Europe trip recap plus travel tips
This trip came about after my friend Renee and I got rejected for the London Marathon lottery. We decided we still wanted to have a European racecation, so we just needed to pick a new race. We picked the Richmond Runfest in Richmond UK and started planning our adventure. We went back and forth on what countries to add on besides England, but settled on adding in France and Belgium over 8 days. Renee & I split up the booking responsibilities and researching so that up front costs were shared.
* We wanted a way to collaborate on the trip planning and I found an app called Wanderlog. With Renee being on an android and me on an iphone, we were both able to add in itinerary suggestions, trip confirmations and so much more. It even has the capability to keep track of your budget and split costs between multiple people.
Day one – London
On our first day, we made our way to our hotel, the Beverly Hotel. It was located off of the Pimlico tube station. Naturally we got off and had a little trouble finding our hotel. It turned out to be about 6 blocks away. It was a drag (pun intended) lugging our suitcases over the unforgiving bumpy sidewalks. Our room was the smallest we had the whole trip, barely room to walk around the twin beds. Also they put us on the 3rd floor with no elevators.
Pick a hotel that has more than one tube line stopping there. We only had the Victoria line servicing Pimlico, so it made it a challenge to get back to that line on the return.
We dropped our luggage and headed out for lunch. Decided to try the cable cars over the Thames River. I thought it was a nice alternative to the London Eye. It’s a short ride but still great views and just a fraction of the price of the Eye.
Pay cash for your ride and save 1 GBP each way!
Day two – London
We wanted to check out one of the local markets, so Borough Market was super easy from Tower Bridge area. It sure was cute. The vendors were so friendly and there were endless options of treats. I felt bad that we had already eaten brunch before we came and didn’t have room for much. I had a yummy cappuccino and bought chocolate and a mini cannoli for later but was also mesmerized by all the cheeses.
Stopped for cocktails at Coppa Club and had really crappy service. From an unnecessary wait to be seated to no server coming over, it was overall disappointing. But the drinks were refreshing, and they had a cute photo spot outside.
It was a nice way to kick off before our afternoon tea cruise on the Thames River. I bought this tour from Viator. We were looking forward to afternoon tea but were unimpressed once we sat down. There is no choice of tea, it’s the same for everyone. Super generic. And the quality of the food was just not there. However, once we finished, we went up on the top of the deck of the boat and they started giving a guided tour of the landmarks along the Thames. Now that part, I enjoyed!
Skip this tea cruise and go for a true authentic afternoon tea somewhere local. Then if you want a sightseeing cruise, do that separately.
Stopped at Harrods to check it out. What a waste of time. It is way too high end and took up like 3 city blocks. We were so tired from walking that day, that walking around this immense store required too much effort. If you do go, I recommend hitting up the food floor - lots of great gifts and souvenirs here. I bought a tin of Harrods tea.
Finished out this day with a visit to a “secret” underground bar hidden within a restaurant. You enter through a refrigerator door. They served up amazing cocktails in a speakeasy type vibe.
Day three – Paris
We took the Eurostar train from St. Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. Easy and just two hours. I don’t like the big cattle call once the gate opens to start boarding, but oh well. We arrived at the train station in Paris and were immediately struck with the fact that we had no idea where we were going on how we were going to get there. There were so many different types of tickets you could buy – and different trains you could take. 2 different types of metro tickets and an RER train which apparently goes outside of the city. We panicked because we hadn’t prepared for this and had no idea which train to take. We asked for help but ended up just winging it and buying metro tickets and found the route suggestions on some app.
Do your research ahead of time on which trains to take to your hotel in the event you don’t have wifi when you arrive.
So, with 10 metro tickets in hand, and a tentative plan on which stops to get off on, off we went. Cut to 5 minutes later when I’m being continually bumped into by some random dude at the door of the train. He’s mumbling to me in French and looking down at my purse. So I looked down only to see that my purse was unzipped with my wallet clearly visible and not too difficult for grabbing. Oy. I quickly zipped it up and he got off on the next stop.
Always be alert. It’s hard not to get mesmerized by the sights and by the thrill of the experience. Don’t be careless like me and set yourself up to be pickpocketed.
We came off the metro which was actually not bad, and were pleasantly surprised to find out that our hotel was less than 2 blocks away. We stayed at the Hotel Derby Eiffel. It was definitely a step or two up from the last hotel. Larger room, elevator, friendlier staff, and a fantastic location. I do believe that it was the most expensive out of all of our hotels, though.
First stop was lunch at a nearby café. We had some bubbly, and quiche. The waiter immediately recognized my bad French accent and came over with English menus.
We set off for the Eiffel Tower tour we signed up for. Kinda lame and not cheap, but it did help us jump the numerous security lines. Once we got into the tower, we left the group and just explored on our own. Our mission was to go to the top an enjoy a glass of bubbly. I’m afraid of heights, so I honestly wasn’t wowed by this experience – but I understand that it’s a box for many to check off.
That night, we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkling – it sparkles for 5 minutes at 9pm, 10pm, 11pm and midnight. It’s pretty cool, I wish it lasted longer. We found a nearby rooftop bar to take in the sights. Magical!
Another fun thing to do is people watch at a sidewalk cafe. Especially one lined with little markets. The locals walk everywhere and the produce is so fresh and vibrant. Love it!
Day four – Paris
We booked a sunrise running tour in Paris, which ended up probably being our favorite tour we did. Wow! Our guide took us past all the major monuments at sunrise and took our photo! We did just over 4 miles and stopped a bunch for photos. This tour was such a good deal and so memorable!
After the tour we went back to get ready for our Gourmet Lunch River Cruise on the Seine. I wasn’t sure if this would be too fancy pants, but it sounded like a good experience. It was a 4 course meal with wine and champagne. We got there and the average age had to have been at least 75! We were delighted when a younger couple got seated next to us. This was a very classy affair, with many gourmet options. The dark chocolate dessert was the best thing I ate on the entire trip! And the wine just kept flowing, and we befriended the couple next to us. Spectacular!
From there we went to the Arc du Triomphe. We pre-bought tickets to be able to go the top. They were cheap and not time specific. This to me was a waste of time. It was 250 + stairs to get to the top and the view was nothing exciting.
Skip an Arc du Triomphe tour and just take pics in front of it.
For our 3rd and final tour of the day, we went to a French champagne and wine tasting. It was about 15 people, mostly Americans, who wanted to learn more about French wine and champagne. It included charcuterie and was informative. We enjoyed this.
Day five – Brussels
Today we took the metro back to Gare du Nord and took the train to Brussels. This was another 2 hour trip that went by pretty quickly. Upon arrival in Brussels, more confusion over how to get to the Grand Place (center of town) area. We took a bus and missed getting off at the right stop and had to lug our luggage again over cobblestone for what seemed like a mile. But wow, the streets of Brussels are wonderful! So many sights and smells. The entire time we were in brussels it smelled like Belgian waffles. Yum!
Our hotel, NH Carrefours , was perfectly located near Grand Place and literally behind the Central train station. This hotel was very nice, large room, full service, and a window that opened up onto a courtyard. But location was killer. We ended up going to a travel help desk and the staff was AMAZING. Super helpful, we could buy our tickets right inside their office. We had some local Belgian brews (very affordable!) and I had to try the famous fries. Basically cheese fries in a cone with your choice of a dozen sauces. Not bad! We toured the numerous markets and were wowed by all the chocolate options.
Choose a hotel right off of Grand Place and by the Central Train Station. It's a win-win!
Day six – Brugge and Ghent
We took the train to Brugges, it was our one rainy day of the whole trip. It was less than an hour from Brussels. Walked around the whole town, over canals and bridges. This town was so full of charm. Finally had Belgian waffles there and it was delicious. Man, is it hard to find large coffee there though! LOL.
Did some shopping and then hopped back on the train to Ghent (which was halfway back to Brussels) The main reason we wanted to go here was because of the castles and medieval feel. We walked over a mile to the center of town (should have been brave and taken the local bus). They take their biking very seriously there. They bike everywhere, and fast! Wow was this town cute, the castle is incredible and all the canals around it are so charming. Could have spent more time there for sure. Next time I would take the boat ride.
Day seven – London/Richmond
We were smart this time and took the train from the central station right behind our hotel to catch the train back to London. Our race in Richmond was cancelled due to the death of the Queen, so we were basically coming to Richmond for no real reason now. We dropped our luggage at the Kew Gardens Inn and headed back to central London on the metro. Had some cocktails and did more souvenir shopping along the river. Then back to Richmond for dinner. We stopped at the White Swan for sticky toffee pudding. Delicious. And such a cute place.
Then of course as a Ted Lasso fan, I had to go check out his pub Princes Head, just around the corner. Took some pics there, went inside, so cool to be there. Our hotel had a pub on the ground floor and big cozy leather chairs and fireplace. Perfect place to hunker down and met some other runners there.
Day eight – London/Richmond
We went out for a run along the Thames (part of the race course) and then stopped in the Kew Royal Gardens.
Highlight for today for me though was going to a traditional afternoon tea, which far surpassed our river cruise tea experience. We went to Candella off of High Street Kensington. Highly recommend! Very affordable and quaint – and the food was so good! We added a bottle of prosecco and it was just a fantastic time, a great way to end our trip! After that just poked around for final souvenirs and then back to Richmond for dinner along the river there.
I feel so blessed to have been able to do this trip and experience these places. We deferred our race to 2023, so we'll be back again next year, adding on a new set of countries!
9/30/2022 07:10:31 pm
Love this recap! It was such a great adventure and I can't wait to see where we decide to go in 2023!
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
Hi, I'm Emily! I'm an avid runner in Arizona with a passion for travel and racing around the country!