London Travel Diary, Part 1
Now that Wear She Blossoms is up and running, I cannot wait to share with you all about my recent trip to London. You guys, it was AMAZING. While we barely scratched the surface of everything we wanted to do, we did SO much. So much, in fact, that I'm splitting it into multiple posts! Today I'm going to share just the beginning of our trip. Plus, we even squeezed a trip to Brighton and Oxford so look forward to that!
Nick and I took an overnight flight and arrived at 10am into a bright and sunny London. We were fairly lucky with the weather in London because it is notoriously unpredictable. But we stepped out of Heathrow and it was blue skies all the way. Our first stop in London was our hotel to drop off our bags.
The London Basics
Where we stayed
Our hotel was the last thing I booked, as we spent a long time debating the merits of different neighborhoods and Airbnb vs. a traditional hotel. Growing up, my family used to travel to London quite often for my mom's business. We always stayed in Notting Hill. Naturally I had a soft spot for the colorful and quiet neighborhood, but I was open to trying something new. Especially since it was over ten years since I'd been in London! Then of course we considered choosing an Airbnb because it can be so nice to have your own little space in a bustling city. In the end, I came across the best of both worlds: The Main House. Tucked in Notting Hill, this 4 room guest house is like staying in your home with the convenience of having a knowledgeable innkeeper to help you.
Even though I have little else to compare it to, staying in Notting Hill will always be my favorite. It's just so peaceful and pretty. After we dropped off our bags at the hotel (and truth be told, took a quick nap), we spent the rest of the day wandering around. I took way too many pictures of all the colorful town homes so enjoy!
How we got around
Public transportation in London is a dream compared to most U.S. cities. After standing on the subway platform at 1 AM in NYC, anything would be an improvement, but London is well-known for it's uncomplicated and thorough underground subway system. The only complicated part was choosing the kind of card we would need. We chose the Oyster 7 day travel card which gave us unlimited travel on the underground and buses in a set number of zones for seven days. It was perfect and we just about wore those cards out!
Wandering around Notting Hill and Kensington on Day Two
London is a big city but it's a great city to walk around. There are little surprises around every corner. Like finding hidden mews: residential streets that used to be stables for wealthy London citizens. They were converted into homes and they just look so charming. Like basically all of London.
Our first day we wandered through Notting Hill because: one, jet lag. And two, those pastel buildings. I probably took way too many pictures but do you blame me?
We also grabbed breakfast on our second day at the Notting Hill restaurant, Farm Girl Cafe. This quaint health-conscious restaurant is tucked away off of Portobello Road and, though it's definitely insta-famous and can get crowded, Farm Girl Cafe is worth stopping by. Especially for Turkish baked eggs. Omgsh, so GOOD!
Our day 2 in London route took us past the Churchill Arms pub (so many flowers), Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace, the Princess Diana Memorial Garden, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Then we couldn't spend time in "our" neighborhood without visiting its most famous residence: Buckingham Palace!
From there we walked down The Mall that connects the palace to Admiralty Arch. It's also where most ceremonial parades take place, including the post-nuptial procession of Prince William and Kate Middleton. It could not have been a more gorgeous walk with views of Big Ben peeping through the trees of St. James Park. We walked through the arch and over to Trafalgar Square where we sat and watched the tourists take tons of pictures.
Since I was determined to pack in as much as possible into our second day, I decided a trip to Knightsbridge and a stroll through Harrod's was in order. Knightsbridge was so much fun because it was so swanky. Literally the most beautiful homes and fanciest cars I've seen in awhile! Harrod's was so, so crowded but it is just such a unique department store that it cannot be missed.
Because our feet literally could not handle it anymore, we went back to Notting Hill to have dinner at the Indian restaurant, Malabar. My family and I used to go there and it is still just as insanely delicious.
Venturing out to Greenwich
On Friday, we started our morning in the Fitzrovia neighborhood for breakfast spot I found on Instagram (sensing a theme in my travel planning?). Attendant is a charming coffee shop located in an underground Victorian bathroom. Yes, they've scrubbed it clean! It was one of those silly one-of-a-kind experiences that happened to come with a really good pain au chocolat.
Next stop: Greenwich. Greenwich is a small borough of London and accessible by a quick trip by boat down the Thames. Of course you can also take a bus or the new-ish underground out there, but the boat ride gives you such incredible views of London's riverfront. So much is located along the banks of the Thames! We took the Thames Clipper, though there are other river cruises and even a speed boat that will do the job.
By the way, did I mention that the dock has amazing views of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and the London Eye looms overhead?
Once we docked in Greenwich, we were greeted by the tea running ship, the Cutty Sark. The historic ship is elevated on dry land so that you can see not only the deck and the inside, but also underneath the hull. Though the museum charges an admission, you can see the whole ship and part of the outside just from the outside.
Greenwich has a little central village with plenty of shops and a market that ranges from crafts to antiques. It is also home to the Old Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen's House, and Greenwich Park, home to the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian line.
Top on my list was the restored Queen's House. It was commissioned as a residence for the royal family outside of London but it was never very popular. Today, a beautiful restoration showcases the first self-supported staircase, the Tulip staircase, and the room as filled with beautiful works of art.
From there we took the long hike up to the Royal Observatory. Even though it is a loooong hike up the hill to the top, believe me, the view is worth it. You can see all of London and the beautiful Greenwich Park below. You can even spy the dome of O2 arena.
It costs admission to visit the Royal Observatory, where the Greenwich mean line is located. This is where time is kept and you can stand in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres. We decided to save the 9 pounds it costs to get in and instead peered at the line through the fence. I mean, I was saving that money for afternoon tea of course!
We spent a bit of time wandering through Greenwich before returning to the dock to catch the boat home. Despite enjoying the most beautiful weather while we explored the borough, as soon as we were on the dock it started to pour. Like a full-on downpour with lightning. A kind Italian couple gave me an extra rain poncho they had in their bag but Nick got soaked. London weather is crazy!
Even though we were soaked, we didn't get lunch in Greenwich and we were starving. Luckily, the Thames Clipper has a couple of different stops so we got off at the London Bridge stop. This stop was perfect because it was right near a spot where we could get literally any kind of food we wanted: Borough Market.
Like Reading Terminal in Philly and Chelsea Market in NYC, you can get literally any type of food at Borough Market and its all so good. We ended up getting these ginormous sausage rolls from The Ginger Pig and they were soooo so good. But after that we could not take the cold damp weather anymore so we found the closest underground station and made our way back to our hotel for a cup of tea.
We did end up venturing out for dinner. Our first choice was the insanely popular and perpetually crowded Dishoom in Covent Garden. Usually we get lucky but not this time. With a two hour dinner wait, we basically turned and ran. Thankfully I had a bunch of different dinner recommendations from blogs and we ended up at the French/British bistro Maggie Jones. Omgsh I cannot begin to describe the charm of this cozy little restaurant. It has baskets of dried flowers hanging from the ceiling, mismatched patterned plates, and the whole place is lit by candles stuck in wine bottles on the tables. So charming!
And there you have it!
Those were our first two days in London. It took all of an hour for London to capture my heart. Coming up in the next installment of my London travel diary is street art, flower markets, and many more museums. Stay tuned!