Overflowing with history and cultural attractions, London remains a stalwart on travel bucket lists. Its success is largely due to its masterful balancing of grandly royal sites with hidden hipster hangouts.
Where to Stay
Photo courtesy The Goring
If you love the Royal Family: The Goring
Near Buckingham Palace, The Goring is the only hotel in the world with a Royal Warrant—a designation awarded to businesses that supply goods or services to the sovereign—and it is where Kate Middleton stayed the night before her wedding to Prince William. It’s elegant, yet effortlessly comfortable.
Soho’s Ham Yard Hotel occupies prime real estate in London’s theatre district; the hotel’s 91 rooms, 13 boutiques, restaurant and bar wrap around a lush inner courtyard. The vibrant decor is inspired by interior designer Kit Kemp’s travels: spot the driftwood crocodiles in the bowling alley or the alabaster chandeliers from India.
The Hoxton, Shoreditch is nestled among some of the city’s trendiest gastropubs, hipster coffee shops and tastiest noodle bars. The 210 rooms are comfortable and range in size from “shoebox” to “roomy,” while the onsite Hoxton Grill is open late and attracts locals and tourists to its tables.
citizenM mixes luxury with affordability and convenience—you can’t get more central in the city than the Tower Hill area. Stay in bed and take in the views from the wall-to-wall windows of the historic Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Wi-Fi is free and the rooms come with tablet-controlled blinds, temperature and lighting.
What to Do
Photo courtesy The Ginger Pig
If you love the Royal Family: Tour Buckingham Palace
Wander through the Buckingham Palace State Rooms to see how the Royals entertain. Highlights of the self-guided tour include the Throne Room, Picture Gallery—with some of the best paintings in the Royal Collection—and the Ballroom. The palace is open on select dates throughout the year.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the world’s leading art and design institutions—don’t miss Dale Chihuly’s mesmerizing blue-green blown-glass chandelier in the lobby. The V&A hosts after-hours events, including the monthly (and free) Friday Late series with performances, installations, debates and DJs.
Stroll through Borough Market for street eats, artisanal products and passionate food vendors. Sign up online for the Ginger Pig’s butchery classes and pick up a new skill while learning about where your meat comes from; a casual meal of local foodstuffs—like cheese, pies and pâté—is included.
Many of London’s museums house world-class collections and are completely free. The British Museum is a time capsule of human history, with relics that include the Rosetta Stone. Tate Modern, an art gallery in a converted power station, has some of the best city views from its top floor viewing platform.
Where to Eat
Photo courtesy Yum Bun
Didn’t receive an invite for tea from the Queen? Then head to The Ritz London for your afternoon tea instead. This British high-society institution is opulent beyond compare. The traditional spread includes neatly cut, crust-less sandwiches, scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserve and pastries.
If you love the arts: sketch
A quirky, multi-room destination for food, art, music and creative cross-pollination, sketch’s five eclectic spaces feel like you are journeying into Alice’s Wonderland. The Gallery (dining room) is outfitted with pink banquettes and unique artwork, while The Glade features a decoupage forest and is the perfect spot to sip a cocktail.
For all London’s Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s the grungy, loud, intensely flavourful spots that experienced foodies prefer, like Smoking Goat in Shoreditch. Once a beloved dive bar, it’s reopened as a packed, noisy restaurant serving up bold Thai barbecue dishes such as duck laab—a kind of meat salad.
If you’re on a budget: Dinerama
Dinerama is a street food and drink market that’s worth queuing for. Pick up a satisfying fluffy steamed bun at Yum Bun (try the pork) or the loaded jackfruit nachos from Club Mexicana. Wash it down with a pineapple daiquiri from Dick’s Magic Tiki Bar and sit back for some unparalleled people watching.
[This story appears in the December 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]