I have been to London a couple of times before: the first time I travelled with my parents when I was a teenager (we did the classics: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, Saint Paul’s Cathedral ), after that I went with my English class in school (besides the classics we took a trip to the Globe Theatre and Camden Town Market), in my early twenties I went with a friend (to see John Mayer and Eric Clapton rock in Hyde Park) and – last but not least – I had to fly to London for a quick video-shoot required for a project I did at university when I was 22 and knee-deep in my Bachelor studies (I saw nothing except for the shabby apartment the artist we were interviewing lived in). No need to step on a plane and go there once more, you think? Wrong. “Been there, done that” does not apply to London at all.
Since a lot of people asked me about the trip and what we did there I thought I’d briefly write down the highlights and decorate them with a selection of nice photos.
Where to stay
Except for the holiday with my parents I have never stayed at a nice hotel in London – all the hotels I could afford were extraordinarily ugly and nevertheless extremely expensive. So when I looked at the pictures on the website of Club Quarters Hotel I naturally assumed that they were either from an ancient time when the hotel was newly built or heavily photoshopped. I simply could not believe that a hotel this central could be this stylish at this price. It turned out: everything the web promised was true! And, as a cherry on top, they offered free water (in the lobby and on each floor) as well as free coffee. As a coffee-lover I can confirm: the coffee was not only drinkable, it was actually pretty good.
The room was small but clean and tidy – everything I need for a city-trip where I spend time at the room only to sleep.
There are several Club Quarters Hotels in London – we chose the one on Gracechurch Street, which is conveniently located in east London close to all those great restaurants, shops, Spitalfields Market and in walking-distance to the Tower bridge. I can really recommend staying there, but see for yourself: Club Quarters Hotel Gracechurch
Where to eat on your first night
We arrived in London on Saturday late afternoon and I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to get a table in a city like London without a reservation – which is why I spontaneously booked a table at Jamie Oliver’s diner right before our plane took off in Frankfurt. After checking into our hotel we walked there, which resulted in a nice one-hour-stroll from East to West London. Don’t expect Jamie Oliver’s Diner to be quiet and relaxing; it is rather noisy and busy but it ties in perfectly with the atmosphere at the theatre district where it is located. If you catch a table at the window you can check out the crowds roaming the streets, looking for last-minute theatre tickets or a free table at a restaurant.
The food is not too fancy but good – if you are hungry you should get “Jamie’s insanity burger”, if not “Jamie’s super corn and quinoa salad” will be sufficient. Have a look at the menu: Jamie Oliver’s diner
(You don’t know who Jamie Oliver is? Check out his amazing TED talk from 2010: Jamie Oliver on TED)
How to do your sightseeing
You would like to see all those great sights but are not a fan of walking? Book an afternoon tea time tour on the bus! I read about this in the paper and was excited immediately: not only will you be served a bunch of delicious sandwiches, cupcakes and (warm!) scones with clotted cream but for 90 minutes you will be an attraction yourself! Everywhere we went people were waving at us, taking photos and peering jealously at our food.
Taking the afternoon tea bus tour is a decadent and very lazy way to explore London and this is exactly what makes it so great.
You can feel like a queen (or a king) – sipping a cup of English breakfast tea, waving back at the people and enjoying the view of London’s most important sights, come rain or shine. Thank you FAZ, this was a great tip: Afternoon tea bus tour
Where to have a hipster breakfast
I love breakfast. I actually think that breakfast is the best meal of the day and I would never leave the house without at least a piece of bread with chocolate spread on it (even if I have to catch the red-eye-train leaving for Nürnberg at 5.51am). So you can imagine I select my breakfast locations very carefully. “The Breakfast Club” was recommended to me by a colleague and I must say she really got it right: it was one of the coolest locations I have ever had breakfast. There are several Breakfast Clubs in London; we went to the one in Spitalfields since it is close to the Club Quarters Hotel. We had to try twice: the first time we went there (about 10am on a Sunday) there was a queue (I was told this is normal since it is such a hip venue) but the second time (10.30am on a Tuesday) we got in right away. I immediately felt like a teenager again: loud pop music, shabby old school benches and desks, neon lights and cartoon posters all over the place. We were surrounded by young and obviously very busy people, hastily tapping on their smartphones or working on their Mac books while indulging in rich-looking waffles, bagels and pancakes.
I ordered a giant breakfast bagel with Avocado, onions, eggs and God knows what else they put on it. It was awesome.
Special goodie: opening the refrigerator door leads to a secret bar, how cool is that? Put it right on top of your to-do-when-in-London-list: Breakfast Club Spitalsfield
How to explore east London in the most delicious way
I saved the best thing we did in London for last: if you are keen on exploring the most trendy food-locations you should take Eating London’s East End Tour. It is a four-hour food fest where you will meet nice people from all over the world, learn a lot about London’s history, see beautiful architecture and amazing street art and – of course – eat the most delicious meals. This tour was worth every penny and every single dish they carefully selected for the tour was perfect. Not just good, it was perfect. It was so perfect, that I am considering travelling to Rome, Florence or Prague just to take the other food tours those guys are offering. One thing that amazed me especially was the passion and lightness of our tour guide (I think her name was Nicole) – although she has been giving the tour to tourist for a couple of years now you could not sense any kind of boredom or fatigue. Hats off to her!
If I had to pick the best dish of the tour I would pick the bread-and-butter-pudding we had at the English restaurant. It was creamy and velvety and tasted a lot of vanilla. And since dessert is always better than hearty dishes, I should also mention that I ate the best Indian food I ever had at Aladin’s in brick lane, the “curry mile”. Did you know that there are more Indian restaurants than fish and chips shops in the UK?
If you decide to take the tour I can recommend two things: do not check out all the places beforehand – let yourself be surprised and skip breakfast on the day of the tour. I know, this is a contradiction to what I said before about breakfast being the best meal of the day – but trust me, you will thank me later. Book your tour right now: East End Tour