London's Calling: The Ultimate London Travel Guide
Updated: Jun 18
After spending almost six weeks studying abroad in London this summer, I
ave decided to make a travel guide of all the best restaurants, museums, shopping areas, and my favorite places from my time abroad. 6 weeks is not nearly enough time to explore this beautiful, multi-cultural city, with school five days a week, but I did try and do as much as I could.
So, if you plan on traveling abroad to London, are going on vacation here this summer, or are just curious to know my favorite spots, this guide is for you.
If you are anything like me, whenever you are somewhere new, you like to shop locally and bring back gifts for your friends and family back home. In addition to that, I can not help but love to explore the shopping districts, and London has a plethora of them. Here are my top spots.
Even if you do not like shopping, I recommend going to Harrods one afternoon. Whether you want to explore the exquisite food halls, look at the museum like exhibitions of the high-end designer collections, or try and find some deals in their sale section, this is a true shopping experience. With over seven floors and 330 departments, it is not hard to find something you like. They also have great gifts in their food hall with special treats like homemade chocolates, truffles, and pastries. Also, if you happen to be there in June, they have a massive sale, so make sure to stop by!
Portobello Road, $$
Due to the influence of my roommate, I have begun to truly love vintage stores and looking inside thrift stores to find one of a kind items. If you love vintage knick-knacks, clothing, accessories, cameras, etc. then definitely check out Portabello Road. I picked up so many things that were reasonable in price and unique. Walking around the brightly colored streets filled with vendors is such a fun experience, and if you are staying in London, this is a must do.
Brick Lane, $/$$
Vintage lovers, this is definitely for you. This is Portabello Road on steroids. Brick Lane is in Shoreditch, which is in East London. It took me and my friends about an hour to get there from where we were staying in Kensington, so it is a little bit of a treck there and back depending on where you are staying. Brick Lane is home to a gigantic underground vintage market that is filled with different vendors from across London, (sadly this is only open on Sundays). Even if you do not find anything, it fun to look around and see all the different and unique pieces that are being sold. It is also a great place to find gifts as there are vendors who sell handmade goods all around Brick Lane. Also, if you are into horror, Brick Lane is home to the streets that the notorious Jack the Ripper went on his serial killing sprees in London back in the 1800s. Kinda spooky, but if you are into that, you can take tours of his routes if you want while in Brick Lane.
While Oxford Street is quite the tourist spot, there are great shops like a seven-story Topshop, Urban Outfitters, Berska, and more. Oxford Street is a good place to shop, but many of the stores you can find at home, so it is not a must do unless you really need to grab something.
The food scene in London is absolutely amazing. You can get anything you want, whenever you want. It can be overwhelming with all the food options, so here are my top picks that you MUST go to while in London.
This was my roommate and I's favorite lunch place. It is unique because it is a buffet style vegetarian restaurant, so you choose what food you want and then pay by weight. With two locations in Central London, it is an easy place to grab lunch. Everything they make is delicious and healthy. We went back twice in one week because we loved it so much! My top picks are their falafel with their red pepper hummus, and their carrot salad (I have no idea what they do to make it so good, but it's amazing). They also have delicious lattes and a great Happy Hour deal if you want to get some cheap drinks. Seriously, go if you are in London, I already miss it.
Farm Girl, $$
Farm Girl is the trendy, it-place to get lunch in Notting Hill (home to Portabello Market). I did have to wait forty minutes before getting a table, but I did not regret it. They have interesting healthy delicious and artistic lattes and drinks. I recommend their berry pancakes and the matcha latte. Their bowls are good too, and I have heard their avocado toast is amazing- so if you get a chance, try it for me!
Zach's Bistro, $$
If you are staying in Kensington, Zach's is a great place to grab a homemade Italian lunch or dinner. This was the first restaurant I went to after arriving in London, and their pasta truly hit the spot. Do yourself a favor and get their pesto pasta, I promise you will not regret it.
Boxpark is essentially an outdoor food market that has different food stalls for visitors to choose from. I am a sucker for Mediterranean food, so I went to What The Pitta and got the falafel wrap. Some of my friends tried their Greek stalls, while others got delicious Mexican tacos. No matter, what food you are craving, Boxpark will have it. There is so much to chose from, so if you are in Shoreditch, this is a great option for lunch.
Coco Momo $$
I discovered this cafe in Kensington on my last week in London, which I am so mad about because it was one of my favorite lunch places. I loved this cafe for studying, grabbing a snack, or dining in and having lunch. If you go to this indoor, outdoor café, please get the Watermelon Salad (add chicken) and their sweet potato fries. And if you are with friends, share the Mezze plate while studying or hanging out. They also have free Wifi, so it is a great place to get work done and the staff is really sweet.
La Bodega Negra, $$/$$$
This is such a fun restaurant to go with friends in Soho. From the outside, it looks like a strip club, but that is all a facade. La Bodega Negra is a Mexican restaurant serving up delicious tacos, chips and guac, and drinks. If you go with friends, you can spend about 20 dollars each and get more than enough food. Their chicken tacos, soft shell crab tacos, quesadillas, sweet potato fries, and special rice are ridiculously good. If you are with a big enough group, get a pitcher of margaritas too for a very fun night.
Cinnamon Bazaar, $$/$$$
Located in Covet Garden, Cinnamon Bazaar is a modern twist on Indian food. London is home to a myriad of Indian restaurants, but this one is not only trendy but serves delicious takes on Indian classics. Super fun drinks and lots of tapas to choose from.
Sushi Samba, $$$
This is another restaurant that is located in the heart of Covet Garden. A modern take on Japanese, Peruvian, and Brazilian cuisine, this is not only a beautiful restaurant, but serves up delicious small plates, sushi, and interesting drinks. If you go, get the shrimp tempura (it's amazing) and then choose from their fun maki list. I got the California maki and loved it. I recommend eating light there because it is quite expensive, but if you go with friends and if you share, you can still make it semi affordable.
Light of India, $$/$$$
I went to this restaurant the first time I stayed in Kensington in 2015, so I knew I had to go back during my six weeks there. This is the best Indian food I have ever had. Their chicken tikka is to die for. Naan, basmati rice, panner, and aloo gobi are all essential dishes to get at Light of India. Also, their drinks, while a little expensive, come in large glasses so do not be worried about the price. My biggest advice is to make a reservation (or booking as they call it in England) because it can take a while to get a table without one.
De Marios, $/$$
Another Kensington staple. I was only about to go for gelato (which is homemade and delicious, get the hazelnut), but the food at this Italian restaurant looked amazing. One of my biggest regrets is that I did not make a reservation there when I had planned to go because unfortunately, I was not able to get a table for lunch.
La Gelateria, $$
La Gelateria is voted 6th best gelato in the world, and I honestly do not know if I have tasted anything better than this gelato located in Soho. You can not go wrong with any flavor, and if you want to get a sweet dessert while out in Soho, I definitely recommend this quaint gelateria.
If you want to grab some drinks, here are my go-to's:
Salsa located in Soho has an amazing atmosphere and great Happy Hour Deals. Up until 8pm each night, all drinks are half off. Seriously such a steal. Grab drinks with friends and then learn how to salsa dance on their main floor. This is such a fun place to go before going out.
Expensive, but if you are in London, go. The artistic atmosphere is incredible. With the Glade Room, Gallery Room, the Parlor, and East Bar and Pods, there are so many opportunities for photo opts. The art that lines each room is also amazing, so go check out this trendy spot and get a picture in the bathroom (Pods) while you are at it. Drinks are expensive, but there are so many fun cocktails to choose from. Tip: do not go for food, just go for drinks. And don't be worried about their need for a reservation, if you go around 11pm for drinks, you can go right in.
Best cheap pub in London. Wetherspoons are located everywhere and are a local's favorite to get cheap drinks before going out. They have great deals like 2 pitchers for 18 pounds, so go with some friends and have a great start to a wild night out. Get the Pink Gin Fizz Pitcher btw.
Deciding where to go out with friends can be such a difficult decision, but here where my favorite places I went out while in London. *Be prepared because there will be entrance fees at almost every club you go to, so have cash or a card on you.*
A Tiki Bar themed club, Mahiki was one of my favorite spots. The drinks are so good and the atmosphere is so fun as well. The top floor tends to be older people, so I like the bottoms floor that is dark and more of a club vibe. There are bars on both floors which is also really convenient. You could dance your heart out at Mahiki which is what I loved about it. The music is a mix of oldies, R&B, rap, Spanish, and pop, so you are bound to like whatever they play.
A really fun club to go with friends. You MUST be dressed up to get in. That means heels and dresses for girls, and nice pants and a button down for boys (no sneakers). I had one of my favorite nights at Libertine, so if you get a chance to go, I would fully recommend it.
While it can be hard to get in and up to a 20 dollar cover fee, Toy Room is a unique clubbing experience. Filling with funky art and a four-foot teddy bear that dances on the tables, Toy Room is a really fun place. Note: If you are a guy, get there by 11pm, because by 12:30, they stop letting guys in.... and it does not matter if you have been waiting in line for an hour.
This club is a college student's classic. Every Wednesday night they have a student night that is so much fun. It is a great way to meet people and the drinks are very inexpensive, which is nice for a student on a budget. If you are studying abroad, Slug is a must.
Last, but not least, here are my must-do activities in London.
Picnic in Hyde Park
Grab a picnic blanket, a cheese board, and some wine for a perfect getaway in the business of London. This was one of my favorite things to do, and when the sun is out in London everyone flocks to the park for a day out in the sun.
A part of Hyde Park, the gardens are absolutely beautiful. Immerse yourself with roses, daisies, lavender, and more. After your picnic in Hyde Park, venture to the gardens for a lovely afternoon.
River Cruise down the Thames
I would fully recommend taking a river cruise down the Thames. It is an excellent way to see the different part of London and get an overview of the city.
Royal Albert Hall Ballet
If you are staying in Kensington if you can see a ballet at the Royal Albert Hall. I saw Cinderella and it was absolutely beautiful. This is such a nice way to spend an evening in one of the most renowned music halls in the world.
Drinks at the Royal Opera House
Open to the public, the Royal Opera House has a wine bar on the third floor that is a secret to most. Find out what shows are going on that night, and grab a drink as soon as the show starts, as the crowds disperse and you can enjoy an amazing view of Covet Garden.
If there is one museum to go to while staying in London, go to the Tate Modern. Filled with amazing exhibits and thought-provoking art, this is a great way to spend a day. After going to the museum eat lunch at Tibits which is only a five-minute walk away!
Notting Hill is home to Portabello Market, so please do yourself a favor and spend an afternoon there. Walk around the brightly colored homes that Notting Hill is known for, and explore the different shops and cafés that line the streets. If you are going to London, you must go to Notting Hill. The best day for the markets is on the weekends.
View from St. Paul's Cathedral
While I did not get to go to the top of St. Paul's, many of my friends did who told me this was one of their favorite activities in London. Although it is 600 steps all the way to the top, the view is unbelievable. The Cathedral itself is gorgeous too, so if you do not want to spend the money to go to the top, just walk around the beautiful masterpiece.
Another green space in the middle of London, Green Park is a nice place to walk through. It is right by Buckingham Palace, so after visiting, walk through the park or have a picnic with friends!
Tourist Central: Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Big Ben, London Eye
If you have never been to London, these are must do's! Take a day and explore the touristy parts of London, but note that Big Ben is under construction right now, so do not be disappointed if you can not see it!
Wow. I wonder if you made it through all of this. I know it is a pretty extensive list, but I hope it helped if you are traveling to London in the future and want an insider's look at the places to go, restaurants to eat at, and must-do activities.
I hope you enjoyed!