London, England (+ Side Trips)
One of my very favorite cities, one that I return to every year, feeling completely at home. Of course it is impossible to share it all, but here is a little taste, including side trips out of the City, just a short train ride away.
As a dedicated Anglophile, who obsesses over the English Countryside, accents, tailoring, sensibilities, Jane Austen, BBC programming and yes, Benedict Cumberbatch, London is somewhere that always feels welcoming and comforting to me. Maybe it is the Canadian/English influence of my Father’s family, or perhaps the pull to the sophistication & culture, but I have always returned to the City annually for the past decade or so. Sometime I stay with friends, sometimes I rent an apartment through One Fine Stay (which I highly recommend), and a few years back when I worked for Four Seasons Hotels, I was lucky enough to experience Four Seasons Park Lane London, Four Seasons Hampshire (weekend trip), and also The Berkely Hotel . There is no shortage of luxury hotels in London, but you will certainly pay for it. Sometimes I like to visit hotels for the sublime tea service like Claridges, or over-the-top cocktails like The Savoy.
It’s become a tradition for me to journey to London, and a second surprise location, every year for Thanksgiving week. With most of my immediate family in Canada, it seems the perfect week to travel and great deals to Europe are plentiful. I love seeing friends & colleagues (ran into many travel industry people here), but also kicking off the holiday season as London really does it right with their decor. Mulled wine in pubs, cozy dinners with friends, Christmas markets and shopping, all make this something to look forward to every year. NYC and London share similar businesses and people, so often I find myself running into people unexpectedly too! Here is the “holiday edition” of what to do, see, stay:
Stay: Again, I use One Fine Stay which has quickly become a favorite for long-term stay travelers (currently available in London, Paris, NY, LA & Rome), with a more luxury twist + and a trusted Virtuoso Preferred Partner. The apartment I rented in Chelsea, and another time in South Kensington, were lovely, as was the service! We had a company representative greet us upon arrival – with snacks & champagne on hand – walk us through the apartment, and give us a cell phone for our stay which included apps for “front desk” help, travel tips, area information and more. I mean…wow…I wish more of my stays were this way (looking at you, hotels). It makes so much more sense to have a place of your own – kitchen, dining rooms, etc – in a real neighborhood. We felt comfortable, safe and most importantly our space was modern, stylish and impeccably kept. Their locations are clearly people’s second (or third) homes that sit empty for most of the year, so I was more than happy to use it! I will absolutely keep booking with them.
Do: Christmas decor is incredible in England, especially in popular shopping areas (see below) and the department stores (Harrod’s, Selfridges). There is even some huge outdoor amusement park ‘Winter Wonderland’ happening in Hyde Park, but we avoided those crowds. Walk…a lot…it’s cool but not that bad for walking, so you can take in the sites, and do your mandatory lap through the park, past Buckingham palace and over the Westminster & the London Eye along the Thames. Shop/Walk/Stop by some key exhibit’s during the day, enjoy at least one high tea experience, hit the pub for some mulled wine, book some dinners with friends.
Eat: For dinner, I enjoyed ‘Little House Mayfair’, ‘The Oak’, ‘Tom’s Kitchen’ and “Rabbit’ this time around and would recommend all, especially the first one (owned by Soho House) for a casual but cozy dinner.
High Tea – I find Claridge’s and The Goring Hotel to do it best, though I have had a nice experience at The Connaught and The Marylebone too. Again, Christmas decor is charming!
See: London boasts fantastic museums and arts, though the Victoria & Albert museum currently has a wonderful exhibit on shoes and fashion right now, and Ai WeiWei’s show at The Royal Academy of Arts. Tate Modern, National Gallery…it’s endless.
Walk: Like NY, the City lends well to walking through the neighborhoods and spectacular parks. St. James Park, Kensington Park…walk over to Big Ben and the London Eye for a great view over the Thames.
Shop: The lights on Bond Street and Oxford/Picadilly are especially wonderful, and famous department stores like Liberty London (my fave) and Selfridges are here. But the shops through Knightsbridge are lovely too, Harrod’s is here, where you can duck down the side streets and head over to Kings Road and the colorful buildings of Kensington and Chelsea (like the one photographer above). Also, be sure to stop by the Christmas market at the Chelsea Market Garden (I am kicking myself for not having bought the incredible sheepskin rugs and jackets – the quality is unbelievable). Notting Hill always charms, and when in season, the Portobello Market can offer all kinds of gems.
Weekend Trips out of the City
Considering how easy it is to catch a train from Waterloo to practically anywhere, the possibilities are endless. Cheap flights too. Scotland, Wales and Ireland (will save this for a different post, but there are multiple flight on Aer Lingus every day) are all in the realm of possibilities. But speaking immediately of England…
England Day Trips: Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Brighton, Stonehenge, St Albans, Ry, Henley-on-thames, Costwalds, Canterbury, Bath, Stratford-upon-avon
England Weekend Trips: The Peak District, Cornwall, Devon, Lake District, Eden Valley, Durham, Gurnsey and Sark, Kent, The Cotswolds, Cheltenham, Harrogate, Norfolk
Dorset: Most recently I visited the SouthWest of England to take in some of the sea air, and to channel the spirit of writer Thomas Hardy (he resided there). Every time I return to a country I have been before, I try to add in a new stop. This time it was a 2.5 hour train ride South of London to Dorset. Many famous stories were set in the beautiful English Countryside in Dorset, and I decided to unplug for a few days, write & take long walks in the crisp Fall air. I had seen photos of the charming sea side town of Weymouth, which happens to be the last stop on the train. In the summer the beaches, restaurants and pubs are packed with tourists, but in the Fall and Winter months, it becomes quiet and quite beautiful in a completely different way. You can find very inexpensive stays at any of the local B&B’s since it is low season (I opted for The Roundhouse) and you can find many here. Great local seafood and some long walks along the South West Coast Path towards Northe Fort or Sandsfoot Castle (pictured below) is sure to restore some balance for anyone, it’s mainly about rest, with many day trips available to places like Durdle Door, Jurassic Coast, Abbotsbury, or Thomas Hardy’s Wessex countryside home, so I recommend visiting: www.weymouth.co.uk or www.visit-dorset.com
Author: Carrie Mitchell
Carrie A. Mitchell is the founder of L’Aventure Travel, the host of the Suitcase Sojourn Podcast, and author of the children’s travel book “To Be We”. Carrie is a global travel and hospitality expert who works with publications, brands and entertainment outlets on a number of travel related projects, from marketing consulting to editorial coverage to hosting & producing content for the web, TV and podcasts. She is always seeking to learn from people and places around the world, and share through her cultural exploration (40+ countries and counting)