A few months ago, I had the pleasure of visiting London for the second time. During this visit, I had seven whole days to explore and eat and drink in this wonderful city.
Like New York City, London is a place that draws you back time and time again because there’s always something new and exciting to see or do. It would take many, many visits for me to truly feel like I “know” this city, but I’ve done my best to compile a list of my favorite attractions, places to eat, and bars. In this first installment, I give you some advice on where to stay, where to eat, and what to drink.
Where to Stay
I’m going to go ahead and say that this is the one area where I can’t really offer much help. It’s an expensive city, so I think that this, more than anything else, should dictate where you ultimately decide to stay and whether you opt for an Airbnb or a hotel.
After staying in Bankside (a district that’s part of the borough of Southwark) twice, I must admit that I’m very biased towards this area. It’s quiet compared to the chaos that goes on near Picadilly Circus, Mayfair, or Soho, and it’s close to some of my favorite attractions like Borough Market and the Tate Modern.
Something you might want to keep in mind when you are trying to choose where to stay is that London is a fairly big city. The subway, or tube, makes it relatively easy to get around, but you will never really manage to be close to everything. I would recommend asking yourself what you most want to see or do and choose an area based on this.
Where to Eat
There are tons of good restaurants in London, so it’s really difficult to recommend a particular one. To be honest, I was so busy sightseeing that I didn’t have much time to visit some of the best-regarded restaurants in the city. I opted for convenience and affordability instead. Here are some of the standouts.
Borough Market. You will see this market mentioned in pretty much every guide to London and for good reason. It’s one of the oldest and biggest in the city, and it is a great place to have lunch if you happen to be visiting the Tower of London or Shakespeare’s Globe. It is a particularly good place to eat because it offers a range of options. You have proper sit-down restaurants like Roast, an iconic London eatery serving modern British food, and also a variety of food stalls to choose from. You will find yourself distracted by all the different food offerings, but make sure to check out the vendors too. I had one of the best meringues of my life here: it had two macarons stuck to the top and it tasted like heaven.
Soho. This area is more trendy and edgy than Bankside, and it’s definitely worth a visit. I personally love it because it has a ton of character and there are many interesting shops and restaurants to visit. It’s also known for it’s nightlife, but I honestly keep going back for the cocktails (more on this later) and the ice cream. After having a couple of cocktails, my husband and I wandered into Snowflake Luxury Gelato and had our fill of delicious gelato. They have pretty much every flavor that your little heart might desire. After doing some reading, I learned that there are many more good gelaterias in the area, so you might want to take yourself on an ice cream and gelato tour of Soho.
Eat all the Indian food. Seriously. After talking to some Londoners, they explained that there is such a thing as bad Indian food in London, but I certainly haven’t found it. I don’t know why, but it just tastes better over there than it does here in the States, so don’t miss out!
Flat Iron Square. Although much smaller than Borough Market, this little flea market and collection of food stalls is still worth a visit if you are in Bankside. From what I understand it’s relatively new, but they have a very solid variety of food and drinks available. They were open every day for lunch and some days in the evening. I had many meals there because it was 5 min away from my hotel and from Borough Market, and I loved every single one of them. Some of the offerings include pizza, tacos, burgers, ramen, and a great bánh mi food truck. If you happen to be there on a Sunday, make sure to check out their vintage and makers market. It’s small but worth the visit just for the antique cameras for sale.
Where to Drink
Bar Termini (Soho). Probably my favorite bar in London. I found it through the power of Google Maps one evening when my husband and I desperately needed a drink near Covent Garden. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. It’s tiny and inconspicuous, but one look at the menu will tell you that they know what they are doing. The focus is on classic Italian cocktails, including my absolute favorite, the Negroni. They, in fact, make four variations of this cocktail, all of which I strongly recommend. The last time we were there, we also got to try out their food, and everything was amazing. Another big plus: most of the staff are Italian, and they are all delightful.
Dandelyan. If you are into craft cocktails, this award-winning bar is the place for you. It’s located in the lobby of the Mondrian, an elegant hotel with a quirky nautical vibe. The reason I keep coming back to Dandelyan is that they have some of the most interesting cocktails that I’ve ever had. I got to try their new menu the last time I was there, and it blew my mind. Not only do they have something to suit every taste, but they also mix their cocktails to perfection. If you are the adventurous type, you should get the Velvet Brew. It tastes like Iggy Pop’s sweat (in a good way).
Pubs. Just to clarify: pubs in the U.S. are nothing like English pubs. So make sure to stop by one when you are in London to get a taste of the real thing. While you are there, I recommend that you try a cask ale — especially a bitter or a mild, traditional English beers that are very different from anything you can find in the U.S. Some pubs also sell really tasty English food, like fish and chips. Since there is a pub on every corner, it’s hard to recommend one in particular. My advice would be to stay clear of the touristy ones and try to find one frequented by locals instead.
Don’t miss the next installment of this guide where I will talk about what to do/see, some hidden gems, and what to pack.