A First-Timers Guide to London

black london cab

I’d never been to London. I also never like looking at pictures of a place until I go there in person because I don’t want to spoil it. So, all that was in my head regarding London was wrought from a very vivid imagination, plus scenes from Harry Potter and from one of my favorite shows, Sherlock.

I didn’t see much upon arrival from the airport, as we went straight to the Tube to get to our accommodations. However, we were promptly met by an extremely crowded station due to an employment strike and were told it would take hours to get to our desired area of Soho.

With our four-month-old baby in tow, we started asking around for help. Newsflash: People in London are SO kind, polite and helpful. They also appear to love children and make special considerations for them. Whether or not this is a cultural formality or was simply just luck in our case, we were helped by so many kind people at the station. To me, all Londoners are supreme.

Area and Accommodations

soho hotel flag

Image via The Soho Hotel

I had been told that London’s Soho neighborhood was the area for great restaurants, nightlife, theatre and art; it was exactly that. Soho was very central and where it seemed like everything was happening. From great shopping to various types of shows and places to eat every ten feet, the neighborhood was hopping well past midnight with contagious energy.

I contacted Mr & Mrs Smith, a free-membership travel club dedicated to giving you consistent, luxurious and beautifully presented options for travel and they suggested The Soho Hotel, which is tucked down a quiet alleyway in the middle of all the bustle. It’s very unassuming from the outside but shockingly cool and hip once you enter. A massive cat statue greets you at the door and your eyes feast on the eclectic, colorful and mixed patterned décor.

There were two lounges downstairs that we looked forward to spending time in after each day out exploring. The interior designer gets gold stars, in my opinion, for mixing luxury fabrics like velvet and linen with unique, artistic wallpaper, plush rugs, modern artwork and vintage pieces. Once combined, it makes you feel like you’re on set of an old English film.

soho wallpaper soho hotel lounge

Our room had a massive printed fabric-tufted headboard, silky soft linens, a crib for our baby, PLUS a gift of a baby book and baby care kit (I love thoughtful details!). It was also my husband’s birthday, so the first night there we were greeted by a knock on the door with macaroons, a cake (on a plate with his name and a birthday wish written in chocolate) and two flutes of champagne.

The bathroom was giant, all marble with a huge tub and a TV with a waterproof remote — ideal after a rainy day. Not only was the atmosphere fantastic, but the food was superior to any hotel I’ve stayed in. Ever. The morning breakfast pushed it into the five-star category for me. If you’re a guest, then you get a free breakfast — but this isn’t the typical dry-croissant-yogurt-small cereal box-and-a-banana situation. Here you had options of omelets, eggs, bacon, potatoes, vegetables, cheeses and free add-ons such as yoghurt parfaits, fancy fruit plates, waffles and, most importantly, artisan coffee and fresh juice. Starting out our mornings with this FREE breakfast put us in the best mood. This hotel was perfectly central for all our outings. I highly recommend!

soho hotel room

Image via The Soho Hotel

As a first timer in London, I relied on recommendations by four very different friends of mine for what to see: one that grew up in London, one that is a chef in LA, one that is an avid historian and one that’s traveled all over the world.

Below is where they suggested and where, after visiting, I completely agree are must-sees: 

Shoreditch

My historian/hipster friend told us we couldn’t miss Shoreditch since we both have a background in fashion and love up-and-coming designers. We went to Box Park, which is an adorable line of shops housed in shipping containers with restaurants on top that are fresh and affordable. You can meander through over 20 tiny shops all in a row — this was a highlight for sure. All around this neighborhood were both high-end and affordable shops with cool restaurants.

Kensington 

This is a gorgeous neighborhood with great shopping close to the famous Hyde Park, which has beautiful walkways and a lake with swans!

Also, I’d heard of Harrods over the years but had thought, How much better could it be than a regular department store? Um, 1,000 times better! I initially didn’t want to go in because I thought I could never afford anything, however, the week we were there was their BIGGEST SALE OF THE YEAR — all of my favorite French and Italian designers were half-off or more. It was a dream. Harrods also has an amazing children’s section that looks like a movie set: insanely designed installations with crazy cutouts, textures and oversized stuffed animals. It’s a feast for any creative.

Also in South Kensington we went to the  Victoria and Albert Museum to view art and design from the past 3000 years — ceramics, furniture, fashion, jewelry, photographs, sculpture, textiles and paintings. Incredible! And just next door is the Natural History Museum, which is also beautiful. The best thing though? They are both free!

london street

Image via Elle Daniels

Notting Hill

 Everyone remembers the adorable bookstore here from the scene in the famous movie, but even more unique are the rows and rows of uniform houses with its eclectic color palette. Notting Hill is a photographer’s dream!

We also visited the Portobello Road street market which was tons of fun — street vendors selling everything from touristy art to cool vintage jewelry, vintage framed and unframed art. The coolest section sold old football gear from the 1940s. We even ran into an impromptu street performance by a show choir. Can anyone say, Pitch Perfect?

Central London

It’s worth it to cram in Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, London Bridge and Buckingham Palace all in one day. They are so close together and you have to go… at least for the Instagram pic.

The most impressive to me was the Tower of London, as we went at night and the lighting on the building was so beautiful. After all this we walked to the Tate Modern after dinner since it’s open late and reveled at the building alone, an incredible sight. However, this day is a lot (especially with a baby), but if you’ve only got three days — see it all! You won’t regret it.

london bridge

Image via Tiffany Lambert

Favorite Eatery

Lastly, for my husband’s birthday we went to a place called Sketch. This was, hands down, the best restaurant I’ve EVER been to (no joke). It’s like an art museum when you enter, dark and moody with amazing art installations, dark wood and unique design elements such as a large gallon of paint spilled on the floor and down the stairs (dried, of course).

Teacups and handmade saucers fill an entire glass-encased wall; you’ll feel like you’re in Alice in Wonderland. The bar to the left of the restaurant entrance is covered in 17th century floral wallpaper with hues of blue, green and brown. There’s also a giant twisted wooden chandelier that looks like it belongs in Hogwarts.

The dining area is 100% PINK. Pink walls, velvet pink chairs and black and white sketched artwork all over the walls. Our food was incredible — from burrata with a pink ice cream on top to fillets of fish with the most exotic spices and sauces. It was all art and I left so inspired.

(Also, their bathroom is straight out of Austin Powers, absolutely genius design. If you’re like me and you don’t like spoiling it, then don’t Google it — just go!)

Where are your favorite spots in London?

Feature Image via Madison Holmlund

Sarah is creative director and Editor-in-Chief of Darling Magazine. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, and is a lover of well told stories, Chai tea, cats, nature, and Paris.

5 COMMENTS
  • Henry Rees August 15, 2017

    Kensington is really great. But if you ever in London you have to pay attention to the parks. They are really awesome.

  • Anonymous May 1, 2017

    A visit to Richmond is a must.

  • Hannah April 29, 2017

    I really liked Covent Gardens and even just standing at the gates of Buckham Palace felt like a dream!

    My favorite area in England though, was actually the countryside. It is stunningly beautiful. I got to go to this little town called Morton-in-Marsh and I felt like I was in a movie! It was adorably charming!

  • Anonymous April 28, 2017

    I always talk about this whenever I talk to people about a trip to London I took my senior year of college:

    I loved the comradery around smoking/cigarettes in London. I don’t smoke anymore (yay healthy lungs!), but while I was in London it was kind of cool how when you buy a pack of cigarettes, it’s almost a universally known thing there that you will probably give about a quarter of them to random strangers who ask to bum one, and in return you’re usually able to go up to strangers and ask to bum one off of them! In America, there is a certain comradery, but it’s always a time/place thing. If you’re at a show or function and you step out to smoke, usually it’s pretty comfortable bumming one and then starting a conversation, but in London you literally walk down the street and can ask anyone for a cigarette. We would be sitting outside our hotel and every now and then someone would come up to us and ask to bum one, we would light it for them (lighters are also very universally exchanged in London I found) and they would thank us and just be on their merry way. It was a simple, beautiful, quick moment that let you have some sort of small interaction with a person. Not that I’m condoning smoking at all, but it was another interesting experience while I was there that I’ll never forget!

  • I really wanted to go to Sketch when I was in London! So bummed I didn’t go, it was too expensive for me. Next time I’ll definitely splurge.

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

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