Welcome to The Woks of Life guide on things to do in London! Fueled by a few trips to London over the years, this is NOT a local insider’s guide, but if you are a well-meaning, optimizing tourist, we hope you enjoy this post!
International travel can be a little tricky as you decide where and how you want to spend your time (and money!).
That’s why I believe that a good travel guide should give you flexibility, offering lots of things to see and do, so you can pick and choose what looks most enjoyable to you.
I’ve tried to give a comprehensive account here, so hopefully you can prioritize accordingly depending on the length of your stay and where your interests lie!
So consider me your “friend who went to London recently,” whether you’re planning a trip or you’re just here for the armchair vacation. :)
What do you want to hear about?
- Visiting London
- What’s it like in London?
- Getting Around London
- Booking Accommodations in London
- Things to Do in London:
- Where to Eat in London
- Glossary of London Chinatown Restaurants (sourced from our Instagram followers!)
London and the U.K. in general has so much history, it’s incredibly fun to get lost in the Britishness of it all. On this trip, I realized just how much I love it there! Maybe the weather has something to do with it too—it’s a place where it’s best to have a jacket and a scarf or sweater on hand at all times.
Informed by trips to London past
I’ve been to London a few times before—for varying lengths of time and with varying amounts of money in my pocket!!!
My first trip was in college. I went for about 4 days, the next time for a week, and the time after that just 7 hours for a layover. Lucky me, I have a friend, Elizabeth, who lived in Scotland for a time, and then in London for four years.
(RIP the Scotland post I fully intended but never wrote back in 2015. You can thank my horrible photography skills with the cheesy giant tourist camera I insisted on bringing.)
My most recent trip was 9 days—by far the longest I’ve had to soak up all the fun things London has to offer.
Plus, it was my first big international venture since 2018, when we went to China (see our posts on Shanghai Disney, Shanghai day trips, and Hong Kong and Macau!) and since the…you-know-what began in March 2020.
So I was incredibly excited to make the most of this trip! Across 9 days, we spent the majority of our time in London.
We also had a two day stopover in Oxford, which I will also be sharing a little guide for in a few weeks. And what kind of washed up millennial would I be if I didn’t also provide a guide to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden?!?!!! Yes. Look forward to it.
What’s it like in London?
London feels more like home than any other city I’ve visited—#1 because of the shared language, but also because it’s a lot like New York.
Depending on who you ask, this might be a shortcoming, but I personally find it gives me the perfect balance of excitement-in-a-foreign-place and comfort when I’m navigating alone.
In some respects, London feels safer than New York. I think that riding the tube these days is a more pleasant experience than riding the subway, for example. As a relatively young, at times doofy looking female Chinese tourist, sometimes I feel like I have a target on my back in other cities (see Prague Drama), so this is all important to me from a safety perspective.
Bear in mind, theft in London—particularly in tourist spots—is still a thing, so good common sense is your friend. I’ve stopped wearing air pods on the train, etc. in favor of a book or just reading articles on my phone so I can be more aware of my surroundings.
Back in 2015, I had a very close call with a suspected pickpocket outside Portobello Market, but after he tried approaching me twice, a firm telling off luckily did the trick.
(Once I showed I was mad, I ceased being an easy target, and he left me alone. I wore my backpack in front of me until I’d gotten well away from the touristy spot I was in.)
Getting around London
The Underground / Tube (i.e., the subway)
As a directionally challenged person, I really appreciate the London tube system. It’s next to impossible to mess it up or get lost.
Every sign shows you exactly where the train is headed, and as a result, you always know which side of the track to wait on. Of the four times I’ve been to London, I’ve only gotten lost once, and it was because I just wasn’t paying attention.
The only real cons are the relatively cramped space and the lack of AC, but this past summer’s exceptional heat wave notwithstanding, you hardly care about that in London. In most cases, we never had to wait more than 3-5 minutes for a train.
You’re charged by distance, not one time admittance, depending on which zones you travel to. You can get an oyster card, or if you have a credit card with a chip (ideally, one that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees), you can just swipe your card as you please.
Otherwise, I’d recommend getting the oyster card. And make sure you save that bad boy! I’ve been using the same one since 2015. It’s very sturdy, and it doesn’t expire the way New York City MetroCards do.
For getting to and from the airport, the Heathrow Express train is a good option that I’ve used in the past as a solo traveler. If you have the foresight to plan ahead, you can save a ton of money and get a ticket for about the same as the tube.
You could also just take the tube for much less money, but it will also take much more time, depending on where you’re headed. If you’re a party of two or more and have heavy luggage, consider springing for the Uber or cab if you’re able.
The Overground is, as I roughly understand it, an extended system of trains that take you to the outskirts of London. We used it to get to the Harry Potter Studio tour, for example.
You can use your oyster card. Train schedules are your friend. Make sure you’re taking the most direct route to your destination.
The National Rail train system is a network of train operators. It can be a bit confusing if you look under the hood too hard…
For example, we used Great Western Rail to get to Oxford for a couple of days. GWR is technically a part of the National Rail system, but its branding is unique to the rail line. I bought a ticket online and used it via the Great Western Railway app.
And according to a commenter who lived in London for many years, technically, “every single train ticket in the country outside of the London network where you can tap in and out is a National Rail ticket, regardless of which train operator looks after the line you’re on. There is no need to stress about it, just buy a ticket from whatever station you’re at: you can buy tickets at a Southeastern machine for example to take you on Great Western Rail, and some tickets cover multiple operators: my single ticket into London now changes from Southern to Southeastern when I change halfway through the journey.”
At the train station, we talked to some attendants, and they helped us avoid a panic that we’d bought the wrong ticket. Buying tickets in advance, even by a few days or so, can save quite a lot of money.
There’s assigned seating, but it was unclear when and why this was abided by (perhaps peak/off peak?). On the train, there it was a free-for-all in spite of having booked certain seats. On the train back, it was assigned seating. ::shrug::
Taking a train elsewhere
For a wild minute, I thought we might go to Paris as well, but there was too much to pack in.
The Eurostar is a popular option. It leaves from St. Pancras International train station.
The ride is anywhere from 2 hours and 15 mins to 2 hours and 40 minutes. Of course, you’ll need your passport. Small luggage only + personal item, but that’s pretty much where the similarities to air travel end.
Fares can be as little as $65 if you’re traveling late at night (not sure I’d do that, personally) or as much as $330 for peak time and first class train cars (there’s Standard, Standard Premier, and Business Premier).
Back in the day, I also took a five-hour train journey from Kings Cross to Scotland, which is a long ride, but if you book a daytime train, it’s a great opportunity to see the countryside!
Some photos from Scotland below:
I never understand the folks who take paid bus tours in London. The normal public transportation buses are positively thrilling compared to a run-of-the-mill American bus.
Just about every bus is double decker. Get a seat at the front on the second level where the giant window is!
Black cabs have a bad reputation for being expensive, but I found that for most manageable distances, it was the way to go for the convenience factor, especially if you are like me and like to pack a lot into one day. I learned that drivers are also pretty good at estimating costs of where you want to go, so there’s no harm in asking if you’re worried.
Also, I was blown away by how the vast majority of black cab taxi drivers really knew their way around by heart. I had just one driver use a navigation app. It was like a little piece of the old way of things, and that in and of itself was an experience.
Since 1865, London cabbies have been required to pass a grueling exam known as “the Knowledge,” which tests their ability to navigate to 100,000 businesses and landmarks entirely from memory. This test can take 3-4 years to complete, and scientists doing Alzheimer’s research are studying some cabbies’ brains to find better ways to diagnose and treat dementia. Read more about it here in the Washington post!
For longer distances, Uber is cheaper than cabs (e.g. to the airport). That said, I almost got caught in a bad jam waiting for an Uber to the airport. So as always, it’s a triangulation between cost, time, and convenience.
I was surprised to see Uber so entrenched. In fact—there are Uber BOATS on the Thames. Kim and I were taking the public transportation ferry, and were slack jawed at the sight of a giant white boat emblazoned with the Uber logo docked nearby.
Booking accommodations in London
I had a bit of an odd experience booking my hotel room this trip. Long story short, I’ve come to learn the virtues of booking direct with the hotel, where prices are often largely the same, and you have much more security in your booking than on third-party websites. Security is definitely ideal when you’re taking an international trip.
I have noticed over the year that even for a nicer hotel room in London, the spaces are incredibly tiny! We were comfortable in our hotel, but it really was just for resting at the end of the day and sleeping.
The silver lining is it forced us out of our hotel room pretty bright and early, so we made good use of our time each day.
Also, chalk it up to COVID, but I’ve been enjoying the relative security and assured cleanliness of hotel spaces and haven’t been as adventurous with my Airbnb-ing this past year.
However, cute and affordable Airbnbs can be found. Just be sure to check the fine print. A friend of mine was recently looking at Airbnbs and noticed that a decent number of listings included the provision of the owner coming in / out even for “entire place” bookings, as London real estate—as in any large city—is limited.
Things to do in London
TIP! London sleeps
After a certain hour, there’s really not a ton to do or see outside of the restaurant, bar, and
theater theatre scene, because everything else closes! London is a city that does indeed sleep.
There were some days where I wished I had timed dinner reservations to be on the later side (e.g., 7:30 or 8:00 instead of 6:00), as earlier dinner times cut into our daylight/activity time just a smidge, so keep that in mind.
These are just the museums that I’ve been to, but there are loads of others, particularly if you prefer to stray from the beaten path.
The Museum of Natural History is large and looked like a great spot for families, and there are countless smaller niche museums like the Freud Museum, the Garden Museum, the Charles Dickens Museum, etc.
The Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum may just be my favorite museum I’ve ever been to. It has a great blend of traditional art and antiquities, fashion, and culture. It’s a glamorous museum, dare I say.
They also keep their collections up to date with a practice they call “Rapid Response Collecting,” as history unfolds before our eyes! For example, they had nyc.gov anti-Asian hate artwork and Harry Styles outfits!
This trip, we went not once, but twice! The museum is free, but you’ll have to pay to see special exhibitions. Try to buy those tickets in advance.
There was an extremely cool and very popular Faberge exhibit that was sold out. The only way to see it was to buy the annual membership. We sprung for it, and didn’t regret it, as it also allowed us to see two other special exhibitions.
(It was the first time all of the Faberge items were assembled in one place—basically since the Bolshevik Revolution! They didn’t allow pictures, but it was pretty spectacular.)
We ended up leaving the museum for lunch, but wished we hadn’t. The cafeteria is an incredibly beautiful place, designed by William Morris, to sit down for afternoon tea or a full meal.
The food actually looked quite excellent, and the scone I had in the ritzy member’s room was the best I had on the entire trip. So feel free to enjoy an uninterrupted day at the museum!
Harrods is pretty close to the V&A museum, so if you’re interested in making a stop, try to plan accordingly! Let’s say you’re not interested in shopping. If you’re wandering by, it’s still worth a stroll through, as the architecture and design of the building is incredibly cool.
(And cheesy souvenirs for folks at home are located on the basement floor!)
The British Museum
The British Museum is huge, chock full of archaeological artifacts, and also free admission.
(For now, we will set aside the fact that many of these objects—as is often the case with big fancy museums in Western countries—are there as a result of colonial imperialism and outright theft from their place of origin.)
Personally I don’t have much interest in the minutiae of ancient antiquities, but back in 2015, on my solo college trip, I did take a very excellent albeit accidental 30-minute nap safely surrounded by elderly Chinese tourists in a hall of Greek and Roman sculptures.
(See also: Sarah’s accidental nap in the women and children’s section of a mosque in Istanbul.)
The Tate Modern has been on my list for a long time. I would say the space is cooler than anything.
Again, check those tickets for special exhibitions, because they sell out quickly (i.e. it wasn’t in the cards for me to finally catch the Yayoi Kusama infinity rooms).
We took the ferry there, but walked back to the North side of the Thames via the Millennium Bridge—a fun little spotting for Harry Potter movie nerds. (Here’s a little more on the finer points of the North side vs. the South side of the Thames.)
The Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour in Leavesden
I’m classifying this Studio Tour as a museum because it is JAMPACKED with memorabilia, props, and behind the scenes tidbits. As mentioned, I’ll be sharing a post specific to the Harry Potter studio tour, and it is most certainly worth the day’s trip if you have the time.
If you don’t have time to go, or you’re a minority in a traveling group of non-Potterheads (maybe find new friends), there are plenty of Harry Potter activities sprinkled about London.
There’s the cheesy platform 9¾ photo op and shop at King’s Cross Station. You could see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre. You can head to the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition, House of Minalima (an art gallery/shop owned by two visual artists who worked on the films), and House of Spells, a magical memorabilia shop.
(For anyone living in New York City, I can confirm that the giant NYC Harry Potter Store on Broadway and 22nd street has almost all of the exact same merch as the studio tour in Leavesden—perhaps even more. You’re welcome.)
You can see a show and/or take a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre.
I left Shakespeare pretty firmly behind in high school, but we saw it just about as soon as we got off the ferry on the way to the Tate, and there was a poet for hire parked nearby, whose services I employed to commemorate MEETING SIMU LIU IN CHINATOWN! More on that later.
SEE THE BIG TICKET TOURIST SITES (HRH, etc.)
We spent half a day on these classic sightseeing spots in London. After rising bright and early, we took a bus from Lancaster Gate (where our hotel was) to Westminster Abbey. We walked up the road to Big Ben, caught a view of the London Eye, and proceeded on to Trafalgar Square.
From there, we entered St. James Park where we took in the royal majesty of it all.
In the park, there was a flock of wild parakeets which we speculated maybe were a gift to the Queen, but probably just escaped from a Victorian era aviary and took to the London climate. People were enjoying feeding them and trying to get them to land on their shoulders.
At the time of our visit, they were preparing for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee AND a marathon race, so the view of Buckingham Palace was more obstructed than usual, but there was a particularly glorious flower display already in place, and it was cool to see the hustle and bustle.
Both Kim and I had already done the thing where we stared down beefeaters to see if and when they would move, so we largely passed through.
Some related sights are the Tower of London. We contemplated going, but it would have been a bit of a trek, not to mention somewhat expensive.
If you want to get your royal jewels kick, there are a ton of really exquisite pieces exhibited at the V&A museum along with fun modern additions like a giant butterfly ring worn by Beyonce (it actually flutters)! Reminder: general admission is free. The Tower of London may have the crown jewels, but it doesn’t have Queen Bey’s!
I didn’t know this until researching this post, but you can also buy tickets to tour Kensington Palace (AKA, William & Kate’s house).
Fun fact, back in 2015, I toured the palace, as there was an exhibition of Princess Diana’s dresses on show.
After that, the ritziest thing I did in Kensington was walk through the park and check out the TK Maxx there (that’s British TJ Maxx). You can see the king and queen’s state apartments (that is William III and Mary II of 1689—no walkthroughs of Prince William’s closet), and the palace gardens. You can also have afternoon tea there, which if I’m being honest, sounds pretty enjoyable. I have more thoughts on afternoon tea later.
SHOP LONDON’S MARKETS
There are loads of markets in London. If you want a comprehensive look at many of them, take a look at this Suitcase Monkey video. Below are three I’ve been to and one that’s been on my list for a long time!
This is a covered market filled with trinkets and food stalls lining the edges. There are also some smaller shops and more mainstream brands in the surrounding area.
I found a pretty great Bridgerton-inspired dress from a street vendor here which absolutely smashed at a friend’s wedding. I’d say it’s an enjoyable and quick little stop when you’re on the way to something else.
Portobello Road is a quaint stretch of roads lined with shops and some stalls in Notting Hill. The last time I went was in 2015. I remember there were lots of trinkets, souvenirs, and antiques (silverware, tea sets, books) that felt a bit beyond my budget, so it was more of a quick walkthrough to take in the distinctive pastel architecture of the neighborhood than anything else.
If you’re looking for things like vintage Barbour jackets, I do remember that it was positively busting with them. These days, I think you can find some more modern clothing items as well.
This is the oldest food market in London. It’s a fun spot to go to, but it’s on the south side, so try to plan your day of south side activities to avoid long trips to and fro.
We skipped it for that reason on this most recent trip, but there’s plenty to see, and if you’ve got a kitchen during your stay, it’s a really fun stop to grab some provisions, a snack, or a quick meal. There are artisanal ingredients of all kinds, like venison burgers from the Scottish highlands. I got a meat pie there and felt very English.
If you get a pie, do yourself a favor and do it up right with gravy and mash (potato or pea or better yet, both).
My Pieminister pie back in 2015 was gravy-less and suffered for it. Chalk it up to being young, dumb, and short on pocket money. (I rectified my mistakes in Oxford, so stay tuned for some A+ gravy action in that post.)
Columbia Road Flower Market
A market I’ve wanted to go to for years but have had trouble making happen is the Columbia Road Flower Market! It’s a smidge far east to be convenient, and is really only open on Sundays from 8am-2pm so it’s a very narrow window. But you’ll find beautiful, well-priced blooms and little shops to peruse.
EXPLORE LONDON’S NEIGHBORHOODS
Like New York, London is best understood through the lenses of different neighborhoods. I’m no expert—in fact, I’m still a total rube—as it can honestly be a bit confusing, especially if you’ve got a packed itinerary.
So here’s my best shot at giving you a sense of each of these neighborhood’s vibes. I’m not going to get into too many specific recommendations, as there are simply too many! I’ll cover more restaurants and things later on.
And of course, this is just a sampling of neighborhoods and is nowhere near comprehensive. In alphabetical order:
It’s not called the Chelsea Flower Show for nothing! As self-professed gardening nerds and fans of Monty Don, I wanted to make two stops in particular.
One was the Ivy Chelsea Garden for an immaculate interior where we could get a beautiful (albeit probably overpriced) full English breakfast surrounded by decadent floral patterns.
The other was the Chelsea Gardener, a large garden center filled with casual gardeners as well as professionals perusing goods for their chic London clientele.
It was a bit out of the way of some of the other things we had on our itinerary, and was a bit sleepier and residential, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Covent Garden is an iconic London neighborhood. We went in the morning on a weekday, so it was quite quiet and there wasn’t a lot going on (foreshadowing: don’t do this).
There’s the old apple market, which is quite commercialized for better or worse. Then there are spots like Neil’s Yard and the Jubilee Market to explore.
To be honest, I wish I had done a smidge more research, because the Jubilee Market was a short walk from the sleepy Apple Market.
Also, if we had gone in the evening, we could have popped into a pub like Mr. Foggs, known for its wide selection of gins (not that I like gin, but it’s fun to imagine that I’m a person who does). Missed opportunity that I’ll have to rectify on my next trip!
Marylebone is posh and quietly cool. It’s a place to stroll, admire, and in general take it easy. We had breakfast at Ottolenghi in Marylebone which was delectable of course, and walked the back streets through some little squares until we got to the Marylebone high street.
There, you’ll find an old travel bookstore called Daunt Books that has become a bit of a tourist spot for its picture perfect interior and selection of travel books organized by location.
Here is where you’ll find some beautiful restaurants as well. Sometimes there are street fairs, so you may get lucky and stumble upon one.
Mayfair is the poshest neighborhood of them all! This is where you’ll find lots of chic shopping as well as sites and sounds that feel truly satisfying to your inner child who watched the 1998 Nancy Meyers classic, The Parent Trap.
We literally walked by the Royal Arcade, which is a kind of beautiful alleyway with shops tucked inside, and I gasped, because it’s where Lindsay Lohan as Hallie pretending to be Annie asks mom Elizabeth James about the F-word (as in her father). I was beyond tickled.
Bond Street is home to all the luxury design goods you could possibly want, and you can head to the nearby Fortnum & Mason department store for tea, tea accessories, home goods, and a cafe (technically bordering Mayfair in St. James). Unlike Covent Garden, this is a good place to head on a weekday, so you can escape shopping crowds.
Just be a girl standing in front of a boy, and ask him to love you.
Kidding. I think the biggest attraction of Notting Hill is Portobello Road Market and the Notting Hill movie punchlines.
In all seriousness, it’s a beautiful neighborhood filled with quaint rows of very nice houses for aimless strolls (and a great place to be for an Airbnb!).
A similar vibe of Notting Hill, there’s a park of the same name north of Regent’s Park with an incredible view (yes, on an actual hill) of London.
It’s an excellent way to get your steps in if you’d rather be outdoors than in a museum or shop. A 40 minute walk from Primrose Hill is Little Venice, where you can see houseboats docked in the canals.
It’s a fun walk to catch up with a friend, which is exactly what I did back in 2017. (The Regent’s Canal Walk is a similar option, though you’ll find that in Angel, another neighborhood.)
Shoreditch is to London as the East Village is to New York. It’s young and a bit grungey with plenty of little vintage shops and fashionable haunts. There’s a great underground vintage bazaar filled with vendors where you’re sure to find something good or at least memorable!
A friend of mine recently told me that he thinks the really cool and happening parts of London are even further east of Shoreditch, but I didn’t have a chance to explore that far. Next time, a venture to neighborhoods like Bethnal Green may be in order!
Soho is home to good restaurants, nightlife, Chinatown, and the London West End theater (I mean, theatre) scene on Shaftesbury Avenue. We took in two shows during our trip, and spent a decent time in Chinatown exploring what it has to offer.
Seeing a show in the West End
I like to think we got a good taste of the new and old West End. We saw Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cinderella at my cousin’s insistence—but it actually was pretty enjoyable. We also saw Jonathan Bailey’s play (it ran for a short time March-June 2022), the NSFW title of which I will not write out here! But it was excellent.
Both tickets were easily procured online, and there are plenty of restaurants nearby to have a pre-show dinner. Chinatown was a short walk from both theaters. Just sayin’.
Where to eat in London
The first time I went to London, I was a penny-pinching college student. I hardly remember the meals I had with the exception of a few.
I do remember that one of my dinners was Dishoom, and that a subsequent dinner was Dishoom leftovers (even as a solo diner, I don’t have the good sense not to overorder) eaten with a Tesco packet of broccolini that I’m pretty sure I steamed in the hotel tea kettle. I’m not averse to a little hotel room cooking!
In this section, I’m going to provide some general advice and then I’ll include a list of all the restaurants down below for you to peruse.
My filtering mechanism for some of the more formal spots ended up being places where we could get reservations, as it does seem to be more of a reservation town.
Space is certainly reserved for walk-ins, but I found that most restaurants I was interested in going to had a booking system like Resy or Seven Rooms.
1. Have some traditional English fare.
Let’s get the punchlines and stereotypes about how bad English food is out of the way. Personally, I’ve not really had bad food in London, merely mediocre food, but more often really delicious food, and that includes ye olde English fare.
Now, I know someone’s gonna laugh at me for being a tourist, but I only have three notable recommendations on this front.
#1 – Have a full English breakfast.
#2 – Don’t skip the fish and chips.
#3 – Go to St. John—more specifically, St. John Bread & Wine which is the more “exciting” counterpart to the original London stalwart from chef Fergus Henderson.
Bonus: Try the black pudding
Special love note for black pudding—which I know any Scots among us will appreciate. I had black pudding at Anstruther Fish Bar in Scotland under the auspices of a native Scotsman (my friend Elizabeth’s boyfriend at the time—it was all very Kate and William. If Kate were a Jersey girl, and William were just a lad from Scotland).
It was deep-fried, and yes, it literally is a deep-fried sausage the color of licorice. To be honest, it looked a bit gruesome, and I didn’t know what to expect.
I loved it.
It was mild, but also well-spiced and had that intense satisfaction only animal products can bring. I wouldn’t go so far as to eat it with ketchup, but it was very enjoyable and had a depth of flavor I really liked. (Let it also be known that I am a fan of Spanish morcilla.)
That said, I found the generic black pudding I had with my English breakfast this time kind of disappointing, so don’t let one bad experience mar the good name of black puds.
2. Limit your hypey restaurants!
As with any big city, there’s no shortage of hypey Instagrammable restaurants. As a tourist, it’s tempting to eat at these places exclusively.
But I am here to tell you to limit them. It’s a load of money and usually mediocre food (do I speak from experience, puhhaps…).
Here are some photos of the absurd bathroom at Sketch and the famed dining room, so you don’t have to spend the money that I regret offloading there.
3. Check out Chinatown.
Like Chinatown in New York, Chinatown in London is at risk of gentrification, with old, Cantonese family-owned businesses under threat. Joy King Lau, a London dim sum institution, recently closed shop due to rent increases.
I have to say, this quote from writer James Hansen rang true: “Consider the deliberate reconfiguration of Chinatown into a TikTok-optimised, mono-dish playground of bubblewaffles and fried chicken, while Cantonese institutions that nobody wanted to disappear are forced to shut up shop.”
That said, there are still mom and pop’s holding down the fort in the area, so seek them out and support them by eating some delicious food!
We polled all of you on Instagram to gather what feels like a pretty comprehensive list of Chinatown restaurants. I’m not sure how many of them are family joints, but check it out down below.
4. Indulge in all the Indian food!
It goes without saying that one should enjoy Indian food while in London. Curry is one of England’s national dishes after all.
The one spot that will pop up at the top of many lists is Dishoom, a Bombay-style Irani cafe. It’s delicious.
I’ve eaten there three times, taking my cousin there on this trip for her first time. Alas, I wish that we had had more meal times for other Indian spots, as I think I’m ready to do a deeper dive into less hyped restaurants (see, once again, point #2).
That said, I don’t think my missing out on some of London’s other curry hotspots was the most offensive thing in the world, as I do live very close to another global Indian food hotspot: Journal Square’s Little India. If you know you know.
5. Try Sri Lankan food.
This trip, I was able to give Sri Lankan food a whirl, which I’ve been meaning to try. It was incredibly delicious.
Rotis, fish curry, and a bone marrow varuval will forever live in my head as a top food moment. There are a few spots in and around NYC and NJ that I’m going to try in the future!
6. Grab some Lebanese food.
My dad kept insisting that we find some. Alas there were simply not enough meals in a day! This guide from Eater is a starting place for my next trip.
7. Go to a pub.
Personally, I’m not a big drinker. (I’d rather spend my coins and calories on a burger than a beer.) Kim is also doomed with the much dreaded Asian alcohol allergy. So we didn’t do much pub crawling, but it is a huge attraction, particularly for Americans who will marvel at being able to luxuriate outside with open glasses.
While we didn’t drink, I did love seeing all the different pub names around London. I learned that in ye olde days, because the majority of people couldn’t read, pub signs would incorporate animals and other insignia leading to names that were easily referred to like, “the Porcupine” and “Three Goats Heads.”
8. For afternoon tea, just have tea and something sweet or salty.
Afternoon tea is something that I’d always wanted to do but was always too overwhelmed by, whether it was choosing a place to go or the eye-watering price of a pot of tea, some tiny sandwiches, and morsels of sweets. This trip, I was DETERMINED to experience it.
I researched all the lists of the best afternoon tea places to go. Believe it or not, three weeks out, many of the places I wanted to go to were booked up!
The reason why these two places are the way to go? FREE REFILLS ON TEA AND SANDWICHES. Like…WUT?!
The place we ended up at was good in that it was mostly savories, but bad in that they charged for every little thing and I had no idea that free refills was even one of the criteria I should have been vetting against! Oh how I wish I had known this information when I was actually planning the trip.
Another thing: I like savories over sweets. I’d sooner pay for double the amount of sandwiches and just a couple of scones rather than all the fanciful, super sweet desserts. (Hence why the food refills nugget of information is so key.)
Furthermore, you don’t really have much room to eat all that ANYWAYS unless you’re willing to linger for 2 hours over your tea, which we didn’t quite have the time allocated to do (this is a philosophical choice on how “scheduled” you want to be).
Given the lack of knowledge on where to get complimentary refills, our best “afternoon tea” experiences were when we simply found ourselves in need of an afternoon pick me up and ordered tea along with a scone, a little slice of cake, or normal-sized egg salad sandwich to split, and carried on with our lives without the fanfare.
(I will admit I can only say this without regret or remorse because I have now had fanciful said afternoon tea experience. So you do you!)
Londoners please share your recs!
The London restaurant scene is so bursting with great options that it’s really tough to narrow things down! So please drop your recommendations in the comments! Bonus points for good classic English or Scottish fare and down-to-earth Indian spots.
Restaurants we ate at!
Dishoom: As mentioned earlier, this is a famous must-go spot, but I think I’ll be ready to explore some Indian restaurants that are a bit off the beaten path next time I find myself in London.
Don’t skip the okra fries or the ruby chicken (which to us Americans is the closest to Chicken Tikka Masala), and the keema pau was one of our favorites. Get a reservation. The walk-in line moves, but it snakes down the block!
Dumpling Legends – Unfortunately, being just the two of us, we could only order so much at any one spot. But we had a delicious (and giant) beef noodle soup there and a steamed egg dish with salted duck egg and century egg that I will be recreating for the blog! If I lived in London, I would happily return.
Hoppers – Sri Lankan food is the discovery of 2022. Everything was delicious, from the delicate fish curry to the bone marrow varuval—a heaped mound of bones, a couple of rotis, and a heavenly curry to dip it all in. Inhaled is the word. There are three locations.
Ivy Chelsea Garden – We went here largely because I got totally overwhelmed trying to find a good, cheap, non-touristy full English breakfast. In the end, I figured I might as well have my overpriced beans on toast in a beautiful environment. Please sound off in the comments if you have recommendations for best breakfast spots!
Orient London – This dim sum was very good and a solid choice. Though I will say preparations of certain items like taro puffs were different from what I’m used to here in the Tri-state area. All in all, I would go back again. They also had some unique selections that you don’t see offered very often at dim sum, like a salty fish and chicken rice clay pot.
Honorable mention: Joy King Lau – With this venerable spot for classic dim sum now closed, I regret not having given them my business. But I promise you I have a good reason as to why.
So it’s earlyish on a weekday, and Chinatown’s not very crowded. I knew from my internet research that Joy King Lau was the place to go, but that day I found myself waffling between the Orient and Joy King Lau, largely because the Orient had a pre-emptive line of people waiting for it to open, two of whom I sensed were native Hong Kongers.
We were going back and forth between the restaurants, investigating the menus, and just as I was waffling to go back to the Orient to compare their menu one final time, I turn around and see SIMU LIU. Simu Liu of Kim’s Convenience binges, Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and late night TV pop and lockin’ fame!
My mouth was very inelegantly agape, and our eyes met—mine shocked and taking it all in, his sheepish and hoping that I didn’t scream his name in the middle of the street.
There were many “oh my gods” and one pseudo marriage proposal. I just about lost my marbles. All the while, he was very kind and took a picture with me, even though you could tell he was lamenting the fact that he’d been THIS CLOSE to sneaking into Joy King Lau before there were any crowds.
With her eyes on the original prize, Kim tried to ask him if Joy King Lau was the better choice, but alas, he had simply been told to show up there for an interview and wasn’t familiar.
All in all, I fangirled HARD. Embarrassingly so. So naturally, as soon as he disappeared inside Joy King Lau, Kim and I scurried to the safety of the Orient where I wouldn’t have to feel like a full-on stalker.
I considered it an auspicious sign, as Simu Liu was famously fired from his boring accounting job a handful of years back on April 11 (I have of course, read his memoir). This past year, I found myself unexpectedly in a similar position on the exact same day—jumping ship from my day job to work on the blog full-time! Sometimes the random universe winks.
Ottolenghi – Ottelenghi has a special place in my heart, as it’s right at the sweet spot of decadence, flavor, and wholesomeness that I look for in a good plate of food.
The rainbow array of beautiful little cakes, muffins, desserts, and brunch baked goods is impossible to resist. We loaded up and saved them for evening cups of tea back at the hotel. There are a handful of locations dotted around popular neighborhoods. The one in Spitalfields is ideal for a sit-down meal at a table or the bar.
Poppie’s Fish and Chips – There are a few locations in the city. The one I went to back in the day was in Shoreditch. It was fine, but Rock & Sole was better!
Rock & Sole Plaice – Easily mistaken as a touristy spot for fish and chips because they’re not shy about telling you how old (the oldest in London in fact…est. 1871!) and how good they are. But it was delicious.
Crunchy but not greasy. Great chips. Good light beer to go with. Best fish and chips I’ve ever had, easily.
Try to make it there on the earlier side, because they will sell out of their most popular pies and fish options like haddock. We forgot to get a picture of the actual food because it was gobbled.
Sketch – If my photos earlier weren’t enough to satiate you, know that I think I may have been happier here for brunch or lunch. The environs simply weren’t good enough to make up for the mediocre, unadventurous food.
St. John’s / St. John Bread & Wine – Absolutely delicious. The waiter had to interpret some (okay, almost all) of the very British names of ingredients (it was the first time I really felt the great English / American divide on language), but it was one of my favorite meals. And the POTATOES. Oh the potatoes. Do not skip out on the chips! The potato LOML. Fantastic wine selection too!
The Zetter Townhouse Marylebone – The place we landed on for afternoon tea. The restaurant is high on kitsch factor, but as I now realize, low on value.
Next time, I want to skip high tea entirely or snag an elusive reservation at Claridge’s or The Savoy per the coveted refills on tea and food feature.
The Woks of Life Instagram followers’ London Chinese restaurant recommendations, from A-Z:
Note that we didn’t vet every single one of these, and it’s just a starting point!
- A. Wong (Michelin starred, hard to get a res)
- Beijing Dumplings
- Bun House
- Dim Sum Duck
- Din Tai Fung
- Dragon Castle (near elephant and castle tube station)
- Dumplings Legend
- Gerald’s Corner
- Golden Dragon
- Golden Phoenix
- Hong Kong City
- Imperial China
- Jen Cafe (Soho)
- Min Jiang (Kensington)
- New Loong Fong
- Plum Valley
- Royal China Club (Baker St)
- The Orient
- Wan Chai Corner
- Wing Yip Superstore (Cricklewood) – There is a very good dim sum restaurant inside; another recommendation from our cousin who lives in London!
- Yautcha (modern/posh)
- Yi Ban
GENERAL CHINESE RESTAURANTS
- A. wong
- Authentic Lanzhou La mean (Leicester Sq)
- Bang Bang Oriental
- Bao (Taiwanese)
- Barshu (Sichuan)
- Bun House (Soho)
- Di Home Dumplings (Northern Chinese)
- Dragon Castle
- Dumpling Shack (Spitalfields market)
- Etles (Walthamstow, Xinjiang food)
- Food House
- Four Seasons (NOT the hotel, for duck, Queensway or Chinatown)
- Gold Mine (Bayswater for Cantonese roast duck)
- Golden Gate Bakery (Queensway or Chinatown)
- Happy Lamb
- Hunan (Sloan Sq)
- Imperial Treasure
- Lanzhou La Mian Noodle Bar (Leicester Sq)
- Laxsa (Soho)
- Little Sichuan
- Mailinda (Isle of Dogs)
- Mama Lan
- Mandarin Kitchen (seafood, Queensway)
- Master Wei Xi’an – Our cousin who lives in London recommended this!
- Murger Han (noodles)
- My Old Place (Sichuan, Liverpool street)
- New Fortune Cookie (Queensway)
- Phoenix Palace
- Pleasant Lady (Jianbing – in Chinatown and Spitalfields)
- Pot & Rice (Cantonese clay pot rice)
- Royal London China
- Shu La La
- Sichuan Chef (Chelsea)
- Sichuan Folk (east London)
- Silk Road (Camberwell)
- Stag City (Xinjiang)
- The Good earth (Brompton Road)
- Three Uncles Cantonese (multiple locations)
- Tianjin Dumpling
- Tofu Vegan (Islington)
- TPT Cafe (HK classics)
- Turpan Uyghur
- Wong Kei (cheap)
- Vegan Planet
- Xi’an Bang Bang
- Xi’an Impressions
- Yipin China (Angel)
Hope you enjoyed this post, and that it helps you plan a future trip to London!