How to Plan a Girls Getaway in London
Ever since WestJet announced their direct flights to London from St. John’s last year, it’s dawned on me that England is now entirely possible as a long weekend getaway. We’ve had direct flights with Air Canada for many years but the cost was always high. Now with some competition, the price has sunk so that it can be cheaper to get to London than it is to get to Toronto. Crazy talk.
(Update January 29, 2018: WestJet has since cancelled this route.)
I recently spent four nights in London with my best friend as part of a European trip and I really think that it’s the perfect city for a girls getaway. Between the amazing food options, theatre, shopping, and history, you can’t go wrong. The time difference is also only 3.5 hours from St. John’s so the jet lag is manageable.
And I’ll admit, the Brexit vote has made it more affordable for these Canadian girls to spend a little time in London. When I visited in 2004, the exchange rate was something like $2.25 to the pound, but on my recent trip it was down to $1.67. Bring on the shopping!
What to Do
Sightsee on a Hop-On/Hop-Off
It was my second time in the city but my friend’s first so we did a hop-on/hop-off tour on our first day in town. If you get one that has a guide or at least a recorded narration you can learn something new while getting a feel for the city. Sitting on top of the double decker is a good way to see the sights (you can pretend you’re on a parade float), as long as you’re dressed for the weather. We were froze by the time we reached the Tower of London.
With a tour you hit all the highlights like Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in a fairly direct route. Be aware though that London traffic can make this a slow way to actually get anywhere. I like it for a one-day intro but if you’ve been here before or want to move faster, take the tube between points instead.
Shopping on Oxford Street
It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that one of the things I like doing when I travel is shopping. In fact, a good portion of my wardrobe came from stores that aren’t in Newfoundland. While there are lots of great shopping areas, we focussed our time on Oxford Street, east of Marble Arch. I’m a sucker for Primark, though I can only handle so much before I get The Glaze. I zone out and need fresh air stat. I’m also fond of other high street staples like Next, New Look, Zara, and Topshop. You may pass these up in favour of local boutiques but not a single of these chains exist in my part of the world so they make my shopping list.
Gordon’s Wine Bar
After spending time exploring the British Museum (it’s free admission!), head down towards the river and find Gordon’s Wine Bar. Get yourself a table tucked into their cellar, a glass of wine, and plate of cheese and pretend you’re living in Game of Thrones. It’s the perfect place for an afternoon snack or a light lunch.
Theatre in the West End
If you’re only in town for a few days, save one of your evenings for the theatre. The quality of shows here rivals Broadway. You’ll see some familiar names like Wicked, The Lion King, and the Book of Mormon but you’ll also have access to shows you can’t get across the pond. I highly recommend going to see anything that Mischief Theatre is doing if you want to LOL.
Stroll Through Notting Hill & Shop the Portobello Road Market
Get up early on Saturday, grab a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino and head to Notting Hill. Stroll through the neighbourhood and check out the iconic candy coloured townhouses. Grab that perfect Instagram shot. While there, pop over to the Portobello Road Market to browse antiques, vintage clothes, and other knick-knacks. Stop by one of the many vendors for a street food lunch.
Where to Eat
Despite the cooler temps in October we weren’t craving heaps of heavy dishes. We wanted hot, but light meals. Eat is a chain that you’ll see almost everywhere but their soups, hot pots, and pies were exactly what we were looking for.
The Marks & Spencer cafe makes for a classic English shopping day lunch while you’re strolling Oxford Street. I was craving a jacket potato with chili but alas, they were all out, but my cheese toastie made a decent substitute.
Another chain that’s everywhere but worth trying is Pizza Express. You can barely swing a cat in central London without hitting one of their locations. It’s quick food but with an elevated atmosphere. Thin-crust, Italian style pizza with an actual wine list.
Tip: Plan out your pre-theatre dinner in advance. We decided to just grab a bite after the show instead, not realizing that it got out after 10pm. We were so starved and not up for Googling that we ended up with over-priced apps for dinner at Jamie’s Diner near Piccadilly Circus. *womp*womp* If we had our time back we’d swing into Banana Tree for some IndoChina treats before heading to the theatre. Portions are large so you may want to share. I can recommend their Roast Duck Curry or the Legendary Rendang.
If you find yourself in Soho, make a snack stop at Crosstown Donuts for one of their doughy delights with tasty glaze. Mmm…
Where to Stay
Many people will tell you to stay right in the heart of the action near Big Ben or Piccadilly Circus, but we opted to stay in a quieter area, just a few tube stops away from all the hustle and bustle…and I’d do it again.
J & I spent our London girls getaway at the Park Grand London Lancaster Gate, a 5-star property in Craven Hill, and were immensely pleased with our choice. We were only a 5 minute walk from Paddington Station so we never felt disconnected from anything. The neighbourhood is just north of Kensington Park in the Bayswater district of London and full of the cutest white 19th century terrace houses. So very London. We sometimes wondered if Mary Poppins was going to show up.
The service at the Park Grand was impeccable. We were greeted after arriving on our red-eye flight, not only with a fruit cocktail drink but also hot towels. Hot towels! How civilized. The staff were always friendly and very attentive. We also loved the convenience of having a good quality breakfast available right there in the morning.
Our twin-room was…let me say…compact, but from my looking around, this is pretty normal for London. The room was kitted out with my favourites: robes and slippers, but also heated floors in the bathroom and a few complimentary mini bar items like tea, coffee, cookies, and bottled water. The best feature though was Handy, a smartphone loaded with data that we could take with us out and about during our London adventures. It saved us from having to pick up SIM cards. We just used our own phones on wifi, when we found it, and used Handy when we needed to Google directions or other info when there was no wifi. I’ve never stayed at another hotel with anything like it. I hope more follow suit.
Between shopping, sightseeing, and shows, there’s no trouble to fill your days. We stuck to the tourist hot spots but there’s enough to do in London to keep us busy for many more girls getaway long weekends.