When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford’, once said English literary genius Samuel Johnson and today, if possible London has more to offer its resident or visitor than ever before.
Meandering the quaint lanes of Primrose Hill, or the busy streets of the West End, perhaps enjoying an ale in one of the old pubs in London Bridge or picnicking in one of the many parks – London’s entertainment scene is seemingly never ending.
In this day and age, the visitor is asking for more and the mighty lions of Trafalgar Square no longer cut it as they did for me when I, at the age of seven first visited London Town. Fast forward (ahem several years) and I find myself a resident of this fine city and yet still its offerings ignite a kid-like amazement within me.
Of course, I may not spend my time in the usual tourist traps now but I always find myself pausing for breath when walking over Waterloo Bridge at sun set (a must for anyone visiting London). The vista, (which consists of Big Ben, the London Eye and Houses of Parliament to one side and the other offers London Bridge, the Oxo Tower and further down the bright lights of new London and Canary Wharf) is postcard perfect .
The Southbank has always interested me too. The home of the Royal Festival Hall and in the summer Udderbelly pops up with an array of eateries and shows to watch, and then the winter brings a cute Christmas market with stands selling mulled wine and roasted chestnuts. Festive perfection.
It is these tiny pockets of London that makes it so great. You never know what you will find from one month to the next meandering the same streets. It’s exciting and ever-changing, you can visit a hundred times over and yet still have something new to see and do.
London has a true romance to it, but finding alone time in a city that never stops (especially with the introduction of the 24 hour tube in August) can prove tricky. However, oases of tranquillity live around every corner and quiet moments made for two are easy to come by.
Head to Warwick Avenue for a reminder of Mary Poppins’ London; large tree-lined streets bordered by Victorian and Georgian mansions, quaint pubs such as the Warwick Castle or hideaway cafes serving trendy coffee or traditional teas make for a superb morning walk, whatever the weather is doing.
Make your way to Little Venice to experience London’s old waterways. Named by poet Robert Browning, Little Venice sits where Regent’s Canal meets the Grand Union Canal. Here, a small floating café offers fresh cakes and coffee next to the pickup point for the water taxis and buses. The canal winds through leafy London offering myriad sites. Whether strolling arm in arm or cosying up on one of the boats, this little part of London connecting East with West is a delightful way to spend the day.
Starting at Little Venice, the canal path takes visitors on a trek through Bohemian London. Expect colourful canal barges complete with interesting folk who call these floating houses home; some have turned their boats into floating galleries. The beauty of London is the changing of seasons, and each offers a new take on London’s sights. Winter on this walk can be frosty, with an eerie mist settling on top of the canal; spring sees blossom sprayed over the paths; summer is for meandering with an ice cream and autumn offers colours a plenty as the ancient trees shred their leaves. As you leave Little Venice you arrive in
Regent’s Park and eventually, sat in the midst of the park straddling the canal, is London Zoo. Carry on and arrive to the large mansions. Conceived by architect John Nash, it is possible to catch glimpses of these large private residences, including Hanover Lodge – one of London’s most expensive properties. As you leave Regent’s Park, a gentle stroll leads you to one of London’s most visited districts, Camden Town.
If the centre of London takes your fancy then many hotels offer an incredible experience. For traditional, elegant and truly London, the Corinthia London is a stunning palatial building built in the old headquarters of MI6. Located just moments away from the Thames near Embankment tube station, the Corinthia offers stunning suites with spacious sleeping and living quarters. The added bonus of having one of London’s top spas in the hotel is definitely a pull for this London hotel.
If cool and trendy is your thing then choose a top spot in hipster central. Hoxton Hotel has an unrivalled location (good enough for Soho House) and attracts generally a crowd that likes minimalistic luxury. Well thought out rooms maybe small but here it is all about location, location, location.
London is renowned for its fine dine restaurant scene but there are some excellent choices if you get off the beaten track. Street food-style has seen a renaissance amongst the city’s locals and many new restaurants have popped up serving excellent cuisine with a casual edge.
Gunpowder near Spitalfields market is a home-style Indian kitchen serving traditional dishes that have taken inspiration from age-old family recipes. The restaurant is intimate and social with an exciting menu. Top tip: try the Chettinad pulled duck served with homemade oothappam.
If you are more Mayfair then East End then Flat Iron is a tasty lunch treat. Serving only gourmet steak and chips, this restaurant is a fun dining experience where you sit on communal-style benches, eat with a mini meat cleaver and get a complimentary ice-cream on departure.
For supper, Berners Tavern, under the direction of Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton serves contemporary British cuisine in a truly stunning setting. Located in upmarket Fitzrovia, the main dining room offers plush seating, high ceilings and walls adorned with gilded gold framed portraits and paintings. Very English townhouse.
Without doubt there are many wonderful attractions to take the little ones, but a really special place sits on the outskirts of the city – The Horniman Museum. Sitting in South London’s Forest Hill, the museum and gardens are simply fascinating. Children have a huge array of exhibitions to peruse including an Aquarium, Natural History, African Worlds and so much more. One of the best aspects of this museum is how touchable it is. Children are encouraged to explore using touch, smell and sight. The musical area displays instruments from different eras from around the world and children are encouraged to test their musical talents.
ROOF TOP LONDON
In the past few years roof top drinking has become a cool and trendy staple to any city and London certainly hasn’t been left behind. If you are looking for west end glamour then look no further than
the Radio Rooftop Bar at ME Hotel London. Sat at the top of The Strand, this glorious bar offers delightful small bites with sumptuous cocktails to the soundtrack of Ibiza chill-out tunes. Be sure to book though as this cool place is often booked out. An outside area offers extended views over London’s skyscape, and should the weather turn; an awning automatically shelters its patrons from the elements. At the bottom of the hotel also sits a global must – STK, a restaurant with a fun vibe, delicious food and yummy cocktails.
If you are looking for something new and exciting though, the up and coming area of Peckham seems to be rooftop central. Franks offers, without doubt, the best view of London’s skyline. Located on top of a multi-storey carpark, this bar is a little rough around the edges with its picnic bench style seating and eco toilets, but the wine is good, snacks are a plenty and the view is incredible. Look back into the city to see The Shard, Canary Wharf, London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the skyscrapers that make up the city. The sun sets behind the sites so expect a silhouetted London. The bar is open to the elements in the vast majority, so maybe check the weather before or bring a poncho.
On a weekend, London is a busy city so sometimes it is a welcome treat to jump on a train to the outskirts. Mayfield Lavender Fields is an incredible day out while the fields are in full bloom. A vibrant purple blanket covers 25 acres and guests are invited to skip merrily through. A quaint shop selling organic lavender wares allows visitors to take a slice of paradise away with them too. It is quite simply a photographer’s dream, and who would have thought it is located only 20 minutes away from central London.
Inner-city, a favourite weekend spot is the fashionable Maltby Market. Located on LASSCO Ropewalk, a series of artisan producers sell sumptuous cuisines to an array of market dwellers. It is a lively, fun and very social way to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning.
London commands a hectic pace but sometimes even the most energetic of us need a tranquil space to relax in. Thankfully, London has many tucked away in the guise of spas. ESPA Life at the Corinthia Hotel London is a truly peaceful place. Located over four floors in the lower chambers of the hotel, this world class spa offers indulgent treatments, an indoor swimming pool, vitality pool, amphitheatre sauna, ice fountain, marble heated loungers, private sleep pods and 17 treatment rooms. The wet area is dimly lit with fire boxes providing a romantic and mesmerising atmosphere perfect for pure escapism.
London has a huge portfolio of ancient pubs. It is what we Brits do well. The 150-year old Southwark Tavern offers a sizable drinking area upstairs whereas downstairs intimate pods, known as ‘prison cells’ offer drinking and dining by candlelight. This pub is ideal for when some cosy indoor time is required. Real ales, draft beers and lagers plus a comprehensive wine and spirit list keep everyone happy. Nearer Christmas expect spice warmed cider and mulled wine. Of course, there are many glitzy bars and clubs too. Most require booking to get in, and even then it isn’t guaranteed. Sketch is a fun bar with themed rooms located in trendy Soho. The Experimental Cocktail Club in China Town sits hidden behind a rather discreet door and offers three floors of, as the title suggests, experimental cocktails. It has a great atmosphere perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail. New cool clubs are often popping up here and the latest to hit the celeb scene is DSTRK. Set in the heart of theatreland, in-between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, this uber cool club has a very strict guest list policy and dress code. Be sure to book in advance.
This ever-evolving city of London, to me, is precious. Delightfully confusing, wonderfully busy but inviting, all consuming and never a truer statement as ‘there is no place like home’. Welcome to London.