London Travel Guide: Where to Go and What to See

I visited London as a 12 year-old and 15 year-old, and let me tell you that visiting as a 31 year-old is a whole new ball game! This city is bursting with beautiful people, culture, street art, museums, fancy hotel bars, and amazing restaurants (RESTAURANT GUDE HERE). It’s not all about Will and Kate, Big Ben, and the Buckingham Palace! Below I’ve included my favorite art museums, walks, theater, parks, and shopping not to miss and divided them by category. At the end, I’ve also included the itinerary I chose to create so you know to see and do together on each day that makes sense for neighborhood.

WHERE TO STAY:
The COURTHOUSE HOTEL SHOREDITCH is one of the best accommodations/experiences I’ve ever had at a hotel in Europe. The 5-star hotel is situated in Shoreditch and provided me with a longing NYC vibe that was a mix between Lower East Side and Williamsburg. If you are looking for an up and coming, trendy neighborhood, with the best restaurants/ bars, and street art, then this is for you.The rooms are huge, equipped with free bottles of water and chocolates every night, high-powered hair dryer, a comb, nice hanging closet, and I had a great view of their rooftop bar. I should also mention their complimentary breakfast located in a cute dining room is available until 10:30 a.m. with smoked salmon, an array of specialty cheeses, granola parfaits, eggs, cereals, breads, croissants, etc. You’ll also like to know they have a two lane bowling alley, indoor pool and spa rooms. The concierge are super helpful and can help you get a reservation at Sketch for high-tea if you can’t get in yourself. Perks! I was able to walk to dinner/bars every night, clocking in at 10 miles after a full day’s work, and the tube is just down the street. Also, for some history, this hotel was an old courthouse as you’ll notice some o the art work of real judges. They even have some prison cells still in tact in the bar area downstairs. 

***If you are looking for something old-time classic London and want to be closer to museums you might want to look elsewhere. However, the tube is a 7  min walk and EXTREMELY reliable – I actually miss riding it – and I’d say it’s the easiest public transportation I’ve ever used.

ART GALLERY’S/ MUSEUMS
One of the best things about London, is that most of the museums are free!!!

  • SERPENTINE GALLERIES – These free galleries are located in Hyde Park, so just talk a walk around the giant Serpentine Lake and a pop into both galleries which are about a 5 min walk from each other and can take as little time as you like. Right now (summer 2018), one of the galleries shows the process and history of the entire project that artist Christo created, The London Mastaba. It’s his famous sculpture using barrels the colors of the British flag and some pink from the park flowers which is located in the middle of the lake.
  • SAATCHI GALLERY – Another free gallery that you should visit after Serpentine as it’s just a stroll away (stop at Harrod’s Food Hall in between). The art here is quirky, can push the boundaries, and are most likely pieces you’ve never seen or read about. The best part is that it’s quiet, so you can really enjoy and slide through the exhibition without anyone being in your way or holding a selfie stick in front of you. I saw “Known Unknowns” with a collection of contemporary artists with mostly large scale paintings but also sculptures and photographs. Artists included Tom Anholt, Francesca DiMattio, Stuart Middleton, Maria Farrar, etc. The shop is also really fun. Last entry is 5:30 p.m. 
  • TATE MODERN – The Tate Modern is an institution, an industrial looking building on the inside, and you can take a 30 min walk down across the river to get here if you are staying at Courthouse Hotel Shoreditch. This museum is also free except for special exhibitions, which you’ll most likely want to pay for. I saw the BEST Picasso collection I’ve ever seen that I almost had tears. As an avid Picasso student and follower, most of the 40 + pieces I saw were those I’d never laid eyes on besides “The Girl Before A Mirror” which was borrowed from the MoMA and is also hanging in my room. A lot of private collections are included here and you’ll be blown away. I walked through it three times total.  It’s ongoing through September 9, 2018 and $30. 
  • SOMERSET HOUSE – This is another non-traditional museum with free admission and rotating exhibitions that are pretty short. In the summertime, they have free concerts and films outside at night. This building is pretty big and there are a lot of things going on as well as offices so make sure you ask someone to direct your or help you find a program. I loved the extremely rich photography for The Influence Project which celebrates the global impact of African American musicians who pushed boundaries creatively, socially, and politically in R&B, Funk, Soul, Afrobeat and Hip Hop. You’ll find Erykah Badu, George Clinton, Lauryn Hill and more. I also saw an exhibit with British print magazines from over the years. 

Other museums I was unable to make it to but are at the top of my list for next time and you should research before you go- Victoria & Albert, Sir John Soane’s (closed Monday and Tuesday) Design Museum.

***TIP: As a Bansky fan, I went to visit the Bansky Gallery and it was super small as they were getting ready for a big show so only about 5 pieces of silk screen prints were on display. I’d recommend just visiting his street art instead of trekking here.

THEATER

  • SHAKESPEARE GLOBE THEATER– This is the MOST British thing I’ve ever done. This old, historic theater is spectacular, energetic and will have you smiling ear to ear before the show starts just by looking around the outdoor, open-air arena. I’ve never seen anything like this from the interiors to the elaborate costumes. Make sure to buy a ticket so you have a shaded seat and don’t have to stand in the center with heat pouring in heat from the direct sunlight. I saw As You Like It and while I couldn’t necessarily follow along with everything that happened or make through some accents, it is an experience I will cherish forever. This is a reconstruction of the first Globe Theatre where Shakespeare worked in the 17th century. It’s right next to the Tate so hop over there an hour before the show starts. 
  • WEST END–  London is the originator of theater (not Broadway in NYC!). The first theater in West End opened in 1663 and in the early 1900’s in New York City.  I saw Le Miserables and Starlight Express (the live roller skating musical) when I visited London in middle school. You can get tickets to see big shows like Hamilton, The Phantom of the Opera, Mama Mia, etc. Right now the two shows in London to see are: Everybody’s Talking about Jamie and Heather The Musical.

PARKS

  • COLOMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET– While this is not a park, it sure feels like it. The Sunday-only flower market covers the entire street with stalls selling giant and colorful beauties. You’ll see people walking around with florals for miles surrounding here. The shops on this street are also ONLY open on Saturday and Sunday (so don’t try to come here during the week it’s dead) There are a few clothing pop-ups and bars to grab a pint. It’s lively and you’ll want to take some flowers back to your hotel room even though it doesn’t make any sense. 
  • HYDE PARK– Take the tube stop to Marble Arch (visit Selfridges first) and then walk straight into the park. You’ll go for about 8 minutes before you run into Lake Serpentine where you’ll see people picnicking, renting lawn chairs, or even row boating. I came specifically to see Christo’s first UK barrel art piece that is floating in the water through September 23, 2018. It’s super fun to walk throughout this park and through the galleries. It’s 350 acres! If you go on a Sunday, check out the Speaker’s Corner which have been going on since the mid 1800’s for people to share life views. 
  • REGENT’S PARK – These gardens, which opened to the public in 1932, are a little north, but you really can’t miss it. Queen Mary’s Garden should be your first stop which is named after the wife of King George V. Full of all different colored roses, it’s soothing, breathtaking, and encompasses 12,000 total and85 varieties. Just two years old, the Frieze Sculpture exhibit in Regent’s Park is back from July 4 – October 7. There are 25 pieces of work from modern artists sprinkled around one area not too far from Queen Mary’s Garden. My favorite was Rana Begum, The Third Line which was basically a life-size stained glass piece that you could stand next to and see reflections around you. 

SHOPPING

  • SELFRIDGES – This is the best department store in London. Too many floors for me to count and you can spend all day in here before heading off to Hyde Park. Also the Top Shop at 214 Oxford Street just a 10 min walk from here is a playground! It has a full floor of shoes from several brands, sneakers, vintage clothes, as well as a brow bar, bakery, and several floors of women’s clothes. I got the best high-waisted black jeans and light pink overalls.
  • THE NEW CRAFTSMEN – My friend Natalie Marchbanks who used to live in London before moving back to Austin, told me about this awesome store around the corner from Selfridges. It highlights the craft of local Brit’s and curates a store full of their creations which are mostly ceramics and goods for the home. However, they are constantly highlighting new artists and makers so the store is always changing. You can even create your own line of custom dinnerware in the back. Plates, glasses, pillows, cutting boards, baskets, towels, are just some of the offerings. 
  • DOVER STREET MARKET– To make things clear, this is NOT a market, but probably the fanciest designer store collection in the world. Well, it’s definitely the most eclectic and visually pleasing. I consider my experience here to an art exhibit. Every floor is so delicately placed and themed. There’s a hidden Rose Bakery at the top floor where you can catch celebs. Definitely take the spiral stair case as you visit each floor. The staff is also very nice here. 
  • DUKE OF YORK SQUARE– Right outside of Saatchi Gallery, boutiques and stores line the streets like Cos, Zara, All Saints, Jaques Flower Shop, L.K. Bennett, Massimo Dutti, Nars, Whistles, Wolford, etc. Walk around here and the skip over to the Belgravia neighborhood. 
  • BELGRAVIA – This area is very quaint and right near Westminister. I walked here after Saatchi in hopes of finding a piece of cake at Peggy Porschen, but I discovered a fashion dynamite on this street. Vicki Sarge is the coolest jewelry store all hand made in London with a variety of styles and personality. They call it “luxury costume jewelry.”  I got a gorgeous pair of purple stone earrings. Beulah is also a nice and expensive clothing shop. Grab a scoop of Sardinian gelato on your way out of the hood at Olivo Gelato
  • COVENT GARDEN– This shopping center is outdoors and full of lively activity. The stores are pretty similar to Duke of York Square, but there is a Reiss down the street.