travel guide: london

with every travel guide i post, i am obliged to share this disclaimer. i married adventure and we have a peculiar way we get around. it works well for us, and we think if you try it, you’ll like it. but pick and choose from our guides. we’re always happy to know we helped you enjoy your adventures all the more. 

“if you’re tired of london, then you’re tired.”
— taken from a sign in neon lights in a coffee shop near london bridge

this was our second trip to london, so some places i mention were explored on trip one. we haven’t grown tired of london yet. here are our favorites of london in no particular order:

 

1. stay in kensington.

it puts you close to several underground stations that have numerous eateries. walking distance to hyde park, royal albert hall, natural history museum (free). it’s a quieter neighborhood, yet provides a wealth of dining, attractions, and accommodations. holy trinity brompton church is in the neighborhood. 

2. gail’s bakery.

not going to even count how often we ate here. (keep in mind we did sabbatical to london for almost 2 weeks). there’s a small one in kensington and a larger one in chelsea. our favorites are the maple pecan scone, traditional scone, and fruit scone. 

3. homeslice pizza in neal’s yard.

someone recommended this place. it’s hidden near piccadilly circus, yet quite a popular spot after a show or late night. you can order just a slice to take away or hope for a table. highly recommend the margherita. interesting fact: the gentleman who put neal’s yard on the map was a guy named nicholas saunders. he was committed to whole foods and started selling things like nuts and beans. he grew his customer base and even invited them on vacation with him. there’s a sign in his honor in the yard. 

4. hummingbird bakery.

it’s in south kensington, also. cupcakes and cakes and a place to sit down with a cup of tea or coffee. tiny inside. take it back to your room and get in your jammies then into the cupcake. 

5. four winters. 

this is an ice cream place at gloucester station. it’s motto is “we freeze the seasons.” i love the seasonal sorbet and ben definitely likes the cookie dough. it’s made using liquid nitrogen. 

6. le pain quotidien. 

a chain in london, it is french for “daily bread.” what we thought was just a bakery, turns out to be a tasty and comforting balance to all the sweets i’ve mentioned above. they make it easy for vegetarians to find their choice on the menu with a carrot sign. we enjoy the avocado toast, smoked chicken club, organic soup, lentil salad, and hummus. and that’s just a few great things they serve. we ate at the ones in south kensington and parson’s green.

7. pret a manger.

ben will smile at me for this one. i could eat it every day, three times a day. i’m sure i’d grow tired of it. it’s everywhere and i think that’s brilliant. delicious healthy choices. it’s like shopping at a market and paying at the counter. the fruit cup and chicken caesar bacon sandwich has yet to disappoint. add the salt and vinegar chips and a sweet treat and you’re set for a picnic in one of london’s many parks. 

8.  byron’s gourmet burgers.

this is also a chain. we loved the service one late evening in gloucester. i had the portabello burger and ben the cheeseburger. sweet potato fries for the win. and i might add that many places serve milkshakes. we never ordered one, but would love to know your favorite if you have. 

9. borough market. 

this was not on our must see list, but we now tell everyone they must see and taste at this place. oh my! we stumbled upon it and it was an attraction in and of itself. established 1,000 years ago (and i didn’t mistype that number) food stands and vegetable stands, honey and jam and cheese and breads, coffee and milkshakes and chocolates and tea. tea2u has royal connections and ratan mondal is genius at tea. start a conversation about tea, even if you know very little like me, and he gets so passionate about the science and the art. we shared a duck confit wrap. bought a passion fruit and a liquid sea salt caramel. it sits below the train tracks and invites locals and tourists in. it’s a happy place. 

9 3/4. king’s cross station.

this is famous for j.k. rowling’s harry potter books. the platform in the book, 9 3/4, is found here. the station has a harry potter store and lines are long on weekends. you can get your picture taken, too. this is where we caught the train to edinburgh, scotland. which makes sense. rowling is from edinburgh and this would be the station she arrives to in london. 

10. sloan market.

saturdays only near sloane station right beside the saatchi gallery. cash only (i think). ben had the fish and chips. i had the dumplings. it’s like a local party in the park and we’re all invited.


you’ll be glad i mentioned all the food places first, because i’m about to encourage a bunch of walking. we highly recommend the underground — purchase an oyster card. but once you get to a destination, walk blocks around it. that’s where we found many places to eat, sit, write, people watch, and unwind. 


 

11. westminster abbey and big ben.

this is at the westminster station. you could have figured that one out. ben and i have a growing appreciation for history. the larger, more popular sites are plenty beautiful to experience without entering, but to know the stories and be where history took place, you must pay to enter. it’s a one hour audio tour passing by tombs of royalty, the poet’s corner, up to the place where kings and queens are crowned and married, past the coronation chair and into the gardens. no photos can be taken inside. 

12. buckingham palace and the changing of the guard.

i loved walking through the palace and i could tell it quickly grew on ben. headsets are so helpful and allow you to go at your own pace. you know you’re walking where heads of state and her majesty the queen walk. after the tour, you can enjoy tea in the cafe in the garden. if you do anything in london, do this. the changing of the guard takes place at the front of the castle. check the times and arrive early to get a standing place close to the gate. 

13. st. paul’s cathedral.

this is the place that princess diana and prince charles were married. tours are available, though we were content walking around the grounds. 

14. downing street and st. james park.

walk the street that houses the churchill war rooms and government offices. this street is very close to westminster abbey. directly across is st. james park. in our opinion, the most beautiful in london. try and spot the flower garden and gardner’s house. feed the ducks and enjoy the cafe. you can have a lunch there or simply a treat. we recommend the rooftop deck which overlooks the pond with the london eye in the distance. we returned to the park and this cafe a time or two. it spoke rest to us amidst the city. 

15. bookstores.

we’re big fans of books and this city has quite the authors and poets. this is why you must seek out books here by such authors as they are not always attainable in the states. waterstones is the large store that resembles barnes and noble. hatchards is the queen’s bookstore on piccadilly road. the store is beautiful, old and formal and you must walk in. daunt books is in chelsea on the street leading to stamford bridge, home of chelsea football. i really liked this one. blackwells is our favorite. it originated on oxford, but has many locations. ben and i can spend hours in here and we pay for it in book purchases. we grab those of united kingdom authors. bishops and leaders. j.r.r. tolkien, george macdonald, c.s. lewis, lewis carroll, roald dahl and enid blyton. there’s another bookstore called words on water that is in london on the thames river. i haven’t gotten there yet. 

16. les miserables. 

we scored two tickets 30 minutes before the show in the rain for 70% off the box office price. we pinched ourselves. london’s piccadilly circus (similar to new york city’s times square) is home to the best shows, some that you can see in the states, others that are unique to europe. this was romantic to watch in london in queen’s theater. tried to repeat the same scenario on our second trip. didn’t work. 

17. hyde park. 

this is quite large and is near kensington, knightsbridge, and notting hill. you could get utterly lost. we chose to bike from one side to the other using the shared bike system. it’s easy to use and you can ride all over the city if you’d like as there are stations everywhere. our cycling confidence waned out on the busy streets. the park offers paddle boats, cafes, and the princess diana memorial and walk. 

18. notting hill and portobello market.

you can walk from hyde park to portobello market or take the tube to notting hill station. the shops on portobello road are open daily, but the additional market vendors are set up on certain days and draw a crowd. many of the eating places mentioned above can be found on this street as well. get away from this street, and it’s a lovely neighborhood to walk around. we ended up at sadaf persian restaurant and it was a fine choice. reasonably priced and highly rated. not far from paddington station.

19. paddington station.

if you’re familiar with paddington and the writings of michael bond, this will be a treat. there’s a paddington store of course and the historical beauty of a train station, to see people coming and going, well, you feel like you’re in a movie yourself. this is where we caught the trains to windsor and oxford. the underground runs here and then you take the GWR outside the city. 

20. windsor.

spend a day at least. it’s a mere 20 minutes outside of london. a replica of the queen’s train is at the windsor station. it’s a small town, easily walkable. the castle is right there. tours work for this castle as they do buckingham. this is where the queen grew up and lives part of the time. we can see why. consider strolling the long walk as it is called in the great windsor park. it’s the path that leads up to the castle. you can envision the royal entourage with horses and carriages. we are sending you to esquires coffee. tell the owner we sent you. not that he’ll remember us. it is that perfect writing spot, perfect cup of coffee, irresistible treats, and open windows that allows the sound of bagpipes to blow through. the castle is in view and all is right. there’s plenty of shopping around the corner. ben would want me to point out the fudge kitchen as well. 

21. oxford.

we love this place. we took the oxford tube the first time, but went by way of train the second time. you feel smarter in oxford. even if you’re simply walking the cobblestone streets and admiring the many colleges. we ended up on an off street that trapped the voices of laughter. but we found the source: turf tavern. we sat among locals and students and highly recommend anything on the menu. we’ve spotted the lewis carroll meadow for writing, a scene from harry potter, and the eagle and the child pub where lewis and tolkien gathered. they are photo worthy and memory etchers.

22. edinburgh, scotland.

we booked our train through virgin east coast rail last minute. remember, i married adventure. after being in the city for several days and needing to be forced to sit rather than explore, we boarded a 4 hour ride up north along the coastline. it stopped in york, durham, and a few other places. we journaled and read and sipped a cup of tea. we prayed and conversed and sat in awe of this experience. now once we got there, it was nothing but walking and eating and sightseeing. we got a great deal on hotwire for the howard hotel with a butler and the best bathtub in the world. we stayed in new town where we enjoyed cuckoo’s bakery, bill’s diner, and hector’s restaurant. we walked through the royal botanical gardens and popped our umbrellas opened and closed constantly. the author of madame doubtfire lived nearby and this was the inspiration for mrs. doubtfire. up in old town, we explored as much of edinburgh castle as we could for free. we walked the royal mile from there to hollyrood abbey where the queen lives one week a year. we learned where j.k. rowling did her writing and saw the greyfriar’s bobby statue that inspired the city. southern cross cafe served up delicious cakes and pastries. many antique shops that make american ones look young and consignment shops that benefit various charities. well done edinburgh. 

23. afternoon tea.

we've experienced this in an old estate and in a modern skyscraper. we've also taken to an earl grey in the afternoons and a peppermint tea in the evenings in the comfort of our home. plan to indulge in this experience in the united kingdom. many hotels and restaurants offer this with reservations and can vary in price.


rather than post all the links, decide what you’re interested in seeing and do the google searches and mapping yourselves. it’s your adventure now. if you still need some guidance, comment here. and if you’ve got some recommendations, please, oh please, leave a comment.