Samuel Johnson famously said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford” I won’t speak for my male readers out there, but I can tell you that this girl will never tire of London. Even after traversing the town for a week straight (and wearing out my favorite walking shoes in the process) I still can’t wait to dive back in. Here’s how I explored London.
One of my favorite things about London is how easy it is to get around. I rarely rent cars when I travel (need the money for my food budget!) so I tend to rely on public transportation and my own two feet. Lucky for me, London has very walkable streets and an excellent public transit system. The London Underground – or, “the Tube,” as it’s affectionately known – is the oldest subway system in the world, one that millions of Londoners still rely on to get around this sprawling city.
If you plan on taking public transit even half as much as I did, definitely buy an “Oyster Card.” This pre-loadable plastic card – available at visitor’s centers and transit stations – allows for quick scanning at Tube stations. And because there are discounts associated with the Oyster Card, it will also save you a bunch of money compared to buying several individual tickets. And London truly is your oyster (sorry, had to) with this card: it will also get you on trams, buses (which are plentiful) and even river buses that zip around the Thames. There really is no reason to take a cab in this city, unless you want the experience.
Sure, I moonlight as a galavanting global chef, but most nights you can find me in my true form: as a hopeless bookworm. If you can relate, then London is definitely the town for you: this city is full of famous and charming literary sites.
The Globe Theatre
Despite not being cast as Juliet in our high school play (not bitter at all), I’m still a huge Shakespeare fan. That’s why I jumped at the chance to see the world-famous Globe Theatre. Built on the south bank of the Thames in 1599, this was the home of Shakespeare’s company: Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The current iteration was built in 1997, but it was painstakingly reconstructed to look like the original. More than a mere monument, the rebuilt Globe is a working theater, and still the best place to see the Bard’s plays.
The Charles Dickens Museum
I wish I could say I discovered Dickens through my copious reading, but I’m pretty sure it was the Disney version of A Christmas Carol. Either way, a literary love affair was born, which was why it was so cool to see The Charles Dickens Museum in King’s Cross. The museum, located at 48 Doughty Street, was the author’s home from 1837 to 1839. This is the house that inspired his classic, Oliver Twist, and it’s been designed to look as it did when Dickens was living and writing here. This cozy, historic site should be on any book nerd’s London itinerary.
Speaking of Dickens, he’s buried – along with countless other literary luminaries – at Westminster Abbey’s famed “Poet’s Corner.” To be sure, Westminster Abbey is worth visiting in its own right, but if you are a literary buff like me, Poet’s Corner is icing on the cake. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and the Bronte Sisters all have memorials here, along with many others. While admission to the abbey costs 27 British Pounds per person, it’s free if you attend a service. I miiight have snuck out to grab a peak at Poet’s Corner during the sermon. But that’s between us.
Until very recently, British pubs had to close at 10 pm. While this law was lifted in 2021 (one of the few good things to come out of the pandemic), most traditional pubs still shut down at the relatively tame hour of 11 pm. Nightclubs, on the other hand, typically open at 10 pm and close in the wee hours–often around 4 am. When in London, your mantra should be “pubs then clubs.” That was mine, anyway. And here were some of my favourites (guess that British spelling has rubbed off on me) in each category.
While I already listed my favorite gastropubs in London, there were several pubs that I just wanted to go to for a cold pint (I can’t eat all the time, hard as I may try). Unbeknownst to many tourists, independent British pubs are surprisingly rare–most being owned by the country’s largest brewers. That’s why it was so refreshing to find Skehans: a truly independent Irish pub in the heart of London (the curiously named Nunhead neighborhood, to be exact). In addition to great Guinness, I enjoyed the karaoke and Irish folk music. And if you’ve never heard me sing karaoke…consider yourself lucky.
The Flask, in Highgate, was another favorite. Like any classic pub, it’s spawned a few legends over the years. Namely, they say the ghost of a Spanish barmaid haunts this otherwise cozy pub. I didn’t see any ghosts, but I certainly consumed my share of spirits. Finally, I have to give a shout-out to The Lord Herbert, in southeast London. It was the name that drew me in, but the community-centered events like poker nights and board game parties won me over.
After some quality pub time, it was off to the clubs to bust out my awkward dance moves. XOYO, in the trendy Shoreditch neighborhood, is a massive club known for bringing in London’s top DJs. For a slightly more laidback experience, check out The Jazz Cafe in Camden. The club’s rotating live acts play everything from jazz (surprise!) to rap, soul, and world music. Finally, if you don’t mind massive crowds of revelers, there’s FOLD, in the Canning Town neighborhood. This gigantic club features a 600-capacity dance floor and a 24-hour liquor license. Is it possible to have too much fun? This is the place to find out.
Of course, it wasn’t all pubbing and clubbing for me. I made sure to visit some of England’s most famous cultural attractions as well. Here were a few of my favorites.
The Changing of the Guard
I know it’s super touristy, but there is no way I am going to London without seeing the famous “Changing of the Guard,” especially given my low-key obsession with all things Royal Family. And, let’s face it, you’ll probably end up here too. Luckily, you can watch the iconic ceremony for free, and it’s one of the coolest free activities in London. The ceremony starts promptly at 10:45 am and lasts 45 minutes. You don’t have to get there super early, but you may want to allow yourself about a half hour to get as close to the gate as possible and get the best view, especially during peak summer months.
The National Gallery
Located right off the famed Trafalgar Square this massive and very stately art museum features over nearly 3,000 paintings from the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael (as well as the other Ninja Turtles, I’m almost certain), Monet, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt–among many others. Best of all, it’s completely free. You don’t even need to book an advanced ticket, though I do recommend it, if you want to save time.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
Even though I spend most of my days in a stained chef’s apron and go home to a small sparsely decorated New York apartment, fashion and the decorative arts are very important to me. That’s why I had to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum (“The V&A,” for short), a museum dedicated to the “applied arts,” of fashion, design, textiles, and decor. Founded in 1852 and named for one of Britain’s most famous royal couples (sorry Harry and Meghan), this massive collection of over 2 million pieces takes several days to fully explore. Luckily, you won’t have to pay admission each time. I could really get used to this free museum thing. Come on America, get on it.
You didn’t really think I was going to go all the way to London and not write about the food. I thought I would save the best for last. In London – like New York or LA – you can eat just about any type of cuisine in the world without traveling more than a few miles from your hotel. Here were some of my favorite spots.
I love a good urban market and London’s Borough Market is up there with the best of them. Founded in 1756, this historic market sells food both wholesale and retail. It’s a great place to load up on produce, pastries, and even prepared meals. There were too many amazing vendors to name, so I’ll try and pick a few favorites. Borough Olives has an awesome array of – you guessed it – olives, as well as other Mediterranean food products. Butter Nut London (love the name) specializes in small-batch butters made from various nuts. As a vegan, this is a butter shop I can get behind!
Finally, as a chef, I’m pretty much prohibited from passing a cooking equipment shop without at least stopping in for a peek. I’m so glad I stopped in Borough Kitchen, London’s go-to spot for all your chefly needs. If you have access to a kitchen during your stay in London, hit up some of the food vendors, stop by Borough Kitchen, and try your hand at preparing an authentic British feast. Or, for that matter, a feast from any part of the globe.
Speaking of food from all over the globe: Indian food is pretty easy to find in most major U.S. cities, but the cuisine of neighboring Sri Lanka is a different story. Hoppers, which operates three locations in London (I went to their Soho storefront after a day of shopping) specializes in Sri Lankan cuisine. Similar to South Indian food, Sri Lankan food brings aromatic flavors and lots of spices. Luckily for me, it also features lots of great vegan dishes. Some of my favorites were the banana chips, the breadfruit cutlets, and the delicious root vegetable and cashew kari (a Sri Lankan curry).
Rudie’s Jerk Shack
Given my partial Jamaican heritage, I try to eat that cuisine wherever I can. And outside of Jamaica itself (which I may also have gone to recently–stay tuned!), London is one of the best places to get it. This is because the city is home to such a large community of Jamaican immigrants. And when it comes to Jamaica’s most beloved seasoning, Rudie’s Jerk Shack – which operates multiple London locations – is the premier spot. And with vibrant vegan options like chickpea curry, cauliflower nuggets, and traditional rice & peas, I didn’t even feel like I was missing out on the famous jerk chicken.
Incidentally, I visited the location at the funky BOXPARK Shoreditch, where the shops and restaurants operate out of old shipping containers. And believe me when I say, I could have shipped an entire container of this food home with me.
I’m Missing London Already…
This might be my longest guide yet, but I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. London has so much to see, so much to do, and of course, so much to eat. I guess I’ll just have to go back again. And again, and again. If you know of some London spots I definitely need to hit up on my next trip “across the pond,” I would love to hear in the comments. Cheers!
If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.