Everyone has seen it in the movies. From Love Actually’s famous opening Heathrow Airport scene to Mary Poppins “Feed the Birds” on St. Paul Cathedral’s steps, London has a romantic draw for Americans. Part of London’s magic comes from expansion restrictions on historical buildings, preventing most buildings from adding on floors (no overbearing NYC skyscrapers here). Not to mention several large city parks where you can ditch city noise within a five-minute walk. Though it’s massive and spread out, you’ll never feel claustrophobic.
In London, there’s a lot to do, besides watching the next two weeks’ Olympic events. Wander used books and jewelry stalls at Notting Hill’s famous Portobello antique markets. And if you want to stretch your legs, head south a few blocks to Hyde Park, London’s largest green space. Here you can jog around Serpentine Lake, feed the swans and ducks, or rent a paddleboat. Don’t miss the usual tourist hit list of Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, London Bridge, Tower of London, free entry in British museum network, and Shakespeare’s old stomping grounds at the Globe Theater. But be sure to visit more removed, funkier districts like Camden (Amy Winehouse’s favorite go-to) to get a real taste for the city’s vibe.
The most important thing to know about London’s city center? It’s walkable. The underground subway (a.k.a. the Tube) works well for cross-city distances, but allow yourself to get lost amidst the winding streets connecting Holborn, Leister Square, Piccadilly, and Trafalgar. Walk as much as possible to get the full experience of the city’s unique cafes, markets, alleyway bookshops, and cobblestone streets. You can also jump on red double-decker buses—a great way to check out the city if you don’t want to splurge for a hop-on/hop-off bus tour.
When you’re done in London, max out the rest of your European vacation and hop over to Paris. With a quick trip, you can move between two of western Europe’s metropolitan hubs in a matter of hours. Choose from a series of Paris trips taking Eurostar trains that connect the two cities for as little as $110. Paris offers a distinctly different vibe than London, and visiting the two will diversify your trip. From navigating the French language, to breakfasting at patisseries along Paris’s boulevards, you’ll have a chance to feel European—just by soaking up the atmosphere. Be sure to swing by the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum (home to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa), and Arc de Triomphe. And don’t miss one of the city’s hottest fashion intersections on Ave. Montaigne and Ave. des Champs-Elysees. Take the Paris metro to stops: Metro Alma Marceau (Line 9), Franklin D. Roosevelt (Lines 1 and 9), George V (Line 1), or RER A (Charles de Gaulle-Etoile) for a taste of true Parisian fashion.