As your plane descends into London, peek out the window. Sprawling below is Western Europe’s biggest metropolis. In between its parks and pubs, palaces and residential areas, theatre-lined streets and shopping thoroughfares are some seriously invigorating places to do business.
Almost 30 kilometres as the crow flies from Heathrow Airport is the City of London, the so-called Square Mile. A hub of trade since the Romans arrived nearly 2000 years ago, it’s as vibrant as ever – despite the uncertainty of Brexit – with gleaming new offices sprouting up beside centuries-old banks and company headquarters. Hop in a black cab or take the Docklands Light Railway from Bank Station and you’ll soon be in east London’s Canary Wharf, a spick-and-span financial-services enclave.
There is a more creative, industrial-chic vibe in King’s Cross and Shoreditch, two thriving neighbourhoods north of the City that have seen an influx of tech giants and startups: Google is building a glossy new London HQ in the former and Microsoft has settled near the rejuvenated west London canals by Paddington Station. Arrive here on the Heathrow Express – a 15-minute train ride from the airport – and begin your own adventure in England’s capital.
Wine & dine
Coffee pit stop: Shoreditch Grind
The flat whites are silky and strong at the café, roastery and recording studio Shoreditch Grind, which is next to Old Street Roundabout (or Silicon Roundabout, as this dot-com hotspot is dubbed due to the tech entrepreneurs that have set up shop nearby). Grab a stool and watch the world buzz by through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Breakfast meeting: 1 Lombard Street
￼Whether you prefer to kickstart your day with a full English breakfast, visit Lombard Street. This swanky brasserie occupies a former bank in the heart of the Square Mile and features a majestic domed skylight designed by Italian architect Pietro Agostini.
Dining alone: Barrafina
Soho, London’s liveliest 24/7 district, has plenty of no-reservation options to suit solo diners, especially noodle joints, but Barrafina is a cut above. Take a seat at the marble-topped bar and tuck into authentic Spanish tapas such as grilled quail with aïoli, baby gem salad with anchovies and smoked pancetta and octopus with capers, along with a glass or two of cava, Rioja or sherry.
Drinks with clients: The Nickel Bar
Sure to impress, The Nickel Bar graces the ground floor of The Ned, a gloriously refurbished city hotel that’s made for mixing business and pleasure. There’s an extensive choice of drinks, with the whisky selection and cocktails particularly enticing. On most weekday afternoons and early evenings, live jazz and blues music drifts from the bandstand.
If you have a couple of hours…
The Detour app offers 15 audio-led walks, spanning between 30 and 90 minutes, on subjects as varied as London’s royal heritage, craft beer and Caribbean culture. Fancy yourself as James Bond? Mayfair: A Spy’s Guide, narrated by ex-MI5 operative Annie Machon, delves into the city’s clandestine intelligence history with gripping tales of double agents and exploding cigars.
If you have half a day…
There’s always something new and interesting happening at Tate Modern, a gigantic contemporary arts hub at Bankside on the River Thames. A 10-minute waterfront stroll west brings you to the Southbank Centre, a world-class haven of arts and culture that has had a major revamp of its Brutalist buildings. Go and see an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery then hit the centre’s lively street-food market.
If you have a day…
Kew Gardens is a beguiling, bucolic retreat – and a UNESCO World Heritage site – on the leafy western edge of London’s urban jungle. Its character changes through the seasons, with beautiful plants and trees from all over the globe flourishing in its woodlands and garden beds set on verdant lawns and inside its magnificent Victorian glasshouses. Don’t miss the largest of these, Temperate House, which reopened in May after a five-year restoration and feels magical when the sun pours through its 15,000 panes of glass. An 18-metre-high treetop walk is among the Kew’s other highlights.
If you have a weekend…
Traditionally, Londoners have flocked to Brighton for a seaside break but Hastings has emerged as a southern-coast alternative. Long synonymous with the famous battle of 1066 – in which the Normans defeated the Anglo-Saxons – Hastings has a picturesque Old Town peppered with quaint pubs, antiques shops, hip eateries and a charming five-star B&B, Swan House. There’s a scenic funicular railway and clifftop walks and a reconstructed pier that won last year’s prestigious RIBA Stirling architecture award. From Hastings, you can amble along the seafront to bohemian St Leonards and rail it to Rye, one of England’s most delightfully preserved medieval towns. ￼
- Run the seven-kilometre trail that skirts the outer perimeter of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. If cycling is more your thing, use the pick-up, drop-off Santander Cycles scheme, which has docking stations across London, including near the Hyde Park Corner Tube station.
- Duck in to The Spa at The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, one of Knightsbridge’s storied hotels. The spruced-up spa provides state-of-the-art fitness facilities, a 17-metre twin-lane swimming pool with lap timer and myriad therapeutic treatments.
- Zoom up to the 24th level of The Shard, London’s tallest building, for a workout to remember. Promising to boost the mind, body and soul, Yogasphere offers early-morning and evening yoga classes. Check online as its schedule changes most weeks.
Best co-working space
Many of London’s co-working spaces are members-only but Collabor8 Space offers “hot desk” drop-ins for £42 a day or £138 a week. Set in an Aldgate warehouse, it has high-speed internet, freshly ground coffee, a fully fitted kitchen and showers.