Ever since I became obsessed with One Direction (pre-ordered their album all the way from the U.K. and met them at J&R music store in 2012…yep), I have been wanting to take a trip to London. When One Direction broke up, my wish to go to London did not fade.
With only four and a half days in London, I knew I needed to spend my time wisely. When discovering a new city, I prefer to walk and explore the different neighborhood vibes, local cafes, and historical sites rather than be stuck on line for tourist attractions all day.
I didn’t want to go to London and just see Big Ben, I wanted to find good food, cute cafes, and adorable shops – and I’d like to say we did just that! Although it continuously rained for 4 out of the 5 days, which is rather unusual for nonstop rain in London, we were able to cover a lot of ground. I went with my godmother for a girls trip, and we were able to create memories that will last forever!
Landing early Friday morning, we decided to take the Express train from Heathrow Airport to Paddington Station, and then a cab from Paddington Station to our hotel. Since our hotel was central, located in Piccadilly Circus, we realized that it would be more time efficient and cost effective if we did a combo of the express train (which is only 15 minutes – 1 stop!) and black cab.
When in London, the tube is extremely convenient. At each station, there are employees both at the assistance booth but where you scan your card. I recommend asking them to explain to you how to properly load your Oyster card (the card you need to tap to get in and out of each train station), how to refill the card, which specific machines to use, and how to get a refund of the balance left on your card when the trip is over.
Once we got to our hotel, we were able to store our luggage, change quickly and head back out. Having tea reservations at sketch tea parlor, we walked around Trafalgar Square and popped into the National Gallery where we saw Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, and other impressionist painters.
Sketch has been on my list for the longest and I was SO excited to go! The velvet pink couches, the garden room, the egg-shaped bathrooms, the interesting twist on tea … should I go on? Started by French chefs, sketch was created to deliver a different twist on traditional high tea. What was interesting is that before sketch inhabited the space, the building was the headquarters of the Suffragette movement in 1869, the headquarters for the Royal Institute of British Architects between 1887 and 1934, and Christian Dior’s first atelier in London in 1961. If you are looking for a traditional afternoon tea this is not the place, but it is such a fun experience. The ambiance was everything!
After wandering the streets, popping our head into a few stores (Liberty London, which has a beautiful white and black old school exterior and stunning interior is a must), and freshening up at the hotel, we went to the British Museum. There, we were able to see the Rosetta Stone, the stolen Elgin marbles, and mummies. We ended the night with some fish and chips down the block.
Still rainy, we traveled to Camden Market to wander around the food stalls and vendors selling a variety of things. Although very lovely, it was a bit too touristy for me – with items being sold that I could find in New York City markets. If the weather wasn’t so yucky, we were planning to take one of the boats to Little Italy and have lunch there.
After, we took the tube to Waterloo and walked along the Southbank, where the London Eye is. Although we did not go on because the lines were far too long and the sky was too gloomy, we were able to see Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster, and Westminster Abbey. To get a better view, we walked over the London Bridge. Continuing our walk, we walked to Buckingham Palace. An interesting fun fact is that each gate is named after a different commonwealth.
Walking through Green Park and back up to Piccadilly, we had an afternoon tea reservation at Fortnum & Mason. With their classic light blue dishes, and white table clothes, Fortnum & Mason is more of a traditional afternoon high tea. You might not think it, but little cakes, pastries, and scones are filling! They even sang an early happy birthday to me!
To end the night, we went to see the longest running plays and best kept secret in London – Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap. To keep the ending of the play a secret, they ask each person that sees it to not reveal the ending to anyone! On the way to London when passing through security, one of the agents told us that he had seen it three times over the last forty years, and every time the ending has surprised him.
On Sunday I woke up early to avoid the crowds and wandered to Covent Garden. I grabbed brunch with a friend who lives in town at the Ivy Market Grill, a lovely restaurant that is in the center of Covent Garden. After meeting up with my godmother again, we took the tube to Notting Hill, which had the most colorful houses! Beautiful bright colors, adorable cafes, and the Portobello Road Market kept us busy for a few hours. We had lunch at Farm Girl Café, which is known for its beautiful garden, healthy options, and interesting drinks. Make sure when you go to head up the stairs in the garden to Sister Jane, a store which sells dreamy clothing. After walking around town and heading to see the famous Churchill Arms pub, we jumped on a double decker bus to visit Harrod’s!
Harrod’s alone is worth it to look at the intricate Egyptian themed interior. Everything down to the escalators is beautifully done with bright colors, stained glass, and gold detailing. Make sure to visit the Food Hall, which serves as the inspiration for many food halls around the world.
Having not had enough bright colored homes, we then jumped on the tube to Neal’s Yard to admire the famous colorful street which was lined with cafes, food options, and wellness options.
That night, we had the tea of all teas – tea at the Ritz! It was everything you could imagine and more, beautiful service, a stunning interior, and everything was handled with so much detail. It truly was such an experience!
On Monday I decided I wanted to explore a bit outside of what we have already seen. After doing some tea and honey shopping at Fortnum & Mason, I decided to walk up to Mortimer Street to visit GlowBar London, a café/wellness company to grab a matcha and walk around town. Nearby Glow Bar, there was a chic option to get your nails done, a cycle/barre studio, a Ted Baker barber, and more adorable shops that lined the streets.
I was then on the hunt for shops that were decorated with flowers. I loved spotting them the first few days when wandering, but I knew from Instagram that there were some ornate flower displays in Belgravia. I took the tube to Belgravia and admired the beautiful mansions, private mews, and beautiful flower adorned store fronts. Make sure to stop and look at the beautiful homes by Eaton Square.
Heading back to Neal’s Yard, I met my godmother and we had lunch at Wild Flower Café. Overlooking Neal’s Yard, their plant-based menu changes constantly. My favorite part was their playlist! They played everything from Buy U A Drank by T-Pain, to Crazy in Love by Beyoncé, to No Scrubs by TLC.
That night, we ventured out to Tower Bridge. A bridge people normally confuse as “the London Bridge” it truly is amazing seeing the various views of London. To the right was the Tower of London, the ancient fortress of London. The central turreted White Tower was built by William the Conqueror and finished in 1078. There, several Queens of England have been imprisoned awaiting execution, and it currently is home to the Crowned Jewels. Seeing the bridge all lit up, in the rain, and a double decker bus pass was such a London moment!
We walked along the Thames River, admiring the various bridges, passing Shakespeare’s Globe, Borough Market, the Tate Modern and more. We had dinner at the OXO Tower, a complex which includes restaurants, cafes, bars, and galleries, where we ate at the OXO Tower Brasserie. Heading home, we saw the coolest skatepark along Southbank Centre with interesting graffiti.
On our last day, we wanted to re-explore some parts that we couldn’t fully enjoy in the rain. Walking up and down New Bond and Old Bond Street, we wandered over to Oxford Circus where we had coffee at EL&N Café, which had the most stunning flower arrangements inside and outside.
To finish, we strolled along Regent Street heading into a few arcades to look at the stores there taking one last look!
Although London felt like New York in many ways, it had a quaint and lovely charm to it. I fell in love with the flower displays everywhere, the history, and the small side streets. I already can’t wait to go back! Check out my London Food Guide for more details of some places that we ate at!