Visiting London has always been on my travel wish list, but it got bumped to the top this year. I started a new job that offered the opportunity to earn a trip to London for me, my partner, and my daughter.
We ended up spending 3 nights in Kensington and 2 nights in Camden, which gave two completely different experiences in the same city. Kensington is quiet and reserved, filled with some pretty posh residences. Camden felt very vibrant and grungy in comparison. It reminded me a little of the striking differences between Santa Monica and Venice Beach – so close and yet so different.
One of the things we were really looking forward to was spending time in English pubs – the older, the better. It seems so quintessentially English, plus we all really like pub food and a good beer!
As soon as we dropped our bags at the hotel, we wandered out to find our first pub, The Castle. I think it was probably a little more hipster than it was a “true” English pub, but it fit the bill for us. We had a pint and snacked on a lovely cheese plate. They also have some fabulous sausage rolls and meat pies, which we got to sample later that evening. Another afternoon, we cozied up in The Salisbury. It has an amazing history and definitely fit the bill for Old English Pub.
While we did make a list of things we’d like to see, we tried to remain pretty flexible each day. I prefer to feel like I’m living in a city, even for a few days, rather than doing touristy things. We spent a lot of time just wandering, only to realize that something on our list was close by.
Unfortunately, one of the words we kept using for London was “underwhelming”. Don’t get me wrong – we had a great time, but some things just seemed way more hyped up than they deserved.
For example, we wanted to visit the Harry Potter wand installation near Millennium Bridge. It just so happened we were coming back from the Tower of London and it was nearby, so we headed over. We arrived minutes before the lighting ceremony. It was cool to be there, but if we had trekked across town just for a few lights, it would have been a bit of a let down.
Similarly, we detoured past Kensington Palace while on our way elsewhere. It’s actually a pretty unimposing building from the outside. I’m glad we saw these sights, but I’m also glad we didn’t try to force them into our schedule.
Our favorite parts of London were the unexpected ones that weren’t on our list at all.
During our wandering, we found fun and meaningful experiences that we would have missed if we had been tied to a list or guide book.
Our first day, we stumbled upon a display of vintage cars on Regent Street that I could have lingered over for hours. Most of the cars were pre-1906, and showed a fabulous range of ideas and ingenuity. Many were slated for a drive to Brighton the next day, which sounds like an amazing trip! I had no idea this was an annual event and wish I’d known about it before we arrived. I was so distracted by the cars that I walked right past Liberty of London, which was on my list of places to visit.
We found many war memorials as we wandered. I was especially touched that so many people leave wreaths of poppies as a sign of respect. It was deeply moving and sometimes overwhelming to be in England at the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. As a family, we proudly wore our own poppies through most of this trip.
The Animals in War exhibit was a touching tribute. It was especially meaningful for my daughter, who is vegan and a vet tech working towards a veterinary degree. I loved that people left poppies for the animals, too.
To fill the time we spent an hour or so at the National Gallery. I got to see in person several paintings that felt like old friends. As a historical costumer, I’ve studied these images many times over the years. It was fun to turn a corner and say, “Oh, hi! I know you!”
These first three days in Kensington flew by. Before I knew it, it was time to move on to Camden for the rest of our time in London.