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An American Expat in London: My 3 Favorite Neighborhoods

Stephanie Sadler, born in the USA, has been an expat since 2007, mostly in London with six months in Colombia in 2011.  She's been blogging almost daily since 2002, and you can find her work (including a collection of fantastic photos) on her blog: Little London Observationist. And if it's general travel you're after, you can check out Stephanie's (equally awesome) other blog Little Observationist, too. We're longtime fans of her writing and photography, so it's a pleasure to welcome her here on the trip.me blog! Here she tells us about living in London, and her favorite neighborhoods to visit.

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I've just peeled off a pair of completely drenched trousers (yes, I call them trousers now), soaked through from a January hailstorm that lasted exactly the duration of my walk home from work. At least my hair stayed dry; I've been in London long enough to know that you should always carry an umbrella, even on the sunniest of days. And yes, there are a few now and then. You may even remember that day last summer when the sunrays bouncing off of the new Walkie Talkie building in the City were so strong they melted parts of a Jaguar. Those blue-sky days are when I most love to explore. When London became home for me seven years ago, I spent most of my free time enthusiastically doing just that, venturing out to places like Trinity Wharf, Redbridge and Catford just out of curiosity, just because I liked the sound of their names. I'd jump on buses with no idea where I'd end up and step off anywhere that looked slightly colorful or interesting. Though there are other places I've come to know and love like Notting Hill, Greenwich, Hampstead and Waterloo, there are three areas I return to time and again:

MARYLEBONE.

Iberica, Marylebone

Iberica, Marylebone

Just north of the madness of London's busiest shopping area, Oxford Street, is this quieter pocket of the city, a quaint little area with a village vibe. Springtime, on Saturdays, I start in the rose gardens of Regent's Park and stroll past the full branches of cherry blossoms to the Cabbages and Frocks market at the top of Marylebone High Street. From there, I indulge in a bit of shopping: The design-conscious Conran Shop stocks everything from furniture to tea towels. Designers Guild and Skandium offer different takes on the same. Divertimenti is a favourite for kitchenware and they even hold cooking classes downstairs. If you're the crafty type, turn down curvy Marylebone Lane, which follows the path of the Tyburn stream that ran underground. Step into the ribbon-filled haberdashery V V Rouleaux that one visiting designer once said, "was like sex on a spool" or The Button Queen just down the road. There are also fashion boutiques aplenty, but the real reason I'm always drawn back to this area is Daunt: in my opinion, the best bookshop in London - architecturally stunning, adored by travelers and organized conveniently by area of the world.
Daunt Bookshop, Marylebone

Daunt Bookshop, Marylebone

You won't go hungry either. For a traditional London experience, try the Winter Garden English Tea at the Landmark Hotel. Later, follow the pungent aromas of La Fromagerie and stock up on a variety of tasty cheeses. For dinner, within a short walk is one of London's best Spanish restaurants - Iberica, the blue and white tiled interior with its enormous windows recently redesigned by the famous Lázaro Rosa-Violán. Share a few rounds of tapas with good company. The cocktails are delicious and the staff is charming. If you don't mind braving a long queue, you'll also find American cult restaurant Meat Liquor.

SHOREDITCH.

Brick Lane

Brick Lane

This is the trendy, creative, vibrant part of London where the walls are covered in street art and hipsters and media types abound. It's grubbier, but endlessly fascinating. It's home to the Old Street "Silicon Roundabout" where tech companies like Last.fm and Songkick have their offices. It's also very rich historically, a place synonymous with immigration and diversity, where among all of this urban edginess lives a large Bangladeshi community in the same area that was once occupied by an equally large Jewish community. In some areas, the street signs are in both English and Bengali. There are mosques, churches and synagogues. And Jack the Ripper tours. Standing in the crowds of Brick Lane market goers on a Sunday, you'll see Bangladeshi men selling lucky peacock feathers and you'll be summoned in to at least five curry houses along the way. Instead, choose the Sunday UpMarket for an unrivalled choice of dishes - from Tibetan momos to Japanese okonomiyaki to colourful plates of Ethiopian vegetables. You can't go wrong down at the other end of the road either where London's best salt beef bagels draw a crowd at Beigel Bake. Spend some time rummaging around the markets too; you'll find everything from fresh donuts to discarded photos from the 1950s to a mid-market haircut. Leave time in the early afternoon to head over to Columbia Road flower market where Cockney vendors have been shouting their wares - from bunches of tulips and 10-foot banana trees - since 1869. Look beyond the flowers too, for old-fashioned sweet shop Suck and Chew, some traditional pubs and a few vintage gems. If you haven't finished shopping, wander down to Box Park, dubbed a "pop up mall" (filled with much more interesting shops than an ordinary mall).
Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road Flower Market.

In the evening, the area is buzzing and eclectic. Check the events schedule at the Village Underground, a cleverly built venue with art studios made of old Tube carriages and an ethos of repurposing discarded building materials. It used to be a railway coal store, among other things, and holds some epic theme nights like Blitz Party and Belle Epoque. Or, soak up the 1920's in New York vibe at the speakeasy with a hidden door, NightJar.

CHELSEA.

Oysters at Duke of York Square, Chelsea

Oysters at Duke of York Square, Chelsea

Switching gears completely, there's Chelsea where I'm lucky enough to live and work. It used to be the bohemian quarter of the city, teeming with artists, writers and musicians. King's road was lively during the Swinging 60s and the punk movement of the 70s (you can still find Vivian Westwood's punk boutique here). It's a lot more gentrified now, but it's still one of the most desirable areas of the city to call home. Like Marylebone, it can feel like a village. To start your day off right, sit outside under the heat lamps with a coffee at Tomtom Coffee House or grab a freshly squeezed juice from Danish company Joe & the Juice. I find my American treats in Partridges and spend Saturday afternoons eating my way around the food market in Duke of York Square. For dinner, you can't go wrong with a plate of sushi at Brazilian-Japanese fusion restaurant Sushinho, or down to earth Bumpkin Chelsea, which serves up seasonal British food. Top it off with a mojito and Latin tunes at Mexican bar Azteca, the dark and seductive cocktail bar Eclipse or try the traditional English pub, the Queen's Head, tucked away on a side street off of the busy King's Road. Just behind the Duke of York Square is the famous Saatchi Gallery with an ever-changing collection of contemporary art or head over to The Little Black Gallery for some stunning photography. You're also in walking distance of London's best free museums - V&A, Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. There's loads of high street shopping to be done, but standouts include the Taschen shop for books, The Conran Shop and Jonathan Adler for design and French fashion brand Claudie Pierlot. If it's one of those blue-sky days, pack a picnic lunch and find a spot of green at the Chelsea Physic Garden or the smaller rose gardens on Sydney Street. The river lines the south side of the area, which makes a nice settling for some lovely walks.   Enjoy, and don't forget to pack your umbrella. Just in case.