Soak up London’s Culture Off-the-Beaten Path

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There’s no shortage of things to see and do in London but for my recent trip across the pond, I tried to go beyond the tourist attractions and delve into the local culture, from the ever so pretty Elan Cafe to personalizing your own gin and everything in between.

Whether it’s your first time in London or your tenth, there are always opportunities to go the immersive route. Scroll below for some of my top-recommended activities for the cultural traveler.

London Elan Cafe

London’s Elan Cafe

Take a Masterclass at The Berkeley

As I hinted in a previous post, there’s a very special Prêt-à-Portea masterclass offered at the Berkeley and it concludes with a fancy afternoon tea experience. During the two hour class, you’ll get your very own apron embroidered with “Shoe Chef” as well as a signed copy of Prêt-à-Portea, High-Fashion Bakes & Biscuits. Other than that, you’’ll be putting your bakery skills to the test with lots of piping.

Since the royal wedding was a few weeks away, our class was royal themed—meaning that we decorated wedding dress and wedding shoe cookies as well as a designer purse cake.

To be fair, I’m not much of a chef so I found the whole art of decorating cookies and cakes to be really tough. That said, it gave me such a deep appreciation for how these treats end up looking and tasting.

Take a masterclass at The Berkeley

Satisfy your Sweet Tooth at Elan Cafe

You might not have heard of Elan Cafe, but you’ve probably seen it’s pretty in pink decor all over Instagram. There are actually two locations for Elan Cafe—one in Mayfair and steps from Hyde Park and the other in the Knightsbridge area and close to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum of Natural History.

They’re both equally charming (yes, I went to both within about 48 hours!) the original location of Elan Cafe is the one in Mayfair. As such, it’s a bit smaller and more cramped while their newer Knightsbridge cafe is more spacious and features newer furnishings. I spent more time at the original spot but actually preferred the large space, probably because it felt less crowded.

Menu-wise, you’ll see much of the same offerings. Most people come to Elan Cafe for brunch or coffee but I actually ordered a raspberry & blackcurrant smoothie and it was oh so delicious. If I’d go back again, I’d try one of their “alternative lattes”—maybe the Ruby (beetroot and ginger) or their Jade (Japanese matcha green tea).

I’d say try to go during off-peak hours and during the week if possible. There are definitely some tables that are more coveted than others at Elan Cafe—thanks to each having a gorgeous flower wall but no matter where you’re seated, you can snap a few photos before you leave. 

Make a Personalized Bottle of Gin

Calling all gin lovers! At The Ginstitute, which is part of The Distillery in Notting Hill, you can make your very own bottle of your favorite liquor.

It kicks off with an hour of history about gin in the UK. While this might sound boring to some, I was fascinated by this portion of the experience, especially learning the insane amounts of gin people used to drink!

Ironically, as you’re learning about the alcoholism of various eras, you’re served five different gin cocktails. Our guide went through the ins and outs of making the following drinks: The Martini, The Tom Collins, The Negroni, The Clover Club and The Bramble. Don’t worry, I didn’t down all of them but several of my fellow masterclass participants did—they were that good!

After brushing up on your gin history, you then head into a lab-like area where you learn about all the different botanicals that can and do go into a bottle of gin. I usually take my gin for granted, so it was really interesting to see how much detail goes into every bottle.

Best of all, you get to make your own bottle, even getting your very own label. This was the best souvenir I’ve ever taken back home, and I feel like such a champ for creating something that tastes good! I’m sure you will feel just as rewarded.

Make your own personalized bottle of gin

Go Bowling in your Hotel

Ok, to be fair, not all hotels have their very own bowling alley but the Ham Yard isn’t your everyday hotel. Their Croc Bowling Alley is truly one-of-a-kind and you don’t have to be a hotel guest to play a game.

Unlike bowling alleys I’ve been to before, the Croc alley takes decor to a whole new level. It’s themed after the 1950s, with a stylish lounge a sleek bar and even a dance bar. The lanes are made from solid maple and were specially commissioned. Keep an eye on your shoes too—they’re vintage and have UV shoelaces!

When you’re done playing a game, listen to some music playing from the baby grabs piano and sink into a sofa with your cocktail of choice.

Even if you’re not a bowling pro (I certainly am not), this place is a must-see and definitely something to tell your friends and family back home.

bowling alley inside the Ham Yard Hotel

Sip Champagne at St. Pancras

One of my newest discoveries was Searcy’s Champagne bar, located right in the heart of St. Pancras station. As a student living in London a decade ago, the only time I’d step foot in Kings Cross/St Pancras station was to switch over to the Northern Line and, very occasionally, take a train out of town.

Little did I know that there was a famous Champagne bar here all along! Unlike many of the train stations I’m used to, the upper lever of St Pancras is really beautiful, and the bar offers stunning views of the station’s architecture, like wrought iron and glass ceiling. Best of all, there is a set of train tracks right beside the bar, so you can actually see trains whizzing by while sipping your flute of bubbly.

As Europe’s longest Champagne bar, this is definitely worth a pit stop, especially if you plan on heading across the street to Kings Cross and waiting in the line to snap a photo at the iconic platform 9 3/4.

Sip Champagne at Kings Cross

What’s the most unique experience you’ve had while traveling? Tell me in the comments below!

This post is in collaboration with Love Great Britain, Visit California and Air New Zealand. All opinions are my own. 

Megan McDonough
Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.
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