Munich, New York City, London… I think most people would agree that these are top destinations for holiday season travel. I had been to London once before years ago on a quick solo trip, but the last time my mom came to visit me, I surprised her with a mom-daughter getaway to London in early December! It was magical and did not disappoint. I will add this disclaimer, though, while flights (from European cities) to the UK capitol can often be cheap, enjoying yourself once there is often expensive. So keep that in mind whilst planning your itinerary!
So here’s the scoop on my mom & my recent trip from Barcelona to London. We flew early one weekday morning (on Vueling) to Gatwick, and took the Gatwick express train into London city center. We did the same process the next night coming back. Overall, the Gatwick express is fine (if a bit pricey and crowded).
Once in the city center, we made our way on foot towards our hotel (the London Marriott Marble Arch), first stopping for breakfast at Peggy Porschen Cakes (their Belgravia location). I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but in our opinion Peggy Porschen was highly overrated and overpriced. Don’t get me wrong, the setting, physical space & aesthetic was super cute, but the actual food (we tried two types of slices of their tiered vanilla bean & raspberry cakes) looked better than it tasted. Plus the prices were pretty crazy for cake & tea.
After indulging our sweet tooth(s? teeth?) for breakfast, we walked across Hyde Park and finally arrived at our hotel near the Marble Arch. Hyde Park is a beautiful expanse of green in the heart West London. We checked into our hotel, left our bags and then walked to St. Christopher’s Place, a lovely area that’s filled with cute shops, restaurants (like Harry’s Bar & Cocochan), bars, shopping & more.
We explored St. Christopher’s Place then ended up choosing to eat a late lunch at Harry’s Bar at James Street (per my friend Charlotte’s recommendation) and it was delicious! It’s a pretty fancy Italian restaurant (the prices are normal for London – that is, expensive), with nice staff and amazing food. We each got a cocktail, a fresh pasta dishes & my mom got a dessert. Highly recommend! (Also would advise reservations in advance).
More exploring ensued and eventually we made our way towards the highly-anticipated Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. In hindsight, I’m not sure why I was under the impression that this holiday market would be very similar to those we had visited in Munich and Salzburg, but alas, that was not the case. It was more like a Christmas theme park or fair than it was similar to the pristine Christmas markets in Germany or Austria. Winter Wonderland smelled like fried food, the mulled wine was served in paper cups (instead of commemorative mugs to take home with you), and most of the stands sold the same mass-produced trinkets (rather than hand-painted ornaments).
That being said, it was still fun to get to see Hyde Park all decorated and festive for the holiday season, and the mulled wine hit the spot. After getting our fill there, we walked across the park and came out on the other side going towards Harrods. I had gone once before, but my mom was really excited to step foot inside the renowned luxury retailer. Harrods is like Von Maur x10 or like a super swankier version of Corte Ingles… lots of beautiful things to look at, but not much that you can afford to purchase.
Day 2 in London town commenced with a taxi ride from our hotel over to the Notting Hill area, complete with an obligatory pit-stop at Abbey Road. We were not the only tourists with this plan, and I’d be willing to bet that regardless of when you go to this classic photo opp spot, there will probably be at least a dozen or so other folks trying to get that perfect me-casually-crossing-the-street photo.
Next we got dropped off at the top of Portobello Road, near the metro stop of Notting Hill Gate. Thanks to the movie starring my favorite leading lady, Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, this area has a lot of hype, but let me tell you – it lives up to the hype. You could spend days exploring this cute neighborhood alone.
Notting Hill recs:
Portobello Market, antiques or quirky gift shopping on Portobello Road (if you want the whole market set-up go on a Saturday, if you want a calmer experience, weekdays are great!), cupcakes at the Hummingbird Bakery, pastry or snack at GAIL’s Bakery, The Notting Hill Book Shop, cute gifts at Cath Kidston, dining at Bill’s restaurant.
After cruising by Buckingham Palace and checking out of our hotel, we went to Piccadilly Circus (a huge square) and hurried into the highly-recommended department store, Fortnum & Mason (which had been recommended by a few different people, for afternoon tea, sweets and fun gifts). Admittedly, we didn’t end up having official high tea ever, due to the outrageous prices involved. We did, however, LOVE Fortnum & Mason – they have an amazing selection of teas, treats, specialty items, etc – all high-quality and more reasonable prices than Harrods.
Stocked with gifts, we headed to our last stop before catching the train back to Gatwick airport, a classic dinner of fish & chips at a place in Kingly Court (just off Carnaby Street).
LONDON AT A GLANCE: (thanks to recs from my British friends, Tony & Polly)
– Hyde Park
⁃ Buckingham Palace (you can walk through Green Park to get there)
⁃ Big Ben
⁃ Oxford Street
⁃ Portobello Road (& market)
⁃ Notting Hill
⁃ Clinton’s (card shop)
⁃ Seven Dials
⁃ Old Compton Braserie
⁃ Covent Garden (Kurt Geiger)
⁃ Leicester Square
⁃ Piccadilly Circus
⁃ Carnaby London
⁃ St. Christopher’s Place (Cocochan, Harry’s Bar)
– Victoria & Albert Museum (the top museum for art and design, often have cool exhibitions)
– National Gallery (free, on Trafalgar Square)
– London, Westminster and Millennium Bridges
– Maryleborne – cool area
Where to shop:
– Saint Christopher’s Place, Oxford, Bond and Regent Streets, Fortnum & Mason, Notting Hill, Kensington High Street, Knightsbridge.
Where to eat/drink:
– Expensive but famous afternoon tea/ high tea at The Savoy
– Kingly Court and St. Christopher’s Place
– Covent Garden area (nice Mexican restaurants: Wahaca or Cafe Pacifico), world famous Londoners’ meeting place & great pub: The Porterhouse Covent Garden
– Quick food/snacks/breakfast on the go: Pret A Manger
– Mayfair, in particular Shepard’s market (where there are some good English pubs)
– Oldest pub in London (quirky) – Ye Olde Chesire Cheese (145 Fleet Street)
– Have a drink at the Shard (if you’re wearing the right footwear, pricey), then go to Borough Market close by and cross over London Bridge
Tony’s proposed walk to see all the things:
“Walk over the bridge, past the big wheel, takes you over the Westminster Bridge, past the London Eye, along the south bank, past the Tate Modern and the Oxo Tower before passing Shakespeare’s Globe and seeing St. Paul’s in the best possible way… crossing the Millennium Bridge! You can walk back on the north side through Fleet Street and down to Covent Garden before heading home via the Christmas lights and shops on Oxford and Regent Streets!”
– General areas: Paddington, Notting Hill, close to Buckingham Palace or Earl’s Court. Better to stay west of center than east, as more tourist stuff is western central. Generally avoid staying inside the circle line (expensive and lower quality).
– Also would be nice to stay in Putney or Fulham (lovely places by the river, south west of city center, and a bit pricier)
– Read customer reviews before booking anywhere – make sure to avoid thin walls, locations far from any tube/ metro stops, etc.