Let’s Go Exploring: London. So Jolly. So Dark.

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Kristy Shen (aka "FIRECracker") is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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It was a beautiful day in jolly old England. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and British teenagers were sun-tanning in bikinis on top of a grave.

Wow. These Brits are…dark.

There was this graveyard near our hotel that we cut through every morning to get to the train. And since I get creeped out easily, I wanted to bolt out of there as soon as possible. But clearly I was the only one. Because hordes of kids happily played soccer (sorry, football), using the gravestones as goal posts, and teenage girls sprawled themselves out seductively on a century old gravesite, just chilling and sun-tanning in their bikinis.

Okie dokie…

I tried not to think about it too much as we made our way to the London Museum, which is FREE to visit (gold star!).

As we walked through rooms and rooms of famous paintings, one in particular caught my eye.

“Wow, I really like this one. He looks so peaceful…“ I said to Wanderer, pointing to the painting of a curly-haired man, sitting in a chair, fast asleep.

“That’s because he’s dead.” A man, wearing a tour guide tag, said behind us.


“James Scott,” the man continued, harrumphing ever-so-Britishly. “Beheaded for treason in 1685, but after they did that, his family realized they didn’t have a portrait of him. So they exhumed his body, sewed his head back on, and propped him up.”

He adjusted his glasses before turning back to us. “He has a rather…shall we say…detached look about him, doesn’t he?” And then he turned and walked away, oblivious to the horrified look on our faces.


Our next stop after lunch in a converted crypt (!) was the famed Tower of London, home of such famous beheadings as Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, Lady Jane Gray—good GOD, they had a lot of beheadings!

This man was like the Oprah of Horror. You get a beheading! You get a beheading! EVERYONE gets a beheading!
This man was like the Oprah of Horror. You get a beheading! You get a beheading! EVERYONE gets a beheading!

After our Beefeater guide pointed out the amount of beheaded bodies buried under the floorboards in the chapel (!), he then cheerfully regaled us with a blow-by-blow description of the execution of Duke of Monmouth, whose drunk-ass executioner kept missing his neck and basically hacked the poor guy to death as he flailed about screaming. After he finally and messily finished dying, the crowd then cheered, rushing forward to dip their hankies in his blood so they could have a souvenir.

And this is where we disemboweled him! His bowels were right where you are standing!
And this is where we disemboweled him! His bowels were right where you are standing!

Now contrast that to their other national pastime, High Tea. The world’s froofiest meal. They serve this beautiful arrangement of cupcakes, scones and adorable little finger sandwiches on this triple-tiered tea tray, smothered with cream, jam, and chocolates, all with the finest teas money can buy.

Madam, may I refill your froof?

I can just picture a woman, decked out in her finest, poofiest dress, casually sipping a cup of Earl Grey. “Oh, I hope you’re not going to wear that to the beheading this afternoon.”

“What? This?“ her friend replies, touching the tip of her elegant black bonnet. “Of course not. Black is so…morbid. I’m not a monster.”

“Do you think we’ll get to take any blood home with us?”

“Oh, that would be lovely!”

Time travelling me: “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?”


  • “DAYS OUT LONDON PASS” : if you visit London as a couple or with a friend, make sure you get the “Days Out London Pass”. This pass lets you get 2-for-1 deals for everything from Tower of London, Hampton Court, London Eye, to High Tea. Getting it is confusing though. The subways (“Underground”) are run by one company, but overlap with a railway system (National Rail). National Rail also sells passes valid on the Underground. These “Travelcards” qualify you for the 2-for-1 deals. The Oyster card, which most locals use, do NOT. So to get the deals, buy the “Travelcard” at Paddington station (combined Tube and National Rail station). That way, you can ride the subway AND get half off on all the attractions. You will save a bundle, and even the locals were surprised when I told them about this.
  • “FREE ATTRACTIONS”: Surprisingly, even though you could empty your wallet on hotels and restaurants, London is one of the few places where you can do TONS of attractions for zero dollars (or zero pounds, cause that’s how they roll over there)! That’s because most museums are free! And if you’re into modern art (though I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would be), you can spend a day at the TATE Modern. We, honest to God, went there and stared at an air vent, trying to figure out if it was art. Oh modern art, why are you so cray cray?
OK, now I know you people are just screwing with us...
OK, now I know you people are just screwing with us…

We stayed at a 4 star hotel near the airport for only 37 pounds a night ($69 CAD), we found from Hotwire. Pretty cheap for London, but a bit far. Since we’d been in London before, we only stayed a few days to keep the costs down.

The exchange rate is PAINFUL, but if you carefully plan out your 2 for 1 passes, go to free museums, and eat in small local restaurants (we were able to find plenty of cheap and quick Indian places and Falafal stands) and open air markets (Borough Market), you should be okay.

Here’s the breakdown of our costs (for both of us)

  • Hotel: $69/night
    • Hotels are generally very expensive in London. You can save lots of money if you find hotels on Hotwire, or use AirBnB (If you are new to AirBnB, click here for a $30 travel credit).
  • Food: $70/day.
    • Ridiculously expensive and not very good. I’d recommend cooking your own food if you stay in an Air BnB.
    • If you don’t want to cook, grab a Duck confit sandwich (5 pounds or $9.25) and fresh Oysters (half-a-dozen for 8 pounds or $14.80 ) from the Borough Market. Cheap and tasty.
    • Try the High Tea though; it’s delicious. With the Days Out pass, you can get a 2 for 1 deal at the Sheraton for 30 pounds ($54 CAD). Even Wanderer loved it, and he hates frufru things.
  • Attractions: $40/day or FREE if you go to museums and parks.
    • We museum hopped a lot which was free.
    • We also visited lots of parks in the city, which were some of the most beautiful parks we’d ever been to.
    • Again, use the 2 for 1 deals for walking tours (10-15 pounds or $18-27 for 2 people). The Brits may be weird, but the are gifted storytellers and wow do they have stories to tell. You will not be bored.
  • Transportation: $31.60/day
    • if you’re staying for more than 2 days, buy the 7 day National Rail “Travelcard” (30 pounds/person per week, valid for zones 1 & 2). We didn’t buy a weekly pass this time, since we were only staying a few days, but last time it saved us a ton of money.
    • $48 in taxes for the plane tickets to fly from Boston to London paid with frequent flyer miles (I’ll write about “How to Travel Hack Your Way to Frequent Flyer Miles Glory” in a future post).
  • Total Cost: $211/day/couple
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 scones.

Since London was crazy expensive, we quickly moved on to a smaller town, with twice as much character, at half the cost. And that town…is Bristol.

For the next post in the series, click here: “Let’s Go Exploring: Bristol and Bath



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14 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring: London. So Jolly. So Dark.”

    1. You should go! 🙂

      We visited last Aug. Weather was actually pretty nice…for London. It rained a bit but at least I got to go to tea shops and stuff my face with scones and cupcakes. Highly recommended!

      1. High tea is a definite thing. Niagara on the Lake has a few places that do high tea, and it’s always a delight. Hudson’s Bay used to have high tea for less than $10, but they closed their restaurants down 🙁 Doing high tea in London, that’s on the bucket list!

  1. Silver Spoon moved from Uptown Waterloo to Downtown Kitchener after you left (before closing for good a few years after that). They had a superb high tea when they were there.

    Bike share is another option for getting around central London. I’ve used it, works OK, but it’s no Copenhagen.

    I also learned a few years ago that some restaurants in London just refuse to serve tap water. ?!?!

    1. Sucks that Silver Spoon closed. Oh well.

      Hm…haven’t tried bike share in London, but sounds interesting. We did all our biking in Amsterdam and it was awesome!

      Yeah, European restaurants are kind of jerks that way. Unlike in North America, they are not required to give you water. So you have pay like 3-4 pounds for sparkling water. Really dumb. That’s why we drank mostly beer :P. Or ate out in food Markets.

      1. London. Everywhere else I manage to get tap water. And sometimes I just happen to have my water bottle.

        Oh, another exception is mountain huts, but they have a good excuse: they don’t actually have taps.

  2. Modern art is always puzzling, I remember seeing a signed urinal at the modern art museum in Rome, Duchamp’s Fountain I think. Dadaism has a lot of ‘Huh that’s art’ type stuff. Glad to hear of the free musuem entrance there, London is on my bucket list too.

    1. We also saw a blackboard of a professor’s lecture. Seriously, the dude thought his own lecture was so amazing, it needed to be in an art gallery. WOW.
      Self-awareness, not his strong suit.

      Hope you get to check out London! Very dark and very memorable.

  3. Great tips. I’ve done London a couple of times but hadn’t heard of the 2for1 deal. I’ll definitely look for that on a future trip.

    Excited about your post on travel-hacking the reward miles.

    1. Yeah, I have no idea how I stumbled on the 2 for 1 deal, but it saved our butts in expensive London! 🙂 I hope you can get some good use out of it.

  4. Was in London for March break this year. Passed on the High Tea: carbs and sugar upon carbs and sugar upon carbs and sugar….did the Tea at King Eddy’s and I was sick the whole day! Only pampered court ladies would think of this. Sorry to go against the tide but stop and think; it’s not the best thing to do and a waste of money. A nice cup of coffee/tea and a small dessert is perfect.

    1. Ha ha, yeah, high tea is like a MILLION calories. Terrible for you, but too addicting to say no. We downsized to tea and scones after non-stop high tea for a week. Also, the English don’t like it when you take leftovers home. The reaction we got was “oh, you must be Ammmmmerican.” *insert snort of derision plus eye roll”.

  5. The biggest issue I see regarding “full time travel”, or for a Canadian even “6+ month travel” is regarding Health Insurance. Rules vary but for example if I leave Quebec more than 6 month I lose government health care and that in itself disqualifies the normal and cheap travel health care everybody buys normally to travel.

    How did you solve that on your year-long travel? Were you insured for health at all?

    What about travelling “forever”, in which case you’d need full-time protection? I’m pretty sure that doesn’t come anywhere cheap as normal tourist travel insurance.

    I’ve looked around for various long term insurance and to be frank I wasn’t very successful in my search for a satisfying solution.

    1. We buy travel insurance from World Nomads. It’s around $800 for 2 people for 6 months and covers up to $1 million each in medical costs (it also includes trip cancellation, trip interruption, etc). That works out to only $4.44 per day for the 2 of us and is factored into our travel budget.

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