Newsflash: I love London
I was most recently in London in September, where I spent time working, catching up with friends who live in the city and having some great experiences. My trip reinforced to me just how much there is to do in London, even for someone who once lived there and has since visited repeatedly.
For those heading to London for the first time or the 1,000th time, here are several fun experiences to have in the city:
1. Indulge in champagne (or prosecco) afternoon tea
I firmly believe afternoon tea is a must for anyone visiting London, particularly for first-time visitors. But why not elevate that afternoon tea experience with a glass of champagne or prosecco? I’ve done this almost every time I’m in London, and it just feels like a small luxury to visit a place in the afternoon, nibble on scones, clotted cream and finger sandwiches while sipping on some bubbly. My favorite places where I’ve done this are Galvin at the Athenaeum and Swan at Shakespeare's Globe, but there are many, many places to choose from.
2. Familiarize yourself with Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre
Speaking of Shakespeare, even if you think you would not be interested, I highly recommend taking in a play at the Globe Theatre if you're there during the summer season. When I lived in London, I didn’t do this until right before I left, and then I wondered why I had waited so long. It just felt like such a quintessentially British experience (or maybe just a touristy experience). Either way, I enjoyed it, but don’t do standing room tickets unless you have very comfortable shoes. Trust me.
3. Go boating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park
Hyde Park is easily one of my favorite parks in London, in part because of the Serpentine. I love going there and looking out at the Serpentine or sitting on one of the benches to just rest and people watch, or grabbing a bite to eat at the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen. But for those who want a more active experience, try renting one of their rowing or paddle boats. It’s a great way to experience the park from the water and your legs will thank you for the effort (or maybe they won’t). Note: the boating is not year-round, so for those visiting in the winter, you can just stare at the Serpentine and go boating another time.
4. Take a yoga class at Sky Garden
Sky Garden is located at the top of one of London’s newer buildings, specifically the one that looks like a giant walkie talkie. You can go there for drinks, dinner or just to enjoy the view. OR you can do something unique and active like take a yoga class at Sky Garden, which means you’ll be looking out at the city while you’re in warrior two. I did this on my most recent visit to London and loved it. You can take the class on its own or pair it with breakfast. You do have to bring your own yoga mat and you want to get there early to get a good spot, but it’s worth it for what ended up being a good yoga class accompanied with some great views of London.
5. Take a South Asian cooking class
I’m a big fan of cooking classes in general. I’ve taken more than my fair share in Charleston, South Africa, Tokyo, New York, London and elsewhere. One of my favorite cooking classes was the South Asian cooking class I took in London with Chef Monisha Bharadwaj. What made the experience so fun was that we first went to a South Asian market in a London neighborhood, where we learned about staples of South Asian cuisine. Then we headed back to Chef Monisha’s place to cook, and everything we made (and ate) was phenomenal.
6. Sip on a cocktail (or several) at a cozy London bar
London truly does cocktails so well. It’s home to some of the world’s best bars, which are perfect places to frequent for those wanting to rest their feet, catch up with friends, go on a date or just drink. I have a few places that I love but one of my recent favorites is Bloomsbury Club Bar, which is located in the Bloomsbury Hotel. It is the epitome of coziness and feels like a place where you can stay forever, or until they kick you out. Another place I love for a cozy cocktail AND live music is Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. There are also SO many other places to visit, so just go and take your pick.
7. Immerse yourself in London’s experiential theatre
Experiential theatre has been increasing in popularity in recent years. In New York, you have shows like Fuerza Bruta, Sleep No More and Then She Fell that draw you in, both literally and figuratively. London also has its fair share of amazing experiential theatre that is a fun alternative to seeing a show on the West End (though you could easily do both). During my last visit to London, I went to one of the city’s immersive shows, Alice’s Adventures Underground, that’s sadly now closed, but it was fantastic, and I am sure there are many more fantastic experiential theatre shows to come!
8. Enjoy a Sunday Roast at a neighborhood pub
A Sunday roast is another thing I find to be quintessentially British. It usually consists of a roasted meat, like chicken, lamb or beef, accompanied by sides like roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, a vegetable or two and gravy. It’s both indulgent and comforting, and other than enjoying a Sunday roast in someone’s home, another place to enjoy that meal is at a local neighborhood pub. Two of my favorite pubs are The Water Poet in Spitalfields and The Grenadier in Belgravia.
9. Tap into your inner glutton at one of London’s food markets
London has some truly amazing markets, from flower markets to antique markets to clothing and so many other things in between. But, being a glutton myself, I tend to always head for the food markets. Borough Market is the OG of the food markets and the perfect place to be a glutton. Seriously, you can glutton your heart out at Borough Market (though you have to deal with the crowds depending on when you go). But, there are some other markets worth mentioning, in particular Maltby Street Market, which has some great food options tucked into its condensed pathway. Or, you can visit both markets and then some. You just do you!
10. Hear young boys sing at Westminster Abbey
Visiting Westminster Abbey is a nice experience in itself but going to the choral evensong service at Westminster is just beautiful. Whether you are religious or not, I think this is a very worthwhile thing to do. If you arrive early, you can sit in the quire, which is another experience in itself. You need to dress respectively and appropriately (and I suggest warmly if you go in the colder months), but it’s a unique way to see one of London’s top attractions and where Will and Kate got married!
11. Take a bike tour of London
You can certainly tour London on foot, or you can skip the walking and the hop on hop off bus tours to see London from a bicycle. I did a tour with friends through Fat Tire Tours a few months into living in London, and though it was a little wet and rainy at times, it was a fun way to see the city. At no point was I nervous about cycling around the city because the routes always felt safe. And I got some exercise in while I was at it!
12. Meander around the city with no destination in mind
How many times have you been to a place and walked without a destination in mind? I love doing this. It’s easily one of my favorite things to do, though I definitely can’t do this everywhere, and I have to be mindful to understand the neighborhoods I will be passing along the way so I don’t end up in a dicey situation. Other than that, I just walk. And I go into stores that look interesting (and sometimes they take my money), and I stop and sit when I want to stop and sit. I’ve done this a few times in London and always discover at least one interesting gem. So, if you have the time, I recommend meandering and seeing what you discover along the way.
What are some of your favorite experiences to have in London?