London City Guide

Filed under Destination Guides

by Keith Austin

London Cityscape (VisitLondon)

Ever since William the Conqueror consolidated his victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 with a hefty great castle on the banks of the River Thames, London has been at the epicentre of English life. As Samuel Johnson said in 1777: “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

From the rarified atmosphere of Chelsea and Kensington in the west to the more rough-and-ready charms of Cockney London in the east, the 600 square miles of the British capital do indeed offer all that life can afford.

London today, despite its position as a global financial centre and one of the most diverse, exciting and creative cities in the world, can still be seen as simply a collection of small villages, a patchwork of individual municipalities with their own customs and character.

And the thing that pulls them together and unites them? History: layer upon layer upon layer of history. Here you can stand by a wall built by the Romans and stare up at the gleaming glass spike of The Shard, the newest, soaring addition to the London skyline.

And between the two? A mere 1800 years or so. You’d better get started – there’s a lot to see.

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London Top Ten

  1. Tower of London: Built in 1078 this impressive castle is a 1000-year-old palimpsest on which is written the history of the capital. In its time it’s been a prison, a royal home, an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie and, today, the home of the Crown Jewels. A tour is de rigueur if you want to understand London.
  2. Greenwich: The home of the Cutty Sark tea clipper, the National Maritime Museum and Greenwich Mean Time at the Royal Observatory. The town centre is a pretty collection of Victorian and Georgian buildings with lots of pubs, restaurants and shops. The weekend markets are an interesting mix of arts and crafts and food stalls.
  3. St Paul’s Cathedral: Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece – started in 1675 and finished in 1708 as part of rebuilding work after the Great Fire of London – has long been a symbol of British identity. Check out the acoustics of the Whispering Gallery or head down into the crypt where Wren, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington are buried.
  4. Tower Hamlets, East London: From rags to riches in one generation, this formerly rough borough now houses some of the trendiest areas in Britain. Check out the Sunday morning Columbia Road flower market, the village atmosphere of Shoreditch and the top-notch curries of Brick Lane.
  5. London Eye: This giant Ferris wheel wasn’t much liked when it first opened in March 2000 but Londoners and tourists alike have since taken it to their hearts. This is perhaps because the 30-minute trip in the pod-like glass capsules allows glorious views of London.
  6. Palace of Westminster/Westminster Abbey: Close enough to be lumped in to one visit, these two structures are where London’s history is writ large. Westminster Abbey is a soaring, ethereal hymn to more than 1000 years of history while the neo-gothic pile of the Palace of Westminster is the seat of the UK government. Tours of both are recommended.
  7. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: The centerpiece of the London Olympics in 2012 is now a sprawling, bustling park covering 227 hectares in Stratford, East London. You MUST take your cossie and swim in the amazing Olympic pool.
  8. Thames River boat cruise: See London from the back of a boat along the Thames. There are several companies that provide these tours and most of them operate somewhere between the Thames Barrier out east to Westminster in the west. A great way to see the capital.
  9. Shakespeare’s Globe: Since it opened in 1997 the Globe has become a quintessential London experience. Watching Shakespeare in a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre just 200 metres or so from the original is not to be missed. There are tours but the play’s the thing.
  10. Cittie of Yorke pub: To understand London you must understand the lure of the pub and this is one of London’s finest. First established in 1430 the Cittie has three bars but the best is the cavernous vaulted space at the rear dominated by a series of enormous wine vats. Grab a spot in the intimate wooden ‘snugs’. Cheers!

London Stay

The hotels of London are a wonderful mix of the very old and the very new, of the super-traditional and the uber-funky. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the quirky Mondrian hotel in Southwark and the historic and iconic Savoy, just a 15-minute walk away on The Strand. It’s in the gap between them that London stays.

  1. The Goring, Beeston Place, Belgravia SW1W: Just minutes from Buckingham Palace this grand old Edwardian hotel is awash with opulent country house furnishing and fabrics. Its dining room this year won its first Michelin star. Very family friendly thanks to interconnecting rooms. Do try the excellent afternoon tea.
  2. Hotel 41, 41 Buckingham Palace Rd, Belgravia SW1W: Tucked away above the Rubens Hotel next door, this elegant but small (just 30 rooms) five-star hotel is a classical design joy from the black-and-white lobby to the black-and-white furnishings in the rooms and the exquisite mahogany throughout.
  3. Egerton House Hotel, 17-19 Egerton Terrace, Knightsbridge SW3: Two red-brick Victorian townhouses built in 1843 have been turned into 28 five-star rooms and suites. Just a short walk from Harrods, the V&A and the Natural History Museum. Manages to be luxurious and homely at the same time. Check out the wall art; Matisse anyone?
  4. Langham London, 1C Portland Place, Marylebone W1B: One of the great London luxury hotels the Langham is famed for afternoon teas in the art deco Palm Court, Michel and Albert Roux’s restaurant, Roux at The Landau, and the drinks at its widely acclaimed and award-winning Artesian bar.
  5. The Soho, 4 Richmond Mews, Soho W1D: Chic boutique hotel in an old warehouse in the heart of the theatre district. All the 96 beautifully designed rooms and suites have floor-to-ceiling windows. Stylish, quirky and oddly quiet for so central a location.
  6. No1 The Mansions By Mansley, 219 Earls Court Road, Kensington SW5: Luxury serviced apartments featuring everything from studios to four-bedroom units in an elegant mansion-style building. Fully equipped kitchens and washing machines make it perfect for families with children. Close to Green Park, too.
  7. The Savoy, Strand, London WC2R: Not so much a hotel as a London institution, this opulent 1889 building is littered with lovely Edwardian and art deco touches. Inside all is elegance and luxury and impeccable service. Check out Gordon Ramsay’s Grill and you must have a drink in the American Bar.
  8. Shangri-La at the Shard, 31 St Thomas St, London SE1: Set on floors 34-52 of architect Renzo Piano’s astonishing building it’s all about the views across the city. The inside’s not too shabby either and the glass-walled rooms are beautifully appointed. Book a window table at Gong bar on the 52nd floor bar for sunset.
  9. The Mondrian, 20 Upper Ground, London SE1: With 3D spacemen in the elevator, giant blue anchor chains in the foyer and a 1920s cruise ship ambience, this upmarket boutique hotel is cheeky and quite wonderful. You must experience the subterranean Agua spa, Dandelyan cocktail bar and rooftop Rumpus Room bar.
  10. M by Montcalm, 151-157 City Rd, London EC1V: For those wishing to experience the up-and-coming East End of London – and especially the trendy Hoxton and Shoreditch districts – this chic modern hotel is for you. Be sure to ask for access to the top floor breakfast room.

London Eat

Eating out while travelling is not always about the food – sometimes a simple sandwich somewhere with a view is enough. Here we’ve tried to find choices which combine good food with a classic London experience – everything from standing in a lane licking salt beef juices off your fingers to sitting down to Michelin starred silver service and linen tablecloths.

  1. Pie and mash: For a quintessentially London experience head into East London and try the food of the true Cockney. Minced beef pie with mash potato all smothered in a green parsley liquor. Add salt, pepper and vinegar.  Try Cooke’s in trendy Broadway Market, Hackney.
  2. Michelins: There are two three Michelin starred restaurants in London – Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous 45 seater in Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in Park Lane. Or try the one Michelin star lunch at Fera at Claridges for £39 (about $80).
  3. Gastropubs:  Universally hailed as the first gastropub in London, The Eagle in Farringdon celebrated its 25th anniversary at the start of 2016. There are plenty more now but the original is still as good as ever. Great wine list, good beer, terrific food – and at heart it’s still just a pub.
  4. Curry in Brick Lane:  Long before bearded hipsters opened a cereal café in Brick Lane it was renowned for its curries. Come in from the Whitechapel end and it’s curry house after curry house and everyone has an opinion as to the best. Try no-frills Sheba and you won’t get far wrong.
  5. Beigels in Brick Lane: In the heart of ultra-cool East London, at the other end of Brick Lane from the curry ‘mile’, are two 24-hour beigel shops, a legacy of the former Jewish community. House-made hot salt beef is unceremoniously slapped into a fresh beigel and smeared with mustard. Heaven.
  6. Food market: Pull together a picnic lunch at Borough Market under the railway arches in Southwark. This is a must-do destination for international foodies and non-foodies alike. You’ll find great British meats and cheeses as well as stalls selling artisanal products.
  7. Afternoon tea: The Ritz has served terribly British afternoon tea (smoked salmon and ham finger sandwiches, scones and cakes on a tiered cake stand) since 1906. Impeccable service in the elegant Palm Court, frighteningly formal (chaps must wear a jacket and tie) and not cheap (£52 per person) it’s a great experience.
  8. Food market #2: For the full East London bearded hipster experience go to Broadway Market in Hackney on a Saturday morning. It also helps that the market itself is crammed with goodies, lined with great cafes and pubs, and is a short step away from a picnic-friendly lock on the resurgent Regents Canal.
  9. Thameside eating: Le Pont de la Tour Restaurant at Butler’s Wharf serves perfectly good French food but it’s the location that makes this a dining destination. Get a table on the terrace just before nightfall and watch the floodlights illuminate the great neo-gothic pile of Tower Bridge.
  10. You wish: You’ll have to plan way ahead to snap up a seat in what is the hottest A-list restaurant ticket in town right now. Sexy Fish in Berkeley Square has a Frank Gehry crocodile on the wall, Damien Hirst murals, seriously good food on the plates and prices to match.

London Drink

You could live as long as London’s been around and still not get to the bottom of the number of bars, pubs, breweries and distilleries that the city has to offer. Some come, some go, others, such as the American Bar at The Savoy, become institutions. Here are a few of the best and most interesting. Cheers!

1. Gong: A mere 52 floors above ground level Gong in The Shard is one of London’s highest cocktail bars. You simply MUST try the Black & Blue Swizzle with its perfect combination of Talisker 10 whisky, Stilton cheese, honey and Pedro Ximenez sherry. Book ahead to get a window seat.

2. Beer Mile: On Saturday mornings a bunch of small independent breweries in south London’s Bermondsey area open their doors to the public. If you like craft beer this is nirvana. Don’t pay for a guided tour – it’s easy enough to go it alone. Start at the Fourpure Brewing Co and work north.

3. Mother’s Ruin: There are a burgeoning number of gin joints in London and one of the most popular is the City of London gin distillery and bar not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Take a tour, do a course or simply sip gin in the cool, speakeasy-style Cold Bar.

4. American bar: Walking into the famous American Bar at The Savoy is like stepping back to the 1920s: art deco abounds, photographs of famous guests dot the cream walls while well-presented patrons are served by elegant waiters to a background of live piano jazz. Drink what you like – just being there is the thing.

5. Artesian: Voted the world’s best bar several times, the Artesian in the Langham Hotel is the place to go cocktails of the more unusual variety. Where else would you get Johnnie Walker Gold, chamomile, vetiver, sandalwood and kombucha in one glass?

6. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese: Don’t let the ‘Ye Olde’ bit put you off. The Cheese dates from 1667 so it really is old. It is an atmospheric higgledy-piggledy warren of small bars and basements and cellar bars. Buy a pint, sit in a nook and ponder who sat there before you.

7. Mason & Company: On a canalside in Hackney Wick, just a short triple jump from the 2012 London Olympic site, is the latest venture from Mason & Company – a craft beer-centred bar and kitchen. Joins Crate brewery in this once-neglected area.

8. The Bar at the Athenaeum: This elegant but funky Piccadilly hotel’s art deco bar – just recently renovated, enlarged and cleverly renamed The Bar – stocks more than 300 types of whisky from all over the world.

9. The French House: This iconic pub in Dean Street, Soho, is a magnet for actors, writers, artists and journalists who love its no music, no poker machines, no television and no mobile phones rule. Always full of character and characters happy for a natter.

10. Tom`s Terrace: Out the back of beautiful Somerset House, the huge neo-classical building on The Strand, is an extensive 18th century terrace which, in the summer months, is home to a covered outdoor bar with sweeping views of the Thames.

London Shop

Oxford Street is one of Europe’s most popular shopping streets with more than 500,000 visitors daily. Here, Selfridges, John Lewis and Debenhams rub shoulders with smaller chain stores and cheap souvenir shops. But if a miniature London bus or a Union Jack T-shirt aren’t on your shopping list here are a few other suggestions for a bit of London retail therapy.

1. Regent Street: This elegantly curved street is where you’ll find more upmarket fare than nearby Oxford Street. Hamleys toy store is huge fun, and be sure to check out the mock-Tudor delight of Liberty, just a stone’s throw away in Great Marlborough Street.

2. Harrods: One of the best-known department stores in the world, Harrods sits on a corner in posh Knightsbridge surrounded by other prestigious shops such as Harvey Nichols. Wonderfully over the top and worth a visit for the Food Hall alone.

3. Boxpark: Small but perfectly formed, Boxpark is essentially a series of shipping containers park next to and on top of each other in the heart of East London’s ultra-trendy Shoreditch and filled with independent fashion brands, cafés and pop-up restaurants.

4. Camden Passage: Get a yearning for antiques, vintage clothes and other eclectic paraphernalia? Then this sweet cobblestoned lane in Islington is the place to go. Also home to some of the world’s best waistcoats at the terrific African Waistcoat Company.

5. Camden Market: Hugely popular weekend market clustered around a picturesque canal and lock in north London where you can buy pretty much anything and everything. Popular spot for weird and wonderful T-shirts and those rainbow coloured Doc Martens you’ve always wanted.

6. Bond Street/Mayfair: You might have to take out a new mortgage to shop here but at least you’ll be engaging in some serious retail therapy at Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. Maybe just window shop until your boat comes in.

7. Notting Hill: This is where the world famous Portobello Road Market lives – a whole mile (1.6km) of quirky shops and stalls selling, well, you name it but mostly famous for antiques and collectibles. Said to be the world’s largest antiques market. Gets very busy on weekends.

8. Spitalfields/Brick Lane: The streets once prowled by Jack the Ripper are now home to stalls selling everything from secondhand clothes and beaten-up bicycles to beard oil and Jamaican jerk chicken. Uber-busy on Sundays. Make time for a side trip to nearby Columbia Road flower market.

9. Covent Garden: Packed with trendy shops, arts and crafts vendors and a covered market of stalls flogging souvenir T-shirts, this is a popular tourist destination. The street performers here are excellent. Nearby Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard are worth a look, too.

10. Burlington Arcade: For sheer beauty nothing beats this 180-metre long glazed-roofed pedestrian shopping arcade behind Bond Street. Opened in 1819 it hasn’t changed much since and is still patrolled by top-hatted ‘beadles’ in frockcoats. Famous for fine jewellery and antique silverware. Oh, and an outlet of the wonderful Church’s English shoes.

London Active

There’s no excuse for not staying active in London. There’s plenty of space, after all, with eight royal parks covering 5000 acres – and that’s without counting places such as Hampstead Heath and the ancient woodland of Epping Forest, which straddles the north-east London/Essex border. Failing that, jump on a Boris bike and explore.

1. Parks: London is awash with parks to walk in. Just pick one and go for it. Victoria Park in East London has a boating lake if you want to exercise those arms. More central, Green Park, St James’s Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens form a great green swathe through west London.

2. Canoeing/boating: Moo Canoes in Limehouse Basin and the Milk Float café in Hackney Wick hire out kayaks and canoes. Either explore on your own or take one of their guided tours of the Thames and the nearby canals and waterways.

3. Take a Boris bike out for a spin: Like the Velibs in Paris, this public bike hire scheme has been a huge success. Don’t be put off by the hire terminals – with a credit or bank card it’s really quite easy.

4. London Olympic site: The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London is the biggest urban park in Europe and the largest created in Britain since 1878. Cycle it, swim in the Olympic pool, slide down the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture or just walk around its 227 hectares.

5. Walk the canals: In the past two decades or so the once-neglected canal system in London has been cleaned up and is increasingly popular with walkers and cyclists. One good walk is to follow the Regents Canal from East London all the way to Regents Park.

6. Mudchute farm: This 13-hectare nature reserve on the Isle of Dogs is a natural wilderness hidden in the middle of London. Bosky glades, bridal paths and an inner-city farm. Go if only to experience the sight of alpacas grazing within cooee of Canary Wharf.

7. Jog: If walking’s all a bit too sedate for you then take advantage of one of the many jogging tours of London. Check out City Jogging Tours, Love London Running Tours and Secret London Runs, among others.

8. Skating: Join the baby brother of Paris’s huge Friday night Pari Roller. Departs from Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner every Friday at 8pm. There’s also a more sedate version on Sundays called the Sunday Stroll which leaves from Serpentine Road in Hyde Park at 2pm.

9. Walk the Thames Path: Well, not ALL of it – it’s 296km long from the source of the river near Kemble in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier at Charlton, East London. Maybe do the Richmond-Thames Barrier section, which passes Kew Gardens and Battersea Park. That bit’s just 45km.

10. Shake your booty: Get fit by partying the night away at the Ministry of Sound club in what was a disused bus garage in Gaunt Street, Elephant & Castle. It’s been going since 1991 so it must be doing something right.

Visitors inside The British Museum, London, England (supplied)

London Art

The Hunterian and the Sir John Soane museums face each other across Lincoln’s Inn Fields. One is a collection of medical grotesqueries and the other is the result of one man’s artistic and architectural obsession where original Hogarths hang on special fold-out walls. Go if you can. In the meantime …

1. National Portrait Gallery: This imposing building, facing on to Trafalgar Square (although the entrance is round the side) is full of portraits of historically significant and famous Brits, based on the importance of the sitter not the artist. Not as stuffy as it looks or sounds. Good for a few fascinating hours.

2. Tate Modern: One of the biggest and most exciting museums of modern art in the world the Tate Modern sits on the south bank of the Thames across from St. Paul’s Cathedral. A new extension has just been opened. Free to enter though tickets are needed for temporary exhibitions.

3. Theatre: To pick one venue out of the 40 or so theatres in the West End district would be churlish in an area said to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world. The Palace Theatre is a wonderful building but it is just one of many. Take your pick.

4. Globe Theatre: Tucked away on the Thames not far from the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe is hugely popular so if you’re planning a visit do book ahead. This is the closest you’ll come to seeing the Bard’s plays as they were originally performed.

5. Sadler’s Wells: A world leader in contemporary dance the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in Islington showcases the best of every kind of dance from Bollywood to ballet and beyond to half a million people every year – and has been doing so for more than 300 years.

6. The Royal Opera House: If your artistic tastes run to the more traditional then head for the lovely Royal Opera House (aka Covent Garden), the home of the Royal Opera, the Royal Ballet and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

7. Comedy club: There are many, many comedy clubs in the capital but the daddy of them all is the purpose built Comedy Store in Oxendon Street near Piccadilly Circus. It’s been there forever (well, since 1979) and keeps it standards high. Good for a laugh. Or two.

8. Dingwalls: It’s a hard choice, given the number of excellent live rock music venues such as Electric Ballroom and the Roundhouse, but Dingwalls in Camden has been doing it and doing it well since 1973. It also hosts the weekly Jongleurs comedy club.

9. Cinema: If you prefer to eschew the multiplex then the 107-year-old Rio in Kingsland Road, Dalston, is the place to go. It’s a fiercely independent community cinema with just one screen in a Grade II listed art deco building. Has hosted the annual Turkish Film Festival since 1994.

10. Natural History Museum: Vast, sprawling and full of dinosaurs, there isn’t a schoolkid in London who hasn’t visited this spectacular building. There are 80,000 items inside and it’s free. And did I say there are dinosaurs?  The Science Museum is close by so kill two birds with one stone.

London Diary

It would have to be a pretty big diary to encompass everything that happens in London from month to month so here are a few suggestions to whittle the choices down . Music, design, wine, cocktails, films, books are among the subjects covered. And two hugely popular beer festivals because … well, beer.

1. Lovebox: An increasingly popular two-day music festival held in July each year in Victoria Park, East London. Features an eclectic mix of indie, hip hop, electro and pop music. Past performers have included Lana Del Ray, Grace Jones, Chet Faker, George Clinton and Snoop Dogg.

2. Notting Hill Carnival: Europe’s biggest street festival turns this West London area into a lively Caribbean outpost every year in August. Soca, calypso, reggae and funk fill the air alongside the succulent aroma of Caribbean food stalls. Started in 1964 and they’re still dancing.

3. London Design Festival: Seminars, shows, exhibitions, talks, installations and pop-up events happen all over London as designers from around the world meet in September each year to discuss the future and the philosophies of design.

4. London Wine Week: Headquartered in Devonshire Square, London Wine Week in May spreads out over the city in a series of pop-ups, wine tastings, events, twilight banquets and long lunches. More than 125 bars around the city took part, served £5 Wine Flights to customers wearing the £10 LWW wristband.

5. London Cocktail Week: Like London Wine Week, the Cocktail Week in October is a celebration of the capital’s fantastic cocktail scene. Buy your £10 wristband and it’ll entitle you to discount in participating bars.

6. Great British Beer Festival: Held August 9-13 at Olympia Grand, the GBBF features more than 900 real ales, ciders, perries and international beers. You go, you sup. Simple.

7. London Craft Beer Festival: Should the 900 beers at the GBBF not be enough there’s this little beauty at the Oval Space in Bethnal Green from August 12-14. Music and craft beers from brewers such as Kernel, Beavertown and BrewDog.

8. The London Film Festival: Every year in October the British Film Institute London Film Festival screens more than 300 features, documentaries, shorts, Q&As, masterclasses and workshops from all over the world. This year is its 60th anniversary.

9. The Chelsea Flower Show: Possibly the most famous flower show in the world this Royal Horticultural Society five-day event in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea has been held there since 1912. Highlights include the Floral Marquee and smaller artisan and urban gardens.

10. London Literature Festival: This two-week festival celebrates the printed word at the Southbank Centre in the northern autumn, usually over September/October. Guests have included Hilary Mantel, Stephen Fry, Kate Tempest, John Cooper Clarke, Terry Gilliam and Colm Tóibín.

London Tales

Movie-wise, we could have chosen Richard Curtis’s romantic Notting Hill or Love Actually, both of which make superb use of London as a backdrop, or perhaps Alfie, the 1960s movie with Michael Caine as the lothario bedding his way around the city. Instead we went for crime, criminals, zombies, aliens and dystopian futures. London after Brexit, perhaps?

Our recommended reading list

1. London the biography by Peter Ackroyd.  You might want to skip the bits about the Jurassic period but the later chapters of this penetrating work are perfect for anyone interested in the history of London. Concentrates on the micro – the weather, food, childhood, crime – rather than the macro.

2. A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison. Wonderful old novel from 1896 which depicts the fictional life of one Dicky Perrott, a street urchin growing up in a slum in the Shoreditch area of East London that’s so trendy today. A sort of Oliver Twist for grown-ups.

3. Longitude by Dava Sobel. Absorbing account of a London clockmaker who solves the problem of keeping time on board a ship at sea. Great read if you’re aiming to visit the National Maritime Museum and Greenwich Mean Time at the Royal Observatory.

4. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. Hilarious but affectionate look at Britain (and London) through a young American visitor’s eyes. Explains so much about the British. Bryson followed it up years later with The Road to Little Dribbling, also worth a read if you like a titter.

5. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. This wonderfully frank memoir by Hornby is perfect if you want to understand the British obsession with soccer, especially if you’re in London when the Premier League season is on and want to understand references to the Gooners.

Our recommended watching list.

1. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: Guy Ritchie’s movie is a peek at the dodgy underworld dealings of a bunch of London criminals and conmen. Will help you pick up on the East London accent and includes lots of local colour. There might be the odd bit of swearing, guvnor.

2. Attack the Block: This cheap and cheerful film about a bunch of south London council estate teenagers who fight off an alien invasion was filmed in Brixton and Peckham and is a great insight into modern London. The cast includes John Boyega, now starring as Finn in the new Star Wars movies.

3. 28 Days Later: Not exactly a travel documentary, given it’s about zombies, but London does have a starring role when Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma to find the capital deserted. Westminster, Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade and the London Eye all feature.

4. V for Vendetta: The film that turned the Guy Fawkes mask into a symbol of freedom from tyranny is set in a future London and was filmed in London and Potsdam. The final scene at Westminster saw the area from Trafalgar Square up to Parliament closed for three nights, the first time this had ever happened.

5. Legend: A not very good film featuring a stand-out performance by Tom Hardy as Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the notorious East End gangsters. Makes wonderful use of the actual locations where the Krays hung out, including Pellicci’s café, the greasy spoon that still serves a mean tea and toast today.


London, unlike Paris, simply isn’t a walking city – the main attractions are too far-flung to make it practicable so the Underground is the best way to get around if you have limited time. Make sure you have an Oyster, the all-purpose travel card for getting around the city – especially important on the buses as they no longer take cash.

8am. Londoners aren’t big on breakfast out but for a traditional brekkie try Pellicci’s, a time warp ‘caff’ in Bethnal Green Road, East London. Formica tables, wood panels, art deco touches and great banter. Go the fry-up.

8.30am. Walk up to Shoreditch/Brick Lane and follow the lane towards Whitechapel. Maybe check out the secondhand clothes at Blitz before cutting through Spitalfields market to Liverpool Street station. Catch the train to St Paul’s.

9.30am. Stroll around St Paul’s Cathedral. If queues and time permit, pop in for a quick look. After which, head towards the Thames where the Millennium footbridge leads to the Tate Modern.

10.30am. Explore the Tate for an hour or so. It’s free to enter but you’ll need a ticket for temporary exhibitions.

11.30am. Turn left along the Thames. A 10-minute walk brings you to Borough Market. Explore the goodies. Buy a picnic lunch.

12 noon. Continue along the south side of river to Tower Bridge. Cross it and head to the Tower of London.

12.30pm. Take a self-guided tour of the tower with an audio guide. This is London history writ large and it’s worth lingering for an hour or so.

1.30pm. Train from Tower underground station to Westminster. Admire Churchill’s statue, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey but head to Westminster Pier (by the bridge) and use your Oyster card to buy a ticket to Greenwich.

2pm. Eat Borough Market picnic lunch on boat as it cruises past the major London landmarks on the way to Greenwich.

3pm. Head through Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory and the prime meridian where you can have a foot in east and west at the same time. Depending on time, go in and have look around.

4pm. Catch the train to Knightsbridge for a wander around Harrods. Don’t forget to perve on the sumptuous and rightly famous Food Hall then take the train to London Bridge.

5.30pm. Gong is one of London’s highest cocktail bars, a mere 52 floors up in the great gleaming spire of The Shard. Book ahead to get a window seat at sunset.

7.30pm. In the shadow of The Shard is the George pub, the only surviving galleried coaching inn in London. There’s been a pub here since medieval times but the current building ‘only’ dates from 1677. The food is simple pub fare but eating in a 400-year-old pub is pretty cool.

9.30pm A 30-minute walk brings you through interesting streets to the Strand and The Savoy, where the American Bar (it closes at midnight) awaits. Maybe fork out for the Sazerac – at just £5000 it’s the world’s most expensive cocktail. Or maybe drink anything – being here is the thing.

Midnight. Still feeling peckish? Catch a cab back to where it all began in East London and make a mess of yourself with a hot salt beef beigel in Brick Lane.

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