London. The love of my life.
Whenever anyone tells me that they are going, I get so excited for them and want to tag along, too. I start rambling about all the places to go, things to do, restaurants to try; my mind and mouth running away on tangents about my favorite things and how when I lived there it kept a piece of my heart until whoever I’m talking to looks at me with wide eyes, nods their head, “Oh. Ok” and walks away thinking, “crazy girl.”
My Anglo-philia is strong.
It’s no doubt because I spent a semester there, and for me that semester came at a time when I most wanted to escape. Escape law school. Escape a city that fit me like a shoe two sizes small. Escape a life that was starting to feel claustrophobic.
The thing with London is that when I go, I don’t need to do anything. It’s the one place in the world where I go and just be. I love the mere fact that I’m there. Sure, there is tons to see, but I just love everything about it so much, than when I’m there, I know I’d rather be no where else.
I love the people. While they can be grumpy at times (who isn’t), I see it a little bit of a challenge to break through the uptight. I love the cadence of their speech. The accent. The pace. The phrases.
I love walking around a city steeped in so much history; buildings hundreds of years old that have seen wars, famine, leaders good and bad. And it makes me smile the biggest smile when someone asks me for directions.
And after the horrible weather that we had in Iceland, London couldn’t have offered a more welcome change of pace. Seventy and sunny the whole time.
Clearly London loves me as much as I love it.
Ask anyone that has lived or even been to London, and each will give you their own must-see list 100 things long. If you’re ever going to Londontown, here are my suggestions for things to do after you’ve checked off Buckingham Palace and Tower Hill.
See a show:
Theatre in London is so much more affordable than it is here in the States. While West End musicals tend to be the fave, London theatre has so much to offer outside of the West End. Check out the official site that lists most of the plays showing. As far as tickets, London, has a Tkts booth in Leicester Square, but Lettuce and I found that it was cheaper to buy directly from the box office online rather than from Tkts. Also, you could also just show up at the theatre day–of (better chances on a less popular day) and try your luck that way.
A trip won’t be complete until you see a play in Shakespeare’s Globe. Honestly, I totally forgot about it, but a few hours before show time we were able to score tickets to see Much Ado About Nothing. For £5, you can stand as the commoners did and become part of the show. If clouds are in the forecast, don’t forget your rain coat.
Visit the markets:
If you can get there for the weekend farmer’s markets, I’d recommend that because they are a thing to do and provide you with a thing to eat all in one! Despite the madness, head to the Portobello Road market in Notting Hill for lunch on Saturday (but show up on the earlier side since its gets more crowded, especially with tourists, as the day goes on). This was legit where I bought my groceries every week and it set me up for great disappointment when I moved to Chicago.
This market is great for browsing for genuine and non-genuine artifacts and quirky gifts, as well as fresh fruits and veggies. I suggest you stop at the Hummingbird Bakery*, but expect a line akin to the one outside Magnolia in NYC.
Additionally, go hungry, since vendors galore pop up selling all kinds of street food for lunch ranging from paella to stir fry to crepes. My personal favorite is the German lady for a grilled chicken thigh on a crusty roll topped with grilled onions and mustard, which you may recall I did my best to duplicate. The best.
After (or in lieu of) Portobello Road, head ALL THE WAY across the city to the Borough Market. This place is chock full of samples and has more stuff to actually bring home. If hoarding jam is your thing, get it here. Also, the good news is that the Borough is not only open on Saturdays, so mosey on over any day Wednesday- Saturday, earlier in the week for less rambunctious crowds.
Also, if you’ve ever wanted to try an ostrich burger, they’ve got you covered.
Drink some tea:
Fancy tea, one of my favorite swanky things to do ever, is always tons of fun but it does involve a lot of food. All plates are refillable.
There are so many places to go, depending on your mood:
If you’re feeling cozy: Brown’s Hotel. I’ve been here twice, and I think it’s safe to say it’s my favorite. Get cozy next to the fireplace, where atmosphere is not at all stuffy, and all the people are oh-so friendly.
If you’re feeling very traditional: The supposed “tea experts,” Fortnum & Mason dots their is and crosses their ts.
If you’re feeling playful: Sketch. Non-traditional but traditional, the atmosphere is cute and kitchy. And pink. Fun with less pretention than say, The Ritz. But…
If you’re feeling fancy: The Ritz. Bust out the pearls.
If you’re feeling royal: The Orangery at Kensington Palace. Yes, really. THE palace.
I’ve gone to all of the above, but next on my to-try list is Claridges.
Explore different neighborhoods:
London is best explored on foot, so buy a map and be prepared to get a little lost.
Chinatown is right in the heart of central London. Walk down Gerard Street and you might find yourself unexpectedly stuffing your face with a fresh bao.
If walking tours are your thing, check out one of the many London Walks. No need to sign up in advance, just pick your walk and show up at the meeting place with 10 quid in hand. They are on all sorts of topics (I did Harry Potter and Jack the Ripper), go all around the city and last about 2 hours.
If the season is right, Hyde Park has a pond in the middle with paddle boat rental in the summer. Fun stuff!
One of my favorite things to do, in any city, is to get up a little early and see the city before it wakes. I tend to stay around Trafalger Square when I go, and 8:00 am on Saturday means I get it all to myself.
For other, up to the minute stuff, you can check out Time Out London or Visit London. It’s how we found ourselves at the St. Katherine’s Docks antique boat festival eating bubble & squeak (more on that later) and wandering through the Vietnamese festival on the south shore.
Don’t forget to eat:
Every time I go, I hit upon some gems. This is where we dined this trip:
If you happen to be in the Notting Hill area, stop by Egg Break for breakfast. The well balanced and not overly-large plates will get you set for the day without heading back to bed in a food coma.
LOOK AT HOW ORANGE THAT YOLK IS!!!
Getting the recommendation and stamp of approval from Lima, Fairuz boasts some of the most delicious and authentic Lebanese food I’ve tasted.
While meandering arond Soho looking for sustenance, we happened upon the Wahaca taco joint. The atmosphere left us ready to party, as did the righteous margaritas.
But…given that dining in London can be expensive, when you feel like prices are getting you down, I suggest the aforementioned markets, or the following:
Wagamama. It’s good, cheap and fast noodle bar. Always a must-go on my list.
Noted THE best in town is the Golden Hind in the Marylebone neighborhood.** I first went 8 years ago, but unfortunately they were closed when we went this time. No matter, Ben’s Fish and Chips to the rescue! Noted to be one of the best in town, this takeaway joint does not disappoint. When we arrived, I had expected more of a pub atmosphere, but this almost rivals a KFC in ambience. Don’t turned off, tuck in and order the haddock and you won’t be disappointed.
And never forget the street food.
For more dining suggestions, check out this super cute and chic blog, the Londoner.
Of course my list doesn’t end here. I still have so many things that I want to see, neighborhoods to explore and foods to try (like the East End, known for its curry spots!). Here are just a few places that might get you a bit off the beaten path.
Most importantly, whatever you do, don’t forget to look up.
*The Hummingbird now has locations open throughout the city.
**Marylebone is the cutest neighborhood and a few blocks from where I lived. Just north of Oxford Street shopping, it’s almost like a little town in the big city.
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