“The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet professional, sacred yet profane.” -Stephen Fry.
If it was possible to marry a city, I would absolutely put a ring on London. Maybe it’s the tea, or the accents, or the charming markets and cafes — but something about being here just feels like home to me, in a way no other place can. And if you’re lucky enough to be spending a few days or weeks or months in London, these are some of the spots I’d recommend exploring…
Borough Market: Please, please, please do not let recent, horrific events keep you from this gem. Borough Market, just off of London Bridge, has a little bit of everything. The greatest creme-filled doughnuts in the whole entire world. A killer tapas bar (Brindisa). Earl Grey macarons. Pheasant pâté. Watermelon juice and fresh ciders and wine flights (Bedales of Borough). Stroll through, sample it all. 8 Southwark Street.
Camden Market: To me, Camden almost feels like the Bushwick of London. It’s younger, and a bit edgy (or dodgy), but it’s a freaking good time. And Camden Market‘s the crown jewel. If you want to taste every kind of cuisine imaginable, and possibly purchase a bedazzled bomber jacket with Miley Cyrus’s face printed across the back, this is your spot. Camden Lock Place.
Brick Lane Market: Brick Lane is known for its Indian food, and understandably so. If you’re craving great curry, you’ll have no trouble finding it on this East London street. That said, you’ll also find handmade jewelry, lively musicians and other bric-a-brac goodies (or should I say Brick-a-brac… get it… because Brick Lane…). Brick Lane, East London.
Portobello Road Market: Tucked between the pastel-colored houses of Notting Hill, Portobello Road is definitely not the most affordable market, but it might just be the most charming. If you’re looking for an antique tea set, some gorgeous old-school copies of British literature, or a vintage frock, this is the place (and don’t worry, they’ve got plenty of food as well!). Portobello Road, Notting Hill.
Drinks & Dancing.
Evans & Peel Detective Agency: A speakeasy, under the guise of a detective agency, with jazz music and seasoned popcorn and cocktails in teacups. Be sure to book an appointment in advance (via email), and have a ‘mystery’ ready for the detectives to solve! 310c Earls Ct Rd, Kensington.
Jak’s King’s Road: Arguably my favorite spot in the city. Great food. Great drinks (try the Passion Fruit Whiskey Smash). Plush sofas. Dancing (dancing)! Oh, and a shockingly attractive crowd. 533 King’s Rd, Chelsea.
The Book Club: Delicious cocktails, very chill atmosphere and fun events (from disco parties to poetry nights). It’s also said to be one of the best bars for singles to mingle in London, so… 100-106 Leonard St, Shoreditch.
Brewdog / Underdog: Half classic brewery, half speakeasy – Brewdog’s got a little something for everyone. The beer’s great, and the cocktails at Underdog (the aptly named speakeasy) are phenomenal. To get in, just head downstairs and push the door to your right. 51-55 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch.+
Simmons Bar: A five-hour Happy Hour (Sunday – Friday) and cocktails in tea pots – what more could you ask for? They’ve got bars all over the city, but my favorite’s in Soho. 2 Bateman St, Soho.+
Cirque le Soir*: Cirque is on the pricier, harder-to-get-into end of the spectrum of London night clubs… which is, unfortunately, why I’ve never been able to make it here myself. Though from what I’ve heard from friends, it’s worth the hassle (and the flirting with promoters). Think circus meets burlesque… plus, there’s a ball pit? And snake charmers?? If Chuck Bass opened a club in London, I imagine it would be a lot like this. 15-21 Ganton Street.
Mahiki*: Also on the pricier, harder-to-get-into end of the spectrum. However, both Kate Middleton and Henry Cavill have partied here, and they serve drinks in tiki cups and treasure chests… so maybe grant yourself one Mahiki Monday while in London. 1 Dover St, Mayfair.
Cahoots: An underground bar off of Carnaby Street that takes you back to the Roaring Twenties. The drinks are killer, the popcorn’s shockingly delicious, and the staff is top-notch. Be sure to make a reservation in advance (or try asking for “The Captain” to see if you can skip the line).
*Note: Heels are a must.
Tea, Treats & (More) Eats.
The Orangery: A gorgeous tea and dining room in the gardens of Kensington Palace. Head here if you’re looking to have a rather royal high tea experience. Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens.
Peggy Porschen Cakes: Every fashion blogger’s favorite pink bakery, with some of the cutest cupcakes in London. 116 Ebury St, Belgravia.
sketch: …aaaand every fashion blogger’s favorite pink tea room. It’s a bit pricey, but if you’re looking to indulge in a trendy – and very Instagrammable – afternoon tea, sketch can’t be beat. 9 Conduit Street.
Hummingbird Bakery: The best cream cheese frosting in the whole damn city (maybe even the whole country?), with locations throughout London. Stop by their shop on Portobello Road for a sugar fix after exploring the market. 133 Portobello Rd, Notting Hill.+
Oddono’s: An adorable little ice cream parlor in South Kensington, serving Italian-style gelato and sorbet. Even Gordon Ramsey’s a fan. 14 Bute St, Kensington.
Ottolenghi: This deli-meets-restaurant-meets-bakery is perfect for brunches, lunches, or a pastry on the go. I’ve only visited their Notting Hill location, but Ottolenghi’s also got shops in Islington, Belgravia, and Spitalfields. And if you’re looking for a more upscale dining experience, try NOPI , the owners’ restaurant in Soho. 63 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill.+
The Diner: Hard milkshakes. Oreo pancakes. Supremely loaded fries. The Brits might just do American cuisine better than we do. 105 Gloucester Road.
Dishoom: Perhaps the best-known Indian restaurant in the United Kingdom… Admittedly, I was never able to snag a reservation here, but I’ve heard nothing but stellar reviews. This bombay cafe’s got locations at King’s Cross, Carnaby, Shoreditch and Covent Garden. 5 Stable St, Kings Cross.+
Souk Medina: Amazing north African cuisine, lovely service and a very cozy and comfortable atmosphere in Covent Garden. Plus, their set menus are half-price on Monday nights. 1A Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden.
Da Mario: An Italian restaurant in Kensington, with some of the tastiest (and most affordable) pasta around. Try the Pappardelle Aurora. 15 Gloucester Road.
Museums & Galleries.
The V&A: The Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts & design, and a lovely place to spend an afternoon. Entry is free, though their special exhibitions (which range from £10 – £20 a ticket) are to die for… I literally wept at the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition a few years back. Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge.
The Saatchi Gallery: If you’re into bold (and, by some standards, bizarre) modern art, the Saatchi Gallery‘s definitely up your alley – and it’s also free entry. At one point when I visited, they were featuring a portrait of Jesus made entirely of caviar. So. Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Rd, Chelsea.
The National Portrait Gallery: Home to portraits of Great Britain’s favorite leaders and royals. If you like paintings of people’s faces as much as I do, head here. Oh, and this one’s free entry, too! Gotta love London museums. St. Martin’s Place.
The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising: Not for everyone, but as an advertising nerd, I had to include it. The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising is a teensy, tiny spot in Notting Hill, showcasing how products and brand imagery have shifted with history. It’s a £9 entry fee (£7 for students), but if, for whatever reason, you’re as into the evolution of branding as I am, it may be worth it. 111-117 Lancaster Rd, Notting Hill.
Note: The Tate Britain, Tate Modern, The British Museum and the Museum of Natural History are all fascinating, popular spots as well.
Get lost shopping in Harrod’s, or Selfridge’s, or Fortnum & Mason… Wander through Kensington Gardens and St. James’s Park… Attend an Evensong Service at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral… See a show on West End… Head to the Top of The Shard for a breathtaking view of the city (and a chance to use the ‘loo with a view’)… Have Sunday Roast at a good, ‘ole English pub.