I’m an optimist. Or at least, I try to be – especially when I travel. I’ve learned that planning too much is often futile, because things rarely go the way you expect, and that’s okay. I’m here for an adventure, right? Here’s my Local London Travel Guide, where I went and what I ate on my 36 hours in London.
On Monday evening, I flew Norwegian Air for the first time from Los Angeles to London Gatwick. This is a relatively new route by Norwegian, an airline which has won numerous prizes for being the best “low-cost long-haul flight carrier”. Since detail orientation isn’t my strongest point, I failed to realize that “low-cost” translates to paying for meals, drinks, blankets, and headphones. Oops! Luckily for me, I was starving before I boarded the plane and had an early dinner. Side note – LAX now has 800 Degrees in Tom Bradley, among other iconic LA eateries. I also dress like an Eskimo when I fly, so I was armed with my flight pillow, a couple of jackets and a pashmina scarf. The overall experience was good, but just a heads up for future Norwegian fliers – bring your own everything!
By the time I arrived in London, I was a little annoyed at myself for thinking I could sleep on the plane without medication. Thank goodness for caffeine! My friend Nancy sent a cab to pick me up (I eventually found him after a few phone calls) and I made it to Tooting by around 5 pm.
I was sufficiently wired on my espresso shot to head out with Nancy for a stroll around the South Bank, which had tons of cool pop-up shops, cafes, and art exhibits. London is clearly very sad about their lack of available beaches, since most of the pop-ups were beach themed. They even had a little sandy area called “The Beach” along the river Thames, which I found particularly hilarious.
For dinner, we opted for Dim T, a westernized dim sum / Asian fusion restaurant with a gorgeous view of the sunset over Tower Bridge (and the London Riviera pop up below).
We ended our day down in Soho at a “hidden” speakeasy bar called Cahoots. It just opened a few months ago, and is a 1940s Underground themed bar in a disused Tube station! I’m a tad obsessed with themed places, and could not stop looking around and taking pictures. If you’re as obsessed, I really recommend that you take me up on this part of my local London travel guide – it’s seriously worth it. We even managed to get in AND score a table without reservations! Lucky us. My jet lag did kick into gear shortly afterward, though, and we headed back to Tooting for bed.
The next day, I woke up relatively bright-eyed and ready to see what Nancy calls “alternative” London (aka hipster London). After a late breakfast at the American diner themed Breakfast Club, we spent the afternoon wandering through Shoreditch, the up and coming hipster area of London. Filled with beautiful street art, cute cafes, and pop-up shops and restaurants, it is clearly the place to be. We actually stumbled upon a coconut water promotional pop-up themed to look like – you guessed it – the beach! If you took a selfie and hashtagged it with a set of emoticons, you would get a free tropical drink made with coconut water – very local London, but not quite worth adding to my London travel guide!
After a few hours of meandering, we made our way over to Brick Lane and Spitalfields market. Brick Lane is well known as “Little India”, and has an eclectic mix of old and new: traditional Indian restaurants alongside hip vintage shops and bright coffee shops. Spitalfields is a covered old Victorian hall – an interesting mix of swap meet meets branded shops meets restaurants. London is very big on markets and outdoor summer events and pop-ups, some of which I would have never discovered if it weren’t for Nancy. I love visiting cities when I know locals! You really do get an authentic local experience, which is seriously missing from most London travel guides.
At this point, the artsy part of our day was over, and we headed over to a rooftop bar across St Paul’s cathedral, where I oohed and ahhed over the panoramic view of the city – right before it started to rain. London summers are notorious for wet weather, but since Nancy and I are optimists, neither of us brought umbrellas. Luckily all the shops sell them, so we picked up a pair and splashed on over to Sketch for afternoon tea.
I was dying to go to afternoon tea in London (how can you have a local London travel guide without any tea?), and we were, once again, very lucky, managing to score the last seats in the tea shop a half an hour before service was done for the day. Sketch is much more than your traditional tearoom. In fact, it’s an eclectically designed collection of themed rooms – complete with an underground cocktail bar, a lunch and dinner café, a pink room with wall drawings, and futuristic “pod” bathrooms. It’s truly a piece of art.
If you ever find yourself in London, I highly recommend a visit! I had a Pureh tea (still not actually sure how to pronounce that) called “vintage mini cakes” with two English scones (side note: they’re pronounced “scons”) with clotted cream and jam. For a couple of hours, I felt like a true Londoner, ready to write a Local London Travel Guide.
For our final stop for the day, we headed back to Tooting for dinner at my favorite chicken place – Nando’s! Londoners don’t seem to understand my utter obsession with this place, but the chicken with their famous peri-peri sauce is just SO good. Definitely a London must-visit! In fact, it’s a running British joke to get a “cheeky Nando’s”, and no local London travel guide would be complete without recommending it.
By this point, Nancy and I were exhausted and more than ready for bed! It was a glorious 36 hours in London and it reminded me how much I love this city. Definitely looking forward to my 36-hour return visit next month. Until then, cheers London!
Next stop – Spain!
TLDR: a short summary of what I did and where I ate in London for those too lazy to read the post
Where I went:
- South Bank: the area along the Thames River near the famous Tower Bridge. Lots of fun pop-ups in this area in the summer
- Cahoots: a hidden speakeasy bar located in a disused tube station. Themed like 1940s London and definitely worth a visit
- Boxpark: a pop-up in Shoreditch with restaurants, bars, and shops. I also went walking around Shoreditch
- Brick Lane: aka “Little India”. Has an eclectic mix of old and new: traditional Indian restaurants alongside hip vintage shops and bright coffee shops
- Spitalfields: an old Victorian hall turned into a market. Essentially a mix of vintage goods meets branded shops meets restaurants
- The Roof Terrace: the rooftop terrace overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral. Has excellent views of London.
What I ate:
- Asian fusion (nasi goreng and dumplings) at Dim T
- Eggs and pancakes at Breakfast Club
- Afternoon tea (vintage mini cakes) and scones at the eclectic Sketch
- Grilled peri-peri chicken and sides at Nando’s! A must visit on any local London travel guide!
Click to see what other cool things you can get up to London as told by Jean!