London Travel Guide

London Travel Guide: where to stay in London, where to eat in London, what to do in London | London City Guide: best restaurants in London, best hotels in London, best activities in London | What to do on your first trip to London

If I could live anywhere in the world (other than Dallas!), I’d live in London. It’s my favorite city. Period. As a result, I have been more excited/nervous to write and share my London Travel Guide than any other travel guide. Ever.

My parents took me to London on my very first trip to Europe. I was in 8th grade. I’ve always been a huge history buff/nerd, so I remember loving the Tower of London and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. And hating the weather [insert your choice of British weather sucks joke/comment here].

Despite an amazing trip with my family, I didn’t begin to truly fall in love with the city till I went in my early 20s (after I entered the workforce). During that trip, I began to develop close friendships with people there… friendships which only grew and matured as I started to spend more and more time in the UK.

My trips across the pond really started to amp up once my best guy friend moved there in 2017. I spent 3 weeks there in December 2017 (including side trips to Edinburgh and Paris!). Then I spent about 1.5 weeks in June 2018, after I graduated from my MBA.

Now, I average 1-2 trips to London per year. Partially because I miss my friends and want to spend time with them, no matter the weather or activities (hence my weekend trip in November 2019)… And partially because I just miss the city, and want to continue to explore London.

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London | The best hotels in London | The best places to stay in London | Harry Potter filming locations in London | Spice Girls Wannabe music video location | London Travel Guide

– London Travel Guide: Where to Stay in London –

While I typically stay with friends while in London, I do have a few hotels which I recommend.

My favorite hotel in London is the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. You might recognize the exterior of the hotel from the Harry Potter movies (it’s in a few scenes, including the scene where Ron steals his dad’s car!). You might also recognize the interior of the hotel from the music video for “Wannabe” by Spice Girls. However, despite my loves for Harry Potter and the Spice Girls, neither of those are the main reason why I love this hotel and why it warrants inclusion in my London Travel Guide.

I love the St Pancras Renaissance because:

  1. It is a beautiful hotel and FYI it’s absolutely magical during the Christmas season.
  2. It’s potentially the most well-located hotel in all of London.

Hear me out on that second point. I realize that there are hotels that are in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. One other hotel I recommend in London include the St. Ermin’s Hotel (near Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey). If you’re looking for something a little higher-end, I also recommend the JW Marriott Grosvenor House (potentially haunted, recently updated, just steps from Hyde Park, and a short walk to shopping on Oxford Street), and the Mandarin Oriental (near Hyde Park, Harrods, and the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum).

I love the St Pancras Renaissance so much because it is located on top of King’s Cross Station (one of the largest tube stations in London). Some people may hate that, but I love it for the mere fact that I’m always 15-20 minutes from wherever I need to go. The convenience factor alone is enough to make me fall in love with the hotel. I literally don’t even have to go outside to get on the tube. Add in the loveliness of the hotel, its connection to both Harry Potter and the Spice Girls, and the fact that there’s a Dishoom (my favorite restaurant) a short walk from the hotel? I mean: it’s an obvious choice.

– London Travel Guide: Where to Eat in London –

Speaking of Dishoom, now we have the next section of my London Travel Guide: where to eat in London. I’d leave it at just “Dishoom“, but I feel like y’all would be pissed. Slash the wait to get a table there would get even worse. So, in the interest of not pissing y’all off and making sure I can still get a table, here are some other restaurants I recommend.

Oh and in the event this list isn’t enough for you, I also have an entire blog post dedicated to London restaurants. Between that post and my London Travel Guide, I feel like you should be able to find somewhere to eat.

The Best Restaurants in London

Best Restaurants Near King’s Cross

  • The Booking Office – this is my go-to restaurant within the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel as it has an amazing atmosphere and the decor is lovely.
  • George’s Bar at Gilbert Scott – this is technically a bar, but I’m not doing a bars section to this travel guide, so here we go. This cocktail bar is inside of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, right next to the staircase used in the Spice Girls music video. Even though that alone would be reason enough to get my business, this cocktail (and wine!) bar makes some fantastic drinks, so I recommend popping by if you’re in the area.
  • German Gymnasium – I discovered this German restaurant on my most recent trip to London. It’s great for groups and the portions are relatively large, so I recommend getting a few things to share!
  • Mai Sushi – this relatively hole-in-the-wall sushi spot is around the corner from King’s Cross and serves some of the most authentic yet affordable sushi I’ve ever had in my life. Order everything.

Best Restaurants in/near SoHo

  • Dishoom – y’all have heard me talk about this Indian restaurant so many times. It’s my favorite in London. Despite the multiple locations, be prepared to either wait a long time or make a reservation for 6+ people at least 24 hours in advance. If the question is what to order at Dishoom, the answer is everything… And two orders of the Black Daal.
  • Franco Manca – this local pizza chain has multiple locations across London. I recommend this pizza spot for when you want an inexpensive/chill dinner.
  • The Ivy Soho – I love this spot for brunch and cocktails, but be prepared to wait for a table (I like to wait at the bar, with a cocktail in hand! It’s a vacation, right?).
  • Josephine’s Filipino Restaurant – I’d never tried Filipino food before coming to this restaurant… and it’s now on my list for all of time. This restaurant great for groups and perfect if you like family-style eating or sharing a bunch of plates.
  • KOBA – this Korean BBQ place is a recent discovery and amazingly fun for groups.

Best Restaurants in Marylebone and Mayfair

  • Aubaine – potentially the most Instagram-worthy restaurant in all of London, this cafe is upstairs in Selfridges and is perfect for a brunch or lunch if you’re in the midst of shopping!
  • Levant – OMG. One of my favorite nights in London was spent at this restaurant. It serves (really yummy and authentic) Lebanese food and there are two belly dancing shows each night… during which the dancers pull random diners out to dance/get embarrassed. I probably like this place so much because I was able to embarrass my best friend, but I stand by my recommendation. Warning: the music is quite loud at Levant so I don’t recommend going if you have hearing issues!

Best Restaurants in/near Notting Hill

  • 202 London – a concept restaurant also featuring a retail space, 202 is a great place to grab breakfast or brunch before antique shopping on Portobello Road.
  • The Churchill Arms – everybody knows this pub by it’s extremely Instagrammable exterior, but most people don’t realize that inside, in the back room, it’s actually a really legit Thai restaurant. Stop for a photo opp, stay for a drink, and then migrate to the back for a delicious curry or Pad Thai.
  • Farm Girl – I’m so glad I discovered this cafe. It has multiple locations throughout London, but my favorite is in Notting Hill. The decor and food are all Instagram-worthy, and the food is A+. I particularly love their Chicken Salad Sandwich, Avocado Toast, and Lavender Latte.
  • Granger & Co. – another great brunch/lunch spot with multiple locations across London (including Chelsea). Get the ricotta hotcakes to share and an order of the fresh aussie with toast.

The Best Places for Afternoon Tea in London

This section was actually requested by a follower! On my very first trip to London, my family went for high tea at Harrods. It was fun, the snacks were delicious, but I couldn’t understand why everybody always acted like they were so obsessed with afternoon tea in London. It wasn’t until my second trip when I realized: afternoon tea is awesome.

While a day in the UK is not complete in my book without at least one cup of tea in the afternoon, I rarely go for a formal afternoon tea these days. I really only do afternoon tea (aka high tea) when I’m showing somebody else around the city… or when I have something to celebrate. Because – fun fact I didn’t realize as a child – afternoon tea is often served with champagne!

My favorite spots for afternoon tea in London are:

– London Travel Guide: Things to Do in London –

There are SO many things to do in London. And near London (aka day trips from London). If I were to talk about everything, we’d be here all day. Literally. You’d be reading a 10,000 word behemoth of a post, and I’d be constantly adding to the list below. In the interest of keeping this London Travel Guide somewhat manageable (and under 10,000 words), I’m going to limit my recommendations for things to do in London to actually within London, and the following types of activities: parks, museums, and shopping.

While I won’t fully dive into general sightseeing, I do recommend a few activities if it is your first trip to London: go see Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Globe Theatre, and the Sky Garden (incredible panoramic views of the entire city).

Parks in London

If you’re in London in May or June and you’ve never been to Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens, go. This is now one of my favorite parks in London and my favorite summertime outdoor activity in London. When the roses are in bloom, it’s positively magical!

Two of my other favorite parks are St. James’s Park and Hyde Park. While they’re both quintessential stops for any first-time-in-London itinerary, I always look forward to wandering through these parks (no matter the season!). They’re both amazing for people watching and they’re simply stunning.

Museums in London

Every time I go to London, I look up the temporary exhibits at the V&A. I’ve seen fashion exhibits… historical exhibits… even one about the history of opera as an art form (y’all know I loved that one!). I also like to wander the halls of the permanent exhibits – it’s a beautifully curated museum.

If you have kiddos, I recommend checking out the nearby Natural History Museum. It’s one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever seen… and the architecture is gorgeous. If you have kids, I also recommend checking out the Tower of London (especially if it’s your first trip to London!). There, you’ll learn more about the history of the city and even get to see the Crown Jewels!

Another one of my favorite museums is The British Museum. As mentioned in my Berlin Travel Guide, I absolutely love ancient Egyptian history… and The British Museum has one of the largest collections of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the entire world. It’s also home to the Rosetta Stone (and y’all know I geeked out over that!).

While I naturally gravitate to history museums, I also recommend The National Gallery (home to an impressive collection of European art) and the Tate Modern (a modern and contemporary art museum).

Shopping in London

My two favorite department stores in London are Selfridges and Liberty. Selfridges dates back to 1909 and was one of the first department stores in London, and Liberty has a gorgeous Tudor-revival exterior, dating back to the 1920s. It’s just a short walk between the two, and I definitely recommend – at the very least – enjoying brunch at Aubaine (in Selfridges) before checking out the flower display at Liberty.

In the event antiques are more your thing, I highly recommend heading over to Notting Hill to go shopping on Portobello Road. There’s a handful of permanent shops, but the Portobello Road Market on Saturdays is the real deal. There, you’ll find antiques, fashion, food, and souvenirs.

Other markets I love in London include the Columbia Road Flower Market (only on Sundays and absolutely worth a trip if you’ve never been!) and Brick Lane Market (only on Sundays – food, odds and ends, clothes, vintage things, and souvenirs). If I had you at “food”, make sure you go to Borough Market for lunch during your trip to London!

The best things to do during Christmastime in London | Christmas at the Natural History Museum in London | Ice Skating Rink London

– London Travel Guide: The Best Things to Do During Christmastime in London –

Yes, this warranted its own section. I’ve been to London twice during Christmastime (and once in November, at the very start of the Christmas season).

My absolute favorite part about London at Christmastime is the lights: places like Hay’s Galleria, Soho, Covent Garden, Seven Dials, Oxford Street, and Regent Street (among many, many others!) are totally decked out for the holiday. Also, despite the fact that I can’t ice skate to save my life, no Christmas list would be complete without ice skating outside of the Natural History Museum. There’s a giant tree and it’s pretty much adorable. As long as you don’t fall. And that is exactly why I don’t ice skate.

I love to just wander around the city and look at the lights, but in the event you are in need of Christmas-themed activities, don’t worry: there’s Winter Wonderland. Each year, Winter Wonderland pops up in Hyde Park. My friend described Winter Wonderland the best: “it’s like the State Fair of Texas, but British and Christmas-themed”. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is home to holiday bites, festive rides, and even a Christmas market.

If everything about that sounds like your nightmare (except for the Christmas market bit), I recommend going to Christmas by the River. Christmas by the River is a series Christmas markets along the Thames, near Tower Bridge. It’s the best way to enjoy the city’s skyline, while also getting in the Christmas spirit. While wandering this Christmas market in 2017, I came upon the heated igloos of Coppa Club. And now I want nothing more than to have a festive night with friends in a heated igloo, in the midst of the Christmas market. You definitely need to reserve these in advance PS.

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