Over spring break, I went to London for nine days as part of the OSU London Honors study abroad opportunity for first year honors students. Worth every pence (and every travel grievance), it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
And easily one of the best parts for me was the food.
Every morning at the hotel, I ate from the buffet of the complimentary full English breakfast offered. The bacon was more like pork—think Canadian bacon on steroids—and it was amazing.
The complimentary meal offered some of the standard breakfast options—toast, danishes, eggs, sausage—but also food that I never considered eating for breakfast. Grilled tomato, baked beans, and vegetable noodles usually stay off my plate until after noon, but when in Rome…
While the breakfast was planned every day, most of the other meals required finding the best (and most affordable) places to eat on your own. So after being there for nine days, here is my advice for how to get the best food in London:
Over-prepare, then go with the flow.
Look up some options for dinner ahead of time. I liked to use Yik Yak—ask around for the best places to eat and have some drinks with friends in your area.
Have a few ideas in mind but don’t be upset if on the way something else looks better. If you have a general idea where to go, you’ll end up somewhere cool. You’re in London.
Buy food on Brick Lane. And maybe a dress.
A hotbed of cultural activity at the East End, Brick Lane is a stretch of markets, with stalls of vintage clothing and ethnic food lining either side. The shops are known for their beigels–I really enjoyed the ones served with hot salt beef.
Also, not that it matters but I bought a really cute dress there too, for like ten pounds. Definitely worth the trip.
Some of the best food is at the cheapest places.
Eating out at restaurants and pubs all the time gets really expensive, so in order to budget your pounds better, plan to have a couple meals at more grab and go places.
One of the largest chains in London is Pret A Manger, which is similar to Panera. All the food is pre made so you can just grab what you want right away. The food is good and very well priced—you can easily buy a large artisan sandwich for 2 pounds (about $3-4).
Also, the Marks and Spencer grab and go is really affordable—they do a deal where you can buy a drink, a sandwich and a side for 4 pounds. A friend said that her ham and brie sandwich from M and S was one of the best things she ate in London.
My favorite affordable place to eat was the chain Paul’s. The one I went to was a small french shop outside of the South Kensington tube stop. Super delicious, you could buy a long prosciutto sandwich or a slice of pizza for 4 pounds. I couldn’t resist buying a pastry as well—a mini chocolate croissant for 75 pence.
Go to pubs for dinner—it’s worth the splurge.
That said, hitting up a pub for drinks and dinner at least a couple nights is an absolute must. Pubs in London have a different atmosphere—if you went early enough they became family atmospheres with children eating with their parents.
This transitions into a great atmosphere at night, perfect for hanging out with friends and having a pint or two. I really enjoyed the pubs I went to: The Greyhound, The Devonshire Arms, The Old Bell and The Bunch of Grapes.
Also, the Heliot Bar and Lounge in the Hippodrome Casino is 1930s themed and incredibly glamorous, if that’s something that interests you.
Keep in mind that the area the pub is in will affect how expensive it is—The Devonshire Arms was right near our hotel in Kensington, a very nice area, so it was a little pricey.
On the weekends places in Leicester Square, a very commercial area, will be packed. That can be fun, but if you’re looking for a quieter night the business district near St. Paul’s is pretty chill on the weekends—that’s how I ended up at The Old Bell, talking to locals.
Eat at Harrods at least once.
The mega department store Harrods itself is something you have to go to. It’s like a museum, and most of the items are worth more than one year of my tuition.
However, while most of the clothing and makeup are way out of my price range, the food was pretty affordable. Harrods’ food area has authentic and delicious food from all around the world, and the pastries in the patisserie made me want to cry with how good they looked.
If you’re stumped for where to eat and you’re in the area near the Knightsbridge tube stop, check it out.
Make London food an adventure.
Last but not least, I have the most cliché (but still valid) piece of advice: try new things. I hate tea, but how could I not give English breakfast tea a shot on the trip? While every burger I ate was delicious, I also made an effort to eat things that aren’t typically served in America.
Pies, like chicken and leek or steak and ale, are very common and very good. Fish and chips is the real deal and bangers and mash, translated into a sausage and potato dish, is actually really tasty. Try the mashed peas.
You don’t have to like all of it and I doubt you will, but when in London, order out of your American comfort zone.
Check out more stories about food across the pond.