Oh London, such a beautiful city, so close, and yet so far from our budget … that’s it we finally managed to come and pay you a visit. We have planned a 4 day cultural and culinary trip sprinkled with a little bit of magic. Here we go:
One of the main reasons for this visit was to attend the “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” play. We wouldn’t go as far as saying that we are hardcore Harry Potter fans, but the least we can say is that novels and movies have an important place in our lives. Although we lived in two different corners of the world at the time, JK Rowling’s beautiful stories have comforted us throughout our teenage years and to this day we still dream of receiving our letter from Hogwarts. (pleaaaase !!) So we took advantage of our trip to London to make a pilgrimage to some of the filming spots for the Harry Potter films to feel a little more permeated by this magical world.
We are not only fans of fantastic novels, but also good food and architecture. This trip was also an opportunity for us to discover the different aspects of London, its cuisine, its different neighborhoods and beautiful Victorian buildings.
Apart from the special Harry Potter itinerary, which you will find at the end of the article, you will discover at first a trendy, young and festive London and in a second time, a more bourgeois side of the city.
East London, Camden Town & Bloomsbury
During our 4 day trip to London we stayed in the Bloomsbury neighbourhood, close to the Saint Pancras station where we arrived with a Eurostar Hogwarts Express. We chose the Generator hostel for accommodation because it was so cheap (75 pounds per person for 4 nights in dorms). Obviously the comfort was not optimal and I must confess that beyond 5 days it would have been frankly unpleasant. But the savings we made on accommodation allowed us to have a comfortable food budget so we ate pretty well during the whole trip.
On our first day in London we decided to visit East London and especially the Shoreditch neighbourhood which we had heard a lot about. On the way we made several detours through Harry Potter filming locations in the city, but we’ll talk about it at the end of this article with a focus on our friend the wizard.
Shoreditch is a multicultural neighborhood with art galleries, thrift shops and a lot of Street Art. We discovered these streets under the snow in a very magical wintery atmosphere. After a few strolls in the streets of Brick Lane and Redchurch Street we took a break in the Whitechapel Gallery.
To enjoy the artworks in the streets, do not hesitate to go into dead ends or building courtyards. Here are some pictures to give you a glimpse of what you can discover there.
We did not take notes of the exact addresses of the streets where to find these artworks, but you will inevitably come across a few of them while strolling around the Boxpark. The Bowpark is a kind of catering complex and concept stores embedded in a refitted maritime container assembly.
We took a special interest for this illustration that honors the bicycle, a Strasbourgeoise’s best friend.
The area under the snow was really magical, especially on Columbia Road, because the cold had discouraged most tourists so we felt like we had the city to ourselves.
Small independent shops are not hard to find in this area and you will surely find what you need if you want to do some shopping. Here is the very beautiful facade of the Labor and Wait shop which sold decoration objects, stationary and enamel ware.
For those who do not know him already, Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born chef living in London. He is the author of cookbooks with recipes strongly inspired by Middle Eastern culinary traditions and has several restaurants in London. Including that of Spitalfields in the Shoreditch district.
Since Ariana had bought her book Jerusalem, we swore that one day we would go to London and have a taste of the chef’s food. The least we can tell you is that we were not disappointed! The service was lovely and the meal full of flavors and surprises.
À la carte a choice of hot or cold dish that you can accompany with 1,2 or 3 salads. And let us make it clear, “salad” at Ottolenghi is not a few leafs with vinaigrette. We’re talking about roasted cauliflower with spices, honey and grilled hazelnuts .. Yum!
50 Artillery Ln, London E1 7LJ, Royaume-Uni
There are several Ottolenghi stores in London, but only two of them are actual restaurants where you can eat (better make a reservation) it is also possible to have some takeaway pastries like those raspberry meringues that kept tempting us.
For our meal we chose:
- Grilled salmon with lemon and yogurt sauce / salad: roasted eggplant, red pepper, pickles, cashew nuts, pomegranate …
- Red lentil dal in a filo pastry / salad: roasted and spicy cauliflower with sesame paste, date and caramelized hazelnut / grilled butternut, nigella yogurt, caramelized onion and green pepper
Camden Town is not the part of London that we preferred. This former district of alternative cultures, and victim of its success, is nowadays a great tourist trap with streets that are almost completely filled with Tourist Shops.
Nevertheless, we strongly advise you to go there for its food scene. The food market located in Camden Lock and it’s called KERB Camden. There you can find the most innovative burgers in the world. Many Indian-inspired food stalls, vegan, gluten-free, and even highly fatty food … it’s the paradise of street food for all.
After circling around all the Food Trucks, we finally settled for some really good Indian burgers. Baba G’s Paneer Saag Burger and Chicken Kati Rolls at Kolkati.
It was quite cold during our stay and we both had a persistent sore throat after our day of walking the East London neighbourhoods. A good night’s rest was needed and the next day we went for breakfast in a cafe near our hostel in Bloomsbury. A great ginger and lemon tea sprinkled with half a bottle of honey and I found my little voice! And then for more sweetness, we added Banana Bread and a porridge that really helped us get back on our feet and continue ou wanderings.
Moreish Cafe Deli
Moreish Cafe Deli, 76 Marchmont St, Kings Cross, London WC1N 1AG
Kensington & Notting Hill
Our second day in London, we take the direction of posh neighbourhoods of the city. I have always been in admiration of English architecture. The red bricks, colonnades and pastel colors that alternate from one neighborhood to another are just fantastic. To start our day, we went to the Natural History Museum, the entrance of which is free for all.
Our everyday work in Strasbourg is actually to prepare exhibitions for these kind of museums, but living in a small city, we do not always have the opportunity to go visit these magical places that instill adventurous vocations in so many children.
The museum is huge, a modern extension is connected to the period hall which is not unlike that of Hogwarts. There are many details in the building: carved monkeys climbing on the columns, intertwined serpents, birds and exotic plants carved in the ceiling. Then, the impressive whale skeleton overlooking the lobby.
This small cultural break was really great for our moral and was a real source of inspiration. The plumage of tropical birds and the diversity of the mineralogy collection make you want to settle there for an entire afternoon with a sketchbook.
Some of the illustrated posters in the museum
When we finished our museum tour, we went looking for a place to eat. It was not easy to choose the right place because the area is very expensive and quite residential so there are not so many restaurants on the main arteries, but we wanted to avoid the chains. Yes we wanted to visit all London in 4 days, but we won’t go neglecteing our appetites for as much
After a good hour of walking, grumbling stomachs and hurting foots we came across a charming pub:
Où manger ?
The Scarsdale Tavern
The Scarsdale Tavern, 23a Edwardes Square, London, W8 6HE
The storefront was blooming, and the hustle and bustle inside was calling us, but we were not sure we had the budget for a place like this. Never mind, hunger prevails over our judgments and we push the door of Scarsdale Tavern. Inside we discover a very cozy, warm atmosphere. Families having their Sunday meal at the pub rather than at home. We settled for a good beer not far from the fireplace and it’s already paradise.
This place was exactly what we needed to sneak in and we took the opportunity to discover a typical English dish: the Sunday Roast.
A Sunday roast is, as its name suggests, roast poultry with vegetables, and potato in a sauce, and of course, yorkshire pudding! We wondered what pudding really is for the Brits, because for us in France it is more of a dessert, but it seems that here we give this name to many kinds of food.
Half a roast chicken later it was time to go discover other parts of Kensington:
What we liked most about West London was the Mews. The Mews are a very beautiful little houses in the lanes of the posh chic neighborhoods of London. It’s hard to believe, but these houses were once used to accommodate the servants, the drivers, and the horses that served the biggest houses of the London’s aristocracy. Today they are part of the most prosperous neighborhoods of London, such as Kensington, Mayfair and Notting Hill.
Therefore, if you find a Mews it is almost certain that you will be very close to a very large Victorian House.
Here is for example a photo of Kynance Mews one of the most known, but still not very touristy. The entrance to the Mews is usually indicated by a brick arch that gives a glimpse of small houses inside.
There is plenty to discover in North Kensington and around Holland Park. Have you ever played this game of selecting the house of your dreams during your travels? We love that game, and while visiting the Mews we had a hard time choosing.
After crossing Holland Park we joined the Notting Hill district. A few steps on the famous Portobello Road then we quickly rushed into the parallel streets to escape the flow of tourists and falsely antique mugs. It is here that one can find a large concentration of houses with pastel facades and very colorful doors.
If our french cities could get some inspiration from the English to give some vitality to some of our streets it would not hurt. Even when it’s cold and gray, this dose of daily color gives us a smile and invites us to continue our exploration of the neighborhood.
It’s so cruel, but our 4-day trip to London is almost coming to an end. To fill our last day we made a tour to Borough Market one of the many places of filming Harry Potter in the city.
Boroughs Market is one of the few places we visited south of the Thames. It is the oldest fresh produce market in London. And it’s not just the food that attracts, it’s also the atmosphere. It is a happy and lively market. The stalls alternate between traditional English food, fresh fruit and vegetables, hot chai, seafood, French cheese or not yet depleted poultry :O
The smells of this market come back to me as I’m writing these lines. We decided to have lunch before we take our train at the Borough Market, but the choice was very difficult between slow-cooked Indian dishes, burgers and more traditional cuisine.
We went for a Pieminister meat-and-cheese pie and an Indian-inspired vegan dish from Horn Ok Please.
A week after we returned from the trip to London in 4 days, I tried to redo a meat pie according to our Pulled Pork Pie recipe and it was a real treat. Not as crisp as the one tasted at Borough Market, but still tasty.
Harry Potter (the play and unique places)
We finish this “London in 4 days” article with a focus on Harry Potter’s wizarding world. The ones who follow us for quite some time know that we are true Harry Potter lovers. To go further in our exploration of the magical world we decided to go to London to attend the “Harry Potter and the cursed child” play. The play continues the storyline of Harry, Hermione and Ron as adults.
The show takes place in the palace theater at Shaftesbury Avenue which is dedicated to theater and musical shows. It’s a surprising place full of glitter on one side and chinese lantern on the other. Fans of JK Rowling may remember that our three favourite wizards apparated on Shaftesbury Avenue just after the Death Eaters attacked Fleur and Bill’s wedding party in the 7th film. Hermione says that she used to come here to see plays with her parents … Well today it’s our turn to come here and watch a play. And not just any play…
Taking photos were forbidden during the play under penalty of ending up in Azkaban, but we still have a small teaser for you with this photo taken right before the first part started.
This setting presents King Cross station where Harry and his family are about to cross the 9-3 archway. We were surprised by the quality of the special effects. Everything was really dazzling without ever becoming kitschy. The Hogwarts stairs that slide, phone booths entering the ministry or super realistic dementors!
We had tears running down in front of ***** ‘s Patronus made of blue flames on a metal structure. I don’t want tell you more, because I do not want to spoil it for those who wish to go see the play. But we assure you one thing, the Cosmic Tomatoes team will return to see it in a few years, no doubt;)
As we did not want to return to muggle life too quickly … we extended the experience by visiting movie locations in the city and a few shops dedicated to the wizarding world and Hogwarts. As I write these few words, I tell myself that I would enjoy a good butterbeer. Luckily we have a good recipe for that.
The play being divided into two parts, we took advantage of the intermission to visit the House of Minalima not far from the theater. It is a shop that includes all the graphic creations made for the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts movies. The Daily Prophet for example, the Quibbler glasses that Luna Lovegood wore, packaging designs from the Weasley’s joke shop … Everything is there! The house has been decorated with great care to reproduce certain mythical scenes of the book. There is for example a chimney from which escape letters of admissions to Hogwarts and a staircase lined with pages from the Daily prophet.
Ariana almost catched her admission letter
Soon we will leave you muggles behind I tell you !
I really felt like I was a kid walking up and down the stairs again. So eager to devour the novels and at the same time already sad to turn the pages, because that brought me fatally closer to the end of the adventures of our wizards. Fortunately for us, this story continues to live and evolve and the values it has given us are part of who we are today.
While going back to our hostel we made a detour through King’s Cross station from which the Hogwarts Express departs. You can find a souvenir shop and a reconstruction of the 9 3/4 platform entrance. You can take a picture there as if you were gonna pass through the archway. We did not want to queue and find ourselves with the same picture as thousands of people, so we preferred to pass our turn and just visit the shop. The shop offers limited editions of books and really beautiful illustrated versions, the rest was a bit too merchandising for my taste, but the atmosphere is very well thought.
Right next to King’s Cross, we can also see the Saint Pancras station with it’s incredible architecture.
Harry Potter filming location in London :
The beautiful St. Pancras station that serves as a backdrop to the scene where Harry and Ron leave London in an old flying car.
The Millennium Bridge destroyed by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Not far from Trafalgar Square at the crossroads between Scotland Place and Great Scotland Yard is the entrance to the Ministry of Magic in the fifth film. It’s here that Harry Potter and Mr Weasley enter one of London’s typical telephone booths and descend
Unfortunately, there has never been a telephone booth at this corner, the one in the film was specially brought here as an accessory and was removed once the filming was over.
Leadenhall Market, built in 1881, is the most beautiful Victorian market in London. It is also the place where some scenes outside Diagon Alley (Diagon Alley) were filmed.
It’s already the end of our ” London in 4 days” article. We hope that whether you are a Potterhead or a muggle, you will find joy in London.
Don’t hesitate to look at our other travel articles, maybe they will help you plan your next trip.