Thursday, November 16, 2017

12 Hours in London: What to Do + See on a London Layover

what to do on a london layover big ben

Ok, ok, I know what you're going to say - 12 hours is NOT enough time in London! No, it really is not, because there is definitely more to do and see in London. But, with some good planning, you can definitely do and see a lot of this amazing city on a 12-hour layover in London.

what to do on a london layover british red phone booth

Back on my big Europe trip earlier this year, I had intended for my last stop to be Rome. However, my outbound flight left from Dublin, and in researching flights, I discovered that it was cheaper to  have a layover in London, than it was to fly directly to Dublin. Since I never turn down an opportunity to discover a new city, and am always up for the challenge of cramming in a bunch of things to do in a short period of time (and hellooooo...can't argue with CHEAPER), I was sold.

I definitely fell in love with London - I love the being in the middle of a big, bustling metropolis, not unlike NYC, combined with being surrounded by so much history. I am definitely going to be back for a much longer trip in the future! Here is what you must do and see on a 12-hour layover in London:

what to do on a london layover westminster station street

Getting to City Center:
London is served by 3 major airports. The closest to city center in Heathrow, and it only takes 15 minutes to central London via the Heathrow Express, which drops you off at Paddington Station. You can also take the tube from Heathrow, but this takes almost an hour. Gatwick Airport is about 30 minutes from London city center, via the Gatwick Express.

We flew into London via Stansted. Of course this was the most out-of-the-way airport, because I mean, Ryanair. (aaaaand that's why it was cheaper to have a layover in London). However, you can easily get to city center via the Stansted Express, which gets you to Liverpool  Street in about 45 minutes. There is also an add-on for a day pass for the underground and buses, which I highly recommend purchasing.

Stansted also had a luggage storage service (open 24 hours) that allowed us to drop off our bags for the day so that we were not dragging them around the city all day. Both Heathrow and Gatwick have similar services as well.

what to do on a london layover  saint pancras station

London is also connected to many European cities by train. If you arrive via Eurostar, you will arrive at St. Pancras, which is in the heart of London.

what to do on a london layover view from trafalgar square

Getting Around:
We found that many of the main sights in London are within walking distance of each other (specifically, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Bridge, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace).


Otherwise, we took the underground to get around, and found it fairly straightforward and easy to use. We bought an add-on with our Stansted Express ticket for a day pass, which also made this a cost-effective option (especially as we were able to purchase this before peak hour pricing kicked in).  There are also many bus lines that serve the city (and you get to ride in one of those double decker buses!).

You can also take Ubers around the city, or one of those iconic black cabs, although this is a fairly expensive way to get around the city.


1. Coffee + breakfast with a view at Duck & Waffle
what to do on a london layover duck and waffle coffee

what to do on a london layover view of central london

I will admit that we totally picked Duck & Waffle for its proximity to Liverpool Street, but we didn't know what we were in for. Duck & Waffle sits on the 40th floor of the 110 Bishopgate building, which means that you get incredible views of Central London and beyond.

Unfortunately, my layover in London also happened to be on Valentine's Day, so the main restaurant was all booked up. Moral of the story, make reservations! However, the lounge was open and they were serving coffee and pastries, so we decided to settle in, and take in the view that way. Duck & Waffle is open 24/7, so you can also stop by and admire the view over lunch or dinner as well.


2. Tower of London 
what to do on a london layover tower of london

what to do on a london layover tower of london

what to do on a london layover tower of london

Just over a mile away and easily walkable from Liverpool Street is the famous Tower of London, which sits on River Thames, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built in 1066, the Tower of London is a fortress, armory, and royal palace that protected London from the 11th to 16th centuries. It also housed a collection of wild and exotic animals, making it London's first zoo, and also houses the Crown Jewels, which are still on display today.


3. Tower Bridge
what to do on a london layover tower bridge

what to do on a london layover tower bridge
Just next to the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge. Often mistaken for the London Bridge, it is one most iconic landmarks in London, and is one of the most famous bridges in the world. This was one of my favorite stops on my layover in London. You can admire it from the river walk, or you can sign up for a guided tour, which will take you up on the walkways, which also has a glass floor. From here, you can enjoy panoramic view of London.


4. Trafalgar Square
what to do on a london layover trafalgar square view of big ben

what to do on a london layover trafalgar square

what to do on a london layover trafalgar square fountain

Tourist trap? Yeah, probably. But you can't help but admire this historic square, as well as admire that view of Big Ben from here. Trafalgar Square is also surrounded by a number of museums, galleries, and cultural spaces. One great thing about London is that many of the museums are free, and the National Gallery is right outside of Trafalgar Square. Because of the free admission, we popped in for a quick visit...because at that price tag, it's totally worth stopping into some museums, even on a short layover in London.


5. Walk the Westminster Bridge and admire Big Ben
what to do on a london layover big ben and westminster bridge


what to do on a london layover big ben

Is there anything that screams London quite like Big Ben? I was completely in awe seeing it up close - the details in the architecture are just incredible. Most people use the name "Big Ben" to refer to the clock tower, the clock, and the bell, but originally, the name was given to the Great Bell. The tower is officially named Elizabeth Tower.

what to do on a london layover big ben close up

what to do on a london layover big ben

Take a stroll across the Westminster Bridge; you can see Big Ben up close and in all its glory, as well as find the best view of it and the Westminster Palace on the other side. A must see on your layover in London. Tours of Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower are not currently offered due to refurbishment of the structure, and will resume in 2021.


6. Buckingham Palace
what to do on a london layover buckingham palace

what to do on a london layover buckingham palace guards
I came to Buckingham Palace hoping to see a glimpse of Will and Kate, but they weren't home...just kidding! It would be best to go to Buckingham Palace on a day when the Changing of the Guard occurs; this only happens on certain days unless you are there in the summer, and unfortunately, I was not there on one of those days (you can see the schedule here). I still found it worth stopping by on my layover in London, as you also get to stroll through Kensington Park, which is beautiful.


7. Westminster Abbey
what to do on a london layover westminster abbey

what to do on a london layover westminster abbey

Speaking of Will and Kate, am I the only one who thinks of their wedding when I think of Westminster Abbey? I couldn't get over that dress. ANYWAYS. Westminster Abbey has played host to coronations of all English and British Monarchs since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066. It has also hosted 16 royal weddings since 1100. Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin as also buried on the grounds here. Keep in mind that since it is a church, it is closed on Sundays and all religious holidays.


8. Have afternoon tea
what to do on a london layover afternoon tea at the wolesly

Pinkies up...is there anything more British than going to high tea? And besides, can you really go wrong with being fancy and eating lots of sweet treats and finger sandwiches? This was one of the things I was most excited about on my layover in London. Like I mentioned earlier, I happened to end up in London on Valentine's Day, which meant that reservations were hard to come by. There are tons of places in the city that offer an afternoon tea service, in all budget ranges. I had originally wanted to go to Sketch, which is a super popular spot. However, since there were no reservations available, we headed over to the Wolseley, which had a tasty, classy, and affordable afternoon tea service.


Have you ever been to London? What are your must-dos there?
what to do on a london layover



Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The 10 Best Views of the Golden Gate Bridge

best views of the golden gate bridge

Nothing symbolizes San Francisco more than the Golden Gate Bridge. The iconic red bridge is a breathtaking sight no matter where you see it from, but some views are better than others. Have you wondered where to find the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge?

best views of the golden gate bridge welcome center

Having lived in San Francisco for almost 9 years, I have spent a lot of time scouting out the best locations to photograph the bridge. There are many places where you can see the bridge and like I said, there is never a bad view of it, but not all views are created equal. So, I now share with y'all favorite spots for the best views of Golden Gate Bridge!


best views of the golden gate bridge battery spencer
1. Battery Spencer
You know that postcard shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, with the panoramic view of the bridge with  San Francisco in the background? This is where you get that shot. Up in the Marin Headlands off Conzelman Road, Battery Spencer was one of the main protection points for San Francisco in the 19th century, and you can see the remains of the military site today, but what you are coming here for is that jaw-dropping view.

best views of the golden gate bridge battery spencer

There are always people here, but there is plenty of space for you to get that perfect shot. The bridge always looks larger-than-life to me here, and that to me makes it one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Keep in mind that it gets super windy and chilly up here, so bring a jacket - or just  suck it up suffer through the wind and freeze, which I've also done, cuz sometimes you've gotta look cute in photos.


best views of the golden gate bridge battery east
2. Battery East
Battery East is a trail in the Presidio that begins just underneath the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. From here, there are spectacular views of the bridge, with beautiful greenery in the foreground.


best views of the golden gate bridge battery east

You can also see a perfectly situated view of the coastline and Fort Point from here as well. Another plus - it is much less crowded than the viewpoint at the Welcome Center, making this a much better spot that has one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a great place to take in the sunset.


3. Baker Beach
Ok, so the beaches in San Francisco suck in the sense that they are always cold (and covered in fog half the time), and you can never go in the water and have a "beach day" in the traditional sense. But come on, in what other place can you find a beach that has one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge? Yeah, didn't think so.

best views of the golden gate bridge bakery beach

PS - Baker Beach is a nude beach, so if you see some, uhhh, sausages, don't be alarmed. Also, Baker Beach is super pretty and super peaceful around sunrise, if you manage can to get out of bed for one.


best views of the golden gate bridge fort point
4. Fort Point
The beautiful brick Fort Point defended San Francisco from the Gold Rush into World World II, and offers a unique vantage point of the bridge because it seems like you are so close to it and it seems like you're almost underneath it.

best views of the golden gate bridge fort point
Keep in mind that the hours are kind of limited (it is only open Friday-Sunday 10am-5pm), but if you can, definitely stop by for a walk around through the gorgeous brick halls (the light is always perfect for photos), and up the spiral staircase for one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, even if the fort is closed, you can still find a pretty awesome view right outside of it (although you don't get the unique perspective of being underneath and up close to it - but can't complain).


best views of the golden gate bridge coastal trail
5. Coastal Trail
One of my favorite urban hikes in San Francisco is the Coastal Trail, which takes you from the Golden Gate Bridge to Baker Beach. Just after you start the trail from the bridge, you will encounter a unique vertical perspective of it, with the towers stacked over each other.

best views of the golden gate bridge coastal trail
If you are using GPS to navigate, a good address to use is 1600 Langdon Ct. (you can also find parking there). There are also some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge further down the trail!



best views of the golden gate bridge marshall's beach
6. Marshall's Beach
Marshall's Beach is one of my absolute favorite places in San Francisco. You can't go wrong with that breathtaking coastline combined with the vibrant red orange of the bridge. If you continue on the Coastal Trail as mentioned above, you will spot a turn off for steps leading down to Marshall's Beach. Even if you don't go all the way down to the beach itself (the steps can be strenuous and the tide is often high), you can still enjoy one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the top of the steps.


best views of the golden gate bridge west bluff picnic area
7. West Bluff Picnic Area
I love this spot because of the grassy hills, along with the perfect view of that cute little house and the bridge. So perfect. I would advise coming here during the week, or early in the morning on weekends, because it is a picnic area and there are lots of people around on weekend afternoons. If you are there when there are no other people around, it is definitely a spot with one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.


best views of the golden gate bridge fort baker
8. Fort Baker
I actually discovered Fort Baker while running a half marathon - such a beautiful part of the course! You will find everyone else clamoring for a perfect shot at the Vista Point. Instead, take the trail down the hill, which will lead you to Fort Baker. It is much less crowded, and the what you'll find is one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, with those bluffs and a the hills of San Francisco in the background.


best views of the golden gate bridge crissy field
9. Crissy Field
I have a thing for frolicking in wide open green spaces so naturally I am drawn to Crissy Field because you get that with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. On a clear day, the bridge with the green grass is pretty magical (unfortunately, I happened to catch it on a hazy day when I took this photo, but it's still pretty beautiful). This is one of my favorite places to hang out on a sunny day. Run around, frolic, or lay out with a book and enjoy one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge!


best views of the golden gate bridge
10. On the bridge
I mean...you just have to see it up close and personal. Even if you don't walk the entire span of it, I highly recommend just walking to the first tower and admiring that iconic red orange up close. You also get pretty spectacular views of the rugged coastline and of the San Francisco skyline, just sayin'.

Have you been to San Francisco? Where are your favorite views of the Golden Gate Bridge?
best views of the golden gate bridge



Friday, November 03, 2017

The Most Instagrammable Places in NYC

most instagrammable places in NYC broadway

Ahhh, New York City...aka "concrete jungle where dreams are made of." There's just something magical about it, isn't there? It is also one of the most photogenic cities in the world. Wondering where the most Instagrammable places in NYC are?

 Well, here I am to the rescue. Here they are - the most Instagrammable places in NYC:

most instagrammable places in NYC top of the rock observation deck
1. Top of the Rock
30 Rockefeller Center

The best view in town, with sweeping panoramic views of the NYC skyline, Central Park, the Freedom Tower, and most importantly, the Empire State Building. The latter might be the tallest and arguably the most iconic in New York City, but I mean...you can't see the Empire State Building from the top of the Empire State Building. Just sayin'.

most instagrammable places in NYC top of the rock view skyline
Seriously, though, can you argue with these views? Yeah, didn't think so. Definitely one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC.


most instagrammable places in NYC brooklyn bridge'
2. The Brooklyn Bridge
One of the oldest bridges in the United States, and one of the most classic symbols of NYC. Definitely walk the entire span of the bridge for amazing views of the skyline. Go early in the morning to beat the crowds to *really* enjoy the beauty of the bridge and to snap the best photos for your Instragram feed. Be aware that the runners and the cyclists can be super aggressive, so watch out for them to avoid a collision!


most instagrammable places in NYC brooklyn bridge park
3. Brooklyn Bridge Park
334 Furman Street

Right after you get off the Brooklyn Bridge, head on over to the Brooklyn Bridge park. This 85-acre park offers sweeping waterfront views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. It is also magical at night, with all the buildings all lit up.


most instagrammable places in NYC dumbo washington street manhattan bridge
4. DUMBO
Washington Street & Front Street

Yes, Dumbo is the name of a cartoon elephant, but it also stands for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass." The intersection of Washington Street and Front Street is another one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC because of it is where you find the most picture-perfect view of the Manhattan Bridge. If you look closely, you'll also find that the Empire State Building is also framed perfectly within the bridge.


most instagrammable places in NYC audrey hepburn mural nolita
5. Audrey Hepburn mural
by Tristan Eaton
@ Caffe Roma 
176 Mulberry Street

Street art, Audrey Hepburn, and bright colors are 3 of my favorite things so I was excited to see this wall in Nolita.One of the most Instagrammable murals I've ever seen, in NYC or elsewhere! Note that this mural is on the outside wall of a cafe, and usually has a table in front of it. Go early if you want to pose in front of it (or you can grab a coffee at Caffe Roma and try to get that spot!).


most instagrammable places in NYC oculus world trade center transit hub
6. Oculus
33-69 Vesey Street

The Oculus is the centerpiece of the epic World Trade Center Transit Hub, which cost nearly $4 billion make, and is designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The steel and glass structure is supposed to resemble a dove being released out of a child's hand. The natural light streaming through the interior is gorgeous, along with the way the columns cast shadows in the most perfect ways. Truly a breathtaking sight, and one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC.'


most instagrammable places in NYC soho greene street
8. SOHO

One of the most hip and creative neighborhoods in New York City, SOHO is home to high-end boutiques, trendy cafes, and restaurants. Greene Street is one of the most Instagrammable streets in this neighborhood, with its cobblestone streets and beautiful buildings with those cast-iron stairs.


most instagrammable places in NYC barneys spiral staircase
9. Barneys New York
101 7th Avenue

Maybe you'll be going to go to Barneys to buy that Chanel bag (if you are, then I really envy you). Or, maybe you'll be going to admire this gorgeous spiral staircase at the new flagship location of the luxury department store chain, which is among one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC. Snap a shot of you walking down these stairs for a perfect photo for your Instagram feed.


most instagrammable places in NYC maman interior
10. Maman
239 Centre Street

I'm not sure what I loved most about Maman...the pretty blue and white motif that they use for all their branding, the drool-worthy decor, or the drool-worthy cookies. Can I just say all of the above? Seriously though, this may be the most Instagram-worthy cafe in all of NYC (and there are a lot of them).


most instagrammable places in NYC hektad heart graffiti
11. East Village walls by Hektad
31 E 1st Street
400 E 11th Street

NYC is full of great street art, and East Village is full of some awesome walls. Some of my favorites were the graffiti hearts by street artist Hektad. You can find his work all over the city, but I loved these two in East Village. Such perfect backdrops for your Instagram portraits!

most instagrammable places in NYC the crown 50 bowery rooftop bar
12. The Crown at 50 Bowery
50 Bowery Street

NYC has an abundance of great rooftop bars that it's hard to figure out where to go. The Crown was a recommendation from Serena of Serena's Lenses and it was definitely a perfect spot to enjoy some cocktails while watching the sunset. That view of the Manhattan skyline and Empire State Building definitely makes this one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC.


most instagrammable places in NYC grand central terminal main concourse
13. Grand Central
89 East 42nd Street

One of the most beautiful and busiest train stations in the world, as well as one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC. Admire the amazing architecture, or just people watch and take in the flurry of activity in front of you. Or channel your inner Gossip Girl. Up to you - just remember to also snap a photo for your Instagram feed.


most instagrammable places in NYC bethesda terrace
14. Central Park

One of the largest, most beautiful urban parks in the world, Central Park is home to a number of amazing spots to snap that perfect Instagram photo. It is gorgeous year-round, but also absolutely magical in the spring and autumn.

most instagrammable places in NYC gapstow bridge umpire rock
Some of the most Instagrammable spots in Central Park include: the boathouse, Bethesda Fountain, the reservoir, Bow Bridge, Gapstow Bridge, and Umpire Rock.


most instagrammable places in NYC times square
15. Times Square

Ok, so Times Square might be a total tourist trap and honestly kind of lame. But, all those bright lights and big city vibes totally make it one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC. So many photo ops with the giant billboards and constant flurry of activity - you just have to stop by to snap a few shots for your Instagram feeds.


most instagrammable places in NYC flatiron building
16. Flatiron Building
175 5th Avenue

One of the most well-known buildings in New York City, distinguished by its flat, triangular shape. Built in 1902, it was considered to be one of the most ground-breaking skyscrapers of its time. Today, it is one of the most iconic buildings in the city, and one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC.


Have you been to New York City? What are your picks for some of the most Instagrammable places in NYC?

most instagrammable places in NYC