A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.
While I never lived in London (I was born in Nottingham and lived between there and north of Liverpool until I was 13), I have been going to the capital city regularly since I was young. Once we moved to America, every time I would fly to Europe I would usually first fly into London, spend a few days there, before continuing up north to see my family. Over the past few years, and especially since my sister relocated back to London, I have spent a considerable amount of time in the city.
There is a reason that London is one of the top travel destinations in the world; it is undoubtedly a fantastic city. It has history, culture, art, diversity, and excellent food and drink. There is something for everyone, and no matter how many times you visit, there will always be something more for you to experience. Because it is such a colossal, vibrant city, I have always shied away from writing about it. How on earth do you write about somewhere that is so much? Each trip I cross more things off my bucket-list while also adding double the amount. I have never felt ready or as though I had seen enough. There are a couple of other cities I feel this way about – Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, and Beijing. All (not surprisingly) the places I have spent the most time in as, apart from Berlin, I have lived in each of these locales. For this reason, I want my guides to these places to go further than the stereotypical recommendations and to represent what I love about each destination truly.
“But there is so much! My guides would never be complete!” my brain would argue.
So, to share with you my recommendations while also battling the self-doubt that I haven’t quite got enough material, I am going to be writing “My Favourite Places in xxx” for each of these respective cities. Most likely, I will be traveling to these cities regularly, for the rest of my life. So, these posts can be treated like “working documents.” I will continue updating them as I explore more. So, while this will be long, I hope it proves to be a useful resource for you when planning your own trip. As usual, I am only recommending places I have actually been and would enjoy going back to. It isn’t a local guide, but it also isn’t a tourist guide (I am not going to include all the obvious places just for the sake of it). It’s a “I-come-here-often-enough-to-have-my-places-but-also-don’t-take-the-city-for-granted” guide.
*Updated May 2019*
There are 48 neighborhoods in London, all of which offer visitors something different. For the moment, I have narrowed it down to 15 neighborhoods that I feel will give you a great overview of the many different vibes of the city.
– Bloomsbury: The academic heart of the city with the British Museum, British Library, and Charles Dickens Museum all located here. It is classic London with plenty of greenery, garden squares, and beautiful buildings.
– Brixton: One of the most up & coming parts of London, in Brixton you will find Victorian architecture mixed in with alternative art galleries, pop-up restaurants, and lively markets.
– Camden Town: No trip to London is complete without some time spent in Camden. Sure, it is rather touristy; but, the amazing street food, the colorful and alternative people-watching, Camden Lock, and the noisy nightlife are something you want to experience.
– Chelsea: One of London’s richest neighborhoods (cough cough Made in Chelsea cough), Chelsea is home to many hidden squares lined with white-pillared houses — making it the perfect area for a spot of picking-out-your-dream-home fun. It has a small-town atmosphere and is home to the Saatchi Gallery.
– Covent Garden: Another more-touristy area that is still a lot of fun, Covent Garden is known around the world for its shopping, its street artists, and for its market. Especially during the summer months, there are tons of cultural events taking place here making it a haven for the arts. My favorite part of Covent Garden is Neal’s Yard – a small colorful alley that looks distinctly different from the rest of London.
– Fulham: I love Fulham, and many of the restaurants I list below are in this area. One of the most exclusive areas to live in London, Fulham has a trendy yet safe and quiet vibe. More of a local area than other parts of London, if you have a spare day and want to get a sense of where people in London actually live, I highly recommend Fulham.
– Marylebone: Another neighborhood with a small-town feeling, in Marylebone you will find the stunning Daunt Books, the incredible The Wallace Collection, and the happening Monocle Cafe. A couple of months ago when I was in London, I spent a lot of time in this area and was thoroughly charmed.
– Notting Hill: One of the most creative areas of London, Notting Hill is filled to the brim with vintage and antique shops, cafes, and live music. This is also where Portobello Market takes place and the annual Notting Hill Carnival (which is amazing!). While I haven’t been, I have only heard fantastic things about Farm Girl’s brunch which is also in Notting Hill.
– Shoreditch: Probably my favorite area of London, Shoreditch is the “alternative” heart of the city. Everywhere you look there is street art, second-hand shops, pop-up stores, and markets. Given the amount of good food, drink, and shopping in this area, this is my personal recommendation for where you should stay.
– Soho: For foodies, Soho is an area with which you are going to want to get familiar. One of the most vibrant and multicultural parts of the city, Soho is known for being trendy, LGBT friendly, and for Chinatown. Plus, let us not forget the most delightful shop in the world, Liberty London!
– South Bank: South Bank is where you are going to find the London Eye. That is about all I think you need to know – don’t eat here!!!
– Southwark: Given it is the area of London where you can find the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, Borough Market, Butler’s Wharf, and The Shard, there is a good chance you are going to spend a lot of time in these parts. It is always busy, but that is because the sights are so worthwhile.
– The West End: Revered around the world for its theatres, the West End is a busy yet incredibly historical part of London where you will catch the latest shows.
– Westminster: Most travelers to London start their sightseeing in Westminster as it is where you can see Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the Churchill War Rooms. It is where most classic photos of London are taken and, even after seeing it a million times, this area blows me away.
– Whitechapel/Brick Lane: Located near to Shoreditch, I love the Whitechapel/Brick Lane area. This is where the best curries in London are, it is where the alternative Spitalfields Market is located, and it also boasts a lively cafe culture. Aka my idea of heaven.
– The British Museum: My favorite museum in the world, The British Museum’s 8 million+ objects is unlike any other collection. (Disclaimer: it is unlike any other collection because the British Empire “took” or “asked for” the artifacts from every other civilization/country.) While the politics surrounding the collection never stray too far from my mind, I can’t help but be in awe of the broad array of pieces on display that paint an interconnected portrait of the world’s cultures.
– Buckingham Palace: I mean, obviously, this has to be on the list.
– Churchill War Rooms: Hidden for almost 60 years under the streets of Whitehall, the Churchill War Rooms offers you a fascinating look at the bunker where Winston Churchill helped plot England’s WWII victory. By recreating the atmosphere of what it was like to live and work underground during that intense time, the bunker is nothing short of fascinating (and quite emotional).
– Houses of Parliament: The heart of UK democracy, seeing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben always gives me chills. Open to visitors year-round, Monday to Saturday; you can attend debates and committee hearings or take a tour of one of the world’s most iconic buildings.
– River Boat Cruise Along the Thames: Forget the buses, there is no better way to get a great overview of London than from the River Thames. Cruising down the river is one of the nicest, lazy afternoon things to do and is a great way to get a feel for the layout of the city.
– Saatchi Gallery: An iconic gallery for contemporary art, the Saatchi Gallery is free for all and hosts a collection of interesting exhibitions and installments that frequently change throughout the year. The gallery is part of the Duke of York Square which has a delightful food market, lots of boutiques and chain stores (a very large Zara), and a selection of restaurants.
– Sir John Soane’s Museum: While you may have never heard of it (I hadn’t until my last trip), Sir John Soane’s Museum is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating in London. Originally the home of architect Sir John Soane (1753–1837), the house contains his mesmerizing architectural and archaeological collection and hasn’t been changed since he lived there. I can’t recommend a trip here enough — book onto a guided tour for the full experience.
– Sky Garden: Spanning three floors in a glass dome, Sky Garden is London’s highest landscaped gardens. While visiting is free, you will need to book your tickets well in advance. You can catch a glimpse of my time there in this vlog.
– Tate Modern: One of London’s most incredible offerings, the Tate Modern not only boasts one of the greatest modern and contemporary art collections in the world but also has a great vantage point to see the city with the rooftops of St. Paul’s peeking above the skyline across the river. No matter when you visit London, you are going to want to stroll down the South Bank and see the National Theatre, the Tate Modern and then devour some delicious food from Borough Market.
– The V&A Museum: As the world’s leading museum of art and design, the V&A houses a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects as well as very appealing rotating exhibits. On my last trip to London, I spent a good couple of hours just in the jewelry section where I saw pieces that track the history of jewelry in Europe from ancient times to current trends. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get last-minute tickets to the special exhibitions, so it is highly suggested that you book those as far in advance as possible. Although, there is so much to see in the permanent collection that you can’t feel like you have lucked out too badly!
– The Wallace Collection: Definitely “off-the-beaten-track” in terms of London museums, The Wallace Collection is housed in a historic home and has masterpieces such as Fragonard’s The Swing.
Food & Drink
– Albion (Clerkenwell, Shoreditch): One of my favorite places for brunch, Albion serves unfussy yet delicious seasonal British food. They have a bakery and shop, as well as two cafés. By opting to eat here, you can be assured that you will be getting the highest-quality produce.
– Bluebird Cafe (Chelsea): London is one of those places that truly comes alive in the spring and, if you are lucky enough to experience a sunny day in a city notoriously known for its rain, then you want to spend a few of those hours sitting outside at Bluebird Cafe in Chelsea. I am going to warn you, it is a scene, but one that you can happily insert yourself into for a meal. Also, this was the first place I saw Seedlip (the non-alcoholic spirit) on a bar’s menu which excited me enough to warrant going in this three-sentence review.
– Borough Market (Southwark): A must on anyone’s London itinerary, Borough Market is a much-loved collection of stalls from some of London’s best food sellers. What I love about Borough Market is the fact that everyone involved is deeply enamored with food and it shows! Read more about the most delicious stalls here.
– Brick Lane Curry: Given the amount of spicy deliciousness available in every city and the fact that a weekly Indian takeaway is a usual family pastime, it should come as no surprise that curry is England’s national dish. In London, you want to head to Brick Lane for a curry. I usually go to Cinnamon, but I am sure you can’t go wrong with any of the places in the area.
– Cay Tre (Hoxton, Soho): Vietnamese cuisine came into my conscience when I visited back in 2014 and since then I have been on a constant hunt to soothe my cravings. Luckily, my sister’s suggestion of Cay Tre Soho did the trick to keep me going for the next couple of months. We ordered about six dishes (about three times the amount of the couple sitting next to us) but we didn’t regret it because with every bite we were transported back to the sidewalks of Hanoi.
– Dishoom (Carnaby, Covent Garden, Kensington, King’s Cross, Shoreditch): Probably my favorite restaurant in London, Dishoom has various branches around the city, but I have only been to the Shoreditch location. Based on the old Irani Cafés of Bombay, the food here is exceptional and not at all like the Indian cuisine you are used to. When I took Rohan there (aka a Bombay-native), he confirmed that the menu was on-point, as were all the decorations.
– Duck & Waffle (Bishopsgate): Open 24 hours and boasting panoramic views of the city from its 40th-floor location, Duck & Waffle is a London experience you don’t want to miss. While I haven’t dined in their main dining room, I have had cocktails and appetizers in the bar, (which was so good that I can’t imagine how the full experience would be.) Definitely make a reservation if you want to experience the whole sha-bang. Next time, I want to have breakfast there as the sun is rising over London town!!
– Fortnum and Mason for afternoon tea (Piccadilly): Over New Year, we treated ourselves to a rather extravagant afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason. One of the main reasons we chose this beautiful department store is because they offer a full gluten-free version! It was that blend of fancy, yet understated that only the British can do. It isn’t cheap, but they keep refilling your plates with whatever you want, so you could easily make this your only meal of the day.
– Granger & Co. (Chelsea, Clerkenwell, King’s Cross, Notting Hill): Owned by Australian celebrity chef, Bill Granger, Granger & Co. is an Auzzie all-day eatery. What does this mean? Well, for starters, a menu that is made up of influences from Tokyo and Seoul to Sydney and Honolulu. Known for their eggs and their signature ricotta hotcakes served with a banana and honeycomb butter, each of these restaurants tends to draw quite the crowd. Their food is so fresh and clean and really delicious.
– Hally’s (Parsons Green): For the moments when you (or I) are missing California, Hally’s is the go-to spot. All the food is made using organic and ethical produce, they pride themselves on expertly-made coffee, and the space is airy, bright, and white — just like in California.
– Hjem (Kensington): By now it should come as no surprise that I am obsessed with the Scandinavian way of life, particularly all that can be found in Denmark. From their aesthetic preferences to their culture of making time for those you love, there is a lot to be learned from the northern Europeans. So, as a dedicated student, it makes sense that an oat milk cappuccino had to be consumed at Hjem in Kensington. The name is Danish for ‘home’ and that vibe has been successfully created through a beautiful blend of great coffee, organic food, and tasteful decor. Stop by here on your way to the V&A Museum!
– Local Hero (Fulham): A charming spot for weekend brunch, or weekday breakfast, at Local Hero you can get delicious egg dishes, coffees, cakes, and the like.
– Monocle Cafe (Marylebone): Monocle is one of my favorite magazines. I devour each issue and love how they combine politics, travel, and culture in such a fascinating way. When I saw they had a cafe in London, I knew I had to go. First, purchase a new book at Daunt Books, and then walk around the corner to Monocle Cafe to devour your new read over coffee.
– Oblix at The Shard London (for drinks): Located on the 32nd floor of The Shard, Oblix is an extraordinary place to enjoy a drink. Get dressed up and then sip your whiskey cocktail while looking out onto the London skyline.
– Over Under Coffee (Earl’s Court, West Brompton): West Brompton is a quiet and affluent residential neighborhood that is a great place to explore if you are looking for a glimpse into “local” London. At West Brompton Crossing, you can find a mix of independent shops and stylish eateries, including Over Under Coffee, the Spanish eatery Edu, and a modern greengrocer’s cleverly named The Hoarder. But, importantly, the coffee at Over Under was exceptional and (apparently) the food offerings at the Earl’s Court location are tasty too. If you are heading up north, they are opening one in Manchester soon!
– Sketch (Mayfair): Yes, it is where the pink gallery and egg-shaped toilets you have seen all over Instagram are; but, despite its overwhelming popularity on social media, Sketch still very much lives up to the hype. Situated in a classic townhouse in Mayfair, inside you will find a quirky emporium of dining salons, all with different themes. Grab afternoon tea in the bubblegum pink Gallery (reservation recommended) or head there later at night for a cocktail. The food is sensational but incredibly expensive, so this is a perfect spot for a special occasion. Here is my vlog from a couple of years ago.
– Sukho (Fulham): My mum, sister, and I all agree that this is the best Thai food we have ever had – even though we have all been to Thailand. The restaurant is small, but beautifully decorated, and the menu is comprised of mouth-watering dishes. Not to be overly dramatic, but I actually dream about the food here.
– Sunday Roast: An essential when in England, if you are around on a Sunday, pop into your local pub and order a Sunday Roast. Always used as an occasion to bring all the family together, the meal consists of a piece of meat (you choose between chicken, beef, or lamb and many places now offer a vegetarian option), served with roasted potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, veggies, and plenty of gravy. For a very upscale version of the traditional meal, head to The Harwood Arms in Fulham. However, while the food there was delicious, I personally still prefer what you get “down the pub.”
– Wagamama: Just in general, in England, if you are looking for something quick, cheap, and delicious, Wagamama is where you want to go. (Funny story: when we first got my dog, Dougal, 15 years ago, my sister and I wanted to call him Wagadada!)
– Columbia Road Flower Market: If you are in London on a Sunday, make your brunch plans an hour later and head to Columbia Road Flower Market. It is both a magnificent sight to see and a beautifully fragrant way to start your day. There are many lovely cafes in the area that you can pop in and out of while having a wander around.
– Daunt Books: This bookshop’s bookmarks state that it is a place “for travelers who love to read.” Yeah, I know. Swoon. Not only is their collection mesmerizing, but the building itself has stunning Edwardian architecture. Make sure to purchase a book and get one of their signature canvas totes, as once you are donning one you will begin to spot them on the arms of all of London’s literati.
– Liberty London: No stop in Soho would be complete without a visit to the glorious Liberty of London, an emporium of good taste, vibrant prints and eccentric textiles. Make sure to visit their designer vintage section upstairs – it is an absolute dream.
– Portobello Market: The world’s largest antique market, on a daily basis over 1,000 dealers display their wares at Portobello Market. Whether you want to browse vintage London postcards, fine European porcelain, artisan cheeses, or 1950s dresses, there is a good chance that you will find what you are looking for here.
– Spitalfields Market: Filled with independent traders, Spitalfields Market is the place to go for locally made, hand-crafted pieces that stand the test of time. A couple of years ago I purchased a denim jacket with billowing sleeves from a small designer at the market that to this day remains one of the most unique pieces in my closet. The market is located right by Shoreditch and Brick Lane, making it a necessary stop in your exploration of East London.
Health & Wellness
– Bootcamp Pilates Fulham: This is my go-to pilates studio in London. That sounds rather obnoxious to type, but it is the truth! And I love their classes!
– Frame Shoreditch: Located right around the corner from the “be bad until you’re good” wall art, Frame Shoreditch offers a wide variety of workout classes. At the Shoreditch location they have five studios; a hardcore fitness room ( with punch pads, TRX, treadmills, bikes, and plyometric boxes), a yoga studio, a reformer pilates studio, and two freestyle studios where they have a mixture of fitness and dance classes.
– Windsor Castle and Eton: Here is my blog post on how to day trip to Windsor Castle and Eton. It is an easy, yet worthwhile, day trip to do from the city and I would highly recommend making time for it in your itinerary.
– Oxford: While it may be a slightly longer day trip than to Windsor, visiting Oxford is a must-do when in England. As the birthplace of universities in the Western speaking world, spending a day here will open your eyes to both the history of education and the most beautiful university in the world.
– Brighton: The English seaside! Brighton is only an hour by train from London and a fantastic addition to your trip. Known for being a really funky, off-beat city, Brighton offers visitors the chance to explore a warren of alleys filled with fudge shops, boutiques, and cool cafes. The Royal Pavillion, an opulent 18th-century pleasure palace, is the city’s most famous attraction. Spend some time here before having some fun on Brighton Pier. Keep in mind; this is a destination that is a lot more pleasant during the summer months!
Where are your favorite places in London?
Let me know all your recommendations in the comments below so I can check them out next time I am there!
+ Make sure you have the essential apps for travel around Europe.
+ Consider spending some time in Manchester while you are traveling around the UK!