I had never been to London before so I was absolutely thrilled when we decided to book flights to meet our two close friends from Atlanta for two short days in London. This was my first time traveling abroad without another fellow accountant, so yes, I probably overwhelmed them with the London planning google doc. (It had restaurants, pubs, wine bars, tea spots sorted by area of London and distance + walking/driving time from the area we were staying — the type of planning my girlfriends would have loved, but are we the only weirdos that do that??)
Okay so I have to clarify what I said in my Amsterdam post about not being a museum girl — it’s not that I don’t like museums, I just don’t want to spend my entire trip only at museums. I want to take in the whole city — the buildings, the culture, the people, the food…and the history (via museums). And in London, I couldn’t get enough of them! Two short days in London were not nearly enough. I can’t wait to go back to see all of the things that I missed the first time. For now, here are my must do’s when visiting London.
Imperial War Museum
Europe has so much history, especially with the World Wars, and the Imperial War Museum does such a great job of telling the stories of the wars in an interactive and interesting way. There are six floors filled with pictures, videos, sound clips, uniforms, vehicles, etc., and you could spend hours taking in all of the information. I can honestly say that I didn’t expect to enjoy this museum as much as I did, and I’d love to go back and check out some of the floors we didn’t have a chance to see.
The National Gallery
I am not by any means an art history buff and I don’t pretend to know all about art, but I really did love the National Gallery. It was great to see the evolution of art over time and even the rooms and the ceilings themselves were beautifully designed.
Of course when I think of London, I think of the royal family, so it was no surprise that Buckingham Palace was crowded with tourists. We didn’t take a tour inside or stay to watch the Changing the Guard ceremony, but I’m sure we will end up doing both of those in the future. From the Palace, we walked through Hyde Park, which was beautiful and very very long. There is a long lake with swans, paddle boats, and restaurants. Tourists and locals were scattered around the park, enjoying the last bit of sunny summertime in London. We finally made our way to Kensington Palace, which is the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We didn’t end up touring the palace because it was such a lovely day outside and we had so much more of London to see, but I might have to add it to my list for our next trip.
You can’t not do afternoon tea (high tea as we Americans call it) when you’re in London. We had so many recommendations come in from my Instagram request and it was so hard to pick just one. We ended up doing tea at Sketch, which was every bit as fabulous as I expected it to be, based on the people who recommended it. There are multiple rooms at Sketch, and we had afternoon tea in the Gallery, where the whole room decked out in pink. Sketch Classic Afternoon Tea costs 59 pounds, and includes unlimited tea and four courses, but for a slight upcharge you can add a glass of champagne.
The first course was called Egg and Soldiers, which was a boiled egg and a spoonful of caviar. It was as amazing as it looks (see below). Then came a three-tier tray of savoury sandwiches and sweet pastries. The next course was scones with jam and clotted cream. Tea finally ended with a traditional Victoria sponge cake, but I was way too full to have any so I took mine to go.
When I got the recommendations to go to Sketch, I was also told numerous times that we had to look at the unique bathrooms…so of course we had to take a group selfie.
Other recommendations for afternoon tea include: Fortnum and Mason, Harrod’s and Hyatt Regency.
Of course I love a good market, but Borough Market completely blew me away. It had a bustling farmers market vibe, mixed with a fresh fish market vibe, mixed with a hip food truck vibe, and it will definitely be hard to top that experience. We got gorgeous huge oysters and I tried sea urchin for the first time. Then per the glowing rec from one of Timmer’s friends, we went to the Kappacasein Dairy booth for some of the most amazing grilled cheese. All in all, out of our two short days in London, this was one of my favorite stops.
London is known for its supreme and sprawling Indian food scene, so finding an Indian restaurant was on the top of our “must eat” list. Dishoom was recommended to us by so many people, so despite the wait time, we decided to try it. By the time we got there, there were two lines just to get into Dishoom. You put your name on the list inside, and at least one person from your party must be there the whole time. Then you wait in line. But don’t let the lines scare you away – they move quickly, and there are space heaters outside to keep you warm. They also walk around passing out tea and sherry while you wait.
Once inside, you wait downstairs at the bar. The bar is swanky, the bartenders are fun, and the cocktails are delicious. We had enough time for one quick drink and then headed back upstairs once our table was ready. Since there was four of us, we just split a bunch of items off the menu. I loved everything I ate, but my favorites: masala prawns and the house black daal.
On our second night in London, Dale mentioned he wanted to go to an old English wine bar for dinner. Lucky for him, I had done my google doc research and knew just the place! The Noble Rot has won multiple awards for its wine list, and it did not disappoint our local wine snob (Timmer). The food was delicious, our waiter was so nice, and the ambiance was exactly what Dale was hoping for. I highly recommend this place for dinner. You can make reservations here.
Obviously if you go to London, you have to go to an English pub. There’s practically one on every corner, so you can’t go wrong. We went to The Wellington in Covent Garden on our first night in town to have a pint of their well-kept cask ale. It was a super cute, traditional pub, but let’s just say cask ale isn’t really my thing. The next day while wandering through Chelsea, we went into Chelsea Potter. This was exactly the kind of pub I had been looking for – big windows, outdoor seating, sunny, trendy, chic, great people watching. The food looks good and the drinks were refreshing.
In addition to finding prime spots for people watching, you have to find a swanky place to get a cocktail in every city you visit. We went to two. One night we went to the Beaufort Bar at The Savoy. I liked it – it was dark, intimate, and dramatic. The drinks are definitely overpriced, but mine came with an Acmella oleracea, also known as the “electric flower” and I still can’t forget the sensation I had in my mouth for at least 10 minutes after trying it. Most people end up at the American Bar at The Savoy, but I’m glad we went to Beaufort! We also went to Radio Rooftop, and you know I can never pass up a good rooftop bar. This one was perfect – and it’s where we found out Timmer passed his boards! I do recommend making reservations for the rooftop if you want to snag a good spot outside.
Of course I can’t write a recommendation list without recommending that you just walk around and wander the city. That’s how you stumble across the trouvailles afterall. London is comprised of so many areas, and we walked through as many as we could. My favorites were Notting Hill, Covent Garden, and Neal’s Yard, but there are still so many areas I need to explore.
Bucket List for Next Time
I don’t know exactly when our next trip to London will be, but I know we will definitely plan another one during our stint over here. Two short days was not nearly enough! We walked past Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, but I’d really like to go inside Westminster Abbey next time. We also crossed over the Tower Bridge and the London Bridge, and we walked around the Tower of London, but I want to go inside the Tower of London next time as well (see, more museums).
Duck and Waffle was highly recommended by so many people, but we didn’t get a chance to stop there on this trip, and I think I’d like to make my way over to Harrod’s. Other Instagram-worthy spots that I found are The Sky Garden, Gloria, Churchill Arms.