The day after our tiny, backyard wedding, we grabbed our two backpacks and headed off to England for our honeymoon. Staying exclusively in Airbnbs, we split two weeks between the buzz of London and picturesque towns scattered through the English countryside. In this two part series, we’ll share our favorite urban and rural spots from this whirlwind trip.
Unapologetically stunning, surprisingly approachable, albeit relentlessly expensive, London is arguably the most impressive big city we’ve explored via Airbnb.
Our first stop was London. Months after receiving the ridiculously discounted fare from Scott’s Cheap Flights, we found ourselves zipping through the iconic Underground on our way to a spacious apartment just a few blocks north of Covent Gardens. Upon finding the right buzzer and navigating to the right blue door, we met our host who had thought of everything an American couple like us could need: a bottle of champagne to celebrate our marriage, an abundance of books pointing us to the city’s best spots, and a converter for our phone chargers which we’d of course forgotten. We spent seven days in London, and walked away completely smitten. Unapologetically stunning, surprisingly approachable, albeit relentlessly expensive, London is arguably the most impressive big city we’ve explored via Airbnb. Here are the places we loved the most.
The Pubs and the Parks
There were four qualities about London we noticed immediately, all of which converged to create our daily routine.
1) The public transportation was shockingly easy to navigate. We’ve explored our fair share of large cosmopolitan centers, and the London Underground immediately took its place as the yardstick against which all future subway systems will be measured. No wonder the Mind the Gap sticker crops up around the world.
2) Walking the city’s streets was a joy. Its hodgepodge architecture spans the centuries, its streets feel infinitely explorable, and the general height of the buildings meant we could almost always see the sky.
3) The city’s parks were so big that we’d forget we were in a city altogether, and were filled with sumptuous gardens and the occasional palace.
4) London is a happy hour city. It’s bursting at the seams with pubs that more than deserve their world-wide reputation, but they’re all rocking by the late afternoon and lock up their doors by 11 PM.
Given these attributes and our noticeable jetlag, our London days fell into this rhythm. Sleep in, lounge around the beautiful apartment with espresso left by our thoughtful host. (We quickly learned why Nespresso machines have surpassed the Keurig machine in England.) Then we’d leaf through our hosts collection of coffee table books and London guides. From the fabulous book, London’s Best Pubs, we’d select a lunch pub and a dinner pub from different neighborhoods.
From the fabulous book, London’s Best Pubs, we’d select a lunch pub and a dinner pub from different neighborhoods.
We’d then wander towards the lunch pub taking whichever circuitous route passed places we’d yet to see: Selfridges, Big Ben, 221b Baker Street. Eventually finding our pub destination, we’d eat our fill, enjoy some ale, and then continue on to the nearest park for a rest before rinsing and repeating at the evening pub. Whenever we were finally tuckered out, we’d simply look around for the closest Underground Stop and pop back to Covent Gardens. This daily routine led us to these three spectacular pubs.
The Lamb and Flag
Following the recommendation of our host, The Lamb and Flag was the first pub we ventured into. Nestled down the tiny Rose Street, we ended up on the second floor for a late lunch. Our mid-afternoon timing meant that we had the entire dining room to ourselves, tucked in the corner booth looking out the window. Between the atmosphere and the seclusion, this place was wonderfully romantic and brimming with history. This literary hotspot once hosted patrons such as Charles Dickens and John Drayton (who apparently got his butt kicked just outside the doors by men sent by a rival poet. Ah history.)
The Princess Louise
Just around the corner from our apartment, we found The Princess Louise. This place was unlike any bar we’ve ever visited. Dripping in glitz, the interior was coated in ornate carvings and bright metallics, heavy with mahogany wood, and finished off with a glamorous gold ceiling. Every surface boasted some type of flourish or etching. Wood dividers with frosted glass circle out from bar itself, creating intimate rooms big enough for just a few stools while tufted leather booths lined the corners. The environment was so impressive, we can’t remember what we even drank.
London is a happy hour city. It’s bursting at the seams with pubs that more than deserve their world-wide reputation, but they’re all rocking by the late afternoon and lock up their doors by 11 PM.
The Queen’s Arms
Located just down the street from Victoria Station, The Queen’s Arms had the best food of any pub we tried. We devoured a vegetable cheese soup, sweet potato fries, and a very European filled tartlet. The menu was tethered to the fall season, and the service was memorably generous. With its crisp white walls, expansive windows, and bright orange ceiling, the pub felt modern and light yet still distinctly Victorian. Absolutely worth whatever walk or subway ride was necessary to experience this place.
The Classic Stops
Sometimes all the hype behind a classic tourist stop exists because it really is that incredible. Here are the places that more than lived up to our expectations.
Then throw in some crown jewels, Anne Boleyn’s beheading, fortified walls with arrow-sized slits, Beefeaters that look like they’ve just walked off a gin bottle, and a mote, and we thought the pricey admission was worth every penny.
The Tower of London
Perhaps to European sensibilities, the Tower of London’s construction date of 1066 doesn’t elicit the same jaw-dropping effect as it does of two Americans like ourselves. But to us at least, entering a nearly thousand year old castle was mind-boggling. Then throw in some crown jewels, Anne Boleyn’s beheading, fortified walls with arrow-sized slits, Beefeaters that look like they’ve just walked off a gin bottle, and a mote, and we thought the pricey admission was worth every penny. In fact, the grin on Jay’s face whilst sitting atop the royal toilet was so enthusiastic that Apple’s algorithm chose that picture not just as the cover photo for the day, but the photo for the month.
The River Thames
Lined with walking paths and adorned with iconic bridges, we returned to the River Thames again and again, following its gentle curves through the city. The biggest highlight was a delicious meal on the R.S. Hispaniola, a docked just across from the London Eye with Jay’s extended family. After dinner, we spent the rest of the evening attempting to keep beer from coming out our nose in the adjoining comedy club, The Boat Show. This wonderfully named club featured a series of side-splitting comedians and an MC that kept the show rolling until the very end. We spent our last night in London here, getting a fabulous floating fix of British humor.
And finally, Covent Gardens. If you’ve seen My Fair Lady, you’ve seen the heart of Covent Gardens in its original market form, bustling with daily shoppers and overflowing with produce, baked good, flowers, and meat. Through its most recent revival, the market has been transformed into an upscale shopping district, housing chic boutiques and designer brands. The sunken patios in the market’s center echo with top-notch musicians and the abundance of cafes and bakeries constantly fill the place with irresistible smells. Rarely could be walk through without getting something to eat.
The Covent Gardens neighborhood became the heart of our London experience. With our Airbnb tucked down a tiny side street, we spent each morning and each evening here. With its central location and stunning streets, we could have stayed here for months. Before we knew it we, were off to several small towns throughout the English countryside, which had in store for us equally stunning stops, and much more adventurous public transportation. We’ll be back next week with the second half of our Airbnb honeymoon!