My first visit to London was a dream come true (minus the rain, but c’est la vie). I came back to New York immediately nostalgic for London’s cleanliness, efficient public transportation, and kind locals.
I am really giddy about sharing this post with you all, because it is my first ever travel guide! As such, please bear with me here and provide me with any feedback, positive or constructive. Now that you’re aware, let’s jump right in!
WHERE TO EXPLORE
Camden Town: This neighborhood is well-known for its punk, alternative vibes and famous Camden Market. Hustle and bustle your way through the market’s mobbed sidewalks and snag some souvenirs for your loved ones back home from the various shops along the way. If you are successful in your attempts to beat the crowds, reward yourself with your first taste of authentic British cuisine from Poppie’s Fish and Chips. If you’re a night owl looking for a good time, Camden Town also has a thriving nightlife and music scene.
Westminster: By far, one of the most touristy parts of London, but worth exploring if you are a history buff. One of the few regrets I had on this trip was not getting the chance to see the Churchill War Rooms from World War II. A must for next time.
Covent Garden/SoHo: You can find Covent Garden brimming with boutiques, cute restaurants, and the beloved Theater District. Check out Neal’s Yard for a wondrous display of colorful buildings and adorable cafes. The grungier, neighboring SoHo is one of London’s nightlife hubs. Grab a late dinner and hit up one of the many jazz clubs in the area; most notably, Ronnie Scott’s.
Mayfair: If you need to get your high-fashion fix, look no further than Mayfair. Spend a day wandering the multiple floors of Selfridges department store, or stop in at all your favorite designer stores that you know you can’t afford, before heading to Sketch for afternoon tea.
Shoreditch: Jacob and I stayed in this East London neighborhood during our trip and LOVED it. Comparable to the grittiness of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Shoreditch is teeming with vintage stores, coffee shops, and delicious Indian food (more on this later). Its bar/pub scene has also become a favorite among locals and tourists, alike.
Kensington/Hyde Park: We’ll never be royals, according to Lorde, but don’t let that stop you from feeling like one as you saunter through Kensington. Start your day by taking a joyful stroll through the gardens of Hyde Park. Stop for a quick photo op by the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, and then continue on until you reach Kensington Palace, home to your favorite royal family. If you aren’t in a rush to go elsewhere, stop by a nearby market (there’s a Whole Foods there, lol), pick up a few snacks to nosh on, and have a picnic in the park, if the weather permits.
South Bank: If taking long walks by the river is a favorite pastime, South Bank is for you. Savor gorgeous views of the Thames River and Central London while grabbing a pint at a nearby bar/restaurant. Jacob and I went here on our last full day in London, and the weather could not have been more perfect.
If you’re spending five days or more in London, I highly recommend breaking up your stay with a day trip outside of the city. Jacob and I decided on Cambridge, and it was hands down one of the highlights of our vacation.
We took an early morning train from Liverpool Station to Cambridge Station so we could spend a full day exploring. After an hour-long ride, we walked 30 minutes to the center of town. We lucked out with the sun on this day, so we soaked it all in. Now, for the most memorable parts of this daycation:
Punting: Punting is a MUST for both locals and visitors. Sit back and relax as a tour guide takes you and a few others on a boat ride along the River Cam and walks you through the city’s rich and bountiful history. During your little adventure downstream, you will see and learn about Cambridge’s 30+ colleges and the famous names who studied at them (e.g. Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing). It felt so good being immersed in nature for a short while, as we’d been bopping around London for several days at this point. Plus, a mini history lesson can’t hurt the noggin.
College Tour: Definitely book a tour of Cambridge’s surrounding colleges and landmarks. Seeing some of the schools up close and personal, gorgeous Gothic architecture and all, made me long for my college days; but also, I wouldn’t mine reliving them in a building that looks like a castle.
Varsity Hotel: After a grabbing a quick bite, Jacob and I ended our day in Cambridge with drinks on the rooftop of the Varsity Hotel. We met a friendly, highly experienced bartender who crafted us cocktails based on our own personal preferences. He was a delight to speak to and a reminder of the refreshing kindness we received from the Brits throughout our trip.
WHERE TO EAT
Dishoom: By far, THE best meal we had in London. No exaggeration. I was told by multiple people to go to this restaurant, so I figured it was worth the hype. 10/10. You will not be disappointed. Also, go to the Shoreditch location and make a reservation before 5:45pm. Otherwise, be prepared to wait on line for a bit.
Padella: Sitting pretty right next to Borough Market, Padella is one of the hottest pasta spots in the city. Come with your stomachs hungry and ready to rumble. The dishes are affordable and sizable enough to share, which makes it a no-brainer in deciding to order three or more at a time.
Sketch: Yes, there are plenty of afternoon tea spots in London, but if you are looking for an out-of-this-world experience, get your booty to Sketch. The second you walk in, you are transported into an Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired universe. While Sketch does fall on the pricey side for afternoon tea, the food is incredible. Also, go to the bathroom while you’re there. You’ll be glad you did.
Breakfast Club: I had my first ever English breakfast at Breakfast Club, located just 20-minutes away from our Airbnb. The food was great, and the overall menu selection was great for all my fellow brunch-loving folks. I loved the retro vibes and relaxed ambience of the place. Also, they played ’90s music the whole time and it was EVERYTHING.
Borough Market/markets in general: London isn’t particularly revered for its food scene, but its markets make up for it. As we already had plans to go to Padella for lunch, we stopped in at Borough Market to see the street food offerings. If you’re ballin’ on a budget like we were, the markets are ideal for saving some money and giving you a true taste (literally) of London culture.
Gordon’s Wine and Cheese Bar: If your two favorite words are “wine” and “cheese”, then there is no arguing that this bar is for you. Not only is it the perfect place to take shelter on a rainy day, but it has been around since the late 19th-century. So naturally, the bar’s interior will have you in for a wonderful surprise.
Tesco/Pret A Manger: If you’re looking to grab a quick, cheap bite for breakfast or lunch, Tesco market and Pret a Manger are your go-to’s. Living in NYC, I can now say with certainty that the Prets in London are infinitely better.
HOW TO GET AROUND
TUBE: A.K.A. London’s underground transporation. I could rave about the tube for days. It was pristine, quiet, timely, and efficient; in other words, everything the New York subway is NOT. I never felt rushed to catch a train in fear of having to wait another 10 minutes for the next one. Leaving the tube was definitely one of the hardest parts about returning to NYC.
BUS: Another cost-effective and easy way to navigate London. Plus, what’s a trip to London without a ride in a double-decker bus?!
Double-decker bus in Westminster
Did you even go to London if you didn’t take a phone booth pic?!
Favorite travel partner <3
The bathrooms in Sketch..EGG PODS!!
Swans at Hyde Park
Punting in Cambridge
Punting in Cambridge
Punting in Cambridge
Punting in Cambridge
Punting in Cambridge (So many good photos, I couldn’t resist. SORRY!)
Punting in Cambridge
Cute side street in Cambridge
Another cute side street in Cambridge
King’s College…took my breath away
Views from the Varsity Hotel!
Photography: Jacob Goldberg and Sami’s iPhone