London has it all. This city is bursting at the seams with history, culture, art, food, shopping–you name it. I, however, was there for a work trip, which took first priority. Second priority was seeing friends. And with what little time I had left, I skipped (most of) the main tourist sights for some neighborhood exploration.
How I got there:
Took the overnight flight from Dulles into Heathrow. I needed American Airlines segments, so I did it on partner British Airways, and it was delightful.
Where I stayed:
The South Place Hotel, situated conveniently between the Moorgate and Liverpool Street underground stops. While the location was great for getting places on the Tube and walking around, the hotel itself was too hip for me. It always felt like a club scene downstairs. An uncomfortable number of things in the room were controlled by remote. And the art… The words, “The End”–painted in what looks like dripping blood–aren’t exactly what you want hanging over your bed at night.
What I did:
Most of the time, I was working (honest!), but in my spare time, I walked north to explore east London’s Shoreditch neighborhood (with some Hoxton and Spitalfields mixed in there, too).
I’m not going to take a stance on the spread of hipster culture–or “Shoreditchification,” as this piece puts it. I have no concept of what was there before. But I will say that the area is currently full of great shops, restaurants and bars. At the expense of what, I’m not sure.
Here’s a snippet from the Shoreditch area guide in TimeOut London, the writer of which has undoubtedly spent more time there than I have:
“Some say Shoreditch has had its day, that London’s trendy brigade have moved on. If you go to Brick Lane Market, though, it doesn’t look that way. The weird and wonderfully dressed hordes keep coming to the rough triangle made up by Old Street, Great Eastern Street and Shoreditch High Street, packing into ramshackle bars and independent shops. Despite the spread of affluence, much of the area maintains its original gritty, urban edge; many of the walls and shop fronts are plastered with graffiti. Of course, for many the grime is all part of the appeal – if you want a big garden and posh schools, move to Muswell Hill.”
A few from shopping in Spitalfields–COS was my favorite.
My one tourist activity for the week was a walking tour from Sandeman’s New Europe, which created the free tour so beloved by study abroad students. I’ve taken these tours all over Europe, and I worked alongside the company as a bar crawl guide in Prague back in 2010. Some of them are better than others; I did the “Old City Tour,” which really ended up being pretty boring. In general, though, I’d recommend the free tours wherever you can find them. Just remember to tip your guide!
A couple snaps from the tour:
My last night in town, I went out to Stepney Green to visit two friends, Andy and Alex, whom I met in my Czech class in Prague. When I left in 2011, I had no idea when or where I’d see them again, but since then, I’ve seen Andy in South Africa, Alex in South Korea, and Andy again in DC. Basically, I’ve hung out with them all over the world. So meeting up with them both in London–where they now room together with another former Prague expat–really felt like coming full circle. It still amazes me when I think about it, and about how and where your paths intersect with others’ throughout your life. It’s one of my favorite things about the world. (End of wistful rambling.)
From there we went to the Clapton Hart for trivia (or pub quiz, as it’s called locally). Oh, how I wish you could just find a gigantic, three-room bar in DC with thoughtful interior design, a great beer and food list and seating for all. With trivia! (And to top it off, we took second place, the prize for which was a free bottle of wine.)
Where I ate:
I had lots of great recommendations to work with, thanks to the disproportionate number of people I know who have spent time in London. Among them:
Ottolenghi – Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks (Plenty, Plenty More and Jerusalem, to name a few) are seemingly everywhere I look (…shop). And while I’m not necessarily ready to try his creations out at home, I stopped by the Islington location of his self-titled restaurant chain to try them there. Dessert stole the show.
(but I also really liked the bathroom)
Trade Coffee – This coffee stop stole my heart. Props to my friend Nathan, who knows me too well, for pointing me toward it. Also, the smashed avo toast and strawberry shortcake.
The Garrison Public House – This may have been my favorite restaurant of all. It was a fantastic, cozy place to have dinner and tea and do my work, and the food was excellent. I’ve also never met such friendly and helpful waitstaff in my life. When the Wifi briefly went out–preventing me from finishing my article, mapping my way home or calling an Uber–they did everything they could to help me, including lending me their own phones. ❤
Borough Market – I had heard too many wonderful things about Borough Market to miss it on this trip, and it lived up to the hype. Basically, there’s just fresh, amazing food everywhere, from Indian dal to brownies to Egyptian street food. And each thing you try is better than the next.
And let’s not forget Wagamama. It may be an international chain, and it may be in America. But I love this place. And it got me through far too many college hangovers not to pay tribute whenever I can.
What I missed:
I did want a glimpse of Big Ben and Parliament that I didn’t have time to get, just to say hello while I was in town. I also got multiple recommendations for cocktail bar Happiness Forgets in Hoxton Square, but my work schedule didn’t really leave room for cocktails.
Food-wise, I didn’t get to eat Duck & Waffle, but I did sneak up there for a minute to snap a few photos of these views.