What I Did in London…

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priv makeup by buster knight
Me and Lara from Pretty Connected at the Priv beauty app London HQ

My travels have taken me to former British colonies like a couple of Caribbean islands, Australia, and New Zealand, but never actually to England. I’ve been to a couple eastern European countries, but until a little while ago, I’d never touched down anywhere in Western Europe. During the Fourth of July weekend, I did a staycation at the Carlton hotel in Manhattan and decided to do some NYC tourist things that I never really took advantage enough despite living in NYC my whole life. It was an amazing experience for me (even though I was like less than 20 miles from home…lol) that inspired me to finally just book a solo trip to London.

See what went in my London beauty travel bag here

travel beauty bag

Flights to London can be pretty costly throughout the year, but in my searches I found that the prices go down in September. In August the flights were hovering around $1200-1500 and just a few weeks later in September they were around $800-900. I had a bunch of miles on my American Airlines Advantage credit card so I wound up only paying about $100 RT for my ticket. SCORE! (and right after the trip I got an offer to open a Citibank checking account to get an additional 5,000 miles)

I was contemplating between an AirBNB or a hotel for quite some time. I didn’t even book my accommodations until about a week before I flew out…lol. I knew I wanted to mostly shop and browse so I wanted to stay somewhere pretty central but then I got a Priceline deal for a hotel in Chelsea. Which now in hindsight I would have picked something in Mayfair or Marylebone because I paid over $100USD to take a cab from the airport to my hotel plus a bunch of other car trips that ate up whatever little bit I “saved” in being a little further out. Chelsea is a really great area and has some nice restaurants and such, but most of what I wanted to do was near Mayfair and Marylebone. I soon realized Uber was MUCH cheaper than taking cabs, but after taking so much car service, I figured I better quickly become acquainted with the Underground or be forced to eat discarded food for the rest of my trip to avoid going over budget…lol.

So originally this was a solo trip and I was 100% comfy with that but then surprisingly some people I knew from NYC were in town at the same time so I hung out with them as well—it made the trip even more fun and they got me to go places I probably wouldn’t have thought to go to on my own. But the times I was alone were still really fun because—well, I’m cool as sh*t…lol.

(And also being by myself and doing a majority of walking around and shopping most of the time lead to very few picture opportunities. I’m not good with stopping to take pics and being able to pay attention to my surroundings at the same time. Plus I left my SLR at home—which I learned I didn’t need after my Düsseldorf trip and seeing travel bloggers using easier to port cameras. I brought along my Sony A5100 but most of the time I just took pictures with my iPhone)

traditional english breakfast
Traditional English breakfast at Hotel Rafayel

The first two days I stayed in Chelsea at Hotel Rafayel. My room was nice and spacious, the staff was really nice (one morning I had the traditional English breakfast but it was cooked in SO much grease that I couldn’t eat it and they were nice enough to send me some cornflakes instead and gave no trouble when I asked to take it off the bill at checkout). They also have a free shuttle service to take you to two nearby tube stations. I used the service one Saturday to get to the Oxford Circus area to shop. I was nervous as heck getting on the Underground (yeah, I’m from NYC and take MTA but it took me like 20 years to learn the subway…lol) but thankfully it’s SO easy to follow. I downloaded an app that has a map of the Underground system (that also worked offline which was great because Verizon’s international data plan is ridiculous so I was using my phone on wifi as much as possible) and as long as I knew which direction I needed to go, I was golden. It also helped that the underground stations also had maps of every single stop so even if you went the wrong way, you’d know before you got on the train.

traditional english breakfast

But back to the timeline.

boots sedley place
Boots Sedley Place

So one of my first stops after landing (omg the immigration line took FOREVER) was to rush to my hotel for a quick change, and then hop in an Uber to visit the Boots Sedley Place store. I’ve become a huge Boots fan this year as I got to try out a bunch of their skincare products and also work with the brand on a few campaigns. Their London team was so gracious to set up a store visit for me complete with makeovers and such but that immigration wait threw a monkey wrench in my plans. I only had enough time for a tour but I enjoyed every second of the limited time I had.

I hadn’t realized that Boots is like a Ulta and Walgreens hybrid—they have a pharmacy and drugstore (or self-selection as they were called there) beauty options but like Ulta they also sell mid-level department store brands like Clinique and Benefit but also high end department store brands like Chanel. Some Boots stores are smaller and have a fraction of the brands, but the Sedley Place store on Oxford Street is pretty big. So all the Boots makeup and skincare branded stuff we see (Boots Botanics, No 7, etc.) is like the store’s brand of products—it’s like how you see CVS or Walgreens branded products but I’d have to say Boots stuff is way more chic.

boots sedley place haul

The Boots team at Sedley Place were SO warm and inviting. The store manager came to introduce herself to me, a member of the PR team came to greet me, one of the No 7 counter reps gave me a huge hug and told me how much she loved my blog, and one of the Benefit reps gave me a really in-depth tour of the store with the time that permitted. It was all so lovely and fun—and sad that I didn’t have a huge amount of time. I did wind up buying a few things then and the next day when I came back.

london beauty haul sleek makeup seventeen john frieda

I got a backup of my Sleek MakeUP Au Naturel eyeshadow palette, two Sleek MakeUP creme to powder blushers, two really pigmented eyeshadows from Seventeen (it’s a sibling brand of Boots and has drugstore pricing but nice quality), an Instant Glow Shimmer Brick from Seventeen, Eylure No 117 lashes, and on impulse a Vaseline tin. I also picked up a John Frieda curling iron with a UK plug because I didn’t want to run the risk of burning out my US irons on an adapter and converter and figured it’d be just easier for me to buy an inexpensive one when I got to London. It worked really well for styling my hair, too.

See more Sleek MakeUP posts here

Right after the Boots store I headed over to The View from the Shard which is similar to the Sears Tower in Chicago or the Empire State Building in NYC. You get a really amazing view of London from The View where you can snap pics and drink champagne. The team at The View was nice enough to give me and my PR friend who also happened to be in London at the same time as me, complimentary tickets and champagne. After that we headed over to Oxford street to browse Topshop and Primark.

Now I don’t know what I had envisioned Primark to be, but I hear about it all the time and was mad I missed going when I was in Düsseldorf, but I got to go to two locations in London and it wasn’t what I expected. It was SUPER crowded—to the point where you could barely move without bumping into someone. The prices are pretty cheap though compared to some of the places I saw but you’d have to luck out and find some gems there—preferably during a weekday when it’s not so crowded.

river island london
Shopping on Oxford St.

I spent a little time on my own going to shops—some we have here in NYC like H&M, Topshop, Zara but some we don’t like Dorothy Perkins, River Island, Next, and whatever caught my eye as I walked down Oxford st. I worked up an appetite and stopped for dinner at a steakhouse then took a cab back to the hotel because my feet were KILLING me (my Zara moto boots are typically pretty comfy but not for all day walking—I wound up wearing sneakers the rest of the trip…lol).

selfridges london

The next day I decided to do the Underground since I’d already spent so much money on cabs and as I mentioned earlier, it was SO much easier than I thought it would be. We complain when the MTA raises fares in NYC but the London Underground though cheaper than cabs and Uber, was still pretty pricy to me—I paid £4.99 in one direction (which is about $7.50) where I would’ve paid only £1.81 ($2.50) on the subway in NYC. I probably would’ve done better per fare if I got a one-day pass but I wasn’t sure how often I’d need the train.

hm oxford street

I did more shopping—well, mostly browsing most of the time since I didn’t see much that compelled me to buy. I headed over to Harrod’s where I had lunch at Mango Tree (good but pretty expensive), stopped by the Charlotte Tilbury counter, browsed Shoe Heaven (omg this is amazing and even though I couldn’t afford a majority of the shoes, it was really nice to see…lol), and tried on sunglasses (I have quite the thing for designer sunglasses…lol).

mango tree selfridges london
Quick lunch at Mango Tree at Harrod’s

After Harrod’s I hit a few more usual suspects like H&M, Topshop, and Zara (hey, different locations have different inventory) and then walked down to Zara Home to browse and get a gift for a friend. After that I went down to the end of Oxford Street that I missed the other day. I did SO much walking which was great because it added so many fitness points to my Weight Watchers app. I hit Marks & Spencer, Debenham’s, Selfridge’s, and just about every store on Oxford street that had a nice window display out front…lol. Funny enough I didn’t buy much—which is always the case when you’re actually looking to spend some money. I bet if I had nothing to spend, all the cute stuff would’ve been all up in my face…lol.

Banyan on the Thames dessert
Dessert at Banyan on the Thames—I ate my dinner before I could get a pic…lol

That night I decided to take advantage of the 50% deal my hotel was doing with the adjoining Banyan on the Thames restaurant. It was a Saturday night and almost EVERYBODY in there was a couple on a date but stuff like that doesn’t phase me when dining alone—I had a menu to conquer…lol. The restaurant was okay—I liked the desserts more than anything but thank goodness for the discount otherwise it would have been overpriced IMO.

Il Blandfords brunch
Brunch at Il Blandfords

The next day I checked out of my hotel and took a cab over to the Marylebone area. One of my blogger buds Lara from Pretty Connected was arriving in town and was staying at a friend’s flat that had room for me. Score! Seriously, if I had more friends that lived in Europe that I could stay with, I’d be there for months at a time…lol. After Lara and her boyfriend got in, we chatted a bit, had brunch, and then headed off to walk around. We walked through Regent’s Park and made our way through Camden Market.

camden market
The Camden Market area

Camden Market is like a mix of Chinatown and Soho in NYC. There’s tons of street vendors where you can get things like jewelry, clothing (talk about moto jacket central), and souvenirs. Then walk a little bit more and there’s a food market where you can get delicacies from all around the world. I bought the cutest Vivienne Westwood-esque skirt from a street vendor nearby.

camden market london

regent's park
Passing through Regent’s Park

You can shop some of the goods found at Camden Market here.

After that we headed back to Marylebone to meet up with friends and then headed over to check out newly opened Hotel Chantelle.

Open Tomorrow from 5:30pm for dinner and drinks! For reservations email reservations@hotelchantelle.co.uk #hclondon

A photo posted by Hotel Chantelle London (@hotelchantellelondon) on

Hotel Chantelle isn’t actually a hotel…lol. It’s a restaurant, lounge, and event space whose first location is on Ludlow St in NYC. The new London location is located in Mayfair not too far from Selfridge’s—in fact sneeze at Hotel Chantelle and you’ll soon be at Selfridge’s…lol. I only got to see the place after it had closed for the day but it’s really cool and worth checking out if you’re in the area. I met one of the owners Kyle (we were staying at his flat) and if Hotel Chantelle London is even a fraction as fun as Kyle is, you definitely don’t want to miss it.

Alain Schibl priv london danielle gray the style and beauty doctor
Me and Lara with Alain Schibel, Executive Chairman of Priv

The next day we headed over to the Priv London headquarters to meet the team plus have our makeup done. Priv is a beauty and wellness app available in NYC, London, LA, Hamptons, OC, and Austin that brings makeup artists, hairstylists, personal trainers, and more right to your home or office. Priv is great for weddings, parties, or just because. Lara and I had the pleasure of being made up by makeup artist Buster Knight (I only got to know him for the hour or so we were there and I already LOVE him). I had already arrived with my makeup on so Buster added a glow via MAC Gold Deposit, then smoked out my eyes with Melt Cosmetics Dark Matter stack and the purple from the Melt Cosmetics Love Sick stack, added more color to my cheeks with the NARS Christopher Kane blush, and touched-up my skin with Ben Nye powder (I don’t remember which shade he used but he used it under my eyes) and BECCA Pressed Mineral Powder in Cacao (which is what I typically use when I contour). He did an AMAZING job—make sure you follow him on Instagram—he does amazing work on all skin tones.

Learn more about Priv here

portobello rd in notting hill
Portobello Market

After getting dolled up, we took an Uber down to Portobello Market. It was raining cats and dogs and the best time to go to Portobello Market is probably on the weekend, but I enjoyed it tons. We walked around and popped into a few shops and ate a really good late lunch/early dinner at Portobello Gold. After that we walked all the way back to where we were staying in Marylebone (it was quite a walk but didn’t feel crazy—then again all three of us are New Yorkers and therefore used to walking) and met up with friends to have dinner for my last night in London.

portobello road portobello market

the style and beauty doctor in london

I had an AMAZING time in London. I didn’t have any tourist-y things planned because my main focus was to go shopping…lol. I didn’t even wind up buying much—just some makeup, a skirt, and a few gifts. I’ll definitely come back to London—or better yet, I’d love to explore the English countryside for future trips and of course do more educational and cultural things. But for my first time, I enjoyed and had a great time.

zara heathrow airport
Zara at Heathrow

Oh—so security at Heathrow makes you take every single trace of gel, cream, or liquid out of your bag which includes lipsticks and lip glosses—things you typically don’t have to separate from your belongings at security. And they all must fit into a plastic bag that they give you. Thankfully the bag was big enough to fit all the random lipsticks I had in my purse that I’ve NEVER had to take out of my bag. There was a lady who thought this wasn’t necessary for the things she had but security made her stand to the side to go through all her stuff. I’m not sure if that’s new at Heathrow or not. It was annoying but at least there was a Zara at the gate…lol

Been to London or live there? What are some of your favorite things to do in the city?

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About Danielle

A former finance girl, Danielle is a New York City based freelance writer and fashion and beauty expert. She's a Hofstra University and Fashion Institute of Technology grad with an obsession with fashion and beauty which she loves to tell you all about every weekday on her award-winning blog. Think of her as your style and beauty entourage all wrapped up into one bubbly brown package. Danielle's work and expertise can be found in print and across the web in Cosmopolitan for Latinas, Allure.com, and more! She's also appeared as an on-air style and beauty expert on The Real, CBS New York's "The Couch" and WPIX11's Savvy Shopper segment.
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13 Responses to What I Did in London…

  1. Indya says:

    Great! This is right on time as I am going to London tomorrow (on a solo trip as well)! Good idea about downloading the underground app, as this will be my primary method of transportation. I scourged the earth for deals to be able to stay in Mayfair!

    • Danielle says:

      Oh wow! This is GREAT timing for real…lol. Yesssss for the deals in Mayfair! I was going to do an AirBNB there but then decided on a hotel because I was nervous of getting hungry at weird hours and felt better about having room service…lol. Meanwhile I didn’t even have a crazy appetite SMH. lol

      Enjoy!!! What do you plan on doing?

  2. Isabelle says:

    It looks like you had a lovely time in London! I have been a big fan of your blog for years and I always enjoy reading about your experiences abroad – this is such a great post! Please organise a meetup next time you’re in town. I am looking forward to reading about your next destination x

    • Danielle says:

      Hi Isabelle!!!

      Awww thanks so much for reading the blog and being a fan for years! That means so much to me to read that!!! I’ll definitely have to try to do a meet-up next time I’m there and have more time :)

  3. Erica says:

    Danielle you had a fantastic trip! I too plan on doing London solo and proper in 2016. Thanks for the helpful tips. I was planning on going to Paris first then Lonon, but London seems like it should be a separate trip lol.

    • Danielle says:

      Hey Erica!

      Because of timing (I had a family trip planned the day after I got back to NYC) but in my three trips to Europe, I’ve always wished I could stay longer and explore more since I was already there. If you can, do both!

  4. Faith says:

    Hi. Glad you had a great trip to London. Next time definitely do the underground more. You can travel around via an Oyster Card which you can top up and receive a refund for any unused monies left on the card have any. Only left at the end or you can purchase a one day travel card. Taxis are super expensive. There are other great cities like Manchester and Birmingham that’s very good for shopping.

    • Danielle says:

      Hi Faith!!!

      I figured there was some sort of card I could get more trips on. And yep, next time I’m DEFINITELY taking the underground more and checking out Manchester and Birmingham :)

      Thank you!!!

  5. Faith says:

    Yes a meet up would be nice as I too am one of your UK based fans. Xx

  6. Pamela says:

    Glad to know you had a great time in such a short space of time! Wish I knew you were in London, I’m a UK reader…I hope you do a meet up when you visit again :)

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