Life in London : Q&A

LIFE IN LONDON

Hi, friends! It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? As most of you probably know, I’ve been a bit distracted from writing blog posts for a while, largely because I’ve been focused on transitioning my life over to London. Ever since I lived here a couple years ago, I’ve been tirelessly working to find a way back, so to say these last few weeks have felt like a dream come true would be an understatement. I’m absolutely smitten to be back in my favorite city in the world! 

Pulling this off has required a lot of hard work and laser focus over the last several months. Because of that, I haven't always articulated every update or explained every tiny detail (I also never want to presume you even want me to do that). All of that to say, there have been quite a few questions lately surrounding London- especially these past several weeks. I’ve been doing my best to keep track of them using a note in my phone, and decided the best way to address them all would be through a Q&A style blog post— which brings me to now!

I anticipate I’ll be covering life here through a variety of lenses in the months to come, however I wanted to at least start with the basics by answering some foundational questions. Know that most of these topics will be expanded upon in the near future, but the intention of this post is simply  to lay some general groundwork- not deep dive into one particular topic just yet.

So without further adieu...

moving to london

MY MOVE TO LONDON

Q: WHAT NEIGHBORHOOD ARE YOU LIVING IN? 

A: I’ve landed in Maida Vale, which is in Zone 2, yet still very central (it only takes me ~20 minutes to get to Oxford Circus). It feels much more “local” and residential here than the touristy bits of the city (which is a lot of Zone 1). I’m only about a 20 minute walk to Notting Hill (which I love) and my neighborhood has loads of great parks, cute restaurants and lovely pubs. Collectively, it all makes for such a wonderful little place to call home! Bonus factor: I’m also very close to Paddington station, which makes it easy to get to/from Heathrow via the Heathrow Express. 

Q: HOW DID YOU FIND YOUR FLAT? 

A: I was originally looking on sites like SpareRoom or Zoopla to try to find flatmates (I knew I wanted to live with other people both for social and economical reasons). I sent a few options I was considering to some friends who lived here to get their feedback (I had only lived in one neighborhood and didn’t want to limit my options based on merely my own knowledge). One of my friends ended up inquiring with several of her friends to see if anyone had a spare room they were interested in renting out, and she got a bite. After a brief introduction and a quick Skype conversation, my current flatmates and I agreed to give living together a go (and also agreed neither party would be offended if it wasn’t the right fit). Luckily, it’s been so great— they’re lovely people who are incredibly easy to live with. Even more fortunately, it’s not even that we're just merely tolerating each another— we actually get on quite well and have hung already hung out a few times to grab drinks at various pubs. I’m so thankful it’s all played out so perfectly!

It’s worth mentioning, I got very lucky with my current circumstances (beyond the fact that I have great flatmates). If you’re interested in finding a place to live in London, you should anticipate paying a deposit (based on what I was reading during my own research, this will usually add an additional month of rent to your upfront costs). You’ll also usually have to pay some sort of agency fee as well depending on who is listing the particular flat. Finally, payment can be tricky for a few reasons. For starters, it’s SO difficult to get a UK bank account (this could be a blog post of it’s own, but for the sake of brevity— you probably won’t get one for a while when you move here, depending on several variables). This means you’ll need to sort out some form of wire transfer so you can pay the landlord or agency (I’ve heard good things about TransferWise). Again, I got very lucky because I get to bypass a lot of these pain points by working directly with a trusted mutual contact (who gladly accepts PayPal very simply from my American checking account) but wanted to caveat what a more realistic housing hunt will look like.  


Q: HOW HAVE YOU MADE FRIENDS LIVING IN LONDON? 

A: It’s certainly been something I’ve built upon having lived here before. Several of my friends now are people I connected with a couple years ago and have just stayed in touch with, even while I was away. But I can assure you that anytime you move to a new location, friends aren’t going to come knock on your door and find you— you have to really be willing to put yourself out there. 

If you don’t know anyone at all, I think the best thing you can do is to find groups or pre-existing community of some sort to jump into.  I’ve always gone to a church (I've tried several different ones) and have made a concerted effort to attend as many blogging-related events as I can find (which I would equate to a networking group— look for ones that are related to your own field). A great website to sign up for and browse is Meetup.com, which lets you sign up for various groups based on your interests. 


And if you’re single, be sure to use dating apps! My mindset when using Bumble or Hinge is to never go into it  so seriously or give much of any attention to whether or not the person could be a potential partner. Instead, simply treat each date as a fun opportunity to get to know someone new and hear their story (which is especially interesting if you’re doing so abroad and meeting someone from a totally different country than you). This takes the pressure off both parties and lets you have fun with the process instead of treating each date as some v serious encounter that’s nerve-wracking. 

My general rule of thumb? Always accept an invite when you’re the “new kid.” Even if you’re tired. Even if you won’t know anyone there. Even if you can build a case of reasons against going. Just go. Practicing this “yes” mentality will train you to be more open, thus introducing you to dozens of opportunities (and people) you would have missed otherwise. 

life in london q&a

Q: HOW DO YOU GET A U.K. VISA?

A: This has been the bane of my existence the past few years now. Visas are honestly something far too cumbersome and intricate to adequately cover in a blog post. I can only speak from my own experience and everyones circumstances are all too unique.  So for the sake of simplicity, I would encourage you to work directly with an immigration lawyer if moving to London is something you’re seriously interested in. And prior to paying a pretty penny in legal fees, do your due diligence to familiarize yourself with the UK Visas and Immigration section of the home office website


And to those who have asked, no: I do not have a long-term visa solution sorted. I am legally allowed to spend up to 6 months here as a visitor (however was advised by my immigration lawyer that it’s easier to work on a solution from this side of the pond). So here I am. 



Q: WHAT ARE SOME "MUST HAVE” ITEMS YOU’VE FOUND YOURSELF NEEDING AS A LONDONER?

A: There are definitely a handful of items (and resources) that will make your life as a Londoner far more enjoyable. Some of my favorites include: 

A SMALL UMBRELLA:  I’m a believer that London’s weather is far more lovely than most people care to admit. Sure, it can be cloudy quite a bit and will frequently start sprinkling out of nowhere… but in no time at all it can clear up and the sun is back out again! Even still, keeping a small, compact umbrella you can always leave in your purse (like this one) makes those scattered showers far less annoying. 

CARD CARRIER: Riding the tube or taking the bus frequently means you want your Oyster card to be readily accessible at all times so you can tap in or tap out of the tills at the stations. Instead of fishing your card out of a wallet every time, I find having a simple card carrier that holds your Oyster card (as well as your credit cards) to be far more functional. I adore this pebbled-leather one by Cuyana- it’s what I use every day!

TRENCH COAT: Call me cliché, but given the temperate climate of the UK, I find a trench coat to be the perfect weight of a top layer for a good part of the year in London. I purchased mine in person at a British clothing store in Carnaby: Jack Willis (rumored to produce their trench coats by the same manufacturer as Burberry). Some other options I love include: 

Not a tangible item, but I also highly recommend downloading CityMapper to navigate getting around the city. Sure, you can just use Google Maps, but CityMapper shows all of your transportation options (walking, tube, bus, bike or Uber), breaks down how much time each route would take, provides the cost of each option, and even prompts you where to stand on the platform for the Underground if you’re changing trains. It makes the decision making on getting from point A to point B so much more seamless and I much prefer it to any other navigation app. 


Q: HOW DO YOU DRESS FOR THE DIFFERENT SEASONS IN LONDON?:

A: As previously mentioned, I find the UK to be very temperate. With that said, London is a place where you’re perpetually needing to take off or put on layers. Above ground you may be chilly one second, protected by the cloud coverage and catching a gust of wind. Yet minutes later, you’ll be sweating profusely below ground, huddled agains strangers on the tube. People joke to dress for four seasons everyday, but I just always recommend wearing lots of light layers: think scarves, light jackets, cardigans, basic cotton base layers, etc. This way you can constantly adjust your temperature as needed. 

When it comes to footwear, make sure you’re comfortable walking in whatever you wear! I average 4-8 miles of walking per day in London (even factoring in how much I  take the bus and tube). For inspiration of my favorite shoes to wear in Europe, read up on this post

the shard london
st paul's cathedral london


Q: WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE BIGGEST SURPRISES YOU’VE DISCOVERED ABOUT LIFE IN THE UK? 

A: It’s honestly hard to rank specific learnings over others. Generally speaking, you’re just constantly discovering both subtle and drastic differences the more that you do everyday life here (be sure to watch my “life in the UK” highlights on IG stories for more on this subject!) There are way too many to list in one sitting, but some examples I’ve discovered over the years include: 

  • People in the UK say “please” like it’s their job. In the states, we often order meals or converse with people in the service industry with a polite or courteous tone, however we don’t get so caught up in the formality of always saying the word— it’s implied. Not the case in England. I hear this word peppered into conversations more generously than the way southerners cook with butter! 

  • Furthermore on the topic of being polite, the English apologize for everything. In the US if we are approaching a stranger, we’ll often just say “Excuse me…. do you know what time it is?” Here, I've notice everyone leading into sentences apologetically instead. “Sorry, could you please tell me what time it is?”

  • The roads are small (and the cars are often smaller). I am constantly amazed by the stealth of double-decker buses driving through this city. 

  • Rather than asking “How are you?” when the English greet someone, they’ll often ask “You alright?” which can be confusing at times (Um, yes? Do I look like something is wrong!?)

  • The English are notorious for “carrying on” (it was a war-time poster turned motto for the entire country, for crying out loud). However, this mentality also seems to bleeds over into their overall social demeanor. For example, they do not make small talk with strangers or strike up conversation with someone on public transportation like we might in the states. Don’t get me wrong, they are lovely people (and again, so polite!) but they tend to “carry on” and keep to themselves a bit more unless directly introduced in some sort of social setting.  

  • Autumn and fall are not treated the same. This time of year in the states is a pumpkin-spiced frenzy as Americans go ga-ga for all things fall. While everyone here certainly embraces the crisp weather of autumn (no one calls it fall), there is definitely no pumpkin obsession. In fact, friends here laugh and poke fun at our affinity for a squash

  • A large drink at a Starbucks or McDonalds (or any other global chain) here is the equivalent to what a small or medium size would be back in the states. #MERICA: the super-size society...

  • Ice is very rare here.

  • AC (or “aircon” as they call it) is not extremely common in homes or lots of shops and restaurants. Instead, people open the windows or use fans. 

  • Plugs don’t exist in bathrooms (I still can’t understand this). Instead, if you want to curl or dry your hair, you must use another room in your flat. 

  • People commonly include kisses (signed ‘xx’) at the end of a text or email to a friend or loved one. 

  • The English (and lots of others in Europe) use a fork and knife at all times while eating. The fork is held in the left hand (curve side down) while the right hand holds the knife to cut the food (see video here).  

  • The date is written day, month, year rather than month, day, year (12 September, 2018 instead of September 12, 2018). 

  • “Cheers” is used both to toast, but also to say thanks/goodbye. 

LIFE IN LONDON


While we’re at it, let’s discuss a few of the differences in our shared language…


KEY BRITISH VS. AMERICAN TERMINOLOGY 

“Take Away” instead of “Take out”

“Top-up” instead of “Refill”

“Autumn” instead of “Fall”

“Toilet/Loo” instead of “Bathroom”

“Aubergine” instead of “Eggplant”

“Coriander” instead of “Cilantro”

“Courgette” instead of “Zucchini”

“Barrister” instead of “Attorney”

“Flat” instead of “Apartment"

“Biscuit” instead of “Cookie”

“Cutlery” instead of “Silverware” 

“Crisp” instead of “Chip”

“Chips” instead of “French Fries”

“Car Park” instead of “Parking Lot”

“Film/ Cinema” instead of “Movie/ Movie Theatre”

“Garden” instead of “Yard”

“Football” instead of “Soccer” (this is true of everywhere else in the world too).

“Holiday” instead of “Vacation”

“Lift” instead of “Elevator”

“Mad” instead of “Crazy”

“Nappy” instead of “Diaper”

“Petrol Station” instead of “Gas Station”

“Queue” instead of “Line”

“Rubbish” instead of “Garbage”

“Diary” instead of “Calendar”

“Trainers” instead of “Sneakers/Tennis Shoes”

“Jumper” instead of “Sweater”

“Trousers” instead of “Pants"



london england

VISITING LONDON

In addition to questions about my move, there have been loads of questions from those of you who are visiting (or plan to visit) London! While I’m still far from a master expert (this city is simply too massive to know everything!) here are some of the things I’ve learned during my time here that will hopefully help you make the most of your time in this incredible city:



Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE LONDON RESTAURANTS? 

A: It’s impossible to answer this question because there are SO many good ones. I would need to know what kind of food you like, how long you’ll be here, what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for, and what meal of the day you’re inquiring about (to name a few questions). I definitley plan to do a full London restaurant guide, but for the time being here are some of my favorites: 

BOROUGH MARKET is technically a market, not a restaurant, but it’s hands down my favorite place to eat in the city. More about this in a minute…

DISHOOM has incredible Indian food (London has some of the best curry in the world!) set in a posh environment. They have locations all over the city- I tend to go to the Carnaby location. 

THE GALLERY AT SKETCH. I can’t even tell you much about the food because what stood out to me so much about this place is the unforgettable design. It’s truly an experience.

SKY GARDEN or DUCK AND WAFFLE for incredible panoramic views of the city (and yummy food at both options!)

THE IVY is a quintessential, modern-British restaurant that boasts an extensive menu of English fare (and has several locations across the city).

MURIEL’S KITCHEN is great if you’re looking for someplace cozy, healthy and affordable (they also have locations in both Soho and South Kensington).

BERNER’S TAVERN is one of the first restaurants I ever visited in London and it’s simply gorgeous. A bit on the swanky side (located within the Edition Hotel), come here if you want a nice night out and upmarket food.

BRONTE in Trafalgar Square if you need something central, tasty & set in an upmarket ambiance.

RIDING HOUSE CAFE is a great little spot for breakfast or brunch and is centrally located in Fitzrovia.


MUCH more to come on this topic, but hopefully this gives you a helpful starting point!



 the gallery at sketch

the gallery at sketch

Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PUBS IN LONDON?: 

A: I’m constantly discovering new ones that I love! London pubs have experienced quite a renaissance in recent years. Gone are the days when a pub was merely a dive where old men would go for a pint (although “old man pubs” as the Brits call them do still exist). Today, pubs are often trendy, boast beautiful decor in a cozy environment, and even have extensive (delicious) food menus. Some of my favorites I’ve been to include: 

THE HERO OF MAIDA is my new neighborhood haunt- I think this places is so beautiful!

THE CLACHAN is a nostalgic hang for Haley and I. We often came here the last time we lived in London together  (honestly, because after work it was filled with attractive Englishmen in their suits and ties). 

THE LADBROKE ARMS is a charming neighborhood pub in Notting Hill with a lovely menu

THE BUILDERS ARMS is a darling pub in Kensington that’s tucked away from the busy high street. 


Q: WHAT IS SOMETHING EVERYONE MUST DO WHEN THEY VISIT LONDON? 

A: Stroll along the South Bank! This is a favorite pastime of tourists and locals alike.  Start your day at Borough Market (you can easily get there by the Jubilee or Northern line on the Tube- getting off at the London Bridge station). This is one of my very favorite parts of London. (Fair warning, it’s only open from Monday-Saturday and has a limited market on Monday and Tuesday, so ideally you can go on a Wednesday through Saturday). As I’ve said before, London is such a global city that’s comprised of nationalities from all over the world, so this isn’t any farmers market: it's London's oldest food market and most of the stallholders are the producers themselves (including amazing food from all over Europe).

Once you can’t fit anymore in your stomach and your bag is too full to purchase anything else, head for the Thames. You’ll likely come out somewhere in-between London and Southwark Bridge, which means immediately to your right, you’ll see Tower Bridge (not to be confused with London Bridge- which many people often call it). If you want you can walk across it, but I’d argue this is a plenty good view (and you truly have so much more you should do).

Snap a picture or two and start walking along the South Bank in the opposite direction of Tower Bridge. This route (while a bit long) certainly doesn’t feel like it and takes you by some of London’s most historic landmarks. You’ll see The Globe theatre, St. Paul's Cathedral, Millennium Bridge (the one the Death Eaters destroyed for all you Harry Potter fans), Tate Modern Art etc. Assuming you’re there on a weekend, there are street performers, musicians and all other kinds of entertainment to make the stroll an enjoyable one (plus you won’t be alone, tourists and Londoners alike enjoy this route).  Once you reach the London Eye (which I'd skip riding if you're only there a few days- more important things to do!) you’ll approach Westminster Bridge and be directly across from Big Ben (who as of now, is completely covered in scaffolding unfortunately). 

This little walk will take some time, but covers so many different sights and provides so many lovely views of the city. For more on my top things to do, read my Weekend in London guide

life in london


Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST DAY TRIPS TO DO WHILE VISITING LONDON?:

A: I still have quite a few on my list to visit while I’m here, but so far, some ones I recommend include: 

OXFORD

CAMBRIDGE
WINDSOR (especially well-known as of late as the location for the most recent Royal Wedding)

HAMPTON COURT PALACE (former home of the tyrannical Henry the VIIIth) 

In a few weeks I’ll be visiting The Cotswolds, Bath and a few other places so be sure to follow along on those adventures!



Q: I KNOW YOU DON’T HAVE KIDS, BUT CAN YOU RECOMMEND SOME FAMILY FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES?:

A: I actually think London is a great place to visit for those with children (even though I’m not a parent myself). Museums are free in London (although a donation is suggested) and a great activity for those with little ones! The Natural History Museum is a popular choice, and it’s also very close to Hyde Park (which is home to the Diana Memorial Playground— a great place for kiddos!) Depending on their ages, I also think experiencing high-tea with kids would be a fun activity. If you’re looking for more child-friendly activities, I’d suggest following Aspiring Kennedy (another US expat living in London… although she has 3 kids!) 


Q: WHAT NEIGHBORHOODS WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO STAY IN WHILE VISITING LONDON?:

A: Similar to my sentiment toward selecting a restaurant, I could ask dozens of questions about what you want to do or what type of neighborhood “vibe” you’re looking for. With that said, I tend to point people to South Kensington, which is centrally located in Zone 1 (without being too touristy) and provides a “quintessential London” experience. It also has great tube access with both the District/Circle and Picadilly lines. 

south kensington london



Q: WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND GOING FOR HIGH TEA?:

A: This is actually a topic I’m researching at the moment, so stay tuned for more! I used to point people to The Orangery (however I’m told this is sadly closed indefinitely). Sketch is certainly a popular and very unique option, and The Shard offers unparalleled views. However, if you’re looking for a more traditional experience, I’m told The Savoy or The Ritz are failsafe options. I’ve also tried (and enjoyed!) The Egerton House Hotel, The Wallace Collection and Park 45. I’ll just have to do a bit more research on this matter and report back...



Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST COFFEE SHOPS IN LONDON?:

A: London may be a tea-town, but there are so many great coffee options! I love Workshop Coffee in Fitzrovia, H.R. Higgins in Mayfair, Grind & Co. (multiple locations- I frequent Covent Garden), Notes in Trafalgar Square, Caravan (also multiple locations, I like the one in Fitzrovia)…yet my favorite option has to be Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market

Q: WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT LONDON?:

london at christmas

A: Gah, this is so difficult for me to choose! I adore London at Christmas-time (read my blog post about that here) and think everyone should experience it at least once in their life. With that said, I think the spring is absolutely gorgeous (everything is in bloom and there is a buzzing energy as everyone comes out of hibernation). This is my second fall or “autumn” living here, and so I’m a bit partial to right now (the weather is lovely and it makes me feel all sentimental). Finally, I think the summers here (while they can be quite warm- remember my aircon comments from earlier!) are magical as well… there is simply no shortage of fun things to do! I suppose it’s wonderful year-round for different reasons (although January through March are probably the least wonderful times to be here… but that’s likely true of most places in the world!)



There are so many other questions I could answer about this magnificent city, but I’ll have to save those for another post! Hopefully this has been a helpful start and that you enjoy learning about London as much as I enjoy sharing my experiences! Have more questions you’d like me to address in upcoming posts? Tell me in the comments below!


Thanks as always for popping in and for joining me on this journey!

xx,

Whitney

blonde atlas



Summer in Chicago Bucket List

summer in chicago

 

While I've written about my love for Chicago many times over the years, it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I could truly say I've had the privilege of experiencing this city in it's prime. Simply put, summer in Chicago is other-worldly. With idyllic temperatures in the seventies and a buzzing energy that's been fought for all winter long, this city comes alive in the summer in a way you won't see any other time of year. I've spent the last couple of months polling trusted locals and food enthusiasts so I could try just about every recommended rooftop, patio or outdoor experience in the Windy City that I could first-hand. After working hard (or hardly working?) it's my pleasure to bring you this curated "bucket list" of favorites that you simply can't miss when you visit Chicago this time of year. 


CHICAGO HELICOPTER EXPERIENCE
CHICAGO HELICOPTER EXPERIENCE

Experiencing the ideal seasonality of Chicago wasn't the only way I saw this city with fresh eyes over the past several weeks. One of the most memorable moments of my summer was easily with Chicago Helicopter Experience. Departing from their downtown heliport just minutes from the “Loop", this tour took us over the most popular sights including Willis Tower, the Hancock building, Soldier Field, Navy Pier, Buckingham Fountain, Lake Shore Drive and the Magnificent Mile. The ride was incredibly smooth, and I was pleasantly surprised by how large and unobstructed the viewing windows were (also loved the Bose noise-cancelling headphones to make for a much more enjoyable flight). Even after flying into Chicago by plane dozens of times now, nothing compares to soaring so closely to the skyline like this (especially at sunset!) and taking in the spectacular aerial views of the city. It was one of the coolest things I've done in a long time (and not just in Chicago!) Learn more about booking with Chicago Helicopter Tours here

chicago helicopter experience

shore club chicago
shore club chicago

I spent several afternoons over the course of the summer parked at Shore Club: an elevated venue at North Avenue Beach inspired by Mediterranean cuisine and beautiful beaches around the world. Alcohol is strictly prohibited at the beach, with the exception of here and Castaways their neighboring beachside burger joint, so if you're craving a cocktail to go along with your beach views-- this is the place to find it.  Shore Club's restaurant features floor to ceiling glass windows in a temperature controlled space, along with an outdoor patio if you prefer to be outside. For guests seeking more of a semi-private VIP experience, you can also reserve a Cabana, Daybed or Sun Bed in The Oasis at Shore Club. I tried them all and can personally attest that there is no bad experience here, regardless of where you decide to spend your time! My only advice? Don't leave without trying their frozen cocktail flight or a large format specialty cocktail served in a copper pineapple-- both are novelties everyone will enjoy!

shore club chicago

JAZZIN' AT THE SHEDD

Every Wednesday evening in the summer, Chicago's Shedd Aquarium hosts  "Jazzin' at the Shedd": a paradise for people like me who thoroughly enjoy live jazz music, sweeping city views and a glass of wine (especially all at once!) Tickets are $25 and offer full aquarium access in addition to performances by some of Chicago's top jazz musicians - all paired with cocktails, the city skyline and Navy Pier fireworks for the cherry on top!


Chicago is known around the world for its architecture, and it would be a cardinal sin to visit this city (especially in the summer!) without doing the Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise. There are actually a handful of companies offering these tours, but the Chicago Architecture Foundation is by far the most credible and educational. Order a beverage (available for sale on board) and sit on the upstairs deck while you expand your knowledge of some of Chicago's most iconic Art Deco, Gothic, Modern and Post-Modern buildings. Tours last 1.5 hours and tickets should be booked in advance here

CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION TOUR

kayak chicago

Back to the river we go! Another amazing way to get on the water and take in the architectural offerings of the city is with Kayak Chicago. They offer a variety of group tours, but we opted to take the kayaks out and explore on our own. You can also rent kayaks (or stand-up paddle boards!) with them on Lake Michigan, but I personally think it's a more unique opportunity to see the city from a different perspective by opting for the river. Rentals are $30 per hour for a single kayak ($80 for the day) and $40 per hour for a double kayak ($120 for the day). Whether you go for a tour or an on-your-own approach, kayaking the river starts just at the northern point of Goose Island, which equates to roughly 7 miles (and ~2 hours) round-trip to go to the heart of downtown and back. 


I developed a serious addiction to biking during my time in Chicago. The city's bike-sharing program, Divvy, makes it so easy (and cheap!) to take a bike to/from wherever you want to go. While I'd suggest taking this form of transportation as often as you can, be sure you do so along Chicago's Lakefront Trail. Almost daily, I'd start at Belmont Harbor and would ride until I hit North Ave. Beach (then would usually commute to wherever I was going in the city through Old Town). This particular stretch (while not very long!) is full of beautiful views, both of the lake and the city skyline. The pathways are easy to navigate, even if it's been a minute since you've been on two wheels...

CHICAGO BIKING TRAIL

CHICAGO CUBS GAME

Is there anything more all-American than going to a Cubs game?! I'll admit, I'm usually more of a sport enthusiast for the sake of experience and camaraderie than I am the actual sport itself,  but I find Cubs games to be such a great time. You can either buy standard tickets at Wrigley (only one of the most iconic ballparks of all time) or you can also purchase tickets from neighboring venues like Wrigley Rooftops, which also overlook the stadium. I love going to night games (if it's a warm day, you're less likely to be sweating if you don't have to factor the sun!) Wherever you sit and whenever you go, be sure to indulge in a Chicago dog + a few beers... and sing "Go, Cubs, Go" as loud as you can!


In the heart of Wicker Park, easily one of my favorite Chicago neighborhoods, is The Robey: a beautiful Art Deco building-turned-hotel on the corner of North Ave and Milwaukee. But before I send you upstairs to their rooftop (which we’ll get to in a minute) allow me to dote on Café Robey, their street level eatery. We came for dinner and fell in love with so many items from their menu (don’t leave without trying the tartar, the pork entree and most importantly, the gnocchi!) The cocktails were made wonderfully and the smart staff rounded it all out to make for the perfect meal before heading to…

CAFÉ ROBEY
THE ROBEY WICKER PARK THE UP ROOM

The Up Room is The Robey's 13th floor lounge boasting twinkling skyline views of Chicago. They maintain a (seemingly) lower capacity that doesn't feel over-crowded which I loved, however this means there's often a line to get in. If you're dining at Café Robey, you can request to be put on the list while you eat so that you can go straight up whenever you finish your meal. Either way, you don't want to miss this elevated (in more ways than one) space. 


If you're a visitor to Chicago, chances are you'll find yourself on the Magnificent Mile at some point during your trip. While the city is exploding with culinary delights, I've found this area to be particularly touristy and not usually my favorite place to come for food + drink. Luckily, when my friend Sarah came to town I found Upstairs at the Gwen - a standout among rooftop terraces in the area. They focus on the art of craft cocktails paired with shareable small plate fare, all while offering cityscape views from among the Art-Deco-infused architecture. In addition to being impressed by the food + drink (don't leave without trying the smoked cauliflower!), I had befriended all of the staff by the end of our meal-- they were all such lovely people!  Even if I didn't have a tourist in town, I'd easily go back to Upstairs at the Gwen anytime.  

upstairs at the gwen

TIED HOUSE CHICAGO

I came to Tied House a few times over the course of my Chicago summer and it never disappointed. The bar is set in a sleek and airy space that’s idyllic for cocktails on a nice day (as is their 3-season patio). Should you stay for dinner, their James Beard Award-Winning chef has an array of dishes worth trying (and don’t overlook the bread & smears). Cocktails and dinner menu items are both rotated seasonally, but the smart staff is fantastic about helping you navigate any questions you may have during your decision making. 


The rooftop at LondonHouse Chicago offers some of the best views in all of the city. But be warned- I'm not the only one with this popular opinion. Should you decide you want to see these views for yourself, I'd recommend arriving around 4 to avoid a long wait. The sun can be ruthless this time of day, so simply leave your ID with the hostess to take a paper umbrella out on loan and create your own shade. In all honesty, cocktails are a bit over-priced and there's usually a crowd so I often don't stay longer than one drink. But even with those drawbacks, the views are still absolutely worth paying this spot a visit-- especially on a perfect summer day. 

LONDONHOUSE CHICAGO

parsons Chicken and Fish Chicago

Parson’s Chicken & Fish is a low-key eatery in Logan Square with a patio that’s a favorite among locals in Chicago. While chicken and fish may get all the name-sake glory, Parson’s is also widely known for inventing their famous Negroni slushy (you simply can’t leave without trying one- they’re delicious!) 

 

 

parson's chicken and fish

TO MY NASHVILLE FRIENDS: Keep your eyes peeled, because this gem is making it’s way to the Wedgewood-Houston area this fall!


I’m a sucker for novelty, so I jumped at the chance to try the boozy snow cone cocktails from Noyane- an upscale Japanese restaurant perched atop the Conrad. Served in takeout boxes (complete with chopsticks) these are such a fun summer treat to enjoy on a nice day, along with the sweeping city views. To be honest, you probably won’t want more than one (they’re a bit on the sweet side for my taste) but nevertheless, worth indulging in for the sake of experience!

noyane snowcone cocktails

Aba is the hot new rooftop patio in Chicago’s historic Fulton Market District. This Mediterranean restaurant is Chef CJ Jacobson’s second restaurant and  incorporates a light style of cooking with a large emphasis on raw and cooked protein. Whether you’re inside or outside, the ambiance is stunning (although book far in advance or be willing to wait a while — they’re still in their honeymoon phase of new popularity!

aba chicago

lost lake tiki

Recently named the #1 cocktail bar in America, I couldn’t leave Chicago without going to Lost Lake for one of their beautiful (and delicious) elixirs. This unassuming facade in Logan Square wouldn’t speak to you if you were simply passing by on the street, but from the moment you walk into this topical oasis, you’ll be drinking the Kool-Aid (or as I would recommend, a “Heaven is a Place”). 


There are dozens of others I could include on this list (see more of my Chicago favorites here) but these were the ones I felt couldn't be looked over. Chicago will always be one of my favorite cities and I'm so glad I could experience it in all it's summer-time glory over these last couple of months! 

But for now? I have lots to do as I prepare to leave for Europe in a few days. Thanks as always for stopping by and be sure to come back soon--I have a lot of upcoming adventures to share!

xx,

Whitney

belmont harbor chicago
blonde atlas

Hidden Travel Gems to Consider (Instead of the Overly-Popular-on-Instagram Destinations)

hidden travel gems to consider

I recently listened to an influencer podcast that was highlighting how Instagram has made a handful of travel destinations overly-popular in recent years. Our feeds have become infiltrated with the same photos of Positano, Tulum, Palm Springs and countless other destinations. 

Don't get me wrong... I love a lot of these places. Some of them you absolutely should see and there is a reason they've become so popular! But it got me thinking... are these the only places a lot of people are planning travel to? The ones that are "Insta-famous"? 

If that's the case, consider this my humble attempt to put drop in the bucket and point us toward a better way forward... one that involves a greater curiosity for the world and a sense of discovery (beyond your Instagram explore page). If you too have found yourself lusting over these type of destinations, here are some other wonderful places I'd argue you should consider that aren't overly-infiltrated with tourists or "grammers" seeking out the same exact shot.

 

 

INSTEAD OF POSITANO... CONSIDER MADEIRA, PORTUGAL

belmond+beach.jpg

In a sparkling sea of deep cobalt blue just off the northwest coast of Africa, you'll find Madeira: a rugged island with mountains soaring straight out of the water. If you don't already know its country of origin, based on its geographic positioning you'd likely guess Morocco. But this tiny island is Portuguese through and through. Known for its famous namesake wine and warm, subtropic climate, Madeira is a little slice of heaven that you won't want to miss. 

Similar to Positano, Madeira offers a stunning, rugged, dramatic coastline...

MADEIRA PORTUGAL

Perhaps you were looking forward to drinking copious amounts of Italian wine?  Fear not-- Madeira is known for their very own fortified wine that's made directly on the island. In fact, Maderia actually has a long winemaking history, dating back to the Age of Exploration when it was a port of call for ships heading to the New World (or East Indies). 

madeira+port+wine.jpg

Rich in culture and exploding with color, Madeira has more to offer in terms of natural beauty than most destinations I've visited. For further reading, check out my Madeira Travel Guide.  

madeira portugal
madeira portugal
madeira portugal

 

 

 

INSTEAD OF TULUM... CONSIDER HVAR, CROATIA

hvar croatia

Known for beautiful beaches and ancient ruins, Tulum has been attracting travelers by the thousands. Yet there's a tiny Dalmatian Island in the Adriatic sea that offers all of these as well. Hvar, Croatia may already be a popular summer destination among Europeans, yet I'd argue that American tourists will find this resort-town to be a breath of fresh air with a unique spin. Hvar is a 13th century town (that also claims to be the sunniest spot in all of Europe). The architecture is historic and beautiful, and there are countless boat excursions available to hop around all the neighboring islands for those who want to soak up the scenery of the sparkling sea. Read my Hvar Travel Guide to learn more about this breathtaking hidden gem. 

hvar croatia
hvar croatia

 

 

 

INSTEAD OF PALM SPRINGS... CONSIDER OJAI, CALIFORNIA

OJAI CALIFORNIA

I'm a big fan of Palm Springs, but I'd also argue it's not the only town outside of LA that deserves a spot on your travel list. Set in the Topatopa Mountain Valley, Ojai is brimming with beauty + charm. Similar to Palm Springs, it's a perfect retreat from the hustle + bustle of southern California where you can enjoy scenic landscape, delicious food + wine and the perfect touch of character. To read more, check out my Ojai Travel Guide

OJAI CALIFORNIA
OJAI CALIFORNIA

 

 

 

INSTEAD OF MOROCCO... CONSIDER GRANADA, SPAIN

Granada+Spain.jpg

Before I dive into my reasons you should consider Granada, let me be clear that Morocco is somewhere I haven't traveled to and somewhere I very much want to see. With that said, I still chose to include this comparison because it's no secret that Morocco has become a very popular Instagram destination. Again, none of the above reasons should deter you from visiting a popular destination... my point is simply that you have options- and you shouldn't overlook the ones that aren't as "Insta-famous."

Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain's Andalusia region, you'll find Granada- one of the most interesting cities I've ever visited. You can practically throw a stone to Morocco, so naturally there is tons of Moorish influence peppered all throughout the city (my favorite bits? the architecture + the cuisine). Head to my Granada Travel Guide to get the full scoop on this beautiful Spanish city.

granada spain
granada spain
granada spain

 

There are countless other destinations I could include in this list, but for the sake of brevity I'll end here. My hope is that this serves as a friendly reminder that while tools like Instagram are an incredible way to introduce us to places we'd like to visit, they shouldn't be our only source of inspiration. The world is wide and full of wonders. Stay curious and always be open to the idea of venturing somewhere that maybe isn't the most popular path... I've discovered some of my favorite destinations this way. 

Still looking for more inspiration to decide where your next trip should be? Head to the travel guide section of my site and start dreaming!

 

Thanks as always for stopping by!

xx, 

Whit

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