When I think of London this song starts playing in my head.
A few years back, Michael and I were shopping in a thrift store in Athens when we stumbled across the most fantastic old album, "Ella & Louis," just sitting there on the shelf. It was in the box with a bunch of old junk albums, and I remember they were selling this gem for only $5. That kind of a thrift store find will make you the most excited you've ever been. I bought it right away.
Now I've probably listened to it around 300 times all the way through, and have played it for every guest who has ever walked into our house in the past 3 years. Even before I learned all the words and nuances, I knew it would be my favorite album of all time.
Track 7, "A Foggy Day," was always one that made me smile because it has this sweet, jazzy melody, plus it talks about travel and falling in love. When we were in London a few weeks ago I couldn't help myself; I walked around the streets singing this song out loud. Sometimes when you've been waiting for years to be in London, and then you finally are there walking over the Tower Bridge you just have to sing your favorite London-themed song, out loud, shamelessly.
England is the type of place that has this beautifully dreary weather. Like the feeling you get when it starts storming outside so you decide to cuddle up with a warm cup of coffee (or tea in this case) and a great book. Yes, that's just it. It makes you think of great books and Hugh Grant movies and cuddly, rainy days.
We had a beautiful two days there.
If you ever find yourself in London, I'd suggest:
Michael and I completely fell in love with The Culpeper. I have this thing for rooftop bars, and theirs is the most romantic I've ever seen. The main bar downstairs is a perfect place to sit down and people watch while you sip one of their Rosemary Sazeracs or a beer from one of their local breweries (Brixton was my favorite that I tasted). The bartenders know their drinks, and we had a blast chatting with them about their favorite ones to make. Everything about this place was charming and wonderful, including their phenomenal English breakfast. We were on cloud 9 the whole time.
I'll never forget the Fox & Anchor, mostly because of the giant copper tub, the rain shower, and the balcony in their Market Suite. It was worth every penny after a long day of travel, losing our bags, and wearing the same outfit for 3 days. The staff was lovely, and the food + coffee was the best we had in London. Decompressing there with a cup of tea and a bubble bath made my trip.
2) Make an appointment for afternoon tea
There are lots of different places that you can have tea in London (The Ritz Carlton is probably the most famous for their traditional afternoon tea), but Michael and I chose to try out a newer spot called Sketch. It was incredible. If you want to do something bougie, this should be your first stop.
This place, and whole tradition, is a high class situation. We walked in and they made us feel like royalty, even though we were wearing backpacks and tennis shoes. The tea comes first, and for most afternoon tea appointments you can upgrade to a Champagne tea. So we did, obviously. They served us a glass of rose, a pot of tea, and a beautiful 3-tier arrangement of finger sandwiches and desserts. We were trying not to laugh because it was all so cute and teeny and ridiculous. One of our desserts had gold flakes on it. I'm assuming they were real, but I guess we'll never know.
3) Visit Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station
I guess those of you who aren't Harry Potter fans won't really get into this one, but you especially won't be into the long, winding line and the crazy crowds to have your picture made with the buggy, Hedwig and Platform 9 3/4. But Michael and I learned a secret: around 10-11 PM the gift shop is closed and there's no line. If you're a HP fan like me, it was worth jumping off the Underground a few stops early, walking back into Kings Cross Station, and taking a picture here.
They actually had some really interesting art prints inside the gift shop, as well as Olivander's wand shop. You could even get your own personalized, wax sealed acceptance letter to Hogwarts. So needless to say you can go all out if you are ready to brave the crowds.
4) Walk Brick Lane & Eat lots of Curry
Brick Lane is a famous street in London that's overflowing with vintage stores and delicious Curry Houses. We were staying walking-distance from that area at The Culpeper, and Michael and I LOVE curry dishes. So we decided to wander the street until we saw something tasty that we wanted to try. Our first stop was an Indian place called Sheba. You can't miss it with its neon sign and banners, and it's so delicious!
Ps, the guy in the picture below was our waiter and he was very knowledgable. He helped us find some traditional and delicious chicken dish to share (I don't remember what it was called, but it was #45...)
We also stumbled into a few adorable vintage stores and Kahaila Coffee for a pick-me-up. They were serving some incredible cakes, gorgeous homemade sandwiches, teas and coffee. Give yourself some time to explore this eclectic part of the city, we had a blast.
We took a little excursion away from Brick Lane to try another recommended curry house, Churchill Arms over in Notting Hill. The restaurant is hidden in the back of the bar, and they serve the best Thai food I've ever tasted. This was probably the highlight of our day in London, you have to go! Even if you're not into Thai food, the pub itself is one of the most charming places that you'll find in London. Walk all the way through to the back on the right side and you'll see the restaurant, or grab a seat in the front and get a full pour of Guinness. Michael and I split the Green Curry and the Panang Chicken Curry (YUM), followed by a few local beers.
A little perk to being in this part of town is the fact that you're walking distance to Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, and Notting Hill. Spend the afternoon and night in this area for a lovely day.
5) Ride the Underground AND THE Overground
The underground system in London is so helpful & convenient. I would definitely suggest getting an Oyster card and using it to get around the city. One perk is that the Oyster card will get you access to the London Underground as well as the London Overground. Be sure to pick a scenic route and take the overground at least once, because it's a red double decker bus. Michael and I jumped on near Harrods and took it all the way to Notting Hill before we ate at Churchill Arms. I'd go all the way up the stairs and sit up top.
6) Go to Harrods
Harrods is a famous London department store with multiple floors of everything you can imagine. It looks like a palace, and once you walk in the doors, you could probably spend 4 hours in there without even blinking. They have everything from a tea room to an ice cream parlor and several restaurants (plus a market that reminds me of a Whole Foods), to a wine cellar and a fine jewelry store, and your typical shopping for clothes, etc. So needless to say, if you like to shop, set aside an entire afternoon to spend in Harrods. But even if you don't like to shop I'd suggest at least going to see it.
7) Go to Borough Market + Take the Jubilee Walkway
Michael and I only had a day and a half to see London, so as an alternative to spending several hours touring the historical sights, we decided to take the Jubilee Walkway around the city. It is about a 15 mile path that takes you right by a lot of the famous sights in London. I think we wound up walking about 10-11 of those, so it was a long day but it was definitely worth it.
We started at Borough Market, which was one of my favorite places we went in London. It's an open air market full of interesting booths, all different types of food, and it's brimming with art. You really need to go here for a meal and shopping, it's fantastic.
Then we moved on to the rest of the walkway, which included famous favorites like The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, a walk along the Thames River, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, the London Eye, Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament. There were lots of photo ops, and selfies along the way. Then we walked through the beautiful, lush-green St. James Park, and we ended our tour at Buckingham Palace.
Be sure to check the forecast before you leave for the day because London tends to be rainy. It sprinkled on and off during our day there, so I kept my raincoat handy.
8) Order a cask ale & talk to people
(Preferably in the outfits shown below)
Michael and I both love beer, so we had a blast tasting the different varieties. In the US we are very used to "iced cold beer", but the Brits like it room temperature from the cask. We tried a little bit of everything from their famous cask ales, to cold IPAs, to Guinness on draft. We found that we still prefer a cold IPA, but maybe we're biased.
One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting new people and getting a chance to hear bits and pieces of their life story. The adorable men in the picture above were a couple of old friends who were sitting next to me for breakfast (11am) at the Fox & Anchor. I was eating eggs and they were having a pint. I fell in love with them for wearing plaid and drinking a mug of beer at 11 am, so I started chatting with them and before long we became friends.
I learned that they lived next door in a restored historical building called The Charter House, which is a community for older men, but has previously been all sorts of different, interesting things (a monastery, a church, a school, an almshouse). They were wonderful and offered to give us a guided tour of the place. It's the little things like this that make me love the world and forget for a moment that bad things happen. The house and the tour were lovely.
I fell in love with London after only a few hours, but my first moments there were a bit emotional.
It is the kind of city that will swallow you whole if you aren't prepared. Michael and I traveled from quaint and charming Edinburgh straight to bustling, impersonal-seeming London. There's a New York-ish hustle to it that can create a stress attack in someone like me. But there's a special duality about London that will continue to bring me back for years to come.
On one hand, you can simply sit like a fly on the wall and observe the madness over some coffee. But on the other hand there's an opportunity to strike up genuine conversations with the most charming people.
It's little things, like the conversation on the bus that led us to an interesting new dinner spot, or the stories from the taxi driver who had lived in London for over 20 years. I love seeing the personal little stories unfold within the grand scheme of the city.
I realized quickly that London is one of the most lovable places I've been, and it is so personal with all its quirks. But sometimes you won't end up discovering that side of it until you're sitting with a new friend over a pint or a cup of tea.