By Amy Thibodeau
In the spring, I relocated from London to a village in the South of France. The transition hasn't been as difficult as I'd imagined it would be. Our village may be small, but we have some wonderful restaurants and bars, a weekly market, a river you can actually swim in and an endless supply of lovely Languedoc wines.
Every now and then I do miss London. Usually when I'm craving Japanese or Indian food, or when I hear about a wonderful exhibition at The Tate (like this one about Agnes Martin, which I was lucky enough to see last summer). This last time we lived in London for about a year and a half and although the noise and the people were sometimes overwhelming, I loved wandering down to Borough Market, having a coffee over looking the Thames in the Member's Room at the Tate or just taking a lazy Sunday walk along the South Bank.
I pulled together some of my favorite things to do and places to eat and drink in London. If you check out any of these things, let me know. I'd love to live vicariously through you! The list looks prettiest on Pinterest, but here's an overview of what's waiting for you in London, in no particular order:
- Tate Modern - www.tate.org.uk
A great place to spend a lazy afternoon wandering around galleries. There's no pressure to spend a ton of time there because the permanent collection rooms are free to view and you only have to pay to see special exhibitions (though I recommend making a donation of whatever you can afford). There's also a nice little coffee shop, a restaurant on the top floor with a great view that's good for an evening cocktail, and a gift shop with some nice stuff.
- Richmond Park - royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park
It's a bit of a trek all the way to the edge of West London, but it's well worth it. Bring a picnic, water and maybe even a chilled bottle of wine and make an afternoon of lolling around on the grass watching the herds of deer who live in the park. Make sure to take a walk over towards the Royal Ballet School, which is a lovely building nestled in the greenery of the park.
- Shakespeare's Globe Theatre - shakespearesglobe.com
This is one of those rare touristy things that is actually worth doing. Located near the Tate Modern along the South Bank of the Thames, this Georgian-style building was rebuilt a number of times but still manages to feel like it's from another time. It doesn't matter what's playing because it's about the experience of going to see Shakespeare in the round. Unless you're a hearty individual looking for an exercise in persistence, I recommend booking a seat (instead of standing in the middle) and investing in a pillow when you arrive because Shakespeare wrote long plays! Make sure to try an old fashioned Ale during intermission.
- Primrose Hill - primrosehill.com
Go to the top of Primrose Hill with a blanket and a bottle of wine at sunset and watch the Shard and the glass buildings of The City light up. Buy your wine and maybe some bread and cheese from one of the sweet little shops on nearby Princess Road before heading up. Once you've taken in the sunset, wander through the area down to Camden for a pint (or two) at one of the pubs you'll find there.
- South Bank - southbanklondon.com
Don’t go on the London Eye, but do spend a sunny afternoon walking along the South Bank. There are great views, good places to stop for a glass of wine or a pint, and lots of nice things to see along the way. In the summer, the South Bank Center often has interesting art displays scattered around too.
- Waterloo Vaults - the-vaults.org
This is one of those weird places that is so very London. It’s located underground in the old vaults beneath Waterloo Station. Check out their website to see what’s on and take in a play or performance, or just stop by for a drink.
- Electric Cinema - electriccinema.co.uk
Sometimes after a day of walking around, all you want do is put up your feet and enjoy a good film. Electric Cinema in Notting Hill is in a beautiful old building and it’s a fancy, comfy way to enjoy a movie. They also serve bar snacks, hotdogs and cocktails, and if you’re into luxury, you can rent a bed to really relax while you watch your movie.
- All Star Lanes - allstarlanes.co.uk
Super fun place to go for a night out. It has everything: a lounge straight out of the 1970s, vintage-inspired cocktails, private bowling lanes, and a restaurant with perfectly decent burgers and pub food. It’s also one of the least douch-y London night out spots I’ve been to—friendly and no pretenses or velvet ropes.
- Little Venice - timeout.com/london/things-to-do/little-venice-area-guide
One of the nicest things to do in London is to wander around different neighborhoods on a nice day. The canals in Little Venice (also called Maida Vale) are lovely and are dotted with pubs and cafes where you can stop for a drink or some food.
- The Providores & Tapa Room - Breakfast - theprovidores.co.uk
I've only been here for coffee and breakfast, but it was stand out good. It's located in Marylebone, which feels a bit like Paris to me and is well worth a wander with its posh shops and cafés. The Providores does solid eggs, great coffee and they have crazy good donuts.
- Abeno Too - Lunch or quick dinner - www.abeno.co.uk
The only reason to go to Abeno Too (and it's a good reason!) is for Okonomiyaki. It's a Japanese dish that's sort of like a sweet, savory cross between a pancake and a pizza. You can pick your toppings but I usually go for some combination of onions, kimchi and pork. Particularly good for lunch or a quick, easy dinner before heading to the theatre.
- Mestizo - Dinner - london.mestizomx.com
London is not a hotbed of great Mexican food. Unless you want some fast food from Chipotle, there are pretty slim pickings. Mestizo is an exception. If you live in California or anywhere with wonderful Mexican food, you can probably skip this. But if you don't or you're just craving some chunky, limey guacamole or want to explore an impressive Tequila menu, Mestizo is solid.
- The Laughing Gravy - Dinner - thelaughinggravy.co.uk
Weird name for an easily overlooked, highly underrated hidden gem tucked up in the area between the Old Vic theater and Borough Market. This little area is a proper neighborhood with a little high street and is easily accessible from Waterloo Station with a little walk. The food here is wonderful as is the service, and the restaurant itself is beautifully designed and perfect for a romantic dinner. They also make the best dry gin Martini in London.
- Homeslice - Lunch or casual dinner - homeslicepizza.co.uk
The best, oven baked, thin crust pizza in London. The limited menu means that the ingredients are always seasonal and fresh. Be prepared to wait for a table though if it's a nice day, you can always get a few slices to take away.
Est. India - Lunch or dinner - estindia.co.uk
Forget the trendiness of Tayabs, the hipness of Dishoom and whatever other new Indian place the cool kids are queuing for. For my money, this unassuming restaurant near London bridge features the best Indian food in London. Fresh, spicy and with the friendliest, most welcoming service.
Hawksmoor Seven Dials - Sunday lunch or dinner - thehawksmoor.com/locations/seven-dials/
Best beef Sunday lunch I’ve had in London. Expect to pay for it, but as a special treat, the quality is worth the money. Also, the Yorkshire pudding is gigantic and the rich beef gravy plentiful.
Borough Market - Lunch - boroughmarket.org.uk
A fantastic food market with everything you could possible want to eat. Go for lunch but if you’re there on a Saturday, be prepared for crowds. Eat all the things. The salt beef sandwich with spicy mustard on granary bread, served with a dill pickle from Hobbs Meat Roast is a standout.
- Sipsmith - sipsmith.com
Sip smith Gin is fantastic. Go to their distillery and learn how really good gin is made. Then take a bottle or two home.
- The White Cross - thewhitecrossrichmond.com
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when visiting London is spending all your time in the middle. Take an afternoon and head over to Richmond in West London. It's got nice shops, some lovely restaurants and pubs (like The White Cross) and the river walks just have a slower paced feel than they do in central London. The White Cross does traditional pub food and has a standard selection of beer and ale, but it's friendly and it's got a lovely location right on the riverfront.
- Monmouth Coffee Company - monmouthcoffee.co.uk
It's considered the ultimate cup of coffee in London. Unless you dig your coffee enough to stand in line for an hour or more or have no other option, avoid the Borough Market branch, especially on a Saturday. Opt for the Covent Garden shop instead.
- The Star at Night - thestaratnight.com
If you like gin, this is for you. It's in a slightly off-the-beaten path part of central London and they serve only gin, including some wonderful cocktails and a special tasting menu where you can pair accompaniments like mint and lime against different types of artisanal gin. Inside it's dark and feels a little bit like a place where you'd sip moonshine back in the 1930s. It's also completely unpretentious, which is rare in a central London cocktail establishment. They serve some small tapas items, but really, this is a place to go for the drinks. If you're planning to go on a Friday or Saturday night, I highly recommend making a reservation or you'll never get a table.
- Callooh Callay - calloohcallaybar.com
A quirky Lewis Carol-themed cocktail bar in the Shoreditch area. There's a little bar when you walk in but then you'll be taken through the looking glass into a secret, dark area filled with topsy turvy chairs and outlandish furniture. The cocktails are good and the drink menu is vast. On Friday and Saturday nights there's DJ and part of the bar becomes a dance floor. If you want a table on a weekend, or you want to avoid queues, book ahead.
- The Evans and Peel Detective Agency - evansandpeel.com
One of London's many "secret" bars designed to make you think you're back in the prohibition area. You need to book this one in advance and think of a case you need solving before you arrive. You'll be buzzed into a long stairway with an old fashioned office at the bottom where a secretary will ask you why you need detective services. She'll type a little bit and then eventually a part of the wall will move away and you'll be taken into an underground, dimly lit cocktail bar. It's fun, kind of romantic and also a good place to escape from a rainy winter day.
- The Rake - utobeer.co.uk/the-rake
A tiny little pub near Borough Market with an insane amount of specialty beer, including some strange bottles you'll rarely encounter anywhere else (coconut and banana beer!). It's the perfect place to stop on a south of the river pub crawl. If the weather is good, there’s also a nice outdoor deck area.
- The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town - themayorofscaredycattown.com
London loves the kitschiness of a "secret" bar. This particular speakeasy is located beneath The Breakfast Club, which is a good breakfast or lunch spot. If you're there for the cocktails, ask to speak to the mayor and you’ll be taken through the door of an old fashioned refrigerator, down a set of stairs into an underground bar.
- Paper Dress Vintage - paperdressvintage.co.uk
By day this is a vintage clothing store, but by night, the racks go against the walls and it's transformed into a sweet little bar. Nice beer, wine and cocktails and quite often, live acts.
What are your favorite places to visit in London? Let me know in the comments so I can visit them next time I'm in town.