London calls to us all – the rich history, the eclectic culture, the sheer size of this massive city within such a small country. London called and we answered.
A few days touring in London left our heads spinning with our wallets emptied, yet the sites to see are endless and we merely scratched the surface. Even still, here’s a quick recap of where to eat, drink, and learn throughout the city of London.
Eat in London
For a family-owned find offering authentic Lebanese fare, head to Earl’s Court Station and seek out Maroush Bakehouse. It’s the type of place that you just know will be good as soon you look around at the other patrons. This isn’t a tourist-filled Starbucks, this is a mom-and-pop, locally-loved haven. The owners opened their first restaurant in London in 1981; Maroush Bakehouse is their 16th venture in the city. Each location offers something different, with the bakehouse providing the crux of Lebanese food: freshly baked, homemade bread.
For a five-star dinner, head to Trullo in Islington. The menu changes daily based on the freshest ingredients. We had a table downstairs, which was adorable and cozy for our group. This place isn’t pretentious but offers such quality that it could be. Italian dishes are their highlights, with hand-rolled, fresh pasta made to order and an open charcoal grill for meats and fish.
Borough Market is a must. Do NOT skip Borough Market. Go to Borough Market. (Did I make myself clear yet?) This place is a pure goldmine in a city filled – like every city – with chain restaurants and mediocre pubs. The eclectic fare you’ll find here is astounding. The colors, the smells, the free samples…you could wander here for hours and never grow weary. Well, you would grow weary because you’d probably also eat yourself into a food coma. It’s an outdoor market just over the river (London Bridge Station) from where you could walk to Shakespeare’s Globe and cross back over the Millennium Bridge…Yes, that’s the bridge from Harry Potter.
Take the Tube to Aldgate East for lunch and a wander. Head first to Brick Lane for a plethora of curry restaurants. Walk the neighborhood to see which menu draws you in – or which restaurant employee convinces you to enter with his imploring invitations. Whichever locale you choose, you’ll undoubtedly overindulge. But try not to so you can save some room for a snack over at nearby Old Spitalfields Market. The indoor market is filled with vendors, bars and restaurants, boutique shops and hipsters galore. You’ll find great clothing and art deals alongside ridiculously overpriced decorative items. Enjoy a few hours of moseying around, until you’re hungry enough for another meal at one of the many restaurants in the market.
Drink in London
When in London, you will likely find a dearth of quality brews, which is tragic. What isn’t tragic is your ability to order a half pint or a full pint, nor your ability to drink said beer outside! This is unheard of in the U.S., so you’ll have to excuse my excitement if drinking outside of a pub seems normal to you. But amid the city-wide desert of interesting craft beers is an oasis. Seek out the Earl of Essex Pub in Islington (Angel Station). Here, you will find an entire wall of a menu filled with beer options aplenty, which change regularly. Try one, try them all, it’s up to you and your liver. Definitely try one of their own brews at the very least. I recommend getting in early because the after work crowd is no joke in this neighborhood gem! There’s also a small patio area out back for warm summer evenings.
For the higher end of adult beverages, venture over to classy Chelsea and steal a window table at Beaufort House. The cocktail menu is inventive and expansive, with my personal favorite being the BH Champagne Punch. The street corner location of Beaufort House grants endlessly incredible people-watching opportunities, filled with every designer name you can imagine. The parade of luxury cars will amaze. But when you tire of the commercialism, just head a few blocks south to walk along the River Thames for views of Battersea Park. If you’re feeling ambitious, take the approximately 3-mile walk to Westminster along the river and say hi to Big Ben.
Learn in London
You can’t go to London without visiting a few sites touting history and culture over the centuries.
First, head to the Tower of London and take a Beefeater tour. Although, don’t call them Beefeaters – they’re Yeoman Warders (seriously? Nobody calls them that…). Hour-long tours are offered every 30 minutes until 3:30pm each afternoon. Time your visit so you don’t miss the Word Ceremony at 3pm to learn the evening’s password. This will let you back in for a late-night party! Totally kidding, these Beefeaters are serious business and you’ll never be invited to their private Tower parties…sorry.
Visit Westminster Abbey. It’ll cost you, but it’s well worth it. Take the audio tour that’s included; check out the poets’ corner, which is mostly plaques rather than graves. You’ll learn about the plentiful coronations, weddings, and funerals held in this historical (and atrociously ostentatious) church. While I normally avoid famous churches for their overly indulgent decoration, this one at least boasts more extensive and interesting literary and artistic history.
Don’t go to the British Museum. I know, I’ll get crucified for saying this – or beheaded given the city’s historic affinity for such treatment. But walking through room after room, I felt continuously more annoyed as I realized that the British Museum actually contained very little British history. The majority of this expansive museum highlights the conquests and treasures taken while the sun didn’t set on the British Empire.
Case in point, read the very first description in Time Out’s list of artefacts you can’t miss at the museum: “Go and see the Parthenon ‘Elgin’ Marbles of course. They are amazing. But be prepared for the gallery to be packed with grumpy Greeks in ‘Give Them Back’ T-shirts.” Sorry, British Museum and Time Out London, but that’s not something to just ignore. Perhaps if the museum had been named the World History Museum, I might have been better prepared for my visit. Alas, despite it being free, I’ll be opting out of this one in the future.
Quick Tips for London Travel:
- You absolutely need an Oyster card for all public transportation – no cash. So get one upon arrival at your first train station and load it up. You’ll take buses throughout the city and the Tube will allow you to get farther afield, including all of the major transportation hubs of airports and train stations.
- When in doubt, get in a black cab. These drivers know all and they will prove to be very helpful with directions and insider information.
- Plan for 40 minutes to get everywhere – it doesn’t matter where you start or end, somehow it always takes 40 minutes to get everywhere in London.
Well, London, we came, we ate, we drank, we learned, and we’ll be back. Soon!
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