Being welcomed back to England after a couple of years away brings great joy to Anglophile travelers who have missed the people and places across the pond. Perhaps time distanced from international wanderings has enhanced our perspective, but locals seemed more welcoming, the quirks more endearing, the storied architecture more stunning, the sheep-dotted fields more scenic and the perfectly brewed pots of tea even more soothing than we recalled.
London moves with a determined pace, the countless tube lines once again shuttling business folks and tourists across town, the sidewalks swirling with languages from around the globe. Downtown, distinctive red double-decker buses swim along grand lanes and roundabouts, next to intrepid cyclists and mini European cars. In quieter neighborhoods, aromas tease their way out of cozy cafes, and pubs fill with patrons at any hour of the day.
Traveling in style
Flight options abound since England opened its borders; be sure to read up on the latest requirements for vaccinations, COVID tests and appropriate paperwork. In an exciting development, JetBlue now has nonstop flights between New York (JFK) and both London Heathrow and London Gatwick. All flights happen on the airline’s new Airbus A321 Long Range, which features only 114 seats and 24 suites. That means increased personalized attention for each passenger, as well as personal space. Free Wi-Fi and stellar entertainment choices enhance every journey, too.
To start your trip in a truly pampered state, reserve a Mint Suite or Studio. It takes no time to settle into a suite that offers direct aisle access, a privacy-ready sliding door, a packet of wellness-based products from Wanderfuel and a lie-flat seat made extra-comfy with Tuft & Needle cushions, memory foam pillows and blankets.
Mealtime features tasty combinations created by New York City-based Delicious Hospitality Group (DHG), which also operates a handful of top NYC restaurants. Recent flights featured dishes like shrimp curry, chicken Milanese and baby greens with roasted sweet potato (plus a custom playlist to complement the meal). After-dinner treats included gelato with blackberries and almond crunch or cheese plates, while the beverage menu showcased Champagne, an Austrian gruner veltliner, a “big red” wine from Rioja, Spain, and craft cocktails like the Black Maple Old-Fashioned and Al Pastor margarita.
In addition to other sustainability-driven initiatives, JetBlue started to voluntarily offset CO2 emissions on all domestic flights in July, making them the first U.S. airline to do so. They intend to ramp up to offset more than 15-17 billion pounds of CO2 emissions per year (the equivalent of removing 1.5 million cars from the road annually).
Luxe lodging in prime locales
Travelers wanting to truly splurge on their England return will find immaculate service at centrally-located The Londoner, a new addition to Leicester Square. Deemed “the world’s first super boutique hotel,” the venue features luxe rooms with massive beds and 400-thread count Irish linen, warm decor tones and charming details, from premium Japanese Toto washlets and Lutron lighting control systems to vintage Roberts radios and opera binoculars. In sustainability news, the hotel received an ‘Excellent’ rating from BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method).
Start the day with the extensive breakfast spread on-site at Whitcomb’s (think both hot and cold buffets featuring salmon, eggs, Cumberland sausages, sautéed mushrooms, fresh fruit, flaky pastries, green juices and customized coffees). If needing a break from all the city walking and endless explorations, devote some time to the “Retreat” side of the hotel, where you can enjoy curated spa treatments, a juice bar, fitness center and cabanas surrounding a peaceful indoor pool.
As the sun sets, ride the elevator up to 8 at The Londoner, a dazzling rooftop izakaya lounge whose ambiance alone is worth the visit. Enjoy Japanese-inspired food and drink inside the elegant restaurant, on a terrace that boasts incredible London views or under the night sky of the Shima Garden, marked by soaring glass ceilings, omnipresent greenery and sometimes a DJ spinning fresh beats. (Perhaps catch some piano music in the chic main floor lounge before calling it a night.)
To explore a completely different part of town, head to East London’s Mondrian Shoreditch, a new venue that places guests near the vibrant street art and tempting lineup of Brick Lane’s Indian eateries. Music lovers will want to peruse the vinyls at Rough Trade East as well. Any day of the week, you can also get lost among the food and art vendors of nearby Spitalfields Market, afterward discovering quaint hidden gems tucked into narrow, neighboring streets.
This sleek industrial hotel boasts room touches like steam showers, coffee machines, artwork by local talents plus a private members club and high-tech fitness center. All guests get to enjoy breakfast in a California-inspired rooftop space that’s filled with light and looks out onto an alluring heated pool.
At the hotel, enjoy pre-dinner drinks at laid-back Christina’s Shoreditch, where sustainably-sourced products come from local, independent suppliers. (Cocktails showcase foraged goods like nettles, for example.) Continue the charmed evening at subterranean BiBo Shoreditch, a Spanish kitchen serving tapas and the first London outpost of famed chef Dani García.
Spanish vibes infuse the space – from the dining room’s warm tones and fish sculptures to upbeat music that complements the restaurant’s seductive air. Standout dishes: padron peppers, crudo de corvina, broccolini and kale salad, jamon Iberico and a variety of steaming pans of paella. There’s no need to be embarrassed if you have to put in a couple orders of the oxtail brioches, as we learned firsthand. To say this surprise dish left an impression is quite the understatement!
Relishing your London days
Although choosing among millions of London attractions and museums can feel daunting, we made a few memorable discoveries this time around. When stopping by touristy favorite (worth the visit) Kensington Palace, be sure to arrive early enough to wander the beautiful grounds, where nonchalant locals gather for playdates and coffee chats. Then, get swept away by historic tales inside the storied building that was the birthplace of Queen Victoria and home to young royals for 300-plus years.
After winding through Victoria’s re-imagined childhood rooms, the King’s State Apartments and Queen’s State Apartments and whatever special exhibit happens to be on display, make your way to The Sunken Garden. A much-anticipated recent addition – the grand statue of Diana, Princess of Wales – greets you in a serene, nature-filled setting.
Enjoying a proper afternoon tea feels like a sure bet, whether you choose an elevated (31st-floor) experience at Aqua Shard or a more traditional outing at The Milestone Hotel. Then there’s sketch London’s Parlour Room, an Instagrammable, pink dream inside an 18th-century townhouse that melds pops of gold, trendy food and drinks (vegan options, too) and whimsical works by British artist David Shrigley, who we learned also designed the china.
Located in Mayfair alongside high-end boutiques, this hot spot has made waves for its trendy twist on British teatime – and surreal bathroom pods. Yet we were most captivated by a string trio in the corner, donning matching marigold outfits as they delivered playful versions of “Hey There Delilah” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Richmond upon Thames has drawn visitors to its riverside magic long before Ted Lasso decided to call this picturesque town home. Located close enough to city buzz if you want to find it, you can also unwind here while strolling or paddling along the Thames, picnicking in Richmond Green or soaking in river views from a bench on Richmond Hill.
Take in a local production at Richmond Theatre (built in 1899), or find live music among rosy-cheeked regulars at The Prince’s Head. During weekend days, ogle the goods of local vendors at the Richmond Duck Pond Markets, or wander among the blooms and greenery of Petersham Nurseries, afterward grabbing a posh bite at their greenhouse cafe.
Yet the most memorable Richmond experiences are unearthed simply observing and chatting with interesting folks – when picking up Argentinian empanadas from Chango, clinking glasses and watching the tide rise (and overflow) into the courtyard of The White Cross or grabbing a celebratory-tinged Mediterranean meal in the welcoming basement of a grand Georgian building at Richmond Vault.
Falling for the Fab Four’s Liverpool
One doesn’t have to be a Beatles super fan to feel the excitement of landing in history-rich Liverpool, a port city with sensational architecture and a hip, modern edge. The open friendliness of strangers feels apparent from the moment you step off your train. The journey on the Avanti West Coast takes about two-and-a-half hours between London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street.
Once you’ve arrived, it’s less than a 20-minute walk to Aloft Liverpool, a minimalist home base, set in the historic Royal Insurance Building, from which you can set off on city escapades. (The highlight may just be a breakfast buffet laid out under the ground floor’s majestic high ceilings.) We recommend taking the route that winds you through Mathew Street, a pedestrian route that’s peppered with Beatles lore.
Find your city bearings around The Royal Albert Dock, just a brief walk from Aloft; cruising aboard Mersey Ferries is a great way to get an initial lay of the land. Find your culture fix around the docks; free venues here prove informative (Maritime Museum), inspiring (Tate Liverpool) and extremely important (International Slavery Museum).
Peaberry Coffee House & Kitchen offers healthful lunchtime options beside the water, and nearby Chop Chop serves flavorful Korean fusion fare from chicken katsu curry to vegetable and tuna rolls.
Of course, diving into Beatlemania is a recommended part of any visit. Plunge into the captivating story of the beloved Liverpudlians who forever changed the trajectory of rock music at The Beatles Story. While a personal multimedia tour guides you through this impressive venue, the world’s largest permanent exhibition telling the band’s story, you’ll travel from the group’s birthplace (at the Casbah Coffee Club) to their American invasion days and later-years journey to India. The Beatles Story’s impressive collection features memorabilia including original instruments, John Lennon’s spectacles, Ringo Starr’s drum kit, never-before-seen photography and original handwritten lyrics.
The best way to cap off a sightseeing day spent learning about the Fab Four? By watching a Beatles cover band under the arched ceiling of The Cavern Club. This unpretentious cellar is located just a few doors down from the original spot where The Beatles made 292 appearances between February 9, 1961, and August 3, 1963 – and are said to have spent the happiest days of their career.
Liverpool’s modern culinary scene is surprisingly vast and varied, yet you also shouldn’t miss the longstanding national dish – scouse, a hearty stew made of meat (lamb or beef) with potatoes, carrots and onions. At neighborly gastropubs like The Monro, you can enjoy variations like scouse pie while people-watching from a snug booth.
Tucked away below the bustle of Hope Street, The Pen Factory is another charmed spot with exposed bricks and an interior garden. At this reincarnation of the original Everyman Bistro, entrepreneur Paddy Byrne has recreated a familiar, relaxed atmosphere and an approachable menu highlighting the season’s best.
The perfect meal, accompanied by a smooth orange wine and an Ali Farka Touré album, might feature Plattsville sourdough with Jersey cream butter or hummus; a simple yet scrumptious green leaf salad with shallots and hazelnuts; roasted cauliflower; market fish with brown butter, capers and leeks; or double pork chops with red cabbage and smoked bacon gravy.
Afterward, let the allure of mime-like musicians, silently moving behind tall windows, pull you in for an unexpected nightcap at the venue across the street. As the skilled band belts out covers and originals from a teeny stage upfront – in a painting-filled space you’ve learned is called the Liverpool Arts Bar – you feel grateful to have landed among Liverpudlian university students as well as pint-wielding pensioners propped up by the bar.
Other can’t-miss attractions include the Liverpool Cathedral, where an on-site cafe is said to serve tasty scouse, and a daily tower experience offers panoramas of the sprawling city from this hillside perch. St Luke’s Bombed Out Church, Liverpool’s oldest cultural arts venue, garden bar and cafe, is a testament to community spirit that now breathes life into this thriving city. The building suffered catastrophic damage during the May Blitz of 1941, leaving only its external masonry intact. Today, arts lovers collaborate and gather here often.
For another dose of old-meets-new Liverpool intrigue, drink a leisurely pint among lounging dogs and chatty regulars in the courtyard – or a former jail cell – of The Bridewell, a historic site that dates back to the mid-19th century.
Soaking up coastal adventures
Visiting Kent from Central London is easy, thanks to frequent Southeastern trains that transport travelers to beach towns like Ramsgate and Margate (less than one-and-a-half hours from St Pancras railway station). By taking a different train line, visitors can explore coastal Folkestone, with highlights like a restored harbour arm that offers wonderful street food options and lovely English Channel views.
In Margate, said to be England’s earliest seaside resort, take in the salty sea air as you exit the station and move through neon signage and the old-school carnival part of town. As you stroll toward the beach, where happy dogs roll in the sand, find a lineup of quaint cafes and pubs, as well as the Old Kent Market, an ideal spot for a coffee or snack.
Wander the Margate Harbour Arm to visit the bronze shell lady named after Mrs. Booth, who lodged with artist J.M.W. Turner, or pop into the eponymous Turner Contemporary gallery. Grab a refreshment among locals at the micro-pub, as wetsuit-clad folks wander the pier before zooming off into the gray on sturdy jet skis.
It’s easy to eat and drink your way through Margate’s compact collection of businesses, also pausing inside treasures like an independent bookshop. Savor brunch (salmon, poached eggs and avocado toast) at an outside table of Margate Coffee Shed, slice into sourdough pizzas (vegan, too) at Ralph’s, brave the queue for fish and chips at iconic Pete’s Fish Factory, sip cocktails and nibble on charcuterie plates at Little Swift, or grab a locally brewed pint-with-a view at Xylo, before making your way back to the station and a westward train.
On a homebound flight, light streams in through your oval window on the world, as the plane gently lifts off over England’s patchwork of green. Cheers, England. We’ll surely be back again soon.
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