Incredibly diverse and crackling with energy, London is one of the planet’s most enthralling travel destinations. It’s a city of palaces and pound shops, parks and pubs, where show-stopping modern architecture looms above ornate old bridges, glamorous stores, museums and ritzy hotels and playhouses. Exploring this vast multicultural metropolis, you’ll hear everything from the Queen’s English to Arabic, Cockney to Swahili, as suited cyclists, black cabs and big red buses whir past and Tube trains rumble deep beneath your feet. Whether you’re strolling through the neighbourhoods of the rich and famous, browsing market stalls in trendy, street-art-speckled districts or wining and dining in A-list hangouts, London will always keep you coming back for more.
Eat & Drink
Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes works his magic at this popular celebrity retreat, which occupies a converted Victorian fire station in well-to-do Marylebone and counts princesses Eugenie and Beatrice among its recent customers. It’s busy all week but weekend brunches are especially favoured, thanks to killer champagne cocktails, crab-stuffed doughnuts and poached eggs with wasabi-spiced avocado on toast. Afterwards, pop across the road to The Monocle Cafe, a caffeine-fuelled offshoot of the hip magazine.
THE HARWOOD ARMS
A cut above your archetypal London boozer – it grows its own produce on the rooftop – this cosy Fulham affair close to Chelsea Football Club is the English capital’s only Michelin-starred pub. There’s an emphasis on game, with fabulous Sunday roasts and slow-cooked deer shoulder wrapped in bacon.
SERGE ET LE PHOQUE
London isn’t short of luxurious boutique hotels and French restaurants but this swish newcomer at The Mandrake hotel in Fitzrovia stands out – it’s the first overseas iteration of Serge et le Phoque, the much-vaunted Hong Kong establishment. Expect a big dose of Gallic flair plus Asian and Mediterranean influences, with highlights including oyster with tosazu and carpaccio of wild sea bream with daikon and mango.
Tucked inside Mondrian London at Sea Containers on the south bank of the Thames, Dandelyan is run by the king of London’s thriving cocktail scene, Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan. Botanically inspired drinks such as Flower of Five (Belvedere Pink Grapefruit, passionfruit flower, leather, lemon and Bræmble Gin Liqueur) go exceedingly well with bar bites from nearby Borough Market (pulled pork belly, crisp kale and charcuterie).
THE CLOVE CLUB
Set in handsome Shoreditch Town Hall, this Michelin-feted eatery captures the cool, creative vibe of East London, with inventive tasting menus starring ingredients plucked from across the British Isles. Beavering away in the blue- tiled open kitchen, chefs craft dishes such as raw Orkney scallop with truffle purée and hot-smoked lamb ribs with mint and seaweed jelly. The burnt clementine sorbet and spiced meringue is a standout dessert.
SEE ALSO: The Best Free Things to Do in London
See & Do
MARVEL AT PICASSO
Until 9 September, London’s temple of contemporary art, Tate Modern, is hosting its first solo exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s work. Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy includes the paintings Girl Before a Mirror and Nude in a Black Armchair (both featuring the Spanish surrealist’s young mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter). Beyond Picasso, there’s ever- changing art in the myriad galleries spread across this renovated power station and new 10-storey extension. To see Claude Monet’s Water-Lilies, go to Level 2 of the Boiler House.
Cecil Beaton’s portrait of Picasso with his painting Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, on show at Tate Modern.
Catching a West End show is on many London bucket lists but you can enhance the experience with immersive theatre. Bag a VIP jury-box seat at Witness for the Prosecution and you’ll be in line to play a cameo in Agatha Christie’s classic crime play, which unfolds in the debating chamber of a grandiose former council building. Secret Cinema is another fun night out, mixing movie screenings with interactive performances in quirky venues. Back to the Future and Moulin Rouge have been done previously and 2018 sees The Final Cut version of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner get the treatment.
SLEEP WITH LIONS
Fancy staying behind when the gates shut at ZSL London Zoo? Book one of the new family-friendly lodges, which are within roaring distance of the Asiatic lions, and you’ll enjoy a welcome glass of prosecco, a zoo tour at sunset, a torchlit stroll after dark and a morning look-around before regular visitors arrive. Gorillas, giraffes and Humboldt penguins are among the zoo’s most adorable residents.
HUNT FOR TREASURE
No trip to London would be complete without fossicking at Portobello Road Market but if you’ve already done that, hit Bermondsey Antiques Market instead. Held every Friday from 6am to 2pm, it flaunts vintage curios, furniture and fashions on Bermondsey Square, a 10-minute amble south of Tower Bridge. Enjoy lunch by the square at Lokma Turkish Grill & Bar, where you can tuck into tasty hot and cold meze.
HIT THE HEIGHTS
If the weather’s clear, zoom up The Shard, Western Europe’s tallest building, for eye-popping panoramas of London. There’s an indoor viewing gallery on the 69th level and the open-air Skydeck three more storeys up. For glorious views minus the crowds, pop into Gǒng, London’s highest bar, on the 52nd floor. For afternoon tea and fine dining, try Aqua Shard on Level 31.
EXPLORE A TEMPLE
Before the city was London, it was Londinium and if you delve beneath Bloomberg’s shiny new European headquarters, between the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral, you’ll get a glimpse of the city’s Roman past. The Mithraeum is a temple to the god Mithras that was discovered in 1954 and has been restored to its former glory, with excavated mosaics and artefacts illuminated by sound and light effects.
London is Europe’s greenest capital, sprinkled with about eight million trees – almost one for every resident. While verdant, sprawling Hyde Park is massively popular, Richmond Park is a beguiling escape. A former hunting ground for King Henry VIII, it’s the largest and wildest of the royal parks and great for woodland hikes, off-road biking and wildlife spotting. More than 600 red and fallow deer roam free here (and they’re particularly boisterous during the rutting season from September to November).
GRAB A PADDLE
One of the best ways to appreciate London is with a paddle. Dodge the busy tourist vessels that ply the Thames and hop into a kayak for a memorable sightseeing adventure. On the Big Ben by Night tour (available from September to April), glide downriver past the majestic Neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament, which lights up as daylight fades. You can also go paddling along London’s “hidden” network of rivers and canals that served to transport goods before the rise of modern roads and railways and have a new lease of life after restoration projects. Moo Canoes leads trips on the spruced-up waterways around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (the site of the 2012 London Games), while nearby Regent’s Canal offers a window to London that few visitors see. Threading 14 kilometres between the yacht-peppered Limehouse Basin in East London and idyllic Little Venice near Paddington, the canal passes a wealth of contrasting cityscapes, from gritty housing estates and lavish mansions to graffiti-splattered warehouses and serene nature reserves alive with birdsong. If you’d rather just take in the often bucolic scenery with a floating picnic and let someone else do the work, charter a narrowboat for a leisurely canal cruise. And if (potentially) getting wet doesn’t appeal, you could walk or cycle along the towpaths for equally enchanting views.
Londoners are known to enjoy a drink but, increasingly, they also like making their own. The city’s under-the-radar microbreweries and distilleries offer behind-the-scenes tours and tastings. Lovers of gin, vodka and whisky should try the East London Liquor Company housed in an old glue factory at Bow Wharf, while beer aficionados can sip craft pale ales and pilsners under a railway arch at Peckham Rye’s Brick Brewery.
Borough Market may be London’s favourite food haunt but Hackney’s Broadway Market is providing stiff competition. Close to leafy London Fields and boasting a village high-street buzz, it lures the locals with everything from gastropubs and cool cafés to bookstores and a pie-and-mash shop. On Saturdays, street vendors sell aromatic treats such as haggis toasties, duck confit burgers and some of the most pungent cheeses outside of Paris.
SEE ALSO: One Perfect Day in London
Top image: Chiltern Firehouse.
Image credits: Jamie Orlando Smith; Tim Clinch; Julian Calverley, courtesy Tate Modern