This summer, I was back in Ohio chatting with my best friend since I was five, Arielle, when she said she wanted to meet me somewhere this year on a trip. She applied for her passport and we decided we would meet in England since it was the only trip I was 100% sure of. Then she chose Ireland as another place to visit while she was over the pond (post on that coming next).
Ben and I went to St Ives for his family vacation, then Arielle came for the last week in England. We based ourselves in Tonbridge (Ben’s hometown in Kent) and took day trips to London. Basically, I figured that if we based ourselves in Kent we’d save money and she’d get to see “rural” England. We did a day trip to London with the intent to see the iconic sites in one day (achieved!) and then went back a second day to Watford for the WB Studios Harry Potter tour.
I considered writing a guide to how to see the best of London if you have only one day, but people have written about this to death and it’s much easier to just tell you to read this.
While in Tonbridge we chilled out with Ben’s friends, had a rowdy night in Tunbridge Wells, and I forced her to eat Pizza Express and English Chinese food. Of course, we went to an old school pub for a traditional English roast on Sunday.
Penshurst Place and Gardens
Arielle’s England checklist had seeing castles, so we went to nearby Penshurst Place. It was 33 GBP for the three of us to go into the castle and the gardens. We skipped the maze because it was raining (and it takes an hour to complete which seemed kind of intense).
We went to two of our favorite pubs there: The Chaser Inn which is closer to Tonbridge and the Little Brown Jug which is right near Penshurst Place.
We stayed in an Airbnb in Tonbridge which was an annex and really cute. It was like a little attic with old wooden beams and a loft. It came out to around $100/night.
Transportation Between Kent and London/Watford
Although we had a rental car, the easiest way to get to London and back is by train. To get around London for a day, you should get a day pass. You can get these at the machines in the train station and just choose one that offers tube stops all day within zones 1-6.
To buy train tickets in London, you can just show up to the station to book them but for the day we went to Watford, I used Omio so that I could book ahead online (it compares prices between bus, train, and plane and I’ve been using it since I went to Latvia last year). I wasn’t sure what time they started running trains from Tonbridge and didn’t want to mess it up since we only had two days to see London (one day) and Harry Potter (in Wartford, the second day).
In London, the trains go on strike or don’t always run from outside stations from early morning, so booking ahead and knowing the time frame gave me peace of mind. I planned everything well in advance since it was Arielle’s first time abroad.
WB Studios is actually really far outside London and not in the zones, which is why we had to do this a separate day. There isn’t enough time to see all of London in a day and do Harry Potter; impossible! It’s in Watford which is all the way North, so we had a 1 hour and 40-minute journey there from Tonbridge.
When arriving in Watford, there will be a shuttle to the WB Studio. It is 5 GBP for a return ticket.
Other than that, we used the rental car to get around in Kent. It was expensive around 600 GBP for 10 days but we needed it for St Ives, too so it was our best option. Plus, it was a damn cool car!
London in a Day
If you only have a day in London, then you’ll want to wake up early! We got to London around 11 AM, which wasn’t bad for slow morning people like us.
Here’s the map of what we saw in London and I’ll outline it below:
We started at Charing Cross, Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column, walked down the Mall, then Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, House of Parliament, Big Ben, then crossed the River Thames at Westminster Bridge. We saw the London Eye, and walked along the river.
We passed along the London dungeons, OXO Tower, the Tate (went inside), the Globe, checked out shops in Gabriel’s Warf, saw Millenium Bridge and saw Tower Bridge from afar (my favorite bridge). We went into Borough Market as well and ate lunch, too. We saw St Pauls from afar but didn’t go over to it.
Then we caught the tube to Picadilly Circus and then walked up Reagant street and then Oxford Street for shopping. We then went via the tube to Hackney to Ben’s bro’s neighborhood and went to dinner at Bella Vite. It was a busy afternoon but we were to Hackney by around 5 PM so it’s definitely doable. We walked 8.5 km!
Touring the WB Studio, Behind the Scenes at Harry Potter
Arielle and I are CRAZY Harry Potter fans. We’ve both wanted to visit the WB Studio’s tour for years. When the last Harry Potter book came out, you better bet we were at Barnes and Noble with our homemade T-shirts on (17 years old) waiting in line for the book and playing the games the bookstore had set up for the kids.
The studio tour does not disappoint. At first, I thought it was going to because the lines were long, then they let in small groups at a time and you watch a video first. But once inside, it’s just beyond amaizing.
Snape’s classroom was my favorite part. The pots were stirring themselves, and you can see the detail so much on each vial of potions being hand written. It’s insane how much detail went into these movies. You can’t imagine!
They have three of these set up so you don’t have to wait in line to take a photo at platform 9 3/4. I do think it’s better at Kings Cross Station since that feels more authentic I guess and not set up – but that’s the point of the behind the scenes. The magic is there in a sense of feeling like you are in the Wizarding World – it’s really behind the scenes; how they made it seem like magic in the movies.
So, if you’re wondering which is better: Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter or WB Studios, they really aren’t comparable because they are totally different things. If you’re a Harry Potter movie fan, then you’ll love the studios at WB but if you just like the books then you might not like it (but is there any one in this universe who doesn’t like the movies!?!?)
Onward to Dublin & Back to India
From England, we flew onward to Dublin. I use Kiwi.com to book which makes it easy to choose different airports for a return trip: basically, we flew out of Gatwick because it was easier for Ben to drop us off there, but back into Heathrow as Arielle and I both had international flights out of Heathrow to catch (her to the USA and me back to India).
We stayed at an airport hotel at Heathrow, the Novotel. The hotel room was spacious, clean, and affordable. Breakfast is not included in the room rate, but you can add it on. Lunch is a nice menu of burgers, wraps, and salads. The hotel restaurant was really busy and even in the evening when we arrived people were down in the bar for drinks. There is a pool, too! I got a late check out so chilled out there until about 5 pm then went back to Heathrow.
You can take a shuttle here but I had a seriously bad experience with them. They are unrelated to the hotel, called the “Hotel Hoppa bus”. An Uber is SO much easier, faster, and barely any more money. If there are two people splitting it, an Uber is cheaper anyway.