If you can be in love with a city, then I am in love with London. I really fell for the city when I lived there doing my Master’s degree. This is no news to my friends who have had to listen to me raving about how great the city is and how much I wished to have the chance to live there once again. And hopefully one day, this dream will come true. In the meantime, I go back for a visit usually twice a year to take a walk on memory lane and to explore ever new facettes of this incredibly diverse, culturally rich and vibrant city. So here are my personal favourites and recommendations for a weekend in London:
Where to start?
Having lived in Covent Garden (yes, I WAS spoiled), my first route arriving on a Friday late afternoon normally starts in the Covent Garden Market area. It is perfect to dive into the buzzling (yes, I admit crowded and touristy) central London atmosphere, with hoards of people flocking from the tube exit and around the small streets, either heading towards Neil Street to take a quick stroll through the shops there before stopping for a quick drink at the corner pub at Seven Dials or move on to see a show in one of the theaters on Shaftesbury Avenue (by the way, there is a really nice Indian Restaurant on 80 Neil Street, the Punjab, apparently the oldest North Indian Restaurant in the UK). So I might do that, or I would head in the opposite direction to Covent Garden Market or stay on Long Acre and then walk towards Leicester Square, and from there turn right to London’s China Town and have dinner there. From there it is also only a few minutes to Soho (start around Old Compton Street, Greek Street and Frith Street) where you can also find plenty of restaurants (e.g. if you would like to try Peruvian specialities ceviche and pisco sour, go to Senor Ceviche on Kingly Court, or for delicous dim-sum to the sensual tea-house Yauatcha on 15 Broadwick Street). As you can see, there are plenty of dining options so it is worth thinking about where you would like to go in advance, not only to plan your route but also to book a table in advance (otherwise you should expect some queuing as restaurants get extremely busy).
Left: Around Leicester Square; Right: Side street to Oxford Street.
London’s many markets
One of my favourite things about London are ist many streetmarkets. So on a Saturday, I usually try to visit one or more of London’s markets. If you are a foodie, you should definitely include a visit to Borough Market in South London on your travel itineary (open Wednesday till Saturday, next tube stop is London Bridge but it is also a nice to approach it via a walk along the southern bank of the Thamse). And even if you are not, the market is absolutely worth a visit and the perfect chance to grab a snack, and during winter time, you will also find mulled wine there.
A very popular and thus unfortunately usually very crowded market is the one on Portobello Road in Notting Hill (Saturday main day, limited market on Sunday). But despite the fact that you sometimes have to almost squeeze yourself through the masses of people, there is just a unique atmosphere to the market thanks to the charming Notting Hill houses, the streetfood stalls serving all kinds of international snacks, and the old black saxophonist or the young band playing at the street corner.
A third option is to go East and get off at Liverpool Street for Spitalfield’s Market (Saturday Style market from 11am-5pm) and Brick Lane (Market). The best day for Brick Lane is Sunday, when there is also an outdoor street market and performers but shops and restaurants are open every day. The experience may be more unique for sure Sunday noon when young East Londoners meet for burgers at Cafe 1001 (on 91 Brick Lane) or even continue partying inside before starting their search for inexpensive second hand furniture, clothing or other bric-a-brac. You may not be particularly interested in the stuff sold on the street but you might find a cute vintage style dress or a decent piece of second-hand clothing in one of the permant stores in the area. This said, while Spitalfield’s Market with its plenty of cute and fashionable shops and stalls for clothing, jewellery and all kinds of artsy souveniers attracts quite a broad audience, Brick Lane is much more about vintage and second-hand stuff and what used to be ultra hipster back in the days when the style had not yet become mainstream (more on the “Death of the Hipster” and why London decided to move on here in the London Evening Standard).
Last but not least there is of course also Camden town. While I am not crazy about the market stalls and shops on Camden High Street, I do like the Camden lock village and the stables. From the side of Camden lock village, you can also take a really nice walk along the canal all the way to Primrose Hill, from where you can have a beautiful view over London.
Sure, vintage clothing and design street markets may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you prefer it a bit more posh, then you need to go West, to the Borough of Kensington and Chelesa (get off at South Kensington tube stop). Just around the tube exit there are plenty of nice cafes and little restaurants to grab a coffee and a quick bite. From there it is only a five minute walk to the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum. Both museum’s permanent exhibitions are already worth a visit (and they are for free!) but they always also have special limited exhibitions (those come with a ticket fee) such as recently on Alexander McQueen in the V&A, which unfortunately I was unable to to visit as all visiting hours were already fully booked. Therefore I highly recommend to considering to book the ticket well in advance to secure a chance to see a temporary exhibition at all, or you may have to get a ticket for a certain time slot available – which can be inconvenient when you have a tight schedule. Either way, the V&A also has a lovely cafeteria and a courtyard where you can comfortably relax for a while, so it is always nice to visit.
Another really nice area, also for high street shopping is on King’s Road (get off at Sloane Square or walk down from South Kensignton tube stop). On King’s Road there is also the Saatchi Gallery, and right next to it on the Duke of York Square weekly Food Market on Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm. you will find everything from good quality French cheeses to cup cakes, Malaysian cuisine to Moroccan Food .
Left: Street musicians outside South Kensington tube stop; Right: Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery.
The best time to visit London is definitely May or June, although September and October can also be quite nice. If you are lucky to have warm and sunny weather, do it like the Londoners, get some fruit, crisps and sandwiches and head to the closest park for a picknick (Regent’s Park is a favourite, Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, or a bit further outside Hampstead Heath).
If you travel before or after Christmas, you may want to take the opportunity and go ice-skating in the beautiful surroundings of Summerset House (open from 18 November until 10 January, more infos and pre-booking here). You can find another ice-rink also in the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (open daily, 10am – 10pm from 20 November until 3 January), next to Bavarian style Christmas market chalets, lots of festive food and drinks stalls, a giant wheel and other rides and attractions. With a strong fun fair character you may however prefer to enjoy the beautiful seasonal decorations of Oxford Street and its neighbouring streets, and do some Christmas Shopping instead.
From top left to bottom right: (1) Hyde Park (2) View on The Serpentine from Kensington Gardens (3) Covent Garden Market during Christmas time (4) Somewhere in Marleybone during Christmas time.
Last but not least…have some typically British food
Before I forget: If you can, try to squeeze in afternoon tea with scones and a Sunday Roast, both of which are very genuinly British.
Some suggestions for afternoon tea are Sketch, which is conventiently located just of Regent Street on 9 Conduit Street (don’t forget to book in advance) or, if you are in the area, in the Orangery of Kensington Garden Palace in Kensington Gardens (closest tube stops are Notting Hill Gate and High Street Kensington).
As for Sunday Roast, you should be able to get it in almost every pub. And don’t be fooled, it is not exclusively sold on Sundays (however, in some pubs it is the case). What is it? I say it is a perfect mix of meat and veggies, a down-to-earth solid good food. Normally you will have the choice between beef and chicken, which is served in gravy with roasted carrots, beans, potatoes and croquettes, and yorkshire pudding. (If you don’t know what yorkshire pudding is – do not be fooled by the name, it is certainly not related to what we German-Speakers understand as “Pudding”, in fact it is simply baked dough). I simply love it!
Left: Tea with scones, served with strawberry jam and butter; Right: Sunday Roast.
All these are my ingredients for a great weekend in London – and of course it is best enjoyed together with some lovely friends or your better half. PS: London also makes for a great destination for a Bachelorette Party. In that case, ever thought about challenging the Bride-to-be with a Burlesque dancing class? We did it together with Burlesque Baby and oh my god it was such great fun. And it can never harm to know how to most seductively get rid of your stockings, can it 😉
Lots of ❤ Kate