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Polaroid Of The Week: A Perfect London Summer Day

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week england london kensington gardensAfter a week by the sea, I made my way up to London, deciding that I can’t leave England without at least a quick pit stop in my former adopted hometown.

Summer was in full swing when I arrived in Friday (a rare thing for London!) and I spontaneously decided to take some time off work and spend my Saturday like most other people this weekend, and like I used to spend so many of my London weekends: in the park (with a run though Hyde Park in the morning and a picnic in Kensington Gardens in the afternoon, where I snapped the picture above), with a bit of shopping (the madness that is Oxford Street seems less crazy when you’ve been away for a while) and last but not least: with a visit to the West End, where I saw Guys & Dolls, currently starring Rebel Wilson, who always makes me laugh, and it wasn’t any different in this musical. If you happen to find yourself in London before 21 August, I highly recommend it – look for cheap tickets on LoveTheatre.com.

My quick visit in London ended with some bubbles at the Searcys champagne bar in St Pancras with Becki, who I hadn’t seen since the NBE conference in Finland in January 2014, and was the perfect way to conclude a fantastic week in the UK. Next stop: Munich!

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How to spend the perfect fall weekend in London

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One of my favorite things about having spent the past few months in Europe? How easy it was to hop on a train or plane for a city break in another country! I could be in Prague, Barcelona, Copenhagen or Rome within a few short hours, soak up some sun in Lisbon for a couple of days, indulge in Italian gelato in Rome or stroll along the canals in Amsterdam.

But after traveling around Europe for nearly three months, I came to the conclusion that London was still my favorite European city. I might be biased, having lived there for so many years, but I’ve also traveled to enough other places to be able to say that I don’t think any other European city can rival London in all the things it has to offer, in terms of culture, food, nightlife, markets, shopping, green spaces, things to do, theater, and areas for urban exploration.LondonWhen I stopped in London this year I had the opportunity to show a first-time visitor around town – something I did on a regular basis when I was living in London, which is why I felt comfortable playing tour guide for my friend – and which is why I thought it was time to share my recommendations for the perfect fall weekend in London with you. Of course this itinerary also works at any other time of year. Here is my suggested itinerary for three days in London – including the must-see London landmarks, afternoon tea, my favorite museums for some culture but also some cool street art spots, the best walks and my favorite green spaces, delicious food and evening activities.London England

Day 1: Royal London and London’s most iconic sights

I usually start my London explorations with a walk from Victoria Station all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral, or if I’m not too tired yet, a little further into the ‘City of London’ to take in the views from the Monument and to finish with a pint in Leadenhall Market.

From Victoria Station, follow the signs to Buckingham Palace. If you’re really into the royal family, you can visit the palace during the summer months (tickets start at £20.50). But for most people it is enough to glimpse through the fence and snap some pictures of the guards in their fancy uniforms. The ‘Changing of the guards’, which takes place at 11.30am (daily between April and July, every other day the rest of the year) is a great spectacle to catch, and it’s free, so you might want to time your visit so that you can see it.london parksFrom Buckingham Palace, walk over to Green Park and follow the lake until you reach the Horse Guards building, where you’ll encounter another typical London sight: the Horse Guards, as the name implies. From there, walk down Whitehall, past Downing Street, and you’ll reach Big Ben and the Houses Of Parliaments, across from Westminster Abbey. Cross Westminster Bridge and turn left onto the South Bank, where you’ll follow The Queen’s Walk along the river.

Here’s where you can stop for a ride on the London Eye (£19.35) or continue on towards Millennium Bridge, a pleasant walk that’s just over a mile long. Before crossing the bridge, make sure to check out the current exhibitions at the Tate Modern, London’s most famous contemporary art museum, which is housed in a former power station. It is one of my favorite contemporary art museums in the world. Heading up to the cafe is a good idea no matter if you’re a fan of modern art or not, because the views from up there are fantastic.

Once you’ve crossed Millennium Bridge you can decide if you want to pay St Paul’s Cathedral a full visit (tickets from £18.00) or just peek inside (well worth a peek, I say, even if you don’t want to pay for full access). If you’re not visiting the church, head further east until you reach the Monument, a freestanding  202 ft (62 m) tall column that offers probably the cheapest views over London at £4. The catch? You have to climb 311 steps to get up there, there’s no elevator to be found. However, for your effort you get a neat certificate that confirms that you successfully climbed to the top.london millennium bridgeAnd now you definitely deserve a pint – and a short ten minute walk from the Monument, you find Leadenhall Market, a beautiful covered market dating back to the 14th century (and representing Diagon Alley in the first Harry Potter movie!). Unless you’re heading there on a weekend, you’re also likely to encounter dozens of ‘suits’ there – people who work in London’s finance sector. Most banks have their offices in this part of the city, and bankers, like most other people, tend to enjoy an after work pint (or two). Mingling with them makes for an interesting experience though. There are also some restaurants in Leadenhall Market – if you’re looking for a typical British pub dinner, head to the Lamb Tavern.

Day 2: Notting Hill and Central London

I’d start Day 2 with breakfast in Notting Hill – Walk up Portobello Road and pop in to some of Notting Hill’s antique shops along the way, or simply admire the neat Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian architecture. If you happen to be in London over the weekend, I’d recommend heading here on Saturday when the famous Portobello Road Antiques Market takes place – but come early, it gets pretty crowded around noon.Portobello Road MarketTwo of my favorite breakfast places right on Portobello Road are the Electric Diner and Lowry & Baker (also great to just pick up a coffee). Two more breakfast spots worth mentioning in the area are Granger & Co (by Australian celebrity chef Bill Granger – but reasonably priced) and the cozy Wildflower Cafe. For an extended Notting Hill walk, I recommend turning right onto Westbourne Grove. Head back south on Garway Road until you reach Kensington Gardens, and go for a stroll in this beautiful park which is basically an extension of Hyde Park. If you are into art, I recommend stopping at the small Serpentine Gallery right in the park which has always interesting exhibitions (free admission). Walk eastwards through the park until you hit Marble Arch, the giant arch on the northeastern corner of Hyde Park.

You might begin to feel hungry again, and now it’s time for afternoon tea! During my last visit to London I tried something different: Street Food Afternoon Tea at The Arch, a small boutique hotel in the fancy Marylebone neighborhood (just a short walk from Oxford Street), which has an interesting twist to it: instead of your usual mini sandwiches and scones, they serve mini burgers, mozzarella risotto balls, vegetable skewers and quesadillas, followed by scrumptious eclairs, macaroons, rice pudding and fruit tarts – all combined with tea, of course, which you can select from an exquisite tea menu. I tried the vegetarian version of the street food tea, but of course there is also one for carnivores. If you’re heading to London before Christmas, you’re in luck: the Arch currently has a special Christmas-inspired street food afternoon tea (check out the menu here).Afternoon Tea at the Arch LondonI loved the elegant yet cozy ambiance at the restaurant, and it is just the right thing to do before hitting Oxford Street for a little shopping spree. After some shopping on London’s most iconic (and busiest) street, you might want to get away from the hustle and bustle here. Turn right (southwards) onto Argyll Street (just after Oxford Circus) which leads to the pedestrianized Carnaby Street. Here you’ll find more independent shops, different from the big High Street chain stores, and plenty of options for a quick bite or drink.

Follow Carnaby Street all the way down to the end and you’ll find yourself right in the heart of Soho, which really comes to life after dark. If you’re a theater buff like I am, I suggest ending the day with a West End show. Comparetheatretickets.com is a good place to start looking which plays have good deals, and you can find a comprehensive guide to finding cheap Westend theater tickets here.

If you’re not into musicals or plays, end the day with a drink or dinner in Soho. Places I recommend are: Franco Manca for pizza, Oka for sushi, Bao (to-die-for Taiwanese street food), Fernandez & Wells for tapas and wine, Princi for tasty Italian food, Busaba Eathai (Thai), and Yalla Yalla for Lebanese food, to give you just a few ideas. For drinks, check out the French House (great beer selection), the Lyric Tavern for a solid British pub experience, Mark’s Bar (underneath the Hix restaurant) for sophisticated cocktails, the Experimental Cocktail Club if you’re looking for a speakeasy experience (good luck finding it). If you want to fancy it up, head to Milk & Honey (reservations obligatory).london portobello road buildings

Day three: Markets and street art

Day 3 is all about East and North London. If you’re visiting over a weekend, I’d plan to do this day on a Sunday. Start with a stroll through Columbia Street Flower Market (only on Sundays), or begin right in Brick Lane, where a massive flea market takes place every Sunday. Take your time and take in the street art around here, the flea market stalls, head into the Old Truman Brewery which is now filled with artsy shops and galleries.

On the southern end of Brick Lane you’ll find plenty of Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants which is what the area is famous for. Make sure to be hungry enough for a curry – here you’ll get the best curry in London. You may be overwhelmed by the large number of restaurants – I recommend consulting Tripadvisor or Foursquare before you decide which one to go to, or check out this rating of every curry restaurant on Brick Lane.East LondonAfter lunch, head over to Pettycoat Lane Market if you’re into fashion – you can find some amazing bargain deals here (note: also only on Sundays).

If you love street art, I suggest checking out some of East London’s cool graffiti scene (you will have seen some in Brick Lane already), but it’s a bit tricky to find all of the colorful pieces, which is why I recommend taking a free London street art walking tour (tipping mandatory!) with a local guide who will also give you some insights on the artists and East London in general. The tour runs five times a week at 2pm, online reservations are necessary. If you can’t make the tour, here’s an excellent self-guided street art walk through East London which includes brilliant pieces by famous street artists such as Banksy, Roa and Stiks.East London street art and Brick LaneSince this day is all about markets, you can’t miss Camden’s famous markets, which can be an all-day activity – it’s easy to get lost in the giant maze of different markets, all set around the locks of Regent’s Canal. Since I moved to London for the first time in 2005, the markets have become a major tourist attraction and some of them have also seen a revamp. And yes, it is crowded, but it’s still one of my favorite things to do in London, and the food stalls alone are worth the trip to Camden. If you’ve still got stamina after all the market strolls, head south along Regent’s Canal until you reach Primrose Hill. It’s a lovely walk and the views over London from the top of Primrose Hill are unbeatable (on a sunny day, that is!).Camden Town London

Tips for visiting London with little time and little money:

– Pick up an Oyster Card, London’s transportation card. It is much cheaper to travel on public transportation with an Oyster Card – with it, a day ticket will cost you £6.50. If you simply buy a day ticket without Oyster card, it’s a staggering £12.10 (US$18.30)!

– If you are planning to visit a lot of the attractions that aren’t free, such as the Tower Of London, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace, consider buying a London Pass which is £75 for two days and 89 for three days. Here’s a good article that explains when it’s worth buying a London Pass and when it’s better to skip it.london big ben– There are two local buses that pass most of London’s major sights and landmarks, such as Tower Bridge, Hyde Park, Tafalgar Square and Oxford Street. If you’re pressed for time, get an Oyster Card with a day ticket – at £4.50 (buses only) much cheaper than the hop-on hop-off buses that cover pretty much the same route. You can find a list of the best bus routes for sightseeing in London here.

– If it’s raining, head to the museums. The great thing about London is that most of its fabulous museums are free! My favorites include the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the National History Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, but have a look at this list for more free London museums.London England

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Polaroid of the week: Colorful Notting Hill, London

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polaroid of the week england london notting hillWhen my friend Shannon told me she would be in London in September, I knew I had to squeeze in a week in my former adopted home. After all, I had spent a week with her niece not even two months ago but hadn’t seen her in a year. For some reason, I never made it back to London in all these years of travel, except for a short layover last November, nearly five years after saying goodbye to England. And I had already vouched to spend some more time in the city I used to love so much this year – now I had an excuse to make it finally happen. A week was far too short, but it was enough time to show Shannon some of my favorite hangouts, catch up with friends, see how the city has changed over the past few years and even fit in a not-so-ordinary Afternoon Tea.

The first few days were so rainy and cold that I already had to wear the warm clothes I had packed for Iceland, where I was headed next, reminding me why I had gotten tired of London in the first place. But then, when the sun finally came out the last couple of days, London was shining in all its glory again, making me think that moving back here at some point might not be such a bad idea.

A day spent strolling through Camden’s markets and along Regent’s Canal to Primrose Hills to take in the new skyline (the Shard changes it quite a bit!), meandering along the Southbank from the London Eye all the way to Millennium Bridge to see what’s new in the Tate Modern, neighborhood explorations in Mayfair, Marylebone, Notting Hill and Shoreditch brought back many great memories of the years I spent here. Especially our day in Notting Hill, where we marveled at quirky antics in Portobello Road Market, had me think of all the times I used to go to that market on Saturday to pick up fresh produce when I lived at the end of Portobello Road.

Once again I left London feeling I didn’t spend enough time here, and that I should make more than a half-hearted effort to spend more time here again – rather sooner than later. The city has changed so much over the past five years, and a week was by far not long enough to explore all the new places that have popped up everywhere.

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How to visit London on the cheap

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London is rumored to be notoriously expensive and the British Pound Sterling is usually very strong, making it more expensive to visit this exciting metropole for almost any nationality. Most visitors struggle to keep their costs low when exploring England’s capital, but there are a few secrets to traveling to London on the cheap. In today’s post, I am sharing my best travel tips to stick to a shoestring London travel budget:london museum

Be smart with public transportation

Public transportation will probably be your biggest expensive while you’re in London, but there are some ways to save money on buses and subways. First of all, pick up an Oyster Card instead of paying for single rides each time – trust me, you’ll need one. There is a £5 deposit for the card itself, but you’ll get it back when you leave and return the card.

1. Get an Oyster Card

You have two choices when you buy an Oyster Card: you can buy a daily or weekly travel card, or you can simply add money to the card. That way, the ‘pay as you go’ version, is cheaper if you don’t plan to take a lot of trips during the day (but if you are staying not right in Central London, it’s very likely that you’ll be using public transportation every day). With the Pay As You Go version you’ll pay only £2.30 per ride instead of the full £4.80 fare for a single ticket.

If you opt for the Pay As You Go option, your daily fare will be capped at £6.40 (in Zone 1 & 2, Central London), which is the price of a day ticket. A day is counted until 3am the next morning, by the way. If you’re wondering how much money to put on your card: £20 will usually cover a return journey from Heathrow plus travel around Central London for one 1 or 2 days. If you are planning to stay for 3 to 4 days, put £30 on the card. If your card runs out, you can always put more on it. If you’re spending an entire week in London, your cheapest option is the 7-day travel card (£32.10 vs. £44.80 for 7 daily travel cards).London tube2. Off-peak vs. on-peak

If you don’t want to get an Oyster card, it is still possible to buy (paper) travel cards – they are considerably more expensive though, with £12 for a day pass (compared to the £6.40 cap off with an Oyster Card). If you’re a late riser, opt for a off-peak travel card, which is cheaper than a normal travel card but only allows you to travel after 9.30am, however there isn’t a difference in all travel cards – for example you pay the same price for an off-peak card in Zone 1, but if you stay further outside and need a travel card that reaches until Zone 5, it does make a £5 difference. You can see all the current London fares in this table.

3. Buses vs. subway

You can even save more money when you take the bus instead of the tube – and buses in London aren’t the grimy kind you’ve got in some U.S. city, but new, clean double-decker buses which connect the places that aren’t covered by the subway and train network, but some go on routes parallel to a subway route, and this is when taking the bus is cheaper. A bus ride with an Oyster card is £1.50, no matter if it’s peak time or not. Also: if you use only buses and use a Pay As You Go Oyster Card, your fare will be capped at £4.40, which means every day when you reach £4.40, you’ll ride the rest of the day for free.London market coffee houseSightseeing by local bus

Also – taking the bus is a much better way to see the city, so if you’re not pressed for time, I recommend taking the bus whenever possible. While hop-on hop-off tours are a great way to see London, they can cost an arm and a leg! Instead, there are several London bus routes which pass right by the most iconic sights, which are all included in the price of your day ticket or Oyster card (though there are no headsets, so you might need to do a little background research yourself.

One of the buses that goes by many of London’s sights is bus number 9 and you can hop right on in Piccadilly Circus. The bus passes Trafalgar Square, Somerset House, Harrods, the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall in West London, and finishes at St Paul’s Cathedral in East London.

Another fabulous route for sightseeing is bus RV1 which runs between Covent Garden and Tower Gateway. You can get on it on either end and the route follows the Thames passing the South Bank with the London Eye, London Bridge and even goes right over the Tower Bridge.london tower bridge

Most of London’s attractions are free!

One of my favorite things about London is that most of the city’s attractions are free – including its famous museums, such as the British Museum, the National History Museum or the Tate Modern. (A great way to spend a rainy day by the way, and there’ll be one of those most likely!).

In addition to the free museums and galleries, you can see many other things that are icon

ic London landmarks without paying a penny, such as:

  • Piccadilly Circus
  • Tower Bridge
  • Hyde Park
  • Portobello Road Market & Notting Hill
  • A river walk along the Thames
  • Changing the Guard & the horse guards
  • Big Ben
  • Camden Market and the canals
  • Primrose Hill
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Oxford Street (stick to window shopping though, or visit Primark)

London guardsSo while a trip to London can be pricey, if you feel like you have to do things like Madame Tussaud’s, go inside Buckingham Palace, the London Eye or the Shard for views (which you can get much cheaper when climbing the Monument in the City of London, by the way, which is only £3, or entirely free if you head up to Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath).

Free Walking Tours

I love free walking tours – they usually give you a great overview of the city, allow you to get your bearings, and at the same time you’ll get some background info and insider tips. Tour guides love to share their knowledge of the city, so don’t be shy if you’re looking for recommendations for a certain kind of cuisine or just a good pub with cheap beer. When you join a free walking tour, you’ll also notice how close most of the city’s attractions are and that most of Central London is surprisingly walkable. I recommend Sandeman’s New Europe Royal London Tour, a 2.5 hour walk that covers Buckingham Palace, No 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, St James Park and the Horseguards, to name just a few stops. London houses

Use discount vouchers

Before buying anything, check if there are any discount vouchers for the activity, food or drink you’re planning to buy. For example, browse through VoucherBin UK for the latest voucher codes before you set off on your trip.

Discount vouchers are hugely popular in the UK and many restaurants offer meal deals or 2-for-1 dinner vouchers. There are also vouchers for supermarkets if you’re planning to cook for yourself, and it pays off to compare prices in the main supermarket chains (Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose) to see which one has the items you’re planning to buy on offer.london big ben

How to save money on paid attractions

If you’re planning to see some of London’s attraction that aren’t free, consider getting a London Pass which includes over 60 London attractions, including a Thames River Cruise, the Tower Of London and Westminster Abbey. Tip: If you buy the pass through VisitLondon, the official tourist board, you’ll get a 10% discount on it.

If you only plan to visit one or two of the paid-for attractions, check online if they offer an advance booking discount. Most of the attractions offer it – the London Eye for example is 20% cheaper if booked in advanced.

If you’re planning a trip out of town on the train – to Bath or Brighton for example, you should also check out the National Rail website where you’ll usually find 2-for-1 offers for all major attractions (if you buy a train ticket). Train tickets should be purchased in advance, too, by the way: a ticket to Brighton is £22.90 if you buy it on the spot, but it can be as cheap as £11 if you buy it a few weeks in advance. This kind of travel requires planning, but it makes a huge difference on your wallet.London Eye

Cheap West End Theater Tickets

Theater is a fix part of many London visitors’ itinerary, and seeing a play in the West End is well worth the splurge. The best part is that seeing a play or musical doesn’t need to be expensive – I’ve seen plays for as little as £20! Similar to New York, London also has discount ticket booths – head to the TKTS ticket booth in the afternoon to get discounted tickets for the same evening. The Guardian just published a guide on how to get the best deal for West End Theater Tickets.London views from Primrose hill

Food and drinks

First of all: don’t ever spend water on bottled water when you are in London. The tap water in the city is perfectly fine and safe to drink, and not only will it save you some precious Pounds, but you’ll also do the environment a favor.

For a cheap lunch, head to Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Boots and pick up one of their lunch deals, which are as little as £3 and include a sandwich, a drink and an additional item (chips, fruit or something sweet). It doesn’t get any cheaper than this! If you prefer a hot lunch, head to EAT or Pret A Manger for a hot sandwich or a soup. You can get either one for less than £5. All of these places have several healthy food options.

When the weather is nice, it is always a great idea to buy picnic food and eat in one of the beautiful parks – nothing beats an al fresco lunch in Regents Park or St James Park. I highly recommend Portobello Road Market and Borough Market to pick up a quick yet scrumptious meal.

If you’re staying in a hostel with a kitchen, you can buy one of the cheap dinner deals that is offered by all of the supermarket chains for as little as £10 – this includes a starter for two, two main courses and even a bottle of wine! (Tip: If you splurge on the £20 dinner deal at Marks & Spencer, you get the best value for money with a starter, main, a side dish, dessert and wine).

If you prefer to go out, try to find a coupon for 2-for-1 meals or look for a pub with 2-for-1 meal deals. Bread selection at Borough Market

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Polaroid of the week: Returning to London

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polaroid of the week england london sunsetOn my way from New York to Sri Lanka, I stopped for a couple of days in London, the city I left in 2010 to travel the world. Back then, I would have never thought that it would take me nearly five years to return, because London has always been one of my favorite cites in the world. And even after traveling the world for nearly half a decade it remains one of the very few places I could see myself living in – in fact, there are only three cities in the world I’d consider settling down in: New York, London and Berlin.

Coming back after such a long time turned out to be a very emotional visit. I am not sure yet if I’ll write about it in more detail, but it caught me by surprise to be moved to tears by the view pictured above. I was nostalgic about rediscovering my favorite store brands, restaurant and coffee shop chains, and favorite foods. I was ecstatic to discover new things and that old habits were still in me (boarding the subway instinctively closest to the exit of the station, after many years of training to become as time efficient as possible), and that I’d forgotten quite a few things, including directions, which I still feel embarrassed about (I couldn’t remember the name of the street I lived on anymore, and still can’t!).

And like I said, it turned out that I had also forgotten how much I loved this city! When I made my way to the airport on a beautiful sunny autumn day I vowed that it wouldn’t be another 55 months until I return to London.

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My Top Three London Neighborhoods To Stay In

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When people plan a trip to London, I often get asked where I’d recommend they stay. Which neighborhoods are the best, the closest to the center, and the cheapest. I could talk about London’s many different neighborhoods for hours, and I have about eight that I absolutely love, but I narrowed it down to my top five places I think visitors should consider for their trip to London. Read on to find out which neighborhoods top my list, why I think they’re making for a great base and which types of travelers they are for.

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A breathtaking sunset sky over the River Thames

Before I start, a quick word on your choice of accommodation in London. There has never been a greater variety of places to stay at than now – from hostels to luxury hotels, vacation rentals and short-term lets, long-term rooms to self-catering apartments… the selection is sheer endless, and researching the perfect option can be overwhelming. Check out AirBnb for some amazing places to stay in – be it a room in somebody’s apartment (a great way for solo travelers to meet locals!) or an entire ‘flat’, as the British call their apartments. If you’re not using AirBnb yet – you can sign up here and get $20 off your first booking.

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Greenwich – also one of my favorite neighborhoods, albeit not in my Top Three

Now on to my favorite neighborhoods:

Shoreditch

Everyone who knows me knows that I need a little bit of grittiness around me – if a place is too pretty, too clean and too cookie-cutter, I am bored quickly. That’s why I love Kreuzberg in Berlin, Brooklyn in New York, and East London. There’s street art everywhere, funky bars, slightly chaotic flea markets, independent boutique and shops with a unique flair. Shoreditch doesn’t have any typical British sights (except for many many pubs, of course!) but here you’ll find the hippest people, the coolest restaurants and the most eclectic vibe.

This is for you if… you are looking for a neighborhood that is teeming with young people (you will spot hipsters here, yes), a fantastic bar scene, urban art and good transportation connections that bring you to Central London in only 15 minutes.

Brick Lane London
Street Art in East London

Notting Hill

I know, this one is pretty cliché, but there is a reason that there is a movie that focuses on this charming neighborhood – you can’t help but fall in love with this typical English and at the same time gorgeous area. Located in West London, Notting Hill has some of the prettiest streets in all of London; streets and mews (little alleyways) that invite to wander. On Saturdays, the famous Portobello Road Market flea & antiques market takes place here, but on all other days a stroll down Portobello Road is simply delightful. You are close to Kensington Gardens, one of my favorite parks in London, and you’ll have tons of cute cafes, cozy pubs and fabulous boutiques around here.

This is for you if… you want a truly British neighborhood experience with quiet, beautiful streets, lots of attractions nearby, and easy access to Central London (about 10 minutes on the tube).

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Notting Hill – Colorful and pretty!

Camden Town

Much has changed in Camden Town over the past few years – while it was one of the grittier, even seedy neighborhoods in the early 2000s still, the neighborhood has been transforming into one of the most sought-after areas to buy or rent in. The massive Camden Market is a huge tourist attraction these days, but go a couple of streets away from Camden High Street and you’ll find some wonderfully peaceful streets with snuggish apartments and, one of my favorite places in the city, Regents Canal, which goes all the way to Primrose Hill and further down to Regents Park (a lovely walk). The pub scene here is glorious, and you are close to some marvelous lesser known sights such as Hampstead Heath (fantastic views over the city!), Abney Park Cemetery or Islington, another lovely neighborhood. The Northern Line brings you right into Central London in only 20 minutes.

This is for you if… you want to go shopping-crazy at Camden Lock Market, are not too fussed about the prettiness of a neighborhood, love cheapie pubs and a local flair away from Central London’s tourist madness.

London Camden High Street
The Iconic Camden High Street

Have you been to London? What are your favorite neighborhoods?

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My six favorite London markets

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If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know that I am a huge fan of markets. No matter where I go, I always try to hit up a local market- be it a flea market, fish market or simply a fruit and vegetable market. I’ve written about markets in Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires and told you about my favorite markets in Berlin and New York City. I’ve never shared my favorite markets in London, however, even though I’ve got to give the city credit for establishing my love for markets and having spent nearly every weekend during my three years living in London exploring the city’s many diverse markets. It became sort of a ritual for me and Jess to head out on Saturday or Sunday to pick up vintage clothes, cool gifts for friends, fresh flowers or just fruits and vegetables for the week… Or eat ourselves silly.

London MarketsToday I am sharing my top markets in London with you – not a single one is like another and I love each one for a different reason. Read on for the six markets I recommend you don’t miss on a visit to London – plus a few honorable mentions which, should you spend a longer period in the city, are worth a visit as well.

Columbia Road Market

Columbia Road Market is actually called Columbia Flower Market – and is easily the best smelling market in London. Every Sunday, flower vendors line up on Columbia Road and sell an array of flowers and plants that makes every person with a ‘green thumb’ or simply adores flowers. Thousands of flowers let the quaint Columbia Road shine in a blaze of colors. I have traveled all over the world but I have barely seen a market that compares to this. Columbia Road Market makes for a lovely Sunday morning stroll through East London, which can be followed by brunch in Shoreditch or a stroll through Brick Lane Market (see below). Make sure to also check out the galleries, vintage shops and boutiques on Columbia Road while you’re there.

Where? Columbia Road (closest public transport: Hoxton or Shoreditch High Street on the London Overground)

When? Sundays 8am – 2pm.

london columbia road flower marketBorough Market

What started out as a local food & vegetable market right off London Bridge quickly turned into the city’s #1 gourmet food market, selling high quality fresh breads and pastries, cheeses, meats, fish and condiments like olives, nuts and other goodies. The market gained in popularity so quickly that is basically impossible to make your way across the market without being pushed through the crowds, but if you visit Borough Market on a Friday or Thursday before lunch, you should be able to avoid the masses (do yourself a favor though and don’t go on a Saturday, unless you are willing to get up early!). Borough Market has even been chosen as one of the top 5 European markets by GoEuro.

Make sure to come hungry, because not only will you want to try some of the specialty sandwiches (raclette!) or bratwurst, but the vendors also offer generous samples of Italian salami, French cheese, fresh muffins or homemade jam. If you are a foodie, you can’t leave London without visiting this market!

Where? Southwark Street (closest tube station: London Bridge)

When? Wednesday & Thursday: 10am to 5pm, Friday: 10am to 6pm, Saturdays: 8am to 5pm

London Borough MarketBrick Lane Market

Brick Lane Market is my favorite place to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon. The massive flea market in East London stretches all the way down Brick Lane and also Cheshire Street. As East London became more and more trendy over the past decade or so, the market has also seen a huge growth in visitor numbers, so I recommend you go early. You find all kinds of second-hand goods here, vintage clothes and antiques, but also toys, all sorts of knick knack and even home décor.

There are tons of food vendors here, too, so you don’t have to go hungry. And let’s not forget about all the amazing curry houses that made Brick Lane famous in the first place – you won’t regret stopping for lunch at any of them. During the warmer months, there are live bands and other entertainment along the road or in places like the Truman Brewery. Street art lovers take note: Brick Lane is also home to some of London’s finest street art.

Where? Brick Lane (closest tube station: Liverpool Street Station)

When? Every Sunday from 9am to 6pm

London Brick Lane MarketPetticoat Lane Market

Another amazing Sunday market (you could basically spend all Sunday exploring different markets!), Petticoat Lane Market specializes entirely in fashion. The market was established over 400 years ago by French Huguenots who were selling petticoats there. Even though the street name has been long changed, the market kept its original name and is a paradise for fashionistas. There is no fashion article that you won’t find here – from belts, buttons, underwear, leather, jeans and work clothes, this market sells anything to do with garment. Bring enough cash, because you’ll most likely buy much more than you plan on buying! The rock-bottom prices here never cease to amaze me.

Where? On Middlesex Street (closest tube station: Liverpool Street Station, Aldgate or Aldgate East)

When? Every Sunday from 9am to 3pm

petticoatlane marketCamden Lock Market

Another one of London’s markets that has become way too commercialized over the years – when I visited Camden Market for the first time a decade ago, the market still had an edgy, in parts almost grimy feel to it, but the more it gained in popularity, the more it was cleaned up by the officials. While it became cleaner and more organized, it lost most of its edginess – that said, Camden Market is still my absolute favorite market in the world. I have yet to find another market that I love equally as much and that combines vintage, food (oh the glorious food! Do yourself a favor and come with an empty belly!), jewelry, art, music and amazing gifts. If you happen to be in London during the week, you’ll be able to shop in a much less crowded environment on a weekday morning – if you’re not a fan of crowds, I’d recommend staying away on the weekends or come super early. But this is the one market that should absolutely not be missed on a visit to London.

Where? Camden High Street (closest tube station: Camden Town or Chalk Farm)

When? Every day from 10am to 6pm

London Camden Lock MarketPortobello Road Market

London’s best known market has been going strong for decades and turns Portobello Road in London’s busiest street each and every Saturday, rain or shine. The market was originally founded as an antiques market but has since added clothes, souvenirs, art, vintage clothes and even household cleaners. Towards the end of the market (close to Ladbroke Grove), you’ll find fruits, vegetables and other fresh produce and when I lived in Ladbroke Grove, I would visit the market every week to shop for inexpensive groceries there. I’d never be able to resist the giant olives, cheese vendors and fresh French baguettes – if you’re in town on a sunny day, I’d recommend picking up some snack food and head to Kensington Gardens afterwards for a picnic.

Where? Portobello Road (closest tube station: Notting Hill Gate, Ladbroke Grove)

When? Every Saturday from 9am to 6pm

London Portobello Road MarketThese are only a few of the markets I love in London and frequented dozens of times. I could go on and on and also introduce you to Leadenhall Market, Brixton Village Market, Covent Garden Market, Greenwich Market, Spitalsfield Market or Broadway Market… your options are sheer endless. A quick weekend trip to London is one of the easiest things to do these days with the large number of budget airlines and trains connecting London to mainland Europe. If you are based in the UK, cheap coach operators offer tickets for as little as £1, but even from Germany or France there are always bargain train or flight offers. It has never been easier and cheaper to visit Britain’s capital for a quick shopping trip – and no shopping trip would be complete without a visit to the city’s awesome markets!
Brixton Village Market

Have you been to London? What are your favorite markets? Share in the comments below!

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Five reasons to visit London in the winter

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London’s dreary, grey Autumn gives way to the clear, crisp Winter skies in the British capital. We spent three winters living here and came to visit London in the winter three times before moving there eventually. Although we would always prefer the beach and warm weather, we loved bundling up, drinking mulled wine and getting out and exploring our adopted city. Read on for the five reasons we think make London an excellent destination for the winter months.

london pub
Nothing better than a cozy British pub to warm up at on a chilly winter day!

1 The ice rinks

We love the ice rinks in London, all of which come with a pretty backdrop – there’s the ice rink right in front of the Tower, by the Natural History Museum, inside of the gorgeous Somerset House, one by the London Eye and one in Hyde Park, to name only a few. The ice rink in Hyde Park actually belongs to the huge Winter Wonderland that also has fun rides, a Ferris Wheel, and a Christmas markets with mulled wine and yummy food. You can find a full list of all London ice rinks here.

London Ice Rinks
Two of our favorite ice rinks: The Tower Ice Rink and at Somerset House

2 The Christmas lights

London has one of the prettiest displays of Christmas lights in Europe – especially on Oxford and Regent Street, where the lights have a different theme every year and huge festivities usually see the official lights switch on done by big name celebrities. In Greenwich, the switch on is accompanied by a beautiful lantern parade. Seeing London in a festive spirit is something truly special. Shopping under all these lights is so enchanting, even for Jess, who normally shuns shopping in general. We loved shopping under the Christmas lights and decorations around Oxford and Regent Street, and around Covent Garden, Carnaby Street and Duke Of York Square.London Christmas lights & Tree3 There are no crowds

January and February are the best months to visit London if you are not keen on the tourist crowds that tour London during the spring and summer months. Camden Market for example is almost empty compared to the thousands of people who walk through the Stables in the summer, and on a walk along the Southbank you don’t have to rub elbows with other tourists. You’ll have the museums almost to yourself on weekdays and attractions like the Tower, the London Eye or St Paul’s Cathedral have much shorter lines.

London parks in the winter
We love strolling through London’s parks in the winter months.

4 It’s cheaper

Not only will you miss the crowds in the winter months, but it is also much cheaper to visit London during the winter! Hotels have special offers, and deals for flights to London can be found everywhere! Even the most comfortable airlines, drop ticket prices considerably. There are also much more competitive groupons, 2 for 1 offers, and discounts for theater plays in the West End.

london greenwich sunset
A gorgeous winter sunset over the River Thames

5 It’s chilly, but pleasant

While it tends to rain a lot during October and November, the rest of the winter is usually filled with blue-skied days and lots of sun. Thanks to the mild climate of the British Isles, the winters are much warmer than in continental Europe or the East Coast and northern parts of the U.S. The first time I visited London in February, we boarded the plane in Frankfurt at -15°C and got off the plane in Heathrow at +15°C – a difference of 30°C! While sightseeing in cities like New York or Chicago in January is nearly impossible due to the cold temperatures, it is actually enjoyable to go for a stroll through London’s neighborhoods in the winter and ending your day in the warmth of the English pub, and it barely ever snows.

London Ice Bar Dani & Jess
A visit to the Ice Bar will make the outside temperatures seem almost tropical!

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A guide to the best autumn festivals in London

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There’s nowhere better than London to immerse yourself in one of the most eclectic and vibrant cultural scenes in the world. The Olympics and its accompanying events might be seen by some as the highlight of the year, but there’s plenty going on after the Games have ended.

Here are our picks of some of the best!

Trafalgar Square by night - 1Liberty Festival, Trafalgar Square (September 1st and 2nd)

This is an excellent festival to take in if you’re on a bit of a tight budget and staying in a low cost hotel in London as a result. The free annual event is always great fun for the whole family, with a host of disabled and deaf performers and artists putting on shows and displaying their works around Trafalgar Square.

While a lot of the participants will be local to London, plenty of others will come from elsewhere in the UK and the rest of the world, so this is likely to expand your cultural horizons quite a lot!

London Design Festival, various venues (September 14th to 23rd)
London Design Festival-The TournamentThis huge event attracts 350,000 people to venues across London every year, making it a must-visit festival if you have any kind of passion for the visual arts. It’s perhaps best known for its Landmark projects, which will this year include an impressive sculpture entitled Flowing Glass at Somerset House and the BE OPEN Sound Portal installation in Trafalgar Square.

Other highlights will include Keiichi Matsuda’s Prism installation at the V&A, as well as a large-scale piece by Rolf Sachs, which will be displayed at the museum’s Henry Cole Grand Staircase – a part of the building that isn’t usually open to the public.

Darbar South Asian Music Festival, Southbank Centre (September 27th to 30th)

Bollywood films are pretty famous for its bouncy song and dance routines, but the best way to get a feel for Indian music is by learning more about the country’s classical scene. Head to the Southbank Center for the Darbar South Asian Music Festival and you’ll be able to do just that.

There’ll be lots of performances to choose from, including a show by the only Indian female classical solo player of the pakhawaj, which is an incredibly old percussion instrument. A tribute to famed sitar player Ustad Vilayat Khan, who died in 2004, will also take place during the festival.

Battle of Ideas, the Barbican (October 11th to 14th)

The Barbican, LondonThis is a little highbrow, but well worth attending if you’re fascinated by the sight of experts debating hot topics in their respective fields. Around 350 speakers will discuss everything from art and politics to education and the economy over an amazing 75 sessions, so there’s sure to be something to suit your own interests.

The 2012 edition of the event will mark the first time the Institute of Ideas has held the debates at the Barbican, making this a particularly special few days – and offering a great opportunity to combine seeing a heated discussion with taking in a film, play or concert!

Frieze Art Fair, Regent’s Park (October 11th to 14th)

If you don’t fancy the Battle of Ideas, the Frieze Art Fair might be more up your street. Taking place at the same time as the aforementioned event, this incredible fair collates works from some of the most talked-about galleries in the world across many separate exhibitions.

You’ll also be able to hear artists and experts talk about specific art movements and pieces in lectures, seminars and panel discussions, offering a great experience for anyone who wants to learn all about contemporary art.

Are you planning to attend any of these events? Which festivals would you recommend to visitors to London? Let us know in the comments!

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Off the beaten path on our perfect London day

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Friends and family have recently been asking us if we miss London, the city we lived for three years before starting our travels. While we wouldn’t trade life on the road right now for anything, the questions did get us dreaming about what our perfect day in London used to look like….

English novelist Samuel Johnson said, “Those who tire of London, tire of life,” – a timeless statement as true now as ever before. For those who live in ‘the Big Smoke’, loving London goes far beyond the ‘hotel and theatre London’, double-decker buses, afternoon tea, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, although these are a classic and essential part of London life.

Our favorite morning in London would start very early…at 6am in fact. We begin out on Regents Canal watching the sunrise on an early morning kayaking tour run by Thames River Adventures, which start by paddling past the celebrity residences of Primrose Hill, through the undisturbed canal waters which cut through the London Zoo as the animals wake up before ending up in the post-punk mecca of Camden Town. (For late-risers, Thames River Adventures also offers lunch time and sunset tours.)

Kayaking on Regents Canal LondonWe would finish up around 7:30am, and although it would still be a bit early, there is always something happening in Camden, where the tour ends. People watching here is priceless round the clock, but at this time of the morning, club kids are making their way home and the few ‘suits’ who live in Camden are marching to their City offices. Not us! We just love to grab a coffee and stroll through the mix of punk, bohemian shops and cheap markets without the masses, and then head over to join the dog-walkers and joggers on Primrose Hill, one of the best views over London (where some celeb-spotting is possible during the day).

London views from Primrose hillAt this point, we figure we would be starving, and so we would head over to the Breakfast Club near Angel tube station in the Islington area. There are a few Breakfast Club cafes around London, but this one is by far the most popular, so expect to queue. While we wait, we’d check out the nearby indie and antique shops as their doors just squeak open in the morning. The energy at this time is still fresh and friendly, before it gets crowded in the afternoon.

After our bellies are good and stuffed with British (The Full Monty, or a Cheddar & Marmite Toast) or American-style breakfasts (pancakes, french toast, eggs and hash browns), there is no question where we would walk it all off. From Angel station, we’d hop on the 73 bus which comes from central London and heads east to Stoke Newington Church Street. We’d be on our way to Abney Park. This part of East London is home to the struggling artists, future creative genius types who are as drawn to Abney Park as we are… Not actually a park, this is actually a cemetery, and a mystical, almost magical Victorian cemetery at that. The tombstones are fascinating and the spot is perfect for a long walk or total relaxation – and the best part is that tourists have yet to find this treasure, even though it was featured in Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black video.

Abney Park Cemetery LondonNow that we’ve relaxed, and Dani has taken another hundred pictures of the place, we would head down to the heart of East London – Shoreditch. We love to walk up and down Brick Lane and Shoreditch High Street and peek into all the trendy shops and bars that pop up here. If we’re feeling peckish, as the English say, we could grab a quick bite at the all-vegan Rootmaster restaurant, set in a converted double decker bus near the Old Truman Brewery. The OTB is no longer a brewery, but a trendy urban market where up and coming designers sell clothes, there are antiques and quirky gifts, plus various spots to eat. There are no chains here, and while money has started to flow in Shoreditch, this whole area is still (arguably) an authentic artists enclave…for now.

Brick Lane Graffiti Artist LondonWe also never miss the chance to stroll through Spitalfields Market, one of our absolute favorites in the city. Here there are some of the most amazing collections of everything you ever wanted for sale. New belt? The coolest belts are here. So retro you only listen to cassette tapes? You’ll snap up your favorite bands on tape here and records, too. On certain days, Spitalfields has huge collections of records, in fact, plus great clothes, even greater purses and bags, and merchandise both bargain and up-scale that you had no idea you even wanted. If we haven’t been sucked in to one of the many restaurants located in Spitalfields, the next place we’ll head to, without a doubt, is Brick Lane.

Brick Lane LondonBrick Lane has historically been London’s Indian and Bangladeshi enclave, and as a result is an excellent spot for some of the best Indian food outside of India. This street is right on the tourist path, actually, but we don’t care. The street is lined with dozens of great Indian restaurants, and each wants to get you inside. We typically barter for at least one free bottle of wine and hopefully at least a free appetizer before stepping through the door of any of the restaurants. You can’t beat free booze, and no matter where you end up, the meals will always satisfy, and usually for under 20 for two people.

After we’ve had enough wine to loosen up the dancing legs, Dani would probably want to go dancing. Being in east London we would head over to the Electricity Showrooms or the Hoxton Pony for dancing, 93 Feet East for clubbing, quirky Callooh Callay or the Bedroom Bar for a relaxing but intoxicating end to the night.

Brick Lane at Night LondonBecause we are right in Shoreditch, we could jump right on to the new East London Line and head to Canary Wharf. We really love the maritime feel of this side of London, how connected to the water the area is.

London Canary WharfWe cannot wait to go back to London for an extended visit, and with the many inexpensive flights to London we find online all the time, we might be back sooner than we’d thought…

Have you been to London? What are your favorite things to do in London? Share your tips and favorite places in the comments

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