I've been to London 3 times now and I'm not going to lie, until recently, it hadn't been top of my list for favorite cities or places I was desperate to go back to. I went for the first time 10 years ago when I was backpacking through Europe with my girlfriends post college graduation. It was a whirlwind and don't get be wrong, we had an absolute blast. But the city just seemed so monstrous, so full of tourists, and so unmanageable to do in a long weekend, that it just left me with an "ehh" taste.
Fast forward to last year when my husband (a London-lover) booked us cheap Norwegian Air tickets when they launched their non-stop service from Boston. We decided to squeeze in a quick long weekend trip to Europe because why not? The flights were that cheap. Turns out, there was a lot to LOVE about London and that trip turned around my previous feelings. We went back again two weeks ago (much easier from our new home-base in Dublin) and once again, it left me loving it even more. Like I've found with most cities, the time waiting in line for museums or pushing your way through crowded shopping districts is time wasted, especially when you only have few days. I love learning the history and I do enjoy a "touristy" attraction, but London is best for just wandering through neighborhoods, visiting local coffee shops, spending time in the parks, and just enjoying the city for what it is.
I've summarized 5 of my favorite things to do in London that I'd consider Must-Dos for your next weekend trip. These are things I'd be happy to do every time we visit because they're that good.
Spend a few hours at Borough Market
Of course I have to start with food. And boy is there enough food and variety a Borough Market to last you months worth of visits without getting bored. This is the best-of-the-best as food markets go and is definitely worth a few hours of your weekend. There's over 100 vendors offering everything from paella to fresh oysters to Asian dumplings. They sell fresh fish, meats, and produce so for the locals, it's a great spot to grab some fresh food for your weekly grocery haul. For the visitors like me, it's a place to take advantage of the many stands that offer samples (my favorite), so do a few laps tasting cheeses, mustards, cured meats, and breads before committing on what to get. You likely can’t go wrong, just make sure you go hungry! Also check out The Gentleman Baristas Coffee Shop which is nearby the market and perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Explore Notting Hill
Oh Notting Hill, you have my heart. So much can be said about what in my opinion, is the best neighborhood in London. I could wander around the streets of Notting Hill for hours on end—with no particular agenda other than to look at the pretty houses, peruse the shops, or to sip coffee and watch the people go by. If you can go on a Saturday, that’s your best bet as you can fully experience Portobello Market (along Portobello Road) which a huge antique market selling all sorts of things. Veer off track though, as there are many beautiful side streets lined with colorful houses and picturesque scenes. Before hitting the streets, grab brunch at Granger & Co. or Daylesford, both are amazing and you won’t be disappointed. Fair warning before exploring town- you’re going to want to move there!
See a Show!
Now I know it might be “touristy”, but you can’t go to London and not see a show, come on now. When I went with my girlfriends we saw Mamma Mia, which was absolutely amazing. We happened to be there the same night that the movie was premiering, so we proceeded to try to track down Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan after the show… unfortunately struck out though. A few weeks ago my husband and I saw A Comedy About a Bank Robbery which was light and hiliarious and a great option for a lower budget. Either way, during most of your time in London, I'd say stay out of Piccadilly Circus/Leicester Square, BUT for a show, it’s a don’t-miss experience.
Stroll through Hyde Park
A trip to London isn’t complete without taking a stroll through Hyde Park, which is one the four Royal Parks that connect Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace. The park is massive and on a nice day you’ll see hundreds of people walking dogs, lounging in the sun, going for jogs, and just enjoying the escape from the busy city. The Serpentine is a lake within the park where people swim, boat, and enjoy the waterfront. No need to go with any plan or agenda, just take an hour to walk through it and relax. Or better yet, bring a picnic lunch or wine and happy hour snacks and lounge out!
Go to Gordon’s Wine Bar for Happy Hour(s)
If you seek out one bar while in London, this is the spot. Located right in the center of town by Embankment Station, Gordon's is London's oldest wine bar and it's an absolute gem. The inside is bascially a cave in the basement and upon entering you’ll feel you went back in time. It's candlelit with a cool atmosphere but it gets hot and crowded. Outside is the place to be, which is just an alley filled with high top tables and shared seating where people congregate, chat, and go through bottles and bottles of wine. You can get cheap bottles for under £20, but if you’re looking for something a step-up, they have plenty of options there too. They only serve wine, so don’t come looking for beer or cocktails, but DO come looking for a cheese board because they do it right-- pilled high with meat, bread, and spreads. You’ll likely end up staying way longer than you planned!
So, that’s it! Hopefully you have the opportunity to visit London and some of these spots. What are your favorite things to do in London?!