Nat Geo Travels: London, England
We asked a National Geographic staff member about her recent travels to London. Here’s her advice on getting the most out of a trip to England’s capital city.
Hannah Sheinberg is an associate editor at National Geographic Traveler, where she leads the creation of content for the front of the magazine. Hannah recently took a trip to London with a group of journalists to explore the city, enjoy English treats, and take in some royal fashion.
We spoke with Hannah about where to find the best afternoon tea, what it was like to sing along to a British orchestra, and the spots she wishes she’d seen. Here’s what she had to say about the most memorable moments of her time in the city.
Have you been to London before?
I've been to London six times, not that I'm obsessively counting or anything. I tend to stay closer to Soho when I'm in the city, so this was the first trip where I really got to explore the Kensington neighborhood.
I think that makes you nearly English. What was your favorite activity on this particular trip?
Watching the Classical Spectacular at Royal Albert Hall. I'm not a huge fan of orchestral music—I grew up on a hearty diet of 1970s British punk—so I'm as surprised as anyone by how much I enjoyed the show. The cannons, cancan dancers, laser lights, and a big balloon-drop finale probably helped a bit. By the end of the concert, I was belting out "Rule, Britannia" (Britain's unofficial anthem) with the rest of the Union Jack–waving audience.
Where did you stay?
The Milestone Hotel in Kensington, where each room is decorated completely differently. I stayed in the Kensington Garden Suite, a split-level room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Will and Kate's front yard. Instead of mints on your pillow, the Milestone leaves gifts such as a Sherlock Holmes anthology, a portable book light, and hand lotion for the plane ride home. The hotel even creates business cards for suites, so guests can pass them out and pretend to be London residents.
My favorite spot in the hotel was the Conservatory, a black-and-white-outfitted lounge with windows for walls. Settle into one of the leather armchairs and order a gentleman's afternoon tea—think bite-size Cornish pasties, beef Wellingtons, and Scotch eggs, complemented by a flight of whiskey or beer.
That sounds fantastic.
It was. I was talking to the staff about my love for schnauzers (dogs are a usual topic of conversation for me). The last night of my trip, I walked into my room to find a schnauzer key chain, along with a handwritten note wishing me safe travels.
Little did the staff know that my 14-year-old family schnauzer had passed away the week prior to my visit, so the gift was especially tear-jerking. It was a small gesture, but I'm still blown away by the thoughtfulness of the Milestone Hotel staff.
Did you stumble upon any hidden gems while exploring the city?
To put it lightly, I know my way around a scone. And the best scone I've ever had was discovered and devoured on this trip.
Famished from an afternoon spent unsuccessfully trying to hang with the royals in Kensington Gardens, I was in desperate need of a pick-me-up in the form of clotted cream and jam. Luckily, Candella tearoom on Kensington Church Street was close by. The family-run spot was everything I could have asked for in a tea shop. It had stacks of floral cups and saucers, porcelain pedestals displaying homemade cakes baked that morning, and more than a hundred varieties of tea. I ordered a speculoos blend (which tasted just like the cookie) and pair of scones with the traditional fixings. Filled with raisins and dusted with powdered sugar, the scones were fresh, fluffy, and served warm. When I look back on those first few bites, Sinéad O'Connor's “Nothing Compares 2 U” gets stuck in my head.
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So you had plenty of scone-fueled energy to see all London has to offer. Did you find any excellent museums?
The museum inside of Kensington Palace was a great surprise, especially because I didn't even know it existed. The temporary exhibit, “Fashion Rules,” showcases elaborate attire worn by Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, and Princess Margaret. I'm a Queen Vic fan, too, so I loved the “Victoria Revisited” exhibit, which includes artifacts from her childhood to her marriage with Prince Albert, all displayed in the rooms she grew up in.
For sustenance while on the palace grounds, head past the towering trimmed hedges to the Orangery, where Queen Anne used to entertain guests, for lunch and a cup of the suitably named Afternoon at the Palace tea blend.
It sounds like you had a jam-packed trip, but you must have missed something. What just didn’t make it into the itinerary this time?
I'm dying to explore London’s East End. The next time I'm in town, I want to check out the Columbia Road Flower Market, the street art in Shoreditch, and Old Spitalfields Market for vintage finds.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @h_sheinberg and Instagram @h_sheinberg.