I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the great city of London twice now. I’ve always looked at travel as a great privilege, so getting to tour a fairly far away place for pleasure more than once is something I feel profoundly grateful for. Funnily enough, I didn’t love London the first time we traveled there 4 years ago. Neither did my hubs. But there are certain cities (admittedly mostly big and iconic ones) that I am open to giving a second chance. After all, I moved to New York City after three visits where I kind of hated it. I took a gamble and now it’s not only the city I’ve called home for almost 9 years, it’s also my favorite place on this planet.
London did not disappoint the second time around. In fact, it exceeded our expectations. We had a blast. We adored the neighborhood we stayed in, we ate well, we had great interactions with people, and we enjoyed all the sites and activities we chose to partake in.
Selecting an AirBnB in Islington, on the East side of London was the best decision we could have made. The first time around we stayed in a hotel in the Westminster area–mostly because it was our first trip abroad together and our instincts (and fears) geared us toward the center of the “action”, aka tourist hell. In reality, I would never direct another traveler to stay in Times Square (although most do). Having to make our way through the swamp of selfie sticks on Westminster Bridge every morning and evening was enough to never make that mistake again. Neighborhoods where real people live are the ticket! Islington was wonderful and chock full of shops and restaurants and interesting places to peruse, all while being fabulously situated between several tube stations that made getting around a breeze.
Thanks to all of you who followed along on IG and shouted out tips along the way–a lot of them were really invaluable. Now, to fill in the gaps, here’s the rest of our trip to London–in pictures, and a few words…
We took a tour of Shoreditch (a neighb in the East End) on our first day in the city. While the tour was only so-so (I’ll always recommend ones I think are top-notch, if you want to know about companies I don’t think are so great, feel free to ask me in the comments), the street art we saw was amazing. I’m a little obsessed with Shoreditch. It’s like Williamsburg before all the strollers moved in. So many cool shops and creative people living out loud. The only reason we didn’t stay there was cause we like our sleep. We’re not partiers anymore so while we loved hanging in Shoreditch during the day, Islington’s quieter evenings were more our speed.
I love street art because it’s unpretentious. I don’t feel like I always have to know it’s intention. The artists make me feel like they are open to my interpretation and encouraging of whatever feeling their work evokes.
Our first day trip from London this time around was to York. Go to York! It’s so charming and full of history and only 2 hours away on the train (which isn’t the shortest for a day trip but really it’s very manageable). Take a tour with White Rose York. Trust me. You’ll be transported. The madness of Henry VIII will become even more vivid as will the reality of the logistics of travel and life during that time. These are stories you won’t soon forget. Also, make time for a much more contemporary and off the beaten path narrative that can be found at the York Cold War Bunker. This site is a nice 30 minute walk outside of the tourist center and is really worth checking out. It ended up being one of my husband’s favorite parts of our trip!
Our second day trip (on our third day in London) was Brighton. Hands down, favorite beach town outside of a city I have been to yet–and we’ve been to a few. We tend to gravitate towards them when we take long trips to big cities just to get a different vibe for a day. Brighton was by far the largest and most interesting one we’ve been to so far. It’s very much a city in and of itself and carries it’s own traditions and history. We took a food tour and a bike tour and I would recommend both. Go for a day or two. You’ll enjoy the chill people and atmosphere, and eat and drink really well. At just barely an hour outside of London, this one’s definitely worth it.
Our fourth day in London was my 35th birthday! Those of you who know me best know that I’ve got two favorite ways to start a day: a run or some yoga. We began the July 1st festivities with an amazing hot yoga class at a studio just down the street from our apartment. The teacher we had actually just got her certification so staying after to chat with her a bit about that was really the cherry on top of the sundae.
Speaking of dessert, after class and some breakfast, we headed over to my favorite sweet spot (whose stall we had visited in Camden Market the last time and whose brick and mortar just happened to be a skip from our apartment, what luck!) to gather some goodies for our return later in the evening. Vegan and gluten free donuts galore. My tummy was extremely happy.
The rest of the day was just as perfect as the beginning. I’m a huge history nerd (as is my hubs) so we visited the Imperial War museum. (There’s SO much to see here, we only scratched the surface in the time we had. Luckily it’s something you can always go back to (it’s free!) and we definitely will). After that we ate another incredible meal (message me for restaurant recs any time and I will share!), and then made our way over to Shakespeare’s Globe to see Hamlet. Last time we were in London we took a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon and saw Merchant of Venice at the RSC, so this viewing of Hamlet pretty much fulfilled all my Shakespearean dreams. We ended the night with a romantic street and moonlit stroll where the whole time I had that feeling of “holy shit, is this really my life?” It was a great birthday.
Our last day in London started out with a 5k jaunt through our neighborhood (and probably through a few others but we weren’t totally sure where we were!). Although we do a massive amount of walking when we travel it always feels great to get a run in and get the heart rate up. After we burned some calories we turned right around and loaded up on them with an incredible meal of Indian food at Dishoom.
Then more than adequately fueled, we headed out on a tour of the Soho neighborhood which was absolutely fantastic. I think the benefit of getting to come back to a huge city like London more than one time is getting to explore individual neighborhoods on a deeper level. Soho’s sex, drugs, and rock n’roll history kept our attention as we wandered through tiny streets and back alleys we never would have discovered on our own.
One of the things we sometimes take for granted living in New York City (honestly, that was just a turn of phrase, I don’t really take it for granted, I appreciate it EVERY DAY) is our diversity. Diversity–or lack of it, shows up everywhere. It’s in our homes, in our schools, and it’s also on our plates. It was in Budapest a few years ago that I finally realized something quite obvious. I asked our tour guide where we could find good asian food, and she replied, “nowhere.” Shocked, I asked why. She laughed and said, “well, because there are no asian people here.” I chuckled at myself then and thought, “duh, how did I think I had access to everything I eat? I live in f-in America, we are a melting pot! When people immigrate, they bring their culture and traditions and most deliciously, their food!” As much as I’ve enjoyed eating in different places in Europe I almost always get homesick for food first. I eat Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, and Thai food (to name just a few) on a weekly basis. So as much as I am a meat and potatoes girl, I tend to crave guacamole and/or asian flavors hard when we travel.
Lucky for us, London leads the UK in diversity, so we were able to not only start our day with a delicious Indian meal, but also end it with unbelievable hand pulled noodles from a Chinese spot 5 minutes away from our apartment. It was the perfect end to the best second visit to a city we’ve ever had.
London’s the closest thing to home I’ve ever experienced abroad. Of course it’s different from New York–but the energy and the pace are very similar. London’s depth for discovery is endless and we find that both welcoming and exciting. We can’t wait to return!