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Everything to see, eat, and do in London

Sep 7, 2017


Five months after my London trip, I am finally getting a travel guide up for this incredible city! I was living there for a month and a half for work earlier this year and it was my first time in London. I absolutely fell in love with it! I can't think of a more multicultural destination—everywhere I turned people were speaking in different languages. The history there is so interesting and it was fascinating to see old buildings next to modern skyscrapers with crazy architecture like The Gherkin. Usually when I write up a travel guide, I organize the post in a way that shares our entire itinerary day-by-day. But since I was living and working in London, my time spent there looked a little different than one of our usual trips. So in this post, I'm highlighting my favorite things to see and do in London, as well as the best places to eat and drink that we experienced. Here's a custom Google map of London with pins dropped for all the best things to do and eat—if you're trying to figure out where to stay this will be really helpful because you'll be able to visualize where all the hot spots are. While the list isn't necessarily exhaustive, it's a great start if you're looking to plan a trip to London! There are so many fun and interesting things to do in London, but don't let the huge list overwhelm you. Just pick and choose your favorites and know that if you don't get to all of them, you'll just have to come back again. I know I'm definitely planning on being back in the future!



Everything to See/Do in London
With such a rich and interesting history, there is awesome sight-seeing in London. With all of these recommendations, be sure to double check the dates/opening times as you think about your itinerary. Some places may surprise you by not being open on certain random days of the week, or closing early, or being free on specific days.


Museums
I'm not really a museum rat myself (I like to get in, see the awesome stuff, and get out), but the museums in London are pretty incredible.

  • The British Museum. This one is a must! Here's a guide by the NYT on making the most of The British Museum and the top five things to see. Don't miss the mummies and of course the Rosetta Stone!
  • Victoria & Albert Museum. The world's largest museum of decorative arts and design is also FREE, thanks to the wealthy donors and collectors. 
  • Tate Modern. I'll be honest, for the most part, I hate modern art. But the new Tate Modern building is architecturally very cool, and the views from the top floor are beautiful. They also had a few Andy Warhols, and I love me some Warhol, and it's free!
  • Churchill War Rooms. If you haven't watched The Crown on Netflix yet, watch it and then go to the Churchill War Rooms to learn more about Winston Churchill's legacy. 
  • National Portrait Gallery. If you're British and important, you have a portrait here. Admission here is also free so it's worth popping into.
  • Victoria Miro Gallery. Check and see what exhibits are happening at Victoria Miro while you're in town. When we were there they had a really cool exhibit called Passage/s by Do Ho Suh.
  • Natural History Museum. The museum also does a "sleep over for adults," which sounds either awesome or awful, I'm not quite sure.
  • Somerset House. See if there are any exhibits of interest to you at the Somerset House. If not, stroll through and admire the architecture and the beautiful courtyard and fountains. 


Notting Hill - The fashion blogger in me absolutely had to check out Notting Hill and I'm so glad I did! To be honest, there's not a ton to do there. There's the Portobello Market on weekends, and some restaurants and shops. But mostly, it's the strolling around all the pretty, pastel and brightly colored houses that I enjoyed. It actually reminded me a lot of San Francisco!

Tower of London - This is a can't-miss when it comes to London history and sight-seeing. The Tower of London was so, so fascinating. In its hay day it was a palace, fortress, and prison, and it's mind-blowing to walk through and hear tales of Anne Boleyn being imprisoned and executed there, as well as other lesser known (but still tragic) stories. Be sure to time your visit so that you can do the tour with one of the Beefeaters (the guards who live at the tower—yes, really, people live there) because they're both hilarious and informative and make the history really come to life with all their stories. Oh, and the crown jewels are there, too.

Shakespeare's Globe - Check out this reconstruction of the globe theatre, and catch a play there.

Secret Cinema - One of the coolest things we did in London, be sure to check out Secret Cinema if you're looking for a really unique experience! It takes "immersive theatre" to a whole new level. They produce this immersive experience around a movie and basically create a whole world incorporating that movie at a secret location. You're told what to wear and given a character, and given a destination to arrive at. You're then escorted to the secret location, your cell phone is put on lockdown, and you enter this hidden world. We went to a Secret Cinema for the movie Moulin Rouge and it was so much fun. Everyone was singing and dancing and then they played the movie with real life actors doing some of the dance scenes. 

Columbia Road Flower Market - This flower market is only on Sundays, and while it's a bit crowded, it's fun to walk through and hear the British guys yelling about, "Foa tulips for a dolla, pick ya collah love!" It's also in Shoreditch which is a cool, up-and-coming neighborhood to check out and kind of reminded me of the Mission in SF. 

Parliament - You can visit certain areas of Parliament through a guided tour, but I'd actually recommend going when Parliament is in session so you can watch their debates. We happened to pop in and didn't realize that they would be discussing abortion and then next steps on Brexit, and it was absolutely fascinating. I'm not a big government nerd but it was so interesting to see their decorum, and hear them speak really passionately about this crazy bill. You can also check online to see what's on the docket to be discussed and pick a session that sounds interesting to you.

Westminster Abbey - Visit the church where British royalty has been coronated since 1066. The architecture is stunning and the audio guide that comes with your ticket is really interesting.

Broadway Shows - London has tons of Broadway shows going on. Especially if there's a classic that you haven't seen yet, like The Lion King (omg, it was so good), you can get pretty affordable tickets.

Changing of the Guard - Catch all the pomp and circumstance and watch the Changing of the Guard. You don't have to watch the whole ceremony, which lats 45 minutes, but do make sure you check the dates, because they don't do it every day.

King's Cross and Platform 9 3/4 - For all you Harry Potter fans, if you're catching a train at King's Cross, make your way to Platform 9 3/4 (it's exactly where you'd expect it to be...between Platforms 9 and 10) for your HP moment.

London Eye - Apparently this giant ferris wheel on the South Bank is the most visited tourist attraction in the world. More people go up this than the Eiffel Tower! Lines can be crazy long, so try to go during off-peak hours. 

Harry Potter World - This is the one thing I regret not doing during my time in London. Check out sets, props, costumes and walk around Harry's world. I feel like my sister and I could have totally geeked out over this together, but we just didn't make it out there. But I'm dragging Omied there with me next time for sure.

Borough Market - Borough Market is fun to walk through to see all of its international produce, spices and snacks.

Buckingham Palace - You can buy tickets to visit certain parts of Buckingham Palace (sorry, to get into Queenie's bedroom you'll have to break in like that one guy did), or just walk by and see it with the toy soldier guards out front.

St. Paul's Cathedral - I would definitely recommend taking the time to visit St. Paul's, and plan your visit so that you have enough time to go all the way up to the top of the dome (arrive at least an hour before closing time to do it, at the bare minimum). Also don't miss the whispering gallery inside the dome, where you and a friend can sit on opposite sides of this giant dome and whisper to each other, and it sounds like you're whispering right into each other's ears. It's trippy! And word to the wise, the stairs to the very top with great views are small, awkward and rickety, so don't do this when you've been out shopping all day and are carrying a bunch of bags. 

Kew Gardens - The Kew Botanical Gardens are really beautiful and if you go do not miss The Hive! It's hard to explain unless you actually experience it, but it's an immersive, multi-sensory experience triggered by the energy of the honey bees at the Kew Gardens. 

Kensington Palace and Gardens - Visit this stunning royal residence and its beautiful gardens. You can also check and see what exhibits they may have coming up. When I was there they were doing a fashion story on Princess Diana, and it was so popular that I couldn't get tickets even a month out!

Walk across Millennium Bridge - Walking across London's first pedestrian bridge gives you a pretty view as it leads up to St. Paul's Cathedral, and it's a nice stroll after visiting the Tate or Shakespeare Globe. And for my Harry Potter fans, it's the bridge that the Death Eaters attack in this scene.

Thames River Cruise - If you want to fancy it up there are plenty of companies that offer tea or dinner cruises, but we just did the regular ol' cruise along the Thames right at sunset and we loved it!

Shopping at Oxford Circus - The shopping in London is too good. Especially the mega, three-story Topshop at Oxford Circus. I could legit spend a whole day in there.

Walk across the Tower Bridge - I loved this cartoon-like bridge that was full of personality. It's pretty iconic in its looks, so people tend to think it's the London Bridge, but London Bridge is actually pretty boring looking.

Windsor Castle - If you're not sick of castles yet, go see where the Queen likes to stay when she wants to get out of the city. I visited Windsor Castle as part of a tour on my way to Stonehenge and then Bath, the most quintessentially beautiful English town in the countryside. You can check out my travel guide to Bath, here.

Stonehenge - Some people told me they found Stonehenge to be underwhelming. "It's just a bunch of big rocks!" they said. "You're basically on the side of the freeway," they warned. I have to disagree. I was totally mesmerized and there was such an eery, mystical feeling at Stonehenge. Trying to picture how prehistoric people in 3100 BC came together to set things rocks up in a particular formation, some aligning with stars and the sun, was pretty mind-blowing. It's such a mystery and it was almost driving me crazy with frustration that I'll never know exactly what happened here. While I could understand some people feeling like they traveled hours roundtrip outside of London just to see some big rocks, I'd recommend it, especially if you can incorporate it into a weekend trip on your way to beautiful Bath, like I did.

Best Places to Eat/Drink in London
While London has a bad rap for not having very good food, I think if you can't find delicious food in London, you're not looking in the right places. Sure, it's not like San Francisco where you can throw a rock ten feet in any direction and hit a delicious restaurant, but there are still plenty of great places to eat (and definitely to drink—the Brits love to drink!) in London. For all of these restaurant recs, and any others you find while doing your own research, absolutely make reservations as far in advance as you can. We were definitely surprised by how hard it was to get into a restaurant if you didn't have a reservation there, and hosts didn't seem to understand the idea of us being put on a waitlist and grabbing a drink until a table became available. Sometimes even bars that only served cocktails required a reservation! So it does take a little bit of extra planning, but you won't be disappointed.




Sketch - Omggggg Sketch. You must go. If the all-pink dining room with velvet, lady-fingers-like chairs isn't enough, how about the fact that their bathrooms are the most bathroom selfie-worthy restrooms I've ever seen in my entire life? I mean, Kylie Jenner posted a bathroom selfie there. We had dinner and drinks there and the food was yummy, but definitely pricey. It's all about that ambience though. They have a gorgeous spread for afternoon tea, too!

Bob Bob Ricard - Any restaurant with a "Press for Champagne" button (that actually works), I can get down with. It's a super duper chic spot in Soho, and you can go for dinner or just get drinks at their downstairs bar.

Peggy Porschen - This pretty in pink cafe is what Instagram dreams are made of. Not only is Peggy Porschen adorable, but their cupcakes are delicious!

The Berkeley for Tea - The Brits take their tea very seriously, and you definitely need to experience it while you're in London. There are plenty of amazing places to have tea, but The Berkeley takes their Prêt-à-Portea to the next level by allowing the season's latest runway trends to inspire their beautiful desserts. They are so pretty and adorable you almost feel bad eating them!

High Tea at the Ritz - If you're looking for something more traditional and classic, tea at the Ritz won't fail you. The classic baked scones and clotted cream (omg I could just bathe in clotted cream and lick it off my body, I love that shit so much) and strawberry preserve paired with 18 different loose-leaf teas will give you the afternoon tea of your dreams. Be sure to book far in advance, especially if you are trying to go on a weekend!

Fortnum & Mason - Stop in for the shopping (they have the prettiest tea towels and home goods) or their afternoon tea.

Sanderson Hotel for Drinks or Tea - The Sanderson has a chic indoor bar as well as an outdoor courtyard where they also serve drinks or a Mad Hatter-inspired tea. It's all very Alice in Wonderland and adorable.

Chiltern - For a fancy night out, head to Chiltern Firehouse for dinner. It has a lovely ambiance and great food. To be honest, it felt a bit pricey compared to what we can get in San Francisco, but the food was really good and we had a lovely night there, so we were glad we tried it.

Purl - After dinner at Chiltern, head down the street to Purl for drinks. Their multi-sensory cocktails are so much fun, both to drink and watch them prepare. This cocktail bar requires reservations, so be sure to book in advance.

The Ledbury - The Ledbury has many accolades, including two Michelin stars and landing #27 on the World's Best Restaurants in 2017. We loved eating here and found the tasting menu pricing to be really reasonable, considering it's a two Michelin star restaurant in London. This was one of our favorite meals in London and I'd absolutely recommend it for a special dining experience.

Duck and Waffle - We loooooved this place! So much that we went two or three times. And we actually didn't go for dinner any of those times because we just couldn't manage to snag a reservation! But we enjoyed drinks and appetizers (get the rosemary bread!) at the bar, and the views were just to die for. Omied would get bar seats for us with the best view an hour or so before sunset, and I'd come meet him after work. We'd watch the sun go down and were just in awe of the scene in front of us, especially the crazy view of the Gherkin, my favorite building in London.

SushiSamba - SushiSamba is located on the floor right underneath Duck and Waffle, so it also has incredible views, and great sushi.

The Sky Garden - This is a really fun place to get drinks with awesome views. They also have live music some nights. We loved it!

Fenchurch at The Sky Garden - Fenchurch is also at the Sky Garden and this was definitely in the top three meals we had in London. The food was delicious, as were the cocktails.

Zayna - While you're in London, you have to try a great Indian restaurant there. Zayna was delicious and had just the right amount of fire behind their dishes. Don't miss their lambchops!

Dishoom - I couldn't decide if I liked Zayna or Dishoom better for Indian cuisine, so I'll probably have to go back to both of them next time I'm in London. But seriously, Dishoom was insanely delicious and I loved the Bombay cafe vibes of their Soho location.  

The Experimental Cocktail Club - Located in Chinatown, this cocktail lounge doesn't really have a sign outside so it's easy to miss. But look for the bouncer/hostess standing outside. Great cocktails and a fun vibe inside.

Milk Train - This was a crazy dessert place that I saw on Instagram and just had to try. I mean, cotton candy around my fro-yo with all sorts of other desserts and cookies tucked in there? Sure, why not.

The Providores - This place has delicious a delicious Mediterranean brunch, and it's located in the adorable neighborhood Marylebone. We loved grabbing brunch here and then walking around the area and seeing the cute, quintessential London houses there.

The Old Bank of England Pub - This pub used to be an old bank (hence the name), and looks like Gringotts. It's a fun place to grab an ale or a bite.

The Palomar - The Palomar serves up food of modern day Jerusalem in small plates that are meant to be shared. Think yummy spreads and spices.

The Artesian - This cocktail bar at the Langham Hotel was on some best cocktail bars list a couple years ago. The cocktails are all "experiential," meaning they serve them in interesting in unique ways that make you rethink things (my drink was served in a "broken" glass, with shards of glass made of candy).

Carnaby Street - Carnaby Street has lots of shops, bars and restaurants so it's a fun spot for some nightlife in Soho.

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