I’m going to be totally honest with you guys… I feel like I need a re-do with my London trip. Before I went to London, I felt like ev-er-y-one told me OMG YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE IT. And I believed them! I truly thought I was going to love London. But each day, I kept feeling guilty for not loving it. So, so guilty. I kept thinking.. “What am I doing wrong?! Everyone loves it here! Why don’t I?!” There were a variety of not-so-pleasant, behind-the-scenes factors that went into it, but I really didn’t like my time there. I’ll save those travel lessons for another day, but rest assured, they are coming.
Hands down, my favorite way to explore a city is by walking around and immersing myself in the culture. London has landed on just about every “Walkable Cities” list, but I only walked around about 1.5 of the 4 days we were there. It was raining most of the trip so there were a lot of taxis and Ubers taken instead. Of course, there were so many things that I loved seeing and enjoyed experiencing, but I genuinely feel like I need another trip there to take on the city in a different way. When I’m traveling, I really enjoy immersing myself into the culture, food, people, and language. To me, that’s the whole point of traveling — to see how other people do things and gain a new perspective. I don’t feel like I did that this trip… I feel like we were just trucking along, checking boxes off of a list without actually experiencing it. Does that make sense?
For those of you that may be planning a trip in the future, I’m going to share what I loved, what I didn’t really love, and what I would have done differently. Hopefully I made the mistakes so you won’t have to… Taking one for the team, here. 😉
Things I Loved in London
Elizabeth Tower / Big Ben — Big Ben is iconic and so photogenic! (Big Ben is actually just the name of the bell, the tower is called Elizabeth Tower, but it seems like everyone refers to the entire thing as Big Ben.) We went to see/hear Big Ben during the day and also at night for a totally different view. Both were great! You can see the London Eye right across the river, and Westminster Abbey is just across the road, too.
The Tower Bridge — Another iconic, photogenic spot! We started at White Mulberries in the St. Katharine Docks and walked over the Tower Bridge to Borough Market. The architecture of the bridge is phenomenal.. I wish I could have seen it at night, too!
Liberty London — This was one of my favorite shopping destinations in London! I have gotten a glipse of Liberty through the different collaborations they’ve done in the US — J.Crew, Nike, etc. — so I was dying to go the the store. I think I spent an hour there, but it could have easily turned into more. The flower shop outside, the stationery shop on the first floor, the bath section upstairs, the home shop on the 3rd or 4th floor, and their gift shop with all of their namesake prints, the crystal chandeliers hanging down the middle of the store, a whole section of just fabric — the store was so fab! Plus, they carry a lot of other designer clothes, shoes, and accessories. Not to be missed! I love the exterior of the store, too — it’s tudor style with a bit of a Medieval feel. Feels very “London!” My favorite part, though, was the Barbour jackets with Liberty lining — obsessed! I almost walked out with one, but I practiced some self control. However, I did pick up a notebook set and a lavender-filled eye mask. (I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t buy the exclusive Diptyque candle!)
Sketch for Tea — This was an experience, for sure! The tea room is entirely blush pink and gold, which was so cute. But the place has so much character — the art on the walls is pretty funny and the bathrooms are so crazy. I’m not going to ruin it for you, but let’s just say that there were geese in the bathroom. (If you follow me on SnapChat, you can attest to the bizare-ness!) We later found out that it was some sort of Easter art installation with the geese, so I can’t speak to what it’s like normally, but definitely worth checking out! (Also, I’ve heard that Sketch is great for cocktails, but we only had tea.)
Artesian — We ended one of our last nights at the Artesian bar in our hotel, and it was a great scene! Definitely not your standard “hotel bar.” Wish we would have realized that sooner! I had rosé (shocking), but the cocktail menu looked fabulous.
Marylebone — Our hotel was right on the border of this neighborhood, and it was such a fun little area to explore on our first day. Picturesque flats, cute shops, little eateries — definitely one of my favorite neighborhoods that we explored!
Notting Hill — We tried to go to the Portobello Road Market on Sunday, but ended up getting there right as it was closing. We walked along Portobello Road and up and down the little side streets to see the notorious pastel-colored houses. It was a fun few hours of wandering! (I’ll be posting a whole slew of Notting Hill pictures this weekend.)
Hyde Park — I walked through the southeast side of Hyde Park one afternoon on my walk to Harrods and it was stunning. The rose garden was just starting to bloom.. There was a cute little waterfall.. And it was on a rare day with blue skies and sunshine! Picture perfect.
Borough Market — Because of our schedule, we weren’t able to go to Borough Market while it was fully open. (We planned to do it on Sunday, but it was actually closed that day. Our fault for not planning ahead!) However, we went during the “partial market” lunch-time hours and it was awesome! I can only imagine what it’s like when each and every stand is bustling.
Green Park — We walked through Green Park on accident when we were on our way to Buckingham Palace. The striped lawn chairs and blooming yellow flowers did not disappoint!
Pubs — We went to one pub in Kensington and one pub in Mayfair after dinner at The Woseley and it was fun just hanging out in a local place, drinking a local beer. Wish we would have done a whole lot more of that!
The Tube — I thought the Underground was super easy to navigate and it was so clean! Nothing like the Subway in NYC.
Eurostar — The train to Paris was just over 2 hours… So easy!
As you can see, the touristy things were actually some of my favorite things to do while we were in London. (And if London is anything like New York, that’s when you know you did it wrong! haha #justbeinghonest) I need to go back and experience the city like a local!
Things I Didn’t Love in London
London is a lot like New York City. Another dose of honesty — I’ve been chillin’ on the hate side of the love/hate relationship with NYC lately. (I’ve been writing a whole post about this, so more on that to come. It’s getting better as the weather gets nicer, though, so hopefully I’ll be back to loving it soon.) I didn’t realize how much London was like New York before I visited. I think I was expecting London to feel more European and it really didn’t feel that way at all. Honestly, it felt so much like New York. I went on this European vacay to escape NYC for a bit, so I think the stark resemblance between the two cities threw me for a loop.
Our hotel was conveniently located near all of the great shopping on Oxford Street and Regent Street. However, our first day exploring was on a Saturday when we wandered to Oxford Street. Imagine Broadway in Soho in New York on a Saturday afternoon during Christmas season. And then multiply that times three. That’s what our jet-lagged selves walked into on our first day on the town. I was ready to run far, far away. However, I will say that when I was walking on Oxford during the week, it was not nearly as
much of a clusterf*ck chaotic. My first impression kind of ruined it for me, though.
I think if I would have gone into the trip with different expectations, I would have felt a lot differently! I’m eager to go back for a few days and see if my opinion changes the second time around.
Things I Would Have Done Differently in London
Westminster Abbey — We saw it from the outside, but weren’t able to take a tour on Sunday. I would have loved to have done that!
Buckingham Palace — These sell out so make sure you book tickets well in advance! We saw it from outside, but I would have loved to take a tour of the palace and also see the changing of the guards. Apparently the tour is with a glass of champagne!
Kensington Palace — We did tour Kensington Palace, and while I feel like I learned a lot, I was a little bit underwhelmed. I think I was expecting it to be more extravagant. (Again.. my silly expectations ruining it.) There was a cool fashion exhibit about the different dresses over the years that was neat to see!
Borough Market — I loved going to Borough Market, but would have loved to have gone when it was fully open. The full market is open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Camden Market — Camden Market was awesome for food! There’s a lot of weird shops, too, but the food selection was awesome. Unfortunately, we had eaten before we went there so I only had a brownie and a few samples from food vendors, which were all amazing. I would definitely recommend going there on an empty stomach!
And honestly, I would have walked more places! It’s a walkable city and there’s always so much more you see while out walking around. Pack comfortable shoes, pack your umbrella, rain jacket, and rain boots, and just walk!
Things I Still Need To Do in London
Alexander McQueen at the V&A Museum — I’m really bummed I didn’t go to this exhibit while we were there. It was in New York before I lived in New York so I was hoping to go while we were in London and it just never really worked out.
Primark — It was on my list to go to Primark and there was one pretty close to our hotel, but I never made it there. Have you been? From my understanding, it’s kind of like an H&M.
Joules — Joules is one of my favorite UK brands and I was excited to see one of their stores. I was planning to go to the store in Kings Cross before our train to Paris, but go figure — it wasn’t open yet because we had an early train. Oops.
London Eye — I got to see the eye in both daylight and at night, but I didn’t actually take a ride in it. Have you done it? Should I add it to my list for next time?
Oxford — I would have loved to take a trip to Oxford while we were in London, but we didn’t have enough time.
Bath — Same situation as Oxford. I’ve heard it’s absolutely beautiful!
Platform 9 3/4 — You guys. I WAS AT ST PANCRAS STATION AND DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THIS EXISTED. I not-so-secretly love Harry Potter. I mean, I went on a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter after I graduated from college. (#donthate) As we were pulling up to Kings Cross, I said “I wonder if Platform 9 3/4 is actually here, but we were too busy with all of our luggage and trying to catch our train to even think about it.” Apparently there is a whole store and everything!
Kings Road — I don’t think we really went anywhere in Chelsea and I feel like that’s a must-do.
What else should I add to my London list for next time? Maybe I should have asked you guys *before* I went! 😉
All photos taken by me, Jessica Sturdy. Most of which on my Canon camera, but the photos from inside Liberty are on my iPhone.