Originally we are both from Wales but London has always had a special place in our hearts. It was our first trip away together when we were 15. For some reason our families were brave enough to let us catch the bus on our own. We were so excited and spent all of one pound to ride the ‘Mega bus’. London seemed so big and daunting and we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We did however stand on the south bank and pinky swear that one day we’d live there. Ten years later at 25 we were both making those plans a reality and moved to the big smoke.
The years we spent in London were mixed since we lived in very different areas. I lived in Finchley which was the set for Shaun of the Dead and where they filmed Spaced. Lee lived in the butt hole of London and had riots in his street. Luckily for the traveler coming to London for the day, you will see neither of these places as they are both a good hour away from anything worth seeing . (Yes, London is that big).
What we both agreed on though was that we loved London’s heart and its center. We both spent many hours exploring all kinds of things there and we wanted to share with you five of the things that maybe not every ‘Things to see’ list would share with you. Really it’s just an excuse for us to relieve our London day’s since I’m a little home sick and jealous of all my friends about to leave for home in the summer vacation
Things to see:
- The Gilbert Scott and Kings Cross Station –
These are two very different things but they are attached to each other so it’s easy to list them together. Kings Cross station was one of my favourite places in London. This station with its high vaulted glass roof, well thought out design, beautiful art and delicious restaurants of every variation makes it feel like you are getting a glimpse into a fictional world, reserved for Celia Ahern novels and Audrey Hepburn movies. It feels like everyone is heading somewhere important and everyone is happy about it. Obviously there is always the Harry Potter fandom reasons to head here since this is the location of ‘platform 9 & 3/4′ but the Euro star is also here which allows you to watch tearful reunions and excited tourists arrive from Paris. Or if you are really lucky,maybe even travel there yourself. The Starbucks opposite the Eurostar arrivals gate may be the best people watching spot in London.
If you leave the station then you will see the massive St. Pancras hotel that is attached to the building. This magnificent red bricked building dates back to 1873. It was used as the Railway offices for the whole of the UK. If you are facing this building and you head to the far left you will find the entrance to a hidden gem in London. The Gilbert Scott. Gilbert Scott was the original architect of this building in 1873 (after winning a competition to design it.) The bar and restaurant has taken on his name. This was an accidental find for Lee and I. We had met up one day when it started to pour down. We dashed inside only to come face to face with the most incredible bar we’d ever seen. The high ceilings are painted expertly and the original bells that once hung in the tower of this building are now hung from the roof. This bar makes you feel you have just entered the set of the Great Gatsby. The art deco glasses, jazz music, low candle lights and waiters in their three piece suits will throw you back to a bygone era. I must warn you that the drinks are scarily expensive, even for London but when you order a cocktail here you get a real cocktail. Hand made with precision and some interesting techniques. My friends drink arrived in a portable smoker to allow for the smoky taste of her whiskey. The 1873 is my personal favourite cocktail. Featuring Bombay Sapphire gin, Apple juice, Cranberry, Rhubarb and filled CO2 from an antique spritzer bottle right in front of you.
The drinks are normally accompanied with free BBQ popcorn which sounds suspect but this secret recipe from a Michelin star chef makes it highly addictive.
The bar is attached to a restaurant and we never ate here but it’s on our to-do list. I would also love to try their afternoon tea. It comes on the silver tower with all kinds of delicious goodies, cakes and cucumber sandwiches (with no crusts obviously) and even some champagne. This is definitely our bar and any special occasion, if we are in London, you will find us there.
How to find it:
Take the underground to Kings Cross Saint Pancras on the Northern line , Hammersmith and City or the Piccadilly line.
- Waterloo –
If you leave Waterloo station from the back entrance instead of the large front entrances (head towards the McDonlads in the station) you will find yourself by one of London’s oldest theaters, The Old Vic. It has housed many a star and is a great spot for celebrity spotting. Kevin Spacy lives nearby and is quite a common sight. This area isn’t really a tourist area so you find great bars such as ‘The Fire Station’ or the Cuban themed ‘Cubana’ that does a fantastic margarita and great live music. There are also a range of vintage shops such as my old go to clothes shop ‘Radio Days’ as well as the best bakery in London called ‘Konditor and Cook’. If you like cakes then I’d say it’s worth the effort to head to this area but it is quite a maze of streets so if you particularly like the sound of any of this it’s worth researching a little more. If like me you like wandering and don’t mind what you find then this is a great place to head. It also is a very short distance to the south bank so not really a loss if you decide to head back to waterloo station.
How to get there:
Take the underground to Waterloo on the Bakerloo line, Jubillee line, Northern line or Waterloo & City line.
Portobello Road –
For the avid Disney fans among you , you make recognize the name of this street from the classic Bed knobs and Broomsticks. Portobello Road is basically Notting Hill. I love its tiny streets, vintage shops, antique market and coffee shops. Lee loves the crazy variations of food and the fact that at any second he thinks people will spring into song like in the movie.
It’s a great place to have a wander, buy some trinkets, eat pie and mash and find great ice cream.
How to get there –
Take the tube to Ladbroke Grove (Hammersmith & City Lines) or Notting Hill Gate, which is on the Central, Circle and District lines.
The National Portrait Gallery, The Crypt and Trafalgar Square –
It may be cheesy to list this and I realise that every London list in the world will tell you to go there but I just love Trafalgar Square. From a certain spot on the balcony you can stand and see Big Ben while the fountains flow around you and happy tourists climb the impressive Lion statues. Everyone is normally so happy to be here since they are mostly tourists but it’s a great atmosphere and there always seems to be something going on. There are street artists, singers and bands’ always playing here to entertain the crowds and it’s a great spot to bring a sandwich and have lunch in the sunshine.
The other benefit of this area is that right behind you is the National Portrait Gallery, a free and lovely way to spend an afternoon. I love photography and find portraits so interesting. There are paintings here ranging from actual paintings made of Henry the eighth all the way to the new Photos of Princess Kate. There is a fantastic modern art section with many famous paintings and sculptures as well as interesting exhibitions always arriving. I love seeing the wildlife photography exhibition as well as the photographer of the year.
Once you’ve taken in some art and culture you can head across the street to St. Martins on the Field, which is a church. Down below the church is not only old graves hidden in the stone but a café that’s been built into the catacombs called The Crypt. The foods not great and the drinks are expensive but if you happen to be here on certain days of the week there is live Jazz, Dixieland music and swing bands. People dance everywhere and it’s a fantastic spot.
Trafalgar Square is a short walk from Charring Cross underground station and can be reached on the Northern and Bakerloo lines.
The Players Piano Bar –
This is another of Lee and my favourite spots. Hidden away under the arches of the Charring Cross train bridge is this tiny bar. It doesn’t seat a lot of people and it only seems to be known by the directors, theater goer’s and actors from the theaters around it. On any given night you take a seat, by a relatively cheap drink for London and listen to the piano man or the cabaret star of that night sing all the classic . There is almost always a sing along and a fantastic buzz in the air. It is definitely where the cast of all the shows come to let their hair down. Fridays are especially great. At 11pm (when most of London starts to shut down due to the mass exodus for the last train home) the place is full of singing and laughter as every one joins in for a cheesy classic. You know a bar is good when even Londoners are willing to take the night bus home.
How to get there:
The Players Bar is hidden under the bridge below Charring Cross train station and can be reached on the Northern and Bakerloo lines.
So that is my 5 random favourite things to do in London…but there are of course more than 5. In fact food places alone can take up the entire list so here is a sneaky few places to try.
Great food places in London
- Bodean’s – Soho
A fantastic BBQ restaurant that specializes in messy pulled pork and delicious ribs. – Bodean’s Soho, 10 Poland Street, London, W1F 8PZ.
- Humming Bird Bakery – Soho- Notting Hill – South Kennsington.
Fantastic American style cupcakes in a variety of flavours.
- The Blues Kitchen – Camden
My favourite casual restaurant and night out in London with friends. This live music venue delivers delicious New Orleans food such as gumbo and pulled pork sandwiches as well as delicious cocktails. Try the salt beef ruben sandwich.
- Proud Cabaret – Camden – Bank
This is another one of those places that guarantee’s a great night out. My personal favourite is the Bank City branch and is based around a 1930’s speak easy. The waitresses dress in stunning corsets and the entertainment is funny if not a little tongue in cheek. With singers, comedians and burlesque dancers to entertain you throughout your meal. Their 5 course meal is often offered for a discount so it’s worth checking the internet to see if you can find any deals. www.proudcabaretcity.com
- Konditor and Cook – Waterloo
a delicious and unique bakery. Try their curly wurly brownies and their passion cake. http://www.konditorandcook.com/
- Borough Market – London Bridge
A huge variety of foods can be found here. Fresh fruit and veg, the best meat, cheese, cakes, wine, olives, bread…well anything you can imagine. The vendors also make a great variety of food to eat on the spot such as chorizo paella, chow mein’s and hog roasts. Bring an empty belly when you come for a visit.
Where do you love in London or where have you always dreamed of going? What’s your favourite restaurant and bar? Where should we avoid? Let us know what you think about the Big Smoke . We look forward to hearing from you.