So it’s been a while since I’ve posted a larger post, that’s not a review. In this post I’ve compiled all my favourite things to do in London when the weather is clear (besides eating of course!). A lot of the things listed are free and fun to do even in the Winter (all you have to do is wrap up warm) and they are also very child friendly.
The Roof Gardens: Kensington High Street-
I had no idea this little gem even existed. But what better way to relax after a busy afternoon shopping, than to lose yourself, in the rooftop gardens. There are no signs, nor any indications it even exists. Even the entrance to this place is obscure and located on the side street (Derry Street). Until we got to the top, I was convinced it was either a wild goose chase, or we were most definitely in the wrong place. You do have to walk through an open bar/restaurant type area to get to the gardens, so if you are uncomfortable doing this, I wouldn’t recommend going.
I honestly could not believe we were on a rooftop. The way it has been designed, it is completely secluded and invisible from the highstreet. No noise reaches the gardens and you can peacefully sip your drink as you wander around the different themed gardens. The gardens are child and pram friendly (with a lift taking you up) and mostly outdoors (so not recommended on rainy days). You must call ahead to check if they are open as they have various events running throughout the year meaning they are closed to the public on those days. This is a must see and best of all completely free. I mean where else would you find pink flamingos on a rooftop in London?
I’m not quite sure what took me so long to visit Trafalgar Square. Maybe it was the fact that the pictures and commentary surrounding it sounded quite dull and not worth special visit. The thing with Trafalgar Square is the atmosphere cannot be told through pictures. It is magnificent and breathtaking in real life. In the sunshine (even in Winter) the square is full of entertainers (the good kind) with one entertainer (Cam Nicholson) reminding me of the Violinists on the Paris Metro (that is a big compliment). The National Gallery stands tall across the breadth of the square, looking even more awe inspiring than the pictures suggest. I spent the majority of my time here admiring the building, and then quickly popping inside to browse some of the most iconic and gifted artists in history. It felt surreal to be surrounded by such historically significant artworks, and the layout was so simple that the chances of getting lost were quite low (unlike my visit to see the Mona Lisa which involved some serious navigation and plenty of walking around in circles only to find myself at the back of a huge crown behind a large cordon). The museum is totally free, as is visiting Trafalgar Square. Sit on the fountain, enjoy the Christmas tree and carol singers, watch people passing by (or the hilarious comedian sometimes outside the National Gallery) and just soak in the atmosphere. If you are not in a rush, browse the museum and enjoy the cafe inside. I cannot describe how beautiful this area is and how much it is worth a visit.
Even on a cold day, Covent Garden can please the most discerning of tourists (and locals). The cobbled alleyways dotted with our favourite boutique shops, street entertainment and all my favourite dessert places (think Milk Train, Pierre Herme and Laduree) all in one location. What more could a girl ask for? The street entertainment keeps my husband happy, the food, my daughter, the shopping, me. A perfect day out for the family. The food options are endless (including plenty of halal places), as are the shopping options with most brands located in and around the market.
On a normal day, I would avoid Leicester Square like the plague. Sure it has its merits with some fairly exciting stores for children (M&M World and Lego Shop if you like that sort of thing), but the amount of tourists this area attracts because of the theatres makes it somewhat overcrowded and not a very fun place to be (unless you have theatre tickets of course). At Christmas time, the Square has seasonal market stalls open, with stunning lights and generally giving a very festive feeling. Of course if you want a Dutch pancake, you’ve got to visit the cute stall in Leicester Square. Although the halal food options are not as abundant as in other areas, the lovely PF Chang’s is located in a prominent section of Leicester Square and is the perfect dining option should you find yourself wandering around the area.
Visit the Small Boutique Shops: Wandering around Soho (in the less explicit areas), there are some fabulous small boutique shops especially Choccywoccydoodah (spent 15 minutes looking for it only to find we were standing right outside as the shop really looks nondescript and the signage is barely visible), Paul A Young (possibly the most divine chocolate on earth), Scotch and Soda, Crumbs & Doilies and Liberty (it’s just so beautiful to look at). Just next to Soho is Chinatown which has fabulous Bubble Tea cafes and Chinese shops selling every ingredient you’d require to make a decent Chinese meal.
My husband always looks at me with disdain when I mention I want to go to London Zoo (for the 100th time). ‘You’re such a tourist’ he always exclaims. I can’t help it. I find the whole area so tranquil and well kept. The park and the zoo are beautiful to just sit and watch on a nice day. The animals are varied and beautiful and kept in large areas. Although there are hundreds of tourists in the area, you never get the feeling of being in a crowded area nor the noise. Even London Central Mosque (which was once a crown jewel in mosque standards but has gone rundown in recent years) is very nearby and worth a visit. The zoo is open all year round but make sure to pre-book and go on the days where it is less busy (not school holidays).
The novelty of a garden located indoors in a Skyscraper made me book this. In reality, unless you’re excited about views over London or an indoor garden which is, well not as exciting as I had hoped, then this may not be for you. I understand that keeping greenery alive at that altitude is a challenge but I was still underwhelmed by the variety of plants on offer. The fact that it was extremely busy didn’t help the case. There are two bar areas located on each level and if you prefer not to buy drinks from places which serve alcohol then this may not be suitable for you. If you still want to visit (because the views are fantastic and it is completely free) then make sure to pre-book at least three weeks before hand as they release tickets every three weeks. It is worth a one off visit if you’ve run out of things to do (and very close to Leadenhall Market so why not pop in there too).
On a nice, clear day why not head down to Westminster and enjoy the scenery. A lot of the iconic London skyline and buildings are present here with the London Eye, River Thames Bank, Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and Big Ben to name a few. At night time the sights look wonderful lit up especially in and around Christmas time. It does get very busy with tourists so if you want to really enjoy, go early in the morning or late in the evening where most people will probably still be/ already be in bed. Don’t forget to cross Waterloo Bridge to Somerset House where they have the fantastic Fortnum & Mason Christmas display and outdoor Ice Skating during the Winter months. If you want an Islamic tour of London, Muslim History Tours are more than happy to give you a deeper understanding of the Islamic History prevalent in these areas and the background of Islam which existed in these parts. They even provide a halal afternoon tea on the Thames during the warmer Seasons and they are well worth booking if you want to know more about London and it’s Islamic roots.
This Street, or should I stay station, is the gateway to most of my favourite places. From here you can pretty much walk anywhere, from Spitalfield Markets to the left and Leadenhall Market to the right. If you are feeling brave (or fit) enough, it is quite easy to take a walking tour from here right the way to Westminster. You will see the majority of London’s most iconic buildings and areas and you can easily get lost in the crowds and spot a few landmarks, grab a bite to eat and do a spot of shopping on the way. I used to begin most of my ‘touristy’ trips into London from here. I find it the perfect spot to see a lot of what London has to offer both historically and in the present day.
That’s all for now. Are there any beautiful places you like to go regularly in London? Feel free to post in the comments below.