London is, without a doubt, the best place to live.
Well, for us at least.
It's the perfect blend of
history, urban energy, European bliss & English speaking-ness.
I pinch myself most days
at the privilege of getting to call myself a "Londoner."
Here are some of our favorite places to eat, see & be.
LANTANA CAFE: If you're looking for a great (and bit different) brunch in Central London, this tiny eatery run by Aussies may be the place for you. With clever menu options and a cool setting off Goodge Street, it's a nice place to spend the morning.
RIDING HOUSE CAFE: Situated a bit off the hustle of Oxford Street, Riding House Cafe is a great brunch spot. Reservations are a must- as are the pancakes with clotted cream and berries. Their smoothies and coffees are also hard to beat. It is typically a bit of a scene, but if you book in advance- you should be fine.
CARAVAN, EXMOUTH MARKET: A favourite place to breakfast, brunch or just a great cup of coffee. Caravan is a hip spot with great items in a light and air space. Both guys and girls will find that this place has appeal, so you can go and know that it is a crowd pleaser. Be ready to be cool though, because the local crowd of East Londoners in this Farringdon gem are pretty hip.
MODERN PANTRY: Just off Clerkenwell and with St Paul’s in the nearby skyline, you can find Modern Pantry. This gorgeously airy, multi-level space has made a name for itself for great offerings throughout the day. While people love all meals here, I love the breakfast. (Especially the weekend brunch.) Though I have to admit, I would like to try their cream tea or their ridiculously inexpensive afternoon tea (Friday-Sunday) for a chance to try something a bit different and, selfishly, that wouldn’t be shared with too many tourists. (Find my full post on Modern Pantry here.
GRANGER & CO: This hotspot for brunch was, literally, out our front door at our old flat. On the weekends, the line is insane- but if you are lucky enough to go on a weekday, you'll walk right in. Bill Granger, famed Aussie chefs, creates picture-worthy food and sets the scene for Notting's Hill "it crowd" to socialize. (I recommend breakfast/brunch here.) The ricotta pancakes with honeycomb butter, sweetcorn fritters, bizarrely fluffy eggs and flat whites are the most raved over items from the regulars. I'm a big fan of an order of coconut bread to have on the side- which is completely over the top, but worth it. We tend to frequent the one in Notting Hill, but you can also check out the Clerkenwell and King's Cross locations. Find my full post here.
THE BOROUGH MARKET: I've blogged, instagrammed and tweeted about this place loads, but I just can't help it. Imagine a few football fields full of food stalls selling the most gorgeous food you've ever seen or tasted. This is the place to find the grilled cheese of your dreams or a chorizo sandwich that may haunt you for years to come. It's fun and a total win. Read all about here.
THE CLARENCE: When you visit London, you have to eat in a pub. This cute pub sits right off Trafalgar Square and has great food. The ambience is great, too. If you are looking for that "quintessential pub lunch," go to the Clarence and you'll get your fix.
SHAKE SHACK: Okay, fine. I know it's a NYC thing, but I can't help but do a happy dance whenever I have an excuse to go there. Plus, it's in Covent Garden and makes for an easy + fast option for lunch.
BLANCHETTE: This fabulous French restaurant is tucked just off Oxford Street. It wins for ambiance and it's killer lunch/pre-theatre menu. The staff is friendly, the food is fantastic and the location is perfect. I really recommend this quaint spot for a lunch or early dinner (perhaps before a nearby show?) during your trip to London.
DAYLESFORD ORGANIC: This place is posh to the max. While we go to the Notting HIll location, their are others. Expect gorgeous and fresh food... at a price. I once read a review describing the clientele as "cashmere swaddled mummies and their posh prams" and it's no joke. But the food is good and the scene is unique. I recommend going for breakfast or lunch, as dinner is slightly quiet. (Get a bit of background on the Daylesford story by checking out my visit to the Daylesford farm.)
CHURCHILL ARMS: If you're looking for a place that balances local + special, The Churchill Arms could be your answer. This magnificent pub is covered in flowers, centrally located on Kensington Church Street and argued to be the best place in town to get Thai food. While the front of the pub is a traditional English pub, the back is a fabulous Thai restaurant. Be prepared to wait for a bit- no reservations accepted, but the delicious £7.50 entrees more than make up for it. (Find the Churchill Arms and other favorites from Notting Hill in my friend Amber's guide to the neighbourhood.)
PETERSHAM NURSERY: This will require a taxi (a long one) as you'll be heading out to Richmond, but if you have the afternoon (and some money to spend), this is a gorgeous way to spend half your day. You can meander around the flowers or luxe shop before eating lunch in the nursery's Michelin-stared cafe. Reservations are a must. (If you don't have the time to spare, I've heard the sister restaurant, SPRING, inside Somerset House exudes a lot of charm, too!) Read my full post on Petersham Nursery here.
DUKES MAYFAIR: So you've dined in London's best, you've had afternoon tea that can't be beat, and now? Well, now you're at a bit of a loss as to where to go from here. If the weather is nice, you must try the posh picnic from Dukes. This Mayfair hotel will get the cutest hampered picnic made for you to enjoy in Green Park, just in eye's site of Buckingham Palace. The experience is made complete with a butler! At £35pp, it's a great value for an exceptional experience. See my review here for a peek.
TOM'S KITCHEN: If you find yourself at Somerset House, you're in for more than just pretty scenery. Walk through the courtyard and go to Tom's Kitchen- you'll find an airy and bright haven in the middle of busy London. The menu has great seasonal British fare with a distinct freshness to everything. The ambiance is great and the view out onto the Thames is killer. I'd recommend the Somerset location for lunch, and their celeb-studded location in Chelsea for brunch.
DISHOOM: Beyond fish & chips, Indian food is another request we commonly get from visitors. It makes sense as you can get great Indian food here. We like this place in Covent Garden. Not only is the location great for tourists and the ambience really cool- but, hey, the food's great, too! Try the Naughty Chai for a twist on the traditional drink. Oh, and if you're up for something different- go for breakfast! (Read my full review of Dishoom here.)
BLIXEN: Head to East London for a taste of London's hipper scene near Old Spitafields Market. Not only will the crowd be cool, but it's hard to find a restaurant with better vibes and interiors than Blixen. Ask for a table in the garden for a chance to dine below hanging plants with modern light fixtures glowing around you. Drinks are a 10, setting is a 10, food is an 8.... though the caramel & banana pudding (read: cake) would definitely bring home the gold if desserts were an Olympic sport.
LA PERLA: Where do you find good mexican food in London? Well, beyond the 5 Chipotle locations, we like La Perla in Covent Garden. Happy Hour is 5-7 and full of specials like half price margaritas... but the real treat is the enchiladas verde. It honestly feels like a plate that would appear on a table in Texas. It's therapeutic for the soul.
KASPARS, THE SAVOY HOTEL: For a pretty lunch in London or a nice family dinner (probably with older kids?), Kaspars at the Savoy is a gorgeous setting. With fresh seafood and an icy bar serving up platters of pretty oysters and seafood in the centre of the art-deco dining room, this is a place to go if you want something a bit different than your standard pub meal. While it’s a part of the Savoy, it’s not too stuffy. You’ll definitely want to slip into the Beaufort Bar just beside Kaspars for a pre-dinner drink in the amazing old theatre-turned-bar beforehand. You can (often) see some famous faces and it seems to set the scene for a night at the Savoy.
WINDSOR CASTLE: If you're looking for a perfect pub- one that looks, feels and tastes the part- this Notting Hill gem is it. You won't find tourists flocking here for fish & chips, but will instead find locals meeting after work for a drink or couples enjoying dates in the cozy tables. Be ready to feel like you could see Jude Law à la The Holiday at any turn.
MAGGIE JONES: This gem sits right behind Kensington Palace on Kensington Church Street. The atmosphere and decor feels slightly like rural France, but the menu has British classics peppered throughout it. Gorgeous pies and roasted meats reign supreme, but there's truly something for everyone. The atmosphere alone is worth going to experience. Lunch specials are extremely affordable. Reservations a must. Read my full review here.
BATTERSEA PIE STATION: If you're looking for a meat pie while in Britain (which I highly recommend!), Battersea Pie Station in Covent Garden is a great stop. Not only are there endless options for you to choose from for your pie, but the complete lineup of traditional sides is perfect. The space is small, so won't be great for groups of 4+, but the ambiance is fun and the food is consistently great. Typically, I'd recommend this for a lunch spot over dinner.
VERASWAMY: This Indian restaurant that sits prestigiously Regent Street is one of the fancier places you can get curry in this the city. In fact, I can't think of a nicer place... but it's an experience. You'll feel like you walked into Aladdin's palace. The service is great and the food doesn't disappoint- just be prepared to fork out some cash.
CÉLESTE, LANESBOROUGH HOTEL: This gorgeously refurbished Lanesborough Hotel offers posh dining in their Michelin-starred restaurant, Céleste. And while the restaurant serves up every bit of perfection that you have have expected (both in taste and setting), the real value comes from the special menus that they offer through the site, Bookatable (When I’m writing this, they have a tasting menu of 3 courses + champagne for £38pp.) If you can snag one of these deals, you’ve locked yourself into one of the most exclusive date nights in London.
MORO: If you’re in East London, Moro is a tiny neighbourhood gem in Farringdon’s hip street, Exmouth Market. With a constantly-evolving seasonal menu featuring Moroccan-inspired cuisine, the food feels current and without kitsch. The crowd is cool and the vibe is relaxed without being grungy. You definitely need a reservation here, as it is very popular with Londoners in the know. You could bring a baby or older kids here. Young children and toddlers may have trouble finding food they like on the menu?
THE DELAUNAY: This is, by far, one of our favorite places to go for a night out. The restaurant has the feel of a Viennese cafe from another day. It's elegant- but the menu has options as affordable as £7. Right off Aldwych and on the edge of Covent Garden, this is a great spot to spend a lunch or dinner with someone special. I can't ever pass up the beet + goats curd salad (£10.50) and the wienerschnitzel (£17). Oh.. and the dessert options are out of this world. Reservations a must.
SAN CARLO CICCHETI: If you're looking for something different, or something a bit sexy, this might be the place for you. Modeled after Venetian Cicchetti bars (think the Italian version of tapas or shared plates), this gorgeously outfitted restaurant in Covent Garden makes for the perfect pre-theatre date or lunch spot to meet with girlfriends. The seasonal menu rotates and offers an impressive (and delicious) selection of Italian dishes.
SIMPSONS IN THE STRAND: If you're looking for a very "British" dining experience, Simpsons can deliver. With giant trolleys of lamb & beef that appear table side, you'll get to the experience of a "roast" without having to wait for Sunday. While the roast is their famous dish, I personally recommend the beef wellington. The dining room is beautiful and its location next to the Savoy on the Strand make it easy to get to from most anywhere in the city. The atmosphere is more on the stuffy side, rather than fresh and modern- but it's still pretty fun.
OXO TOWER: Definitely the scene for a night out, this restaurant sits on the south bank and overlooks the London skyline. The view of St. Pauls is unparalleled. The food is pricey and good, but the view makes it worth it. A table by the window is a homerun for a special date or a unforgettable view of London.
COYA: If you're looking for a baby-friendly place, this probably isn't your destination. It falls more under the "sexy date" arena. Located just off Hyde Park in Mayfair, Coya serves incredible Peruvian fare with a light freshness. Think small, sharing plates of various ceviches, vegetables and meats. You'd be a fool to not order the Sea Bass. I have no idea what it is made with (waiters keep their lips sealed), but OH MY GOSH. Also, go early to grab a drink from the bar. I only had a mocktail, but it was incredible.
MAZE, GORDON RAMSAY: If you’re looking for a taste of Gordon Ramsay whilst in London, book at table at Maze. This concept is an odd-yet-accomplished fusion of French + Japanese. Think of fantastic sushi for a starter and a great steak for a main. This is a sexy date spot that isn’t great for kids, unless they can hang with adults or it’s a quiet weeknight. (Check Bookatable for occasional steals for Maze.) If you’re torn between locations, I like the Grovesnor Square one for easy access from Central London or the (slightly) more relaxed, Maze Grill, in Chelsea for a more local, neighbourhood feel.. and the occasional Ramsay family spotting. ;)
DARWIN BRASSERIE, SKY GARDEN: These reservations are, admittedly, tough to get, but worth the hassle if you can plan out your visit in advance. Located at 20 Fenchurch (or known by Londoners as "The Walkie Talkie"), this restaurant sits on top of the city of London. With it's 36th floor view, the view is stunning and the ambiance is so nice. With as luxurious as this setting may be, you won't pay an arm and a leg. Read my post about our visit here.
One of Britain's greatest traditions can be enjoyed at countless places around this fine city. I had the pleasure of trying out some of our best and wrote about each all in my "To a Tea" series- in hopes that you could find the place that would suit you best.
For a truly special experience, check out the Double Decker Afternoon Tea Tour I took- so memorable!
TOWER OF LONDON: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in London, well- you've got to see this place once. William the Conqueror set up shop in the original Tower in 1066. Over the centuries, it's become layered with rich history. It's one of the costlier sites, but if you're like most visitors to London- you'll fork over the cash. Don't miss the free Beefeater tours held every 20 minutes just inside the entrance gate.
For something extra special, arrive around 10:30 on a Sunday morning. Tell the Beefeater at the gate you're there for the 11am service inside the Chapel Royal. It's a special experience... and entrance is free. (The head vicar is astonishingly friendly.)
Pre-booked tickets not available.
BRITISH MUSEUM: You've come to see London, but by stopping here you can see the rest of the world. The highlights include the Rosetta Stone, the Egyptian mummies and the frieze from the Temple of Apollo. Entrance is free. You can come and go as you please. It's a wonderful place just to stop in, have a quick coffee, and glance at some of the world's greatest treasures. Read my full post on the British Museum here.
WESTMINSTER ABBEY: Another pricey stop on the tourist trail in London, but something that is absolutely worth exploring once. If you've already seen the Abbey or are crunched for time- I'd suggest going for Evensong. What is Evensong, you ask? Well, it's a 45 min to 1 hour service held daily at 5pm in the Abbey- queue up by the main entrance 20 minutes early for the best seats. Admission is free and the experience is lovely. Think of gorgeously talented choir boys in robes singing in the most gorgeous candlelight. It's one of our "musts" for in-town guests.
Admission for regular visits is £18.00.
ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL: It's hard to say which church is better to see when you're in London- Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's. Both are so important to the history. St. Paul's was designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the view from the top of the dome (which you can access with your admission ticket) are hard to beat. I also love the crypts downstairs with Wellington and Nelson's tombs. St. Paul's also has a gorgeous Evensong service that is, like Westminster Abbey's, at 5pm and free to attend.
Admission for regular visits is £16.00 and can be booked in advance through the website.
V&A: This museum was a gift from Victoria & Albert to the everyman of Britain. They kept it open after work hours by candlelight so that people could visit after they were finished working. Today, it's a treasure chest of gorgeous things from around the world sitting in a jeweled case of it's own right. From fashion to Asia- this museum has a little bit of it all. Don't miss the cafe. It's stunning. Admission is free. Check the website for a list of current exhibitions- they're highly regarded as the best in the city.
COVENT GARDEN: This bustling area located in the heart of London is close to (seemingly) everything and has (seemingly) everything. From shopping to great food, you'll be able to spend a good afternoon here, as well as lunch or dinner. The Royal Ballet and Royal Opera are located in the area for a posh night out. Or you can opt for the way popular London Transport Museum for little kids. (Seriously, don't miss it with your little ones- they'll be obsessed!) While there are endless options of where to eat, I've tried to make it easy with a list of 10 Good Places to Eat in Covent Garden to help.
BUCKINGHAM PALACE: You can go see the Changing of the Guard here (if you like, I don't really recommend it due to long lines, nearly guaranteed rain and bad visibility), but I'd recommend visiting the actual palace during its open months. See the State Rooms in all their splendor and enjoy getting to make the inevitable joke about having tea with the Queen when you return home. (Though, my favorite part of the tour actual is having tea on the back veranda overlooking the gardens!)
Tickets must be booked in advance through the Palace website.
NOTTING HILL'S PORTOBELLO ROAD MARKET: Obviously, this stop will make my "list" for London. As the crown jewel of our neighborhood and weekly staple for me, I love the market. I love the treasures, the people pulsing through the viens of the neighborhood, and the great shops & cafes that come to our hood for our weekday enjoyment as a result of the busy weekend activity. The market is only open on Saturdays. Come before 11am and you'll beat the hoards of tourists... and the obscene line for red velvet cupcakes at Hummingbird Bakery.
For all of my neighborhood favorites, check out my full guide to Notting Hill.
TATE MODERN: I want to like modern art, really, I do. Most of it is just really weird though. However, if there was ever a place to make me feel like I was in the "cool club," the Tate would be the one. It's "Poetry & Dreams" wing makes modern art feel approachable to most everyone. The balcony of the cafe is a great spot to relax and take in one of the best views of St. Pauls Cathedral. Admission is free.
NATIONAL GALLERY: This is the art museum of London. Located in Trafalgar Square (yes, the big building in the back), this free museum holds the nation's best art pieces. My favorite are the Turners. I also love going to the restaurant for tea afterwards- great setting and decent priced cream tea.
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY: Right off to the right of the National Portrait Gallery, there is smaller entrance to the Portrait Gallery. This gallery holds portraits of almost every important person in British history. From Ann Boleyn to Paul McCartney to Princess Diana, go here to see these notable Brits at eye level. Admission free.
WEST END SHOWS: If you love theatre, London has some of the best in the world. From musicals to plays to ballet to opera, this is a town that can suit all tastes for live performances. You can either book directly through the box office to guarantee tickets in advance, or play the odds and wait until you arrive to book last minute tickets directly from the box office (ask for "return tickets" on the day for the best deals) or through the newly expanded TKTS stand located in the middle of in Leicester Square. However, when I'm making plans for a group or visitors- I often use ATG to book tickets, as they have reduced prices for most of the main shows... and I can guarantee having tickets to show in advance.
TWININGS ON THE STRAND: Go to the first tea house in England and try some of the famous blends of Twinings. Not only can you purchase tea, but you can book a tasting that will walk you through the history & origins of tea. (I've done it countless times and still learn loads each time. Though their recent price increase (to £30 a person), is in my opinion very steep.
FLORIS LONDON: In Mayfair on Jermyn Street, you'll find Floris, the oldest private perfumer in the world. Still in their original location, you can smell the scents that have won over world leaders for centuries- they make the Queen's perfume, as well as the past monarchs for centuries. For a real treat, you can make your own custom scent. You'll be taken to a private room- where hundreds of heads of state and celebrities have sat before you- to create your own personal scent. The formula will be written down, and you can have additional bottles made later on. Book through the store- or through the concierge as a guest of the Intercontinental Park Lane in part of their new Intercontinental Insider Experiences.
LIBERTY LONDON: This unique department store has my heart in a big way. I love the delicate prints and quirky objects fillings it's halls. I totally can't afford anything in there... but their twice yearly sales always land me with some really special items. Plus, I adore their florist.
HARROD'S: If you're in London, you've got to go to Harrod's at least once. See the food hall, wander through the Egyptian room, eat a macaron in Laduree's gorgeous cafe... soak it in. And then, head out to the V&A or Hyde Park for some decompressing.
PRIMARK: Say what you will about Primark. Seven years into the UK, and I still love it. (Maybe not as much as when I first discovered it, but still- it's a lifetime commitment.) I buy my black skinny jeans there, and for £8 a pair- it can't be beat. (Skip the Marble Arch location for the new shop on Tottenham Court Road. It's about 100% less chaotic and infinitely cleaner.)
COVENT GARDEN: If you're looking for a great place to spend an afternoon shopping, this is your spot. With countless streets filled with household brands and boutiques alike, Covent Garden is great entertainment. Street performers, the perfume of food stalls and the glint of antique treasures will keep the sleepiest of jet-lagged travelers on their toes.
I really cringe when I see people that have only recommend Five Star Hotels on their travel recommendations. Duh, wouldn't we ALL stay at The Savoy, if we had the money? I'm not sure that qualifies as travel advice. While I do list a few really special luxury hotels below that I think make a visit to London particularly special, I also think the value in a good recommendation comes from someone finding a great place with great style... at a price that normal people can afford. Here are some hotels in London that hit both- from high end to normal end. (No hostels or scary 2 stars here.)
ST. GILES HOTEL: This is not a gorgeous hotel, but the location can't be beat and the price is always awesome. Located just off Tottenham Court Road within a stone's throw from Oxford Street and with the British Museum and Soho nearby- you'll be right where you want to be for all the action. This is where my work colleague always stay and the rates they get are always so much better than you can find at most hotels in Central London.
GRAZING GOAT: This is a cool, cute boutique hotel owned by a pub. The area is quiet, but still located to everything- as it just a few minutes from Marble Arch. It's got a great "England" feel to it, too.
ST. MARTINS LANE: If you want to stay in the Covent Garden area, this hotel is a good one. It's definitely "cool," but is a level below the really expensive hotels you'll think of when you think of "nice" London hotels. It's a bit modern and funky, but it's nice. And the hotel bar is super cool.
INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL, LONDON PARK LANE: Sitting just on the edge of Hyde Park at Park Lane, the IPC has an amazing proximity to Buckingham Palace, the parks, and all of Mayfair's splendor. The inside of the hotel will not disappoint as this Intercontinental gets luxury down pat. Their afternoon teas are fantastic, too.
THE ROSEWOOD LONDON: Words can't express how much I love this hotel. It is completely gorgeous, the restaurants are impeccably furnished and every details is, well, perfect... without feeling stuffy at all. It's not a budget hotel- you'll pay to stay there, but if you're looking for a great place to spend some money, you won't be disappointed. Plus, their Sense Spa is a dream. Located off Holborn, it's an easy place to be in the city with great access to the Central Line, British Museum, Somerset House and Covent Garden. (Read about my visit to the Sense Spa here.)