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3 Nights in London, England

Spending the past three days in London significantly reminded us of our years living as New Yorkers. Minus the landmark royal buildings, we found the two cities to have many uncanny resemblances in their architecture, the characteristics of the neighborhoods, and the flooded sidewalks. Some notable differences between the two cities are that although London is also heavily populated, you barely hear any cars honking and rarely see litter on the streets. Also, unlike the Big Apple, London has managed its homeless population. Finally, London is even more cosmopolitan than New York drawing a massive international crowd with more languages spoken than any other city; we hardly heard the adorable British accent we were looking forward to lovingly mimicking. While Manhattan is known for its sweltering summer heat, we didn’t pack in preparation for London’s grey summer skies and low temperatures. The unexpected chilly weather, however, allowed for easy walking through the city, walking eight to ten miles a day is a cinch when you’re not hot and the sun isn’t beating you down. With iconic landmarks, a rich royal history, a diverse culture leading to available global cuisine, great shopping, and easy walkability, a visit to London guarantees a wonderful vacation experience.

You’ll love the design, amenities, and location of this swanky hotel decorated by Tom Dixon. Its Waterloo location is central to many of the main tourist attractions and neighborhoods you’ll want to visit while in London. From Sea Containers we were able to walk everywhere from our hotel. Yet we also loved being on the other side of the river with less foot traffic and no swarms of tourists in our way as we ventured out to start our days or when we returned to unwind from a long day of explorations. The family suite is quite large with two bathrooms, a dining room table that seats ten, and stunning city views. In addition, they have a fully stocked gym, two highly acclaimed bars, a great restaurant, filtered water stations on each floor, spacious elevators, friendly staff, and major perks like having a peloton delivered to rooms!

Walking is the best way to get to know a city. Sea Containers Hotel is primely located to launch you straight to Westminister Bridge leading you to many Monarch masterpieces. No trip to London would be complete without an up-close viewing of the Westminster Abby to appreciate its exquisite architecture, magnificent structural detail, and iconic Big Ben Clock Tower.  From there continue towards Trafalgar Square, passing by other historic buildings and sculptures of the many men who contributed to Britain. At the square, have a seat by the fountain to people watch or perhaps you’ll be lucky to catch a concert. Continue your journey towards Buckingham Palace, pause, and imagine the lives of English royalty for a moment or two. Check the changing of the guard schedule in advance to watch this traditional shift change live in action. Next, cut through Green Park and admire the rows of massive trees and interesting art installations. Then walk to Piccadilly Street, most famous for its historic hotels and shopping which will get you to Hyde Park and eventually to the upscale Mayfair part of town. This is a great walking itinerary that weaves you through different neighborhoods and will leave you with a great feel for each.

An Untraditional High-Tea at Sketch

Skip the formalities and reserve a table at Sketch for an unconventional high tea in a whimsical setting at the hotel’s Gallery Room. A string trio plays classical music while a well-dressed young crowd sips champagne and nibbles on finger sandwiches in a trendy atmosphere that exudes nouveau riche.

The bathrooms at Sketch are a work of art, an immersive experience like no other. This modernistic art installation of egg-shaped toilet pods is the perfect Instagram backdrop for those captures that go viral.

Transport to the Times of Tower of London

Book a self-guided audio tour and travel in time to the Medieval days of betrayal and treachery under King Henry VIII. The tour describes in detail all the royal buildings behind the fortress walls and invites you to enter each one to view original rooms, crown collections, torture devices, and more! No other tour we’ve ever been on has provided unlimited access like this one. This is a great tour for all ages.

Many major cities have a Chinatown and it’s always colorful, lively, and fun to visit wherever you find yourself. London’s Chinatown is no exception. Include walking through on your walking itinerary.

Leicester Square & Covent Garden

Leicester Square, known for its theaters, casinos, and centrally located park attracts many visitors; the energy was contagious on the day we visited. Equally so, Covenant Garden was filled with excitement as street performers entertained at every corner and cafes donned packed patios.

This tiny cookie hut emits tantalizing scents of freshly baked cookies that wrap around Covent Garden’s open-air market. To find their shop follow your nose and you’ll be led to a long cue of others waiting for their chance at these divine creations served right out of the oven.

Dishoom for Dinner, That’s an Order

Celebrity Chef Naved Nasir brings together the food of Iran and Bombay in one of London’s hottest tickets. If you don’t reserve in advance, expect a line of at least an hour by 5:00 pm. Unlike many restaurants, the buzz is certainly worthy in this large, lively establishment that truly perfects the balance of flavors and spices in each dish. We ordered vegetable samosas, plain naan, garlic naan, the Pau Bhaji (mashed vegetables with hot, homemade buns), gunpowder potatoes (smashed grilled potatoes with aromatic seeds and herbs), jackfruit biryani, a bowl of greens with chili and limes, and the house special black daal that is famously cooked for twenty-four hours to arrive at rich and bold flavors Your mouth will burst with joy at the harmonious marriage of ingredients in each dish. Don’t worry about British etiquette, this meal is meant to be eaten with your hands as you dip naan into everything possible.

If you follow this itinerary you will log ten miles of walking by 6:00 pm. This deserves a toast!

Sip on craft cocktails at Lyaness, known as one of London’s best bars with many awards under its belt. The metallic, holographic menu will catch your attention instantly but as you read through the menu you’ll be blown away by the creativity of the cocktails. The Goose & Gander (Grey Goose, Szechuan sauce, and soda) is fantastic.

Begin your Day with Breakfast at the Hotel

The breakfast buffet served in the lobby restaurant serves an abundant spread of hot foods, pastries, cheeses, fruit, etc… along with a menu of made-to-order eggs. However, the offerings remained the same for the three mornings we ate there making the meal redundant and less enticing. They brew delicious coffee though, and they have cream for coffee which is the one ingredient I missed most in Italy! TIP: venture out for breakfast if you can!

Ride the London Eye for a Bird’s Eye View

Set your fear of heights aside to see a bird’s eye view of London and catch a ride on the London Eye. At 443 feet tall at its highest point, it held the title of the world’s largest Ferris Wheel until just a few years ago when China built a taller one. The guide on the speaker will point out some significant buildings and provide context to the majestic view below during the thirty-minute ride. Buy tickets in advance for as early in the day as possible.

Walk to Covent Garden and Neal’s Yard

Covent Garden is a large neighborhood, make sure to explore it to grasp each section’s unique charm. The northern section is dotted with vintage shops and mom-and-pop shops. In this part of town, you’ll also find Neal’s Yard, a hidden nook off a side street filled with restaurants, cafes, and high-end shops.

Do you think you’ve spotted a Banksy in Neil’s Yard? Think again. Bambi, a famous local artist, painted this as an ode to Princess Di imagining her coming down to her grandkids and whispering to them “You can be as naughty as you want, just don’t get caught”.

Have a Delicious Lunch in One of London’s Best

While researching where to dine in London, The Barbary kept showing up as one of London’s best restaurants featuring North African cuisine with Israeli influences. Main seating is around a horseshoe bar looking into the kitchen’s grill that pumps out masterpieces while music pours into the room creating a fun atmosphere that makes you want to dance while watching your food prepared. During our visit, we ordered Moroccan cigars stuffed with whitefish, two orders of falafel ( because they were that good), grilled chicken, labneh with grilled eggplant, Za’aluk (a sauce of tomatoes and grilled eggplant), hummus, grilled halloumi, harissa, zhoug, and of course Jerusalem bagel and naan to wipe our plates clean. We left singing songs of praise.

Hitch a Taxi to East London

Hoxton Square is surrounded by eateries from around the world satiating any of your international cravings. The hipster hood pops with color on its vibrant streets where you’ll find indie art galleries, funky shops, and loads of coffee shops. Trendy and young, Hoxton bursts with creativity and seamlessly flows into Shoreditch, another great part of London to discover.

Indian specialized shops, markets, and restaurants make Brick Lane the ultimate destination for those who love anything India-related. Some restaurants had small crowds waiting to be seated, a good sign that wonderful, authentic cuisine awaits inside. As you walk through, take note of the neighborhood’s charming characteristics – colorful graffiti, residents’ names spelled with scrabble game pieces, Uber eats drivers lined up on their scooters waiting to be beckoned, and locals hanging out on the sidewalks.

Artisans line up their booths in this massive market that showcases local talent across many genres. If you have room in your suitcase to take gifts back home, this is the place to shop for unique items. You’ll find handmade jewelry, gorgeous hand-embroidered scarves, hand-painted coasters, ceramic dishes, distinctive clothing, and loads of other interesting items that make great gifts. Even if you don’t have room in your luggage to shop, like me, you’ll at least be inspired by the talent surrounding you.

Akin to the East Village in the Big Apple, there is a young energy of hipsters weaving in and out of the side streets, sipping on their oat milk latte, as they stroll the streets on a Sunday. Vintage stores and artist-run shops make up most of the neighborhood along with pubs and diners. You’ll find all sorts of fun stuff for sale like hand-painted Doc Martens or insanely priced coffee mugs. Don’t let the unpretentious appearance sway you into thinking you can stumble upon a deal here. Price tags are steep, albeit everything sold is extremely unique.

The City (aka Financial District)

St. Paul’s Cathedral prominently stands in the heart of the City of London. At first glance, you may confuse it with the state capital building. Walking through the heart of the city gives you a sense of modern skyscrapers juxtaposed with Medieval alleys and the precious preservation of old and new.

Famous for their award-winning doughnuts, CrossTown also makes dreamy lattes and smoothies like the berry bounce smoothie with blueberry, raspberry, mango & papaya. After a long day of walking eight miles, this Waterloo cafe gives a great boost.

The cocktails at Lyaness are so good, we returned for a second evening. This time I sipped on their Doc Americano mixed with Tanqueray, carrot vermouth, Campari, and honey soda. You cannot go wrong with any of their incredibly creative cocktails.

As you enter the rooftop lobby, you have OXO Brasserie to your left and OXO Restaurant to your right.  We opted for a fine dining experience in the restaurant with views overlooking the River Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I knew we were in good hands starting with my well-made smoked cucumber and grilled pineapple margarita,. Although portions are small, flavors are big. The beef fillet and scallops were beautifully prepared and the deconstructed chocolate cheesecake made for an especially satisfying ending to a great meal.

Continue Your Discovery of London Along the River Thames

Walk along the river through Bankside, stop at one of its many cafes and stroll through this waterside neighborhood admiring the art and architecture.

Binge on the Treats in Borough Yards

Keep walking towards Borough Yards, a stunningly designed indoor market of fine foods and goods. The rounded wooden hallways leading to the shops make for a gallery-like experience. If you’re missing a football match while shopping, they have you covered in the outdoor seating with a designated screen for games.

Browse the Stalls at Borough Market

Essentially an outdoor farmer’s market, but way cooler since it’s in London, Borough Market has everything locals need to stock their kitchens with fresh produce, baked goods, cheeses, fish, and meats. The temptation to buy it all will kick in, restraint is not required.

This Dutch-based chocolate company is committed to eradicating slavery in the cacao industry and Brits are obsessed with the concept and flavor. The dark chocolate almond and sea salt bar along with the dark chocolate with creamy hazelnut bar are a delightful guilt-free pleasure. As the English say, “for pudding”have yourself a chocolate treat!

London made me a tad nostalgic for my days in the Big Apple, reminding me of my life as a former New Yorker living in a bustling, diverse city spending most of my days walking to my destination and having many fantastic ethnic restaurants available to my every whim. I didn’t expect the two cities to so closely resemble one another making London very familiar and easy to navigate. NYC is a bit more rough around the edges- louder, dirtier, and more ridden with crime yet I love it with its imperfections and oddly a three-night stay in London made me appreciate it more than I have since leaving three years ago. After 3 nights in Naples, 2 nights in Amalfi, 7 nights in Santa Maria di Leuca, 7 nights in Valle d’Itria, and 3 nights in London, I can honestly write that San Diego is the best place to call home.

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