According to the 18th century writer Samuel Johnson, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’. There are many global cities, but few can match London’s diversity, character, and cultural significance. Considering its millennia of history it’s no surprise that the United Kingdom’s capital is a glorious clash of cultures and contradiction. The world’s most eclectic shopping destinations, world-class theatres and galleries, enough trees in its magnificent parks to meet the UN definition of a forest – London has it all and then some. So much has been said, written and sung about the Big Smoke over the centuries, but we want to steer you away from Big Ben and show you some sights that are only familiar to the locals…
Brits may be famous for their addiction to tea, but in recent decades they’ve finally embraced coffee culture – and you’re going to need a hit before you take on the bustle of Oxford Street. In the heart of Fitzrovia, a former Victorian toilet (yes, toilet) has been lovingly transformed into one of London’s top brunch cafes. If you’re into unique coffee experiences, it doesn’t get much more memorable than this compact subterranean spot.
- The Attendant – 27A Foley Street, W1W. Nearest tube Goodge St.
The Ham Yard Hotel feels like a chic country retreat, but it can be found tucked away just behind Shaftesbury Avenue. The art-filled hotel boasts a leafy roof top garden, fashion-forward interiors by Kit Kemp, and an original 1950s bowling alley. Ham Yard itself is a tree-filled ‘village’ dotted with independent boutiques, featuring a bronze sculpture centrepiece by Tony Cragg. A real gem, right in the heart of Soho.
- The Ham Yard Hotel – 1 Ham Yard, W1. Nearest tube Piccadilly Circus.
A River Runs Through It
The Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe, St Paul’s Cathedral – some of London’s most famous buildings lie along the river Thames. If you’re more of a thrill seeker than a sight-seer but you still need to cross some landmarks off your list, why not avoid the crowds and get a little action in the process? Whether you feel like exploring the canals and waterways of Little Venice or zipping under the iconic Tower Bridge, this is the way to see London from a perspective most tourists won’t experience.
Oyster? I Hardly Know Her!
This Hoxton Hotel is not, crucially, in Hoxton, but in Southwark, just south of the river. Its 14th floor has some of the best panoramic views of London from its floor to ceiling windows – not to mention one of the best seafood restaurants, Seabird. A joint venture from Joshua Boissy and Krystof Zizka of Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere, Seabird has London’s longest oyster list and an impressive marble raw bar. The building is new, but the dining experience feels timeless, and the décor is as fresh as the fish.
- The Hoxton, Southwark, 40 Blackfriars Road, London SE1. Nearest tube Borough.
Digging for Gold
Notting Hill has a rich and tumultuous cultural history even by London’s standards. For over a century its famous Portobello Road has attracted eclectic crowds from all over the world, and inspired artists from George Orwell to Stella McCartney. After spending the afternoon rummaging for antique treasures in the legendary market, treat yourself to some Gold, an informal restaurant specialising in seasonal plates cooked in wood ovens and served to share. This spacious neighbourhood favourite feels laid-back and local, and the bar is open until late.
- Gold – 95-97 Portobello Rd, W11. Nearest tube Notting Hill Gate.
Courtesy of Gold
Curious in Chelsea
If you really want to marvel at some truly stunning architecture in a (relatively) tourist-free area, stroll down to Chelsea Physic Garden. Just a moment’s walk from one of the most picturesque stretches of the Thames, the Garden was first established in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, and it’s difficult to overstate its botanical beauty. Literature fans can spot the commemorative ‘blue plaque’ outside Oscar Wilde’s former townhouse just a few streets away, and one of London’s least well-known but most remarkable green spaces, Battersea Park, is just across the river.
- Chelsea Physic Garden – 66 Royal Hospital Rd, SW3. Nearest tube Sloane Square.
Not all of London’s most exciting neighbourhoods are hundreds of years old. There was an explosion of regeneration in East London’s Stratford when it became the focal point of the Olympics in 2012, and the legacy lives on. Sports fans can swim in the Aquatic Centre and discover the parklands by bike, before dining al fresco at Here East along the canal. It’s a city within a city, and the regeneration never ends – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, the London College of Fashion, and the V&A Museum are all set to open new venues in the area from 2022. Oh, and there’s also Westfield, which just happens to be the largest shopping centre in Europe.
- Queen Elizabeth Park, Stratford, E15. Nearest tube Stratford.
Last but by no Means Least
If you’re looking for an elegant memento to remember London by or need a gift for someone special, save enough energy to visit the TAG Heuer Boutique in Oxford Street.
- TAG Heuer Boutique – 449 Oxford Street, W1C 2PR. Nearest tube Oxford Street.
TAG Heuer Boutique London