At the beginning of June, John and I boarded our separate flights to the other side of the Atlantic for a nine day adventure in the UK. This particular trip felt extra special, not only because we had the opportunity to explore new cities together, but also because we hadn't seen each other for more than 5 days at a time since John moved to Los Angeles last July (ugh!). "Can you believe it? NINE whole date nights!!!" We couldn't stop laughing about this the entire trip. Suffice it to say, we made the most of ALL our British date night opportunities.
If there's one thing we treasure *almost* more than each other, it's our trips. As someone whose most visited website is Google Flights, I'm always looking for ways to squeeze in the next weekend getaway or trip-of-a-lifetime, and I've definitely instilled my travel bug in John. This whole vacation was actually his idea! A few months ago he started talking about a work event that he had in London and how fun it would be to travel throughout the UK for the week leading up to it. I was already on Google Flights before he finished his sentence.
So grab a big cuppa breakfast tea and sit back. Without further ado, here's a glimpse into our
nine magical days in the uk.
EDINBURGH: 3 nights (2 for John as he joined a day later!)
LAKE DISTRICT - AMBLESIDE: 2 nights
OXFORD: We ended up just passing through here for an afternoon & a meal on the way to Brighton
BRIGHTON: 2 nights
LONDON: 2 nights
It was incredible to hit as many cities as we did during such a short period of time, but if we did it all over again, we would probably stick to three places to have more time in our favorite cities and avoid the fatigue of constant traveling (IT'S REAL)! Our favorites were Edinburgh, the Lake District, and London.
*We travelled within & between each city by public transport and British rail. If you're traveling for an extended period of time and are between the ages of 16-25, I would recommend getting a UK rail card. They're around £30 and give you 30% off all fares, plus discounted rates on London Underground (tube), the Gatwick Express, and the Heathrow Express to and from the airport.
The trip began in the dreamy Scottish capital of Edinburgh. People are always raving about this place, and now I understand why. It's the perfect mix of medieval charm and young blood tucked away in the northeast hills of Scotland. From Edinburgh Castle to the majestic Arthur's Seat, it truly feels like you're living in fairytale. That is, until you realize there's no horse and carriage to pull you up and down the massive hills. Safe to say we got in our fair share of steps...
Accommodation: 1820s Georgian Period Flat Apartment; We had an incredible stay with Alex in his traditional, 3rd floor walkup flat. The place had tons of character and was an easy 10-15 minute walk to all the action. Alex was super friendly and offered me plenty of recommendations and good conversation, as I was in Edinburgh by myself for 1 1/2 days before John arrived.
Sights / Activities we loved: Climbing to the top of Arthur's Seat, strolling through the University of Edinburgh & The Meadows, visiting ALL of the Harry Potter landmarks (The Elephant House, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Victoria Street, etc), walking through the city with Helen, our Scottish tour guide, during a Hidden Highs & Lows Walking Tour (our first Airbnb "Experience"), exploring the adorable Edinburgh neighborhoods of Bonnington & Leith (you HAVE to check out Life Story in Bonnington. If I could move my permanent residence to a store, it'd be this little design shop).
Food/Drinks: If you only have time for one meal in Edinburgh, it better be at Urban Angel. This place is home to the most delicious brunch you will ever eat (their scrambled eggs & avo toast were on ANOTHER level. Ask John, I could NOT stop talking about it for rest of the trip!!!). Sandy Bell's is great for an evening of traditional Scottish music and whisky. You will meet people from all over the world. Cuckoo's Bakery is a must for a spot of tea and the BEST cupcakes. Check out Henderson's for the yummiest organic & vegetarian bite to eat (served deli-style; they also have a vegan sister restaurant next door). Wish I found this place sooner, as I would have gone back for every meal! There is also a Dishoom that opened up in Edinburgh recently. This is our #1 priority when we visit the UK, though we always go to the London Carnaby Street location (see London section below).
Didn't get to it, but will try if we go back!: Civerinos (pizza), Wee Buddha (eclectic asian), Pinnies & Poppy Seeds (for Scottish Shortbread), Mary's Milk Bar (ice cream), Palm Court (high tea in the famous Balmoral Hotel), Royal Botanic Gardens, Scott Monument, Camera Obscura, Fortitude Coffee, a weekend trip to the Highlands or St. Andrews, Christmas markets (supposed to be incredible in December!).
Cumbria was a must-visit for John, as three generations of his family have had life-changing stays here. To be honest, I didn't know much about the area before, but now I appreciate why it's such a special place for them. It's a truly magnificent and charming collection of villages in the middle of the most stunning landscape setting. It's no wonder Wordsworth wrote some of his most inspired work while living here. We stayed in a town northeast of Lake Windermere, called Ambleside. This quaint little spot will forever hold a piece of my heart.
Accommodation: Cozy room in Ambleside cottage; We've stayed in a lot of Airbnb's, but I think John and I would agree that this place topped our list. The beautiful French-inspired cottage and cozy bedroom was incredible, but even more outstanding was the hospitality of Steve and Ali, our hosts. When we arrived, Steve offered to pick us up in town, free of charge. He proceeded to give us a tour of the town and walked us through all of his favorite restaurants, activities, and hiking trails in the area. If that wasn't enough, we woke every morning to a freshly brewed pot of "breakfast" tea followed by a station of homemade granola, nuts & seeds, berries, and homemade yogurt... I mean how does one even go about making yogurt from scratch?! To top it off, Steve baked us a loaf of his homemade bread each morning and prepared the most incredible scrambled eggs I've ever eaten (likely due to the fact that he loaded them up with a pound of butter and cream... not complaining)!
Sights / Activities we loved: Hiking Coffin Trail along Rydal Water, taking the bus up to the town of Grasmere, playing tennis at White Platts (they also have mini golf & lawns for bocci).
Food/Drinks: There aren't that many restaurants in this tiny town, but Zeff's or Zeffirellis, has stood the test of time. It's a family-owned vegetarian Italian spot in the center of town. They have a great menu and wine selection, and the restaurant is attached to a cinema (where most people go after dinner). My favorite find of the week was The Apple Pie Cafe & Bakery. John and I stumbled upon it as we were walking through town looking for a lunch place. It's attached to the cutest B&B and everything is homemade, delicious, and super reasonably priced. We went for round two the next morning to pick up some treats for our train journey to Oxford. The apple pie and salted caramel shortbread were out.of.this.world. We also discovered the famous Grasmere Gingerbread while exploring some of the other towns in the district. Sarah Nelson prepared the first batch in her cottage back in 1854. The ladies that run the place still wear bonnets & aprons... no joke! I'm not a huge gingerbread fan, but this stuff is unlike anything I've ever eaten. Chewy, sweet, and spicy all at the same time. Good thing they ship worldwide. :)
Didn't get to it, but will try if we go back!: Explore Keswick & Hawkshead, rent bikes (you have to do this WAY ahead of time), kayak in Lake Windermere, check out some of the other trails in the National Park.
On our way from Ambleside to Brighton, we made a pit stop in Oxford to walk around campus. The town is full of history and the academic buildings are pretty remarkable. It's hard to believe that people actually go to school here! Unfortunately, we didn't have anywhere to drop our suitcases since we were just passing through, so we (read: Grace) didn't get too far on foot. Still, we were able to check out main street and a few of the colleges, and relax for the rest of the afternoon in Christ Church Meadows. We even caught a glimpse of the local boys' cricket practice. Overall, I would describe Oxford as quaint, academic, international, and a little (okay, A LOT) posh. Not unlike Georgetown...
Accommodation: N/A (We were just passing through for an afternoon!)
Sights / Activities we loved: Blackwell's Bookshop and Art & Poster Shop, laying in Christ Church Meadows (Our friend, Katherine studied at Oxford for a year, and gave us all the recommendations - thank you, Katherine!)
Food/Drinks: Turl Street Kitchen
Didn't get to it, but will try if we go back!: Walk along the River Thames, go to the Henley Boat Races.
I've heard so many good things about Brighton, and it was probably the place I looked forward to the most on this trip. Many of the creatives / YouTubers / bloggers that I love live here, so I had a long list of restaurants and activities to keep us occupied. We discovered some amazing local interior and clothing shops and fun restaurants during our two-day stay, but overall, I'd say we were underwhelmed. I know it's supposed to be artsy and all, but something about it felt a bit junky and dirty. Either way, I would still recommend checking Brighton out if you're in the area. It's only a quick one hour train ride south of London!
Accommodation: Balcony attic room; Tom and Jenny's attic was perfect for our quick stay. The room was adorable with a great balcony and view of the city. We ended up eating take out on the balcony one night while watching Suits (just what we needed before our last weekend in London)! Tom also prepared a wonderful breakfast spread for us in the morning that included homemade jams, croissants, yogurt & granola.
Sights / Activities we loved: Playing arcade games on Brighton pier, walking the beach, checking out the shops in the Lanes.
Food/Drinks: Leon fast food (okay, this place is incredible), Red Roaster (cool interior, but wouldn't recommend for food!).
Didn't get to it, but will try if we go back!: South Downs, Royal Pavilion. Check out this blog by one of my favorites, The Anna Edit, for more Brighton recommendations!
I'm going to keep this on the shorter side because the focus of the trip was primarily on the first four destinations... London is one of my all-time favorite cities, and I've been lucky enough to visit it quite a few times over the past couple of years. I know my way around probably just as well as I do New York City and Paris, but I credit that to their incredible public transportation (London Underground or "the TUBE" as it's most commonly known)! At this point in the trip, we were both pretty burnt-out from the long week of travel, so we kept it simple - shopping, eating, and long walks through Chelsea, Hyde Park & Notting Hill!
Accommodation: Fulham; I would definitely recommend staying in the West London area (Fulham, Kensington, and Chelsea are great) as it's away from the main tourist traps, but also a great starting point for exploring the city. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this particular Airbnb as we didn't have the best experience, but I've linked it above for reference.
Sights / Activities we loved: Walking through Hyde Park & Notting Hill. Shopping in Belgravia and on Carnaby Street. We didn't do any tourist attractions this time around.
Food/Drinks: Dishoom. Even if you're only in London for an hour or two, you must go to Dishoom. If you don't like Indian food, YOU WILL AFTER THIS. It's the most flavorful and unique experience I've ever had with food. So believe the hype, it's real. They don't take reservations for parties less than 8, so expect to wait an hour + for a table. Don't worry though, they serve you hot tea and alcoholic beverages free of charge while you're waiting in line! My other favorite food destination is a little café tucked away in Notting Hill, Granger & Co. Their brunch is to die for and the portions are big, so it's a great place to stop in after a long morning of walking!
*Feel free to text or DM me for more specific London recs or first-time suggestions! I could write an entire post about my favorite London places!
We're so grateful to have had the chance to spend a few days together exploring these incredible cities. I hope this gives you a little inspiration for your next escapade, wherever that may be. Until next time!