Our 7-day trip in London this summer was amazing. I say trip because we were traveling with a toddler, so it wasn’t exactly a vacation because we still had to attend to our toddler’s needs constantly, including staying up until 3am every night because he couldn’t get over his jet-lag the entire time we were in London (and New York).
On the plus side though, once we were back in LA, he was already on local time – so I guess it wasn’t so bad after all.
Our 8-year old decided he didn’t want to come with us on this trip because he preferred to stay in LA with his cousins who were visiting from overseas, he made a wise choice.
We knew from the beginning that we didn’t want to spend our whole time in London playing tourist by visiting all the landmarks and touristy places, instead we just wanted to explore the city by foot and the London Underground (a.k.a. Subway, a.k.a. the Tube), trying out different food places, brunch spots and of course coffeeshop-hopping.
We walked an average of 6 miles (9.6 kms) on a daily basis, we’d choose walking over taking the Cab any day. Cabs / Taxis in London are way more expensive than Uber just in case you need to ride one, so always take an Uber if you care about travel costs & convenience.
Even riding on the Tube was more expensive than taking an Uber, for instance we took the Tube on a Single Ride for about 6 stops it cost us £ 9.50 for 2 adults (children under 11 are free) – for the same distance if we were to take an Uber it would have cost us about £ 7.00 – we actually tried it.
Here’s our Top 10 Things We Love about London:
1. Soho & Covent Garden
Endless rows of restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and retail stores on cobblestone roads featuring a mix of classic & modern shopfronts.
Covent Garden Market
What’s in here: Jamie Oliver’s Union Jack, Shake Shack, designer shops, a flea market and an Apple Store just across the building. Don’t forget to have £ 1.00 coin handy to use the ‘Loo’ / Toilet.
2. Carnaby & Regent Street
Hamley’s, the largest toy store in London is also located on Regent St, if you have young children they’d never want to leave.
3. The Coffee Shops
Great spots for coffee and pitstop:
The Espresso Room – New Row St, Covent Garden
Department of Coffee and Social Affairs – 3 Lowndes Court, Carnaby & various locations (my personal favorite)
Tap Coffee – 193 Wardour St, Soho & various locations (personally not my type of coffee, but it seems to be very popular with the locals)
Monmouth Coffee – Monmouth St, Covent Garden
Peyton & Byrne – 44 Wellington St, Covent Garden
Workshop Coffee – Clerkenwell
4. The Brunch Spots
Chiltern Firehouse – a luxury hotel featuring a hip restaurant with patio seating. Kind of like The Ivy to LA, London has Chiltern Firehouse – which apparently is owned by Andre Balazs who also owns LA’s Chateau Marmont and The Standard Hotel Group. Chiltern Firehouse is a converted fire station that is said to be the hottest celebrity and A-listers hangout.
Chiltern Firehouse – 1 Chiltern St, London in Marylebone
Granger & Co in Notting Hill is the go to brunch place for the locals. The food is tasty and the relaxed atmosphere reminds us a lot of Melbourne – as it turns out it really is an Australian restaurant.
Granger & Co – 175 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill
Other brunch places that we wanted to try but didn’t get a chance to:
Duck & Waffle – City
Lantana Cafe – Fitzrovia
Riding House Cafe – Fitzrovia
5. The Roast Duck
Popular amongst Asians and every single Indonesian I know who’s been or have lived in London. There was not one person who didn’t recommend us going to Four Seasons (it’s a Chinese restaurant, not the hotel chain) on Queensway, Bayswater to have the best roast duck in United Kingdom (with no exaggeration). We went to Four Seasons on several occasion but had always found the wait to get a table to be a bit much.
So we followed another recommendation to have some roast duck in Gold Mine Restaurant instead – which is located on the same street and only a few doors away from Four Seasons.
I have to agree that this was the best roast duck I’ve ever had in my life, no wonder people didn’t mind standing for hours just to get a table.
To avoid a painful wait, you can call ahead to put your name on the list and if you come in just before peak time (before 6pm) that would help your chances too.
We called ahead and once we got there we only had to wait for about 10 minutes, the second time we went we didn’t call ahead and had to wait for about an hour – never underestimate the power of a delicious roast duck.
Gold Mine – 102 Queensway, London in Bayswater
What I like about Gold Mine other than their delicious food is the extremely friendly service. Something you would least expect when dining in a non-fancy Chinese Restaurant. The restaurant is always so hectic and yet the staff were still able to make jokes with customers and throw a smile all the time, they even let us in earlier because we were dining with a toddler (they said he was a baby) – where actually there were supposed to be 2 parties ahead of us. It was such a thoughtful gesture.
6. The Townhouses
What’s London without their pretty little tonhouses?
The charming curb appeal just makes you want to buy a property here. Which I’m afraid to say for a price of a 2-bedroom townhouse in Central London you could easily get a 5-bedroom mid-mansion in LA (with a pool in the backyard). So yeah I guess we’ll skip it for now…
See for yourself…
7. The River Thames
The River Thames is the river that flows through Southern England stretching 215 miles (346 kms). Many of London’s popular landmarks are found by the River Thames, such as the Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Big Ben, Tate Modern Museum and the London Eye.
We went for a nice leisurely walk from Covent Garden, towards the Embankment and along the River Thames all the way to the Tower Bridge which took us about 45 minutes and it was worth every view.
8. Cambridge and outer London Towns
London is surrounded by smaller towns that are easily reached by train, unfortunately we only had time to go to Cambridge to visit a family friend. Cambridge is home to the University of Cambridge, Stephen Hawking’s alma mater and where many scenes from the movie ‘The Theory of Everything’ were filmed. Cambridge is such a beautiful English town and you can take day trip here as it only takes about 1-hour by train each way.
A round-trip train ticket is priced from £20 for economy and £37 for first class. There are several websites where you can purchase the tickets from, just be sure to compare the fares because each website sometimes publish a different fare.
Compare prices from these sites:
Abellio Greater Anglia Trains.
Other towns and landmarks that are worth visiting for a day-trip from London are
- Oxford (especially for Harry Potter fans)
- Stonehenge in Salisbury
- Windsor Castle
9. The Enormous Parks
Regent’s Park (home of the London Zoo), Hyde Park and St James’ Park are the go to parks if you are in Central London. There’s a massive children’s playground in the North West corner of Hyde Park, close to Kensington Palace called the Diana Memorial Playground.
This playground has different play areas for different age groups including water play areas and sand pits. We took our son to this playground on our last day and he did not want to leave (*sigh… kids).Although I must say it was not the cleanest park I’ve ever been to, there were bits of trash (water bottles / empty snack bags) here and there which was quite appalling.
10. The Palaces
Last year we had the chance to visit Buckingham Palace, this year it’s Kensington Palace where Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton currently resides (formerly Princess Diana’s).Kensington Place is located at the far west end of Hyde Park surrounded by lush gardens with a superior lake, it’s truly a beautiful place.
Visitors are allowed to visit the ‘Museum’ section which is a large structure (an actual former palace) located right behind Prince William’s current residence. The Museum exhibits the history of the Palace’s past residents and their families as we tour around the former King and Queen’s Apartments.
There are castles and Historical Royal Palaces all over London and surroundings that can give you a taste of the life inside the British monarchy. You just have to have enough time & budget to visit each and every one of them.
If you’re into Museums, London is home to numerous iconic museums from the British Museum, Tate Modern, National History Museum, National Gallery to the Saatchi Gallery that features seasonal exhibitions – the current exhibition is ‘Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones’ until September 4, 2016.