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Round-the-clock entertainment and classic British landmarks are but a couple of mesmerizing London’s fortes.
London expert Bryony Holland takes you on an inside trip around the city.
Beat the crowds to the cobbled courtyards of Covent Garden, watching the city slowly spring into life. Bolt your eyes wide open with a cup of steaming, aromatic chai in Dishoom (12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, 020 7420 9320) from 8am. This Bombay-style café serves Parsi and Indian breakfast staples such as Akuri (spiced scrambled eggs) with plump pau buns, fiery chicken keema, and fusion dishes including bacon and sausage naan rolls. Alternatlively, skip across continents to Lima Floral (14 Garrick Street, 020 7240 5778) and kickstart your day the Latino way from 8:30am. Peruvian food has crashed onto the London food scene in a big way and this youthful restaurant is bagging rave reviews. If you’re after something more traditional, head to The Delaunay (55 Aldwych, 020 7499 8558) for a full English or an oatmeal soufflé. For New York-style pancakes, hit Balthazar (4-6 Russell Street, 020 3301 1155) from 7:30am.
Weave between the mime artists and acrobats in the Piazza and head to Neal’s Yard, home of legendary beauty shop Neal’s Yard Remedies (15 Neal’s Yard, 020 7379 7222) and cheesemaker Neal’s Yard Dairy (17 Shorts Gardens, 020 7240 5700). Check out the left-field jewellery of Tatty Devine (44 Monmouth Street, 020 7836 2685) and get lost amidst travel books at Stanfords (12 - 14 Long Acre 0207 836 1321). Next, head to the London Film Museum (45 Wellington Street, 0207 836 4913) and see the largest collection of original James Bond vehicles. Alternatively, take a 75-minute tour of the Royal Opera House (Bow Street, 020 7304 4000). This behind-the-scenes peek into the famous venue will let you in on life as part of the Royal Ballet or Royal Opera. It’s a working theatre, so each tour is totally unique and you may even be lucky enough to see rehearsals.
Stroll along The Strand towards Somerset House (Strand, 020 7845 4600), popping into The Savoy Hotel (91-92 Strand, 020 7836 4343) for a whisk around the Savoy Museum, showcasing pieces from its famous guests over the decades. At Somerset House, skate (or wobble) across the pop-up ice rink in winter and explore the Courtauld Gallery (Strand, 020 7848 2526), packed with Gaugins, Monets and Van Goghs. Alternatively, on Friday mornings at 11am, there’s a 90-minute ‘Shakespeare in the City Tour’ (www.shakespeareguide.com, 07905746733), that spans secret spots associated with the Bard. Afterwards, hop on the Tube from Temple to Tower Hill, skirting the Tower of London to arrive on Tower Bridge. Here, venture into the Tower Bridge Exhibition (Tower Bridge Road, 020 7403 3761), see the science behind the famous bridge and take a dizzying walk along the glass-bottomed, high-level walkway.
Get ready to run a gourmet gauntlet. If it’s a weekend, continue southwards along Tower Bridge Road to Maltby Street Market (Ropewalk), and find lively traders in full swing under the railway arches of Ropewalk. It’s cheaper and edgier than nearby Borough Market, which throbs with upmarket foodie hoards. On Saturdays, try a boutique tasting of Jensen’s Gin from the Bermondsey Distillery (55 Stanworth Street, 020 7237 1500) or step back in time with a sip of Gosnells London Mead (Ropewalk). For lunch, escape into Bar Tozino (Ropewalk), London’s first and only Jamón Bodega, serving authentic tapas amid hanging Iberico hams. Alternatively, spice things up at African Volcano (Ropewalk) with a blazing burger or pulled pork peri peri bun. For dessert, grab a dangerously good salted caramel brownie from Bad Brownie (Ropewalk). On a weekday, sample the playful creations of Restaurant Story (199 Tooley Street, 020 7183 2117), where chef Tom Sellers’ boundary-pushing dishes based on children’s books have won him a Michelin star. For something fresh and speedy, skip over to sushi mecca Wawa (173 Tower Bridge, Street 020 3417 9862) to lunch on langoustine rolls.
Walk off lunch with a meander along Bermondsey Street, home to trendy boutiques and independent shops or head to the brightly coloured Fashion and Textile Museum (83 Bermondsey Street, 020 7407 8664) for a sartorial fix. If you’re up for a challenge, disappear into the Escape Rooms (134 Tooley Street, 020 7403 7179) for a brain-busting interactive game. Once the door locks, you’ll have just one hour to solve mind-bending puzzles and escape a themed chamber. It’s popular, so book in advance. Delve into London’s eye-opening medical history at the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret (9a St. Thomas St, 0207 188 2679), found in the roof space of an English Baroque Church next to London Bridge. Next, turn your sights skyward to watch the light bounce off Renzo Piano’s glass masterpiece, The Shard, rising majestically near London Bridge station.
Take the Jubilee Line north to Baker Street, home to master detective Sherlock Holmes. Learn more at The Sherlock Holmes Museum (221b Baker Street, 020 7224 3688) before taking a turn around the lake in peaceful Regent’s Park. Art buffs should make a beeline for the Wallace Collection (Hertford House, Manchester Square, 020 7563 9500). If you’re in shopping mode, head instead to Alfies Antique Market (13-25 Church Street, 020 7723 6066), an arcade housing 20 independent dealers stocking everything from jewellery to retro furniture. On a Saturday, make your way to Cabbages and Frocks, a cheery vintage market held in the grounds of Marylebone Parish Church (Marylebone High Street, 020 7794 1636). No visit to the area would be complete without dropping into Edwardian bookshop Daunt Books (83 Marylebone High Street, 020 7224 2295), with its atmospheric oak bookshelves and galleries. If you’re flagging, pick yourself up with a theatrical cocktail in the vaulted basement of Purl (50 Blandford Street 020 7935 0835), one of London’s first - and best - speakeasy-style bars.
Soak up more of Marylebone’s village-like atmosphere by staying for dinner. Hobnob with the celebrity regulars and set your taste buds alight at the Chiltern Firehouse (1 Chiltern St, 020 7073 7676), one of London’s hottest hangouts. Home to the Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes, it’s hard to book but worth the effort. Alternaively, feast at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe (66 Baker Street, 020 7935 4007), regularly billed as London’s best French restaurant. For less frills and more fun, grab a burger or chilli dog at Meat Liquor (74 Welbeck Street, 020 7224 4239) where meals arrive with added attitude. For something a little different, try homely Peruvian outpost Pachamama (18 Thayer Street, 020 7935 9393), a basement venue mixing Latin sounds with punchy sharing dishes with pisco cocktails from its fabulous reclaimed wood bar. Order some tongue-tingling sea bass ceviche with samphire and don’t miss the moreish lomo saltado (ribeye).
After dinner, take a short Tube ride to Angel, where you’ll emerge on Upper Street. Here, you’ll find all manner of options for a quiet or lively end to the night. If you’re looking for somewhere intimate, the self-styled “bar with no name” (69 Colebrooke Row, 075 4052 8593) should do the trick. With a distinct film noir feel, this broody venue can be found by the lantern dangling outside. The Elk in the Woods (37 Camden Passage, 020 7226 3535) feels like a cabin in the high Canadian rockies, while local favourite The Joker of Penton Street is a first-rate British boozer (58 Penton St, 020 7837 3891).
If you’re just getting started, step into The London Cocktail Club (108 Essex Road, 020 7580 1960) Angel’s hedonistic new speakeasy. Expect to dodge swinging lights as the bar staff are set on fire. Yes really. End your night dancing with wild abandon to world DJs and edgy live music at Barrio North (45 Essex Road, 020 7749 3940).