Yes, I admit it. London is my favorite city on the planet. Not only because I lived there for two and a half years but also because this city is actually amazing (I know I’ve ruined my credibility with the previous sentence, but it really is true).
London is a sprawling, multifaceted network of neighborhoods (neighbourhoods, if you will) strung together with a common theme but all with drastically distinct stories. It’s more of a group of towns than one large city, which means it’s impossible to make one travel guide for the whole of it.
Never fear though! This doesn’t mean I won’t try….just don’t expect it all at once. I actually think London is so enormous, I would never recommend trying to see all of it in one go. This city requires many trips to do it justice; otherwise you’re sure to be overwhelmed. For example, if you go in the Winter, you’re more likely to enjoy the abundance of free museums and galleries, plus the amazing departments stores (helloooo Harrod’s and Selfridge’s). But in the Summer, London’s parks are unmatched by any city (sorry, Central Park). And, I’m not going to lie, that open top bus tour on a warm day is a great way to see the monuments and get your bearings in such a massive city (Note: I would not recommend doing this sort of awful touristy activity anywhere else, but gigantic cities call for extra conveniences where possible).
I think London is best described in short increments, so I’m not going to go into much detail in this blog (Look out for future blogs!) I think the tube is great (far superior to the nightmare inducing New York Subway), but to see a city, it’s always best to stay above ground. And, whatever you do, don’t get on the London buses. I know it’s tempting since they look so fun with their doubledecker-ness, but it took me a solid year to figure out bus routes and even then I was heavily reliant on my iPhone.
When I first moved across the pond, I lived just on the border of Chelsea and Fulham in Southwest London. This area of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is what most people think of when they imagine London. It is filled with quaint, tree-lined streets and square parks, and I considered myself very lucky to have lived there. It also is conveniently home to some of my favorite shopping (King’s Road), restaurants (try Bluebird, Tom’s Kitchen, Megan’s or The Big Easy) and museums (The V&A or Saatchi Gallery). A day or evening out in Chelsea will not disappoint.
My second year in London, I moved across the city to an area just near Shoreditch. Comparing Chelsea to Shoreditch is like comparing apples to elephants – they are simply nothing alike. While Chelsea is posh and elegant, Shoreditch is trendy and uber-cool. The area always reminded me a bit of New York City’s Soho or Lower East Side. It’s a bit dirty but entirely on purpose. The Shoreditch High Street is packed with vintage shops, bars and trendy restaurants with hidden back rooms you can only find if you know the password (I love that stuff). Try Pizza East, The Albion or The Breakfast Club for great food or Hoxton Square area for a fun night out. Also, there’s a counterpart to Soho House in the area called Shoreditch House with a rooftop pool, bar and hotel if you’re lucky enough to know a member.
If and when I ever move back to London, I’ve already decided where I’d want to live – Hampstead Heath. This area is in the Northern hemisphere of London and is the greatest combination of urban life and nature I have ever seen. The actual Heath is a massive park with rolling hills and pathways through the woods. There’s also bathing pools for those brave enough to swim in the rarely warm British weather. The reason I love this park so much is because it is such a wonderful rural-feeling escape from busy London. Hampstead High Street also represents one of the cutest areas of the city, with nice shops and restaurants (plus a creperie — every village is better with a creperie). To top it all off, to get to central London from Hampstead only takes about 20 minutes on the tube (which by London standards is ridiculously short).
I think that’s enough about London to get your feet wet for now. I’ll post more specifics on each area of London in the future, but for now, I hope I’ve introduced my favorite city well.