How many times have we allowed our need to control a situation to ruin what could’ve possibly been an awesome experience? Having everything mapped out and planned from beginning to end with no room for surprises can make for an extremely boring life and an even worse vacation. So this time I decided to do things differently. My sister planned a trip to London this summer and for the first time ever, I booked a flight with NO solid plans and NO itinerary. I made a conscious decision to take my “travel journalist” hat off, loosen the reigns and just go with the flow. What I discovered in the process turned out to be quite a memorable experience. While Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby and Big Ben are all “must-see” attractions, many times those “not-so-typical” spots or the places that you just happen upon are the ones that make the trip worth while. Here are 5 things to do and places to see in London that may not be top of mind to visit when you arrive.
1.) BOOK A GRAFFITI AND STREET ART TOUR
This “name-your-own price” tour in the East End is perfect for creatives and lovers of raw artistry. Our guide (who chose to remain anonymous when discussing his street art name so as to avoid flack from local authorities), takes guests through Bricklane, Shoreditch, White Chapel and other areas while discussing the history and importance of graffiti and street art. You’ll see some of the most eye-catching and powerful murals created by artists from all over the world and check out some uniquely creative street art. Did I mention that the tour begins at a quaint little coffee shop called Exmouth that gives tour-goers any pastry and beverage of their choice for only five pounds?
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2.) HAVE DINNER AND DESSERT AT SAID DAL 1923
The oldest chocolate factory in Rome has only one other location. It’s in London’s Soho area and people (along with myself) will stand in line for an hour OUTSIDE IN THE RAIN for a chance to get inside of this tiny shop and discover why it’s dubbed “the best hot chocolate in town”. The classic Italian dishes like the ravioli with spinach and ricotta are mouthwatering, the hot chocolate tastes like a melted candy bar in a cup and the array of pastries drenched in your choice of milk chocolate, dark chocolate or hazelnut are way too rich for more than one bite. Decadent doesn’t even begin to describe the experience!
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3.) STAY AT THE GROSVENOR HOTEL
Located in the heart of Central London and connected to Victoria Station, this hotel is walking distance from popular attractions like St. James Park, Spencer House and Buckingham Palace. The hotel’s interior decor with its high ceilings, chandeliers and Juliet balconies make guests feel like they too are royalty. Be sure to book a fancy afternoon tea experience with fruit scones, finger sandwiches and champagne. Or enjoy a delicious breakfast spread in the executive lounge.
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4.) HAVE COCKTAILS AT CALLOOH CALLAY
Along a dark cobblestone road in Shorditch is a sexy and fun speakeasy with unique craft cocktails. The award-winning bar is split into three areas that include, one main area with dim lights and plush seating, a back room with eclectic, mix-matched furniture (one of the seats is actually a tub sliced in half) and an upstairs lounge with a frequently changing cocktail menu with some of the best bartenders from the area. We got to experience the upstairs lounge during their “Women Empowerment” themed week. Female bartenders from Berlin mixed cocktails like the “Smokey Smith” with Tequila Blanco, Creme de Cacao and grapefruit bitters that put their male counterparts in the main bar to shame.
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5.) EAT AT POPPIES FISH & CHIPS
You didn’t really think that I was gonna end this piece without telling you where to get a great fish and chips dish did you? Since 1945, this 1950’s themed, jukebox playing joint serves up grilled or fried cod, haddock, sole, halibut and more with golden fries and homemade tartar sauce. Waiters and waitresses are dressed in retro diner-style outfits and takeout orders are wrapped in faux newspaper. For those of you with a brave palate, they also have battered sausages and jellied eels. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT ONE! Try a pale ale or an organic cider while you’re there!
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6.) **BONUS** (FOR INSTAGRAM PURPOSES ONLY) EAT IN AN IGLOO AT THE COPPA CLUB
Calamari and cocktails while dining in a makeshift igloo with the most perfect view of the London Tower bridge is an obnoxiously pleasurable experience. The beautifully furnished igloos with timber frames, wicker chairs and sliding doors were transformed into “paradise pods” with a Tulum theme when we visited. With couches and seats filled with colorful pillows, lanterns and palm trees, it is definitely a picture worthy, social media moment to make your friends jealous! I would suggest that you book in advance. Not everyone has “the touch” like me and can walk in a restaurant and automatically get a table. LOL! If you REALLY want to impress your date, book an igloo for dinner. The night time view of the bridge along with a heated igloo and sexy music is a great way to spend the evening.
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I was happy that I let my sister plan this trip. It taught me that I don’t always need to know what happens next…that sometimes the beauty is in letting go and letting things be.
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***All photos courtesy of Jay Georgio Photography***