London has been one of my favorite cities to visit over the years, which shocks me to recognize that this post is my very first one recapping an adventure across the pond there. When Thomas mentioned about going there following his work trip to Amsterdam, I immediately started looking at flights because DUH, I’M DEF GOING TOO! It would be his first time visiting London so naturally, I had to invite myself to witness his reaction to one of my favorite cities. Plus, I heard that London at Christmastime is so magical & rivals NYC. All the more reason to book the flight, in my opinion.
Instead of traveling with him to Amsterdam again (you can read all about our 10-day stay here), I opted to meet him in London for four days before Christmas Eve. I took a redeye flight at 9pm on Thursday which had me landing at Heathrow Airport by 9am UK time. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane so instead of adventuring out and doing some shopping, as I’d mentally planned, instead I immediately checked into the hotel to catch up on some sleep before Thomas arrived at 5pm. The jet lag wasn’t too bad once I got back those hours, but little did I know my trip would begin and end the same way – with no sleep…
Keep on reading to see why, along with everything we managed to see/do as well as eat/drink during our brief, but enjoyable 4-day stay!
WHERE WE STAYED
As I’ve mentioned in my Amsterdam Travel Diary post, Thomas works for CitizenM & gets x amount of “mystery nights” in any location he chooses. This wouldn’t be the first time we shared such a small space, but honestly we don’t mind it (we have 10 days straight of experience under our belt already.) All I’ll say is that should you choose to stay with someone in a CitizenM room, be prepared to get very VERY comfortable with said-person you’re sharing with.
There are (3) CitizenM locations in London – the other two are located near Tower of London across the River Thames and in the neighborhood of Shoreditch, which is kind of like London’s version of Williamsburg. We chose the Bankside location because it was less of a tourist hotspot but still close enough to walk to the center of the city. Although I’d recommend getting a cab if you decide to walk any further than 30 minutes – London is very large and very spread out, unlike how it is walking in NYC. You think you could get there in record time on foot but you’re way better off getting a cab if you’re in a time crunch.
WHAT WE DID
Fun Fact: One of the barns I grew up riding at was called Knightsbridge, named after this residential district. It borders Hyde Park and is home to some of the most incredible Victorian mansions I’ve ever seen. But it’s also the place to find a quiet street away from the crowd, along with an authentic pub spot or two.
One of the best, local pubs we went to came recommended to us by a good friend’s boyfriend who lives in London. It’s called The Nag’s Head and if you look closely in the picture above, you can just make out the sign that bears its name behind me to the right in the distance. Unlike most pubs, we weren’t allowed to be on our phones in here so I couldn’t snap a picture. But I can assure you this spot is definitely one to check out if you find yourself in the area.
We walked by these three hot spot tourist attractions, only staying long enough to snap a picture or two. Neither Thomas nor myself are fans of large crowds and try to keep ourselves out of them whenever possible. But I did want him to be able to see these three even if it was a quick walk by.
Horseback Riding in Hyde Park
Now THIS was the highlight of my entire London trip! Years ago I did this with my mom during one of our family trips here & we even rode with this exact stable! It’s since been under new management and is now called Hyde Park Stables. Nestled in a small back alley street & tucked away from the main road, you’d never expect horses would be kept in this residential neighborhood. Charming is an understatement.
I’ve ridden with many places that offer horseback riding and as an advanced rider (once Nationally ranked), this is the only program that I’ve truly ever loved. The ladies working here are so kind and knowledgeable, and don’t make you feel like you’re a novice despite what your level is (most places are known to be condescending towards its clients, no matter their own experience.) Once you get into the park and your comfort is put to the test, they allow you to go faster with a few trot breaks instead of just walking & sitting in the saddle (YAY!)
Hyde Park Stables horses are practically bombproof, considering how busy and loud the park can be with plenty of people, dogs, and cars only feet away from them. This makes this an opportunity that caters to all levels from beginner like Thomas to advanced riders like myself. Thomas has only been on a horse once or twice before this but he felt comfortable and safe on his ride the entire time, so much so that he even trotted along with us! I was so proud of him, because posting at the trot is not something one can easily pick up and in an English saddle, mind you. He didn’t have a big cushy seat to ground himself in with a horn to hold onto. So if Thomas can do it, you totally can too! It’s an experience of a lifetime.
If you’re looking for the ultimate shopping destination in London, then look no further than Regent Street (as well as Oxford Street.) We didn’t spend too much time on these, as you can imagine the crowds during this time of year were insane, but you can expect to shop your favorite brands similar to if you were walking down Fifth Avenue in NYC.
Leadenhall Market was closed when we accidentally found ourselves walking through it on our way to dinner, but it was all the more magical because of it. Normally, this is a hotspot for shopping and dining during the day. This is also where they filmed young Harry Potter and Hagrid entering Diagon Alley from the muggle world in the first movie!
You won’t find Neal’s Yard unless you’re looking very carefully for it as it’s practically hidden down a tiny, narrow alley street near Seven Dials in London’s Covet Garden district. But once you find it, you’ll see one of the prettiest entrances to a courtyard surrounded by a micro-village of independent shop owners. A must-see if you’re looking for that hidden charm & looking to buy something unique.
Afternoon High Tea at Palm Court (Langham Hotel)
One of the things Thomas really wanted to do in London was experience High Tea time. So with tremendous luck, I went online and found one of two reservations left for the next afternoon at Palm Court, one of London’s most popular and highly-rated spots to enjoy High Tea! I’m pretty sure this is what The Plaza tries to mimic in NYC with its own Palm Court. It’s located in The Langham, which is honestly one of the prettiest hotels I’ve ever been to; totally worth walking in just to see the lobby and the Palm Court room from afar.
We treated ourselves to Festive High Tea, which came with the obvious along with an assortment of pastries, scones, tea sandwiches, and desserts. To top it off, we got to enjoy our High Tea accompanied with a pianist playing Christmas tunes and other sounds of the season. It truly was a delightful afternoon, one very well spent.
Reservations are required, so plan to book in advance or a few days before should you decide to go.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (*Nov-Jan)
What luck we had to get to experience one of London’s special Christmas pop-ups, or in this case one of its largest! Right inside Hyde Park is a fenced-in theme park dedicated to all things in the spirit of the holiday season, from rides to games to little shops similar to what you’d find in Union Square or Bryant Park Winter Markets. We didn’t go on any rides other than the Carousel Bar, where I enjoyed the most delicious spiked hot cider to ever touch my lips. What’s so nice about this amusement is that it’s totally free to enter! They have a security / bag check but once through that at the gate, you’re free to explore the Wonderland as you please. Of course, riding the rides and playing the games will cost money, as well as getting a bite to eat or drink, but free admission is a pretty fantastic perk (something you’d rarely see in the States.)
You can buy tickets for package deals to see certain shows & get admittance to certain attractions inside the Wonderland.
WHERE WE ATE/DRANK
B&H Garden Room (Assembly Hotel)
Thomas surprised me with brunch at this plant haven of a spot. I left with so much inspiration and an even longer wishlist of plants! The food was so delicious and the views were incredible. If you’re someone who appreciates plants (or beautiful views & tasty food), then this spot is a MUST!
Reservations are required. You can also dine here for dinner, but I found eating brunch to be a great way to see the city during daylight hours.
I’ve been to this pub a few times with my family when we’ve visited, so I had to bring Thomas in for one drink on our walk home from dinner. It’s a great spot to get food as well, always full of people and has a great playlist mixing the ’80s and ’00s.
I spotted this breakfast/brunch place just as I was getting to the hotel on day one. It’s located right around the corner from CitizenM Bankside, so it was ideal to check out for that very reason. It did not disappoint! I recommend getting the Spanish Coffee too (so tasty & the perfect amount of strength.)
I think this spot was one of our faves because we were so cold when we got in, after walking outside in the rain for hours. My friend Ashli recommended this spot and when I saw how close we were to it, it was a no brainer to stop by before our dinner reservation. We ended up staying for 3 drinks! Thomas says the Old Fashioned was very good if anyone reading is a fan of such a cocktail.
In a desperate search for dinner, we found this place after being told by 3 others before it that the kitchen was closed. Thankfully, this spot understands the importance of serving food until 10pm! And holy moly, we hit the jackpot here. I got to enjoy homemade gnocchi that I watched get prepared right in front of me at the bar! It’s one of my top recommendations in the Spitalfields district.
On our first night out, we ventured around our Bankside hotel and stumbled across a driveway-looking road leading to what looked like a private outdoor party. Except it wasn’t private, and very much an open venue for people to grab a pint and chat with friends under heat lamps. Turns out this spot is a public house established in the Medieval Period and was one of the many famous coaching inns in the days of Charles Dickens. The ground floor is divided into a number of connected bars; there’s even a window outside you can order from, so you don’t have to force yourself into a crowded bar scene inside should you choose to stay outside.
NOT PICTURED BUT ALSO WENT TO
A delicious wine bar + restaurant that had the best dinner menu by far.
Fantastic bar scene located near our Bankside hotel.
This Shoreditch pub reminded me of a cool, low key Brooklyn bar with its back patio and local scene. Great beer selection too!
As I previously mentioned before when we explored Knightsbridge. A local pub with authentic charm, with walls covered from floor to ceiling in pictures, antiques, and more to keep you visually entertained for hours.
Other Top Recommendations On Our List
We didn’t get a chance to get to all these spots on this trip, but they came very highly recommended to us & we hope to get to them the next time we visit!
So About Our Last Night…
Right after riding on Monday afternoon, we (as in me) found a place right around the corner from the stables to get lunch. It was the cutest place & I couldn’t wait for the burger I ordered, inspired to get it because the table next to ours got them each and they looked BOMB. Thomas opted for the “meat special” – which if you didn’t get sketched out by the name alone, then I guess you’re as naive as we were. There’s a reason it’s the special; It’s most likely old…
He started feeling nauseous almost immediately after finishing his meal and Guinness. We decided to walk around the park for a little and see if it got better, which for a moment it did. So we made our way back to the hotel around 2pm to take a nap before our evening plans. We had a 9:30pm reservation at Rules and intended on getting a drink or two at a place beforehand. We got back to the hotel and all was fine, until it wasn’t… Around 5pm, the food poisoning made itself known and poor Thomas was sick as a dog for close to 6 hours.
Naturally, our evening was abruptly altered and I spent the long hours of the night by his side, giving him sips of water in 15 minute intervals once he was an hour free from getting sick again. But before the night really got set into motion, I went to every nearby grocery market I could to find some sort of Gatorade alternative or meds to help with the nausea. Not only was EVERY pharmacy closed, but I couldn’t find ANYTHING for the life of me that would help him feel better. So defeating.
Luckily, by the time we had to get up for the airport he was feeling much better. I figured we should get to the airport early and then post up in the United lounge for a few hours, since they probably would have Ginger Ale and better options for him to eat/drink there (along with comfier chairs.) I was also eager to get to the airport early because it was Christmas Eve and destined to be a crazy place within hours with people traveling home for the holidays. Much to my delight we breezed through checking our bags and security, getting us to the lounge with an intended 2 hours to just sit and relax before our flight. And then the most amazing thing happened..
The Good Karma fairy was watching over us that morning when she granted us both free upgrades to Business Class. Thomas turned to me asking what that meant, since we had decent Premium seats already. I responded exclaiming, “THIS MEANS WE GET TO SLEEP!” Yes, someone was truly looking out for us and gave us the ability to catch up on all the sleep we both missed from the horrible night before. I’ve never gotten the chance to fully recline into a horizontal position on a plane before and I swear getting those 6 hours on the plane saved me from enduring a painful Christmas Eve once arriving home. THANK YOU GOOD KARMA FAIRY!
Although we lost our last night, we still had an amazing time and made many memories together in the short time we visited. I can’t wait to go back, hopefully for a longer stretch of time next, and recap on all the new things we’re destined to do then!
If I have any travel tips for you guys visiting London anytime soon or in the winter months ahead, here’s what I suggest keeping in mind…
Prepare for 45-50°F degrees with occasional cold rain
Dress appropriately in layers with a warm, waterproof jacket & maybe pack a small umbrella you can take along with you/keep in your bag.
Walking in London is NOT like walking in NYC
It’s more spread out and takes much longer to get from place to place on foot, believe me. Unlike NYC, getting a cab in London is very easy and more likely to get you where you need to be very quickly. There’s hardly any traffic, if none at all from what we noticed.
Bring over-the-counter medicines with you (Advil, Tums, Imodium, etc.)
Chances are you won’t find what works best for you at the pharmacy, or it’ll be closed by the time you need something desperately.
DO NOT ORDER THE MEAT SPECIAL!
Steer clear of ordering any kind of meat plate unless at a very nice restaurant. Not saying all places are a risk but after seeing what Thomas went through, it’s just not worth it. Better be safe than sorry, or it could ruin your trip by robbing you of a day (0r night.)