London: from Harry Potter to Hamilton to Hampton Court (and Beyond!)

I could write a fancy introduction, or I could be straightforward about what this is. The fact is, I’ve written about what I ate in London, where I had tea, the Christmas decorations I saw, the exhibitions I visited (at the V&A and at Kensington Palace), and the flowers I ogled. And yet I still have what might conservatively be called a boatload of photos left over from my most recent trip. So, this is everything else.

One of the true highlights of my trip was the British Library’s Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit, a collection of “rare books, manuscripts and magical objects from the British Library’s collection, capturing the traditions of folklore and magic which are at the heart of the Harry Potter.” This exhibit was seriously cool. It contained sketches and drafts created by J.K. Rowling herself, as well as by Jim Kay (the illustrator of the British books). The documents from Rowling were particularly fascinating; many of them contained detailed plans for now-familiar portions of the books. The exhibit also contained real books on magic and the various subjects taught at Hogwarts. It was fascinating and impressive to see how many spells, potions, and names Rowling drew from real-life sources; you could really see just how well-researched and thoughtful her books are.

Nearby the British Library, I found myself transfixed by the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. What a stunning building!

One spot I always gravitate toward in London is Neal’s Yard. It is so wonderfully colorful, and always worth a quick stop. I also had long wanted to the see the Princess Diana graffiti located here (somehow, I missed walking down that particular alleyway on previous trips). How fun!

As far as department stores go, Liberty London is pretty top notch. I popped in one morning to browse the post-holiday sales. While there was plenty of stuff I was dying to buy, I limited myself to just a few Christmas ornaments (because I truly have no self-control when it comes to those).

When I heard that Petersham Nurseries had arrived to Covent Garden, I  knew I had to check it out. This place basically filled me with all kinds of dreams about how I might decorate my hypothetical English country manor. One day, I’m sure!

By now, I’ve seen all the big ticket museums in London, so I’m trying to hit more of the smaller, new-to-me ones. For example: the Wallace Collection, a swanky manor home turned museum. The collection is nice, but the opulent rooms it’s housed in are equally if not more impressive.

While I’ve already written about the V&A’s Balenciaga exhibit, while there, I also checked out another excellent exhibit, Opera: Passion, Power, and Politics. As the V&A described it: “Told through the lens of seven premieres in seven European cities, this immersive exhibition takes you on a journey through nearly 400 years, culminating in the international explosion of opera in the 20th and 21st centuries.” I really loved this exhibit; it was fascinating and I learned a lot. It also featured a neat trick: you’re given a headset, and as you move from room to room, your headset automatically clicks on to a new opera to match the theme of that room. Pretty cool!

When I realized that tickets to Hamilton were much, much cheaper in London than they are in New York (where they remain appallingly expensive), I snapped one up. Verdict: just as good in London as in NYC.

Another spot on my “always wanted to visit, never quite made it” list was Hampton Court Palace, which I can now cross off. Honestly, though, I was mostly meh about this, which is somewhat surprising given how closely it’s associated with Henry VIII (I have read many a book about him and about the Tudor court generally). Still, though, the problem with it is that it’s … quite empty. Compare it to other palaces that are bursting with artifacts and finery, and it’s a bit underwhelming. The other problem was that I visited in the dead of winter and, wandering through the gardens, I could tell that they would be a lot more interesting in warmer months. Ah, well, you can’t win ’em all.

In addition to Hamilton, my other big theater outing was to Romantics Anonymous, a cute little musical at the Globe Theater. It was very Amelie-esque, which is a style of entertainment that I am tremendously susceptible to. That is to say, I loved it: it was super sweet and very feel good (though I could imagine many people I know finding it a bit too cloying and precious).

I spent half of my trip based in Shoreditch, which is always one of my favorite neighborhoods to explore when in London. Though the chilly weather was not particularly conducive to long walks, I did try to get out and explore some of the area’s many pieces of street art. There’s so much to see here!

Also near Shoreditch, I spent a bit of time antiquing. I can’t remember the name of this shop with the gorgeous yellow collection pictured below, but I absolutely adored it and wound up regretting that I didn’t buy anything. Luckily, I remember just where it is and sense a return trip there in my future.

And last but not least, after visiting the Diana dress exhibit at Kensington Palace, I ducked out into the gardens for as long as I could stand to be out in the crisp winter wind. Even in colder months, this garden is a stunner.

And with that, I close the book on yet another London chapter. Writing these posts has reminded me how much I love this city (spoiler alert: a lot), and has only made more excited to return again. T minus 6 months and counting …

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