While I have done quite a bit of traveling in Europe, I had yet to make it to London until early this year. One of my friends had moved there for work last year and a group of us had decided to visit her in early January. This trip was unlike most of my European vacations – we would be staying put in one place for the entire week and we had no real plans other than just hanging out in London. The freedom from having to plot out an itinerary and just focus on enjoying the city was really welcome; we didn’t do a ton of sightseeing, but we did have a really incredible week. Oh, and we ate (and drank) a lot.
Getting There: We flew in from various cities and met at Heathrow. After properly caffeinating, we (mistakenly) took the Heathrow Express into London. Per our friend’s directions, we weren’t supposed to take that as it is more expensive, but it is definitely a lot faster!
Where to Stay: We had adorable airbnb in Shoreditch, located close to Columbia Road. The house was perfect for 4 guests and we had a nice little yard too. We never really got to enjoy it due to the weather, but would be lovely in warmer weather. This was a really great location in a trendy area. Lots of great restaurants and shops nearby, easy to catch a bus wherever we needed to go or find a Tube stop nearby (Bethnal Green was closest).
Things To Do: London reminded me quite a bit of New York. It’s big and old and crowded and always takes longer to get somewhere than you think. There are a lot of obvious things to see/do in London. We did only some of these. And then there are some non-obvious activities that are far more interesting and make you feel like a local. Try to do more of those things and don’t stress about not seeing the touristy things. You’ll be back.
Museums and obvious things:
- Tower of London – We skipped it, but saw it when we hopped on a ferry to Greenwich
- Westminster Abbey – We walked by midday and grabbed some photos (along with Big Ben)
- Buckingham Palace – Swing by if you’re in the area, grab some photos
- St Paul’s (suggested to go to the mall nearby for the view for free)
- National Gallery – Did want to go by there, but guess we ran out of time?
- Imperial War Museum – We skipped this museum in favor of the Churchill War Rooms
- Churchill War Rooms – Must see, very cool museum. We skipped a lot of other sites, but made time to check this out and I am very glad we did. Small museum located in Winston Churchill’s WWII bunker. A lot to see and learn about there, definitely worth checking out
- Tate Modern – This museum is ENORMOUS. We didn’t have a ton of time there so we checked out a few floors and exhibits, mostly wandered around. You could spend days here.
- The Globe – We took the tour of the theater (in the rain sadly), very cool to see the theater and hear the history of the original theater and this re-created version. Would love to see a performance there in spring/summer!
- V&A Museum – I wish we could have had more time here, but we came late in the day and didn’t have long before it closed. Design-focused museum, had some interesting exhibits around fashion and art
- Harrod’s – We wandered around this massive department store’s first floor, mostly in the food court which is enormous and super bougie and I really loved just being there and not buying anything. The Decor was incredible. Reminded me of Ka De We in Berlin.
- Prime Meridian/Greenwich – We took a boat to Greenwich for an afternoon and wandered around. Unfortunately, it was so cold! We should have taken the tube there, would have been easier and less cold. We waited so long for a ferry on our return trip and were freezing! Very pretty to walk around the park there, and I am sure it would be very nice in the summer. Since we were there (and freezing), we went to the Astronomy Museum because why not.
How we really enjoyed London…
- Broadway Market – Saturdays only. Great food, bookstores at the base of London Fields and near the canal (walk down the canal and check out the very cool houseboats lined up!). We got there towards the end of the evening so many of the stalls were closing up, but we did get to see the Fudge Guy and got some free fudge (ie what he wanted to get rid of). Also, the Fudge Guy? Very hot 🙂 Other suggestions include the soup dumplings from Dumpling Shack around corner from the main market. There are many restaurants and bars around here so we grabbed food at Market Cafe and then drinks at Cat & Mutton. Wish we could have gotten to the market a bit earlier and tried a few things there!
- Columbia Road Flower Market – Sundays only. This was just around the corner from our place. Surprisingly was very crowded for January and heard it gets very busy during warmer months (as in you can’t even move). Amazing flowers everywhere you look. There are many cafes on Columbia Road – grab a coffee and a bit of breakfast, wander through the market. I was especially pleased to find a shop, A Portuguese Love Affair, that sold some of my favorite tinned fish from Portgual (specifically bacalhau). After checking out the market, suggest a late afternoon glass of wine at Sager + Wilde (order the olives and scope out the cute bartenders).
- Sunday Roast – This was a must for us on our first full day in London. We opted for dinner at The Narrowboat which offers a few different types of roasts, including chicken, pork belly, and vegan options.
- Spitalfields Market – OK, I really wish we could have made it here! Very cool looking food and shopping market
More eating and drinking…
- Dishoom – We came here for dinner and then for breakfast the next morning. And then again for breakfast on our last day. We were kind of obsessed. It’s pretty delicious. Dinner was incredibly good, but I think I liked breakfast better. For dinner we shared a number of plates: lamb, ruby chicken (my favorite). And the potatoes. At breakfast get the bacon naan roll and a mango lassi.
- Ottolenghi – All small share plates, many veggie friendly. Quite delicious
- Sketch – Highly Instagrammable spot. Make reservations for afternoon tea and INDULGE. The main gallery room is all in pink and gold, the tea service is very cool: tea sandwiches (black truffle grilled cheese!), cakes, scones, puff pastry, tea, and pink champagne (obviously). The bathrooms are not to be missed (bring your camera).
- Tayyab’s – BYOB, Punjabi food. Get the lamb chops.
- Shepherdess Cafe – Diner in Shoreditch. Really loved this place. Super cheap, very simple kind of place. Many variations on the English breakfast – I had the veggie brekkie and it was SO MUCH FOOD.
- Rochelle Canteen – Please make a reservation for lunch at Rochelle Canteen. It’s run by the amazing Margot Henderson (fun fact: wife of St John’s Fergus Henderson). It is a magical secret place that’s only open on weekdays for lunch and breakfast. Adorable and would be amazing in warm sunny weather (gorgeous outdoor space).
- Other dining recommendations: Brawn (on Columbia Rd), St John Bread and Wine or original St. John, Nopi, Bob Bob Ricard (for a drink)
- Already in Soho? Barrafina, Hopper’s or Quo Vadis
- Italian: Luca in Clerkenwell, Trullo in Islington or Padella in Borough Market for amazing pasta
- The Eagle – English pub, seemed very traditional. Had a pint here next to the fireplace on our first night
- Fanny Nelsons – Great pub near our Airbnb, had awesome cocktails and good (entertaining) service
- Islington drinking spots: The Vineyard – Come here for a dance party and prosecco deals on Friday nights; Lucky Voice – Karaoke near the Vineyard. Go. Slim Jim’s – super divey spot, but the only place open late in the area. It’s an embarrassing American style bar 😦
- Island Queen – Fun little pub in Islington with board games