A Wanderlust for Life - Expat & European Travel Blog
We Sean and Jessica, a couple who craved the European lifestyle, so we sold everything and moved to Amsterdam to be able to travel around Europe. We share stories and tips about expat life and travel while encouraging fellow European expats to get out and explore even if just for the weekend.
With so much happening in England’s bustling capital of London, you’d almost forget the many cities and villages that lie beyond it that making for great day trips. However, England is so much more than the sprawling metropolis of old London town – and with such convenient and easy transport links, there are endless options for getting out of the city.
With so many options it can be hard to narrow down. To help you out, here are 5 of our favorite day trips from London, each offering a different perspective on English life:
Day Trip #1 // Down at the Seaside in Brighton
Time from London: 1.5 hours (car), 1 hour (train)
You may know Brighton as a quintessential English seaside destination, but it is actually so much more. For starters, it is probably the only English city to give London a run for its money in the ‘cool’ stakes, with an endless selection of hipster coffee shops, quirky bars, and alternative clothing stores.
The off-beat vibe is not just found in Brighton’s funky lanes, but also the vibrant and colorful Brighton Pier. The famous Pier has a retro carnivalesque vibe, with a bunch of amusement rides that are great for kids (and adult who don’t want to grow up). Once you’ve taken a spin on the rides, the perfect next stop is a delicious ice cream as you stroll the length of the Pier. To really make the most of this British seaside experience, this should be done even if the weather is nearly freezing!
Of course, if the weather is better than you might like to actually take a dip in the water. Brighton is a great swimming beach, and it is even possible to surf if that’s your thing and it’s not too crowded.
Day Trip #2 // Ponder the Mystery of Stonehenge (ft. Windsor Castle)
Time from London: 2 hours (car), 1.5 hours (train)
Few histories have been more heavily researched, documented and analyzed than Britain’s, yet there are still a few mysteries to enjoy. Perhaps the most famous of all is Stonehenge, the famous arrangement of stacked boulders that is believed to have been laid in the Neolithic period, about 5000 years ago. To this day, scientists are unsure of who built the structure, or why. What are your theories?
You can ponder it yourself quite easily since Stonehenge is a simple journey from London, near the town of Salisbury. While it is the famous Stone Circle that draws the visitors, there are other things to do nearby including various temporary exhibits.
Another great thing about a day trip to Stonehenge is that it can easily be combined with other attractions. In particular, Windsor Castle, one of the oldest inhabited castles on the planet (and weekender for Queen Elizabeth), is a popular stopping off point.
Day Trip #3 // Meet the Ponies of the New Forest
Time from London: 1.75 hours (car), 2 hours (train)
If your idea of a day trip from London means being transported into the pages of an Enid Blyton book, then look no further than the gorgeous New Forest in the country’s south.
I challenge anyone not to be completely and utterly delighted by the friendly and adorable New Forest ponies that roam freely and unashamedly through the New Forest. If you’re driving, go slow, because they have right of way – and somehow, they know it.
While the ponies do add a ton of charm to the Forest, the quaint and picturesque villages certainly help too. Forget the endless concrete jungle of central London – on this day trip, you will be surrounded by beautiful nature and humble high streets dotted with arts and craft stores and tea shops. Bliss!
Day Trip #4 // Walk in the Footsteps of Greatness at Oxford
Time from London: 1.5 hours (car), 1 hour, 10 minutes (train)
Being the home of the oldest English-speaking university in the world, Oxford has a pretty high-brow reputation. In reality, however, Oxford retains the laid-back charm of most student cities, albeit with a little more history. For example, one of Oxford college’s ‘student bars’, the Eagle and Child dates back to 1649 and was once the meeting place of a writer’s group with a few humble members such as J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
The colleges themselves can be visited, and you may even be lucky enough to catch the students when they are in full traditional garb for their exams (yes, they still dress up.) Other attractions include the Pitt River Museum with more than 20,000 fascinating objects and the Bodleian Library which is one of the oldest and most beautiful libraries in Europe.
Another ‘must do’ in England is of course to see a castle, and there is a beautiful example in Oxford. The Oxford Castle and Prison were built in 1073 and – as its name suggests – has had a variety of uses over the years. Today it is open to the public every day, from 10 am, and has been meticulously restored.
Day Trip #5 // Go Back in Time in Medieval York
Time from London: 4 hours (car), 2 hours (train)
This trip is a bit further than the others on the list, but it’s definitely do-able by train (a car is also an option, but traffic can be a nightmare). It’s also well worth it to get a taste of charming northern England, where locals pride themselves on their friendliness and the county’s stunning country views.
The capital of the largest county in England, Yorkshire, York is an absolute stunning medieval city surrounded by some of the best preserved defensive walls in the country. Known as Jorvik while under Viking rule, history buffs will love York for its historical architecture. Even if history isn’t your thing, you’re still bound to be blown away by sights like the Shambles, one of the oldest and most picturesque streets in all of England, and the imposing Gothic cathedral, the York Minster.
While York’s history is perhaps its biggest draw, it is also a modern and dynamic city with a healthy student population and a spattering of cool bars, restaurants, and shops. There’s also a fantastic chocolate factory, with free tastings!
So there you have it, my top 5 picks for day trips from London!
My 2017 year in review is very much a reflection of how I felt about the year, the blog, and general life. It was a strange year for sure. My focus was all over the place…which, I guess, really means that I didn’t have much focus.
The first 3 months of the year was a whirlwind due to us spending every possible moment looking for a house to buy in Amsterdam. Funny story, I found a house and set up the first round of paperwork while Sean was away on a business trip. Talk about some major trust!
He was back in town for just enough time to sign some papers and see the house for the first time and work a few days in the office before we were off again!
Anniversary trip — The good and the bad
We have a tradition that one of us plans a secret anniversary trip every other year. 2017 was my year and I took us to Lisbon, Portugal! I don’t usually write too much about our anniversary trips so we don’t do too much blog work while there. But we had a great food tour, saw an amazing sunset, and even took a day trip to Sintra. We also had some not-so-fun times with Sean eating something that really didn’t agree with him in Sintra and was out of commission for an entire day. Then I hurt something in my leg and couldn’t walk without collapsing in agonizing pain.
Luckily, each incident only lasted a day each, but I really feel that we need to go back and have a bit of a do-over involving lots of food. : )
April was pretty cool. Lots of pre-move house shopping. We started figuring out what we wanted and even ordering some things to be delivered in our first week at the house. What a crazy time!
Then we jetted off to the U.K. to go to Cardiff in Wales. Why? BECAUSE DOCTOR WHO! We are not-so-secret Whovians and the Doctor Who Experience closed this past summer and we had to experience it before it went away for good. It was the perfect time to go because we even got a tour of the filming set. Fan-girl Jessica was in full force! I made a HUGE post with a ton of photos about the Doctor Who Experience and even a video of the Experience, but mostly the set tour!
Right after our visit to Cardiff, we were back in London for the Traverse conference. I really appreciate these conferences because I learn so much, I get to network, and best of all, get to see my other blogger friends! There are a lot of us–I don’t think that is a surprise. But we aren’t often in the same place at the same time. The great thing is that it doesn’t change how friendship works! Online chatting is necessary, Skyping every once in a while is a plus, and drinks, when we are finally together, are the best.
Back in Amsterdam, we picked up our house keys the next day. It was just the craziest spring!
That summer was nice, though. I had my birthday, my first press trip with Amsterdam Marketing, my first paid campaign, and went back to London–just because. I’d almost go as far as saying that summer was pretty chill which was a nice change of pace.
Insanity of autumn
Then fall came and everything went crazy. We had a big change for us, plus we were traveling a lot. I’ll never complain about having the ability to travel, but it was just tiring while also being amazing.
Ireland was everything I could have imagined and more. Such a beautiful place with wonderfully nice people. TBEX (another blogger conference) was hosted in Killarney, Ireland. Not long after we arrived, we were already trying to figure out how to get back! I’m terrified of renting a car where they drive on the other side of the road, but that area might just have me risking it. OR getting a proper tour. That would work too.
Again, it was amazing to see friends. I love them all, but to see Agness again was definitely a highlight. She runs etramping.com with her best Cez and she used to live in Amsterdam. She has to be one of the sweetest people I know and I was over-the-moon when I got to see her again and FINALLY meet Cez. Really? It took 3 years to finally meet? : )
The Ups and Downs of our Italy trip
Straight from chilly and somewhat rainy Ireland, we flew right into the beautiful sunshine of Northern Italy. A close friend was getting married the next weekend, but that meant we had a full week in Italy and no real plans. We ended up just hanging out in Como (the town at the foot of Lake Como) for 5 days. It was the most relaxed I had been in a very long time.
Since we hadn’t really planned our length of stay, we had to move apartments…which was the best thing ever. The one we moved into for the end of our stay was perfect in so many ways. It was huge, had a massive bathroom with a washing machine. Great kitchen, with a big living room with tons of light overlooking the small streets below. Just below us were great shops like a wine bar, pastry shop, and gelateria. I wanted to keep that apartment for ourselves. Forever.
We had to leave Como eventually and get to the Piedmonte region for the wedding. This ended up being quite the adventure. We took a train to the airport where we had a car waiting for us to rent. Problem was that our credit cards were being declined because we were sent new ones and hadn’t received them yet and I changed our address so they accidentally canceled our cards. Embarrassingly I got an email from the woman running that amazing apartment in Como saying my card was rejected and if I had a different one. So, I got mine fixed right away and it worked.
When we were standing at the car rental counter, I had to call the card company again and they kept saying it was fixed. But it wasn’t. After calling twice and it not working, we were going to use my card…except that I don’t carry around my American Driver’s License so I wasn’t legally allowed to rent the car. Seriously.
So, there we were, standing at the airport with luggage and no car thinking we’d just grab a flight. When, in a group text, I saw one of my other friends who were there for the wedding just got their rental car. She and her husband were kind enough to give us a ride for an hour and a half to our apartment. That’s 4 of us, plus all our luggage in a tiny European car. Phew! Basically, we bummed rides for a few days, but it was worth it to be there for that wedding. Friendship and celebrations are important!
Back to London, then directly to Iceland
My passport has stamps from London and Amsterdam almost exclusively, it’s kind of weird. But there are so many reasons to go to the capital of England. This time, in November, I was there for the World Travel Market. I had some great meetings lined up, had my focus, and was very happy with all I got done. Not to mention, hanging out with my friends is always fun.
It was a pretty normal trip until I flew to Iceland. Waking up on that Thursday, my throat felt a bit weird. But considering how much talking I had done in the last 3 days, it wasn’t too surprising. The next few days were full of exploring and being outside on glaciers and stuff. I couldn’t be held down! There were even 2 days of conferences after all of that with Trablin. I loved being there, having those experiences, learning a ton, and meeting some nice people. Sadly, I was just plain sick the whole time. Having just boarded the plane at 8 am Amsterdam time, I made an appointment to go to the doctor. And I’ve been on-and-off sick since then.
Funny thing about blogging, Tweeting, Insta-story-ing while traveling sick is that you get back and people are like “What do you mean you’ve been sick? You didn’t look sick in your stories/that picture/etc,” It’s easy and yet tiring to do quick pictures and 10-second videos and get on with the day, then go to bed at 8 pm and sleep for 12 hours. It’s just so exhausting!
The final month
Oh, December. We have such a love-/hate relationship. It gets me ready for the new year–ready for renewal and inspiration. Ready for motivation. But also, I’m usually sick.
We got to go to a Christmas market in Frankfurt. I was so excited that I would actually make it to Germany for a market this year! I was also sick the whole friggin’ time. At least I made a short video of it because I know how much people love to see the markets in all their festive dressings. Who am I to disappoint?
Finally, it was our first Christmas in our new house! We didn’t do too much decorating because we just didn’t have a lot of time. But my grandmother made and sent Christmas stockings which were perfect! On Christmas day, I made a blueberry croissant breakfast dish, then we watched Christmas movies all day. So relaxing!
A look back and a glimpse ahead
2017 was a complex year. With so much going on personally and trying to find my place in the blogging world while working a “regular” job, it was overwhelming. I’m not really sure how I much I enjoyed versus how much I felt I just need to get through. With this year behind me, I’m happy to look forward and find better ways to take care of myself and do what I need to do to be the best me I can be.
It’s time to take charge of my life.
To flourish is various aspects of my life.
I’m excited because I have surrounded myself with people who believe in me. That means absolutely everything.
How did your year go? Do you see 2018 as being a great year ahead?
Packing for Iceland isn’t a hard as I thought it would be. We all have preconceived notions about Iceland, from weather to food. But did you know that the lowest average temperature in the winter is about -2 C/ 28 F. Not sure where you live, but in Virginia, where I’m from, that’s just regular winter for us too! So, how do you pack for Iceland in the fall and winter? Layers!
The biggest difference for me was that in Virginia, you ran from inside to your car to warm it up. Run back in the house for 5 minutes, then run back to the car. Drive to a restaurant, then run inside. In Iceland, you will probably be outside for longer. There might be rain and wind. So, how’d it go for me?
Yeah, I’m not going out and buying a whole new wardrobe for a trip. So, I tried to stick with what I had. In case you do need a few things, I’ll leave affiliate links here for you. (No extra charges!)
On the bottom half
My base layers included either proper thermals(UK/DE)- but only a lightweight version-or yoga pants. I have been known to add tights on under that as well. Then, I wore jeans on top of the base layer. Those are just what I normally wear and I didn’t know what else to put on and I didn’t have anything else either.
When I went on the glacier, I wore snow pants (UK/DE) because the weather is unpredictable and the extra cold, wind, rain protection gave me some piece of mind. I bought them in the Netherlands and they were (of course) too long, but rolling them up worked just fine and they kept me warm and happy!
On the top half
Again with the layers. Normally, it would be a tank top first and foremost. Even in Amsterdam, I always wear a tank top under everything in the winter. Then a long-sleeved shirt which ranged from regular cotton to a nice sweater. Some days I’d add an open sweater or button up sweater on top for a little extra on the arms. Finally, my wind- and rainproof jacket topped it all off.
I did something I thought was pretty interesting when it came to gloves. Maybe some of you already thought of this too. But I got some thin gloves (UK/DE) that allowed me to touch my phone. Then I got heavier gloves to go on top while I spent more time outside. It allowed me to never have bare hands in the cold.
Just a regular hat (UK/DE) that is insulated and covers your ears is just fine. I’ve been told mine looked a bit like a mullet. But I was warm and happy! I saw a lot of people wearing bands around their head that only covered their ears. While I prefer to keep my whole head covered to retain body heat, that’s a personal preference.
Boots and socks. Water-resistant boots (UK/DE) are a big help in keeping happy feet. I paired them with some great warm socks (UK/DE) I didn’t have any issues. My boots were not water-resistant when I bought them, but I have a spray that I use on all my shoes that help with that. Living in Amsterdam means you will get caught in an unexpected rainstorm, so just best for all shoes to not soak in water.
How did my clothing choice work out for me?
For the most part, I was fine. I wasn’t freezing except on my face if the wind was too bad and my hands when I took my gloves off. But those are very much “duh” situations. Even still, I learned some lessons the hard way.
Upgrades needed on the bottom part
For someone who isn’t used to the cold, I wish I had another pair of thermal pants. The yoga pants helped, but of course they left a lot to be desired! Since I was wearing tights with the thermal pants, I feel that I have to suggest one grade higher when picking out pants.
I keep reading “NO JEANS” on our websites, but they weren’t too bad. Like I said, they are what I had and I’m not a luxury traveler or one with enough money to feel comfortable dropping a few hundred dollars, euros, pounds on new clothes for a week. Ideally, yes, hiking pants are probably a better idea and would like to have them before I go back to Iceland.
Yay for the snowpants!! Perfect when you need a little extra warmth. I went for a cheapish version, but that was still about 90 euros. They were fine. No complaints here.
Upgrades needed on the top part
Yeah…I really needed some help here. Again, the proper thermal top worked nicely, but I felt like a grade up would have been much more comfortable. Also, there is a good reason the Icelanders wear wool sweaters. They are beautiful, comfy and warm! The bonus is that you don’t look like a big ball of layers. Instead of having 3-4 shirts on, a good base layer, wool sweater, and a weather-proof jacket is the best bet.
Gloves and hat worked out swimmingly! I felt really happy with how that all turned out. Even my boots turned out to work out really well. The only thing I would change here would be to get wool socks. Seriously, wool is the best fabric for this type of climate.
My suggestions: What to wear in Iceland in November
As I mentioned before, I don’t like buying new clothes for travel, but in this case, I highly recommended buying 5 things if you don’t already have them.
This is assuming you have a hat that covers your ears and some good gloves. If you don’t have those, then add them to the list!
Waterproof and windproof jacket — What’s the point of a jacket if you get chilled from the wind and water seeming through? There is no point to that jacket, so get a good one that will last you awhile. Check prices on Amazon in the US or UK & Germany
Snow Pants — Not needed if you are just hanging around Reykjavik, but if you’re going and running around Iceland in/on glaciers, late nights watching for the Northern Lights, just throw on this extra layer. Check prices on Amazon in the USor UK & Germany
Water-resistant pants — This is where I agree with the “no jeans” rule. At least, now I agree with that rule because jeans just soak up the moisture! Grab some water-resistant pants.
Winter is winter. At least for me, this wasn’t a huge change from what I was used to during winter time in Virginia. The main thing to preparing to be outside for a bit longer depending on your activities. Layering and staying warm will make a big difference in how you feel about your trip. Nobody likes being cold and wet, so don’t let it happen to you!
What do you think? Can you handle Iceland in the fall and winter? I think you can! I had a friend from Brazil, someone who has never seen snow, nor is she used to the cold and was just fine.
There are so many beautiful scenes and exciting adventures to see and do and explore all around Iceland! I can’t wait to go back because there are so many things still on my bucket list to do there. What is the one thing you want to do in Iceland?
If you haven’t been yet, I hope you get to discover the island, the food, and the people for yourself.
I wasn’t sure about what eating in Iceland would be like…and I was actually pretty worried. Being a pretty picky eater, but adamant about trying new foods, I knew that I had to make an effort to go to some good places and try some real Icelandic food. Just so you don’t have to go searching too hard, I’m including all the places I would definitely go again and where you can find some good food in Reykjavik–the city where I spent most of my time on this trip to Iceland.
Asking friends for their recommendations for good food in Reykjavik
The first thing I did was ask my friends for their suggestions about where to eat in Reykjavik. Luckily, I know plenty of people who have visited in the last couple years who had some great suggestions, but my favorite was the recommendation from Danika and Chris of No Destinations who recommended The Fish Company.
We all know that Iceland can be a bit pricey–even coming from Amsterdam, I had to budget properly to eat out in Reykjavik. At first, I was a bit surprised at how much the “Around Iceland” tasting menu cost (about 88 euro per person at the time) at The Fish Company. But when you think a burger and fries can be about 20 euro, it ends up feeling like a bargain. Honestly, that meal was definitely worth the cost. If you are one to appreciate good food and appreciate how much you sometimes have to spend to get a good meal, then it’s a great place to have a really nice dinner.
Then Skye from Skye Class recommended the hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. This is a great budget lunch for only 450 kroner (about 3.65 euro). It’s just one of those places you need to go when in Reykjavik. Just don’t be expecting a gourmet meal! It’s a lamb hot dog with a bunch of stuff on top (and on the bottom). Might not be pretty to look at, but it’s darn tasty!
Shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Iceland is a bit cold part of the year. November had it hovering around freezing, which as long as you are dressed properly for Iceland, should phase you too much. Though, it does make going in and out of warm places a bit annoying.
Well, after meandering through shopping streets and residential areas around Reykjavik by foot, I was ready for some hot chocolate. Two places stood out on Google for the best hot chocolate and they happened to be very close to one another. I popped into Mokka Kaffi and my first thought was that it was smaller than I assumed. Didn’t matter to me, though. I was by myself!
Since you order at the counter it was the perfect amount of time to order, then grab a seat and take off all the wintery layers before your big cup of hot cocoa is ready. Yes, I got whipped cream because I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t!
It was chocolatey and creamy and basically Heavenly. Served at the perfect temperature so there is not waiting was just a bonus. The staff was nice and I would love to go in there to just work or hang out with friends. The space had such a cozy feel!
The other cafe I heard about for hot chocolate was C is for Cookie. This time I went with a friend which makes everything better (for me, I’m not a fan of traveling solo). I got a hot chocolate with whipped cream along with an apple pie.
Again, the staff was great and I liked the vibe here but it felt more like a cafe than a place you could hang out for a while. The hot chocolate was good, don’t get me wrong, it just wasn’t as good as Mokka Kaffi. It was less creamy and smooth and soothing. I would recommend that you give both a try though…especially because the apple pie at C is for Cookie is amazing! With a bit of a crumbly top, kind of pie-like but also a little cakey, it was like all the best features of apple pies you’ve ever had. I was all like nomnomnom and inhaled it.
A little something extra in a restaurant
It’s a shame that Iceland is mostly known for fire and ice…and geothermal lagoons. I mean, yeah, that part is beautiful, but what about the seafood?! I’ve already pointed out The Fish Company, but Kopar is by the harbor which gives a little extra with a great view of the water, boats, and whatever the sky decides to show off that day. Tip: Get a table upstairs. It’s amazing!
Kopar combines new and traditional dishes but all showcases Iceland cuisine in a cozy restaurant. If you are able, I would highly recommend the tasting menu. I mentioned this before, but it deserves reiterating, these are typically a good value and you get a great feel for the chef, the ingredients, and the cuisine.
Apotek is in an old pharmacy turned into a restaurant with an interior that I fell in love with. Being called “Apotek” is a nod to the old pharmacy, but you’ll also see some other quirky features that keep that theme going. Here you’ll find Icelandic cuisine, but also other European dishes, and for some reason, an Argentinean grill. They will also make you a potion for whatever ails you served by their mixologists.
The little extra here is an amazing pastry chef that whips up desserts that will remind you of the best pastries you’ve ever seen in Paris! They aren’t just pretty to look at. Of course, not! Why would I tell you about something that doesn’t taste delicious? Hahaha! The flavors and textures are just perfect.
The food in Iceland has a bad rep. What’s the first thing you think of? The fermented shark that every tourist seems to hate? It’s not all like that. Even though I was so worried about the food considering how long I was there, it’s just not as foreign as many of us seem to think. The main elements are lamb, dairy products, and fish. Not weird, right?
There are so many more restaurants for us to try and report back to you on! We are both ready to pack back up and fly back just to eat.
What is the weirdest (to you) food you’ve ever had? And if you’ve been to Reykjavik, what was your favorite thing you ate?
On our anniversary trip to Lisbon, Portugal I made a promise to Sean that I would not do blog work on the trip..though I did manage to get a food tour in there and how could I not write about that?!
The thing is, many people fall in love with Lisbon and just can’t stop talking about it, so at the very least, I wanted to share some photos of Lisbon with you so that you can get at least a little bit of a peek of what the city is like in the spring.
Basically, start planning those flights to Lisbon!
I love Europe because there are a ton of beautiful places with their own personalities. Lisbon is certainly no exception. If you want to go someplace with history, good food, great day trips, and beaches, this is a winner!
The Santa Justa elevator is an art piece. It’s a beautiful structure in and of itself but also gives great views. If you find your way to Carmo Convent and then walk around it to the right and go alongside it, you get to a set of stairs that leads to a restaurant and that metal walkway you see above. Just at that level, the views are amazing and you don’t have to pay a thing!
If you go down the stairs by the restaurant instead of up the stairs, you’ll get to a lovely area with a cool view of the elevator (the first photo) and the photo below. You’ll find a cafe and some chairs just to sit and watch the world go by in that same area.
One of the visual things about Portugal that I love is how much love they put into their tiles. It’s a beautiful thing. Portuguese tiles make everything better. If I could tile my house in them, I totally would!
The food in Lisbon is ah-mazing. Really. One of the best places to experience this is at the Time Out Market. When they built the market, they invited the best of the best here. You get it all in one place! While genius, it’s also very crowded, so try to visit during off-peak times.
Even just walking down the street is a treat. I always like to think about what it would be like to live on one of these streets. What would be your morning routine if you lived in Lisbon?
Those castle views! Wow! I mean. I was seriously in awe over this place. São Jorge Castle is the spot for some of the best Lisbon-watching. There was a stone seat right where I took this picture and I just wanted to plop down and not move.
So, what do you think? Is Lisbon somewhere you want to visit? It is just so pretty!! If you do want to hop a plane or train, book your accommodation here from my affiliate link to support A Wanderlust For Life. I’ll love you for it and you don’t pay a cent more!
As always, wishing you love and travels!
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