A brief London Guide

Which other capital city charms us as well as London does with it’s ancient history and modern cool? Where else can a visitor or tourist find such intriguing and interesting opposites and contradictions that work in tandem to suit every taste and mood?  London has it all, mate.  We hope all of you who are staying with us in one of our short term flats will enjoy this little London guide about the old and the new, the formal and relaxed, the hip and the classic…it’s all good when you visit London.

1. Cocktails or tea?

London’s cocktail scene will leave you stirred and shaken!  No spoil-sport prohibition ever kept Londoners from their gin. The Savoy Hotel’s Book of Cocktails is the most famous books on the subject.  Visit one of London’s many iconic and beautiful hotel bars for the best cocktail this side of the pond. Good examples would be The Connaught, The Savoy’s two bars, Duke’s Bar, St James or The Lobby Bar in Covent Garden. Or join a supper club or workshop where you could shake up your own!

Prefer a nice cuppa?  Don’t be fooled by the many coffee shops that have taken over the high street; Londoner’s still love their tea and you can still find some charming old fashioned tea rooms here and there.  The old world charm and sophistication of High tea or afternoon tea seems to fascinate visitors and foreigners.  Visit the Ritz on Piccadilly or any of London’s top hotels for a high tea that you wont forget. The Orangery in Kensington Palace is another good place to enjoy this much loved tradition.

2. Department store or market?

Each London department store, both specialist and general, has it’s own style, charm and fans. Visit Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Peter Jones, Liberties, Fortnum and Mason’s, not forgetting Harrods, of course with it’s beautiful food halls. Hamley’s Toy Store will have the little one’s running mad with delight and the variety of tea and chocolates for sale in Fortnum’s on Piccadilly are truly impressive.  Any London guide will insist you visit London window displays at Christmas time – they are extra special.

London’s markets: famed throughout the world for their energy and eclectic goods for sale. There’s Camden Markets for the vintage clothing, Portobello in Notting Hill for all things antique and Brick Lane for pretty much everything.  Famous food markets are Borough and Old Spitalfield’s.  There’s Columbia Road for flowers and greenery and of course, a huge favourite is Covent Garden Market, where Eliza Doolittle of My Fair Lady was “discovered.”

3.  Graffiti or gallery?

Walk the cobbled roads of the East End to see the incredible and innovative grafitti there. This vibrant and historic part of London’s rich history and modern renovation is reflected in today’s street art. Nothing grubby or tacky about this, and it comes in all sizes…from the awe-inspiring whole side of a building, to something small, fine and detailed that must be seen up close.  Take a walking street art tour to learn all about it…your teenage kids will love it and will love you for suggesting it!

Turner at Tate Britain?  Van Gogh at the National Gallery? Rothko at Tate Modern? Many of these galleries are free.  A firm favourite is the National Portrait Gallery where you can see everybody from ancient royalty to the Beatles. The Royal Academy is popular, as is the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park. Don’t forget the many smaller and less known galleries dotted around the capital that we don’t have time to get into here. A good example of one of these would be The Wallace Collection.

4. West End show or Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre?

Theatre-land around Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West End is glittering and showey, in the best sense of the word.  This part of London is well known to tourists and visitors and many famous shows have had historic runs there, such as Les Miserable, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Evita, etc. It seems there’s a show or a musical for everyone, including the youngsters such as The Lion King, Wicked or Aladdin.  Book a show on-line and well in advance to save yourself time and money!

How about seeing Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s own theatre? Or perhaps you prefer Macbeth or Hamlet?  The marvellous, historic reconstructed Globe Theatre now stands almost exactly where it did in Shakespeare’s day on the south bank of the Thames, made of English oak.  How about that for a magical blending of the old and the new! Find a London guide to take you on a south bank tour dedicated to the Bard.

5.  Fine dining or street food?

Gone are the days of foreign visitors laughing at miserable English food and joking about warm beer and dull boiled beef. There are some excellent gastro pubs and restaurants throughout London serving fabulous, top quality food. The justifiably famous English puddings are better than ever these days.  Enjoy jam tarts, crumbles and cobblers, sticky toffee pudding, Spotted Dick or a delightful summer trifle with strawberries and custard.  Get stuck in and join a foodie workshop or supper club for a truly individual experience.

Street food has taken off recently in London and the variety and quality is astounding. Delighted tourists and busy local office workers are truly spoiled for choice as they try everything from pulled pork, high-class burgers, good fish & chips, indian curry’s, burritos, wraps, po-boys, noodles, sushi and oh, so much more.  Find a street food vendor with a long queue at lunch time and you know you’re onto a winner.  Don’t worry about spilling sauce down your suit or T-shirt…it will be so worth it!