Although I’ve spent plenty of time in London in past years, and those visits have been lovely, I dedicated most of that time to tourist-y type activities and hot spots. So, for a recent trip to the legendary city, I decided to spend it like a true Londoner. You see, I see London as a cool hybrid of NYC and Paris in that it combines culture and history, international cuisine, stunning hotels, and the chicest bars and lounges. I’ve admittedly underestimated the city in the past, and resolved to remedy that immediately.
Originally, I had a vision of what these 10 days might be: drinking tea with mini sandwiches or flavored scones, a visit to some local restaurant joints, etcetera. But, it was so much more than that, thanks to recommendations from my pals across the pond.
Since I already knew my way around the city, I felt ready for an authentic British adventure. During my stay, I spent my time in London’s West End, an area that’s typically known for its theater productions and tourist attractions. It’s composed of Mayfair, Marylebone, Fitzrovia, Soho, Covent Garden, and more. However, instead of doing London the way I’ve done it in the past — with visits to Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, The London Eye, and Borough Market — I opted to experience the city the way Londoners do. While there’s nothing wrong with doing the city the ‘touristy’ way, this guide is for those looking to expand their horizons a bit on their next visit.
Similar to New York, Staycations are a thing in London. Highly recommended hotels from my friends included the Biltmore Mayfair, a luxe accommodation in Mayfair that’s walking distance from many popular sites, The Edition Hotel, a sleek, luxury hotel in Maryleborne, and the Rosewood London, an elegant sophisticated hotel in Covent Garden with ample British charm.
In the ultra-chic and exclusive Kensington neighborhood, there’s the elegant Meliá London Kensington. The stylish property is ideal for those who want to be in the center of the action as it’s in close proximity to iconic attractions such as Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Albert Hall or Harrods department store. But be warned, the stunning and plush interiors of the hotel will likely you tempt you to stay put indoors and enjoy the on-property Spanish-British fusion eatery SW7 Brasserie & Bar and full-service gym.
On the Strand, in the heart of London’s theatre district, there’s the ME London, which was previously the home of the popular Gaiety Theatre. Designed by architects Foster + Partners, the modern hotel serves as an urban oasis, complete with luxury dining courtesy of eateries like STK London.
Also worth noting is the newly renovated Dorchester. The iconic property just debuted its brand new ground floor, which includes the entire forecourt, entrance, lobby, The Promenade and Artists’ Bar designed by the prestigious Pierre-Yves Rochon. There’s also James Bond-inspired bar Vespar Bar (formerly The Bar at The Dorchester), designed by Martin Brudnizkifor, for those who want to indulge in a chic moment of martini-sipping. Rooms and suites will debut this March.
After heading off the long flight from New York, the only thing on my mind was giving my skin some TLC as soon as possible. With hands that work on celebrities like Sienna Miller, Phoebe Dynevor, and Nicola Coughlan, it’s no surprise that Jasmina Vico is London’s most sought-after facialist. She uses a high-tech holistic approach that’s said to work miracles on all skin types, so it only makes sense that grabbing an appointment with her is as coveted as London’s hottest restaurants. Sadly, during my visit, I couldn’t snag an appointment because she was so booked up. However, it’s high up on my list when I head back.
Another great spot for facials and skin treatments? The 111 Skin Clinic at 111 Harley Street in Marylebone. The London-based brand, which was founded by board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Yannis Alexandrides, is beloved by celebrities like Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston, and Lady Gaga, which is why their facials and treatments are just as popular. I managed to grab a last-minute cancellation at 111Skin and spent a blissful hour getting sorcery worked on my skin.
Although I had just gotten color done in New York, friends from all over London ranted and raved about Stil Salon for the lust-worthy cuts and color. The award-winning salon has locations in both Notting Hill and Chelsea and is decorated with an uber cool Scandinavian design.
Food & Drink
London is a mixing pot of every cuisine you can imagine. And, while you can’t go wrong with most choices, my friends steered me towards a few tried-and-true spots. Dishoom, an Indian spot near Carnaby Street, is beloved for its classic Bombay dishes, whereas Frenchie in Covent Gardens is known for its French-inspired global cuisine. Kingly Court is also a great choice for something that’s less formal with a variety of food options for everyone. The multi-level food court is hidden on Carnaby street and has great brunch spots with cuisine types ranging from Peruvian to Greek and everything in between. Personally, I’ve been to Carnaby Street many, many times and never knew the spot existed until my friend in London suggested we meet there.
If you’re looking for a fun, low-key activity for a group of friends, head to Swingers, a spot close to Selfridges. The indoor golf, multitude of food options, and great drinks are the reasons why Londoners opt to go there. However, if you want a solo night filled with delicious pasta, Pastaio in Carnaby is never a bad choice. Each pasta is handmade, the focaccia is as fluffy as can be, and the drinks are fun and delicious. For an experience that’ll make you want to throw on your party dress, try drinks at Theatre Royal on Drury Lane, which is a hidden bar that’s housed in London’s oldest theater.
While I mostly stayed in the West End, some other great spots include Borough Market, which boasts a variety of delicious food stalls and shops during the daytime. Some favorites include Padella, a fresh pasta spot, Bread Ahead, a delicious bakery with mouthwatering donuts, and fish!, a spot with fantastic fish and chips. However, at night, Parrillan, a delicious Spanish spot opens up and always delivers great food. Friends also recommended Meraki, a restaurant with amazing Greek food in Fitzrovia, Taqueria, a Mexican hotspot in Notting Hill, and Mazi, a dining venue serving up a modern take on Greek food (also in Notting Hill).
A visit to London isn’t complete without a pop into Selfridges, Harrods, or Liberty. All of the famed department stores offer a huge assortment of clothing, shoes, home items, and more, that knocks that of any US department store. Harrods and Selfridges carry an assortment of local and world-wide designers. Typically, both will carry similar brands — although you can also snag some hard-to-find designer pieces in each. Liberty, on the other hand, carries a smaller, assortment filled with more local designers. You’ll see a mix of Londoners and tourists in the stores because the selection is *just* that good. Warning: You’ll likely leave with some new pieces in hand, so beware and pack accordingly.
Carnaby street is touristy, yes, but it’s a great place to spend an afternoon walking around. The little shops, great restaurants, and proximity to where I was staying made it a spot that I frequented when I wanted to watch people and stroll. Plus, Fortnum and Masons, the famed London food store, is just a short walk away and offers a fabulous selection of British treats that make lovely souvenirs for your family back home.
Another must-do according to my London pals? Vintage shopping. Annie’s Ibiza, Nordic Poetry, One of A Kind Archive, and Modes and More were all highly recommended. You’ll find everything from one-of-a kind pieces to tons of hidden gem finds. In my opinion, you truly can’t go wrong.
No trip to London is complete without a visit to one of the West End’s famed theaters — and it’s a tourist and British-loved activity. This trip, I went to see Life of Pi, but you genuinely can’t go wrong with any show in the West End. Shows are performed almost every day, making it easy to incorporate it into your schedule.
Truth be told: I’ve never had an afternoon tea experience on any of my London trips. I’ve had tea, eaten scones, and sat in cute cafes, but never properly went for a London afternoon tea. When the experience came highly recommended from friends, I immediately added it to my itinerary. There are spots all over London for afternoon tea, however, my friends recommended the Rose Lounge at the Sofitel St. James. It was relatively affordable and gave me the opportunity to try spectacular teas while munching on the cutest sweet and savory treats.
There’s also no shortage of museums in London, so all my rainy days included visits to some new and old favorites, which is something of which you can never go wrong. Some of those included The National Gallery, The Design Museum, the Tate Modern, and the National History Museum.
This article was originally published on