I have just finished a quick four-night trip to London for work, and I was quite impressed with the area where I stayed. I was attending a recruitment fair that took place in the Paddington Hilton Hotel, which is located just next to Paddington Station (which, if you did not know, is both a train station and a subway stop).
The downside to attending recruitment fairs is that you do not have much time to look around outside the hotel the fair is in, because you are there to either try to find a job, or hire people who are looking for a job (which is what I was there for).
I remember many years ago commenting to a wise old head of school that it must be nice travelling to job fairs around the world (we were in Bangkok at the time), and he told me “we might as well be in Iowa, because all I ever see is the inside of a hotel.”
Unfortunately, I have found that this is mostly true. But I did try to venture a little bit outside of my hotel room over the past few days to see the surrounding area, which I quite liked. I will start off by saying that the immediate surroundings are quite touristy.
I blame this mainly on the character of Paddington Bear, who gets his name from the train station where he was found in the original story. Growing up I had heard the name Paddington Bear before, but didn’t know much about him. Now, almost forty years later, I have a daughter who just happens to have a Paddington Bear book that we read almost every night.
As with most of her books, my two year old quite likes the main character and was very happy when I told her that I was going to bring her a Paddington Bear back with me from my trip. Having never visited the area before, I wondered how easy it would be to actually find a stuffed Paddington Bear near the hotel to bring back with me. How naïve I was…
Of course there would be Paddington Bear items to buy! Why would there not be? You really can’t walk very far in any direction once you get off the train (if you took the train) without finding something with the bear’s name and likeness on it that you can buy.
There is a very impressive (although fairly small) Official Paddington Bear store inside the train station in the area just between the actual train station and the Hilton Hotel (it is located at the top of the escalators on the second floor, which is the bridge connecting to the hotel).
Official Paddington Bear store in Paddington Station
This place has almost everything you can imagine, including books, DVD’s, stuffed animals, t-shirts, and much more. If you are a fan of the bear, or have a loved one who is, this is by far the easiest place to come and find something for that person. But there were many other options all around; from your tourist kitsch shops selling “I love London” shirts, to the Hilton Hotel lobby itself. My daughter will definitely not be disappointed!
But as the title of this article says, there is much more to the Paddington area than just the bear that took his name from the station. Obviously the closer to the station you are, the more tourist-type shops and restaurants there are. This can be both good and bad, depending on what you are looking for.
Traditional British Pub
In the immediate area, there are a wide variety of different restaurants and pubs to try everything from a pint of ale and some fish and chips, to Italian, Indian, Chinese, and just about anything else you can imagine. Of course there are the ubiquitous McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway as well, if that is what you are looking for, which hopefully you are not.
On my first night there, I took a short stroll around looking for something to eat and stumbled upon Desefo do Brazil, which is a Brazilian Churrascaria (BBQ). I absolutely loved these types of restaurants when I lived in Brazil, and I quickly accepted the doorman’s welcome and went inside.
Brazilian restaurant around the corner from Paddington Station.
The all-you-can-eat buffet, which includes the salad bar, a few hot dishes, and the various cuts of beef, chicken, lamb, and pork that are brought to your table to choose from, costs around 20 GBP. This actually wasn’t too bad for what you got.
The drink menu was a bit pricier than I would have liked though, with a Caiparinha (the special Brazilian beverage of Brazilian rum, lime juice, and sugar) costing 5.50 GBP per tumbler sized glass. One thing I enjoyed about the restaurant was the fact that almost all of the workers there spoke Portuguese.
I know the doorman was from Brazil (Rio to be exact), but I didn’t ask how many of the others were actually from Brazil, or if they were from Portugal. Either way, it helped make the experience seem more authentic to me, even though I was sitting just around the corner from Paddington Station in London, England.
The Dickens Pub
I also tried out a few pubs in the area, including the Dickens Tavern, which claimed to be the longest pub in London. It was quite long, so I won’t dispute their claim, and while the speed of receiving my order of fish and chips was quite slow, the serving size was massive, so I guess that made up for it.
I am sure that many of the historic-looking pubs around are not quite as historic as they claim to be, but some of them make claims to having been around for hundreds of years, which as an American, I find very cool.
Many of my British friends used to joke with me when I mentioned that I used to teach U.S. History by asking what I did after the first week of class was finished. Another example of this was when I went into the St. James Paddington church, which is a short 10-minute walk from the hotel.
St. James Paddington
As I was going into the church, I saw a list of all of the church vicars they knew of throughout the history of the church. The first one was from 1324, which is only 168 years before Christopher Columbus “found” the New World!
I always enjoy looking at the beautiful architecture and stained glass windows of churches around the world, and this one quickly attracted me to it. But as I walked up to the gates of the church, I saw a curious sign that intrigued me even more. “Free lunch time concerts” it said, and had a list of the different types of music that was played daily in the church for anyone who wanted to come. Since it was around lunchtime, I decided to give it a try.
I was surprised to find a grand piano sitting in the middle of the floor of the church, and two young ladies, dressed very elegantly, singing German opera along with the piano music accompaniment. Each one would sing a few songs and then take a break while the other sang her songs. There were two piano players as well, that took turns with each singer.
There were only a couple of other people in the church at the time, but it was a very nice way to spend a relaxing lunch time session. I went back later to the church on another evening and found what looked like a community choir practicing songs in the space that had previously been used by the opera singers. This church was alive with musical activity and I really quite liked it!
What I really enjoyed was wandering the streets away from the Paddington Station area, trying to get away from the tourists and get to the “real” areas where people actually lived. I decided to turn right after leaving the Hilton and walk as far as I could.
This took me into more row houses and less shops and restaurants. I still found interesting restaurants, such as Zorbas, a Greek restaurant that had a sign by the door showing it to be a gathering spot for the Olympiacos Piraeus Football Club, UK.
I also found the Peruvian Ambassador’s residence nestled amongst other houses on a side street. I quickly noticed two other countries’ ambassador residences, but they were not as well sign-posted and the countries’ flags were twisted around the flagpoles, making it difficult to determine which countries they were.
Peruvian ambassador’s home.
Wandering around this area was much quieter and more peaceful than the Paddington Station area. I still saw quite a few small boutique hotels here and there, which meant there were still plenty of tourists around. But it was much more of a neighborhood feeling, which I appreciated after being stuck in a hotel room for four nights.
There were, of course, still more pubs and chain restaurants here and there, with other ethnic options such as a Moroccan restaurant called the CousCous Café, tucked in between.
There was also a small garden with the bust of someone named George Kastrioti-Skanderbeg, who it claimed was an Albanian national hero and defender of Western Civilization. To be honest, I have no idea why it was there, but it was a pretty space and it helped make the neighborhood even more interesting.
So as I made my final trip back towards my hotel to pack my bags and head back to China, I took one last look around the area that had become my home for a short time. I hope others will also enjoy wandering around aimlessly to see where they eventually end up if they are visiting the area in the future.
The Heathrow Express train is a 15-minute ride from Heathrow Airport to the Paddington Station (at a one-way cost of 21.50 GBP).
Just don’t make the same mistake I did upon leaving the airport and hop on the first train you see. The line is shared with other regular trains, which are not of the express variety. It still only took about 30 minutes, but there were a lot more people on the train and I am sure it was quite a bit cheaper than what I paid for the Heathrow Express ticket.
Bronze Paddington Bear statue on track one in the train station.
I also recommend going over to Track 1 inside the station and looking beneath the big clock, where there is a bronze statue of Paddington Bear, where he was supposedly found by the British family in the first book that brought him to fame.
A few feet away there is another, more modern plaque on the wall, which tells you that they filmed the Paddington Bear movie there in 2013.
I guess, in the end, the Bear is an important part of the area and one that should be embraced. My daughter had it right all along!