Three years ago, with my life at a crossroads, I boarded a one-way flight back to Australia and my two years living in London came to a severed, abrupt end. It’s a city I had fallen hard for, and desperately didn’t want to leave, but the visa laws made it impossible for me to do anything but depart. [Read this post for the back story.]
Three years on, although the now completely healed, far more travelled and (I’d like to think) better version of myself has fully made peace with that chapter, just say the word ‘London’ and my heartbeat will instantaneously quicken. It’s a place that I will always long for, in one way or another.
So, when an email popped up in September from the beautiful team at VisitBritain, expressing interest in working together, it was one of those moments that stopped me completely short – and despite a back-to-back schedule lined up to see out the rest of 2017, of course I immediately wrote back: yes! Although I’d visited London a number of times since returning to Australian life, this trip felt different. It felt a beautiful irony to be invited back, in a different time, and different life circumstance; something the wayward girl of three years ago could never had imagined possible.
So there I was, on 23 October, seated in the emergency exit row with all of the legroom ever, and ‘Fever to the Form’ playing in my ears, bound for a ten-day solo adventure for the soul.
My itinerary for the UK included a wonderful mix of both the intimately familiar London I knew and loved, and the London I had never before known. That’s the best thing about this city – you can choose your own adventure – and no matter the direction you wander, in the obliging, magical way that London always delivers in spades, I was in for the best few days ever, laden with amazing moments at every turn.
Wellness was a real focus for this trip, which was a refreshing way to experience the same city I once spent over two hours of commuting, a full day at work, and freelanced at either side of the day (anything but balanced!). On this trip, balance meant offsetting a bike ride with a hearty slice of Victoria sponge cake, and following up my sunset gin and tonics with a before-sunrise yoga class.
Here’s how I spent four days in London – wandering from West to East, and everywhere in between.
As I disembarked the plane in the early hours of a Tuesday morning, London was still blanketed in darkness. I hopped on the tube and catapulted into the heart of the city as London slowly stirred from slumber.
To immediately feel reacquainted with London, and to ward off jet lag, I spent the day doing just that: hitting the pavement, wandering the Southbank area and losing myself in my favourite place of all: Borough Market.
Borough Market: Borough High St, London SE1 9AH
I checked into the Mondrian Hotel for my first night in London. It’s a fascinating hotel, housed within the Sea Containers building – the design under creative direction of renowned British designer Tom Dixon. The hotel is positioned on the banks of the River Thames; making for the perfect point of departure for wandering the Bankside precinct by foot.
Mondrian Hotel: 20 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PD
Drink with a panoramic view: from Rumpus Room, the Mondrian’s rooftop bar
The striking hotel lobby, designed by Tom Dixon
The Agua Bathhouse & Spa
As a coffee addict and a breakfast aficionado, Farm Girl has been a cafe firmly established on my coffee bucket list since I first caught a glimpse of the pale pink plates and rose coloured lattes on my Instagram feed well over a year ago. After swinging by for a takeaway coffee to prepare myself for a big day of adventuring, I can verify that Farm Girl brings a touch of the Australian cafe magic to the heart of Notting Hill, serving up colourful meals that rival the walls of the streets she’s located on.
Farm Girl: Portobello Rd, London W11 3DB
Usually one for walking for hours upon hours, with two feet firmly planted on the ground and camera at the ready, after a huge sleep & feeling experimental, I signed up for a different kind of sightseeing – on wheels!
Fat Tyre Bike Tours offer bike tours in many cities around Europe, and I absolutely loved this way of seeing the Royal Parks and key London landmarks, completely above ground, and luckily for me, entirely sundrenched! Four hours of peddling took me sailing past Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben (currently under renovation), and through many parks including St James Park, Regents Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
My favourite view from St James’s Park
Outside the Royal Albert Hall
After four hours on bike, there was only one thing on my mind: cake! Since 2010, the Peggy Porschen Parlour in London’s Belgravia has been offering visitors the chance to step through a floral archway into a pastel-coloured world of freshly baked delights. During the hour pitstop I spent at Peggy Porschen, there was never not a ten-person deep lineup.
Peggy Porschen: 116 Ebury St, Belgravia, London SW1W 9QQ
With my dear friend (and local Londoner) Mich in tow, full of cake we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering – and photographing the colourful back streets of Pimlico and Chelsea.
The colourful side streets of Chelsea
I checked into The Sanderson Hotel for my second night in town.
I rose very early on day 3, got myself a takeaway cup of tea and wandered down an empty Oxford Street, into the heart of Covent Garden for a 7am yoga class at Another Space.
Housed within a light-flooded, green plant filled studio, it’s a verified oasis of calm. The class itself was incredible, and the experience was topped off with a berry smoothie waiting for me to collect at the close of the class. First breakfast: check!
Another Space: 4-10 Tower St, London WC2H 9NP
I couldn’t pass up a second breakfast at The Sanderson Hotel courtyard – so beautiful!
The Sanderson Hotel: 50 Berners St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 3NG
I started day 3 by venturing West, starting at Portobello Market – undoubtedly one of London (and the world’s) most iconic and captivating markets – and winding my way well away from the main streets, to photograph the many pops of rainbow and hidden nooks of colour.
As a keen partaker of the edible flower trend that has well and truly taken over the Melbourne breakfast scene, stepping into The Dayrooms Café for lunch was almost like I didn’t spend 25 hours in the air to make it there. Eggs, waffles, bagels and bright greens dishes shine through the menu, but it was the large helpings of avocado that made this place feel particularly Melbourne.
The Dayrooms Café: 212 Kensington Park Rd, London W11 1NR
The rainbow streets of Notting Hill
Hats and antiques at Portobello Road Market
St Luke’s Mews (a key filming location for Love Actually)
Pastel painted houses and vine-covered facades
London hitting me in the heart at every corner.
In the afternoon, I made my way East, and checked into The Great Northern Hotel for my next sleep – a stunning hotel that literally sits back to back with King’s Cross St. Pancras station.
The Great Northern Hotel: Pancras Rd, Kings Cross, London N1C 4TB
Home away from home – my favourite feature of this gorgeous hotel: every floor has a beautifully equipped Pantry from which you can help yourself (at no charge) to home-cooked cakes, teas, Nespresso coffees, books, newspapers and magazines.
Ask Londoners: East or West, and you’ll likely receive a clammer of appreciation for one side of town, and a possible distaste for the other. The East – which began as the industrial region of London has today become gritty and chic. Home to the Olympic Games, the best curry outside of India and a hearty population of hipsters, London’s ‘rougher’ side holds its own certain charm.
Here you’ll find a mass of brown London bricks as the base foundation for colourful graffiti, vintage stores and local markets offering their own colour and character.
I started my East London wanders with Hackney. As one of the most rapidly changing neighbourhoods of East London, Hackney is awash with vibrant independent shops and boutique wine bars. I also observed the following: almost all the men in the neighbourhood have a beard – and, in order to live here, one would require the largest of tolerances to coffee.
A highlight was definitely my pitstop at Palm Vaults – a veritable Instagrammer’s dream. Think soft pink furnishing, splattered with fresh living greens, and an abundance of photogenic corners to take your mandatory coffee snap-in. Dubbed “London’s most Instagrammable Café” and with good reason. It’s far from a one (photo) trick pony though – they offer plenty of milk alternatives so you can get your velvet latte just the way you like it, and a mostly plant-based menu.
Palm Vaults: 411 Mare St, London E8 1HY
Hackney is also home to a host of outlet shops – including Burberry! This undiscovered gem offers great discounts on Burberry clothing.
I spent the afternoon in Shoreditch – an area treasured by East Londoners as an epicentre of culture, art, food and fashion. Shoreditch experienced a rapid growth after the 2012 Olympic Games, with property prices soaring by 46%. Today, it’s home to the third largest cluster of technological start-ups (following in the footsteps of San Francisco, and New York City).
Independent boutiques on Hackney Road, like the beautiful Cuemars
Shoreditch Coffee Offices in full swing – including a new favourite (featured on right) – Nkora
Pretty florists in Angel, Islington
Don’t miss – Shoreditch Redemption – an alcohol-free gastrobar, with the catchy motto “spoil yourself without spoiling yourself” which offers clever twists on the common cocktail.
Shoreditch Redemption: 320 Old St, London EC1V 9DR
Finding my way back to Kings Cross for dinner, I couldn’t look past an old faithful and continued favourite: Caravan. Housed in an old granary building, this coffee roastery cum always-booked-out restaurant was set up by three Aussies. The vibe is upbeat and the industrial space is awe-inspiring. The outdoor terrace sits directly on Granary Square at the heart of the King’s Cross Development.
Caravan King’s Cross: 1 Granary Square, Kings Cross, London N1C 4AA
And, talking of Granary Square, nestled on the banks of Regent’s Canal this square is the historical heartbeat of King’s Cross, once the location of the Goods Yard where barges unloaded their produce to be sold in the city. With choreographed fountains, the square is a magnificent spectacle and is always buzzing.
On my final night in town, the best place I could think to toast to the adventure was, of course, Searcys. Boasting the title of Europe’s longest champagne bar, comfy booths are positioned side-by-side along the Eurostar trains, departing for, or returning from Paris, which makes drinking your champagne feel just that little bit more exciting.
Searcys: Grand Terrace, St Pancras International Station, Kings Cross, London N1C 4QL
This ‘press for champagne’ button needs to be installed in my home!
After four incredible days in London, it was time to continue on with part two of this adventure. After a quick hotel breakfast, of course.
A quick breakfast in bed before hitting the road