When I moved to London in 2005 for what was supposed to be a 2-year assignment I remember my boss telling me that I may never come back. I scoffed at the idea. Leave New York? PUH-lease. It took me 25 years to get there and 5 more to be able to afford my apartment. I wasn’t going to leave. London was just a blip. Until it wasn’t. I met my soulmate there, had my first child and bought a family home. I made friends, figured out the nuances of communication and started to understand what “public school” and “middle class” meant…which is not what you think.
Life moved us on and returned us to my native New Orleans. However we struck a deal with the devil and now we live in London during the summer and New Orleans during the school year. New York? Well, I never did move back.
Ask yourself this question: Why am I going to London if I need cheap accommodations? London is lots of things: beautiful and gritty, old and new, sexy and staid…what it is not, however, is cheap. That said, here are a few options. Good luck.
YHA London Holland Park Hostel
Don’t say I’ve never given you anything. £31 a night. In a SUPER neighborhood.
200-year old Victorian courthouse where The Clash stood trial for shooting a pigeon and Charles Dickens had the idea for Oliver Twist. COOL.
The Mad Hatter Hotel
A pub + hotel. Hotel + pub. (And it’s air conditioned!)
NOTE: Home Away (the European version of VRBO), One Fine Stay and AIR B&B are ways to rent flats instead of staying in a hotel. With kids this is a great ideas to save some money and your sanity. Mainly because you can provide your own breakfast and snack foods and save money from buying them on the street or from room service. However, in my experience, most of the time you pour over the flats, pick a perfect one and you get an email from an agency telling you it isn’t available BUT they have another property they can offer you. This isn’t necessarily bad, just takes some getting used to. Basically I’m just advising you not to get your heart set on a property you see on Home Away or One Fine Stay but rather use that as a guide as to what you might find.
Bad website. Cool hotel.
The closest I’ve gotten is that my husband once went to a wedding here. Before I knew him. I’m practically a regular.
The Park Tower Knightsbridge
Don’t let the post WWII architecture put you off..this is a great hotel. Fantastic location (near Harvey Nichols, Hyde Park and Harrod’s) and room service serves great Lebanese food and tea! Plus it’s a Starwood hotel so you can use points. Great service and it tends to cater to a wealthy Middle Eastern crowd so it’s extremely safe!
Luxury hotel in Mayfair. Includes a very cool penthouse apartment.
Tiny, Small and Small+ rooms (their words, not mine) in very trendy, Shoreditch. Rooms are above private club, Soho House but are available to non members. Big upside: Flywheel!
Another luxury hotel in Mayfair. But hey – this one is pet friendly. They do maintain a neat social calendar that is way funkier than they are.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (Knightsbridge)
Indian Zing (Hammersmith)
Pitt Cue Co (Soho)
30 seats, no reservations, the name gives the rest away.
Neighborhood nice-dining restaurant that has been popular for years. Fresh baked goods, really nice and comfortable setting. Really great.
Crazy Homies. (Notting Hill)
I was torn on whether to put this under Eat or Drink because their margaritas are unbelievably good. Uber hip mexican restaurant that shares a kitchen and owner with Lucky 7’s, an American-style diner, next door.
The Cow (Notting Hill)
Busy gastropub with OUTSTANDING raw oysters and great Guinness. Not cheap.
Tom Aikens (Chelsea)
I can’t say enough about Tom Aikens. It is simply fantastic with a great and non pretentious atmosphere. Wood floors, wood tables, great wine list, friendly sommelier….it has it all! Book now. Don’t miss it. (Michelin-starred with prices to match)
Lantana (The West End / Fitzrovia)
Modern cafe for breakfast, coffee and pastries
Gorgeous building. Dining all day, brasserie style.
Jamie Oliver turns inner city kids into culinary superstars.
I love River Cafe because the food is fresh and simple but will blow you away from start to finish. The sommeliers are my favorite in town because they steer you to the best wine for what you are looking for even if – gasp! – it is the cheapest on the menu. Love. Love. Love.
The world’s nicest Michelin-starred chef.
Chutney Mary (Chelsea)
Great upscale Indian food. Kids like the curry sampler – rice and 5 different curries.
Yes, THAT Boulud. This one has a much cooler atmosphere than the one in NYC. It’s in the ground floor of The Mandarin Hotel. Cool vibes. Great charcuterie. Don’t try to take pictures there though. The management gets VERY sniffy about that.
Falafel King (Notting Hill)
274 Portobello Road. That’s it. No website. Just falafels.
Expensive and delicious Dim Sum in slick Soho decor. The Chow Fun is the best you’ll ever have.
Osteria Basilico (Notting Hill)
Family Italian that is always packed, always good and great for first dates, group outings, early dinner with the in-laws, or seeing old friends. Nothing fancy. Never lets you down. If they are packed go two doors down to Mediterraneo. Same company. Same recipes. Same menu. Not as busy.
Churchill Arms (Kensington)
Ready? Built in 1750 this is an Irish pub. In England. Celebrating Winston Churchill. Serving Thai Food. Go.
Balthazar (Covent Garden)
Yes, it’s the same Balthazar. Yes, it’s just as hard to get a table. Yes, it’s worth it.
Pollen Street Social (Mayfair)
Fun, stylish, designer dining in central London. Self proclaimed to be “deformalised” but you better bust out the expensive jeans for this one.
Social Eating House (Soho)
Includes dining at #58 and drinks at The Blind Pig (and an 8-seat tasting menu only “Employees Only” downstairs) Same people who are behind Pollen Street Social. Same crowd too. A great place to go for drinks and dinner with friends – or on a date if you are incredibly confident on where you stand on the cool-dar.
Coffee and Sweets All Day.
Leave your Starbucks card at home. For a quick mid-morning treat try one of these great stops for coffee, cake and maybe a cheeky use of their internet.
Fernandez and Wells
Coffee, wine, sandwiches all day long. Best coffee in London.
An American Cupcake in London. WOOHOO!
The Macaroon Kingdom is at Harrod’s. Totally worth a trip – and an advance on your next paycheck.
Internet cafe with the best Bubble Tea in London. I recommend coconut, jasmine or green tea flavors.
And for quick coffee-and-a-pastry fixes, be on the lookout for one of the many outlets of Patisserie Valerie, Paul Bakery or Maison Blanc.
Pint of Guinness at The Shaston Arms just off Carnaby Street
The Society Club in Soho.
A bookstore, gallery, clothing shop, dog petting mecca and cocktail lounge.
Italian Wine Bar in Notting Hill on Portobello Road
Worship Street Whistling Shop (Shoreditch)
Booking Office (St Pancras Station)
Quirky Gothic revival interior in the Renaissance Hotel at St. Pancras Station. Elegant and gorgeous. Impress your date. Impress your boss. Impress your in-laws.
Experimental Cocktail Club (Chinatown)
Make reservations. Go late.
The Mayflower Pub
Oldest (and best) pub on The River Thames.
The Admiral Codrington
Or “The Cod” for people in the know. It’s actually a very good restaurant but that’s not what section we are in. It is a great place in the heart of Chelsea for drinks and friends.
The Portobello Star
A pub that specializes in gin & tonic. Seriously.
Stroll around Hyde Park
Walk around The Serpentine Lake and then have lunch at The Serpentine Cafe.
Hampstead Heath and the tiny old pub there.
Portobello Road Market
Pick up some teacups and some silver. A cupcake and a reproduction Banksy poster. And some squash blossoms. PRM has it all. I think.
Parson’s Green & The White Horse Tavern
Private club (can’t help you there), American-style diner (I’d stick to the drinks) and a FANTASTIC single screen cinema that serves booze and tasty tasty snacks like sausage rolls and brownies. I looooove it here! If you are in town with kids, go to their Kids Club on Saturday mornings at 9am and snooze off your hangover while the kids watch a movie.
Run around The Thames in Fulham
An 8-mile run or bike ride around The Thames. You can shorten it to about 3 miles – just cross Putney Bridge on the west and Wandsworth Bridge on the east and stick close to the river. You’ll see other runners.
Food Hall at Harrod’s
Here is a full store guide but honestly the very best thing there is their Food Hall located on the ground floor. Wow. Amazing. Go very, very hungry and carrying very, very little.
Brick Lane is famous for a collection of Indian Curry Houses but it also is home to galleries, shops and street art. Check out the website. Take a walk. See what calls out to you. If you get hungry, walk a few block sover to Nedoo Grill for Indian and Pakistani Punjabi offerings. Zero atmosphere. Excellent food.
Tea at the Ritz
Book in advance and dress up. Kids are welcome but should be on their best behavior.
A fun, urban walk with drinks, food and entertainment. For the twenty-somethings at heart.
The British Museum
You know the joke about visiting The British Museum to see all the artifacts they stole from around the world? Not really a joke.
On Oxford Street. The coolest mall you’ll ever visit.
Shop on floors 1-4. Eat and drink on 5.
Westborne Grove, Notting Hill
From Colville Road to Chepstow Road. This is where the people who make more money than you, and me, combined, shop. It’s really pretty and worth a little stroll, breakfast, and a glass of champagne. Pretty neighborhood too. Favorite shops: Aesop. Twenty Eight Twelve. Zadig & Voltaire. Brissi. Matches (just around the corner from Westborne Grove) and I Love Gorgeous for little girls.
Regent Street & Jermyn Street
This a neat street for shopping and pubbing on the West End. Worth spending a whole day over here. Shop. Eat. Shop. Drink. Shop. Stroll. Shop.
Most great gyms in London are membership only. Your best bet is to go to your hotels’s work-out chamber or, if you are really smart, you’ll go for a run around one of the gorgeous parks that is probably pretty close to where you are staying. The climate in London means you can run year-round. It never gets too cold. It rarely gets too hot.
The Third Space.
This is by far the best gym in London. But it’s memberships only. I put it in here because, hey, maybe you know someone?
Painful Pilates and you don’t need a membership to attend. Signup for classes online.
Bright, airy, cute.
The Four Seasons Spa
Elegant, formal and spenny. But hey – it’s Four Seasons. What did you expect?
Great facials, manis and pedis, waxing and stuff. A little pharmaceutical-looking but I’m okay with that when someone is doing the unspeakable to my nether regions.
These are the coolest waxing bars you’ll ever go to. Worth travelling a little hairy just for the experience.
The Best Views.
Radio Rooftop Bar
Located on top of the ME London Hotel. Some of the best views of London.
Anywhere in Hyde Park
Did I mention Hyde Park yet?
Emergency Rooms are called “A&E” in the UK. Go if you need it.
Check the weather. Contrary to popular belief it is not ALWAYS rainy in London. It can get really hot in the summer and it is usually drizzly and cool in the winter. Days are REALLY long in the summer (sunrise on July 1st this year was 4:48am and sunset was 9:21pm) and REALLY short in the winter (December 2nd sunrise will be 7:45am and sunset will be 3:54pm). Plan accordingly because that can really mess you up if you are waiting for it to get dark before you go out to eat.
Ways to see it all.
This is a really, really neat way to cruise through London with some healthy people and check out the scenery.
Big Bus Tour
Oh, My, God. Who takes those awful Big Bus Tours? Answer: Me. You get a two-hour whip round a city where you get a birds eye view of neighborhoods while you sit on your duff and make cute little notes on a map about where to come back to and how to get there. Laugh if you must. That’s me up there in the sunhat while you stand confused on the streetcorner.
Courtesy of The Guardian
It’s more than just an Austin Powers song. It’s a great news source.
Official Visitors Guide to London
Page One London
Subscription only (and expensive at that) but a real trusted resource for where to go, when and with whom.
dirk craenJuly 6, 2014 at 15:02
Howdy! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone
3gs! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
Keep up the superb work!