“Who’s that random girl walking alone through the park with a dreamy look and half-smile?” Probably what some Londoner on a jog was asking themselves on a recent sunny April morning in Regent’s Park. Me, that was me, just meandering through one of my favorite parks in my favorite cities, and how can you not smile when you are just so dadgum happy? London is the only city that can make my heart both swell and break simultaneously.
“You’ve said that, like, every day this week,” my friend pointed out during our recent London trip—my third return since studying abroad for a semester in 2014—after I had confidently announced to the group, “This is the best day of my life.” Fact: Every day in London is collectively The Best Day of My Life.
When I set out to write this article, I had the lofty ambition of creating a succinct list of London recommendations. My “succinct” list turned into eight pages of verbose commentary on each of my suggestions. My b.
So I’ve relegated my wordiness to my own bog, Maps & Mochas, and here instead I bring you an attempt at brevity: my Top 5 London Recommendations, as told by my London-loving heart.
1. Contemplate life on Primrose Hill.
In hill standards, Primrose Hill isn’t much of one—just a little elevated mound of green grass found in an otherwise flat Regent’s Park. But from that sweet attempt of a hill, you’re treated to a view of the London skyline, a particularly pretty sight on a rare sunny day. There’s a tree on Primrose Hill that I have dubbed as my tree and every year, I return to sit under that tree to reflect on the year behind and look to the year ahead—my London version of a New Year’s Eve tradition, but in the springtime. Harry Styles may prefer the benches at the top of the hill, but if you want true seclusion and not a gaggle of others’ interrupting your pensive Me Time, a spot beneath a tree is the way to go. This is fertile ground for life revelations. (Again, just ask Harry.)
2. Picnic at Hampstead Heath.
Take a gander up an actual hill by picnicking atop Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. Hampstead Heath is not as easily accessible as other London parks, but the bus journey north is absolutely worth the chance to feel like you’re in the English countryside: think rolling hills, deep green woods, and ponds with swans. Atop Parliament Hill you’ll find a more sweeping view of the London skyline—the perfect location for an afternoon picnic (see Borough Market below for your picnic food go-to). If you’re familiar with the Mumford & Sons’ album Wilder Mind, this is the site of the cover artwork. (Related: That album also makes for a good broody London soundtrack.)
3. Lunch at Borough Market.
Borough Market: the pinnacle of all food markets. Artisanal cheeses, just-baked breads, savory sausage, fresh produce, a variety of wines, homemade fudges, pastries galore… Borough has everything. It’s also a great place to grab lunch at one of the food stalls—treat yourself to dishes like Pad Thai*, Scotch Eggs, Paella, and more at the food stalls throughout. My personal favorites are the cheese raclette—boiled potatoes, seasoning, with a mound of freshly-melted cheese on top (LIFE CHANGING)—and Prosecco spritzers.
The full market with the food stalls is open Wednesday through Saturday, with a partial market on Mondays and Tuesdays. Closed Sundays. You’ll find the market next to the London Bridge Underground station.
*True story: I once stood in line for 15 minutes only to have a bee land in my finally-obtained Pad Thai, nestle under the noodles, and die. RIP to the bee ‘n my lunch that day.
4. Glide above the Thames on the Emirates Air Line.
Forget the London Eye and the Shard (just kidding, no hate in my heart for those), check out London from gliding above the river Thames in a cable car. You won’t be able to see Westminster, but Greenwich and the surrounding areas still make for photo-begging views. It is also by far the cheaper option, with prices in the £10 range (as opposed to £20+ for the others). You’ll find it by alighting at the North Greenwich stop on the Jubilee Line and following the signs posted through the station. The Emirates Air Line is next to the O2 Arena.
5. Experience a life-changing dining experience 40 floors up.
I’m about to drop the must bomb here: You must—must!—put on your favorite dress and go to Duck & Waffle, a fancy schmancy restaurant located on the 40th floor of 110 Bishopsgate, one of the tallest towers in the City of London. Don’t let my fancy schmancy description scare you into thinking you’ll leave the restaurant broke and unable to afford a cheese raclette—fear not! The dishes are meant to be shared among the group, so my friends and I treated ourselves to five main dishes, two desserts, and a bottle of wine for just £30 each. Yes, that’s about double of what we usually paid for a dinner, but certainly not throwin’-cash-money prices. The view of London at night, the impeccable service (the waiters have in-ear radios akin to the secret service), and the oh-so-tasty dishes are absolutely worth the extra expense. Reservations required; you can do so online.
If you’re not convinced on the idea of spending a li’l extra on food, you can still get fancy for the night and enjoy the views from the bar. Another option is Sushisamba, an Asian fusion restaurant located on the floors below Duck & Waffle. Liverpool Street Station is the closest tube stop—only a block away from 110 Bishopsgate. It’s also accessible by bus.
6. Bonus suggestion: Lose yourself among the bookshelves at Daunt Books.
Bonus recommendation for my book-lovin’ gal pals out there: Daunt Books, the bookstore of all your bookstore DREAMS. You can easily lose hours in this multi-level bookstore. I recommend making this one of your first stops in London so you can grab a good read for the rest of your stay (even if there’s no time to read on your trip, there’s still that 6-8 hour transatlantic flight awaiting you). There are multiple locations, but the shop on Marylebone High Street is where it’s at. The Baker Street tube station is a couple of blocks away, and there’s also a closer bus stop on Marylebone Street.
To anyone planning an upcoming trip to London, I’m SO INCREDIBLY giddy for you right now (can I live vicariously through you?). Tell my sweet London I said hello and that I miss it dearly.
To those who have been to London, what have been your own trip highlights?
Ally Willis is a 2014 public relations graduate who buys way too many concert and plane tickets and then writes about it. She puts all things British on a pedestal. She runs a blog about post-grad life and also writes about music and travel on her own personal blog, www.mapsandmochas.com.