It's no secret that traveling during "shoulder seasons" (i.e. spring and fall) is a great deal — airfare is lower, crowds are thinner, and if it's May or September, the weather in most parts of the world is still agreeable. In fact, it's my favorite time of year for travel. Staying home for Chicago's fantastic summers is enough to desuade me from traveling during high season, never mind battling the crowds of fellow travelers at the Louvre/Machu Picchu/Taj Mahal/etc.
If you aren't beholden to school schedules and are looking for a quick getaway this autumn, I highly recommend a quick trip to London. Last September, Mr. SCS and I tacked a few days in Blighty onto a longer trip to Paris and the South of France, and we relished the warm temperatures and short lines. A few of my London must-dos...
Skip Harrod's. Ok, don't skip it if it's your first trip, but limit yourself to just the Food Halls in the basement level. Sure, Harrod's is huge, and it's got everything, but you'll soon see that it's mostly a tourist trap. Instead, consider your stateside shopping habits — if you're a fan of Barneys, visit Selfridges for a British take on all things edgy. If Neiman Marcus is your stomping ground, you might like luxe Harvey Nichols (Harvey Nix!). And if you want to shop as the old-timers do, a visit to Fortnum & Mason's carefully curated shop in Piccadilly is study in all things properly British.
Takeaway culture (that's "carry out" to us Yanks) is huge in cities throughout the UK, and London has a staggering variety of cuisines that can be purchased on the fly and eaten at your favorite park. If you're stuck for inspriation, consult a list of London takeaway restaurants, available in any local travel magazine. You may have to come to terms with England's culinary vocabulary (Gyro : US :: Doner kebab : UK), but you'll soon get the hang of it.
For a more proper mealtime, do an Afternoon Tea (but first, read about the difference between "High Tea" and "Afternoon Tea"). The aforementioned Fortnum & Mason serves a traditional tea complete with armchairs, prim china, and fussy sandwiches. If your dining companion isn't into the itty-bitty food, they do have a more robust high tea menu. For a modern take on tea, try the "Brit Rocks and Tea Pots" at The Met Bar at the Metropolitan Hotel. With modern food pairings and cheeky presentations, this isn't your mum's tea.
See the Sights
For a visual who's-who of both ancient and modern British culture (dead kings! punk rockers!), visit the National Portrait Gallery. For characters of a less celebrated sort, stop at the northeast corner of Hyde Park on a Sunday morning for Speakers' Corner to hear pontifications on everything from taxation to alien invasions. One visit is enough. I went twice, ten years apart, and the grandstanding and soapboxing was much the same on both occasions. If it's serentiy you seek, take a trip to Kew Gardens, the Royal bontanic gardens. The structures are lovely, the flowers are fragrant, and in no time you'll forget that you're just outside one of the world's busiest cities. And if you happen to be in London during the few short weeks that Buckingham Palace is open to the public...go! You don't need to be a royal-watcher to get weak in the knees when standing before Queen Elizabeth's throne.