London is a city I could easily live in. I feel like I'm home whenever I visit. There is something so magical about London - it is everything you want it to be. The best way to see it is to walk it - through all the lovely parks, neighborhoods, and along the South Bank/River Thames. Although I love the Tube, the buses are super easy, they go more places, and it's still a minor thrill to watch the world go by from the upper deck of a double-decker bus. Try picking up the Number 9 bus at High Street Kensington and taking it to Aldwych/Somerset House - it takes you through the heart of London.
Lauren/Aspiring Kennedy has a great guide to her neighborhood Notting Hill!
Biscuiteers: For the most adorable hand-iced cookies that look like art. Instagram gold.
Daylesford Organic & Westbourne Grove: I have to come here every time I'm in London. Despite the farm- to-table obsession, it still rare for a company to truly live and breathe these philosophies. Daylesford has led the way for over 30 years. Their Cotswolds farm is magic, filled with happy, roaming animals, good eats, beautiful clothes and housewares, and happy people. And a piece of that magic is here in Notting Hill. You leave feeling nourished, loved, inspired - all things that truly good food can do for you. I love breakfast here.
After, wander down Westbourne Grove, a pretty street of pastel-colored buildings, shops, and restaurants.
The Oak: A wonderful, warm, delicious spot for dinner. It's a convivial gastro-pub with the best vibe.
The Hummingbird Bakery: Red. Velvet. Cupcakes!!!! Several locations.
Ottolenghi: For amazing takeaway food (it's a tiny shop!). Yotam Ottolenghi deserves all the crowns that have been bestowed upon him. His cookbooks are amazing.
Walmer Castle: Second-floor Thai restaurant in Notting Hill - casual spot for great noodles.
REGENT’S PARK/PRIMROSE HILL/HAMPSTEAD
The Holly Bush Pub: Totally charming English pub.
Primrose Bakery: Their tiny cupcakes are a perfect sugar jolt.
Primrose Hill: A beautiful garden and one of the best views of London's skyline.
Balthazar London: Yes, it's a close twin to New York City's and I expected to hate it, but I love it. Balthazar is globally awesome.
Bocca di Lupo: Small, delicious, modern Italian trattoria. Book as far in advance as you can - this place is always full.
Camisa: If I miss England, I might put on a Nigella Lawson show in the background as I cook. Nigella is as comforting as a cup of tea and a slice of cake and says things like "I don't believe in low-fat cooking." She has mentioned Camisa in Soho several times as one of her "favourite Italian shops," where she stocks up on dried pastas. The shop has been open since 1961 and has one of the best selections of Italian meats, sauces and cheeses in London. If you love food, it's definitely worth a stop.
The Delaunay: I have come here for breakfast often – it's beautiful and great scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and people-watching.
The Ivy: One of my mentors (and someone who told me I could do anything), the late Keith Bellows from National Geographic, loved this classic theater spot as much as I did. I come here and toast Keith. It's wonderful.
Jamie's Italian: Ok, it's a big chain all over England. But I love it, especially this one. I don't know why. It makes me want to buy all of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks.
Spring at Somerset House: Wonderful for a long lunch – an open, airy space with white columns, small clear chandeliers, and textured blue pastel walls, with origami paper designs on the walls.
Shop: Lambs Conduit Street - A very special shopping street in London without chain stores and banks. Dawson Flowers for a beautiful selection, Pentreath & Hall and French House for housewares, Cigala for Spanish tapas and wine, Vat's for a casual wine bar (and see Noble Rot above).
Stay: One Aldwych
Stay: The Ham Yard Hotel
Noble Rot: The lighting (and wine) is so good here! Come to this cozy spot on Lambs Conduit Street for great wine and small bites. The Riding House Cafe - Great for brunch, especially the pancakes!
Stay: The Bloomsbury Hotel
Stay: Rosewood London
St. Paul's Cathedral: I have to find the best views in any city I visit and the view from the top of St. Paul’s is stunning. The 500+ steps it takes to get there is worth it. It’s better than the London Eye or any other view because the wind is whipping around you and you’re really out in it. Just seeing the Shard (the giant pointy structure) feels like you’re looking at a rendering of a futuristic space-age city. There is a hefty £16 entrance fee. This is where Princess Diana married Prince Charles.
London Eye: Do it once. It's worth it to see such a sweeping view over London. Buy tickets ahead of time and save time.
Stay: The Corinthia Hotel
Borough Market near the London Bridge is the king of gourmet markets, with thousands of choices: vegetables, fruits, breads, coffee, oils, cheese, meat, fish, and more. My favorite spots are Tapas Brindisa and the Kappacasein cheese sandwich - you will crave this sandwich! Check out Lauren's post on Borough Market.
EAST LONDON: SPITALFIELDS/SHOREDITCH/BETHNAL GREEN/BRICK LANE
A. Gold Deli: For traditional British food. Totally charming shop.
East London: STRATFORD & QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK
One of my favorite travel memories ever is riding bikes from Stratford-upon-Avon to London. When we rode into London, we also stopped at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which is so cool, and rode bikes at Lee Valley VeloPark. The best explanation for riding on the ultra-smooth outdoor tracks is you feel like you're flying. I hope to do this again one day. Here's one of my National Geographic pieces on that trip.
Don't miss: Wagamama!! Many locations throughout London.
Wander the King's Road in South Kensington, starting at Sloane Square, where the tube stops. Fun shopping and restaurants. Royal gossip: Old Church Street is where Kate lived before she married William! On Sloane Square, I love Peter Jones department store and Partridge's Food Hall, a gourmet market that stocks hard-to-find American ingredients.
Cafe Colbert: A great place for breakfast outside (or in!) on Sloane Square.
The Anglesea Arms: Classic London gastropub feel.
Riccardo's: Very neighborhood-y Italian restaurant on a quiet stretch of Fulham Road - very few tourists.
Tom's Kitchen: You can't go wrong here for any meal. I really love this place (And so do Londoners/visitors).
Stroll down Walton Street to peek into tiny English shops like Dragons of Walton Street, which has the cutest ($$$$$) children’s furniture. Blue Almonds is the place for overpriced but dreamy baby shopping in London.
Victoria & Albert Museum: I like the museum, but don't miss the stunning cafe.
Chelsea Fishmonger: So even if I have no use for a grocery store, butcher, or fishmonger, I love seeing where local people buy their food. This place has some of the freshest fish in London, and they're committed to sustainability. And lucky you if you're staying at an apartment to buy and cook it.
Blakes Hotel: Super romantic, globally designed boutique hotel with an amazing bar downstairs. Furnishings and decor were collected from all over the world by Anouska Hempel. For fans of The Crown: You can just picture rebellious, glamorous Princess Margaret having a drink here – she loved Blakes. Look for the two green lovebirds in a wrought-iron cage welcoming you in the lobby.
The Goring Hotel: A classic London hideaway, this family-owned hotel is beloved by the Royal Family. It’s even more famous now after Kate and the Middletons spent the night here before the Royal Wedding.
Kensington Gardens/Kensington Palace and The Orangery: Such beautiful gardens! At Kensington Palace, Victoria Revealed is one of my favorite exhibitions in London, all about Queen Victoria’s life and how she lived it after losing her beloved Albert. The Orangery is a gorgeous place for lunch or afternoon tea. Built by Queen Anne, the 18th-century Orangery was the setting for royal parties and today still has a beautiful white interior and bright light.
Hyde Park is adjacent Kensington Gardens and my favorite part is the Italian Garden, with gorgeous fountains and sculptures.
Candella Tea Room (34 Kensington Church Street): The most adorable tiny tea room near Kensington Palace. From here, it's a 20-minute walk up to Notting Hill.
Stay: So I've stayed at a lot of amazing hotels in London, but I have a soft spot for the Royal Garden Hotel, adjacent to Kensington Gardens. The price is usually right, and it's kind of like living at Kensington Palace since the hotel is right next to the entrance the royal family uses. Rooms can be tiny, but I'm rarely in my room when I'm in London. Fun rooftop bar.
Go to Marylebone High Street (aka Thayer Street) for a picturesque, lovely London high street. Stop at La Fromagerie, an amazing cheese shop. Go to The Natural Kitchen for vegetable juices and quick sandwiches, salads, and soups. They have nearly 25 salads, like spiced lentil, tomato & mozzarella, pea & corn, roast vegetable, and butternut squash salad with pine nuts. Don't miss the cute shop on the bottom level - the blue London oven mitts are a great gift and I still use mine years after buying them.
Daunt Books: My favorite bookshop in London. There's another location in Chelsea, but this one is so lovely. I bought two of their reusable bags, my favorite totes for groceries and schlepping around NYC.
Emma Bridgewater: Adorable, cheerful teapots, cups, and more. I love my teapot I got here!
The Providores: For trendy Spanish tapas on Marlybone High Street. I prefer it for lunch after wandering around this neighborhood.
Mayfair: The most "Mary Poppins" of neighborhoods. It's ridiculously chic and lovely, but you also feel that half the homes are owned by foreigners who are never there – make sense? I like having dinner at well-known Locanda Locatelli, but it is in a slightly odd location attached to a Hyatt lobby. I also loved dinner at La Petite Maison behind Claridge's Hotel.
Burlington Arcade: Don't miss this historic covered shopping brigade in Mayfair.
Stay: The Marylebone Hotel – Totally in love with this quiet, lovely neighborhood hotel.
Stay (or gawk!): Claridge's (especially at Christmas to see whichever high-fashion tree there is that year)
Stay (or gawk!): The Connaught Hotel
Stay (or gawk/drink tea!): The Dorchester - great for afternoon tea
Fortnum & Mason: Open since 1707, you really can't miss this gorgeous department store (or looking through their famous picnic hampers). Just avoid it at Christmas – it's wall-to-wall people (though festive). I love their enormous jam wall and gourmet food on the bottom floor. Plus, afternoon tea here is wonderful!
Prestat Chocolate Shop: Located in the Prince’s Arcade off Piccadilly, this Royal Warrant holder has the most amazing caramel and sea salt wafers and whimsical, colorful packaging.
Mrs. Kibble’s Olde Sweet Shoppe: There's room for maybe 3-4 people at a time in this shop, filled with candy jars, chocolate, caramels, and even a few sugar-free varieties. It's not old, but made to feel that way. 57a Brewer Street
The Savoy Hotel: One of my most memorable nights in London was spent (alone!) here, with an incredible view of the sparkling London Eye and Parliament. The hotel was completely refurbished in 2010 and it’s gorgeous. Great for afternoon tea too.
Harrod’s Food Hall: Yes, everyone else visiting London will come here too. But it’s still worth it to see the enormous spectacle of gorgeous food divided by cuisine, like Japanese, Italian or British home-cooked suppers. Also a great spot to pick up tea or inexpensive gifts.
Harvey Nichols: I love this department store, mostly because Becky Bloomwood in Confessions of a Shopaholic loved it.
The Lakes District
Ahhh, the Lakes District. I fell totally in love with the stunning natural beauty, clean air, beautiful lakes, great people (both locals and tons of visitors from all corners of England), hikes, and best of all...DOGS EVERYWHERE!
We based ourselves in Keswick, which was the best choice after seeing all the other towns. I loved them but they can get very crowded. In Keswick, we were further from the main lures of the district like the Beatrix Potter & William Wordsworth sites but it felt much more like an authentic, only in England feel. We met so many wonderful people here.
If you have very limited time, I'd recommend staying in Grasmere (The Red Lion has great deals) to be closer to all the sites, including the best gingerbread in the world (FOR REAL). But I think 3-4 nights is really ideal to get a good handle on all the lakes and to feel the local rhythm.
In Keswick, Howe Keld is a dream B&B - great owners, fab breakfast (smoked salmon & scrambled eggs, local sausage, pancakes, etc), comfortable rooms, cozy beds, great value. I had a single room and my parents shared another room. I saw many of the more expensive hotels and I'd pick Howe Keld hands-down.
One of my favorite pubs I've found anywhere in the world was The Dog & Gun and we went every night. Everyone we met was beyond friendly and there were so many dogs accompanying them! Nothing on the menu is fried - great soups, salads, and roasted deliciousness.
Nothing is very far in Keswick. A five-min walk leads you to the beautiful lake, Derwentwater. There was something wonderfully atmospheric about being here in the off-season.
I'd highly recommend Bel Cibo for dinner one night while you're in town - we couldn't get into the so-called "best" Italian restaurant, Casa Bella, but stumbled upon this place instead. LOVED IT - cozy, great eats, and we met the most wonderful couple at the table over. They warned us about our next destination, Haworth, and I am kicking myself for not listening to them - Haworth was the worst place I've stayed in England. It is known for the Brontë sisters (Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights) sites, but it was such a dumpy, creepy, unfriendly town. We stayed at the Old Registry and I couldn't get out of there fast enough.
I love spending time in Bath, and always want more time to admire the perfect Georgian architecture and adorable cafes.
Lunch at the Royal Crescent Hotel: For views of the hills, an expansive park in front to frolic, and great food in a very English setting. The hotel is the most luxurious option in town and just removed enough from the city center, but within walking distance to everything.
The Roman Baths - Brace yourself for crowds, especially large throngs of high school students, but you have to come here in Bath. You have to follow a certain route, and I darted through most everything at the beginning to get to the actual baths quickly. To me, that was the most interesting part.
Tea at The Pump Room after touring the Roman Baths - The Pump Room has been a gathering place for 2,000 years and still is today. Afternoon tea is wonderful. You can also try a glass of the hot spa water, with 43+ minerals (one sip was more than enough for me).
The Fashion Musuem - You won't need more than an hour - it's small but interesting to wander through the exhibits celebrating over 400 years of fashion
Visit Sally Lunn's for a famous BUN! They are gigantic - but get one to try it!
Browse at the Highgrove Shop - Prince Charles' estate sells a large selection of items at this shop, all high-quality and a great reminder of your time in England. He has always believed in business operating on a larger social level, serving the community and environment.
Prior Park - I thought this park was a short walk away, but it took me 45 minutes to walk there from the center of Bath and much of it was uphill. I had my rental car and should have driven it. But it is worth finding - a peaceful park in a deep valley with stunning views of Bath. The Palladian Bridge is especially beautiful.
So the longer you spend in England, the more you come to realize there is a bit of a...shall we say...rivalry between the north and south of England. In general, I prefer the south – London, the Cotswolds, (but I do LOVE the Lakes District in the north). York is a lovely little town
Middlethorpe Hall, York: A nice country house-style hotel near York. While I liked it, I would stay in the center of York next time.
York Minster: Beautiful, enormous, center-of-town church – check it off your "European churches" list.
Bettys York: Gorgeous tea shop – the perfect place to stop on a grey day in York.
THE ISLES OF SCILLY
I dream of returning to the Isles of Scilly, a corner of the world 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall that I knew nothing about before I went. English families holiday here year after year, like Prince Charles & Princess Diana, who came here for many years in a row when William and Harry were young. Jude Law comes every year and said 'it reminds me of all the good things, not only about England, but the world on which we live. My family never feels safer than there.'
We stayed at the Star Castle Hotel on the island of St. Mary's, the largest island, which has a truly charming owner that wears many hats on the island, including fishing for the restaurants.
And you just can't miss the Tresco Abbey Garden on the island of Tresco, a huge draw for visitors.
My National Geographic piece - The Isles of Scilly: The Land that Time Forgot
The Isle of Wight
Another lesser-known (to Americans) English island I fell in love with. Here, it's all about Osborne House, the huge Italianate seaside palace Queen Victoria commissioned to be built. You can visit her private beach and see the bizarre bathing machine (which looks a bit like a horse cart) that she used to protect her modesty. Touring the house itself — the Council Room, where Alexander Graham Bell introduced Victoria to the telephone and the ornate Durbar Room, designed by Rudyard Kipling’s father to celebrate her reign as Empress of India, are highlights — provides an intimate glimpse of the legendary queen’s life, and death (the room where she died is also open to the public).
I loved staying at the romantic Royal Hotel in Ventnor (on the island’s southern coast), an area that Charles Dickens proclaimed the “prettiest place I ever saw in my life.” The place still oozes seaside Victorian charm and remains popular with the artistic set.
Other England Highlights
More highlights: a private visit to Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey!), a perfect pub in the Cotswolds, Coworth Park in Ascot, Lime Wood Hotel, Chewton Glen, and The New Forest in Hampshire, Hotel Penzance in Cornwall