My Top Tips for Visiting Westminster Abbey

Glasses // Shirt // Jacket

Westminster Abbey is one of London’s most visited sites and with good reason. It’s historic, awe-inspiring and quintessential England – it’s truly one of my favorite places in London. While it’s frequented by millions of tourists, unfortunately many visitors don’t get the most out of their visit to the Abbey or simply stop for a quick selfie outside. I did a thorough tour in 2014 and walk by the Abbey at least once every day, so I wanted to share my top tips for visiting, straight from the mouth of a London local. Enjoy and be sure to caption an instagram with #WestminstagramAbbey or #WestminsterCrabby (Only true Mary-Kate and Ashley/Winning London fans will get that last masterpiece).

Getting There
The Abbey is located literally smack dab in the center of London. Westminster tube station is the closest, but Waterloo and Charing Cross are also very much within walking distance. Multiple buses serve the area, and I like how you can look out the window and get the lay of the land, however I’d get off a few stops before the Abbey and walk to the destination as the area is highly congested.  Also check beforehand and see if any events or demonstrations are scheduled for Parliament Square, as there may be road closures and unexpected crowds. Travel for London has an excellent Twitter account with updates (follow here).

Go Early
As much as I enjoy a lie-in and a late brunch of the waffle or eggs benedict variety, you’re going to want to set your alarm and get to the Abbey in its opening hours. It opens at 9:30 on most days (opening times here), so not too dreadful, but beat the crowds and queues by arriving in the morning. The surrounding area will also be less crowded, so better for taking photos in front of the Abbey, London Eye and Big Ben. Suck it up and down those Americanos! Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in an hour long wait with groups of school children and every other tourist in London.

Nope, that’s not the Abbey
Well I may sound like Captain Obvious, Big Ben is not attached to Westminster Abbey. It’s a common misconception, but that large beautiful building with the two towers, that yes does look a lot like Westminster Abbey, is actually the houses of Parliament. This is where the UK legislature is housed. So don’t make the rookie traveler mistake of mislabeling it in your insta photos like I may or may not have a few years ago #amateurhour

Big Ben and Parliament #notwestminsterabbey

Book the Verger Tour
There are two official tour options once you enter the Abbey – a self guided audio tour and the Verger tour. Please, for the love of travel everywhere, book the Verger tour. It’s only five pounds more than the audio tour and eons away in quality. You’re led through the Abbey by a very knowledgeable guide, and groups are kept to 10 people max – so very intimate. Best of all, you get to see areas of the Abbey like Edward the Confessor’s tomb, the Cloisters, and the Nave which are NOT open to the public and audio tours. VIP, baby!  The experience was one of my all-time favorites in London. For only a 5 pound price increase, you won’t be disappointed. Definitely book in advance here.

Budget Time to Explore 
Once the tour is finished, don’t rush outside to your next destination (likely the pub)! Explore the Abbey in all its grandeur and take your time to take in each nook and cranny. There are so many Harry Potter esque halls, courtyards, arches, etc. that will transport you through time or make you feel a little like a royal (or wizard). You’ve paid for admission, now get the most of it!

Forget Your Camera
Sad news for the photography or vlogging obsessed, but photography and videography are not allowed inside the Abbey. You can take plenty of snaps of the intricate and awe-inspiring exterior, but I’d leave the clunky DSLRs at home for this tour. You won’t be able to use them. Just take it all in and commit the stunning historical interiors to memory the old fashioned way.

See it from a new angle
While you’ll  want to tour the Abbey early in the day, I recommend returning at sunset, dusk and after dark to enjoy it from a new perspective – and with dope new lighting. Some of my favorite personal photos of the Abbey were taken just before nightfall. The street lamps give it that quintessential spooky London glow. Also be sure to explore and photograph the Abbey from every angle. It’s such an immense and detailed structure, so you’re bound to find pleasant little surprises and ways of enjoying it beyond the typical entrance shots.

Feels like Sherlock Holmes is bound to come running around the corner chasing a mystery.

Avoid nearby pubs
You’ll be smack in the middle of a major tourist zone, so any nearby pubs are usually overpriced, serve average (at best) food, and are prone to theft. Walk a bit further to the Covent Garden Area to the East or Pimlico to the West for better quality options or more local haunts. I love Cross Keys and Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden.

Want to see the Abbey for free?
Shhhh – want to know a well-kept little secret of most big churches in Europe? Want to see them for free? You may not get the entire tour and see every thousand year old relic and antiquity, but go to the Abbey for evensong, and you can take in all its glory without paying a dime (or pence).  Evensong is a daily mass and choral service, open to the public at the Abbey. The music is beautiful, and you don’t need to be religious to enjoy the feast of sound and sights. Simply line up at the Abbey’s West door 30 minutes prior and enjoy! A schedule is here, but evensong is usually at 5PM on weekdays and 3PM on weekends.

Enjoy your visit to the Abbey and let me know in the comments if there are any other London attractions or tips you’d like me to share!

Love traveling? Grab $35 in Air BnB credit when you create an account through THIS LINK! It’s free to you, and I’ll receive a credit when you sign up. Thanks and happy traveling!

DISCLAIMER:
This is not a sponsored post and all products were purchased with my money. Affiliate links are occasionally used when linking products. This gives me a small percentage of a purchase total through these links. This does not affect the price you pay for items through these links. All ShopStyle & AirBnB links are affiliate links.

Linking Up With:

Wanderful Wednesday hosted by Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World. Click on the button below to check out more great travel content!

My Biggest Fears About Moving Abroad

From my heavily curated and filtered Instagram, it may seem like my life living abroad in London is pure fantasy. Traipsing about pastel houses in Notting Hill, cupcakes for breakfast in Belgravia, or brunch high in the London skyline, while all very photogenic, are not the entire picture. For example, I’m currently laying in bed with pinkeye (hello, Quasimodo), watching obscene amounts of How to Get Away with Murder, and nursing my ego over a few job application rejections. Not quite so Kate Middleton glamorous.

Keeping it Real: My Biggest Fears About Moving Abroad

I just want to keep it real like JLO and make it clear that life living abroad isn’t all jetsetting and the social media-worthy fabulous lifestyle. Same goes with deciding to make the move. Don’t get me wrong, my life in London overall is a dream come true (you can read more about why I decided to move abroad here), but that doesn’t mean I impulsively decided to move here with absolutely no hesitations. To be honest, I was scared shitless.

Some of these fears may seem silly, and some are quite serious and petrifying, but they are all real. I thought I’d share them with you as well as how they’ve faded or evolved since actually moving abroad. If you’re considering a move to London or another country, I’d highly recommend it. Just know, it’s totally sane to be a bit terrified. You aren’t alone.

Will I be crippled with homesickness?
Confession. I’m a bit of a homebody. Kind of embarrassing for a 26 year old, but I just really love my family and being at home with them. Maybe a little too much for my own good. While this close bond is great, I was worried I’d constantly feel the pull of the States and my family tugging at my heart. I do miss them every day, but luckily London and my life here has kept me occupied enough to prevent me from diving too far down a homesickness rabbit hole. It sounds simple, but by getting busy and creating a life in your new home, you’re less likely to let your mind wander to a darker, sad place.

Does it look like I’m avoiding responsibility?
Back to the being 26 thing again. While I know I’m still very young, quite a few of my friends seem a bit ahead of me in the rat race. They’re getting married, climbing the corporate ladder, buying houses, getting pregnant (YIKES), all in all just being better at this adulting thing than me. Yes, sometimes I do feel a little old to be back in school. Living in a student residence with 18 year olds vomiting in the elevator will do that to you. I am, however, glad I went to grad school after working for a few years. This is going to sound bleak, but you honestly appreciate it much more when you realize that the slog of working day in and day out is literally for the next 50 years.  If I went to grad school right after undergrad, I don’t think I would have appreciated this break from “real life” as much as I do now.

Will there be a terrorist attack?
Well, that escalated quickly. The year I was deciding to attend grad school in Europe, the attacks in Paris, Nice, Istanbul and Brussels happened. Europe seemed to be aflame with terrorism. But, attacks in Orlando and San Bernandino also happened that same year. Frankly and very sadly, in open society, terrorism can happen anywhere – whether it’s the Louvre, a Christmas market or a shopping mall. Have I thought twice about travelling to France since moving here? Sadly, yes. However, I feel very safe in London, and if God forbid, something happened here, it is a large enough city where hopefully the odds would be in my favor to not be in the exact attack location (that was a very depressing sentence to write). Terrorism is a very real and too frequent occurrence in our world, and I’ve decided to not let it dictate my ambitions. Life is too short, and I refuse to make decisions out of fear.

Will I be the fat American?
This may seem silly, but everyone in Europe seems so goddamn chic and skinny. Maybe it’s the cigarettes, smaller portions, or walking everywhere, but the stereotypes of thin Europeans versus overindulgent, heavier Americans sadly seems true. Yes, there are fat people in England, but they seem certainly far less common in London than in Midwestern America. I was terrified of being the fattest person in London and desperately attempted and failed to lose weight before moving. Honestly, it kind of sucked when I first got here. I was out of shape and out of breath from walking a few miles to and from school each day. I felt huge compared to the infinitely more stylish and effortlessly cool European girls. And I sure as hell didn’t fit into those dope high-waisted mom jeans at Zara. However, slowly I’ve lost weight. I walk over 10,000 steps most days here and the smaller portion sizes have been a godsend. Most of all, my next meal isn’t the only thing I look forward to every day. There is so much to experience in London beyond eating out and getting satisfaction from food, and I’ve been much healthier phsyically and mentally for it. I may have arrived the fat American, but I won’t leave that way.

How will I make any friends?
Real talk: making friends as an adult is hard. What if my coworkers are all 40 and older? Do I awkwardly dance up to groups of young adults at happy hour? Does anyone normal actually use Bumble BFF? When I moved to LA right after undergrad, I struggled to meet people. At one point, I’d even window shop at Forever 21 just to have human interaction with the salespeople. #foreveralone. I did eventually make friends in LA, but it was damn difficult. Moving to London and meeting people has been much easier. Part of this has been due to putting myself out there more, but this ease has primarily come from attending school. Moving somewhere for school is honestly the best way to make friends. You’ll be in a target-rich environment of young people who are also usually in an entirely new city and desperate for a social life. You can be that social life! If you’re interested in moving halfway around the world, definitely explore grad school as an option.

What if I love it and can’t stay?
Remember those job application rejections I mentioned above? My fear of loving London and being forced to leave it has only strengthened since moving here. I LOVE it here. I feel alive in this city and truly like I’ll never get tired of it. Unfortunately, the climate toward immigration isn’t so hot here right now (is it anywhere?), so finding a job that will sponsor my work visa has been quite the exercise in discipline and determination. Only time will tell if I can find a job that will allow me to stay here, so I’m trying to force myself to make the most of it while I can. That means as soon as my deformed eye is healed, it’s back to soaking up every inch of this dazzling city.

Are you considering moving abroad or have you? What did you fear or what’s holding you back?

Linking Up With:

Wanderful Wednesday hosted by Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World. Click on the button below to check out more great travel content!

Love traveling? Grab $35 in Air BnB credit when you create an account through THIS LINK! It’s free to you, and I’ll receive a credit when you sign up. Thanks and happy traveling!

DISCLAIMER:
This is not a sponsored post and all products were purchased with my money. Affiliate links are occasionally used when linking products. This gives me a small percentage of a purchase total through these links. This does not affect the price you pay for items through these links. All ShopStyle & AirBnB links are affiliate links.

 

 

 

 

London Winter Essentials

Headed to London during the wintertime? I’m sharing a new video packed with my winter essentials and all the things that help me cope through the dark, cold days here in the Big Smoke.  Some things are a little bit frivolous, while others are must-haves, but they all get me through the London winter.

I link all the products in the video description box if you’re interested in a specific item. Also, feel free to leave me any questions in the comments! Happy to help you with your visit or move to the greatest city in the world.

PRODUCTS I MENTION:
Charlotte Tilbury Primer  // Lip Balm  // YSL Touche Eclat  // Nivea Creme  // Bliss Hand Cream
Kai Hand Cream  // Uniqlo Heattech Line  // Leopard Coat  // Pink Beanie (on sale for $4!!!)
Wool Socks  // Texting Gloves  // Boots  // Yogi Tea Throat Comfort // Emergen-C

Linking Up With:

Wanderful Wednesday hosted by Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World. Click on the button below to check out more great travel content!

Love traveling? Grab $35 in Air BnB credit when you create an account through THIS LINK! It’s free to you, and I’ll receive a credit when you sign up. Thanks and happy traveling!

DISCLAIMER:
This is not a sponsored post and all products were purchased with my money. Affiliate links are occasionally used when linking products. This gives me a small percentage of a purchase total through these links. This does not affect the price you pay for items through these links. All ShopStyle & AirBnB links are affiliate links.

 

How to Have The Perfect Beach Day at Hotel Del Coronado

San Diego has no lack of magnificent beaches. You can day drink all day at Pacific Beach (order a Red Bull vodka slushie for me) or swim with the seals in La Jolla, but my favorite beach during our recent trip  was off the mainland and across the bay on Coronado. Simply brave the treacherous bridge (I couldn’t bear to look out the window), and you’ll arrive at the most picturesque beach community. The crown jewel of Coronado is the historic Hotel Del Coronado, and this red-roofed icon is where we enjoyed my favorite beach day. The Hotel Del can seem like another world reserved just for the uber-wealthy 1%, but I thought I’d share the downlow on how anyone (even little old me!) can spend the day luxuriating at the Hotel Del.

Hotel Del Coronado

Arrive Early
You won’t be the only person escaping to Victorian luxury at the Del, so arrive early to stake out prime beachfront real estate. We arrived around 10:00AM, and were able to claim a perfect spot of sand right near the water. Crowds definitely thickened as the day went on.

Hotel del Coronado

Look for street parking
Like most things at a luxury hotel, parking at Hotel Del is pretty steep. You can easily spend $70+ to park in the official Del lot. Across Orange Avenue, you can find street parking if you’re early, patient, and timing is right. Do a couple of laps around the surrounding side streets before acquiescing to the expensive parking.

The Beach at Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego

Not all beach chairs are created equal
If you’re on a budget, bring your own beach chairs. If, like us, you’re not going to carry beach chairs on a plane or buy chairs you’ll throw away after a day, take advantage of the Hotel Del’s rental service. We spent $20 a chair on two chairs and extra on an umbrella (towels included) right on the shoreline. Service was on point, and I couldn’t resist the signature red umbrellas. If you want to fully lay out and bask in the California sun, rent a striped lounger or cabana, but be aware that you can’t move it closer to shore. Super chic and instagramable options all around. Beach rental services open at 10AM in the summer and are first come, first serve.

Beach Chairs at Hotel del CoronadoThese candy cane loungers sit back closer to the hotel. If you want to sit closer to the water, rent a sand chair.

Douse in SPF
I know wearing sunscreen at the beach seems obvious, but apparently I just had to ignore the obvious and was appropriately punished for it. While I may look unharmed and happy go lucky in these photos, I turned into a ruby red lobster by supper time. San Diego weather can be deceiving, as we experienced a perfect day with temps right around 80. Don’t be fooled! The sun is still very hot and can burn you with a vengeance. Pack a travel sized sunscreen in your carry-on and spray yourself liberally.

Beach day reflections in San DiegoThe reflective aviators are perfect for beach days. And beach selfies!


Wildfox on the beach in San DiegoWildfox makes the best cover-ups. This one is old, but they sell similar options every season with the perfect dose of wanderlust.


And water while you’re at it!
Pack lots of H20 to keep you hydrated in between walks on the beach, mai tais and frolicking in the waves. If you can, bring your own bottles, as the hotel only sells Evian bottles for $6 each. A luxurious touch, but that $6 could go toward a naughty summer cocktail at the beach bar instead!

The Beach Bar at Hotel del CoronadoThe Beach Bar is right across the sidewalk from the beach rental services stand. Drinks include cucumber mint lemonade spiked with gin and blended slushy drinks – plenty that I would want to try. They weren’t selling food at the bar during our visit, even though it says they do on their website, so pack your own snacks.

Validate yourself!
If you’re going to be spending cash on beach rentals or the beach bar, be sure to get your parking validated! You can easily get $40 or more knocked off your parking bill if you show your receipt to the beach bar attendant. Call ahead to reception ((619) 522-8000) to confirm how much you need to spend, but the requirement was $50 spent when we visited.  More importantly, bring your parking ticket with you! You can’t get validated if it’s tossed aside on your car’s dash.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
Now on to the important things: What about the food?
We all know that I literally live my life looking forward to my next meal, so I was eager to try the dining offerings at Hotel Del. Near the beach, there are three major options. First, there is a little coffee shop (Babcock Story & Bakery) with lighter fare (think sandwiches and chicken salad), just inside the hotel off the beach. This looked good if you’re in a hurry, but it was always packed and very hot in this area of the hotel. I don’t do sweating, even for food. Second, you can sip margaritas and inhale fish tacos on the Sun Deck. Entrees are around $15-$20, and you sit outside with beach bum approved views. We didn’t try this place, though I wish we had, and ended up opting for the last option: Sheerwater. I wanted to love Sheerwater, I really did. You have sweeping beach views, a gorgeous tiered patio, and an excellent crab BLT. What you don’t get, however, is good service. Our server was slow, forgot several items we ordered, seemed to forget about us several times and was unapologetic about it. The only redeeming service was an awesome bus boy who helped track down our server for us and essentially did his job for him. Skip Sheerwater and stick to the cheaper options. The service wasn’t worth the price. Check out all the dining options here.

Lunch at Sheerwater at Hotel del Coronado
Service may have been meh, but that crab BLT made for excellent #foodporn.

Stay Awhile!
You are at a California landmark, so take the time to have a wander! While the pools aren’t open to the public, you can still traipse about the gorgeously groomed grounds or inside the shops and historic lobby. The woodworking is intricate and beautiful, and you do feel transported to the 19th century. There’s also a gift shop if you want to risk the temptation. I spent a good portion of the day just exploring the picture perfect property and snapping photos. It truly is a special place, and I think the best all around experience for a beach day in San Diego.

Hotel Del Coronado San Deigo

The Beach at Hotel Del Coronado

Linking Up With:

Wanderful Wednesday hosted by Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World. Click on the button below to check out more great travel content!

Weekend Wanderlust – hosted by a Brit & a Southerner! Please check out both link parties for more excellent travel content! Thank you!

Wanderful Wednesday

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Amalfi Coast Essentials

If you have spent any time here on Always, Erin (hi, Mom!), you’ll know that I love writing a lot about two things: the Amalfi Coast and packing. So, I thought I would do the obvious thing and combine these two loves and share my Amalfi Coast Essentials. My normal Carry On Essentials are here, so you can supplement those with these beach specific must-haves, tailored to that iconic Italian coastline.

Amalfi Coast Essentials

 

Beach Bare Necessities

No use heading to the beach unless you have a proper beach bag. A longtime Longchamp fan, this bag is perfect for carrying all your bits and bobs, smart enough to take out to dinner, and water resistant. Toss in a cute, yet compact, wallet to hold plenty of Euros for all of those lovely Italian leather goods that will surely tempt you. Of course, you’ll want your phone.  Even though you likely (and luckily IMO) won’t have Wifi while exploring, pack a portable charger. I took more pictures than on any previous vacation and was glad to have extra battery so I could capture that dreamy watercolor sunset at the end of a long day of touring.

While a bikini seems like an obvious addition, I’d like to remind you to pack at least two. I only brought one and definitely underestimated how much I’d be frolicking in the Med. Whether it’s taking a day trip to a beach club in Positano, diving off a boat in Capri, or just dipping into the hotel pool – you’ll be glad you packed multiple swimsuits for your multiple aquatic adventures. For that beach club in Positano (or really any beach on the Coast), you should wear water-proof flip flops. Amalfi Coast beaches are all rock or pebble, so you’ll want shoes you can wear right up to the waves since said pebbles can get scorching in the height of summer. My Birkenstocks did NOT cut it, so my poor toes were left toasty.

Paradise Protection

While we’re discussing the necessary summer armor, sunglasses (preferably of the colorful variety) are a must, as is sunscreen. This solid stick is perfect for travel, since you don’t have to waste precious space in your quart size bag for liquids or bother finding a 3oz version.  I have a bit of OCD when it comes to chapstick application, so this grapefruit Burt’s Bees option is always on hand. Once I’m lathered in SPF, to keep cool I like to shelter under this Panama hat and spritz with a bit of Evian mist, in between long, languorous floats in the ocean of course. They also just make me feel like some sort of Fellini-esque diva, so who cares if they’re a tad over the top.

Seaside Style

After a long day of sunbathing, drinking prosecco and swimming in the salty sea, you’ll likely want to duck into a restaurant (Chez Black in Positano is the perfect beachside detour) to enjoy a restorative glass of rose and nibble on antipasto. Pack a full-coverage cover-up that doubles as a dress to make the effortless transition. For post-beach beauty, I’m a big fan of this hair conditioning spray and Wet brush for making my rat’s nest of a hairdo look somewhat presentable. (Pro-tip, definitely pack conditioner for Italy – most hotels don’t supply it) As for summer make-up, I like my tan to do the talking and will just accentuate it using this liquid bronzer and solid blush with a few flicks of mascara. Then, voila, I’m coiffed for my Italian boyfriends and selfies, yet still undone and free-spirited enough to relish in la dolce vita.

Grazie for stopping by my friends! I hope this will help you prepare to your next trip to the Amalfi Coast- whether it’s your first or hopefully one of many! It’s one of my favorite places in the world, so it definitely keeps me inspired.

Check out more of my packing posts here:
Carry On Essentials
Coachella Essentials
Road Trip Essentials
Walt Disney World Essentials
Travel Beauty Essentials

 

Linking Up With:

My first Wanderful Wednesday hosted by Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World.

My first Weekend Wanderlust – hosted by a Brit & a Southerner! Please check out both link parties for more excellent travel content! Thank you!

Wanderful Wednesday

Weekend Wanderlust Button