It’s with a heavy heart that this proud expat blogger writes one of her last posts from our adopted home of England. London has been such a wonderful adventure. It’s not been without ups and downs, laughter, tears and lessons.
But, we’ve lived our motto here: life is about experiences.
Expat blogger – future uncertainty
I had wanted so very much to settle in England. We’ve produced plenty of blogs for expats and travellers here on Travel Live Learn. And as a reader on this site – to you I say thank you 🙏 I am grateful.
As an ‘expert’ expat blogger, I started out getting together guides on living and working in London. Cooper developed our videos too, that showcase fun, travel and tips. We’ve been lucky to be recognised for content on this site with a couple of awards, and have covered wonderful destinations while living over here.
As I look over it all now, I have to admit to fighting back tears. It’s hard to let go of one life and go back to another – or start yet again. That’s risk we take though, forging a space for ourselves in a new country. You either get to stay or one day must leave. But we must not forget: life is about experiences.
Difficult decisions for expats all over the world
We’re at the end of March 2020 and as I type, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing the face of the planet. It was completely unexpected, and it certainly is not discriminating in who is impacted. The world has been dealing with this public health crisis since January, although then most people outside of China where the disease originated, never predicted the impact that’s unfolding.
I type this while on ‘self-isolation’ in the English countryside. We were lucky to get out of Italy when things shifted from ‘manageable’ to ‘catastrophic’ overnight on 10 March. Cooper and I found it very difficult to get a flight out to leave.
Just as we made it back to England though, lock-downs and strict measures were imposed. With the threat of airline closures and restricted international flights, it feels like we’re heading back to the days where travel was far less accessible and much more expensive. The UK has already seen one major airline go into receivership over the past week. Which other airlines will follow?
As we come to the end of our work sabbatical which was covered in major media, I fear our story about inspired action is turning into one of retreat, back to ‘our’ official corner of the world. We are set to renew visas for the UK in July, but with so much uncertainty around the future, I am sad to say it seems like that that dream will no longer become a reality. As these shocking events continue to sweep the globe, I doubt very much we are the only travellers, digital nomads and expats forced to reconsider our paths. Borders are closing. People are worried. The tourism industry and way we travel will look different on the other side.
How it feels to leave ‘home’
As I type this I remember the little things about life in the UK. Old church bells chiming. Work bus commutes when I’d to listen to new music that would become the soundtrack to special moments. My favourite walk around London Fields where I’d feel so happy sometimes I’d almost burst. Dog spotting on the tube; identifying wonderful old buildings amongst innovative new ones. Swifty at Wembley! Swifty at BST Hyde Park, for that matter 💕
I remember ‘stairwell lunches’ with my friends when we’d laugh so much and be told off for being too jovial; and impromptu after-work pub runs that would last ’til 11:30pm mid-week, with the sun just down not long before that. Just ‘popping over’ to France, or Spain, or Italy on the train or plane. Pride, festivals, fairy lights and Christmas markets, dining in igloos by the Thames, fireworks night, bank holidays spent in the park and at the loveliest markets in the world.
Only in London.
There were moments I helped people get through tough times. They became my good friends. And other times when people here would show up for me, just as I needed them. I call them too, my best friends. Sunny park days in summer – oh the joy of sunshine 😀! And snow days of course – always gleeful for an Aussie in London. We made a mark, got a special invite to Buckingham Palace, covered royal weddings, and mostly just enjoyed life in the big, mad, historical, beautiful, wonderful city that London is. I’m sad [understatement] to leave. This has been our home. It is a home of ours.
But after six years, and because of this pandemic and situation, the best version of a ‘goodbye’ we could do with all our friends – our UK family – was on WhatsApp.
What to do when the world is ending
Maybe a bit dramatic, but you’d agree if you saw Heathrow as we did today – like an eerie mall, all closed down, lifeless – another planet. As an expat blogger who now needs to find a new niche and start another life, you get where I’m coming from, I hope. Everyone has been impacted by this, and will be for months, if not years to come.
But we’ve been hit hard.
Our life as we embraced it was ripped away today.
We’re working on new projects already though, like this venture into wellness travel (podcast launching soon); but when can those who value travel, safely and freely travel again?
We left here once before and I consoled myself with the idea of bringing adventure back home. I’d spoken to another expat friend too and discovered there is a mourning process around leaving somewhere you love, somewhere you’ve invested heart and soul into. Having two homes – I’ve always maintained – is a blessing and a curse.
Coming to terms with change
This time when we leave the UK, I don’t know, maybe it’s for good? That’s not how we feel right now though. This is a ‘trial’ separation 😉
We know we’re lucky to have options, and family and friends who are happy to see us (and we to see them). But, I’m only at a ‘2’ on the change curve, which you can probably guess from the tone of this post – in a state of disruption I’m feeling anger and fear.
It all goes too quickly, is the old lesson. Wasn’t it just yesterday we arrived back mid-2014, to pick up where we left off in 2011? Isn’t it all so delicate, just hanging by a thin thread that can break at any time. Like now.
If you’re impacted by the fallout of borders closing or difficult circumstances brought about by being based in another country, being a digital nomad, or the change that’s been thrust upon you now, let us know about your experience in the comments. We’d also love for you to join us in our Facebook group – come say hi today!
We’re blessed with many options for romantic breaks UK, they’re not just confined to smart country house hotels. Our cities offer some of the best experiences and romantic weekend breaks. Read on for highlights and things to do 😍
Romantic breaks UK – 8 of our favourites
Historic York has more than a little magic. Once the English locus of Viking power, this riverside city still boasts many Viking treasures. Most of the city centre is pleasantly pedestrianised, so you can while away the day wandering the narrow, cobbled ways of York’s Tudor heart, the Shambles.
Today, the Shambles and the neighbouring streets are full of boutiques, souvenir shops and cafes. Meander along them from the impressive York Minster, via the Chocolate Museum to the Jorvik Centre. Find your bearings with a climb to the top of Clifford’s Tower, at the city centre’s southern edge. From here you can see York Castle museum, definitely worth a visit if you are a history buff, and the winding River Ouse.
Amble back up the riverbank through town to dine riverside at The Star Inn the City. Set in the gardens of St Mary’s Abbey and the Yorkshire Museum, this brasserie is a restaurant with the most romantic view in York.
Ideas on where to stay:
To stay at a city centre location, follow in the footsteps of Kings and stay at the beautiful Grays Court Hotel, just a short step from the Minster. The Judges Lodging is another central option with a historic vibe. If you’re staying in the centre, Roots restaurant on the other side of St Mary’s gardens is a great choice for a Sunday lunch feast of sharing dishes. Follow this with a romantic river cruise before heading home.
If you’d prefer to see a little of the Yorkshire countryside, Aldwark Manor is just a short drive from York. Choose an elegant room in the historic manor house, then roll out of bed on the Sunday morning and amble across the hotel grounds to the local country pub. The Ardwark Arms serves up some of the best Yorkshire puddings in God’s own county.
Start Saturday with a wander around the city. You can pick up a self-guided walking tour by the breath-taking Pulteney Bridge, one of only four bridges in the world to have shops on both sides across its span. From here, an easy stroll will take you past the city’s other landmarks: the Norman spires of the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and the city’s most famous landmark, its Roman Baths. Stop for lunch in the Bath’s pump room restaurant or kitchen, then continue your walk to take in Gravel Walk, the Royal Crescent and the Circus.
For the ultimate romantic experience, book yourselves the twilight package at the Bath Thermae Spa, where you can enjoy a blissful view across the city rooftops while you relax in the healing waters.
Ideas on where to stay:
From there, you’ll want to retire to your hotel for a little R&R. The Abbey Hotel enjoys a fantastic central location. Plus, you can simply roll downstairs to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails at the ArtBar, followed by dinner in one of the city’s best restaurants, Koffman and Mr Whites – all without leaving your hotel. After a lazy Sunday breakfast, head out of the city to the National Trust’s Prior Park Landscape Garden where you can blow away the cobwebs with wander around these beautiful, historic parkland.
If you prefer a country location, Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa is just a short hop from Bath. Here, you can indulge in an award-winning spa and wellness centre, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant and beautiful grounds across the sprawling 500-acre estate – perfect for a lazy Sunday of relaxation before heading home.
It’s hard to think of a more eclectic seaside resort than Brighton. It has everything you could ask for in a romantic weekend away. In addition to the seaside location, you can choose from cool cocktail bars, great restaurants, cosy pubs, fantastic clubs and the odd left-field option, such as the arcades and casino at Pier 9 or the brewery tour at Unbarred.
Begin your Saturday meandering by the cafes and boutiques that cluster along Brighton’s Lanes. Here, you can treat yourself to one-off gifts, antiques or handmade jewellery. Enticing lunch stops abound along these narrow alleyways but dead wax social is a fab option for wood-fired pizza and craft beer. Why not wander back along the seafront for a stroll along Brighton Pier before spending the afternoon touring one of Brighton’s most outré landmarks, the Regency era Royal Pavilion, the seaside pleasure palace of King George IV.
For a seaside pleasure palace of your own, check in to the Artist Residence hotel; ask for a room with a free-standing bath and sea view. Then head back to the seafront for dinner at Brighton’s best seafood restaurant, the Salt Room (the view’s not bad either).
On Sunday, if the seafront is still calling to you, you can head to a Brighton institution, the Red Roaster café where you can enjoy the view, the ambience and a lazy brunch.
Whitstable enjoys a very different pace to Brighton but very much fits into the ‘romantic breaks UK’ category. This is an old-fashioned fishing village turned seaside resort on Kent’s north coast. It’s most famous for its oyster beds, so you have every excuse to indulge in this traditional aphrodisiac!
Head to the seafront and harbour to take your fill of bracing sea air. The little high street is worth a wander too; you can browse the galleries and craft shops. The Whitstable Oyster Company is located in an old oyster shed in the middle of town, so it’s an ideal lunch stop. As well as the fresh seafood, you can enjoy the view to the beach.
Later, you can spend the afternoon wandering around the gardens of the eighteenth-century Whitstable castle, just a short walk away.
Accommodation options are limited, but one is a deluxe sea-view room at the Hotel Continental on the seafront. This hotel also operates some of the old fishman huts by the seashore; their sea views add a little extra romance to the proposition.
It’s just a short stumble from there to the Whitstable Oyster shack on the harbour’s east quay. Hopefully, you haven’t had your fill of seafood, because the location is really wonderful.
If you are staying at the fisherman’s huts, you’ll want to head back into town for Sunday brunch at the Farm and Harper or, further afield, at JoJo’s meze restaurant. If you have time to spare on the Sunday, why not rent a bike in town? From here you can cycle the Crab and Winkle Way; a pleasingly short six-mile ride through the Kentish countryside to Canterbury.
There’s a reason the Lake District was such an inspiration to the Romantic poets. Its shimmering lakes and lofty hills will bring a song to even the most frozen of hearts. It’s one of the best spots for a romantic UK break away.
People come here to walk, mainly, and there are plenty of activities of the outdoor adventure kind on offer throughout the national park. But there are also plenty of more sedate options around the tourist hot spots of Windemere and Grasmere or the busy town of Keswick.
Book a suite at the Brimstone hotel in Langdale and you may never want to leave its luxurious rooms and spa. There are a myriad of walks on your doorstep; a slow meander up Langdale will take you to the National Trust Sticklebarn pub for lunch. Or follow the rise over to Grasmere where you can visit Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage, take a row boat out on the water and try some of the town’s famous gingerbread.
Another fabulous option is the Lodore Falls hotel on the banks of Derwentwater. Book a spa suite for full access to the hotel’s Falls spa and the mesmerising views across the lake. From here, you can take your pick of the walks through the Borrowdale valley. The Langstrath Arms in nearby Stonethwaite is a traditional country pub within walking distance. Or the hotel can arrange paddle-boarding out on the water.
On Sunday, stop in at Windemere on the way home for a walk around the shops (mostly outdoor clothing brands), a trip on the paddle steamer or a stroll around the grounds of Wray castle.
It’s not hard to fall in love with the hardy but graceful Scottish capital. Edinburgh has historic sites galore and a thriving food scene, so it’s perfect as one of your romantic breaks UK options.
If you’re new to the city, you’ll want to start with a stroll down Princes Street Gardens from the Scott Monument. This Victorian gothic edifice celebrating the writer Sir Walter Scott is a great place to start; climb its winding internal staircase for striking views over the city, including down Princes Street to St Johns church. Art lovers can take a detour to the Scottish National Gallery, which houses one of the best collections of art in the world. Then stop for some lunch along colourful Victoria Street or the Grassmarket, before heading up to check out the view from the castle.
Back down the hill, you can check into the ‘unmitigated pleasure palace’ that is the Witchery, which claims to be Edinburgh’s most romantic bolt-hole. Close by, the suites at Old Town Chambers luxury serviced apartments are equally well-appointed, minus the gothic drama. Stay at either location and, on Sunday morning, you can take a wander over to Dean Village and Stockbridge. Stockbridge is choc-full of independent cafes and places for brunch, plus on Sunday mornings it hosts a local market, making it ideal for a romantic Sunday morning stroll.
The capital of Wales is a dreamy destination to add to your romantic breaks UK hit-list. The centre of Cardiff is immensely walkable, so you can treat yourself to a shopping marathon (don’t miss browsing the stalls at the Victorian central market) or simply take in the sights. Make time to explore the splendid castle; even if you aren’t wowed by history, the view from the ramparts is worth the visit. If you have time, follow the Bute Park sculpture trail in what was once the castle grounds.
Later, wander across town to the marina and Norwegian church. Close by, the St David’s Bay hotel on the waterfront is a great choice, especially if you can squeeze in a few hours to laze in its spa or splurge on a few treatments. It’s also ideally placed if you have tickets to an event at the Millennium Centre. The view from the pool across the sparkling waters of Cardiff Bay adds to the appeal.
If you prefer something a little more intimate, head out of town to Holm House in Penarth. It sits on a bluff overlooking the bay, and you can wander down in the evening to enjoy dinner at the Michelin-starred Restaurant James Sommerin, Cardiff’s only Michelin-starred restaurant.
If you are staying in Penarth, wandering down to the seafront can occupy some of your Sunday morning too. Or, if you have time, head up towards the valleys and explore the atmospheric Castell Coch followed by Sunday lunch at a traditional country pub like the Pantmawr Inn.
London city break
Any romantic breaks UK list will include London, because it’s spectacular! The best way to appreciate London as a romantic weekend destination is to accept you can’t do everything; decide what you want to do and work from there.
If you want to take in a theatre show, pick a boutique hotel like Batty Langley‘s near Liverpool Street.
You can spend Saturday wandering around Soho or shopping on Oxford Street, then meander around Covent Garden on the Sunday.
Alternatively, if you fancy seeing some of the main tourist sights, a hotel such as St Ermins or the Shangri La at the Shard might be a better choice. From here, you can walk up the riverside from the London Eye up to the Tower of London. Make a day of it by stopping off at a variety of cafes and bars en route. Cross Tower Bridge to take a tour of the tower and then you can catch the Thames Clipper back to your starting point.
Each of these cities has something truly special and unique to offer. Whichever you choose for your romantic breaks UK destinations, you can create a wonderfully romantic itinerary for a weekend away that creates memories you’ll both treasure forever.
It’s been over six months since we set off on our house sitting UK adventure. We’ve explored terrific destinations in the UK through house sitting, including London, Northampton, the Cotswolds, Bedfordshire and soon Devon and the Sussex coast.
We’ve loved house sitting in the UK, and we’ve also been to Malta, France and Ireland.
House sitting UK: 6 lessons learnt
Leave the toilet seat down!
You hear stories about dogs drinking out of the toilet, right? One night we were sound asleep but awoken at 1am.
“Can you hear a noise, is that an intruder?” I asked panicked (but still tucked into bed)
“I’m not sure… do you think I should check?” asks Cooper, as we hear again… what is that?
“Slurp, slurp, slurp…” 😆
Our beautiful shepherd, Luna, couldn’t be bothered going downstairs to her bowl. Our lesson? Close the toilet lid! It’s true – dogs DO drink from the toilet.
Never forget poo bags
We find poo bags in all or pockets now. It’s pretty funny. The bags always come in handy, of course. But what about the one occasion you forget to take them?
In Northampton we had simply popped out to the corner store. When I was inside gathering supplies, Cooper was walking Luna (pictured above) around the block and having a little play with her. You guessed it – she chose this very time to do her business.
And it was no small matter!
Cooper scrounged around to find cardboard and resources to clean up after Luna, but it wasn’t pretty, oh no.
Hence, poo bags in every pocket since that time.
Watch what your dog eats
I’m sorry, this seems to have turned into a post about toilets and dogs’ business. You see, we took care of another gorgeous pup, Teal. A Springer Spaniel – about the best behaved and most affectionate creature you’d ever meet. But Teal has a secret.
Teal eats poo. In the depths of fields around the Cotswolds, this innocent pooch will grab a ‘snack’ the second you turn away. At first I thought Cooper was exaggerating because he spotted this, er, behaviour first. I didn’t believe him. Not our lovely Teal.
However, when I turned around after being engaged in conversation with a fellow dog walker, I saw it. Oh Teal. Perhaps he needed some nutrients that are in there?
Whatever the case, we were reminded that dogs are like kids. Keep an eye on them at all times 🐶
We took care of a precious little old man called Monty. He was such a beautiful old soul. A 15 year old Jack Russell, for the most part he was super easy to look after. Except he suffered major senior separation anxiety.
When we arrived he seemed ok, but once his parents left he wouldn’t leave his bed or hid under theirs. It broke our hearts. We kept an eye on him over the 12 hours to come, and we even called TrustedHousesitters pet line for guidance to make sure we were doing all the right things, which we were.
For anxiety, we’ve discovered we need to give dogs in this scenario their space. It’s beneficial for them to be in their own home. If they are not sleeping or eating, then you should contact a vet. One thing we had going for us was that Monty liked his food. We used this to try and coax him to love us 💖 We even got him downstairs by laying out a cheese trail – his favourite treat.
After a while though, we realised we were using treats in the wrong way – we were reinforcing his behaviour to stay in his bed or hide from us. We’d give him treats for it! Instead, we switched it around – gave him treats for coming to us and we got him outside on walks which cheered him right up. Our lesson: consider what kind of behaviour you’re rewarding with treats, or are you giving them to make you feel better?
House sitting in the UK brought many lessons our way. When we took care of Blue, a senior Lurcher doggie in London, we’d been told where in the house he could go. It was pretty much everywhere except the bedrooms. What we didn’t realise is that’s exactly where he’d try to go. Some of the door handles weren’t shut properly and we discovered this after he went missing twice. Blue managed to break into the rooms, have a nap on his siblings’ beds but then got locked in, bless him!
Our Luna in Northampton was known to break into the fridge and eat all the meat, so we had to lock the door to the kitchen if we went out. Luna’s also actually unlocked the front door to go in search of her family 💕 So, we needed to deadbolt it for her own safety from the busy street outside.
A special mention must go to Harley in Dublin who knew how to follow you into the toilet, jump up on the sink and drink water while you wash your hands. His mum said that is entirely his father’s fault for teaching him 🤣
What does the term ‘historic hotels London city’ bring to mind for you? Maybe it’s the Ritz over near Buckingham Palace, with its famous afternoon tea. There’s the Savoy and Claridge’s, certainly. I used to walk past stunning St Pancras each day on the way to work, it qualifies.
But did you know about Batty Langley’s?
Listed as one of London’s six best hotels in Conde Nast‘s Gold List, it’s time you definitely did hear about it ⭐
Hotels London city: WHY you need to experience Batty Langley’s
Batty Langley’s in London city near Liverpool street doesn’t even look like a hotel from the outside! It’s completely unassuming. To step inside feels precisely like you’ve stepped back in time. Georgian times, to be exact.
I read a piece about this historic hotel in London city that captured it beautifully for me. The review mentioned that while this place is a hotel, it doesn’t feel like one.
It feels more like you’re visiting your [very] rich aunt’s house.
It’s so true, in the most affectionate of ways 💕
We’ve written about staycations in London and accommodation you can try in east London – Shoreditch and Liverpool Street – but we’ve never seen anything like this!
The attention to detail and perfect mix of old meets new is truly something special.
Adventures in the past
The hotel is housed in a restored Georgian building, and is named after Batty Langley (1696–1751) who published guides for the upper class on how to tastefully plan a lavish home.
Inspired by Batty’s work, proprietors Douglas Blain and Peter McKay went to extraordinary lengths to recreate the style of the era. Their labour of love took 20 years to complete, but the finished product is exquisite.
With the exception of a few modern luxuries like smart televisions; furnishings, art, antiques and ornaments from Georgian times have been sourced and decorate the property.
Full of Georgian characters
Our room was on the 5th floor, which we accessed by a little elevator. Cooper and I definitely had a ‘pinch me’ moment upon entering the Kitty Fisher suite. It was like living a past life where we were RICH – we had a balcony with city views, huge four poster bed, a little library and sitting room, and a grand bathroom complete with a genuine Victorian canopy bathing machine.
Kitty Fisher is another Georgian character whose name graces the hotel’s walls. She was a courtesan, known as the subject of a nursery rhyme: “Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it…”.
Ms Fisher came from humble beginnings when she was a milliner (maker of fashionable hats). But the story goes that her beauty, smarts and charm led to her mixing in the right circles and hence she climbed the social ladder of her time.
If we were to ever tire of our own luxurious Georgian suite named after Kitty, we had the rest of the place to enjoy too.
Despite having 29 rooms (all named after interesting Georgian characters) tucked away within the hotel, it’s rare to see another soul. So, off we went, to laze about in the old library, Downton Abbey style; and enjoy a whiskey by the fireplace in the olde-world stylish sitting room.
Facts about Georgian times that add flavour to a stay
While we were at Batty Langley’s, the staff shared some interesting facts with us. Did you know that hotels only really came into being during the first half of the 1800s? Before the Industrial Revolution which began in the 1700s, most people lived and worked on the land, and wouldn’t have ventured very far. In the 1800s things started to change with the Industrial Revolution and the steam locomotive. The middle class – who ran and owned businesses – began to travel, and hotels became their beautiful escape. You can imagine this scenario within the palatial walls of Batty Langley’s boutique establishment.
We also looked at how well made the furniture is from Georgian times. If you examine a wardrobe, for example, you will see the effort that has gone into ensuring the grain is all in the same direction. Evidence of this craftsmanship adorns the hotel.
Finally, did you know that despite the period being entirely romanticised now, the Georgians didn’t have bathrooms? Apparently everyone stank! Very few houses had running water, the streets were filled with rubbish and animal excrement, and chamber pots were often emptied out of windows onto the street. It’s a far cry from the cleanliness and opulence you’ll experience within the hotel and surrounding streets today, but interesting to know about all the same. What do you think?
London city stay: what to expect in the area
We don’t need to be sold on east London (we’re fans!), although staying at Batty Langley’s gave us renewed appreciation for our surroundings.
Convenience wise, the hotel’s perfectly located for any kind of stay in London. You’re within walking distance of Liverpool Street and Shoreditch stations, so can get anywhere, easily.
Just up the road is Spitalfields, which houses markets, foodie delights, pubs and shopping. You can walk to famous Brick Lane for a curry in about 15 minutes.
Back to the history: it’s all around you, inside the hotel and outside. From cobbled streets to elegant old churches and imaginative architecture: go exploring in this exciting corner of old London.
Spitalfields itself was originally the site of the Priory of St Mary Spital, or Hospital, established in 1197! Part of the hospital’s kitchen lies under the hotel building and more substantial remains can be seen in a floodlit underground chamber just around the corner in Spital Square.
Residential development of the area began when King Henry VIII renounced the Pope’s authority and seized all English monasteries in 1540, selling off to loyal subjects. The area became attractive to immigrant settlers who were not allowed to live or work in London city itself. At that time, this area was just outside the city walls.
We spotted evidence of different period buildings as we wandered the streets here. Of course Georgian architecture is obvious too, known by its red brick and symmetrical shape.
Exclusive accommodation in east London
What can we say other than this hotel is absolutely beautiful? It’s cosy enough that you feel at home, yet luxurious with quality touches and service expected in a fine hotel. The staff were perfect as well. (thank you!).
Batty Langley‘s website says:
Our quiet, characterful bedrooms are furnished with genuine antiques, and every one is different. Our bathrooms are so extraordinary, guests often ask if they can take them home. Your surroundings here are civilised: old fashioned hospitality, friendly, efficient staff, and a location second to none.
We have to say, it’s all true. This bit of web copy is absolutely not fake news. If you’re looking for a wonderfully London experience and prepared to splash a little extra cash for a once in a lifetime stay, Batty Langley’s is for you. It’s truly like living in an opulent period film – and who doesn’t want to try that for a night? Book your stay
Cooper and I were sponsored by Hazlitt Hotels for this stay.
Images: battylangleys.com. Video: Cooper Dawson
London is simply sublime at Christmastime. It’s Christmas party London-style season, November through December. There’s London Christmas lights and many Christmassy experiences. Here’s a few things you shouldn’t miss:
Christmas party London
You can go to hotels, clubs, bars, markets – just about anywhere for a Christmas party London experience.
We were lucky enough to be invited over to Camden for the launch of FEST’s Christmas party London events. Take a look:
More places to relish in London’s Christmas spirit:
Harrods Christmas Grotto
A Christmas escape for Children, that leaves parents free to also escape… to do some shopping! It’s festive, magical and very Harrods. Various events happening throughout December. More at: harrods.com
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and Santa Land
Marble Arch tube
This gorgeous, annual one-stop Christmas spectacular includes rides, circus-like attractions, markets that sell sweets, Christmas treats and traditional German crafts and of course an ice rink. More at: hydeparkwinterwonderland.com
Westfield ice skating and grotto
Shepherd’s Bush tube / Stratford tube
There’s nothing that feels more like Christmas than spending a day in the warmth, shopping at Westfield London or Stratford City. Santa’s in store too, and there’s an ice skating rink – makes for a wonderfully spirited day out.
Southbank Centre Christmas Market and Winter Festival
A traditional German-style wooden hut market along the river – so charming! Toys, gifts, food, drinks – internationally inspired. Also features the Designers Makers Christmas Market, with over 50 British designers selling jewellery, ceramics, textiles, homewares and prints. More at: southbankcentre.co.uk
A Covent Garden Christmas
Covent Garden tube
The historic market piazza plays host to innovative digital installations, a super-sized LEGO snow globe, entertainers, festive lights and displays. More at: coventgardenlondonuk.com
Christmas Arcade at Somerset House
Temple or Covent Garden tube
The divine Somerset House‘s West Wing overlooks a lavish ice skating rink, and the setting features a Narniaesque corridor bedecked in lights and foliage. Dozens of airy rooms are occupied by pop-up-shops with an emphasis on British-made wares, so you’ll find the likes of Brora cashmere, Murdock grooming products, BoBelle London bags and leather goods.
Harry Potter Walking Tour
Indulge in a magical Hogwarts Christmas with a guided walking tour (also includes a boat ride) that takes you through Leadenhall Market and other Potter filming locations.
Christmas at Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace
Christmas at Kew Gardensis family friendly in a magical woodland setting, includes a Victorian carousel and vintage rides, Santa’s grotto, boutique Christmas market and live music. Over at Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII’s favourite ‘haunt’, not to mention a fabulous place to visit, there’s a divine ice skating rink in the front courtyard.
Christmas lights in London
Christmas lights by night
Famous throughout the world, each year there is a different theme throughout the city’s festive streets. Brave the chill and jump on an open bus sightseeing tourduring the evening, taking in all the classic sights including Harrods, Oxford Street, Piccadilly and the Tower of London all dressed up in their Christmas finery.
Where to stay: The Wellesley, for a little Christmas luxury
The Wellesley is set within prestigious Knightsbridge, and provides easy access to all the Christmas experiences listed above, and much more. It is not yet a year old following extensive renovations which transformed the property from musical venue to luxe townhouse hotel. Gatsbyesque glamour sets the tone, and this boutique property is worth the dollar outlay if you’re seeking luxury alongside unparalleled service while in London.
The Roaring Twenties carry on at The Wellesley through cleverly considered interiors like crystal chandeliers, original artwork, mirrored panelling and lavish cream and gold colour scheme. It’s also a romantic building for anyone keen on being immersed in history − indeed it used to be the site of the original Hyde Park Corner tube station in the 1920s, and telling architectural signs are evident upon the exterior of the property and from within.
The Wellesley attracts a high calibre of clientèle, but is accessible for anyone seeking a night or more of pure indulgence. The hotel is conveniently situated for shopping, up-market bars and a wander around Hyde Park. Beautifully restored in Art Deco style with a contemporary twist, The Wellesley is a feast for the senses, offering the discerning traveller copious luxury surprises and outstanding personalised service.
What we loved!
Live jazz that was in the hotel’s divine Jazz Lounge which boasts brilliant acoustics thanks to the venue’s musical roots.
The delicious cocktails on offer in the Crystal Bar.
Marble bathrooms and Hermès toiletries.
Courtesy Rolls Royce chauffeur service.
Fast, free WiFi and dozens of free movies available on-demand.
Dining and recreation
The Wellesley features several spaces for indulging, including the enthralling Jazz Lounge with its grand piano centrepiece; the award-winning Crystal Bar which boasts a large selection of fine cognac, champagnes and whisky, and the opulent Oval Restaurant where a delectable Italian-inspired menu is on offer.
The spacious 4-bedroom penthouse set across levels six and seven, with scenic views of Hyde Park, and featuring heated marble floors, heavenly bathrooms, balconies and a fire place.
“You know I love a London boy, I enjoy nights in Brixton, Shoreditch in the afternoon…”
It’s no secret Cooper and I are Swifties (the collective term for ‘fans of Taylor Swift’). He might not like me mentioning it too much in public, but trust me, we’re up there dancing with the best of them at her shows 😁
You’re likely to know by now that she’s released a new album – the 7th studio album in her excellent collection. Taylor Swift London Boy – we love this track on Lover! Don’t get your hopes up about running into her in the UK capital though. The song tells a story about where she spends time with her ‘London Boy’ Joe Alwyn. And they’re known for not advertising where they are.
But you can still take a wander around places that are obviously close to her heart. (and if you’re a super fan, you might have heard about this odd theory that her lyrics actually map out a heart around London. hehe)
Must say, I’ve read some rather cynical accounts of Swifty’s London Boy guide to the city. But, as someone who is also rather in love with London, I kinda like her guide.
Taylor Swift London Boy city guide
We’ve compiled some travel info for any of you other Swifties out there interested in taking in the experiences and areas she’s mentioned.
In Taylor Swift’s London Boy she mentions “Camden Market in the afternoon”. Ok so Camden is pretty cool and you’ll find a lot of things (probably stuff you don’t need) at the market. If you get tired of big crowds though, don’t go in the afternoon.
We’d suggest going later at night, or early in the morning. Camden Market is well worth a look, but time it so you don’t get trampled!
FEST is also a nice spot that decorates according to the season. Nice to go for a drink away from the crowds.
Highgate and Hampstead Heath
Taylor’s spent a bit of time in the suburbs of North London. It’s known to be a bit affluent, posh even. Granted, we like it. We house sat in Crouch End recently. We also enjoyed a house sit near beautiful Hampstead Heath that boasts miles and miles of parkland walks, lakes and stunning views across London.
There’s a number of tube/Overground stops that will take you right up to one of the entrances to Hampstead Heath.
Leafy Highgate is best known for its cemetery. It’s an old one, and also the final resting place for many well-known figures including another one of our music faves, George Michael.
Like Camden, it gets very very crowded. But there’s some cool experiences to be had here. Most of ours include food 😆
Sketch, pictured above, is pretty special (don’t miss going to the bathrooms – just trust us). For a bit of craziness in Soho, you’ll find us digging for an afternoon drink deal at Bar Soho. (Swifty mentions ‘drinking in the afternoon’… sure, it’s a thing on a sunny day 🌞). There’s plenty of food joints, bars and pubs in the vicinity of Bar Soho, if you can get yourself down that way.
And when you need a snack (yup, you know what I’m talking about), go here:
Hackney, Shoreditch and the east end
aww, our ‘London home’ side of the city. For a large part of the last century the east end struggled. Much of it was badly hit during WWII, and the poorest Londoners resided here.
A lot has happened in recent years. Shoreditch and neighbouring Dalston are arguably ‘trendy’. No doubt there’s a cool energy, lots of boutique stores, arty experiences and a surprising side of London to see.
Taylor Swift in London Boy mentions Hackney as a place to explore, over “Louis V on Bond Street”. Agreed.
Broadway Market is our absolute favourite experience in the east. Head over there early on Saturday for one of the best, loveliest local markets in the city. Around the corner is a fabulous bar/restaurant/pop-up store space called Mare Street Market. Highly recommended. Then, take your foodie treats, sit in London Fields (park) and people watch.
You can view east London in all its glory from this excellent rooftop venue:
High tea in London Boy
I read a news item saying that ‘purists’ will be upset with Taylor Swift for calling ‘afternoon tea’ ‘high tea’. Weird – that’s how I know it. And that’s how it’s marketed. All tastes the same 😋
Top London travel tip: before coming to London, sign up for a discount site like LivingSocial or Groupon. There’s plenty of awesome deals on high tea or afternoon tea! Buy one ahead of your trip and indulge.
Brixton and south London
Down to south London now. Brixton is famous for music, cool markets and lots of new fun things opening all the time.
Jump on the Victoria line and head on over to this side of the city. Culture Trip‘s published a helpful guide on things to do in Brixton.
“Stick with me, I’m your Queen…”
Ok so you’re coming to the capital. You’ve seen The Crown, Victoria… Get amongst some Royal action while you’re in town. Why not.
In London Boy, Taylor Swift mentions ‘Louis V’ (the store), but implies exploring the rest of London outside of the glitz is just as fun (true).
You do need to explore central London though. Why? Because it is lovely!
From the historical buildings in Bloomsbury to stunning St Paul’s and Thames walks – find out why people, including us and Swifty, fall in love with this place.
Bonus: get yourself to a good old fashioned English pub
A quintessential London experience: the pub. They’re different in England than pubs in other places. Cosy, chilled, good times.
Careful in London that you don’t get dragged into a touristy pub – nothing wrong with them, but they’re often more expensive and lack the authentic charm that your local neighbourhood pubs have.
One of our favourites is in Angel, east London. Take a look.
So you see, Taylor Swift views the city like many of us do. For those who don’t like it, tough. The visitor numbers can’t be denied, nor our fabulous city’s millions of fans all over the world. I’ll take my rose-tinted view whenever I can 🌈
Please do add your tips or questions in the comments below. See you in London!
Taylor Swift London Boy, image: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19
Welcome to Travel Live learn, where we are passionate about living a life full of great adventures. We are Sarah + Cooper, and here we share our advice and stories about expat living in the UK; pet and house sitting around the world; wellness travel and creative living, no matter where on the planet you are. We have worked in media, communication and creative roles for 20 years, and have spent over 10 years living and working abroad. We hope you find value in our content. Please do connect by leaving a comment or find us on social media.