London: Area by Area
So many people told me that once we settled into our home, we wouldn’t leave our borough. I refused to believe them and happily went exploring around London on any given day, with my two year old in tow. But that was the first year. By the time our second year rolled along, I had ticked off most things on my ‘to do’ list and I wasn’t quite as determined to prove everyone wrong. On top of that, we’d made a couple of friends in London by that stage – and settled into a bit of a routine with Saturday sport and life in general. In saying all that, London is forever changing and my ‘to do list’ is too.
Fulham and surrounds
Things to do: Bishops Park has a huge playground for all ages as well as a skate bowl and basketball court for the older ones. It’s on the river so there are lovely footpaths for bike-riding and in Summer, the kids flock to the fountains and sandy ‘beach’ for a paddle and play. Nearby is Fulham Palace, where you can have a picnic under a tree or explore the palace vegetable garden. Further along the river, is London’s famed Hurlingham Club. This is the place where Fulham’s elite mix with royalty at a quintessentially British private members club with manicured lawns, lakes and pools - as well as enough tennis courts to host an international tennis tournament (which it does... the week before Wimbledon each year!) In Summer, guests spill out into the gardens where they're treated to tea under the trees - it is so very traditional and fancy, you'll feel like you're on the set of the latest Jane Austin movie.
Best Coffee: Fulham Palace. Not only is the location fabulous but the brew is one of London’s best. Australian coffee shop, Antipode at Hammersmith also has a line out the door that's well worth the wait.
Drinking: The Crabtree is our local favourite. It’s a great spot on the river for lunch in the warmer months, the Sunday roasts are fantastic, as is the atmosphere! The Whitehorse, the Duke on the Green and the Mitre are all regular haunts for us, with the Brown Cow and the Blue Boat on the river also worthy of a mention. Another is Amuse Bouche at Parsons Green - it’s not a pub but a champagne bar that can get quite lively on Friday and Saturday evenings. Il Locale is also a great spot for large groups.
Eating: Ardiciocca is an absolute must-do for gluten-free folk – the entire menu is GF including the tiramisu! Papa Ciccia also has brilliant pizzas, we go to Hamgipak for Korean and The Harwood Arms does an upscale pub meal (try the handmade scotch eggs).
Further north: Pergola on the roof at Olympia and the Prince, near Earls Court both have a market-hall vibe – you can buy food from a choice of pop-up restaurants and get your drinks at the bar.
Things to do: the Chelsea Physics Garden is fabulous. It’s been here since 1673, when the Apothecaries established it to grow medicinal plants. It’s a very calming place to visit (even with a toddler) and you can treat yourself to morning tea in the garden café. The Saatchi Gallery is also very popular but most people come to this area for eating, drinking and shopping. Kings Road is one of my favourite shopping strips in London – mainly for its convenience. All the usual High Street brands are here along with Rococo Chocolates, Anthropologie and a few pop-up boutiques dotted throughout.
Drinking: Barts is a speakeasy on Sloane Ave – which takes ‘speakeasy’ to a whole new level. You’ll need to knock on the door and say the magic password through a sliding peephole. The cocktails are worth it though. You'll also have to work for your drinks at The Bletchley – where one must use WW2 enigma machines to crack various codes and concoct tailor-made cocktails. This is a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime type thing to do in a small group but you don’t want to be in a hurry to get your first drink!
Eating: Lots of choices at the Farmer’s Markets but Phat Phuc noodles, Blue Bird Café and the Ivy all come highly recommended.
My other favourite shopping strip. Not too much hustle and bustle but with some great places to eat and with Portabello Markets around the corner, you can’t really go wrong.
Shops: I discovered Sezanne while in New York. Back then, there was only one other shop and it was in Paris. Now, London has one too. This is French fashion at its unassuming best and you won’t get better than the customer service here. Westbourne Grove/Ledbury and Portabello Roads are packed with hidden gems including the Cloth Shop for all things furnishings and fabrics and La Plaza Deli where you can stock up on Spanish delicacies for rock-bottom prices. Further north on Golborne Road, there are a swag of antique shops which are usually open on Fridays and Saturdays when the antique markets open.
Eating: So many choices here! Ottolenghi has a take-away service; there’s brilliant brunch and coffee at Granger & Co; we love Pizza East for burrata, braesaola and wood-fired pizzas; and it’s hard to beat the Indian food from Durbar Tandoori – a family-run restaurant serving regional dishes since 1956. This is a firm family favourite – and the kids most-requested restaurant.
Drinking: Beach Blanket Babylon (where Princes Harry and William have been known to frequent), The Ladbroke Arms and The Champion.
Things to do: The shopping around here is exceptional – there are some gorgeous pop-up boutiques as well as well-renowned favourites like Daunt Books. I also love Le Labo perfumerie, French Sole and Bimba y Lola, while Alfie’s Antique Market and Matches are also worth checking out.
Eating: Eat-in or take away at La Fromagerie – an amazing deli/cheese shop. I also love The Providores (coffee is good here too) and The Ivy while Selfridges Food Hall is just around the corner.
Drinking: There are loads of good pubs around here. Purl (50 Blandford St) and The Mandeville Hotel are fabulous for a bit of a treat.
Soho/Covent Garden/Regent St and surrounds
Things to do: Covent Garden offers fantastic street entertainment and there's more at Leicester and Trafalgar Squares, where you can also treat yourself to a West End show. This area is home to M&M World, where you can get personalised chocolates made and Legoland where you can get photos standing next to a huge Big Ben made out of lego. A visit to Hamleys can be quite the adventure for the kids while Dover Street Markets (with Rose bakery at the top) has just as much pull for the grown-ups – but you’ll need a really fat wallet if you want to buy anything!
Drinking: One of London’s best take-away coffees is sold at a shoe shop, of all places - TOMS, just off Carnaby. For something stronger, there's a pub on every corner. Also try:
Cahoots Soho – an underground 1940’s bar in an abandoned tube station. Full pelt on theme.
The Blind Pig – a secret bar above the Social Eating House. It’s really well-hidden. No signs, just a security guard standing at the door. Reading the cocktail list makes you want to curl up with one of your favourite childhood stories… the Winnie-the-Pooh-themed buttered rum hunny pot is spot-on!
Gordon’s Wine Bar, near Embankment
Eating: There are so many restaurants to choose from:
Dishoom – Irani café vibe, delicious Bombay food
Duck and Rice – A Chinese kitchen upstairs from a pub
Barrafina – Spanish tapas in open kitchen/bar
The Hawksmoor – famous steak and Sunday roast
Gymkhana – Michelin starred Indian cuisine in a table setting reminiscent of the high-society gymkhana clubs of India
Flat Iron steak - the steak and sides are absolutely worth the line-up but you can avoid queuing altogether if you arrive early. Really early.
Fortnum & Mason’s has a great little ice cream bar on its second level, which the kids love.
You can't go too wrong in Chinatown. Of note are - Baozilln and Viet Food but leave the pram at home.
·Still to do:
Cakes & Bubbles – a new dessert restaurant with famed chef Albert Adria at the helm
High tea at the Wollesley or Claridge’s
Things to do: Walk through the heath - you’ll feel surprisingly close to nature, despite being so close to the city. There’s also plenty to entertain the kids, with playgrounds, deer and swimming holes along the way. Keep going up to Parliament Hill where the city skyline views will take your breath away. If the blackberries are in season, bring a basket – and pick to your hearts content! On your way back down the high street, stop in at Designs (60 Rosslyn Hill) for a spot of vintage shopping - I got my first pair of Jimmy Choos here for a bargain!
Eating: The Spaniard and ‘The Bull & Last’ gastropub (currently closed for refurb)
Drinking: Ginger & White for coffee.
Things to do: This is a fabulous little High Street, with some lovely shops and places to eat. There's a great lighting and interior design shop further up the main drag while Annie’s Vintage Shop is great for all things antique although I think this may have gone downhill slightly since Kate Moss sold it. Posh Totty has a great range of personalized jewellery and gifts.
Eating: Ottolenghi, Beyond Bread (gluten-free bakery & cafe)
Drinking: The Narrowboat Pub on the canal. There's lots of good pubs off the main street which come highly recommended but I haven't yet ventured into.
Further south: Clerkenwell largely remains uncrossed on my list – but I'm prioritising the Quality Chophouse for my next visit.
Shoreditch and surrounds
Things to do: The flower market of Columbia Road is must-do on Sunday mornings, when all the quirky little shops on either side of the road are open. It's a great vibe when the weather is warm and the sky is blue! The Spitalfields markets are huge - there are antiques stalls on Thursdays.
Eating: Walk along Brick Lane and grab a salt beef roll on the go - they are so good at any time of the day/night. Other good spots are Ottolenghi and Pizza East - fabulous on a Friday or Saturday evening
Still on my 'to do' list: The Clove Club, Story Deli and Shoreditch House.
South of the river – Putney, Barnes, Richmond and beyond
Things to do: Richmond Park is fantastic for walking/running/cycling - and the kids love exploring there. Barnes Wetlands Centre isn't just for bird enthusiasts - there are otters, insects and a water playground for the kids in Summer. Kew Gardens is beautiful in the warmer months and they have a fantastic playground for older kids. In the cooler months, there's a heated indoor play area near the cafe - just make sure you don't miss the beehive - the acoustics are incredible.
Eating: Petershams Nurseries - for a fancy lunch in the restaurant or something more casual in the cafe
Drinking: There are some great pubs for families - many are on the water. Try:
The Red Lion which has a huge garden out the back for the kids
The White Hart - right on the river. At high tide, the River Thames can lap at your ankles.
The Spence: Friday night vibe kicks arse
South of the river: Borough and Maltby St Markets
Things to do: The Borough markets is a great little spot for oysters, licorice, cakes and fudge – as well as lunch-on-the-go and Monmouth coffee. There’s a bit of everything here and great area to explore. A 20 minute walk away is Maltby Street markets, which apparently is less touristy but in my experience, just as crowded on a Saturday.
Eating/drinking: There are lots of fabulous bites to eat right along Rope Lane but whatever you choose to grab, try and jag a seat at Little Bird for a gin cocktail– they make their own gin and it’s delightful. If none of that tickles your fancy, jump on a bus to Peckham Rye where you’ll have London’s best Sunday roast at Peddlar. The Yorkshire puddings, cocktails and food is unbeatable!
The best way to see London, with kids, is by boat. And from Mondays to Fridays, you can catch a Thames Clipper from Putney all the way to Greenwich. This is such a fabulous fun day out and there's so much to do in this part of London.
Things to do:
Greenwich park - great playground at the bottom of the hill near the lakes where you can hire a boat. Fairly big and busy though - you wouldn't want to be outnumbered in the adults to kids ratio.
The Royal Observatory is the official starting point for each new day/year and home to the Prime Meridian - but while it's kind of cool to stand on the line, the experience is totally lost on the kids who found this tour a bit of a yawn, especially given the time ball wasn't working. They much preferred the view - one of the best in London.
The Cutty Sark is perfect for families - you can explore the upper and lower decks of this Victorian sea clipper - grown-ups can marvel at it's history while there's loads of interactive stuff to keep the kids entertained.
Another awesome place for kids is the National Maritime Museum - if not for the inside play area, then for its cool artefacts - Admiral Nelson's bloodstained breeches from the Battle of Trafalgar were a huge hit with my 6 year old son.
Eating/drinking: There’s a cool market vibe most days where you can pick up food on the go or head to one of the pubs:
We love The Gipsy Moth on a hot day - it's a gastropub with a huge shaded garden
The Greenwich Tavern does a good fish and chips
If you want a view, you can't get much closer to the water than The Trafalgar Tavern. The Victorian pub is on the water, which laps at the windows while you gaze out at the O2 and beyond. The walk to get here is gorgeous - taking you past the beautiful facade of the Old Royal Naval College. The food is delicious too but you'll need to book.