five days in london

We surprised our kids with a trip to London over their February 2022 school break. It wasn’t intended to be a surprise, but when we asked them where they thought we were going a couple months ago, their answers were so outrageous — Russia! the equator! — we decided, for our own entertainment, to allow them to keep them guessing for until we pulled up to the airport. Our trip goal was threefold: Show the kids to as many of the don’t-miss spots we could in a short time, take a lot of steps (walking is my favorite activity in cities), and, of course, try as many good foods as we could, in hopes to leave teeming with inspiration. Here’s how we did. Please note: As always, absolutely nothing here is sponsored or comped in any way.

Day 1: The day you arrive on a redeye shouldn’t count, we’re such zombies, and we were set further back by some luggage drama at Heathrow. Fortunately, our hotel [Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square] had our rooms ready early and we sacked out for half the afternoon before stumbling to the adorable Popina down the block for some sandwiches and ate them at the playground. It began to drizzle and we had our first taste of regret over not bringing — I’m embarrassed to admit this — warmer coats, hats, or gloves.

We wandered around Soho a bit and attempted to find a proper Sunday roast. Alas, smarter people might have started planning before 5pm on a Sunday. We tried and failed at Blacklock then hopped on the subway — excuse me, Underground — to head to a Hawksmoor on the other end of town. We were utterly humiliated on the subway. We have the misplaced confidence of seasoned subway riders and still managed to hold up a turnstile befuddled as to why the £50 card we bought didn’t work for the whole family. The hubris! The deflation! Not going to lie: I love this part of travel where you’re slightly panicked and confused and, most importantly, fully immersed in anyplace but home. Well, I love it now.

Eventually, we got to dinner, soaked to the bone from sheeting rain on the way over, but they’d stopped serving their Sunday roast at 5. Still, we ordered as many components as we could: creamed spinach, garlic mushrooms, a new-to-me delight of a dish, potted beef and bacon with Yorkshires and onion gravy, plus gin martinis (for adults), Shirley Temples (we rue the day we introduced the kids to these), and a sticky toffee pudding for dessert that is probably all the kids remember. It was a fantastic feast and we slept like the dead for at least 11 hours.

Day 2: We had breakfast at the hotel and then went to the Royal Air Force Museum, which is great for kids and especially the one of mine that wants to be a pilot. In a search for lunch nearby, we found ourselves at The Beaufort Pub. Everything was fine but the fish and chips my husband and son decided to split was at least 100 levels better than it needed to be: shatteringly crisp, gorgeous, flaky inside. We didn’t even try finding better fish and chips on the trip after that.

We then headed to Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station. We’d bought VIP passes which allow you to skip the line (but it wasn’t very long at the time) and provide you with a free photo print of your experience, but quickly realized we hadn’t needed to buy them for the whole family if only your kids are the fanatics. I’d also advise you to skip it if you’ll be heading to the Warner Brothers studio tour on your trip, as you’ll have another, identical chance. We walked around the train station and area a bit and then headed to Dishoom for dinner, which was fine but not my favorite meal of the week. Our server, however, was awesome, and I wish I could remember his name.

Day 3: We headed to Söderberg for breakfast because I’d read good things about their cardamom bun but the breakfast menu was so perfect for us, we got the buns to go for snacks later [they were wonderful] and sat down for a real meal. The savory brunch tray was a breakfast dream-come-true for a breakfast grazer like me, and the eggs on sourdough toast the perfect size for a weekday breakfast for my husband. We walked around a lot more and then over to the London Eye, which we’d bought tickets for. I loved it! I love all ferris wheels, everywhere, to be fair, but this is great one. We were on the fence about daytime vs. sunset but realistically at sunset you won’t be able to see as much of the city so I think we made the right choice for daytime.

We walked over Westminster Abbey, then Buckingham Palace, where one of us reached her end of patience with the rain and cold. After a brief warmup at the hotel, we went to the Natural History Museum (tickets also bought in advance) and spent the rest of the afternoon there. For dinner, we went to Maggie Jones’s Restaurant, which had been recommended to me by Jon Melendez. It was charming and rustic and I loved every second, as I almost predictably will anyplace I can order a whole steamed artichoke and salad that’s just Stilton, bacon, and walnuts.

Day 4: We got scones for breakfast at GAIL’S Bakery and then wandered over to Hyde Park for a bit to see the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground, which is very charming but definitely best for younger kids, and then the garden which a smarter person might have guessed would have very few flowers in February.

We’d made a lunch reservation at Honey & Co (which will be closing soon), but due to not quite having mastered the tube yet, we were late and lost our table. In a rare coincidence, I bumped into Brooklyn-based food writer Leah Koenig outside interviewing the owner, Itamar Srulovich, who set us up at a table at the more upscale Honey & Smoke (which will not be closing) a couple blocks away. We had an incredible meal (the falafel, octopus, grilled sprouting broccoli salad, a lamb skewer, and do not even think about skipping the side of crispy potatoes with parsley and sumac) and the pastries from Sarit Packer were outstanding.

We then headed to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London (tickets purchased months prior), probably the highlight of the kids’ and husband’s week. It was wonderful. You’ll want to allot 3 hours there alone and definitely plan on it taking at least another 90 minutes in each direction to get back. It was very late and we were very hungry after, too late to get dinner most places, but, lucky us, Din Tai Fung in the Selfridges near our hotel was open until 11pm. And it was hopping! We had soup dumplings and noodle soups and were very content.

Day 5: Last full day! We started the day getting delicious croissants at Aux Pains de Papy then double-backed to set up the Covid tests we’d need for the return flight at a pharmacy by our hotel. We went to Tower of London. Everyone told me not to miss the Yeoman Warden Tours and I didn’t get what the big deal was until we were there but they’re an absolute delight, the highlight.

It was — as might be a theme — pretty rainy and cold so we settled for taking a double-decker bus over the Tower Bridge instead of walking it, and then went to Borough Market. We had one of my favorite meals of the week at Padella, with the best burrata I’ve ever had, a perfect cacio e pepe, and I have not stopped thinking about the fettuccine with chicken livers and marsala since. We wandered around the market for a bit, trying both an apple crumble at Humble Crumble and a doughnut at Bread Ahead. It’s a good thing this was our last full day because we were suddenly very beat. I barely remember the rest of the afternoon. I think we got a late pizza nobody was hungry for at Pizza Pilgrims.

Day 6: We got one last pastry before heading to the airport at Fortitude Bakehouse. The kids loved the cinnamon roll. Anyone would.