The second in our new City Guide series, this travel guide to London features the most pertinent information about the area. Use the menu below to jump among sections for suggestions on where to stay, insider tips, restaurant recommendations and more.
London remains one of the world’s most dynamic and cosmopolitan cities, despite the calamities that have recently befallen the financial world, on which its economy is heavily reliant. Although London is a place of pageantry and tradition, it is also a fashion capital and a major center for contemporary art.
The quality and variety of the city’s restaurants is astonishing, with recent years having seen a robust revival of authentic British cuisine.
When to visit, tastemaker tips and what to do in London.
The British capital is at its best from mid-April, when the parks and squares burst into bloom, until early July and the conclusion of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. We also love the lead-up to Christmas, when the city is ablaze with lights and great department stores such as Harrods are thronged with shoppers. Despite the rain and the dark afternoons, for the first three weeks of December, London is in a festive mood.
Want to experience London like an insider? Follow these tips from notable individuals in the travel, design, food, fashion and hospitality industry.
Andrew Harper, Editor in Chief of The Hideaway Report, Andrew Harper Travel
A quarter of a century ago, London had few high-rise buildings and St. Paul’s Cathedral was a dominant presence on the city’s skyline, as it had been since the beginning of the 18th century. In the past 20 years, however, London’s financial district and certain sections of the South Bank have sprouted dozens of glass-and-steel towers. The latest addition is Renzo Piano’s The Shard, a 1,004-foot skyscraper overlooking London Bridge. Currently the tallest building in the European Union, The Shard contains a Shangri-La hotel, plus a viewing gallery and open-air observation deck on the 72nd floor, at a height of 802 feet.
Christine Hodder, General Manager, The Stafford London Preferred
[A perfect day in London consists of] a spa treatment and leisurely lunch spent reading the papers and magazines, followed by a walk in Richmond Park and theatre.
John Andrews, Head Concierge, The Goring
For me, when it comes down to music, London is synonymous with the Proms. But we have it all, from classical to rock and everything in between. London is spoilt for choice when it comes to music events. To name but a few of the best: Hyde Park Concerts (pop/rock), the Proms (classical), o2 (pop/rock) and Ronnie Scott’s (jazz/blues).
London can boast an unusually large number of fine smaller hotels, many of which offer refined comfort, high levels of personal service and exceptionally welcoming atmospheres. Some are to be found in the townhouses that line the city’s idyllic garden squares. Tim and Kit Kemp’s Firmdale group has contributed enormously to the capital’s hotel scene, and all of its eight properties have merits. When obliged to choose, our vote goes to Covent Garden Hotel, duly listed below.
Although the London restaurant scene is remarkably international — scarcely a country is unrepresented — the revival of authentic British cuisine continues, most conspicuously at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park restaurant. There, avant-garde chef Heston Blumenthal — who made his three-star reputation at The Fat Duck in Bray, a village on the Thames west of London — presents traditional British recipes inspired by meticulous historical research. Dinner now boasts two Michelin stars.
Conveniently located in St. James’s, this traditional English seafood house is just the place to sample indigenous pleasures such as Loch Ryan oysters, smoked Scottish salmon, Dorset crab, and grilled Dover sole with Hollandaise sauce. It has a nice selection of wines by the glass. Closed Sundays.
Chef Mark Hix’s place in Soho is perfect for a pre- or post-theater meal. The kitchen works exclusively with British-sourced produce, as seen in dishes such as house-smoked salmon with Corrigan’s soda bread, followed by grilled lemon sole with Hollandaise, or hanger steak with baked bone marrow.
"Although the London restaurant scene is remarkably international, the revival of authentic British cuisine continues."
It is always a pleasure to feast on a first-rate catch of the day at this Victorian-style seafood house in Covent Garden (which also makes it ideal for pre- or post-theater dining), with its softly lit, wood-paneled décor. Look for English classics such as potted shrimp, and fish pie.
Off the beaten track near the Smithfield meat market in East London, chef Fergus Henderson’s restaurant serves sustaining traditional English food. You might start with the roasted marrow bones and parsley salad, a house classic; then try one of the superb variations of beef — or maybe the skate or sole. Don’t miss the currant-filled Eccles cake or the treacle tart for dessert. Closed Sunday dinner.
A legendary seafood restaurant since 1851, this was a particular favorite of 007 creator Ian Fleming and allegedly is the place where he discovered that martinis were better “shaken, not stirred.” A 10-foot-long display of crustacea includes a wonderful selection of oysters. The smoked fish is marvelous, and for main courses, watch for delicious dishes such as smoked haddock with Colcannon potatoes, poached egg and mustard; or slip soles with seaweed butter and cockles.
Things to do while in London, including favorite shops and museums, as told by editor-in-chief, Andrew Harper.
One of my favorite London shops is Floris, a bespoke perfume store and an invaluable source of gifts for women. Sometimes, I also indulge in the "No. 89" aftershave, the preferred fragrance of James Bond.
London’s independent bookshops have found life difficult in the age of Amazon. Fortunately, many remain in business, though doubtless with their profit margins reduced. Among my favorites is Daunt Books, which contains the finest selection of travel literature I have ever encountered.
One of the world’s best martinis is served at DUKES Bar in DUKES Hotel. With the ritual care of a Zen tea master, Alessandro Palazzi creates a perfect dry cocktail adorned with a graceful curl of lemon zest.
The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts — universally known as “The Proms” — are an eight-week summer season of classical music. More than 100 events were planned in 2015, a majority being staged in the Royal Albert Hall. Up to 1,400 tickets are sold each evening. At any season of the year, London stages chamber music recitals in a number of more intimate venues. One of our favorites is the Wigmore Hall, located just 15 minutes’ walk from either Claridge’s or The Connaught. Our other favorite setting for chamber music is St. John’s Smith Square, close to the Houses of Parliament.
London’s art scene was revolutionized by the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, housed within the vast former Bankside Power Station. After a visit, I like to take the 15-minute trip along the Thames aboard the Tate Boat to Tate Britain, London’s principal collection of British art, which contains major works by Turner, Constable and Gainsborough, as well as those by contemporary masters such as Henry Moore and Francis Bacon.
Want to learn more about travel to London? Read our in-depth articles from The Harper Way, The Hideaway Report and Traveler Magazine on topics such as shopping, food, wine, art, culture and more.
Stay tuned for more from our City Guide series, detailing what to do, eat, see and where to stay in Andrew Harper's favorite cities around the world.