1. Eating Through Borough Market & Photo-Op at Tower Bridge | 9 a.m.
We started our journey on the east end of town as we were staying atop the Shard, the newly minted addition to the London skyline with its pyramid like architecture. In the past, the area was seen as somewhat neglected and downtrodden, but it has undergone a revitalization over the past couple of years. One of the great activities of the area that’s been around for decades, however, is the Borough Market right by London Bridge. While most of the markets, such as Notting Hill and others, are focused on goods and crafts, this one is almost entirely focused on food. It’s a nice blend of farmer's market for locals looking for fresh meats and vegetables, and also cooked foods for tourists and locals alike to have a taste of authentic and fresh local cuisine. The market is only opened on certain days of the week, so be sure to time it correctly, but on the days that it’s opened, it’s a large sprawling area lined with hundreds of stands. There were tons of places selling local cheeses and cured meats, jams, chocolates, produce, as well as cooked pies, burgers, and pub grub. One of the highlights was a stand serving fresh seafood including huge oysters and clams on the half shell.
We ate our way through the market and also stopped by the Old Thameside Inn, a local pub, which had a fairly large selection of beers and ciders as well. The pub was right by the Thames River with seats outside if it’s not too cold, and is perfect for a relaxing and breezy summer day.
After relaxing by the river, we took a quick stroll further down to see the Tower Bridge, which a lot of people mistaken for the London Bridge. We took a lot of pictures of the bridge, but decided not to make the trek across even though it’s a fairly short walk. Instead, we hopped onto the Tube and made our way to the next destination.
2. London Must-Dos: Buckingham Palace & Afternoon Tea at the Ritz | 3 p.m.
One of the tourist highlights of London is going to Buckingham Palace, which is the home of the Queen and the Royal Family. The palace itself is quite grand and is situated in a very nice and relaxing area between Green Park and St.James Park. If you plan ahead, which we didn’t, you can go and witness the changing of the guards and see the guards march in their red uniforms and tall furry hats. During the other times, there are still a few guards standing post outside the palace. There wasn’t too much to do besides snapping a few photos, so we went quickly through Green Park where we had booked a reservation for a classic British staple - afternoon tea.
The Ritz is an institution in London and has one of the most classic and opulent dining room for tea. When we stepped in, we weren’t disappointed as the room was beautifully adorned with gold statues, marble columns, grand flower displays, and chandeliers hanging from the roof. A formal dress code is required, and we felt like we were transferred back to the Victorian age. Everything was excessively opulent, but didn’t feel kitschy or inauthentic. We ordered the afternoon tea, which came with a multi-layered tray of finger sandwiches and pastries as well as a silver teapot of our tea of choice. Of course there were also warm scones with clotted cream and preserves. Everything was fantastic and really is an experience that justifies the £60 price per person.
3. Wandering about in Fortnum & Mason / Piccadilly Circus / Leicester Square | 5 p.m.
We had to walk off all the food we consumed, so we headed east along Picadilly. One of the interesting stores we came across was a large Fortnum & Mason, which is famous for producing teas and biscuits. This was probably their flagship stores as it was huge and also had a lot of items like chocolates which I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Parallel to Piccadilly to the south is also Jermyn Street, which is renowned for its shops selling gentlemen’s shirts and shoes. Farther to the north is Savile Row, which is famed for its bespoke suits. As we needed neither of those, we didn’t spend time there. Instead, we kept walking east towards Picadilly Circus, which offers a photo-op with the illuminated signs. We then continued to Leicester Square, which houses a lot of theatres. Unfortunately we didn’t get tickets this time to see any of the shows, but it’s definitely on the list for next time. Instead, we checked out some of the more touristy spots like the M&M’s and Lego store, as well as Chinatown.
4. Elevated British Cuisine at Pollen St. Social | 8 p.m.
When we had first booked our trip to London, we knew that we had wanted to try one of Jason Atherton’s restaurants. He had launched a series of restaurants in London under the Social moniker and has expanded to Asia and the Americas since. We decided to try his flagship Pollen St. Social, which is Michelin starred. It was 15 minutes away from Leicester, and was an easy walk on Regent Street while browsing some of the large international brand stores like Zara and Hugo Boss. There was also a large flagship Burberry store and Reiss for UK based fashion. Pollen St. Social was off on a side street, and we were greeted by the receptionist when we approached. The restaurant was upscale with white table clothes and well-dressed servers, but it was very cozy and approachable with a hearty buzz and conversations going on to make it comfortable.