Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson

Whenever I hear that someone is visiting England for the first time, I always recommend afternoon tea. So when my friend and I took a much needed girls trip to London, I knew we had to schedule tea time. It was my friend Lindsay’s first trip to the UK and I wanted to show her a quintessentially British experience. I’ve had tea before at Fortnum & Mason and at the Marriott Park Lane (you can read about that visit here), and both were wonderful. But since this was a girls trip, we decided to go all out. Champagne afternoon tea for two, please!

I had heard about the Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson Hotel. It sounded exactly like the fun experience we were looking for, so I made a reservation and was pumped to see what it was all about.

The Sanderson is located in the West End and was a short walk after our afternoon of browsing on Bond Street. The hotel itself is chic and modern and was designed by Philippe Starck. Afternoon tea takes place in the hotel’s courtyard, which made for beautiful surroundings. Once seated, we could really see the Alice in Wonderland theme come to life with whimsical dishes, teapots adorned with Kings and Queens and vintage books. sanderson tea

We of course started with cocktails, and then came the tea. The tea options were displayed in beautiful glass jars and the names were true to theme . I opted for the “Queen of Hearts,”, while my friend chose “White Rabbit.” The spread had the traditional fare like finger sandwiches and scones, but also included beautifully crafted Mad Hatter-themed sweets like marshmallow mushrooms and sponge cake in the shape of a clock.
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We stayed for a little over an hour and left on a caffeine high from all the tea. The staff was wonderful and overall it was such a fun, unique experience! lindsay tea time

Prices start at £48 a person. Reservations are recommended and can be made on the Sanderson’s website

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London’s Top Attractions for First Time Visitors

London holds a special place in this traveler’s heart, since it was the first international city I visited. I’ve since been back on a few more occasions, and have even gone with first time visitors. One of my initial thoughts about the city? It’s huge! Having lived in New York, I was used to the small, compact island of Manhattan. London is much more spread out! London is one of those cities, like New York, where you can live for years and still not see everything. So where’s a first time visitor to start? If you only have a week (or even just a few days) to explore, here are the top sights to check off the list.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace: The Queen’s official residence is grand, opulent and the site of so much history. Try and catch the changing of the Guard, which happens daily at 11:30. You’ll have to navigate the crowds, but seeing the pomp and circumstance of it first hand is worth it. Finish with a leisurely stroll down the mall.

tower of london

Tower of London: This former palace, prison and fortress has a colorful history as the site of executions and wild animals. You’ll be in awe of the Crown Jewels, and marvel at the fabulously dresses Beefeaters patrolling the grounds. Certain spots offer clear views of Tower Bridge that make wonderful photo ops.

Tate Galleries: London has some of the best museums in the world, and art lovers like me can take advantage of 2 FREE galleries right along the riverbank. Start at Tate Britain for British art and sculpture, then head to the Tate Modern to see works by contemporary artists like Monet, Warhol and Dali. Hop on the Tate Boat and enjoy a ride along the Thames while shuttling between the museums.

London Eye

London Eye: Yes, it’s touristy and expensive, but it’s also one of the best ways to get an amazing 360 degree view of the city.

Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace: Any Royal watcher knows this is the home of Will and Kate, which instantly makes it intriguing. Buy a ticket and you’ll be able to tour the palace’s state rooms, exhibits and gardens. If time allows, indulge in afternoon tea at The Orangery for a quintessential British experience.

 

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Touring London’s Kensington Palace

Entrance to Kensington PalaceAt this time last year I was visiting London, and the anglophile in me is longing to be back in London Town. As a follower of the royal family and all things British, one of the must-visit places on my itinerary was Kensington Palace. The palace has been home to many famous kings and queens over the years, and has its place in English history. At the time of my visit the historical compound, built in 1605, had just finished a massive refurbishment and was reopened to the public. It was a horribly rainy London day, so planning to spend an afternoon indoors worked out well.

As we walked towards the entrance, excitement rose as the famous main gates came into view. Once inside, we were greeted in a central area, then sent along our course through the exhibits and wings. The inside seems to have received a modern update, with new photos and trendy art installations. The first stop was a central corridor containing portraits and photographs. I instantly recognized framed shots taken by Mario Testino, specifically one from William and Kate’s engagement shoot, plus a well-known photograph of Diana from 1997.

We then ascended the King’s Staircase and walked past its lively mural of George I’s court. The staircase leads you to the King’s State Apartments. Here we were able to walk through numerous rooms and chambers, all filled with art and ornate details. You’re then taken through the Cupola Room and the King’s Drawing Room. It’s amazing to think that past monarchs and world leaders once gathered in these corridors. Keep an eye out for intricate carvings near the fireplace and the beautiful tapestries that line the walls. Don’t miss the King’s Gallery, which houses the Royal Collection. The dial over the fireplace was used to tell which way the wind was blowing, and it stills works! I was told the room hasn’t changed much since it was completed in 1727.

The next permanent exhibit, Victoria Revealed, follows her life from birth to death, all in the home where she was born and raised. Visitors can see mementos from her childhood, including photos, clothing and toys.  Various quotes tell the story of her life in her own words. It was interesting to hear about what was dubbed “the Kensington system” – the rigid set of rules that Victoria endured until she became queen. Her love story with Albert is also explored, and her wedding dress is even on display. Did you know that she lived out the last 40 years of her life in the isolation of the palace after being widowed?

The next stop would have been to explore the palace gardens, but we decided against it, given the rainy weather. I can only image how beautiful the sunken garden and surrounding area would look in full bloom on a summer day. After the tour, we stopped at the the Orangery for afternoon tea. A serene view overlooking the gardens and a mix of tea, scones and pastries was the perfect end to our visit.

Touring the palace is a great way to spend the afternoon, and it’s a must-do for any history buff visiting London. I’d recommend at least two hours for the complete tour. More information, plus a link to purchase tickets online, can be found on the Kensington Palace website.

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Finding Authentic Fish & Chips in London

Rock & Sole PlaiceOne of the things I always make sure to do when abroad is to try local foods. So during my first trip to London, I knew I had to try and find authentic fish & chips. After a little online research and a good review from a guest at my hotel, the place was chosen. We stopped by Rock and Sole Plaice in Covent Garden on a chilly afternoon for lunch. According to its website, it was the founded in 1871 and is London’s oldest fish and chips restaurant. How cool is that? The place was crowded and the seating was minimal, but luckily we were able to snag a small table. We placed our order (cod for me and haddock for my husband), and waited with a couple beers. This place was no-frills, but with a lively atmosphere. We chatted a little with a fellow British diner who exclaimed that these are “proper fish and chips” and the place was by far his “favorite chippie.” I was anxious to find out if they were as great as he claimed.

The meal arrived after a short wait, and the first thing I noticed was how huge the portions were! Definitely enough for two people to share. The fish was good – crispy and not too greasy on the outside,  tender on the inside.  The fries were decent, but could have been better. I noticed that everyone around us had a few side items with their fish – mushed peas and curry sauce. They both seemed like popular choices, but I opted against trying them. The menu also offered local treats like jam sponge and spotted dick. Based on the unappealing names and the fact that I had no clue what these were, we chose not to order any dessert.

After a long day of being tourists, our meal hit the spot. On our way out I noticed a quote on the outside of the building – “There is nothing more British than Fish & Chips.” Glad I got to finally try some for myself, and I’d call my first fish and chips experience a success.

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Tea Time!

Tea Time!One quintessential English experience that we simply had to have in London was afternoon tea. I may not be the biggest tea fan, but when in Rome, right? (Or in this case, London).

After researching the best spots for afternoon tea, I complied a list of my top choices – the Thames Foyer at the Savoy, Palm Court at the Langham and the Goring. (Let’s be honest, the last one was picked mostly because it’s where Kate Middleton stayed the night before the royal wedding). They were all so fabulous. Cue the images of us enjoying our tea in facsinators and morning coats. Then I saw the price. 50 pounds per person was a little more than we wanted to spend on our first tea experience.

Luckily our hotel, the London Marriott Park Lane, had a wonderful tea service of its own. When we stumbled across a 2 for 1 promotion on a discount tea website, we booked it without hesitation. We arrived at 140 Park Lane Restaurant and were seated next to a window with a view overlooking a rain-soaked Hyde Park. Our server took our tea order; peppermint for me and earl gray for my husband. And then they brought out the goodies. Oh my. There were tea sandwiches, scones, pastries and more. It was heaven. I also discovered one of my new favorite things – clotted cream. It may sound unappealing, but a scone with clotted cream and jam may be one of the best things on earth. I was so obsessed. So much so that I ordered some off of Amazon when I got home. Seriously.

An hour later, content from our tea, finger sandwiches and desserts, we headed back outside into the rainy London afternoon.

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Tea Time!

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