London offers cultural, a cosmopolitan lifestyle and is full of contrasts. It is one of the fastest-paced cities in the world (barring New York or Tokyo maybe) yet it has more green spaces than most of Europe’s capitals.
Although British food itself has rarely won much praise, London’s chefs are winning Michelin stars left, right and centre. Brilliant young chefs like Jamie Oliver and Tom Aitkens whose no fuss yet innovative approach to food has made them celebrities who, like London’s fashion designers, have shot to fame by breaking all the rules.
London’s art scene is buoyant, too. In fact it’s booming. City boys are buying up Francis Bacons with their big bonuses, fuelling a new interest in art and new artists. Many of London’s galleries are free for visitors, such as the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – www.nationalgallery.org.uk, and the superb Photographer’s Gallery – www.photonet.org.uk. Must-visits include the Tate Britain (Millbank, SW1), Tate Modern (South Bank, SE1) and the Royal Academy of Arts (at Burlington House, W1).
If London is busy by day, it buzzes at night. After the commuters have made their way home, London lights up. Its latest architectural wonders, the London Eye and the enormous blue glass cigar-shaped “Gherkin” just into the night sky like glittering costume jewellery above the city’s historic skyline of parliaments, palaces and townhouses.
England’s capital is a chameleon, a mosaic of multi-cultural neighbourhoods, from the gritty streets of Hoxton, the new home of hip and up and coming art galleries and wine bars, to the affluent hotspots of the swinging 60s, Kensington and Chelsea, both as “à la mode” as they’ve ever been.
Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts helped push up property prices in west London’s Notting Hill thanks to the movie of the same name. Twenty years ago this Caribbean neighbourhood was a little shabby, but its hostels were converted into luxury flats and boutique hotels sprang up like wildflowers. Today it’s the “boho-chic” home to Stella McCartney and Robbie Williams and the streets you’d stay away from after dark are now lined with candlelit wine bars and modern-ethnic restaurants.
Just south of Notting Hill is Holland Park with its delightful open air theatre. Perch yourself on a bench and listen to the birds while you watch passers-by cut through to one of London’s great shopping streets south of the park, Kensington (“Ken”) High Street. All the big British stores are here… Next, BHS, Marks & Spencer, Barnes & Noble and Boots… but none of the pavement-jamming crowds of Oxford Street.
Head north to Hampstead Heath and stretch your legs in 800 glorious acres of grass and woodland or rent a little boat and row across the lake. This is the venue for the summer jazz and classical music concerts at Kenwood Lake (June to September). Bring a picnic box and blanket and listen to the music drifting across the lake. www.picnicconcerts.com
So much to buy, so little time? In that case head for Harvey Nichols. Eight floors of fashion, beauty and home collections plus the famous Fifth Floor food hall and restaurants. Browse your way through fine wines, champagnes, deli food items, organic teas and chocolates before stopping for some fresh sushi or reserve a table at Harvey Nichols’ café’s summer terrace (weather permitting) before you give your credit cards a workout in the designer fashion department. www.harveynichols.com
Whether you plan to explore London’s monuments, browse its museums or pick up some bargains at the vintage clothing store, it’s all here. As they say, if you can’t find it in London, it probably doesn’t exist. Just don’t forget your umbrella.
Where to eat in London
54 Frith Street
London W1D 4SL
Tel: +44 20 7813 8016
Stylish new Barcelona-style tapas bar in hip Soho
27 Cale Street
London SW3 3QP
Tel: +44 20 7349 0202
Cosy new spot in Chelsea for breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Run by young celebrity chef and food writer Tom Aikens
62 Goodge Street
London W1T 4NE
Tel: +34 20 7436 9444
Dozens of delicious rice dishes to choose from at London’s first risotto bar.
25 Heddon Street
London W1B 4BH
Tel: + 44 20 7434 4040
Hot and hip Moroccan restaurant, beautiful staff, beautiful décor
Julie’s Wine Bar and Restaurant
135 Portland Road
London W11 4LW
Tel: +44 20 7733 8855
Very romantic “Moroccan-Gothic church style” wine bar – truly original with exquisite food, fine wines…a must!
Ladurée at Harrods
Tel: +44 20 3155 0111
New Paris’s tres chic patisserie comes to Harrods. Go for the heavenly macaroons, éclairs.
Where to stay in London
The Hempel Hotel
31-35 Craven Hill Gardens
London. W2 3EA
Tel: +44 20 7298 900
Opulent luxury hotel from designer Anouska Hempel.
The stylish H-Bar is a jet-set haunt.
Plaza on the River
18 Albert Embankment
London. SE1 7TJ
Tel: +44 20 7769 2525
All-suite contemporary style hotel, ideally located on the river opposite the Tate Gallery, within sight of many of
London’s most famous landmarks including the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye observation wheel.
The Hoxton Hotel
81 Great Eastern Street
London EC2A 3HU
Tel: +44 20 7550 1000
Only for the street smart: brand new, ultra-hip hotel in London’s financial district where urban style meets country lodge lounging (but far from west London, Kensington and Chelsea).
Sydney House Hotel
9-11 Sydney Street
Chelsea SW3 6PU
Tel: +44 20 7376 7711
Delightful contemporary-style townhouse with an “at home” feel, just off the Kings Road, a perfect spot for dining, London’s best shopping close by.
No. 5 Cavendish Square
5 Cavendish Square
Soho, London W1G 0PG
Tel: +44 20 7079 5000
Lavish luxurious Soho hotel – superb Italian restaurant, cocktail bar, garden patio and roof terrace, super stylish and almost decadent. Very private, only 8 suites.
60 Hyde Park Gate
Kensington SW7 5BB
Tel: +34 207 3685700
The essence of Italian style; absolutely gorgeous designer hotel, close to shops and restaurants and London’s lovely Hyde Park
Shopping in London
Probably the most elegant stationery store in the world (suppliers to the Royal Family): diaries, photo albums, notebooks, personalised writing paper and even handbags and leather gifts, in a palette of colours from pastel pink to eggshell blue.
The London Beatles Store
231 Baker Street
London NW1 6XE
Loads of Beatles memorabilia: postcards, key rings, jigsaws, clothes, magazines, books, mugs and porcelain figures.
L’Artisan du Chocolat
89 Lower Sloane Street
Tel: +34 20 7824 8365
Chocolate paradise: classics and experimental concoctions including tonka bean, verbena and lapsang souchong-flavoured chocolates and delicious salted caramels, from £6.40.
Pamper yourself with these fabulous spa products…heavenly scents include naran ji (orange blossom), gingerlily and passion flower.
Skincare, shampoos, room scents and candles, all beautifully wrapped to take back home.
Various branches all over London and both Harvey Nichols and Selfridges have a Molton Brown Emporium.
400 Oxford Street
Tel: +34 870 837 7377
Opposite Hyde Park is the home of Europe’s largest beauty hall, a magnificent food hall, champagne bar and over a million products, 18 restaurants, high-street and high designer labels. Simply fabulous!
The Travel Bookshop
The shop where Julia Roberts met Hugh Grant in the film “Notting Hill”. A lovely, old fashioned bookshop with a great selection of sometimes rare travel and cookbooks.
What you must see and do in London
Jazz at Ronnie Scott’s
47 Frith St
Tel: +34 20 7439 0747
Legendary jazz club in Soho which has just been given a glamorous makeover by Parisian designer Jacques Garcia
Speed Along The Thames
Tel: +34 20 7928 2350
Enjoy the views as you cruise at 30 knots along the River. Trips are daily from Waterloo Millennium Pier at quarter past the hour.
Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park
The bridge at the foot of a waterfall is one of the city’s most peaceful spots.
The London Eye
The world’s highest observation wheel, views of over 55 of London’s most famous landmarks – all in just 30 minutes.
The British Museum
Founded in 1753, one of the world’s best museums which houses the Rosetta Stone and sculptures from The Parthenon
The Victoria & Albert Musem
Wonderful art and design museum, don’t miss their amazing collection of ceramics, furniture, fashion, glass, jewellery, photographs, sculpture, textiles and paintings.
You’re guaranteed to see Kate Moss at Tussauds, she’s one of the latest brilliant wax models. Great fun for adults and children, open all year except Christmas Day.
Tips for enjoying your weekend in London
The London Pass
If you plan to visit a lot of museums and galleries, the London Pass card gets you free entry to 55 of London’s most popular sightseeing spots, and you can jump the queues by showing your card to the attendant. For a bit extra you can buy a London pass with transport, so you can roam around town almost for free. See www.londonpass.com for prices.
London Sightseeing Bus
If it’s sunny, hop on and hop off along the route – a great way to see almost everything in one go!