I could easily list 100 reasons to love London. As a food-obsessed human who adores history and books, flowers and parks – and the ability to walk everywhere, there are few places I would rather spend my time. Several years ago, as we started to pack out after a three year post, I spent hours plotting ways to stay forever (obviously the plots failed miserably, as I am firmly back Stateside). These days, I’m forever plotting ways to return.
I'm convinced you can pack a stunning amount into just a few days in London - but it's important to have a battle plan before you arrive to help guide your adventure. Here's hoping my list of faves helps:
1. Breakfast at Carluccios and Sourced Market: It has become a tradition that we stagger off of the overnight flight and head directly to Carluccio’s for an almond croissant and a cappuccino. I believe their almond croissant ranks among the best on the planet. My daughter longs for the scrambled eggs with mushrooms on sourdough toast. This cafe has locations all over England (and beyond), with lovely Italian-inspired salads and pastas served later in the day. More recently, we have discovered the darling Sourced Market, which seeks to bring all that is best of a Farmer's Market into the heart of London. We indulged in the gorgeous coffee and pastries, and browsed the whimsical selection of goods in the market, such as chocolates from The Grown Up Coffee Company. The market is SO much fun. I stuffed an embarrassing number of food items from Sourced in my luggage - I couldn’t help myself!
2. Liberty of London – Be sure to visit the Liberty of London on Regents Street. This department store was constructed in 1924 from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. Really. Known for their floral print fabrics, It’s one of the rare places that seems to have goods you can’t possibly find anywhere else in the world (mostly :) My favorite display has always been the stunning flower selection just outside the side door.
3. Borough Market – This is quite possibly my favorite place on the planet. Be sure to go early when the market opens to avoid the throngs. My first stop is always Monmouth coffee for a perfect cappuccino. Then I set out to visit the dozens of stalls of food and drink from purveyors around the UK and Europe, camera in hand. I always pop into Neal's Yard Dairy to nick a sample the Beenleigh Blue - an old favorite, and not only because it is produced by the Ticklemore Cheese Company. Once upon a time, I had a kitchen in London to bring the lovely food home to, but now I just gather inspiration… and nibbles. Is it bad we indulged in salted caramel goat’s milk ice cream for breakfast? Not at all…
4. Theatre – As a lifelong Roald Dahl fan, Matilda has been on my “must-see” list for ages, and it proved to be an utter delight. Brilliantly staged and choreographed (what a set!), it is a spirited romp with a cast of mesmerizing kids and a spectacular “baddie” in Ms. Agatha Trunchbull. Oh how I wish I could have snapped a few pictures of those darling kids (strictly forbidden, of course). During Christmastime 2016, various theatre geeks of House Morell divided up to take in the classics In the Heights, Les Miserables, The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera. Raves for all, if they had to recommend one, Les Mis won the day.
5. Churchill War Rooms– Tucked at the edge of St. James Park is the entrance to The Churchill War Rooms - originally the Cabinet War Rooms – the wartime bunker that sheltered Churchill and his government during the Blitz. It feels as if you are going back in time as you explore the maze of secret meeting rooms, perhaps because when the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the doors to the bunkers were locked with every desk, map, and pin left just as it was to preserve this historic site. The main war rooms were opened to the public in 1984, but in 2005 a brilliantly crafted, multimedia museum dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill was added. I spend hours here nearly every time I visit London, but I always learn something new. I marvel at Churchill’s oratory skills. One of my favorite quotes will always be: “We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glow worm.” Indeed The Imperial War Museum London is the second must-visit recommendation of the history buffs of House Morell, and the Natural History Museum is a must if you are visiting with children.
6. Bookstores - If you suspect that a gal who spends her days feeding books to small children as a School Media Specialist (aka Librarian), would have to schedule several hours of every London visit in bookstores, you would be right. I never, ever miss a visit to The Daunt Bookshop for Travelers on Marylebone High Street, where most of the books are sorted according to destination, though the separate collections of children's books and cookbooks are fabulous. I love to get lost in the meandering rooms of the elegant Hatchards (booksellers since 1797), and can rarely resist a visit to the sprawling five-story flagship Waterstones on Piccadilly. And to feed my cookbook addiction, a leisurely stop at Books for Cooks in Notting Hill is a must. (After 25 years of marriage my husband has finally resigned himself to the fact I'll have at least five extra pounds of books in my luggage on the way home from London. It's part of my charm.)
7. The National Gallery of Art and lunch at the Cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin in the Fields - In heart of the city, at Trafalgar Square, sits the magnificent National Gallery. A wander through the grand, stately rooms takes me back in time. I have always been particularly drawn to the rather grim Paul Delaroche painting The Execution of Lady Jane Grey… The precocious Lady Jane was Queen of England for just 9 days until she was driven from the throne and sent to the Tower of London to be executed at the age of 16… (#horriblehistory) I then wander over to the Impressionist collection to recover. If you have the time, splurge for one of the audio tours to help guide you through the massive collection (the Children's Art Detectives tour is quite fun). When you've had your fill of art and have worked up an appetite, head through across the Square to St. Martin in the Fields, where you'll find the cozy Cafe in the Crypt in the basement of the church. Featuring hearty British favorites (roasts, veg, savory pies) at reasonable-for-London prices, it's nice to know the proceeds from your delicious lunch go to support the work of the Church. Another genius tip: The museums and galleries throughout London have lovely lunch options, at generally good prices.
8. East End Food Tour - If your idea of a perfect food tour is the intersection of history, culture, and delicious food, then you're in for a treat with this one. We spent three-and-a-half delicious hours roaming around a part of the city I barely knew to this point, led by a charming aspiring actress/foodie. Tip: Start the tour hungry! We began at the legendary St. Johns with a bacon bap, stopped at a classic English Restaurant (literally) for a bite of bread pudding, sampled lovely cheese at Androuet in Spitalfields Market, feasted on Poppie's Fish and Chips (one of the best in London), wandered Brick Lane to sample curries, went back in time with a pint of cider at a local pub (where, astonishingly, a local elderly gent was quite happy to chat with the Yanks that invaded his space), sampled incredible bagels at Beigel Bake, then finished it all off with a gorgeous caramel slice and cup of tea at the sleek Pizza East. I will be working my way through the other Eating London Tours next time I visit.
9. Cocktails: It's possible to step back in time at many of the history-soaked hotel bars in London (The American Bar at the Savoy, The Dorchester, The Ritz among them), but the Churchill Bar at the Hyatt Regency near Portman Square is my current fave. I opted for the Clementine Champagne Cocktail, (ahem, as a Christmas Eve Mass pre-game) and it was quite divine. Cozy pubs abound in London, but the posh Punchbowl tucked next to the Jesuit Farm Street Church in Mayfair is the Morell fave.
10. Dinner. This is the pick your own adventure section. There are hundreds of dinner options in London. We're a crew who loves great food in not particularly pretentious settings. Would you like classic British fare served in an cozy setting in Notting Hill? Then Ffiona's is your place. You'll feel like a dinner guest in Ffiona's candlelit home as she personally walks you through her menu to help you select the best her kitchen has to offer each evening. If you'd like your British fare in a served up in a buzzy, slightly comfortably glam setting, the posh Ivy Cafe in Marylebone is your place. Don't miss the salt-crusted sourdough bread to start, then tuck into the roast chicken or sheperd's pie or fish and chips. If you don't mind standing in line to feast on creative and wildly popular Indian food, then Dishoom is your place. Would you like cheese to be the star of your evening meal? Then try to book a dinner in the tiny space at La Fromagerie. Have you been cooking through Yotam Ottonlenghi's cookbooks? Experience his takes on Middle Eastern food in person at Nopi . We loved sitting at the communal table overlooking the kitchen downstairs and feasting on a series of small plates. Traveling with kids and craving something fun and quick? You can't go wrong with the Italian style pizza at Pizza Express or the fun noodles and ramen at Wagamama, nostalgic favorites of the Morell children. Looking for a little slice of Austria in London? You'll love the schnitzel and sausages served in warm wood-paneled dining room at Fischer's. Be sure to save room from a streudel or ice cream coupe. Or would you prefer Italian food? Try Caffe Caldesi. We prefer the more casual bar/cafe downstairs - try the formaggio e miele plate, the rigatoni ragu, or the veal milanese.
A couple more notes.
We have stayed at the Marylebone Hotel several times over the past few years. The rooms are tiny, but in a jewel box sort of way (that is to say perfectly appointed, quiet and comfortable.) And the staff could not be more accommodating and lovely. We love the location - in a corner of London a bit north of Oxford Street and South of Regents Park that boasts dozens of restaurants and cafes and shops, but isn't overwhelmingly packed with tourists.
And bring your walking shoes when going to London. Walk as much as you possibly can. I'm convinced that's the best way to see a city. Get up early and wander the streets and parks and soak up the layers of history before the throngs of Londoners and tourists from around the world join you.