One of the most multicultural cities in the world, London’s cosmopolitan sprawl both enchants and bewilders newcomers. Instead of trying to see the whole city in one fell swoop – and spending your entire day travelling on the Tube – focus on exploring the city’s markedly different boroughs one at a time. From the creamy splendor of grade II-listed terraces set on tree-lined streets in the southwest, to the iconic West End with its Soho haunts, to the fashion-able grittiness of East London’s converted warehouses, the only certainty in Britain’s capital is that you’ll never run out of things to do.
1/8 The National Gallery is one of the many fabulous museums in London with free admission
2/8 Wander through Covent Garden’s bustling array of boutiques, coffee shops and street performers
3/8 Take the Tube over to London’s trendy East End, and enjoy an afternoon of eclectic street art and canal-side strolls
4/8 Roast duck and other succulent meats cooked in the Chinese style are popular with locals in London Photo: Mike Kemp - In Pictures/Corbis/IC
5/8 Oxford Circus is perfect for a spot of late night shopping Photo: Alamy/Argusphoto
6/8 Join the largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia Photo: Getty Images
7/8 West London boasts gorgeous Edwardian architecture and quiet, leafy streets
8/8 Make like a local and tuck into a plate of fish and chips with mushy peas
Things to do
We've chosen the must-see highlights of this fantastic city.
Things to do
We've chosen the must-see highlights of this fantastic city.
One of the largest parks in London, Hyde Park is also the most stately. Snaking past Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace, it was originally created as a hunting ground for King Henry VIII. These days, it’s the perfect spot for cyclists, pedestrians and picnickers to enjoy the grand 350 acre expanse. In the centre of the park, the Serpentine Pavilion showcases some of the most innovative examples of architectural experimentation, contrasting daring modern design against its surroundings’ storied history. And for those who assume London in winter is dreary, think again – the annual Winter Wonderland fills Hyde Park with fairground rides, circus shows, an open-air ice rink, and a German-style Christmas market.
Heritage watering holes
Open since 1914, The French House is one of Soho’s most storied drinking spots. Renowned for its popularity amongst aristocrats, artists and bohemians, the characterful, crowded pub boasts Charles de Gaulle and Francis Bacon as former patrons. Gordon’s Wine Bar is another treasured watering hole with a lot of secrets to share so order a cheeseboard to your candlelit table and soak up the intimate atmosphere. Over in Belgravia, The Star Tavern has always provided haven for the city’s wealthiest, but it more recently rose to infamy after the Great Train Robbers plotted their legendary heist in an upstairs room. Now, its scandalous days seem to be over - but it’s always worth keeping an eye on the clientele.
The South Bank
A 135m-high ferris wheel perched on the banks of the Thames, the London Eye is one of the UK’s most beloved tourist attractions. Critically acclaimed by architects and engineers alike, the London Eye’s enclosed capsules promise dramatic views across the capital during the 30-minute ride. Afterwards, explore Southbank, a narrow strip of land adjoining the river that has burgeoned into a lively arts and entertainment hub. Culture junkies can find art galleries, an IMAX cinema, the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall within an 800m stretch.
The best brunch spots
A favourite of the fashion crowd, Bistrotheque’s elegant weekend brunch serves up potent cock-tails and delicious dishes in a converted factory. If brunch goes hand-in-hand with booze for you, it’s worth heading to The Modern Pantry, where a tempting deal on unlimited prosecco means that their tasty brunch can be washed down with a glass (or four) of bubbly. For those who simp-ly must have stunning views with their scrambled eggs, Duck and Waffle’s 40th-floor location promises breathtaking panoramas of the capital while Australian celebrity chef Bill Granger serves up some of the best breakfasts in town at Granger & Co, miso porridge and jasmine tea smoked salmon sitting alongside more traditional brunch staples.
Fabled as the second oldest restaurant in London, Scott’s has been a stalwart on the fine dining scene since 1851. But don’t let its heavyweight historic credentials fool you – this seafood restau-rant oozes as much style and charisma as its celebrity clientele. A marble-topped crustacea bar dominates the Art Deco-inspired interior, setting the scene for a lavish menu that includes oys-ters, caviar, and lobster. Keep an eye on the other patrons: supermodel Kate Moss dines here regularly, as do many Hollywood stars passing through the capital.
Pizza Pilgrim’s metamorphosis from gourmet food truck to wildly successful restaurant chain proves the power of good pizza. Owned by the food-obsessed Elliot brothers – who took a 4,500km culinary pilgrimage around Italy prior to launching their business – the result is a mouth-watering tribute to Neapolitan pizza. Now boasting five restaurants across central London, including their inaugural location on Dean Street, it’s easy to grab a sunny slice of the Mediterranean.
The coolest spots in East London
Columbia Road may now be a bourgeois enclave of dainty terraced houses and independent boutiques, but Cockney vendors still shout with gusto during the weekly flower market. Every Sunday, this normally genteel street is transformed as stalls overflow with riotous displays of seasonal flowers and plants. A short walk away, the chic Boundary hotel attracts a well-heeled crowd, its moodily-lit basement housing an atmospheric French restaurant and sultry cocktail bar while a rooftop bar boasts an open-pit fireplace and hot cocktails. On the same road sits Monologue, a stylish concept store that stocks furniture, lighting, cushions, candleholders, and cult Australian beauty brand Aesop.
A Michelin-starred dim sum teahouse owned by restauranteur Alan Yau (who singlehandedly redefined Chinese dining with Hakasan, another Michelin-starred masterpiece), Yautcha has tickled tastebuds since it opened in 2004. In the sleek basement dining room, an all-day dim sum menu puts a modern spin on traditional delicacies; upstairs, exquisite cakes and softly colored macarons are best enjoyed with a pot of tea.
Immortalized forever in the Hugh Grant rom-com Notting Hill, Portobello Road was a firm favourite with local residents long before the film came out. Running nearly the length of the Notting Hill neighborhood, the road promises some of the most diverse shopping in London, with high-end, glamorous boutiques sitting alongside cheap-and-cheerful clothing stores. Brightly coloured townhouses, vintage clothing stalls, and a renowned antiques market add to its chaotic, bohemian charm.
The famous wood-fired Peking duck holds court here, but other gastronomic delights at this elegant eatery include a whole lobster lathered with garlic and chilli. The delicate xiaolongbao - a steamed Shanghainese dumplings whose delicate skin burst open with meaty jus - is worth ordering, as are the egg custard buns for a sweeter touch. Only the restaurant’s expansive views across Kensington Gardens can momentarily distract patrons from the dinner on their plates.
The capital’s best cheap and cheerful Cantonese
Drawing crowds of diners from as far afield as Hong Kong, the Cantonese meats at Gold Mine are certainly worthy of such a long journey. Their succulent roast duck is always a crowdpleaser, although the vegetable dishes also pack an impressively flavoursome punch. At Phoenix Palace, look past the sombre wood panelling and retro-Chinoiserie decor to enjoy an expertly prepared meal that includes fried beef noodles, pork dumplings and an extensive dim sum menu. Their tang yuan (glutinous rice balls filled with sesame paste) are rumoured to be among the best in town.
Just opposite the perennially packed Royal China, Bright Courtyard adds spice to Marylebone’s upmarket dining scene. This Shanghainese institution’s contemporary decor contrasts with the authenticity of its cuisine, its battered king prawns, crispy smoked chicken, and dainty dim sum proving just as good as their Cantonese rival across the road.
China Tang at The Dorchester
China Tang’s exquisite Art Deco interior is just the first of many delights in store for its diners. The supremely confident Cantonese menu include an indulgent Peking duck, roast pigeon and soft shell crab fried with egg yolk while an equally sophisticated bar serves up eye-wateringly expensive cocktails, some of which nod to Chinese flavours.
London’s unmissable department stores
Fashion is a multi-billion-dollar industry for the UK so it’s little surprise that London’s shops are unparalleled. Dover Street Market, a retail space opened by Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo, is as daring and experimental as you’d imagine. The designers stocked – from Balenciaga to Vetements – are reason itself to visit, as is the concept store’s striking displays. For the more traditionally minded, Liberty is the grand dame of department stores. A Tudor-revival building on Regent Street, it’s an elegant home for all manner of luxury goods, including perfumes, cosmetics, and jewelry. Then there’s Selfridges, a high-end department store whose infamous window displays, bold yellow branding, and comprehensive range of the latest designer collections have enticed shoppers for more than a century.
Iconic arts and culture
Housed in the hulking Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern is Britain’s most distinguished modern art gallery. With a permanent collection of some of the finest contemporary art, the vast space also has a number of temporary exhibitions, as well as performances, lectures, and interactive events. Sate your craving for culture, then wander across the infamous Millennium Bridge, a steel suspension bridge that caused uproar when it was inaugurated in 2000 and then promptly forced to close two days later after it swayed while pedestrians crossed it. These days, it’s a stunning (and safe) spot to enjoy sweeping views across the River Thames. From there, walk on to the Globe Theatre, a cleverly reconstructed Elizabethan playhouse that produces Shakespeare’s masterpieces in its open air amphitheatre.