In just a few weeks I’m going on an exciting European vacation with my family, so as I do before almost every trip, I wanted to do my research so we all get the most out of the trip. Up first on the itinerary of our 7-city, 18-day adventure is London!
Instead of going to the Olympics, watch them in Hyde Park, Victoria Park, or Trafalgar Square: Yes, the Summer Olympics inspired our trip to London, actually it was the inspiration behind our entire European vacation. We are headed off to watch Academy Award winning director and British native, Danny Boyle transform the Olympic stadium into “a picture of ourselves as a nation” for the opening ceremony. Boyle’s heart-wrenching Slumdog Millionaire, visceral Trainspotting, and riveting 28 Days Later are all evidence that he will make the opening ceremony something memorable. He is rumored to be spending over $40 million on the Tempest-inspired ceremony to make the stadium into a traditional English meadow with farm animals and national landmarks. I’m more excited to see what Boyle comes up with for the grand opening than I am for the Olympic games themselves! Watch the olympic games at one of the three BT London Live festival sites where large outdoor screens will be set up for crowds to picnic and socialize while watching some of the most eagerly anticipated races and contests in the games.
Instead of going to a traditional tea at Harrods, enjoy the fashionable Pre-a-Portea at the Berkley: This fashion-inspired afternoon tea changes every six months so that the sumptuous tea goodies mimic the latest fashions by leading designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, Jason Wu, and Valentino. It includes a selection from the extensive tea menu, mini skewers, taster spoons, elegant canapés, tea sandwiches, and for the grande finale a collection of fashion-forward cakes and fancies. I cannot recommend this highly enough for anyone who wants a modern take on traditional British tea! My family and I did it when we were in London a few years ago, and it is by far the most delicious and beautiful high tea I’ve ever had. Current selections include a Jason Wu romantic cherry bavarois and coconut cream topped with playful pink skirt and biscuit heel and a Miu Miu 1950′s inspired vanilla bikini biscuit with red hot icing and playful white bow.
Instead of spending all of your money on Liberty London’s beautiful but expensive clothes and home wares, find one-of-a-kind treasures at Portobello Road Market: Visit this 2-mile long weekly market on Saturday mornings if you’re set on seeing the famous market, or just about any other day of the week to avoid touristy crowds. The market contains antiques, produce, new goods, clothing, and second-hand goods. Check out Decadent Vintage for affordable treasures curated by a mother-daughter duo with a passion for fashions of the past or Portwine Arcade for quirky old-fashioned goods.Yes it’s often packed with tourists but it’s one of London’s largest and most diverse markets. This is an amazing place to experience the eclectic side of London at its finest and to find rare items for incredible prices if you’re daring enough to wade through the crowds. Plus it’s only a mile and a half away from Holland Park, which is a great place to peacefully relax after the marketplace hustle. For something even less touristy check out Golborne Road Market: Numerous stalls offer everything from antiques to fruit and bread to posters, clothes, ceramics and music.It’s best to visit Friday or Saturday when the most vendors come out to display their eclectic mix of second-hand and vintage wares, architectural antiques, niche designer and vintage fashion boutiques, and inventive food. It stretches past the iconic Trellick Tower, which itself overlooks the Grand Union Canal leading to Regents Park, Camden and beyond. It joins with classic Portobello Road and shows the best of Notting Hill’s trendy wares.
Instead of dining in expensive, 5-star hotel restaurants, check out less common eateries at Borough Market: London’s most renowned food market dates back to the 13th Century and is a mecca of artisanal bites and hard-to-find ingredients. It’s best to visit Thursday or Friday, but you’ll be fine going early Saturday morning too. Nosh on fresh and sustainably caught seafood from Shellseekers, try goat’s milk ice cream in flavors like Hokey Pokey or Lemon Cheesecake from Greedy Goat, or pick up super fresh and nutrition-packed vegetarian fare from The Veggie Table. P.S. Check out this wonderful British Berry Tart Recipe from the market’s website!
Instead of taking countless photos of Big Ben and the parliament building, go see St. Paul’s Cathedral to get your dose of British architecture. Admire Christopher Wren’s 18th century masterpiece. Although the building has roots back to 604 AD, it is Wren’s building that visitors have been seeing ever since the Great Fire of London. It has been used for weddings, WW II peace services, Jubilee celebrations, and funerals.
What are your favorite places to visit in London? Any good tips from locals or ardent travelers?