travel in style: london

Friends, I’ve been so excited to put this list together for you! The truth is, London is one of my very favorite cities in the world – I’ve visited a few times, and was lucky enough to live there once upon a time. It just never loses its luster. So, when I give you a list of my very favorite things to do in London, I know of what I speak.

london skyline, london view, four seasons park lane, london eye

{Amazing skyline view from the Four Seasons Park Lane}

Stay. I’ll cut right to it: If you’re after the most walkable, central location, you want Bloomsbury. An ambitious person can walk to just about every major site in central London from there – Oxford Circus, Covent Garden, Houses of Parliament, British Museum, you name it. So much of the magic in London is uncovered while walking around, so it’s worth staying somewhere that makes that possible. This time, I stayed at the Bloomsbury Hotel, and it was divine. The rooms were huge (which is saying something once you cross the pond), the location was fantastic, and the concierge team was maybe the best I’ve ever encountered.

  • Concierge. A good concierge is worth their weight in gold, and truly, that was my favorite thing about the Bloomsbury. Put these guys to work – they want to help! I emailed them in advance, and they helped me book theater tickets, restaurant reservations, get advance tickets to popular tourist spots, and even organized a car service from the airport.

Shop. I’ve already told you about the shopping (here and here), but because it’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, I thought I’d give you a short list. In general, remember you’re not getting any steals in London – the pound is your enemy, I’m sorry to say. So, you’re looking for uniquely Brit experiences, and souvenirs you can’t get stateside. My must-stops:

  • Liberty of London. If you do nothing else, do this. Liberty is just an amazing store to wander, and utterly unlike any other place on earth. Disneyland for fashionistas, I tell you. Liberty-print goods, sure, but curiosities, one-of-a-kind antique finds…it’s a wonderland.
  • Harrods. Ogle the Egyptian Escalator, and stock up on souvenirs in the Food Halls (though if you’re flying out of Heathrow, wait to buy the tourist tins of cookies until you hit the airport – Harrods has a great setup in LHR, and it’s duty-free!).
  • Portobello Road. Saturday mornings only, and please go early – I cannot express to you what a zoo it is by 11 am. Start around 8:30, and have your cab drop you at the corner of Westbourne Grove & Portobello Road. You can wander down one side and up the other (be sure to wander into the stalls tucked away off the street – they’re the old-school vendors with the best wares. When you’re done, walk up Westbourne Grove, where you’ll find a row of some of my favorite London shops all in one spot – Whistles, Twenty8Twelve, sandro, maje…it’s a long list. When you’ve shopped yourself silly, just hail a cab or head to the Notting Hill Gate tube stop. (P.S. Be sure to ask Portobello vendors if their products are antiques or replicas. Just because it’s charming doesn’t mean it’s authentic.)
  • Boots. Turns out, there’s a great Boots outpost in the duty-free section of Heathrow, so feel free to save some of your stocking up until you hit the gates (it’ll also get you out of any issues with liquid carry-on maximums). Ditto for all of the British fashion mags you’ll want, and a year’s supply of Cadbury Heroes. But it’s worth hitting one of the stores in the city just to browse – I love to stock up on Avene skincare and a few only-in-Europe medicines (Blackcurrant Strepsils and Germolene, which is incredible on burns and paper cuts).
  • Skip most of the fast-fashion high street shops (Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, etc), since they’re all online now anyway.

london food, london travel, london restaurants, high tea in london

{Nigella-seed lavosh at Nopi / Tea at the Four Seasons}

Eat. Whatever you might have heard, London has amazing food. World-class chefs, innovative international cuisine – London is the original melting pot. Here’s what I know.

  • Splurge at Ottolenghi, (or its “fancy” big sister, Nopi) – that nigella-seeded lavosh was maybe the best thing I ate all week. Also, Arbutus for a modern take on classic British fare.
  • Save on some of the best Indian food outside of India, which you can find all over London. Ditto for their excellent Thai food. And yes, fish and chips – find a pub as far away from any tourist haunts as you possibly can. Rule of thumb: the closer you are to a museum, the worse the pub food. Try some of the odd stuff – prawn crisps, Scotch eggs, mushy peas, a “full” English breakfast – but steer clear of black pudding.
  • Tea is an absolute must, of course. I’ve always been partial to high tea at The Orangery at Kensington Palace because, well, you’re having tea at a palace! But it’s jam-packed with tourists, so be prepared for hustle, bustle, lines and lots of Americans. If you want a more modern, luxe experience that’s relaxing and truly decadent, you want the Amaranto Lounge at the Four Seasons. The space is gorgeous, the food is ridiculously delicious (vastly better than most high teas), and the service is extraordinary. You’ll feel posher than any Spice Girl, I promise you.

london scenery, london travel, london sights, red telephone booth, london doorway

{A few classic London sights}

Do. I could list things to do in London for days, but…

  • Top Six. If you’re looking for that list of things you just cannot miss: Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, Cortauld Gallery/Somerset House, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the palace of your choice (Kensington or Buckingham). Beyond this, you have to tailor the trip to what you love. If you’re a modern art fan, the Tate Modern is a must. If you’re into Shakespeare, you have to see the Globe replica. If you’re a history freak, the British Museum is amazing. Don’t let anyone (even me) tell you what you can’t miss!
  • Theatre. New Yorkers will hate me for it, but the London theatre scene is the best. Prices can be painful, but look online for discounts (a Time Out card is a great thing to have), or just accept the fact that you’re on vacation. There’s a half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square (make sure you go to the real one, not the rip-off version that’s dangerously nearby -ask for help!). Me, I’m partial to musicals. But major stars love to strut their stuff in London – just now, James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave are doing Shakespeare, and last time I visited, Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz were in a show together. Search those gems out – it’s well worth it.
  • Spa. I know. You’re thinking, “Why would I go to a spa when there’s so much to do?!”. But on your last day, when you’re shopped out and you can’t walk another step because your feet are killing you, do yourself a favor and book a massage at the Four Seasons Park Lane, quite possibly my favorite experience on my last trip. It’s an extraordinary spa – they even have post-massage nap rooms! And take a camera – the spa is on the top floor of the hotel, and every treatment room has a view you wouldn’t believe.

What do you say, friends? Ready to pack your bags? I hope this list is helpful, whether you have a trip planned or are just wishing you did. Oh, and pleasepleaseplease, if you have tips to share, leave them in the comments. When I travel, I want nothing more than suggestions from people I actually trust. Let’s crowd-source this bad boy!

{All photos by yours truly!}

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7 comments on “travel in style: london

  1. Melissa W.

    Black pudding can be all right… I scoffed but then enjoyed it topped with egg and truffle at Eataly in NYC once.

  2. Harmony

    I was just in London a little over a week ago! It was really fun, but I had one of the most expensive and terrible massages of my life. I am totally going to Four Seasons next time, the nap room is such a perfect idea, and there’s a view for when your eyes are open! Great recommendation!

    My only tip: After many hours are spent in Liberty, go around the corner to Sketch for a drink and a bite to eat!

  3. shoppingsmycardio Post author

    Harmony: Sketch looks amazing! Definitely adding that to my list for my next trip to London. And you absolutely have to try the Four Seasons next time – there’s just nothing like it.

  4. farha bano

    I may have 24 hours in London when in Paris this January!

    I always try to get to the Berkeley for lunch or Tayabs for dinner.
    But on my most recent trip became obsessed with Princi for Pizza.

    BTW, Liberty, Whistles and Boots are always on my list too!
    And I agree about skipping most of Harrods for the foodhall.
    I also really love Poste Mistress in 7Dials for shoes!

    If you could have just one day in London what would you do?

  5. shoppingsmycardio Post author

    Farha: Oh, fun question! Do I have an unlimited budget for this adventure? Portobello Road, Liberty, lunch at Duck & Waffle, high tea, an afternoon stroll in Hyde Park (or at the V&A if the weather’s bad) and dinner at Nopi. Ooh, and maybe a play.

    Have a wonderful trip!

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