I usually travel this time of year to a trade show in Milan to buy shoes for our shop in Seattle. When an extremely low ticket to London made its way through my search as an inexpensive way to Europe, and through London none the less, I jumped on it. It had been 15 years since I visited last. I had to go, right? Right!
I should preface this post by saying that I like to shop when visiting cities. I like to get a feel of what is going on and what trends are happening. I consider it my job to shop. This was not your typical 30 hours in London. I did not go to Buckingham Palace, Harrods or Kensington Gardens. Since I had been to these places before, I wanted to experience London as a local shopper. And by George, I did.
I arrived at Heathrow terminal 5 at around noon. Since I travel light, I breezed through Customs and hopped on the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, where I was able to catch a short cab ride to my hotel. I decided to stay in Marylebone at the Marylebone Hotel. It is centrally located and over the years, this neighborhood has really come into its own with great restaurants, bars, and plenty of shops and boutiques too. When I arrived the staff was friendly and accommodating. My room was not quite ready so I had a leisurely lunch at their 108 Brasserie. By the time I was done eating, my room was ready.
After a not-so-quick nap and shower, I headed out the door for a long walk. I decided that I would walk to Covenant Garden for dinner and make stops along the way. The shops were still open, so it was great to see stores filled with customers on Marylebone High Street. Bars and pubs were packed with folks getting off work and eager to start their weekend. James Street was especially hopping.
I blew right past the popular shopping district on Oxford St. It was crowded and I wasn’t too interested in going into Top Shop or H&M, so I just kept walking towards Soho. I had one particular store I wanted to visit before it closed for the night. Sure enough, eventually right in front of me was Liberty. I had one of those choir of angels singing moments in my head. I absolutely adore Liberty London! Their fabric department alone was enough to make me weak in the knees. Masters of curation and display, every floor I visited, every vignette made me giddy.
After I visually devoured my share of the store, I dialed up Google maps on my phone and made my way to Covenant Garden. To my surprise, I walked right into the center of Chinatown. The Chinese New Year festival was to be held the next day, and though I would not be able to attend it, it was fun to see the streets looking festive with red lanterns draped above the streets. Thank you, Google maps.
I finally made my way to Neal Street and had dinner at Punjab on the recommendation of a friend. Punjab is a fourth generation run Northern Indian restaurant that has been around since 1946. It did not disappoint. Great food and service. The Butter Chicken was delicious!
Because my belly was full and happy, I decided to walk it off back to my hotel. This time, I did stop at Topshop to peruse the fun accessories. (After all, it was still open.) When I did eventually reach my bed, I crashed hard from the lack of z’s on the flight over and was determined to get a good night sleep for day two of my visit.
When I woke up the weather was dismal and what you would think for this time of year in London. But this Seattle gal is used to this type of climate and a little rain was not going to ruin my plans. Armed with a heavy coat, hat, and umbrella, I left the hotel ready for a full day.
Luckily, a couple blocks away, was a fantastic restaurant for breakfast. The Providores was warm and welcoming, and a great place for brunch when dining alone. Two center communal tables made it a little less intimidating and the staff was super friendly. I had the Turkish Eggs, a house specialty that was very yummy.
Now that I had sufficient sustenance, it was time to explore some more areas of London. I hopped on the Tube at Bond Street to Shoreditch. I wanted to shop the Spitalfields Market which is open on Saturdays. It basically is an open market for local art, designers, crafts, and vintage collectibles surrounded by shops and places to eat. Very charming and best of all, covered from the rain.
Shoreditch is also a great neighborhood to shop small businesses. A great mix of thrift stores, boutiques and some exclusive chain stores like COS and APC. After an hour at the market, I wandered down the streets to check out the local life. The Boxcar had some fun tiny shops to discover and I took a coffee break at the new Kit&Ace shop. Wandered some more until I had shopped every window on every street. Did I mention that I take my shopping very seriously when I’m traveling?
I was told by a friend that I should visit the Sky Garden, it wasn’t too far of a walk, and it had stopped raining, so I let Google maps direct me again. I ran into a traditional pub located in the financial district at Leadenhall Market. I stopped to use the bathroom and have a pint. Leadenhall is one of the oldest markets in the city, dating back to the 13th century. If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter movies, you might recognize it as Diagon Alley. Some of the scenes were filmed here.
When I arrived at the Sky Garden, I was disappointed to find out that while the access to the rooftop is free, you need to book a reservation in advance to “queue for the view”. Oh well, better luck next time. I was able to catch a view of London Bridge and see the Monument of the Great Fire of London. Both of which were very close by, so that made it less of a letdown.
At this point my feet were tired, so I took the Tube back to Marylebone. On my way back from the station to the hotel, I stopped at Selfridge’s. It’s kind of like visiting Macy’s in New York. I had to see this iconic department store. The women’s shoe department alone was one of the biggest shoe selections I had ever seen. If you happen to like designer brand shoes, you would find your dream pair here.
Since I had a super early flight in the morning, I decided to stay close to my hotel and boy was I glad I did. I walked over to the Chiltern Firehouse for my evening meal. Elegant yet casual, this was a fabulous place to have a light dinner and a cocktail. I sat at the bar and watched the fashionable Londoners. It was great people watching and the perfect way to spend my last night in London.
I would say that my impromptu trip went quite well. When I woke up, I was ready to head off to Milan with enthusiasm and inspiration from a day and a half of exploring a city I had known, like it was new again.