The great city of London hasn’t been asleep. It’s been revving up, launching restaurants that dish up flavour with a new perspective, sparking new trends and reinventing its icons with fresh new energy. You’d better get ready to take it on – because the old capital of cool is more than ready to make you see, feel and taste like never before.
See the city differently
By day there’s no better way to see London with fresh eyes than to switch the Tube for a bike. There are over 800 Santander Cycle stations dotted around the city: just turn up, swipe your card and the bike is yours, then drop it back at any location when you’re done. Don't forget to fire up Qantas Wellbeing app to earn Qantas Points as you pedal.
Pick up your wheels at Temple underground station and whizz along Victoria Embankment with its spectacular views across the River Thames to South Bank; turn right at Big Ben to skirt along St James’s Park to Buckingham Palace and finish with a freewheel across leafy Green Park. Stop to bask in a slice of classic English countryside slipped into the centre of London, all stripy deck chairs and dappled sunlight. It’s enough to put you in the mood for a classic refreshment. Drop your bike at the rack opposite The Ritz: afternoon tea here is presided over by a certified Tea Master (no other London hotel has one) in the most splendid surrounds in the city.
As dusk falls and the lights of London start to twinkle, stroll down to the Thames. Its inky depths have been transformed by Illuminated River, a stunning new five-kilometre art installation which lights up nine of London’s most famous bridges in soft hues of green, pink and orange. Each bridge has been lit to emphasise its unique architecture. At Westminster Bridge, look out for the intricate latticed underside bathed in rich tones of emerald green.
The best way to see the installation is to hop on the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers, which glides under all nine of the bridges. Bag a seat in the outdoor section for the best views.
Stay onboard until you reach one of London’s most iconic riverside landmarks, Battersea Power Station, where the four distinct chimneys are illuminated after dark. Recently redeveloped, the site is now a lively new neighbourhood with innovative restaurants (try Cinnamon Kitchen for modern Indian) in a spectacular riverside location.
Taste bigger flavours
In a city where you’ll find world-class food in unassuming streets and village-style markets as well as in restaurants inside glass towers, it takes a lot to impress the locals. The spot all London is talking about right now? The redeveloped precinct of Kings Cross, where hipster bars, luxe boutiques, parks and galleries share converted warehouses with eateries in a cool canal-side setting.
The 27-hectare site was once a sprawling mass of derelict rail yards and storehouses but has been transformed into a buzzing new neighbourhood with more than 40 places to eat and drink.
Try Caravan in a renovated grain store for all-day dining from a global menu; Vinoteca for delicious rustic dishes inspired by the wine bars of Spain and Italy and an imaginative wine list; Dishoom for legendary Bombay cuisine in a three-storey Victorian warehouse; Arabica for brilliant modern Middle Eastern food (the berbere cauliflower here is amazing) and Hicce, with its innovative menu and sprawling outdoor terrace.
On the other side of town, Borough Yards is a series of Victorian railway arches beautifully restored to house an exciting line-up of retail and dining outlets beside the famous Borough Market. Expect a strong Spanish food influence when its new restaurants open in early 2022.
Feel new sensations
Wild water swimming is London’s latest obsession and there are some atmospheric spots to experience the rush, whether you’re doing the city in summertime or in the depths of winter. Join the army of regulars who leap into the tree-ringed swimming holes at Hampstead Ponds and the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park for a bracing morning dip. Both are open year-round.
For a more civilised bathing experience ease into Aire, a tranquil new subterranean wellness centre hidden away in a beautiful 18th-century townhouse (once the home of Peter Pan author JM Barrie) between Covent Garden and the Thames.
Here, majestic old vaults that lay under the house have been lovingly restored and are now home to seven therapeutic bathing pools in a magical orange-blossom scented space.
Gently lit by flickering candles, the exposed brick walls and labyrinth of gentle arches creates an otherworldly oasis inspired by the bathing pools of ancient Rome. The idea is to move between them: hot then cold, steamy then icy, and finish with a therapeutic massage.
“Aire is designed to stimulate all the senses,” says CEO Amadeo Serra. “It’s totally immersive and the combination of these elements draws you into a deep sense of relaxation.”
Smell the roses
London’s prettiest afternoon tea is in the intimate flower-decked Dalloway Terrace in the colour-drenched Bloomsbury Hotel. The menu has been designed as a multi-sensory treat inspired by the perfumes of couture British fragrance house Miller Harris.
The scene is charming: the back wall of the terrace is covered in a stunning floral display in rich shades of rouge, purple and burgundy and the ceiling draped in silks.
Each of the delicious champagne cocktails is named after a Miller Harris fragrance: our favourite is Rose Silence, a delicate concoction of gin, jasmine liqueur and freshly-squeezed lemon.
In addition to delicate finger sandwiches and lemon-scented scones, the exquisite cake selection also riff on Miller Harris fragrances. Feast on Tea Tonique, Earl Grey jelly sitting atop green velvet sponge and Oud Eclat, a rich chocolate mousse with a spicy liquid centre.