Spending time in London before catching your Eurostar: 7 things to do within walking distance of London St. Pancras!

Rushing from one train to another can be quite a stressful affair. And feeling stuck at the train station, hanging around waiting for the connecting train to arrive, is just as boring as watching paint try.

After one of my close friends decided to move to London (and I ended up moving to  Paris),  I’ve done my fair share of traveling between the two cities to visit my friend who lives in the city of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

While I found myself bored and restless, while waiting for the Eurostar (and my return to Paris)  I couldn’t help but wonder; what about those who arrive in London St. Pancras whose final destination is not London, but somewhere completely different? I’m sure they must hate the idea of spending two, three or even four hours just waiting for their connecting train?

I mean, I could barely even handle forty-five minutes of waiting, so imagine several hours? No, just no.

As the train station is centrally located, there’s plenty of things to do within walking distance of London St. Pancras. No need to buy that Oyster Card or figure out how to get from A to B by metro (or as they say in London; the tube).  Let your feet carry you to the pub (and hopefully out of it, too) , or to the shops, to the spa, to the museums – and if you happen to arrive around brunch-time – to the nearest place where you’ll find a nice traditional English Breakfast.

phonebooth

Here are 7 things to do within walking distance of London St. Pancras

  1. Go shopping. Isn’t that one of the reasons why a lot of tourists go to London in the first place? To do a bit of shopping? Well, I sure love to visit the small local bookshops and doing my share of window-shopping at the mall, whenever I have the opportunity to do so peacefully. Maybe even buy a new dress or two, if I have the extra money for it. The Brunswick Shopping Centre is only a 12 minute walk from London St. Pancras! bookshop
  2. Grab a cup of coffee (or tea). Coffee culture is obviously a big thing in London – just like the traditional cup of tea. Want to spend an hour just enjoying a nice cup of something warm (and a snack) while reading a good book or working on your laptop, in a coffeeshop? Visit Bloomsbury Coffee House (13 minute walk) or Notes Coffee Roasters & Wine Bar (3 minute walk)! coffee and books
  3. Or a full English Breakfast. England is not exactly famous for their cuisine, but they are famous for their breakfast (fry-up). As I don’t eat eggs and I prefer veggie sausauges over meat ones anyway, I decided to do a bit of research and head down to one of the traditional pubs that (according to online reviews) serve the best veggie fry-ups in the area of London St. Pancras. And that’s how I ended up in Doric Arch (12 minute walk). And yes, the breakfast was delicious. Beans, hash browns, mushrooms, tomatoes, toast, spinach and a veggie sausage. Yummy! english breakfast
  4. Or the traditional fish and chips! Another dish the country is famous for. Not exactly high gastronomy, but it sure is a guilty pleasure of mine. Fries with or without salt and vinegar, and a big, crispy fish fillet. I highly recommend the “chippy” I went to during my last trip to London; North Sea Fish Restaurant & Take Away. While I was waiting, the nice man who took my order offered me a cup of English Breakfast tea (on the house). When my lunch arrived, I sat down on a bench outside of the restaurant and started photographing my enormous fish (and chips) from different angles (to post it on Instagram, obviously). One of the costumers, an older man, “came to the rescue” and offered to take a picture of me with my food, as to him, it looked like I was a sad, struggling tourist. I didn’t wanna tell him that I didn’t want to be in the picture, but hey, it was a nice gesture, so why not. fish and chips
  5. Visit a museum. There’s actually quite a few museums to choose from within walking distance of London St. Pancras. The Foundling Museum (14 minute walk) explores the history of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity and first public art gallery. The Charles Dickens Museum (18 minute walk) invites you to the Victorian family home of Charles Dickens, the author of famous stories like Oliver Twist. If you’d rather prefer to visit a natural history museum, visit the Grant Museum of Zoology (19 minute  walk). And again, something for those who love literature, maybe you’d like a guided tour in the British Library (7 minute walk)?
  6. Enjoy a luxury spa. At the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel which is conveniently located right next to the train station. Are you traveling with luggage? No problem! if it doesn’t already fit into the locker, the staff will find a place to store your luggage for you. My friend and I, spent around 3 hours just enjoying the pool and the jacuzzi (for the fee of £30 per person, for a full day). We did not book a massage, as they have to be scheduled in advance. So do all the other treatments offered in the spa. Want to save a little money, and still feel like a queen? You might be able to get a discounted deal on treatments at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel Spa, on websites like Treatwell. st pancras renaissance hotel
  7. Grab a pint! Feeling festive? I don’t blame you. Just don’t drink too much, or you’ll miss your connecting train! If you want your pint accompanied by home cooked traditional pub food (such as a yummy lamb stew), check out McGlynn’s (7 minute walk). Other traditional pubs worth checking out is The Skinners Arms (8 minute walk) and King Charles I (10 minute walk). Cheers! english pub

Any Harry Potter fans out there?

While at London St. Pancras – don’t forget to look for Platform 9 3/4 (for some reason I’ve never managed to locate it while at the station)!

bloomsbury coffee

london st pancras

chippy

bakery

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Tea tourism in London: Is the Aladdin-themed afternoon tea worth the hype?

Two months ago, a friend of mine who lives in London dropped me a message on Facebook with a link to a video I just had to watch – along with an “OMG” and “we have to do this!”.

I had already made plans to see her in London the following month and we had already made plans to do a whole bunch of stuff, including some kind of an afternoon tea event – although nothing was yet reserved. I knew she wouldn’t go “OMG” on me unless she’d discovered something beyond fantastic. It had to be borderline magical for her to use such an exaggerated statement. I mean, she’s French, and French people are not exactly known for going ga-ga over n’importe quoi.

Needless to say,  the video triggered my curiosity.

And her reaction was within reason. The video was an advertisement for an afternoon tea unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Gone were grandma’s tea sets, cream filled scones and dull rooms decorated in fifty shades of beige. Those were all replaced with purple, glittery walls and magic lamps as teapots. Welcome to Agrabah, I mean, Cutter & Squidge .

Welcome to a magical afternoon tea in Genie’s Cave!

There you are, sitting in a bakery in central London – yet, it doesn’t feel like that at all. Feels a lot more like having tea in a whole new world (see what I did there?) inside of the Disney universe.

“Should I make a reservation for us?”, my friend asked. Before I even finished watching the video I gave her a thumbs up. I needed this. I needed a little bit of magic in my life.

Fast forward to the day before our reservation in Genie’s Cave took place.

Pretty much as soon as I arrived in London, I was offered a cup of tea.

I was hungry, so I went to a fish and chips shop and was offered a cup of tea on the house while I was waiting for my fish to be cooked. Totally unexpected, very appreciated.

Now, if that ain’t British hospitality, I don’t know what is!

To me, this was a reminder of how tea is such an important part of British culture.

I wanted to honor this part of the culture. I wanted to experience tea in multiple ways. After all – don’t shoot me for saying this – but, I’ve always felt like afternoon tea events were just a full blown gimmick.

Yet, I wanted to experience it myself to see if it’s worth the money – and find out why people are so obsessed with it.

But I also wanted to drink tea where all the locals drink their tea (well, apart from in their homes) and I wanted to purchase high quality tea from the famous English brand Twinings and drink so much tea I’d be having tea running through my veins by the end of the week.

The Twinings Tea Shop and Museum  offers tea tastings so you’ll get to try before you buy and not end up with something that sounds like an amazing flavor but ends up being just one big disappointment in need of large quantities of sugar, honey or lemon in order to be consumed. Yes, Lipton cherry tea, I’m looking at you!

twinings

A staff member poured me some tea and told me I could ask her anything, anything at all about their product range. I tasted (and purchased) green tea with a hint of dark chocolate and coconut, and green tea with a hint of caramelized apple.

“Do you sell these outside of the UK – and does your online shop offer international shipping?”, were the questions I asked, to which she answered no. Talk about exclusivity!

twinings tea

Guess I have yet another reason to return to London then.

As if I hadn’t tasted enough tea that day, I was determined to find somewhere cozy to sit down and grab a cup of English breakfast tea to go with my lunch; a raspberry jam and cream filled scone.

I did find a nice little bakery called Fleet River Bakery where absolutely everything looked delicious. My eyes were begging me to order a big slice of delicious-looking chocolate cake, but I ordered a scone instead. Because, I didn’t come to England to eat something you can eat pretty much anywhere in the western world. No. I came for  a cup of tea. And a scone.

fleet river bakery

The tea was just as good as anywhere else, and the scone was amazing. I’m usually not a fan of anything cream filled, but the acidity of the raspberry mixed with the sweetness of the cream complimented the taste of the tender scone. Everything was just perfect.

And then came the day I’d been waiting for. The Aladdin-themed afternoon tea. 

When entering the Cutter & Squidge you’d have no idea there’d be some kind of magical Genie stuff going on in the basement. The charming modern bakery invites you in with its beautiful cake display and butterfly decor. Pastel macaroons, picture perfect cakes and anything Pinterest and Instagram-worthy.

A pink haired shop assistant guided us downstairs to Genie’s Cave. We walked into a room way smaller than expected, with sparkly purple walls – just like in the video. Jewels, gems, golden coins and other treasures were glued to the walls and to the floor. The pink haired girl showed us to our table, asked us if we wanted Mimosas or Bellinis or whatever fancy cocktail brunch-goers drink these days. I don’t quite remember, and we were both fine with  just fruit juice and tea.

dessert

As an appetizer we were offered yogurt with berries, cotton candy and meringue. Visually very pretty – and an oddly delicious combination of flavors and textures.

aladdin tea

Then came the dessert stand and the sandwich platter. My friend and I looked at each other with the same mixed reaction. It all looked so good, but… how on earth were we gonna be able to finish all of it?

sandwiches

Guess what? We didn’t. We couldn’t. Once we were done with all the savory pieces, we were full. And we still had all these cute little desserts to finish. Even a chocolate dessert with 24 carat gold inside of it. Yup. Gold.

cakes

I force-fed myself as I didn’t want any of the delicious goods to go to waste (and neither did my friend) and practically rolled out of the bakery and almost vomited on the street because I was so full after eating what felt like thousands of calories. I  felt like I was having a hangover from all the afternoon tea magic presented to me in Genie’s Cave.

aladdin lamp tea pots

 

Now you may ask, is the Aladdin-themed afternoon tea worth the hype?

I think it depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. If you’re not much of a big eater and you just wanna have a nice little meal in typical British surroundings and don’t care much about the “magical” aspect, you’ll be better off going to a bakery or a cafe and ordering tea and pastries of whatever quantity you like.

However, if you’re a big fan of Disney and everything magical (unicorn frappuccino crowd, where you at?) and you want to escape from reality into a world of purple glitter and more cake than you could possibly eat – this is definitely for you.

tea time london

I have yet to try a traditional style afternoon tea, and I am interested in trying, just so I can compare it to the Aladdin-themed one.

…And roll out of yet another bakery, hotel, restaurant or whatever establishment I’ll end up going to.

afternoon tea