Welcome to Backpacker’s Boutique. Every Sunday, this spot will feature a new travel blogger. Some weeks it will be a really fun interview about packing, fashion, and fitness so you can snoop inside their bags & lives a little bit and other weeks it’ll be a detailed luxury guide to a city the featured blogger/expat knows very well. E-mail me if you’d like to be featured.
A Luxury Guide to London
Tell us a little about yourself and tell us why you’re an expert on luxury travel in London.
I’m Kirsten, and I’ve been born and bred in London – although at times it can be a love/hate relationship, it’s an unconditional love! I went to university in Norwich, a much smaller city in the UK (very dainty and cute). I spent some of that time at university living and studying in Melbourne, Australia, and completely fell in love with the country. After graduating, I came back to London and spend my time navigating more of my home city. Even after all this time, it never fails to surprise me with new bars, events or views.
What makes London a perfect destination for travelers seeking a glamorous trip?
London’s full of the old, historic grandeur of the past as well as innovative ideas to spice up any luxury experience. The more I see of other cities, the more I appreciate how flexible London can be: it’s the posh, traditional mother or father and it’s the gritty cool kid – but always (well, most of the time) done with a touch of sophistication.
What 5 star hotel is the best in your town?
There are a few! The complete classic is The Savoy. If you come here, you’ve hit the big time. The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is probably the most beautiful looking hotel from the outside (and inside!) I’ve ever seen in London.
What about boutique hotels, of them all, which would you send your friends or family to stay at?
For more quirk, I’d go with The Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch. It’s not as much typical boutique as part of the new breed of hip hotels with that streetwise but homely feel, with an open fireplace, exposed brick wall and books.
Are there any fun activities for the adventurous traveler?
You can climb up the Millenium Dome (now called the o2) which is near where I live, in Greenwich! Do it at sunset – you’ll get a wonderful view over London. There’s also a speedboat that’ll swing you around on the Thames with some funny music, like the James Bond theme tune. Experiencing London’s landmarks from the river gives you a bit of a different perspective. In summer, there’s a really fun trend to learn to trapeze outside in some of London’s parks. For a built up city, it’s got a lot of options.
Where are the best hang outs during the day?
London’s parks are lovely – I’ve had many lazy, sunny afternoons in Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and St James’ Park (which looks magical in the spring with flowers everywhere and a view of the London Eye). There are even lidos you can spend the day at – I went to Brockwell Lido last summer, and even though it can’t properly take the place of a good beach, I’ll accept it as a substitute!
London has so many markets dotted around to explore with friends or by yourself. One of my favourites is Columbia Road Flower Market – for flowers, believe it or not. It also has cafés and cute independent shops so you have somewhere to go after the hustle and bustle of all kinds of beautiful flowers being excitedly sold. I always try to pick up a bunch of sunflowers here as they’re a favourite flower of mine.
I recently went to Maltby Street Market with my sister, which left us so pleasantly surprised. Located under railway arches, it has such an authentic feel and every food stall you look at has you intrigued.
In the winter, it’s all about cafés and pubs. London loves pubs. Wilton Music Hall is perfect for some history and a pint. The worn away and exposed walls with its relaxed vibe make you feel so comfortable to settle down and cosily while away the day.
If you have a big date night, what are the most delicious restaurants in London and what are their best dishes?
I have an American boyfriend who lives in Boston, so whenever he visits London, I always try to impress him with the city’s restaurants. To be honest, it’s a challenge to pick somewhere as London has so many restaurants.
We’ve gone to Sushisamba, which has some other locations over the world, but in London it’s got a great view and their sashimi is awesome. Head outside for a cocktail by the fire, too – the mojito is a treat.
Location: Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AY
In London, we get a ton of concept restaurants – the most recent I’ve been to is called Bubbledogs: all sorts of hotdogs (you can choose toppings from mac’n’cheese to caramelised lettuce), and an extensive list of champagne. It’s a genius idea to me that still manages to leave you feeling glamorous, despite eating hot dogs.
Location: 70 Charlotte St, London W1T 4QG
Village East is also great: modern European food presented so well and some killer cocktails.
Location: 171-173 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3UW
Let’s talk desserts- what place makes the best?
I’m weirdly going to have to mention a brunch spot here. It’s the Cookbook Café, inside the Intercontinental Hotel. You get unlimited bellinis and an all you can eat buffet – but in a classy way – including waffles topped with popping candy, eggs benedict, sashimi, and finally, masses of dessert cakes, including little macaroons. It’s incredible and is honestly one of my favourite places to go in London.
Tell us all the hot shopping spots; who’s carrying the trendy local designers? Are there designers we should make sure to meet?
Avoid Oxford Street like the plague! Ok, maybe an exaggeration – it does have everything you need, but only go there very early. It’s so busy and it can get pretty stressful at times (Christmas shopping here this year will definitely be a pain I must suffer!). I prefer Long Acre in Covent Garden area as it still has some of my favourite shops (like Zara, but sadly not Topshop) and is much less busy.
It’s definitely worth checking out the markets, too. Spitalfields market is great for upcoming designers and it’s a great day out.
What are a couple of the best salons and spas in London?
Sadly my favourite spa right in the middle of London recently closed down, so I’m trying to find another! I’ve heard good things about the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s spa in Hyde Park. The Berkeley Spa has a rooftop pool with views over Hyde Park and is a hit with celebrities, or Four Seasons Spa, which is located on the tenth floor… also over Hyde Park. Basically, head to Hyde Park for all your glamorous, luxury needs.
Time for a great sunset view… where would you go?
I think the key with a memorable London sunset is to go high. My favourite has been while having afternoon tea in Tower 42. I treated my mum for her birthday and we sipped champagne while watching the sun set right behind the view of London, with St Paul’s Cathedral in one direction and Tower Bridge another.
Otherwise, I’m always a big fan of a sunset from a park. Primrose Hill gives you a good view, and Hyde Park is gorgeous.
Now that the sun’s gone down, fill us on the best places to go for some evening drinks or a great pre-gaming spot.
This is where things get tricky – I’m not sure I can adequately express my love for cocktails, so I’m always hunting around for a new watering hole. There’s Calooh Callay, which is a bar in East London with a collection of weird and wonderful decorations. For chocolate lovers, Dirty Martini in Covent Garden has a delicious chocolate martini (chocolate swirl included). And for a really intimate setting, Bourne & Hollingsworth is like a trendy grandma’s living room, with drinks served in teacups and mason jars.
Secret bars are a big thing here too. Head to Evans & Peel Detective Agency (it really is a bar, I promise) where you need to come with a ‘case’ that proves you worthy of seeing the Detective i.e. entering the bar. If that’s not earning your drink, I’m not sure what is…
I have to mention Circus, too. It’s a bar and restaurant in Covent Garden where circus acts perform their tricks and talents (such as flamethrowing and much more) on the central table throughout the evening. On the weekends it stays open as a club where you can then dance on the tables.
You can also get drinks at the Shard which can be pricey, but a very ‘London’ experience. It also gives you pretty much the same view as at the top but without having to buy the ticket! Definitely put on your best dress/suit here, it’s the perfect excuse to dress up.