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Britain’s capital city was close to my heart even before I was given the opportunity to study for a year in London. I had already previously visited there a couple of times and even subsequently my best friend and I were drawn (and still are drawn) to visit the island kingdom at least once a year for a long weekend. While I can still hardly be described as a “local”, in the meanwhile, I know a lot of lovely corners of London and how to make the most of three days spent there. That is why I would now like to share with you my tips for a perfect girls’ weekend – with all that this entails, from shopping through sightseeing right up to a natter over a cup of coffee in cosy cafés and getting spruced up for an evening in a pub or a bar.
The perfect hotel
The perfect starting point for the weekend is the MEININGER Hotel, in south London, close to Gloucester Road tube station. You can get here very quickly from Heathrow Airport, in particular.
The perfect first evening
Usually, you arrive at your holiday destination in the evening, nevertheless, I always enjoy just checking in quickly then “rousing” myself and toasting the start of the holiday with a glass of cider (typically British – looks like beer but tastes much sweeter and is thus also something for us girls). Moreover, you usually have a lot to tell each other, particularly when you travel with female friends who do not live in the same town. There are two nice pubs close to the hotel: the Zetland Arms, 2 Bute St. and the Gloucester Arms, 34 Gloucester Rd. Alternatively, the Stanhope Arms pub is located right by the station. Besides providing drinks, both pubs naturally serve the usual traditional dishes, such as fish & chips, to fill your hungry stomach after you have arrived.
The perfect first day (Saturday)
After an abundant breakfast in the hotel you can have a relaxing start to the day in Kensington and stroll through the many pretty streets for a while. The south-west is a great corner of London with many typical houses, small shops, etc. It is also worth taking a little trip down Exhibition Rd – London’s big museums are concentrated here (e.g. Natural History Museum and the V&A) where they await you. In the meanwhile, the road has been pedestrianised and you can have a lovely time sauntering up and down between the impressive buildings. Of course, anyone who feels like it can also actually go into a museum – the V&A, in particular, always has great special exhibitions.
Around noon, right around the corner, you can then make a start on the second item on the programme for the day: Notting Hill. Starting from the tube station of the same name, after a few minutes’ walk you will arrive at the famous Portobello Road Market. There, you will find all sorts of stalls, cafés and shops just waiting to be discovered. From foodies to fashionistas, there is something for everyone here.
A stop at the Hummingbird Bakery is mandatory – it has the best cupcakes in the whole of London. If you like, your best bet is to buy a bakery cookbook straight away to take home with you. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to sit there; instead, you can go to GAIL’s, which is perfectly suited for a sit-down. Here, likewise, there are many delicious sweet baked goods but also a large selection of savoury snacks, smoothies, etc. and, of course, tasty coffee because by now, at the latest, your feet will deserve a break.
Besides the Portobello Road Market, there are also still so many things to discover in Notting Hill. For example, it is worth making a visit to The Notting Hill Bookshop (known from the film “Notting Hill“ with Julia Roberts) and also heading in the direction of Westbourne Grove, which is a beautiful and much less bustling street. Here, you can observe how genuine Londoners spend their Saturday. A particularly good stop to make here would be at 202 – irrespective of whether this is for shopping, for a second coffee or for that first glass of vino.
Depending on the weather (and the time), starting from Notting Hill, you can easily add on a walk through Hyde Park before heading in the direction of Trafalgar Square around evening time. If your feet are already the worse for wear, or if the weather is not on your side, then a stop-off at nearby Harrods is also not a bad idea before beginning the evening programme. After taking a short turn around Trafalgar Square head straight to Piccadilly Circus.
Here, you can start by enjoying a feast for the eyes for a few minutes – this is because there is great deal to see: huge glittering billboards that change their displays at 1-second intervals, the famous fountain with Eros rising above it, any number of street performers and, of course, some tourists. That is why, here, you should always keep a close watch on your bags because wherever you have a large number of tourists the pickpockets are never far away. From Piccadilly Circus it is just a few steps to Soho – THE area of London for the creative and hip in-crowd. As you would expect, there is a lot going on here every evening and restaurants and bars are lined up next to each other. Here, you can simply drift around and see which restaurant catches your fancy (and still has a spare table available). Naturally, I still have two tips for you: really tasty pizza (possibly the best in London) is available at Amalfi. For those who prefer Thai food, I can absolutely recommend Busaba Eathai.
The perfect second day (Sunday)
After an evening in Soho, your alarm will probably not be going off all that early. Those of you who have missed breakfast at the MEININGER should seek out one of the typical chains in London and fortify yourselves there for the second day. I am a big fan of Pret A Manger, but EAT, Nero and Costa also have a good offering of (breakfast) snacks in addition to tasty coffee.
Around early afternoon, a long walk along the water is a MUST for every trip to London. For this you should definitely wear comfortable shoes, as you will be going up and down the Thames for quite a few metres before you finish trawling through all the sights. I think that the best place to start your walk is at St. Paul’s. My secret tip: in the shopping centre opposite St. Paul’s there is a rooftop terrace to which there is free access via a lift. From there you will have a similarly fantastic view as from the viewing platform of St Paul’s cathedral – with the big advantage that you will also be able to see the cathedral. After the cathedral you go over the Thames, namely across the relatively new Millennium Bridge. The bridge has been world-renowned at least since the filming of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ and from it you have a great view in both directions of the Thames, for example, of Tower Bridge and The Shard.
At the other end of the bridge, Tate Modern awaits you – in my opinion this is the “coolest” museum of all time. The architecture alone is impressive as the building was formerly a turbine hall. Entry is free (except for the changing special exhibitions) and, on every floor, the finest inspirational art awaits you. Here you will find everything from “old classics” through to modern photographs. Furthermore, downstairs, there is an excellent selection of magazines in the museum shop and, on the top floor, a small café with a view over the Thames awaits you.
When you are standing in front of the Tate and facing the Thames walk a few steps to your right. This is the site of Shakespeare’s Globe, a wonderful theatre that reminds you of a bygone age and pays homage to the Bard who wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When you have had a look then turn around and go along the Thames in the other direction. On the way you will pass the OXO Tower and the Southbank Centre (the home of the BFI, various museums, the National Theatre as well as all sorts of small cafés and restaurants and, in the summer, also food trucks) and then head directly to the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel.
If you have time on your side then, naturally, a ride is awesome and a lot of fun. However, I believe that it is not an absolute must for a visit to London because you can get a great view of the city from many other places, too. Then carry on across Westminster Bridge in the direction of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Hidden behind them is Westminster Abbey, which is worth visiting before you undertake the final stage of your walk – a stroll through St. James’s Park (do not forget to feed the ducks and squirrels), which ends right at Buckingham Palace. If you like, you can time your arrival so that you can watch the changing of the guard. It did not exactly knock my socks off – but it is certainly fun to watch.
By now, at the very latest, your feet will be tired and your throat will be parched – high time to steer in the direction of dinner. My tip for a Sunday evening would be the King’s Rd, in Chelsea. Here, just a stone’s throw away from the MEININGER Hotel, there are all sorts of restaurants and cafés. Once again, I would recommend just drifting around here until you see a place that catches your fancy. It is probably best to start in Sloane Square and to walk past the Saatchi Gallery and then keep on working your way down the street. As the name and the district already lead you to suspect, this corner of London is where the rich and the famous go out and about (and have their homes). However, you need not worry, as the restaurant prices here are largely the same as in other parts of London, particularly in the popular chains, such as Pizza Express etc. Incidentally, there is also a Busaba here, so that anyone who did not call in to the one in Soho, on Friday evening, would have another chance today. I LOVE the vegetarian Pad Thai. Moreover, the Bluebird is an institution here and you should call in at least once for a drink (and perhaps spot a celebrity).
The perfect third (and final) day (Monday)
If you like, in the morning you can still take trip in the direction of Tower Bridge. You would have already been able to see it in the distance from the Millennium Bridge, but first-time visitors, in particular, frequently want to walk across the bridge themselves and experience it in its full splendour. To this end, it is best to travel to London Bridge Station and saunter across the architecturally impressive area around City Hall to Tower Bridge.
On the other side of the bridge the Tower of London then awaits you – a former prison in the capital city. For me, most of the time, a look from the outside is enough but, naturally, for fans of the crown jewels this is a highlight on the list of tourist attractions.
By now, at the latest, all the girls will probably be itching to get going, as they will want to do some shopping. So, set off in the direction of Oxford Street and push that credit card to the limit. Many of the things that you can get in Oxford Street are, in the meantime, also available in Germany. Nevertheless, many of the shops are well worth a visit, as the selection is different to what we have back home, or the size alone makes them impressive. In my opinion, in any case you should not miss: Topshop, Urban Outfitters, Gap, Banana Republic, Forever 21, Selfridges, Miss Selfridges, Ted Baker and New Look. At the end of Oxford Street, a giant Primark store awaits the friends of very low-cost fashion. Nevertheless, in this case too, you should just see which shops take your fancy. On a Monday, the street will not be quite as full as at the weekend so that, to a certain extent, you will be able to stroll around at a relaxed pace. If you start feeling peckish, there are all sorts of cafés on Oxford Street where you can fortify yourself. My absolute favourite is somewhat hidden away in a side street: Tap Coffee (http://www.tapcoffee.co.uk). If you would like something more than just a coffee then I can recommend the various restaurants in Selfridges.
Before you know it your three-day holiday will already be over and it will be time to say: “bye bye London”.
You are staying for even longer?
Then I still have the following tips for you:
- A visit to The Shard – the view from London’s tallest building is just awesome.
- You could also take a look also at Tate Britain – Tate Modern’s “big sister”.
- Take a trip to Greenwich.
- (Window) shopping in Bond Street – here the luxury labels are lined up next to each other.
- Call in at some of the many weekly markets, for example, Borough Market directly on the Thames, or the Sunday Up Market in the East End of London.
- Another market, but with less focus on food stands than on all things crazy related to clothing and accessories, can be found in Camden.
- Have a picnic on Primrose Hill.
Have a great time in the dream city of London.
Yours truly, Frieda from www.prettydays.de