Most people don't see as much of the city they live in as the tourists who visit it. I don't have any statistics to support this, but just listening to friends who say..
'Oh, I've lived here for years and never seen that'
tells me that this is true.
In fact when we lived in NY we saw more of the USA than many of our American friends... we visited Mt Rushmore, Bryce County National Park, Drove from San Diego to San Francisco, went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and lay on a beach in Hawaii.... all in all we visited 23 states in 2 years, maximising our time there. I guess we are not 'the norm'.
I lived in London for 16 years and I did visit most of the sights. We had lots of visitors from Switzerland during the years when my husband and I lived there together so whilst escorting them around I saw a lot more than the average Londoner.
There were still LOTS of things I hadn't done though so when a friend from New York City was visiting for a few days I jumped at the chance to 'be a tourist' with him. Of course we weren't the usual tourists dithering at the ticket machine at the tube station and trying to work out how to negotiate the vast London Underground network, I made fabulous restaurant reservations and knew exactly the quickest way from A to B, but we still had a hit list of 'sights' to see.
The list included some of the most popular, Tower of London, St Paul's, Westminster Abbey which of course I had already done, but also included the more obscure like the Silver Vaults which I had never even heard of. Ask how many of your London friends have even heard of The Silver Vaults and I'm pretty sure there won't be a lot.
There were also the predictable lunch and dinner spots. The only one I had been to before was the Gherkin... all of the others most Londoners avoid like the plague, but 'In for a penny, in for a pound' and all that... so The Goring, Claridges and the Savoy were added to the list. I added a couple of more local spots to keep a little balance. One of my fave spots, Berners Tavern was a firm favourite with my American friend as was Mr Foggs Gin Parlour.
Here is a more detailed explanation of what we got up to, Maybe it will give you some idea for your next visit to the 'smoke'.
We booked a table in the 'lobby' restaurant for lunch during the week. It was quiet and the staff greeted me warmly showing me to the table where I waited until my friend arrived. My friend, as I mentioned, is American and this was somewhere he really wanted to visit. It's not somewhere I would normally go and I was pleasantly surprised by the sensibly priced menu.
I ordered Roast beef sandwich and hand cut chips and they were perfect.
My friend had the set lunch but I was short of time so couldn't indulge. I explained to the staff I was short of time and so my order was brought very promptly.
To be honest it's not somewhere I would return to alone but I would take visitors to London without hesitation and would definitely recommend it. Food was very good quality and service was excellent.
Claridges, Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR +44 (0)20 7629 8860 website
Amazing service in an incredibly elegant environment. From the moment I arrived to wait for my friend in the bar the staff went out of their way to make me feel comfortable offering me a newspaper to read or the dinner menu.
When my friend arrived the restaurant waiter took our food orders and the sommelier came to discuss wines and we were escorted to the dining room when dinner was ready to be served.
Everything we ate was delicious. Starting with the bread and perfectly salted butter.
The Cep risotto that we both had to start was perfect. Great flavour and well presented. My friend had Brill for the main course and I had cod, again both cooked perfectly. Desserts were equally impressive. You would expect noting less from a Michelin Star restaurant and The Goring didn't disappoint.
The dining room is simply lovely. It's all very elegant - and the tables are spaced to ensure privacy. A great place for a special occasion dinner. I'd highly recommend a reservation here.
The Goring 15 Beeston Place, London SW1W 0JW +44 (0) 20 7396 9000 Website
This was my third visit to Berners Tavern and won't be my last. We booked in advance and got a great corner table enabling us to see the whole room which was great for people watching.
The dining room is stunning with high ceilings and lots of paintings giving it a real wow factor.
The menu offers something for everybody and even those who don't have an unlimited budget. There are burgers on the menu and wine by the glass - of which there was quite a good selection, of course you can also have amazing British lobster and steaks with champagne too.
My starter - pork pie was wheeled out on a trolley and was sliced at the table and dressed with a selection of pickles and mustards. It was delicious.
My burger for my main course was really tasty and juicy. Although it didn't look 'big' neither I nor my friend could finish them. We chose not to have desserts as the 2 courses we had were quite substantial, which was a bit of a shame, as I know the desserts are very good....
I'll be back again and again and have been recommending to everyone who visits London.
Berners Tavern, 10 Berners Street, London +44 (0)20 7908 7979 WEBSITE
The Savoy Bar
Dark but elegant decor with an old fashioned elegant feel. You expect well dressed men and women in pearls drinking cocktails but sadly when we were there it was just men in suits drinking beers with colleagues.
Our waiter was charming and out G&Ts were good. The drinks menu is a pop up menu book which was delightful. I may venture over for afternoon tea... or Kaspars Seafood Bar...
The Savoy, Strand, London, WC2R OEU + 44 (0)20 7836 4343 website
Mr Fogg's Gin Parlour
A friend who comes here regularly suggested I try this place, what a fabulous find. I would highly recommend booking ahead. It's small and they simply don't have space for drop ins. We managed to get standing room space because we were early and only wanted one drink before a dinner reservation. The staff are all fab - great personalities, especially the guy who works downstairs on the door.
They have hundreds of gins and many different tonics to go with them. Our drinks arrived beautifully garnished and the cocktails we saw others drink looked equally beautiful. If you even like hi just a little bit you will love this place. It's quirky and fun. I'm already looking forward to another visit - this time with a reservation!!
Mr Fogg's Gin Parlour 1 New Row, Covent Garden +44 207 590 3605 WEBSITE
Tower of London
It was years since I had visited the Tower so I was quite looking forward to this bit of the trip. Its on most tourists hit list so it can get very busy.
We got to the tower at just after 9am and there was hardly anyone there. We decided to go and visit the Crown Jewels before taking the 10am guided tour with one of the Yeoman Warders who actually lives and guards the Tower. We got to spend loads of time in the jewel room and were the only ones there. The security guard was knowledgeable and we had a great chat with him.
There were about 40 people on the short tour with the Yeoman Warder but that wasn't a problem and he was very entertaining. We got to go inside the church which you wouldn't be able to do without the guide. It was an informative tour and the guide had some great anecdotes.
The Tower compound is much larger inside that it looks like it will be. Its was a thoroughly enjoyable site to visit.
After the tour we had another walk around and then enjoyed tea and a biscuits in the cafe. There weren't a lot of people visiting at all so our morning was calm and relaxed.
If you can go first thing in the morning I'd advise it.. even better if it's in January.
We were not able to make a guided tour as the times are not advertised on the website and we missed the last one when we arrived. This was really a shame as I love the interaction and being able to ask questions...Also i don't particularly like the audio guides. Despite this we stuill really enjoyed out visit. The Gothic Abbey has been the venue for many royal weddings and funerals and is also the burial site for many key figures in British history.
The abbey is beautiful and there is a lot to see so it's worth allowing 2-3 hours.
As a bonus just over the road is Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
St. Paul's cathedral
Located in the City of London St Paul's Cathedral is London's Anglican cathedral.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren it is spectacular.
We arrived at 9am and booked spaces on the 10am tour. Elaine (?) our tour guide was fabulous. She clearly loves her job and St Paul's and was full of information. Taking the tour also means being able to access some restricted areas of the cathedral.
St Paul's has held the silver, Golden and Diamond jubilee celebrations and the 80th adn 90th birthday celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II. It is also where Charles and Diana were married and was where the funerals of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher were held.
We spent 2.5 hours and didn't get to see everything. I could easily have spent 4 hours there.
The Silver Vaults
I never even knew that the vaults existed but my American friend had seen a tv documentary and wanted to see them so I went along. I'm so glad I did.
The Vaults opened in 1885 as The Chancery Lane Safety Deposit.
The vaults now house traders shops selling silver. LOTS of them.
There are shops selling new modern items and shops selling antique table wear and everything in between. There isn't a lot of jewellery.
It's a fascinating place to visit and the traders there are mostly descendants of the original traders. They are happy to chat and tell you about their wares.
It's a great place to pick up a unique gift.
CHANCERY LANE, LONDON WC2A 1QSWebsite
If you are planning a trip to London I hope I have given you some ideas of places to eat and things to do during your visit. Have a look also at the Fabulous things to do in London 1 - 5 in the index on the right. There are some less tourists things to do if you have been to London many times.
Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy London - it has a special place in my heart and I hope it finds a way into your heart too.
I've written a few posts about Fabulous Things to in London. These are really aimed at those who have been many times and are looking for new things to enjoy in the city. I have been asked by both friends and people online to suggest things to do for a first trip to London and so here are the top 10 things I always suggest as 'must sees'.
Now before you start reading I have to say this was quite a difficult post to write.... because there are so many things to do in London.
I love London. I love when people take my advice and have a great trip. I love that people enjoy this great city. There is truly something there for everyone.
I lived there for 16 years and visit monthly to keep my sanity and get my 'city fix' so I'm fairly confident that I have covered the top things to do here...
The first thing I would suggest to anyone visiting London is to get an Oyster Card at the first tube station or train station you get to. There is a small cost for the card and you load it up with money to use on all the tubes and buses. It saves standing behind all the people who are trying to work out how to use the tickets machines at every tube station. You just tap it on the yellow reader at the gates to the tube or next to the driver on the bus and your card will be deducted the amount for the fare. The reader also gives you an update on how much is still on your card.
You can use contactless payment cards, like Visa debit and credit cards for this too, but you might get hammered with bank charges and a bad exchange rate if you do this from an overseas account.
Also because of this remember not to keep these cards together, you don't want to pay twice for every trip!!
Using the Tube or Underground is easy. The lines are colour coded and on the information boards on the platform the final destination (not next stop) of the next train is shown so you know if you are getting on the right train. ALWAYS check a street map before going into the tube because the tube map can be a bit deceptive. For example its much easier to walk from Leicester Square to Covent Garden than it would be to get the tube. And you never know what you might stumble upon on the way.
If you can, its worth consulting the Transport for London site before any day out. It is great for working out the best routes and it gives bus arrival times too. Here are some FREE apps you can also download to you phone for help getting around London.
In London we have amazing museums and galleries, and the fabulous thing is that its usually free to enter. There are often special exhibitions with a charge but the main / permanent exhibitions are usually free.
Everybody I know who visited The British Museum absolutely loved it. Not only is it an amazing building but it is HUGE. There is lots to see and you could easily spend a whole day here. (especially if it is raining) There is a lovely cafe and a restaurant inside which I would suggest over any of the places to eat in the area. I found that the pubs in this area offering 'Traditional Fish and Chips' serve miserable attempts at 'food'. I think its much better to enjoying the beauty of the library and eat under the glass dome.
The National Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square so you get to see this landmark as an extra. Entrance is free, unless you want to see a special exhibition. I like to go to see the BP photography exhibition every year and there is a small cost for this. As with most places in London, there are discounts for children, students and old people.. so make sure you bring your ID with you.
You are a hop skip and a jump from Covent Garden here and pretty close to Chinatown so there are limitless food options too.
From here you can walk down The Mall to Buckingham Palace. During the summer - when the Queen usually isn't around, the palace is open for visitors. I'd recommend booking in advance though to get the dates and times you want.
If you are up for a walk you can easily go from here to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben... which is the name of the bell and not the tower. Tours of Parliament are restricted to Saturdays and when Parliament is not in progress. You can find details and times on their website.
Again this is a stunning building.
From here you can enjoy a nice walk over Westminster Bridge, getting some great photos down the river and go for a flight on the London Eye. This is not cheap, and its better to book online than to join the queues for tickets, but if you have a clear day the views over London are spectacular.
If your are the energetic type you can actually walk from here all along the South Bank of the River Thames until you get to Tower Bridge..If you are lucky, or checked the times in advance, you can even see the bridge opening. After all this foot work I highly recommend a glass of champagne or a beer in the bar at Aqua in the Shard. You get an amazing view without having to pay the entrance to the View From the Shard. Double winner in my book... but you can decide.
On the South Bank on the way to Tower Bridge you will walk past the Royal Festival Hall, Tate Modern and more restaurants than I can even list. A quick detour over the 'wobbly bridge' opposite the Tate Modern will land you near to St Paul's Cathedral. One of my favorite London buildings. Another quick detour at London Bridge (also where the Shard is) you can grab something scrummy to eat at Borough Market.
The Natural History Museum, The V&A and The Science Museum are all close together, although they may be a bit much to do in one day. The V&A is my hands down fave in London. They have fabulous exhibitions and the cafe is beautiful. Not only the food but also the interior.
The Natural History Museum is in an absolutely breathtaking building and is worth a visit for that alone in my opinion. The Science Museum is not really my thing but loads of people love it, so it could be your new favourite too...
So that is the end of my Top 10 list... There were slightly more included there but 10 is such a hard number to keep to when giving London tourist tips.
Of course everyone is different and I hope I have given you enough to choose from... If not, here are some more things to consider...
How about a West End Show? I went to see Kinky Boots one of the newest additions in 2015 and it was amazing. You can also visit to Westminster Abbey, relax in Hyde Park, go shopping in Harrods or my favorite store Selfridges.
Fancy fish and chips ? my personal favorite is close to Waterloo station / The South Bank and its Masters Super Fish. There is always a line of Black Cabs outside while the drivers eat here.. not a bad sign. In Soho Berwick Street The Dining Plaice next to the market is very good too. Pretty much all the pubs advertising they do traditional fish and chips serve frozen and re heated versions that no true Brit would consider eating... well at least this one wouldn't.
I hope this was helpful. Please let me know what you have enjoyed on trips to London in the comments. Its always good to hear what others people have enjoyed.
I had been trying to get a table at Restaurant Story for over a year. Admittedly, Its mostly my fault as I am never sure when I will be in London but beware, Restaurant Story's tables fill up quickly. You need to be on the internet as soon as the new bookings open up to get a table on a Friday evening.
When the bookings opened in August I booked a table for December and was going to arrange a trip around it, that is how much I wanted to go here...
I've been on the waiting list before and never been lucky, until a Friday night in the middle of August. I received a call at 4.30 pm to say there was a cancellation and 3 hours later I was sitting at a table.
Restaurant Story opened in 2013 and within 5 months Chef Tom Sellers received his Michelin star. The restaurant makes use of seasonal British produce to create an amazing, innovative, exciting and incredibly beautiful menu.
Immediately after we sat down we received our first amuse bouche... the first of many.
They are all pictured below. I think the Rabbit and pineapple and the the razor clams were my fave, but they were all a very nice teaser for what was about to follow...
We chose the Full Story option from the menu which consists of 11 courses.
We had tried several amuse bouche before we decided on which menu we wanted, and they were amazing so there was no way I was going to miss out on anything that was coming out of this kitchen.
Everything we ate was absolutely delicious. There was a clever balance between flavours. the portions were just right, 11 courses need to be small enough to keep you wanting to continue eating but big enough that you can really enjoy the flavours and ingredients.
For me the most amazing course was the bread and dripping. Firstly its the first time I have seen dripping on a menu. It something I associate with post-war time poverty, but having become a new convert to bone marrow, I was happy to give it a try.
It was served as a candle (see the photo at the top of this posting). The candle was lit and the beef dripping melted into the candle holder where we dipped the bread. It was completely amazing. The concept was fabulous, the flavour was delicious and it was hard to stop eating it.
All the courses that followed were amazing. There was a bread course that was somewhere in the middle of the 11 courses and a couple pf palate cleansers too.
The whole evening was a foodie paradise.
If you love food, either eating or cooking, you will love Restaurant Story.
I'm already looking forward to going back when they change the menu.
Restaurant Story 199 Tooley Street London SE1 2JX
Aqua Nueva has had a re-vamp and the menu has completely changed and I was lucky enough to get invited to the 'soft opening'.
We were greeted with glasses of champagne, which is always a good start to the evening, and had a little time to wander around before being seated.
The interior is now a lot more open and modern looking without compromising on privacy for its diners. The bar is close to the entrance giving a better separation between the bar and dining area, and of course there are still the amazing roof terraces.
Early evening when the colours in the sky are changing the view over London is fabulous.
I've been a big fan on Alberto Hernandez since he won my heart with a braised oxtail dish several years ago. I have to say I was secretly hoping there would be a new version of the Oxtail on the menu again, but there were so many other amazing things to taste I quickly forgot about it. There were 6 of us at our table so we ordered LOTS of dishes. All the dishes were sharing dishes which I love as you get to try lots of things without committing to one single dish, This is especially good with foods that you may be unfamiliar with. You can be adventurous without the risk of going home hungry.
The food was amazing. fresh, well cooked, beautifully presented and more importantly, really tasty. I'll definitely be back again for more.
I'm not sure if all the items we tasted are still on the menu after we all gave our feedback, and you of course have to allow for seasonal variations but here were some of the dishes we tried.
The Slow Cooked egg was my fave dish, followed closely by the Octopus Salad, but since everyone at the table had different opinions and favorites - don't take my word, give Aqua Nueva a try for yourself.
There were of course some fabulous desserts and a cheese board too.
The staff were all very approachable, knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm for the new menu. (OH and VERY easy on the eye too!) The location just between Oxford Circus and Liberty is perfect for taking time out from a shopping trip or meeting friends. The bar is great for people watching, but get there early for a table, and of course there is always the outdoor terrace.
Aqua Nueva would work as a romantic date, but if you want to taste lots of dishes you need to take some friends with you. I would always prefer to have a small try of 6 dishes than a bigger portion of 4.
Don't be misled by the small plates. The ingredients are excellent quality and so the dishes can be quite rich.
Aqua Nueva, 5th Floor, 240 Regent St, London W1B 3BR
As much as I hate to say it, this French restaurant did an amazing Sunday roast....
My husband and I have eaten at Le Chapelle and loved it, so decided to give Galvin - Café à Vin - the bistro a try and were not disappointed.
The decor is very - well - bistro-ey.... Dark wooden furniture and lots of photos on the wall... The restaurant is broken up by the bar area.
The front of the restaurant also has a patio and was a little busy when we visited so we asked for a table in the back. This was accommodated and we had a very quiet spot to enjoy our meal.
Service was very good, although I did struggle to understand the heavily accented waiter. It comes in very handy sometimes having a multi-lingual husband....
I ordered oysters as a starter followed by the beef roast dinner and the chocolate pot for dessert. My husband had the cold cuts, roast beef dinner and tart tatin.
The roast beef dinner was delicious. The waiter also advised us that we could get extra helpings of anything. We didn't take up the offer of second helpings of the food as the first serving was very generous, but an extra helping of gravy was most appreciated.
They have a set price menu for 16.50 GBP and on Sunday the roast dinner is one of the main course options... its really a bargain.
I'll definitely be back here to try out some of the other items on the menu.
Galvin - Café à Vin 35 Spital Square, London, E1 6DY
We stumbled on this new Jason Atherton venue on our way to Selfridges.
We were offered a table or seats at the bar and opted for the latter. It's always good to watch the chefs preparing the dishes. We only visited for a glass of wine on a hot summer afternoon and so just ordered a meat selection to share from the tapas menu.
Our waiter Peter was hysterical . A huge personality. He joked with us and was very funny, highly amusing.
There is a small tapas menu - suitable for a small afternoon snack with a glass of wine, and a more substantial tapas menu for more serious dining. Social Wine and Tapas looks quite small from the street but there is a bigger space downstairs.
It's in the perfect location to enjoy a glass of wine if you are exploring Oxford street, but also its tucked a little out of the way so it's not overrun by tourists. I can see this becoming a regular spot for lunch.
Social Wine and Tapas 39 James Street, London W1U 1DL
With an amazing outside terrace and views across London this is a fabulous place to come and spend a few hours, taking photos and having lunch or in the evening a glass of wine.
The Sky Garden is 'pubilc space' so admission is free, but you must book in advance as they have a limited number of time slots. Also these time slots go QUICKLY so as soon as you can I would suggest getting online. You can of course always book a table for lunch or dinner at the restaurant via the same website.
The outdoor terrace is where I took the shots below of the River Thames and Tower Bridge. The indoor shots show the plants being misted and the coffee bar / wine bar area.
The Sky Garden 20 Fenchurch Street London EC3M 3BY
One of London’s hidden gems….you certainly don’t stumble across this place, unless you live on the street, but 40 Maltby Street is at the end of Maltby Street market which is becoming more and more popular, and in my opinion is much better than the tourist flooded Borough Market.
Its TINY. I’m guessing they can accommodate 20 people and then they are full, but since they have a menu of small plates, many people either meet here or come for a quick drink at the start of their evening and then go on…. which is exactly what we did. We had 4 small plates and shared them with a glass of wine before we went off for dinner.
The menu changes daily as they source the ingredients locally and of course seasonally, so whilst I have taken a photo, its really just to give and idea of the prices and of course their culinary creativeness….. which is excellent. The flavours and the presentation were excellent. You can even see into the kitchen to see the chefs at work in their tiny space.
They don't take reservations, so its best to get here early.
40 Maltby Street London SE1 3PA 020 7237 9247
What a great little spot, emphasis on the word ‘little’. It’s just off Piccadilly Circus in a bit of a culinary desert, so during lunch and dinner it gets BUSY.
I was introduced by a friend and we went for late lunch around 2pm, so breezed in, got a table and fairly speedy service too. There are a 6 option for lunch. Hakozen Bento Box, 11 pieces or 14 pieces, Vegetarian Bento box, Kobe Beef Katsu Gozen, Kobe Gyu Don or Kobe Teppanyaki Kaiseki.
We both opted from he Hakozen Bento box with 14 pieces at 40GBP. and were blown away by the presentation. The box had 14 beautifully presented tiny dishes…. on tiny dishes, accompanied by barley and endgame rice and Kombu Dash soup.
Both my friend and spent the following minutes ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘mm-ing’ as we declared each item to be better than the last one. My fave pieces were scallop sashimi and the kobe beef (this is what they are known for)…. however everything I ate was DELICIOUS.
The waitress did give us a very nice explanation of what everything was but we were so distracted by the presentation that I confess we didn’t actually pay enough attention.
If you get a chance go here, Its amazing, you will not regret it. I can’t wait to go back again……
Engawa 2 Ham Yard London W1D
After a great evening at Heddon Street Kitchen we were really looking forward to dinner with friends at Bread Street Kitchen.
This is another Gordon Ramsay venture close to St Paul's Cathedral in The City.
The menu is similar to Heddon Street Kitchen - nothing wrong with that - but the restaurant is catering to completely different crowd.
Its all about the location.
It was quite quiet when we arrived in the evening of a cold wet Saturday between Xmas and NYE and in fact the downstairs bar was completely empty. I guess in fairness it was a Saturday evening and Bread Street Kitchen does rely on the City for a lot of its trade.
We stayed downstairs and ordered a drink but quickly thought better of it as the large windows that are great or people watching are not great at keeping the heat inside, so we gave in to the need to be warm and went upstairs to our table.
Things looked surprisingly different when we got to the top of the stairs to the restaurant area.
The space is really quite big and there were quite a lot of people already dining. the lighting was low and there was a view of the kitchen. Tables were well spaced out so you can enjoy your own conversation - not the one taking place on the table next to you.
Service was excellent, professional but friendly. Everything we ordered arrived together and was cooked perfectly. The food is not overly complicated, not too fancy. Everything we ordered - there were four of us for dinner - received great comments from everyone. My tuna starter was especially good.
I'd highly recommend Bread Street Kitchen, but when I come back I will come during the week, probably a Thursday evening. I think the buzzy atmosphere and people watching in the City is always fun. However, if you live or are staying nearby then this would make a great relaxing place to eat some excellent food at the weekend.
Bread Street Kitchen One New Change, 10 Bread Street, London EC4M 9AJ +44 20 3030 4050
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