Hannah Drake

England

24 Hours in Liverpool

TravelHannah DrakeComment

In April, we got to spend a quick weekend in Liverpool to go to the Everton v Arsenal game (and do our F date). I was so excited to go to Liverpool because it’s one of the places in England I’ve been wanting to visit for quite some time. We had so much fun and I pretty much fell in love with the city, even though we were only there for about 24 hours. I would love the opportunity to go back for a bit longer someday. And it’s not so far away!

WHERE TO STAY

We stayed at the Adelphi Hotel, which had such a fantastic location. Everything was about a 15 minute walk away and it was right where all the action in town is. It’s a stones throw away from the train station and not much further from the bus station. It was crazy busy in Liverpool that Saturday because of The Grand National Weekend so it made the city have all that much more energy, especially at the pubs around the train station before the races. The hotel was massive and looks like it was once the place to be. But to be honest, it’s not my favourite place where we’ve stayed. The hotel didn’t have free wifi, which I don’t think I’ve even heard of in the last 10 years (yes, I know I sound like a snob over my #firstworldproblems), the room had a strange smell to it (I wanna say it was musty?), and the bed was really uncomfortable. Still, it wasn’t bad for one night and we spent most of our time outside of the hotel.

If we go back, I would look into places like The Shankly Hotel, The Nadler Liverpool, Titanic Hotel Liverpool, or Hard Days Night Hotel. I also really like the looks of these places on Airbnb: Super Luxury City Centre Apartment (sleeps 8), The Albert’s Studio 2 (sleeps 3), and Luxury Waterfront Apartment With Sunset Terrace (sleeps 4).

WHERE TO EAT

We got to Liverpool about lunchtime, so we just set out toward the docks looking for somewhere to eat when we stumbled upon Cat Cafe. It’s always been my dream to visit a Cat Cafe and at the time, I was still sad about having to say goodbye to our foster cat Jake. You check in when you arrive and they record your arrival time because you pay for the amount of time you’re in there. (£12 per hour per person.) That also includes unlimited hot and cold drinks. They have a decent menu. Luke and I both got a panini and crisps, which was good. Of course the fun is looking for all the cats. (They have a list of their cats on each table.)

The Fab 4 Cafe is connected to The Beatles Story, but there’s also another location further up the docs near the Beatles statue. We got a hot drink after going through the exhibit mostly because I wanted the super cute to go cup.

My #1 travel rule is don’t eat somewhere you can eat at at home. I love trying new restaurants when I’m travelling and, even though Red’s True BBQ is a UK chain, we don’t have a location in Birmingham so it fit all the criteria. We had chosen a different place for dinner on Saturday night, but passed Red’s on our way to the other restaurant and we had to go in. The vibe was awesome. The drinks were delicious. And it was hands down the best BBQ I’ve had in the UK. Luke and I split a tray with Smoked Cheese & Jalapeño Sausage, Baby Back Ribs, and Burnt Ends. We also got slaw, mac & cheese, and loaded fries. Oh my gosh it was so good! We both tried Grandma’s Louisiana Lemonade (with rum) and Luke had the Godfather Sour as well. Seriously, Red’s, you need to open a Birmingham location like yesterday. I would recommend booking a table because even though it’s big, it’s busy.

We found The Brunch Club on Sunday morning just by looking up breakfast restaurants near our hotel. Again, we were able to walk to it, which made everything so much easier. Luke and I both had the Full English, but their whole menu looked great and the place itself was really cool as well. We didn’t need to book a table, but shortly after we got there it started filling up with people who had attended the Grand National (I’m assuming, based on the luggage and garment bags), so it might be a good idea to book a table in advance.

On our way back from the Super Bananalama, we walked by Love Thy Neighbour. We had already had breakfast, but it looked really cool. If we go back, that’s definitely the first new place I want to try!

WHAT TO DO

The first thing we did when we arrived was set out for the Royal Albert Dock. It’s a fairly touristy place, but even if you’re just walking around, it’s a lot of fun. We wandered into a few of the shops and checked out a couple of the menus posted outside different restaurants, but we mostly just people watched and enjoyed the surroundings. There’s plenty do to in the area, including Tate Liverpool (an art gallery), the International Slave Museum, the Merseyside Maritime Museum (say that five times fast!), a carousel, the Magical Mystery Tour, and more! There are plenty of places to eat and shop, but do keep in mind it will likely be busy.

The main thing I wanted to do on Saturday was The Beatles Story. It’s a Beatles museum on the Albert Dock that will literally take you through their entire story. It’s £17 per person (£13 for seniors, £10 for children), which includes an audio guide and I feel like it’s well worth it, especially if you’re at all a Beatles fan. Inside the museum, they’ve recreated locations that were important in the group’s history, including the Cavern Club, the recording studio at Abbey Road, the White Room where John Lennon recorded “Imagine” and more. There are original set pieces, costumes, and props from their movies and videos. Each of the four Beatles has their own section covering their time after the band broke up. It’s all very well done and was a good way to spend the afternoon.

On Sunday morning, we walked down Matthew Street, which is where the Cavern Club was located once upon a time. There are some Beatles stores on the road now, but it’s cool to imagine what it was like when the Beatles were at their most popular in Liverpool.

The Bananalama was a series of street art sculptures around the city. I don’t know a lot about the history of them or when they were popular, but you can still find some dotted around the city in various sizes. Most notable is the Super Bananalama, which we walked over to see on Sunday morning since we had some time to kill before the Arsenal game. (Matthew Street was on the way.)

Have you been to Liverpool? There are so many places I still want to visit around England the the UK, but I would absolutely go back to Liverpool in a heartbeat! Hopefully for longer than 24 hours next time. Plus I’m still 100% game to go back next year over the Grand National Weekend and go to that as well!

PIN FOR LATER!

This post contains affiliate links, so I may make a commission off any purchase you make through the link. Thank you for supporting my blog!

A Muggle's Guide to the Harry Potter Studio Tour

TravelHannah DrakeComment

For my birthday in August, Luke surprised me with tickets to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London! We ended up booking a tour in December, just before we left for Colorado, so we could see everything done up for the holidays. We had such a lovely day and it absolutely made me want to rewatch all the movies and reread all the books. (For Christmas, Luke got me the LEGO Harry Potter video games and it was so cool to see how detailed the LEGO sets were after having just stood in the real sets!)

If you’re planning on visiting the studio, there are a few things to keep in mind as a muggle.

PLAN AHEAD

Luke gave me the tickets in early August, but didn’t book a time slot so we could plan a day to go together. When we got online to book a tour, every weekend for the rest of the year was completely booked out. This may be due to the fact that in October they make some changes for Halloween and in December they make some changes for Christmas. (They overlap in November.) So it really is a special—and popular time—to go. We were determined to see Hogwarts at Christmastime and we were lucky there was a date available during the week before we left for the holidays.

Sometimes the studio has different exhibits on, so it’s important to plan ahead if there’s something you really want to see, like Hogwarts at Halloween or in the snow. Times for those special events go a lot more quickly, but there are only a limited number of time slots available any day.

BOOK AN EARLY TIME SLOT

A lot of what I read said to book as early as possible and I would definitely recommend it as well. Our tour was at 12:30, which was perfect for us, and probably the latest I would recommend if you can help it. The first part of the tour is guided, but after you leave The Great Hall, you’re on your own and can take as much time as possible.

Keep in mind that because everyone can stay as long as they want, it will get increasingly more crowded as the day goes on.

WHAT TO EXPECT

It’s a different experience than going to the theme park because it’s almost like a museum. You’re able to walk through some of the larger sets, like the Great Hall, the Forbidden Forest, Diagon Alley, and Platform 9 3/4. They have smaller sets on display that you can see as well, like The Burrow, The Gryffindor Common Room and Dormitory, Hagrid’s Hut, Malfoy Manor, and Professor Umbridge’s Office. There are a few interactive things available like a flight simulator. You’ll learn about the visual effects, like the cart in Gringott’s, Quidditch, and more.

It’s incredible to see all the props and costumes from the films and walking through the sets makes it all feel so real. Every part of it was amazing. Except the ceiling in the Great Hall because it’s not actually enchanted.

YOU CAN PACK A LUNCH IF YOU WANT

There is a restaurant, The Backlot Cafe between the two sections of the tour. You can purchase pre-made sandwiches or salads, as well as hot options like burgers. However, you’re allowed to bring your own food through to the cafe, you’re just not allowed to eat in the tour whatsoever.

You can also purchase butterbeer at The Backlot Cafe, the only place it’s available in the UK. I’ve heard that it’s not as good as it is at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but it’s still worth trying! We opted for the non-souvenir cup because I have the same mug from Orlando, but for the full experience, you gotta do it. You can also get butterbeer ice cream!

STOCK UP ON SOUVENIRS

There is a fantastic store at the end of the tour with so many amazing souvenirs. You can get some sweets from Honeydukes, but you can also stock up on official Harry Potter merch. Just make sure you know your Hogwarts house so you can rep your colours because they have something for everyone!

We were there shortly after the second film in the Fantastic Beasts franchise came out. While there weren’t any sets from those films, there were costumes, wands, and other things from the movies available in the store. (They also had a small costume exhibit at the entrance to the studio.)

HOW TO GET THERE

The nearest train station is Watford Junction and they have a cash-only shuttle available for just £2.50. You can also drive there and take advantage of their free parking.

Find out more about getting there on their site.

I’ve now visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando, though it was in 2011 shortly after they opened, and the Studios in London. For the biggest Harry Potter fans, both are fun and exciting, but I’m not entirely sure you would need to do the Studios more than once. The studios offer incredible insight into the making of the films, but it’s kind of like being at the world’s biggest Harry Potter museum. The Wizarding World theme park seems to be continuously growing and changing, always offering new experiences. (And a lot more drinks and treats you’d find at Hogwarts, in Hogsmeade, or the Leaky Cauldron.)

PIN FOR LATER!

6 Things to Do in London at Christmastime

TravelHannah Drake4 Comments

There’s just something so magical about London at Christmastime. All year, there are so many shops and restaurants that have gorgeous seasonal displays. But Christmas is another level in London. There are twinkling lights, oversized baubles, pastel gingerbread houses, and beautiful window displays. Of course London is one of the most diverse and culturally rich cities in the world. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to eat no matter when you visit, but it truly outdoes itself in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You’re bound to find something beautiful and magical on every corner. It’s absolutely my favourite time of year to visit the city!

GO ICE SKATING

Two of the biggest—and most picturesque—ice skating rinks are at the Natural History Museum and Somerset House. You’ll see photos of skaters circling the Christmas tree in front of the beautiful buildings on any Londoner’s Instagram, but if you plan ahead, you can be one of those skaters!

The rink at the Natural History Museum is open for three months, from the end of October to the end of January, though it’s closed on Christmas Day. Times vary, but the website lists its operating hours as 10:00 to 21:00. Tickets are available from £12.65 for adults, from £8.80 for children, and from £39.60 for families. Museum members save 10% when tickets are booked onsite. You have to book 50-minute tickets in advance and certain days or times might be more expensive. The rink also offers upgrades, special packages, and fun events throughout the skating season.

The nearest tube station to the Natural History Museum is South Kensington on the District, Piccadilly and Circle lines.

The rink at Somerset House is sponsored by Fortnum & Mason and is open from mid-November to mid-January. The rink is also closed Christmas Day. Times vary, but it’s usually open from 11:15 to 22:15 and the full schedule is listed on their website. Tickets are available from £11.00 for adults and £8.50 for children, but a one-time booking fee of £2.95 applies online. Fortnum & Mason has set up a rink-side lounge with seasonal treats like champagne and fondue or mulled wine and mince pies.

The nearest tube station to Somerset House is Temple on the Circle and District lines, Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line, or Charing Cross on the Bakerloo and Northern lines.

No matter which rink you choose, you can definitely have yourself a merry time skating and enjoying everything the rinks have to offer.

SHOP ON (AND OFF) REGENT STREET

Regent Street is one of the most famous streets in London and lined with little shops and cafes. No matter the season, you’ll find it bustling with shoppers, but it’s something entirely different at Christmastime. The streets are lit up with twinkling Christmas lights, the windows are adorned with giant wreaths, and the shops have gorgeous window displays.

Just off the busy road is the quieter Old Bond Street, which is always worth strolling down, even if it’s just to gaze in the windows and see the decorations. Both years we’ve visited London at Christmastime, there have been peacock feathers above the street and gorgeous displays on the facades of some of the most luxurious shops in town. Last year, Cartier was covered in a giant red bow and it made all my big city dreams come true!

Down the cross street from Tiffany & Co. is Burlington Arcade, which is absolutely worth walking down. There are so many little shops and they all seem to be in competition with each other for who has the best Christmas decorations. The arcade itself is lit up by twinkling trees and the light bounces off the giant red baubles hanging from the ceiling. It’s certainly a wonderful walk and it goes on forever! There are other lovely arcades off Regent Street as well, but in my opinion, none as lovely as Burlington.

The nearest tube station to Regent Street is Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines, Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, or Oxford Circus on the Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines.

SEE THE HOLIDAY INSTALLATIONS AT COVENT GARDEN

Seriously, nowhere does holiday installations like Covent Garden! They’re always oversized and over-the-top and I love them! On one end, you’ll find a towering Christmas tree with sparkling red and white lights. On the other end, you’ll find a gigantic prancing reindeer in a gigantic sleigh full of gigantic presents. This year, they also had a cool old car piled high with presents. And of course the three arcades in the centre are not to be missed. I love the giant mistletoe that lights up and the huge silver baubles. It’s definitely crowded, but there seems to be a photographers’ understanding that you keep a bit of a distance from everything to people can get photos without you in them. They’re usually quite good about taking turns and not taking an insane amount of time.

Covent Garden is like an outdoor shopping area, so there are also plenty of places to shop, which means there are plenty of beautiful shopfronts around the square and surrounding streets. Some of the best at Christmastime are Balthazar and Clos Maggiore.

The nearest tube station to Covent Garden is Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line.

WARM UP WITH TEA AND CAKE

When in London, you must stop for tea somewhere. There are a lot of fantastic places to have tea in London, including Sketch (an Instagrammer’s heaven) and Biscuiteer’s (home of the most beautiful biscuits), but in December, Peggy Porschen Cakes and Claridige’s are sights to behold.

Peggy Porschen Cakes is located in Belgravia, one of my favourite neighbourhoods. It might just be the most photographed facade in London, but there’s a reason. They never skimp on the seasonal decor and you can always count on them for stunning photo ops and the perfect flatlay on their little pink tables. But in all seriousness, come for the decor and stay for the lattes and cakes. They have beautifully decorated cakes and cookies available inside their tiny little corner shop and the baristas are talented with the on point seasonal latte art. Make sure to plan plenty of time for your stop here because the later it gets in the day, the longer the wait for a table is and they don’t accept reservations. (This is why I wholeheartedly recommend cake for breakfast!) The majority of their tables are outside too, so bundle up!

The nearest tube station to Peggy Porchen Cakes is Sloane Square on the Circle and District lines or Victoria on the Victoria, Circle, or District lines.

Claridge’s is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city and offers lots of holiday cheer in December and boasts a magnificent afternoon tea. In the hotel lobby, you’ll find a carefully designed Christmas tree that changes every year depending on the designer behind the tree. In recent years, they’ve had an upside down tree, a mirrored tree, and even a full on forest one year. It’s truly something! Their Festive Afternoon Tea is on the pricier end (and even more so on the weekends), but they certainly make it worth it.

The nearest tube station to Claridge’s is Bond Street on the Central and Jubilee lines or Oxford Circus on the Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines.

STOCK UP ON HOLIDAY GOODIES

Petersham Nurseries is just off Covent Garden and always worth a wander, no matter the calendar, but especially at Christmas. Pop in to pick up some holiday decorations, Christmas baubles, or even just general home goods. Wander to the back for the plant nursery and even next door to the deli!

The nearest tube station to Petersham Nurseries is Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line.

Fortnum & Mason is an experience. It’s located on Regent Street and is famous for its tea and hampers. Here, you can stock up on luxury grocery items, peruse their home goods floors, and even do some personal shopping in their men’s and women’s departments. Everything is located around a stunning spiral staircase between the first two floors, but the opening goes all the way to the top and they make sure you know it!

The nearest tube station to Fortnum & Mason is Piccadilly Circus on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, Leicester Square on the Northern and Piccadilly lines, or Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines.

Lavender Green Flowers is located in Chelsea and a great place to stop around Christmastime, especially if you’re looking for some DIY materials for a wreath or other home decor. You can stock up on everything you might need: cinnamon sticks, dried citrus, pine cones, greenery, and more. Just imagine how good it smells!

The nearest tube station to Lavender Green Flowers is South Kensington on the District, Piccadilly and Circle lines.

WANDER THE MOST FESTIVE NEIGHBOURHOODS

Normally, I’m all about Notting Hill when I’m in London. There’s just something about those soft pastel houses lined up behind the street market. But I’ve actually never been at Christmastime. I’m sure they do it up good, but I’m always drawn to other neighbourhoods this time of year.

Belgravia is where you’ll find the picturesque Peggy Porschen Cakes, but make sure to plan some time to wander around the streets as well. The shops and offices and cafes and even houses have great kerbside appeal all year, but especially at Christmas.

Chelsea is great to see some really fantastic displays outside shops and restaurants. Whether it’s springtime an there are lush floral displays or Christmastime and larger than life Christmas decor, Chelsea never disappoints.

Soho is the neighbourhood I’ve spent the least amount of time in, of these, but they have some great Christmas decor as well. Just don’t make the same mistake we did and not go into Liberty!

Mayfair is one of my favourite neighbourhoods all year, but it’s even better at Christmas. It’s also home to Annabel’s and nobody does installations like Annabel’s.

Check out my London in Bloom post to see London all decked out for spring.

PIN FOR LATER!