London is a veritable treasure trove for travellers. Here are the top twenty ways to explore one of the world’s most visited cities.
Expect to find iconic sights on every turn. Not to mention the wealth of history, architectural grandeur, cultural institutions, picturesque neighbourhoods, stylish shopping and a thriving foodie scene. There is something timeless about London; it’s both a cutting edge capital and a historic city with a touch of old-worldly charm. That marvellous mix of when old and new collide is what makes London one of my favourite destinations in the world. It’s a place where both tradition and innovation thrive to create a culturally rich, vibrant and ever-evolving city. So without further ado, let’s explore this incredible metropolis with my top twenty things to do in London.
#1 View from the Shard
This 87-storey glass skyscraper in Southwalk boasts the highest and best views of London. Built in 2012, it’s a relatively new and shiny fixture to the London skyline. From the panoramic viewing deck you can glimpse across all of London. It is an excellent place to get your bearings of this sprawling old city and a birds eye view of the River Thames which runs through the very heart. There is something awe-inspiring about observing some of London’s historic landmarks from the height of a soaring, modern building.
#3 Catch a double decker bus
Forget those tourist buses, if you hop on a real red double decker bus. Climb to the upper level you can enjoy a decent view of some London’s iconic sights. You’ll feel like a local in no time.
#4 Department stores
Old-fashioned department stores couldn’t be more British. The glitzy Harrods is a tourist attraction in itself. However, if you want a taste of old-worldly British class then visit Fortnum and Mason. This elegant and luxurious department store located in Piccadilly. The food hall is filled with exquisite items and the impressive selection of teas. Whilst you’re here you ought to stay for afternoon tea in the Diamond Jubilee Tearoom. It is so upmarket that it was formally opened by none other than the Queen.
#5 Eat: Fish ‘n’ chips
Typical British food that is traditionally wrapped in paper. Be careful where you decide to buy your fish and chips as some places can be nothing short of awful. Poppies has a good reputation, classic pubs like The Victoria serve up a good one or you could always opt for a posh, lower calorie version like at No. 11 Pimblico.
#6 Neighbourhood: Notting Hill
If you wander around the fashionable neighbourhood of Notting Hill, you’ll initially be charmed by the picture-perfect streetscapes. Think cobblestoned streets and rows of pastel coloured townhouses. Then, there are the trendy cafés (Granger and Co.), stylish shops and high-end boutiques along Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Street. Treat yourself to a pastry from Ottolenghi, try secure a table at The Ledbury or for a bit of vintage charm see a flick at The Electric cinema. Notting Hill also home to the famous Portobello Road Market where you can easily while away a Saturday rummaging through knick-knacks and antiques.
#7 London Mews
These hidden gems which can be found all over London, but a majority of them are located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The picture-perfect little alleys were formerly horse stables but are now mostly sweet residential laneways.
#8 Explore on the underground
This fast-paced network of trains is also referred to by locals as ‘the tube’. One you get yourself an underground map and an Oyster card you’ll be dashing all over London in a jiffy. Best to avoid peak-times as it can get a tad crowded.
#9 Art Galleries
London has a vibrant art scene. You could easily spend days meandering around the art galleries marvelling at an incredible collection of classic and modern artworks. Some of the galleries that should be high on your agenda include;
An impressive converted power station along the Thames. It’s as much about the modern art as it is about the vast industrial space and the fantastic views across the Thames of the Millennium Bridge and the majestic St Pauls.
The largest collection of British art in the world with prized pieces from Turner’s landscapes to Francis Bacon’s nudes.
Home to an overwhelming collection of European masterpieces.
An acclaimed and trendy gallery owned by Charles Saatchi. It hosts contemporary artwork in vast galleries and happens to be located in the upmarket Chelsea location.
London is just brimming with cultural and historic treasures. You can simply get lost in the many museums that have truly magnificent collections. Luckily it rains a lot in London so all the more of an excuse to meander. Plus, most of these places have free entry so it’s an affordable way to explore the city.
A few of my very favourite places to loose myself for an afternoon are;
One of the oldest museums in the entire world with a collection of millions of objects from across the globe. Highlights include the Rosetta Stone, ancient Greek sculptures, artefacts from Pompeii, Lewis Chessmen, Lindow Man and Egyptian mummies.
This ornate building on Crompton Rd is often dubbed ‘the cathedral of nature’. Its hard not to be impressed by a central hall with vaunting ceilings and the iconic, enormous diplodocus cast skeleton. It’s a world of natural wonder with over over 80 million specimens contained within the walls, its best to embrace your inner geek.
V&A boasts the greatest collection of decorative arts in the world housed within a grand building.
The original cabinet war rooms from WWII. This museum is a must for anyone interested in the history of the Second World War. Here you will discover the underground headquarters and shelter used by Churchill during the Blitz.
#11 Neighbourhood: East London
This vibrant, fashionable and lively neighbourhood is worth a visit for creative types and those wanting to experience another side to London. ‘Hip’ East London expands from Spitalfields, up Brick Lane, across Redchurch Street and all the way up to Broadway Market Rd which sits between Regents Canal and London Fields and is the epicentre of London hipsters. Colourful mural covered walls (yes, a few Banksys), industrial warehouses, trendy cafes, vintage shops and rowdy night spots make up most of this innovative, urban hub. Modern East London is renowned as an eclectic foodie destination, and especially notable for Indian food. Although the area has been accused of rampant ‘hipsterfication’, it remains a character-filled neighbourhood ideal for people watching and getting a taste for cutting-edge London.
A day in East London:
Stay at the The Hoxton Hotel, pay extortion rates for cereal at Cereal Killer, peruse the books at Brick Lane Bookshop, catch-up for coffee at Ozone Coffee Roasters, buy yourself something special at Labour and Wait, do a spot of record shopping at Rough Trade, treat yourself to a taste of British baking at Kahaila and meander around Broadway Markets. After a boozy night out at Queen of Hoxton soak up the alcohol with a customary salted beef bagel from the 24-hour The Beigel Shop.
#12 Street Markets
You can’t visit London without experiencing the quintessential weekend activity. My picks for the best markets in London include; Borough Market and Broadway Market as both offer an abundance of artisanal food and the latest foodie trends, the colourful and sweet-smelling Columbia Road Flower Market and Portobello Road Market brimming with antiques and knick-knacks.
#13 Somerset House
This gorgeous neo-classical building overlooking the Thames is a cultural centre in the heart of London with an all-year-round programme. Whether it’s art exhibitions, music concerts and outdoor film series in the warmer months or a magnificently festive ice-skating rink over Christmas – it’s worth a visit. In summer it’s simply a wonderful place to relax in the sunshine with a glass of wine.
#14 Parks and recreation
When the weather permits there is nothing better than enjoying some of London’s marvellous parks. For such a dense city it may surprise some visitors that London offers plenty of lush parklands. Hyde Park is 350 acres of beautiful scenery in the very centre of London – great for cycling around on a ‘Boris Bike’, boating on the Serpentine Lake, spotting squirrels or enjoying a picnic. Some other favourites include; the manicured and elegant Kensington Palace Gardens or take a little trip out to Kew Gardens to immerse yourself in nature and you might come across pesky rabbits or even some handsome deer.
#15 Retail therapy
Oxford Street is Europe’s busiest shopping street. Bustling crowds, rows of red double decker buses and endless high-street shopping. This is not where you go for bespoke pieces, but for the big hitter stores like Topshop, H&M, Uniqlo, Marks and Spencer, Selfridges and Co., Niketown and Zara. Start at Marble Arch and make your way up to Oxford Circus. For a little bit of London luxury Bond Street has a wealth of elegant stores unsurprisingly close to The Ritz Hotel. Here you’ll find the high-end fashion boutiques such as Alexander McQueen and renowned art dealers like Sotherby’s. Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Street (pictured above) in Notting Hill are excellent particularly for chic French labels and East London is an ultra-trendy shopping destination.
#16 Afternoon Tea at Fortnum and Mason
Fancy an afternoon sipping tea and sampling a dizzying array of bite-sized treats served on those extravagant, three-tiered stands? This thoroughly British tradition was invented in 1840 when the Duchess of Bedford grew tired of that hunger-inducing interval between lunch and dinner. When in London partaking in an afternoon tea is an utter must-do. My absolute favourite afternoon tea is at the ever-so-elegant Fortnum & Mason department store. Read my review here.
#17 Hail a London taxi
Nothing is quite like the hum of an old black cab and the warm greeting of a driver with an accent like a character on Eastenders. You’re in capable hands for getting where you need to go as the drivers have to pass the extensive ‘Knowledge’ test which proves intimate knowledge of London’s streets. If you’re lost, listen for the purr of the London taxi.
#18 Order a pint of beer in a London pub
Friday after-work pints have crowds literally spilling out onto the sidewalk. If you are not in amongst the rabble you’ll feel like the only geezer in the whole city not drinking at the pub. Some of my personal favourite pubs are The Churchhill (gloriously covered in baskets of hanging flowers in springtime), The Victoria in Paddington or The Jerusalem in Clerkenwell.
#19 Eat: Spice things up
London has some of the best curry outside of Asia as 200 years after the first curry house opened in the city, the love affair with Indian cuisine has continued to grow. For something chic, try Dishoom a Bombay-style brasserie in Shoreditch.
#20 See a West End show
The West End is a vibrant part of central London famous for its top-notch theatres and entertainment hub around Covent Garden and Leicester Square. From musicals, to classic plays or stand-up comedy the West End has it all. The Book of Mormon is my favourite musical of all time but if you want something British seeing you’re in London Billy Elliot is an excellent choice. Book a an early dinner at Nopi in Soho before the show or if you’re peckish afterwards there are plenty of late night dinner spots in the area. You can find last minute tickets at TKTS.
My opinion is, and will always be, my own. The Portmanteau Press only includes content that aligns with the aesthetic, standard and values of the brand.