One disadvantage to London’s overwhelming choice of sights, attractions, restaurants, bars, museums and galleries is that you need about a month to be able to fit everything in. As nice as that would be, the practicality is that few people can devote that amount of time to exploring one city, so London breaks mean being extremely picky. To help you make the most of a short trip, we’ve distilled your options down to the best of the best.
There’s so much to do in the capital that you’d need to come back every weekend just to fit it all in.
Where to stay
London has one of the best urban transport systems in the world, which makes it a little less essential to be right bang in the middle of the city. That said, the more you can reduce having to wrestle your way onto the Northern Line at rush hour, the better. Even in central London, there are plenty of great areas, but a lot depends on what you’re planning to do. If museums and galleries are top of your list, stick to the west of the city within easy reach of South Kensington, home to the V&A, The Natural History Museum, The Science Museum and more. If you’re planning on a weekend of big nights on the town, you’ll want to be closer to Shoreditch to the east of the city. That will put you within stumbling distance (or a short bus or Overground journey) of the great pubs, clubs, bars and venues from Hoxton to Dalston. The Overground will soon be running late at weekends, making navigating the East End much easier.
Where to eat
Entire books have been written on this topic. Mostly, it depends on your taste and your budget, but there’s plenty for everyone. Higher end options range from London institutions such as Scott’s, The Wolseley (both Mayfair) and The Ivy (Covent Garden) to newer spots such as Gymkhana and Murano (both Mayfair). For something a little less draining on your wallet, there’s an advantage to the “no reservations” set in that the length of the queue gives you an idea as to how good (or popular) a restaurant is. For the most popular (Bao, Dishoom, Padella), either get there early or bring a good book. Street food is also in rude health in the capital. To expand your horizons and your options, head to Borough Market (near London Bridge), Brixton Village (Brixton), Boxpark (Shoreditch and East Croydon), Camden Stables (Camden) or Mercado Metropolitano (Elephant & Castle).
Where to drink
London’s got over 3,500 pubs and bars, so you won’t struggle to find somewhere. If it’s cocktails you’re after, you’ll find some of the most wildly inventive bars in London. The likes of Dandelyan (South Bank), Peg + Patriot, Satan’s Whiskers (both Bethnal Green) and Bar Termini (Soho) offer a hell of a lot more than a weak mojito. The latter was Time Out magazine’s number one cocktail bar in London, which is a resounding endorsement. But if you want something a bit more pubbish, the choices are similarly superb. Soho pubs tend to be packed at the best of the times, but the ones that are worth braving the crowds for are The French House, The Crown & Two Chairmen and The Lyric.
Out east, there are some great options in The Crown & Shuttle (complete with enormous beer garden and its own burger van), The Golden Heart or The Water Poet. If you want some history with your pint, head north to The Spaniards Inn (Hampstead Heath), one of London’s oldest pubs and one that even gets a namedrop in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Legend has it that the ghost of highwayman Dick Turpin appeared here.
What to see
There are the standard London attractions that need no introductions (The Millennium Eye, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc) but there are a lot that get overlooked too. The Millennium Eye is an excellent way to get a view over the whole city, but for more vertigo-inducing views, head to the viewing platform at The Shard. Aside from the big-name museums, there are some truly excellent lesser known ones that are well worth seeking out, particularly the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton ¬– which takes you on a journey through replicas of rooms from the 1600s to the present day – and Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, a fascinating time capsule of London life that has to be seen to be truly appreciated.
If you’ve got little ones in tow, reward them for all their patience in shops and galleries with a trip to Hackney City Farm to meet some animals up close. Or you could treat them to a day as a zoo keeper at London Zoo. If you’ve got any dinosaur enthusiasts in the family, spend the night at one of the Natural History Museum’s Dino Snores nights, where you get to snuggle up next to a T-Rex skeleton and spend your own Night At The Museum (minus Ben Stiller). Or take them for some gruesome treats at Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, a shop set up by Nick Hornby that sells “thickest human snot”, “cubed ear wax”, “banshee balls” and, most curiously, something called “escalating panic”.