You’ve heard the phrase, “the only constant is change,” right?
Well, I think there’s a different version – for London, anyway: the only constant is cranes.
London is this magical place where history is preserved and integrated, while the inevitable march of progress continues to change the city for the better and better. As always, I had an amazing trip in early August 2023, and this post will give you a recap of the basics: why we visited, what I/we (with my husband and friends) did, and other details (restaurants, hotels, etc.).
If you’re planning a trip to London and are curious what it’s really like each time I visit, this post will spill all the tea. I may not call London home anymore, but it’s where I leave my heart each time I visit – and why I spend so much time dedicated to creating this site to help you have a great visit too.
London Trip Recap
When I started this post, I didn’t mean to write 2,000+ words – but I managed to do so much during a short time that I want to share it all so you can see how much is possible even if you don’t have endless vacation days to visit.
Day 0 / August 9 – I arrived in London on my own after a flight through Copenhagen (more on that below). Right off the bat, I caught the Gatwick Express so I could experience that service; unfortunately, there were lots of train disruptions this summer, so I ended up on a GE train but not non-stop from Gatwick to Victoria (I think the train made three stops).
Anyway, after arriving at Victoria, I hopped on the Big Bus Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour Blue Route to experience what these tours are like. Short answer? Long! After riding for about 4 hours and covering most of the route, I hopped off the bus, caught the Tube, checked into my hotel (the Yotel London City), and grabbed dinner nearby (more below, too).
Day 1 / August 10 – My first full day in London was JAM PACKED, even by my standards. After food poisoning on my last trip, I was fortunate that the London Pass offered me another pass to try for two days – the HOHO tour yesterday was part of that, as were all my activities today!
I started out by riding the Tube down to Borough to get donuts at a famous bakery; I then went back north of the river to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and climb the dome. After that, I walked along the Thames a bit before grabbing lunch at a spot Anthony Bourdain ate at (this was a theme in my meals!).
In the afternoon, I first climbed The Monument, followed by a return visit to the Tower of London where I did one of the included Yeoman tours (great introduction and good for families). Then I caught a Thames river cruise (on UberBoat) and met a friend to visit Westminster Abbey (which I had never been to before). She and I then had a London-themed afternoon tea at The Dilly.
For the evening, I met up with friends briefly before dinner at another spot Bourdain loved (St. John Restaurant); we then re-met for drinks (them, not me as I am pregnant!) before calling it a night. I clocked over 21,500 steps and definitely needed a good night’s rest.
Day 2 / August 11 – On my second day in London, my husband was supposed to arrive in the morning; unfortunately his flight was delayed until the evening so I again had the day to myself. I met up with another friend for a day of museum-hopping.
We started at the Science Museum, which was fun but very busy with families. After lunch at another Bourdain-fave pub, we moved on to the Transport Museum (even more family-oriented and even less fun in my opinion), and then ended at the Charles Dickens Museum which is just down the street from where I went to school in London and was my favorite museum of the day by far.
In the evening, I met up with some of my closest friends from my MBA program for drinks and dinner; my husband met us here for an evening of fun. I love that I still have such great friends from that time.
Day 3 / August 12 – Today was the day that was the primary reason for this London trip: it was the 10th reunion of my MBA program! Up until that point, my husband and I were quite busy – not a surprise after my busy days so far!
We started with a Flytographer photo shoot near Tower Bridge; we ended at Borough Market where we grabbed breakfast before attending a tour of Billingsgate Bath House (one of the last Roman ruins in London I had never visited). We then met a friend for lunch in Carnaby Street.
Blame it on the pregnancy (me) and jet lag (him), but my husband and I then returned to our hotel for a nap before dinner with friends and the reunion evening at a pub and cocktail bar near our old school. It was another long day but filled with friends and fun – as well as sightseeing, of course!
Day 4 / August 13 – On our final full day in London, we took it even easier: after a slow start (the only day I had a “lie-in” during the trip!), we went to Sunday Roast with some of my former classmates as a finale to the reunion weekend. By the time this finished, it was late in the afternoon, so we went to the F1 Arcade as a present to my husband before having dinner at a local Indian restaurant in Clerkenwell near our hotel. It was a really nice, relaxed way to end several busy days – it almost felt like London was home again.
Day 5 / August 14 – My husband and I had early-morning flights from London to Copenhagen for a few days there; we didn’t do much in London, but it was technically part of the trip so I want to mention it!
Restaurants & Bars on this Trip
As I’ve always said, London is home to some incredible food – on each trip I try to sample different things. For this trip, my general theme was Anthony Bourdain in London:
- St. John Bakery (Borough/South London) – While Tony didn’t eat here, it is part of the St. John’s restaurant family, and is well-known for its awesome donuts. I made the journey down to Borough to try them – while the raspberry jam one was good, I preferred vanilla.
- Sweeting’s (The City/Central) – This City restaurant is popular with business people and gets packed for lunch; I arrived right as they opened and had the hands-down best fish and chips I’ve ever had in London. This is one of the spots I plan to bring people in the future as an off-the-radar spot that’s absolutely great.
- St. John Restaurant (Farringdon/Central) – Bourdain did eat here, and I made a reservation to do the same. They’re most famous for their bone marrow starter; my other options were limited by my pregnancy, but they have some incredible and unusual meats/offal on the menu if you’re feeling adventurous.
- Luba’s Green Hut Cafe (Kensington/West) – Formerly just a cabman’s stand, this spot now offers coffee and breakfast sandwiches. They were closed for the summer holiday when I visited (boo!) but I am still including them since it’s a great little spot for an easy breakfast.
- Two Chairmen (Westminster/Central) – Yet another Bourdain spot, this pub is just off the main streets in Westminster but has a really nice dining area upstairs and a great atmosphere.
If you love the idea of eating at some of the places Anthony Bourdain ate in London, I’ve got an entire guide to that on my “Eat Like Bourdain” blog.
I/we also ate at some other restaurants that Anthony Bourdain never visited but are worth visiting:
- Brewdog (Clerkenwell/Central & Shoreditch/East) – After eating at Brewdog Paddington last trip and having visited our Brewdog outpost in Cleveland (Ohio), I was delighted to discover there was a Brewdog across the street from my hotel (in Clerkenwell) and ate there my first night. A few nights later, friends and I met up at their Shoreditch location for dinner with their small kiddo and dog. 10/10 great casual option.
- The Dilly (Piccadilly Circus/Central) – As mentioned, I had afternoon tea here with a friend; their London-themed tea is a must-do if you want to have a picturesque and perfectly stereotypical tea experience during your trip. It’s not cheap (£49pp) but that’s pretty standard for these kinds of experiences.
- Rail House (Victoria/West) – After meeting up for a drink to start, my closest school friends and I had dinner here. The menu was pretty good – nothing to “write home” about (though I’m obviously writing about it here!), and you could do a lot worse, but I probably wouldn’t return.
- Imad’s Syrian Kitchen (Soho/Central) – My husband and I met a friend of his here and it was fantastic. It’s tucked away in Kingly Court off Carnaby but their menu was truly awesome and full of flavors that reminded me of Jordan (another of my favorite destinations). Another must-try if you love good ethnic food.
- The Antelope (Sloane Square/West) – While The Antelope is a pub I’ve visited before for a pint and bite, this time I brought former classmates here for their Sunday roast. It was pretty basic but affordable relative to the many options in London, and this pub has a pretty great atmosphere considering it’s part of the Fullers family.
- Cafe Tiffin (Clerkenwell/Central) – For our last dinner in town, my husband and I were stuck trying to find somewhere – then I remembered we had not had any Indian food. We found this spot tucked back in my favorite neighborhood and it was so homey and welcoming. London has lots of great Indian food – this spot makes my list.
And while I wasn’t drinking on this trip, I did visit a number of pubs that are worth mentioning too:
- The Queen’s Head (King’s Cross/Central) – I met up with a friend here briefly on my first day; it’s a bit off the beaten path but well worth it as this is still an independent pub and has tons of personality. If you’re in the area, it’s a great option.
- Clerk & Well (Clerkenwell/Central) – This was my “local” when I lived in London, but to be honest, it’s been ruined: it was purchased by new owners who made it cookie-cutter boring and my friends and I all agree we wouldn’t be regulars here now.
- The Rabbit’s Hole (Clerkenwell/Central) – I discovered this cocktail bar hidden in a converted subterranean toilet right near the Clerk & Well. It was GREAT – even for a pregnant lady who could only have mocktails. I brought back everyone from the reunion for a nightcap a few nights later, and I really hope they stay open until my next visit so I can enjoy a few of their proper cocktails.
- The Lady Ottoline (Bloomsbury/Central) – This is another pub right near my old school; a friend and I tucked in for him to have a pint after our day of museum hopping. It too has been neutered by new ownership (like the C&W), but isn’t quite as soulless.
- Cask & Glass (Victoria/West) – While Cask & Glass is part of the Shepherd Neame family, it’s actually pretty solid: it still has a great atmosphere inside and a variety of pints on draught. It’s also an easy walk from Victoria so a good option in this area.
- The Yorkshire Grey (Bloomsbury/Central) – I’ve been to the YG many times – it’s the pub closest to my old school and where we’ve held our reunion every five years since. It has changed ownership too and isn’t as good as it once was – but is perhaps the least “ruined” of the pubs I’ve mentioned that have this problem on this list.
As you can tell, I visited a lot of places on this trip – far more than my last trip in part because of my enthusiasm to soak all of London in, and in part because we didn’t have any food poisoning this time!
Accommodations on this Trip
As mentioned briefly, I/we stayed at the Yotel London City for this trip. I chose this property for a number of reasons: it is conveniently close to Farringdon station which has direct trains to/from Gatwick (where I flew in) and within walking distance from the pub where we had our reunion. While this area isn’t as well served as others by bus, it was still easy to reach throughout my trip thanks to the Tube.
For the hotel itself, I was really pleased: I decided to splurge on the highest class of room and it was spacious and had plenty of amenities given the price. I wrote a dedicated Yotel London Ciny review to give you more insight into what I loved and what could be improved. On the whole though, I do recommend the Yotel London City location and plan to stay here for future trips now that I know it’s worth it.
Trip Extras: Copenhagen
Anymore, I can’t seem to take a trip to London without visiting somewhere else in the U.K. or Europe – then again, many of you reading might feel the same way!
This time, my husband and I spent two days in Copenhagen after London; I chose Copenhagen because it was cheaper to fly from the U.S. to Denmark to London than to fly to/from London directly. Additionally, I managed to secure dinner reservations at noma during our trip which was a bucket list hopefully-not-just-once-in-a-lifetime meal.
We also did a bit of sightseeing (naturally): we took a canal cruise, ate dinner along Nyhavn, visited Kastellet and the Little Mermaid statue, and climbed the Rundetaarn. We also took a stroll through Christiania which has changed quite a bit since my last visit 10 years ago.
I’m planning to write a guide for how you can add Copenhagen to your London itinerary – once that’s published, I’ll add the link here. (Comment below if you’re really interested to help me prioritize writing this!)
Highlights & Lowlights of This Trip
Before wrapping everything up, I thought it might be helpful to wrap up my trip briefly with a list of the best and worst parts. Here’s what will really stick out to me from this trip.
- Seeing all of the attractions I wanted to (for this blog and future posts)
- Partnering with London Pass to save on those experiences
- Several incredible nights out with my best London friends
- Incredible summer weather
- Sore feet and blisters from walking – checks phone – 82,000+ steps in 5 days!
- Not being able to eat/drink freely due to being pregnant
- Spending way too long on the West London portion of the HOHO tour (more on that in a future review)
Okay, that covers my trip! Have any questions about things we did, places we went, where we ate, or anything else? Let me know in the comments below!