What should I do in London?


Since 1989 I have probably spent a total of about a year of my life in the UK, with most of that time in London. So I know the city pretty well. Which is part of my problem. John and I will be spending about five days there in November and would like to see some new things rather than just visit old favorites.
We will be staying with good friends who have just moved from the US to Richmond-on-Thames. Our first time staying in the suburbs. We haven’t been to London since November 2008 when we stopped over there on our way to and from Kenya. Of course John would prefer to take this trip when the gardens would be more interesting, but the timing is what it is so we can’t do much about that. Of course being off season also makes it more difficult to see certain things.
Things I will definitely do:
Go to evensong at St. Brides.

Visit the Persephone Bookshop for the first time!

Old favorites I might revisit:

Places I haven’t been in a long time and might revisit:
The (old) Tate
The gift shop at the Transport Museum
The Cabinet War Rooms
Sir John Soane Museum

Something I would really like to do:
Meet a few UK book bloggers in or, within an easy day trip of, London…I would write to you many of you and suggest a meeting, but I am shy of rejection and don’t want to put you on the spot. So, if any of you have any interest at all, please let me know either via email or in the comments.

I need your help…
So what do you think I should do while I am there? Could be a day trip, could be a museum, a neighborhood, a restaurant. Try to make it off the beaten path since we have both beaten the path a lot.

I am particularly looking for a tea shop that: 1) has great scones with clotted cream and jam; 2) is not fancy, I have gone the fancy route before, not interested in doing it again; 3) is cozy; and 4) isn’t a mob scene.

37 thoughts on “What should I do in London?

  1. Amy August 21, 2010 / 7:00 pm

    I spent one week in London (so much, much less than you!) but my two favorite things were a day trip out to Stonehenge and the British Museum – I loved that place!


  2. StuckInABook August 21, 2010 / 7:37 pm

    You probably know London better than I do! I don't know any places off the beaten track there, I just know which bookshops I like best.

    But if you are heading in the Oxfordshire direction on a Sunday, then Jane's Teas in Kirtlington can't be beaten – see what I wrote about it here: http://stuck-in-a-book.blogspot.com/2010/03/janes-teas.html

    I don't know how late in the year it stays open…

    If you were free at all during that time for blogging meeting, either in Oxford or London, that would be great fun! I'm sure we could put a little group together in London..??


  3. StuckInABook August 21, 2010 / 7:43 pm

    p.s. you should absolutely contact people – I'm sure they'd love to meet up if they can, but might miss the blog post if they don't read every day… plus I want to have an excuse to meet more of them ;-)

    Imagine, we could get all the English people on your blog roll together (plus me! ;-))!!


  4. Tamara August 21, 2010 / 8:20 pm

    Wish I could help you, but it sounds like you have fabulous plans. I'll be keeping an eye on the recomendations you get for the tea shop. Most of my trips to the UK involve seeing friends and haven't really involved too much sight seeing in London. Wales is beautiful, and are the Cottswolds.


  5. Mary August 22, 2010 / 1:36 am

    I lived in London from 1990 to 1992 and went back in 2006. I was disappointed by the Tate Modern )and so endorse your desire to go to the Old Tate) but the walk from St Pauls over the bridge to the Tate Modern is fantastic.

    Also the Borough markets at Southwark are amazing for people watching and I highly recommend them..


  6. Steerforth August 22, 2010 / 3:49 am

    I grew up in Richmond upon Thames and loved it there (although Lewes is even nicer).

    I'd recommend walking from St Mary's Parish Church in Twickenham to Richmond Bridge, taking in York House, Orleans House Gallery, Marble Hill Park and, if you catch a ferry across to the south bank of the Thames, Ham House.

    If you fancy a trip to Lewes, I'd be happy to give you a guided tour.


  7. Cornflower August 22, 2010 / 4:36 am

    I haven't been to the Geffrye Museum (http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/), but Persephone mention it from time to time and it sounds very interesting.
    If I could manage to be in London while you're there I should love to meet up.


  8. Desperate Reader August 22, 2010 / 6:51 am

    I'm not sure what my work pattern will be, but I want to see the glasgow boys exhibition at the RA which opens begining november. I would love to meet with you and any other bloggers if the times match up:)


  9. Rachel (Book Snob) August 22, 2010 / 7:57 am

    If I were still in London I would have loved to meet you Thomas!

    I've lived there all my life so here's my recommendations:

    1. Ham House is a must – it's in Petersham so you'll be within an easy walking/bus distance. It's beautiful. Check it out on the National Trust website.

    2. Got to Hampstead – you'll love it. It's literary London! There's lots of beautiful houses, boutiques, restaurants, and great bookshops and there's a beautiful house, also National Trust, called Fenton House. PLUS you should go for a walk on Hampstead Heath.

    3. Go to Highgate Cemetery – it's amazing and not to be missed. Plus Highgate High Street, just a short walk away, has a brilliant Oxfam and a great tea shop called High Tea of Highgate – it has a website – the cakes and tea are both delicious.

    4. As Cornflower mentioned, the Geffrye Museum is very good – you'll love it. It's a bit out of the way, in Shoreditch, and not that easy to get to, but well worth it. If the tube station is closed, which I think it might be, then you can take a bus. Check the website.

    5. The Museum of London has just been refurbished and it's BRILLIANT – you HAVE to go. Plus if you walk around the area you'll see the old bits of London Wall, and you must visit the Barbican, and go to their cinema and see the amazing indoor gardens.

    6. The Transport Musuem has also been completely redone, so definitely go and see that.

    7. There is a great tea shop – Bea's of Bloomsbury – just round the corner from Persephone books. Ask them for directions when you go in. It's advisable to book first as they can get busy. They do amazing cakes and a fantastic chai latte!

    Oh enjoy, Thomas! I'm sad I'm going to miss you!


  10. Thomas at My Porch August 22, 2010 / 11:30 am

    Amy: The British Museum is pretty amazing. Stonehenge on the other hand has never really caught my interest.

    Simon T: You might know this better than I, are there more of you bloggers in Oxford or London? I was hesitant to suggest a general meet up given the current plans for you all to get together at the end of September. What ever I manage I will make sure it includes you!

    Tamara: It is nice to have friends in beautiful places isn't it?

    Mary: Maybe we saw each other in London in 1992, that is when I worked there for six months. I do think the footbridge in front of the Tate Modern is brilliant. It achieves so much from an urban planning perspective. I love Tate Modern as renovated architecture, but I think they really missed the boat on the exhibition spaces.

    Steerforth: How lucky that I now have the inside scoop on Richmond. My friends have only just moved there so they are unlikely to have much in the way of insider knowledge at this point. If this were a longer trip I would definitely take you up on your offer for a guided tour of Lewes.

    Karen: What a great recommendation. I have never heard of this musuem and it looks fascinating.

    Desparate Reader: Oddly enough I have never been to the RA. It looks like there may be a meet-up in the works.

    Rachel: I was wondering about the Museum of London I haven't been there since 1992. Good to know it has been updated. Until your last post I don't think I knew that you worked at the V&A. How fantastic. Don't worry about not meeting in London, we are bound to meet in NYC or DC. Then I can play tour guide.


  11. Margaret Evans Porter August 22, 2010 / 12:20 pm

    Hang out with me! (Just kidding. Sort of.) I'll be re-visiting the Wallace Collection as well. In addition, I want to see the newly re-done Museum of London. I'll be doing some research at the British Library & London Metropolitan Archive but am leaving plenty of play time. Also high on my list are the Thomas Lawrence exhibition at the NPG, a play or two if something suits our mood. Definitely a lunchtime concert at St James's, Piccadilly and a visit to their Christmas market and nipping into Hatchards and Fortnum's, all of which are conveniently close to our digs. Christmas shopping at Selfridges. Good dinners with family and friends. Plenty of strolling about in the parks and squares.

    Whatever you choose to do, you know it will be wonderful.


  12. Margaret Evans Porter August 22, 2010 / 1:41 pm

    After responding I belatedly checked the dates of your London week and they don't correspond with my most probable dates, unfortunately.
    However, I expect to be in Washington in March…so perhaps we can have tea together after all. On this side of the Pond!


  13. mary August 22, 2010 / 2:27 pm

    Have you ever been to Linley Samborne house?http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/museums/18staffordterrace.aspx
    On the tea front, Petersham Nurseries do great cakes and it's a lovely place to sit (although if you're going for lunch that's even nicer, just hugely expensive!) . But I don't think I've ever seen scones and clotted cream there. You'd need to go to Devon for the best ones! If you do go to Ham House, don't bother having tea there … was dire last time I went and Petersham is only a short walk away.


  14. Elise August 23, 2010 / 12:59 am

    If you're heading out of London at all, I would recommend going to Bath… it is beautiful, lots of literary references, and a beautiful teahouse (Hands Tearoom) which is what you're after when it comes to scones!


  15. verity August 23, 2010 / 4:03 am

    I may or may not be around, it's a bit too far away to tell, but I'd love to meet up with you/other bloggers…

    I love the transport museum too like Rachel, but I'd recommend the Geffrye Museum – it's a little out of centre, but it's free and absolutely fascinating!


  16. Jessica August 23, 2010 / 5:31 am

    I was in London on Saturday (I dont live far) we went to the Globe theatre for a tour which was quite good and got to see how plays were performed in Shakesperes time.

    Since your in Richmond you might want to consider visiting Kew Gardens.


  17. StuckInABook August 23, 2010 / 7:02 am

    I thought I replied again, but it doesn't seem to be here – just to say I think London has more bloggers than Oxford, just, and is easier for people to travel to – but either would probably work well :)


  18. mary August 23, 2010 / 9:10 am

    A brainwave! Do you like cookery books? Books for Cooks in Notting Hill is an amazing bookshop with its own cafe that cooks a book a day (or maybe it's a book a week, I can't remember!) And the cakes are amazing. Very good value for lunch but you need to get there early as it does get crowded.


  19. novelinsights August 23, 2010 / 9:36 am

    My favourites:
    Waterstones Piccadilly.
    Boat down the Thames to the Greenwich Observatory
    Hampton Court Palace
    Kew Gardens

    I've never been but keep meaning to go to The Horniman Museum http://www.horniman.ac.uk/

    If you're going to Sir John Soanes you might as well walk past bookish location 'The Old Curiosity Shop' which is situated amongst the LSE Uni buildings just round the corner.

    Enjoy your visit!!


  20. musingsfromthesofa August 23, 2010 / 2:14 pm

    i just discovered The London Review Bookshop, which is right by the British Museum and also has a cakeshop attached. The London Eye is worth it for the view, on a clear day.
    And I'm in Oxford so could do a meet up either here or there.


  21. Thomas at My Porch August 23, 2010 / 5:45 pm

    Elise: I haven't been to Bath since 1989 so that might be an option if we have time.

    Verity: I will probably send out an email to those of you who expressed an interest. I don't know where everyone is so I will have to put it to the group.

    Jessica: Well John would live at Kew if I let him.

    Simon T: Email forhcoming.

    Mary: Books for Cooks sounds great.

    Novel Insights: I have always meant to go to the Horniman.

    Musings: The London Review Bookshop sounds like a necessary stop.


  22. Kim August 23, 2010 / 11:33 pm

    I don't really have much to add other than the Sir John Soane Museum has evening candlelight tours the first Tuesday of the month. So if you are in London at that time, I would definitely check it out.

    Persephone is definitely worth a visit. Miranda was super helpful with picking out books.

    If you are interested in old paintings, drawings, etc., then I would suggest a favorite gallery of mine: Abbott and Holder. It is on Museum Street right across from the British Museum.

    I, too, toured Highgate Cemetery and it was very interesting.

    The Cabinet War Rooms is now the Churchill War Rooms with the Churchill Museum attached–a definite bonus.

    I've had a lovely high tea at Patisserie Valerie on Old Brompton Road–and I don't remember it being pricey at all. It is a chain so there are lots to be found–but that's my favorite location.

    Have a super time!


  23. Amanda August 24, 2010 / 9:49 am

    item #1: TAKE ME WITH YOU! Yes, I will have a less than 2-week old infant, but that could be fun. Maybe?

    item #2: A friend of mine is studying at the London School of Economics and I've sent her a facebook message requesting tea shop recommendations.


  24. Ted August 24, 2010 / 10:48 pm

    If you head down to Lewes, be sure to see Charleston – Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant's home.

    I enjoyed the Wellcome center last summer when I visited (the intersection of art and mental health related stuff is their speciality, so little wonder). They have a good bookshop on that topic as well. Also, the London Bridge area is London's new Soho – it's just a neighborhood without any sites but lots of good restaurants and a covered market.

    Alan Bennett's new play at the National Theatre about Benjamin Britten and W H Auden is bound to be interesting too.


  25. teadevotee.com August 25, 2010 / 6:50 am

    Thomas I would LOVE to hang out with you! Just drop me an email at teadevotee@gmail.com once your plans are firmer. Would definitely be up for meeting up with other book bloggers. Some thoughts:

    I have not been here yet, though I keep meaning to: could combine tea, cake and bookish fun?


    A really nice, civilised place for tea is the national portrait gallery.

    Otherwise, have you ever been to the treasures of the british library?


    Absolutely incredible, free, and can be done in a couple of hours. The treasures really are treasures: first editions of all sorts, lindisfarne gospel, magna carta.


  26. teadevotee.com August 25, 2010 / 6:53 am

    Oh and PS, I am going to post about this later in the week, but Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street, especially for travel books. There are four Daunts, I think, but this is the best one.


  27. Michelle Ann August 25, 2010 / 9:17 am

    Consider going on a London walk. These take two hours and cover one small section of London. You will find out far more history and gossip than you would yourself, and probably see places that you would like to go and revisit. see http://www.walks.com


  28. Jodie August 26, 2010 / 9:55 am

    I add a recommendation for the Museum of London! That was fun for us all when I visited with a couple of friends and they hadn't quite finished the refurb then (many historical hats to try on).

    Have you been to the Sherlock Holmes house on Baker Street? It's small and you have to be patient, because only a few people can go in at a time, but it's very sweet.

    Everyone needs to come to the Midlands by the way – we have a sealife centre and everything (pouts). Have a wonderful time!


  29. Danielle August 26, 2010 / 1:33 pm

    …And now on to London. Oh, I am so envious. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time whatever you plan and hopefully will share stories when you get back. What fun to meet up with UK bloggers, too!


  30. ramblingfancy August 27, 2010 / 6:55 am

    How lovely you'll be in London Thomas! I should love to meet up and would be happy to pop up from Dorset for the day either for a small gathering or with other bloggers as being arranged if not restricted to book bloggers only :) I know Miranda would love to meet you too. She's not following the blogs or blogging herself at the moment, but will be sure to tell her about your visit. Would agree that you'd probably enjoy Fenton House, Hampstead and Highgate. The Wells is a very fun pub to have lunch at in Hampstead, also have loved the scones at High Tea of Highgate and loads of yummy treats at Ginger and White in Hampstead. Agree with you Persephone Books is a must do – get them to post the books back for you though!


  31. Thomas at My Porch August 27, 2010 / 10:35 am

    Kim: I noticed about the name change at the Cabinet War Rooms when I posted the link. But I resisted using the “new” name. I am not sure why it had to be turned into a shrine to Churchill. I mean it was before as well, but just seems like marketing ploy. Harumph.

    Amanda: Thanks for the tea recommendation.

    Sarah: The School of Life looks great. That is a great heads up. I am definitely going to check it out.

    Ted: Thanks for the tip about the London Bridge area. Have they come up with a hip name for it like they tend to do for neighborhoods in NY. I am definitely going to look into the Bennett play. I love Britten and just watched a documentary on him so it is timely.

    Tea Devotee: I will definitely add you to my blogger email when I get around to arranging that. Should be fun.

    I love Daunt in Marylebone High Street. I have a friend who used to live right around the corner. I love that area.

    Michelle: That sounds like a cool idea. They have a lot of interesting stuff to choose from.

    Jodie: Where are you in the midlands? Unlike most Americans I have actually spent 4 weeks in Birmingham. That was 1989, I am guessing it is a lot nicer these days.

    Danielle: It should be fun.

    Rambling Fancy: Thanks for the recommendations. I will add you to the email for arranging a get together.


  32. Ted August 27, 2010 / 5:39 pm

    I think they're just calling it London Bridge, oddly enough!


  33. Molly August 28, 2010 / 11:00 am

    I have absolutely no suggestions for you – or anything to add to this conversation except to say that I completely jealous!

    I have had the opportunity to visit London twice and it is a true dream of mine to some day be able to visit for about 2-3 months at one time. I want to fully experience this lovely city – and not just frantically try to take in all the sites as quickly as possible.

    Have a marvelous time — and I look forward to seeing lots of fantastic photographs!


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