If an addiction to Downton Abbey has you craving scones and pints, then it’s time to give in to good ol’ London. This 2,000-year-old settlement with all of its entrenched history, also happens to be the world’s leading cultivator of art, fashion, cuisine, architecture, and pop culture. It’s the giddy city that gave us the Beatles, the double-decker bus, Dr. Martens, and that The Smiths proclaimed as the “home of the brash, outrageous, and free.” Before all of that, the city was likely to have inspired one of the most memorable nursery rhymes from your childhood, “London Bridge is Falling Down,” but mind you, the city remains on the up and up.
Like New York, London is enormous, multifarious, and it’s all about the neighborhood you’re in. If you’re a Maggie Smith kind of bird, then prance on over to the Mayfair district for the finest afternoon tea in town at Claridge’s (if tea isn’t your bag, try their luxurious cocktails). Want to run with Kate Moss types in skinny jeans and pumps? Then hit the fashionable Hoxton or Shoreditch districts. If architecture floats your boat, visit Marylebone, a high-end neighborhood to glimpse grand Georgian and Edwardian townhouses. The main shopping strip is Marylebone High Street, but the area is full of precious shops, organic restaurants, and delectable pastries. If you’re more about gulping down the ales and comforts of pub food, try Smithfield’s working-class bar and club crawl scene. The ethnically diverse neighborhood of Brixton is still considered a bit scary for some North Londoners, but it’s packed with tons of international restaurants with foodie buzz (Mexican, Thai, Colombian, African, Pakistani, Portuguese, etc.), lively music joints, and the ultra hip restaurant scene in Brixton Village.
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After you’ve visited historic must-sees like the Houses of Parliament and the Palace of Westminster, which includes the medieval Westminster Hall, the Jewel Tower, and the famous clock tower, Big Ben, you’ll want to make sure to get a taste of London’s modern art scene at the never disappointing Tate Museum.
If after spending the whole day inside you begin craving outdoor activities, walk along the South Bank or take a swirl on the London Eye ferris wheel along the Thames for breath-taking views of the city. Tree huggers will want to head to the southern end of Hyde Park (known as Kensington Gardens) with its sprawling lawns, winding walkways, and an artificial lake. You can even swim or paddle boat with the kids in the Serpentine Lido during spring and summer months. The late Princess Diana’s former residence, Kensington Palace, is located on the western edge of Kensington Gardens; hence the park’s many shrines and the fountain that the Queen erected in her memory.
One cannot leave London without experiencing its theater or live music scene. In fact, William Shakespeare and John Lennon would have insisted. Take in a play or a musical in the West End, the Royal Court Theatre or National Theatre for a good dose of staged British drama. If live music in a cramped bar is more your thing, then head to Barfly in Camden where bands like Blur and Oasis got started and unknown groups are waiting to be discovered. It’s impossible not to have a laugh in London. But for heavens sake, don’t come back sounding like the Queen or Madonna for that matter; your family will think you went bloody mad on holiday.
WHERE TO EAT
Fox and Anchor • Smithfield
Head to this “gastro pub” for some of the tastiest scotch eggs in the city. *Includes affordable designer hotel rooms above the bar.
Ottolenghi • Islington
Gourmet healthy lunches with the finest London produce.
St. John Bar and Restaurant • 26 St. John Street, Farringdon
For a decadent meat feast in a minimalist setting. Try the rabbit with bacon, a PETA nightmare.
Effra Pub • 38 Kellet Road, Brixton
Cool, Afro-Caribbean pub with a garden and live jazz. Serves great jerk chicken, too.
Asakusa • 265 Eversholt Street, Mornington Crescent
Authentic Japanese at affordable prices. Popular with trendy Camdenites, so reserve ahead.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Perfectly located in front of the South Kensington station, all this luxury five star boutique hotel lacks is Hugh Grant.
Durrants This 92-bedroom townhouse, mid-range hotel, is family-run and in walking distance to Hyde Park and the West End theatres.
This affordable, colorful, and feng-shuied boutique hotel is close to all the Sloane Square and South Kensington fun.