I’m lucky enough to get to travel internationally for work. This last trip to London left me staring at concrete walls for most of the time, but after my assignment concluded I was left with one day to really explore the city.
They say the best part of any experience are the relationships that either build or begin because of it. So naturally, the best part of this trip was reconnecting with two of my great friends that moved to the UK a year and a half ago. Without them, my day in London wouldn’t be nearly as cool. So David, Tim, thanks for showing me the city like a local. This post’s for you :)
London very much has that old world feeling. Everywhere you go there’s a story to tell. As you walk down the cobblestone streets you can almost hear the click clack of horse carriages trot by. It’s so easy to transport yourself back in time or into the thick of a high fantasy novel while you’re exploring this land of history. It’s a place where the old, the new, the real, and the imaginary merge.
This day starts with the new. My lovely hosts took me to Caravan Kings Cross, a fantastic brunch spot in you guessed it, Kings Cross. The restaurant itself sits in an old concrete building that was once used to house and sell grain. Today it feeds hungry Londoners and houses art school residents in the flats upstairs. Now, I’m not here to describe my food in iambic pentameter and post zoomed in shots of my runny eggs. But I will tell you the baked eggs and avocado toast were amazing, the coffee is fresh and roasted onsite, and the service is friendly and prompt. To summarize, a great way to kick off the day and catch up with old friends.
From there we walked along the Regent’s Canal, video games, dragons, and Harry Potter among the topics of conversation. The windy, uneven pathway eventually led us to the old Camden market. What were once stables in a previous life, the original architecture still stands and has been transformed into a massive outdoor market. The horses have since moved out but left their stalls for future habitation, where local artisans have set up shop selling trinkets, apparel, snacks, and libations.
I have to stop here – this is what I love about London. Instead of knocking everything down they keep the history of the building alive and restore the exterior, while turning the interior into something that reflects the modern time. You can walk past any old brick building and it’s probably had 5 previous lives, starting as a millinery shop and ending as a pet hotel.
Anyway, a couple things you can’t miss while exploring Camden Market. One, the Dutch pancake station. Oh my these were the most decadent, angelic confections I have ever had. Tip: Ask for extra Nutella. Two, visit Cyberdog. It is the loudest, most stimulating, most electric store I have ever been in. Really, there’s nothing like it. What drew me in was the two story neon green Transformer out front, paired with the go-go dancers and deafening electronic music. Three, find a bar with live music. Camden is known for their underground music scene and is where a lot of famous musicians got their start.
There was only one request I had that day, and it was at some point to trek back to where the magic started. To where a young boy, just shy of 12 years old, boarded a train that took him to a fantastical world that changed his life. To where a young California girl once dreamed of going, once she received her Hogwarts acceptance letter in the mail. You may not be able to board the Hogwarts Express, but Platform 9 3/4 is a place that actually exists.
From Camden we took one of London’s famous double decker red’s back to the imaginary, Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station. I’ll admit, a bit of the magic was stolen when I saw the queue of fans snaked between stantions and the incorrect location of Harry’s shopping cart, but I was excited nonetheless. This was a place where the cast had actually stood, a hall where JK Rowling once walked when her ideas were barely words on paper, and a physical setting to the ultimate fantasy.
We stepped out of this imaginary world, where we played rambunctious Hogwarts students amongst a station full of muggles, and back into reality. Unfortunately, the real is never as fun as the strange, but I like to think we make the best of it. On a high from a day of adventure, we walked along the River Thames, stopping at local pubs for glasses of mulled wine, past major landmarks like the London Eye and the Globe Theatre, not really having a destination in sight. We were never in a rush to get anywhere. We just took in the architecture, the sounds, the smells, and enjoyed every minute of it. We had a quick dinner at a taco truck along the South Bank Walk, played in the fake snow at the Christmas market, and wandered into the bustling high street of Chinatown. We concluded our evening at the ECC (Experimental Cocktail Club), where Sherlock Holmes himself could have frequented. Located in an unassuming building tucked between Dim Sum restaurants, if you’re not looking for this cocktail lounge you will miss it. Inside is dimly lit and decorated with vintage furniture, where they serve cocktails in medicine bottles with a side of speakeasy. If you like mixology, I highly recommend this place.
Traveling is a passion of mine and it’s where I turn for inspiration. If you love London as much as I do, I’d love to hear your experience there and suggestions for my next visit. And remember, “wherever you go, go with all your heart” – Confucius.