After a long absence, we finally returned to London, one of our favourite cities. It’s hard to pinpoint what draws us back to this vibrant metropolis time and time again. Perhaps it’s the endless opportunities for exploration, the eclectic mix of people, or the hip cafes and boutique shops that dot every corner of the city. Whatever the reason, we were thrilled to be back!
We wandered through the charming streets of Marylebone, soaked up the sophistication of Kensington and Belgravia, observed bustling Westminster and discovered the bohemian vibes of Soho and Fitzrovia. Each of these neighbourhoods has its own unique character. Even though we walked over 30,000 steps each day for four days straight, we still felt that we only scratched the surface of the city – a never-ending treasure trove of surprises. In London there’s always something new to discover no matter how many times you’ve visited before. And the best part? Getting there from Brussels is a breeze thanks to the Eurostar, which whisks you away to the heart of London in just two hours.
For this trip, we chose to stay in The Hoxton Hotel’s new London address: The Hoxton Shepherd’s Bush. The hotel was conveniently located within the easy reach to everything that we wanted to explore. We took the Circle Line underground from Saint Pancras train station, enjoying the unique overground views of London’s neighbourhoods along the way. Arriving at the hotel in just 30 minutes, we were pleased to find that our room was already prepared and we were able to check in early. This was our third experience with the Hoxton and it did not disappoint. We were impressed yet again with its lively communal spaces, attracting both locals and guests with its restaurant and bar, as well as sleek, tasteful design.
On our first day, we wandered through Soho and Fitzrovia, neighbourhoods known for its creative bohemian vibe, colourful nightlife, trendy bars, and bustling energy. We strolled down its lively streets, soaking up the sights and sounds. Kaffeine was our favourite stop here during the day. When we travel, we usually have a map with marked locations that we would like to visit. In the Soho neighbourhood, we had marked several bars and cafes we wanted to try. However, we quickly learned that in Soho and generally in London, reservations are a must. As the evening wore on, our hunger grew, but every place we tried to go to had a waiting time of at least 40 minutes.
We finally ended up going to Barrafina on Dean Street – a unique restaurant and bar known for its tasty tapas and buzzing atmosphere. As soon as you step inside, you are transported to the streets of Spain, with a long bar spanning the length of the restaurant and a bustling open kitchen where you can see the chefs expertly prepare each dish. The menu features fresh, seasonal ingredients and innovative flavour combinations and the bartenders were happy to recommend the drink to pair with our meal. What we thought sets Barrafina apart is its intimate and lively atmosphere. In case you decide to go, be prepared to cozy up to your fellow diners while waiting for the spot at the bar. The convivial vibe and top-notch food make it well worth the wait.
We loved Bar Termini, a stylish and intimate cocktail bar, which seemed to be a favourite hangout for locals and visitors alike. It was evident why this establishment is highly acclaimed for its impeccable service, delectable cocktails, and inviting ambiance. Despite our attempt to secure a seat, we were deterred by the long queue. However, we overheard several passersby passionately extolling its virtues to their companions, reaffirming our desire to return and experience this coveted hotspot for ourselves on our next trip to London.
We spent the second day on the quaint cobbled streets of Marylebone, a charming neighbourhood with a vibrant community. We enjoyed discovering hidden mews and took in views of elegant Georgian townhouses offering a sense of old-world charm and sophistication. Marylebone was a highlight of our trip, as we had an opportunity to visit Monocle’s Headquarters – one of our all time favourite magazines. We met with one the senior editors who kindly showed us around the Midori House – from their buzzing media offices to the lovely studios of the Monocle radio station.
One of the main draws of Marylebone is the fantastic shopping – numerous high-end shops, boutiques and unique stores. There was also an abundance of cute restaurants and cafes. We were particularly drawn to Chiltern Street, which is also a home of Monocle Shop and Monocle Cafe, where we evidently had to try the coffee & pastries. It’s no surprise that this area has become such a hotspot in London.
On the second evening, having learned from the previous night’s experience, we decided to make a reservation at the Chet’s Restaurant located in our hotel. The restaurant boasted a fusion of Thai and Californian cuisine and it definitely lived up to its promise, delivering a truly unique and delightful dining experience. We had tried several items from the menu and each bite was a heavenly explosion of flavours that left us craving more. Needless to say, this is just what we needed – a perfect finish of a long but beautiful day in London. We will definitely go back to Chet’s to try more special dishes on our next visit!
On the following days, we strolled through the colourful neighbourhoods of Notting Hill, Holland Park, and Kensington. Surrounding Phillimore Gardens left us in awe and we took our time admiring the exquisite architecture and lush greenery. Moving on, we explored the elegant Belgravia and bustling Westminster. We couldn’t help but notice a very similar vibe of the Westminster neighbourhood with the EU Quarter in Brussels. You can immediately feel the energy of all the young and seasoned government officials bustling about, taking the edge off the day with a drink or two in the evening.
One evening, we took a leisurely stroll along the Thames River from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge. The changing atmosphere along the riverbank made it a memorable experience, and I can imagine it being even more enjoyable in the summer months with nicer weather. The City of London and its bustling financial district offered a different perspective of London. We stumbled upon The Royal Exchange and decided to check out the bar by Fortnum and Mason. We sat at the bar, sipping on pitchers of wine, chatting and watching the lively evening scene.
As always during our trips, it is interesting to explore and compare cities and quality of life that different neighbourhoods offer. This time, we noticed four significant differences between London and Brussels. Firstly, we were impressed with the cleanliness of all areas of central London, especially considering its vast size. We also appreciated the city’s vibrant energy and the fact that it seems to never sleep. Additionally, we loved the uniform way of hiding the garbage bags in big brown bags that were hanging on street fences. However, we came to fully appreciate the green areas available to the Brussels’ residents, as many of London’s green spaces such as small urban parks seem to be privatised and locked.
Whether you’re visiting London for the first time or have been there many times, we highly recommend the city trip from Brussels. With its myriad of opportunities for exploration, people watching and discovery, this city has something to offer to everyone. We’re already plotting our next getaway to London!