You might remember some of our favorite Mini-Moon and Honeymoon destinations: Paris, the Amalfi Coast, Santa Barbara and Jackson Hole (just to name a few!). Well, we’re excited to share one of our most beloved spots across the pond with you today—London! Whether you’re making a quick pit stop in London on the way to your honeymoon or plan to stay for a while, we’ve got you covered with all things to see, eat and do. Thanks to photographer Madeline & Eleanor for the travel tips!
Photography by Laura Monfredini
London is one of my most favorite cities – I’ve been a number of times, and each time there’s something new to see and do. It will also always hold a special place in my heart as it was the scene of the last big trip I took before I met my husband. Recently, we were talking about where to go on vacation, and London came to mind as an easy spot for us since we’ve both been before. We decided to go and skip the landmarks (insert Picadilly Circus, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, The Royal Parliament etc… ), and instead explore the neighborhoods. We also went over New Years, so the days were short and it was rainy a lot of the time. One of the best parts of London is that there’s plenty to do inside, and it’s just spectacular any time of year. There’s a storybook quality to the city that makes it hard to believe it’s real.
For Staying: My advice is to rent a flat. Hotel rooms in London are really expensive, and you can get a much more local feeling in a flat. We rented one this last trip in Hampstead Heath through the booking agency One Fine Stay and had a lovely experience. The neighborhood was about a 30 minute car ride to the center of the city, and it felt like it was a world away. The main street had a very “Ye Old England” feeling to it – cobblestone streets and old brick buildings were hallmarks of the area. It felt like we were going home at night to the countryside, which we loved.
For Tea: Every blog I read has an opinion on tea, and I’ve had tea in some of the more traditional hotel spots. While you can’t go wrong with anything really, my recommendation is to make yourself a reservation at Sketch London. It’s a modern/60s looking tea room with tons of David Shrigley illustrations and a bathroom not to miss (seriously). The atmosphere is modern and hip, but the tea is traditional and perfect. And comes with unlimited tea sandwiches (unlimited tea sandwiches are the best). If you’re worried about the overwhelming pink interior, even my husband ended up loving it. It feels very Mad Men and sophisticated, and there’s just enough cheeky humor to keep it from being at all childish.
For Theater: London is the place to go to see theater. There are a zillion major shows playing in the West End, and you can score discounted tickets in Leicester’s Square if you’re up for anything. We really wanted to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is currently the Hamilton of London, so we paid through the nose on the secondary market. It was totally worth it if you’re a Harry Potter fan. We also loved seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company perform. They were doing Much Ado About Nothing while we were there, and it was performed to perfection.
For Shopping: If you’re a shopper, London is the place to go. There’s the classics like Harrods and Selfridges and Marks and Spencer on the department store front, which are really fun to see if you’ve never been. Personally, I find Harrods a little overwhelming during their holiday sale, and I’d try to go when it’s an off hour. If you visit London over the holidays, the Borough Market is something to see – they have all the traditional Dickens-style Christmas foods like mince pies for sampling. If you’re looking for brands you know mixed with big English brands, get thee to Oxford street, which is where you’ll find every major store you can imagine. This is also really close to Sketch Tea Room, should you happen to be going there. Personally, I like smaller shops and markets, so I love walking around Notting Hill – there’s a Farrow and Ball shop there (someday I’ll use their paint in my house), a Smythson of Bond Street (to obsess over pretty stationery) and LK Bennett (the preferred brand of Princess Kate, or so the internet tells me). They also have an antiques market on Sundays on Portabello Road, which is totally special. It gets crowded, but it lasts into the afternoon, and I don’t think you need to rush over to get the goods – I’ve always had luck later in the day.
For Exploring: Our favorite thing to do is to just pick a neighborhood we haven’t been to before and just walk around, and London is the perfect place for this. Our first stop was East London. We started in South Hackney on Lauriston Road near Victoria Park, and had lunch at a chips shop called the Fish House. The Fish House is a casual spot that has quick eat-in dining and a sit-down restaurant. We sat in a window and watched the world go by. There’s also a craft beer and wine shop called Bottle Apostle there, and a snout to tail butcher shop that’s fun to check out. We then walked down to Victoria Park Road along the Regent’s Canal into Hackney proper. There we stopped in a art bookstore called Donlon Books. There were also tons of little places to stop for a bite to eat or drink. Another fun area to explore is Clerkenwell. This is one of the city’s design districts, and there are some good restaurants near there, including a branch of Polpo, St. John, and The Modern. It’s also very close to Smithfield Market, which is one of the big Saturday Markets. But hands down, my favorite day of exploration was when we went to Notting Hill for their antiques market on Portobello Road. In my more romantic day dreams, I had always pictured walking about a market like this one with the love of my life and stopping to pick out a pretty ring. I shared this little fantasy with my husband, and to my delight, he was into the idea. We stopped at a stall selling antique Edwardian rings, and I found a delicate and perfect stacking ring and we bought it together. I got to live my fantasy, which made that day perfect. And the best part? Antique rings there are really reasonable – mine was only $200! Notting Hill is a really pretty place to explore. There are high end shops, and tons of pastel buildings. Hugh Grant knew what he was doing.
For Eating: London is interesting in that it embraces “local chain” restaurants and chefs in a way that would never fly in San Francisco where I live. Here, even if a restaurant group owns a few restaurants, they will all have different names and concepts. There, if it’s successful, they put it in a few neighborhoods. We loved Ottolenghi’s places – we cook out of his books all the time and it was a treat to eat at the original spots, Dishoom for Indian was fantastic – note that they don’t take dinner reservations and lines can stretch for hours, but they do take lunch into “linner” – grab a 4:30 spot and enjoy a long pre-theater meal, Polpo was a wonderful casual Italian spot. We stayed in Hampstead Heath, and also loved The Wells, a charming gastropub in the neighborhood. I have to say, food in London has gotten really good and a far cry from what it used to be.
For Cocktails: overall, we think London has a different palate than we do on the cocktail scene – their drinks are all a lot sweeter than I’m used to, so I don’t have a recommendation for a great drink, but for a wonderful atmosphere, The Connaght Hotel was the epitome of old London.
Did we miss any of your favorite London spots? Let us know in the comments below!