, young designers, and street markets. There is even an artisan chocolate factory. Street artists from London, the UK, Europe, and beyond continue to use the walls of Shoreditch as their canvas. If you want to explore in depth, you can do a walking tour with an expert. There are plenty you can find online. Free Tours By Foot offer one where you tip however much you would like at the end of the tour.
Theatre… No city in the world matches London’s theatre scene. For a classic experience head to Shakespeare’s globe on the southbank. It’s uncomfortable but fun watching plays in a replica of the Elizabethan theatre. The city’s famous West End has a constantly evolving theatre scene, classics like Wicked, Lion King, Book of Mormon, Les Misérables, Matilda, and soon Hamilton are all showing. Alternatively, you can book smaller off-West End theatres like Hampstead Theatre, The Gate Theatre, Soho Theatre, and The Young Vic. Or to get in the Festive mood, try a classic English Pantomime. Get your tickets ahead of time online or try your luck once you’re there by going to the “Tkts” booth at Leicester Square to see what is available last minute.
Sites… If you want to follow up on your Political Institutions course readings, by booking online, you can visit the Houses of Parliament on Saturdays. For some history, cross the street to Westminster Abbey, the burial place of many famous Britians. On Sunday, you can catch some debate by stopping at Speaker’s Corner in the northeast corner of Hyde Park. Buckingham Palace, home of the Queen is at the corner where Green Park and St James Park meet. Changing of the Guard is normally performed at 11 a.m. on Sunday, but check online to confirm.
Restaurants… England isn’t exactly known for its cuisine, but London by contrast is perhaps the most global city in the world and embraces that diversity in its restaurant scene. You may want to have the classic choices of fish and chips, an excellent curry (go to Brick Lane), or afternoon tea (for a splurge, try the Christmas tea at Sketch) while visiting, but you will also find tapas bars, noodle houses, Nordic bistros, and Jerusalem street food. You can browse restaurants and see availability here.
Transport in London
Whether you’re arriving at St. Pancras International train station or Victoria Coach Station, London is a city that is easy to get around.
If not, grab an Uber (before their transport license is revoked!), which is a safe and economical way to get around the city, with fares around half the price of a London taxi.
The London tube is the oldest underground railway network in the world, it was founded in 1863, has 11 lines and 270 stations. It’s the primary mode of transportation for many Londoners and handles up to 4.8 million passengers a day. Google maps directions function gives you the best routes to use. If you are going to use public transportation and don’t have a contactless debit card, buy an Oyster card at one of the ticketing machines or booths in the station. They cost £5 in addition to the balance you choose to put onto the card. They work the same as a contactless debit card, touching in and out when you go through the turnstiles of the tube or enter a bus. Tube rides cost £2.40 with an oyster or contactless debit card and buses are £1.50. Single tickets are significantly more expensive. If your travel is limited to central London, your total daily spend on your oyster or contactless card is capped at £6.60.
London’s red double decker buses are a symbol of the city. Indeed, William Gladstone (a 19th century British prime minister), speaking of London’s double-decker, horse-drawn, omnibuses, once observed, ‘…the best way to see London is from the top of a bus’. Taking the route 15 (Heritage), you catch a restored classic style double-decker bus at Tower Hill bus stop and ride it to Trafalgar Square. Sights along the route include the Tower of London (a historic castle owned by the queen that dates back to 1066-1078 and the Norman Conquest of England and William the Conqueror) – if you visit, be sure to take a tour with one of the Beefeater guards, the Inns of Court, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Trafalgar Square.
For short trips, Santander Cycles can be your best option. Go to the nearest docking station with a debit or credit card and follow the instructions on the screen. Once you have paid the £2 bike access fee for the day, the first 30 minutes of each journey is free. Longer journeys cost £2 for each extra 30 minutes.
Don’t hesitate to walk from one site to another, often the journey is just as interesting as the destination. Look at the buildings that you pass, many will have blue plaques telling you the names of people who have lived there. Over the centuries, statesmen, writers, scientists, revolutionaries, artists, and philosophers have called London home. Look for plaques marking where Mozart wrote his first symphony, where Charles X, the last king of France lived in exile, where Vincent Van Gogh fell in love with his landlady’s daughter, where Mahatma Ghandi studied law, where Karl Marx researched Das Kapital, where Florence Nightingale lived and died, and so many more.
Where to stay
For those on a student budget traveling to London, there are options beyond expensive hotels. If you are traveling with other friends, consider booking through Airbnb.co.uk you can specify in the search parameters whether you are willing to book just a room or want to book an entire apartment or house. If you share a room with two other people, you can reduce the cost to less than £20/night per person. Another low cost option is a hostel. Check www.hostelworld.com for deals. Remember to look at location. London is big and you want to be central if you are only there for a weekend so that you don’t spend a lot of time and money on transportation.
Hostel option 1: Great Location!
1 bed as low as 19 euros a night !
Hostel Option 2 Wombats City Hostel
1 bed as low as 31 euros a night!
AirBnb Option 1: Studio 3 people max (1 double bed, 1 single sofabed) in Soho: £303 for 2 nights (£101/person). You can try to book it here.
AirBnb Option 2: 1 Bedroom flat in Covent Garden 4 people max, £411 for 2 nights (£103/person with 4 sharing). Look for it here.
If you prefer a good old fashioned hostel try Clink261, just 5-10 minutes walk from the Eurostar station, you can book a room for 2 people (shared bathroom) for £190 for 2 nights (£95/person) or a bed in a mixed gender dorm for £38/person for 2 nights, or a bed in a female only dorm for £52/woman for 2 nights. Check it out here.
With its Christmas cheer, symbolic double deckers and wonderful theatre, London is the perfect weekend getaway! Whether you choose to spend your time shopping, visiting the countless museums or even riding those famed london buses all around, you will be sure to have a great time !
Happy travels and let us know how your trip goes either in the comments or by tweeting us at @thesundialpress. Bon voyage!