Summer is the best time to visit London, when temperatures range from the comfortable 60s and 70s to—sometimes—the scorching 80s. However, because June through August is the high season, you will find it the most crowded for visitors. Don’t rule out the spring and early fall to avoid crowds but still enjoy mild temperatures. Winters can be wet and cold, but London is a great city to visit during the Christmas season, when shopping is elegant and everyone is ready to have a great time. Bring raingear for those unexpected showers: like many great cities, you will do a lot of walking in London, and you don’t want to be caught in a sudden downpour!
London is a great tourist city because it’s a pleasant metropolis where things like the public transport system work and are easy to understand; the people are helpful; restaurants are good; culture is not hard to find; and museums are world-class. When you fly into Heathrow (don’t forget that Gatwick serves international destinations, the London City Airport is super convenient, and Luton is not a bad low-cost way to get to the heart of the UK) on a clear enough day, you can see the Thames winding below you, the London Eye turning, Big Ben and Westminster, and, if you have a good eye, Buckingham Palace. All of these are must-see destinations for the London visitor. Also don’t miss Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, the National Gallery, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Tate Museum and the Tate Modern, the National Theatre, the West End theatre district, Harrods department store, the Globe Theatre, and the Changing of the Guard.
Travel with Kids
London has a great deal to offer your young companions. There are great museums and the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum all have kids’ programs. Some museums specifically cater to young people, such at the Horniman Museum with free activities, an aquarium, a hands-on centre, a Nature Base with live animals, and 16 acres of beautiful gardens perfect for picnics or free play. Be sure to make a stop in Kensington Gardens to see the Peter Pan statue. London is great for children’s theatre: check out Little Angel Puppet Theatre, the Puppet Theatre Barge, the Polka Theatre, the Half Moon Theatre, and the Unicorn Theatre. For kid-friendly restaurants check out Belgo Centraal where kids 12 and under can enjoy for free (one child free per adult) the yummy Belgian cuisine featuring moules and frites (mussels and chips). The Café Rouge chain offers one of London’s best activity packs for kids, including puzzles and stickers with a French theme. With branches in Chinatown and London Trocadero Ed’s Easy Diners offer kid-friendly, American-style dining with high stools, thick milkshakes, and a variety of burgers. Other kid mainstays include Indian tapas-style food at Imli, the family-friendly Masala Zone, the centrally located Maxwell’s, and pancakes at My Old Dutch.
London has fast, convenient, and reliable public transportation that is affordable and easy to navigate. For the basics visit tfl.gov.uk. Be sure to get an Oyster Card, the electronic smartcard ticket that is the easiest and cost-effective way to access London’s public transport network, including single journeys on the bus, Tube, DLR, tram, London Overground, Thames Clippers, and most National Rail services. You can add daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly Travelcards to your Oyster Card. Prices depend on which of London’s six zones you need to travel through. Pick up a free London Travel Map for routes and zone information at any rail or tube station. Visitors can even purchase an Oyster Card in advance online and once in London they can be recharged at Tube stations, DLR stations, London Travel Information Centres, and participating shops.
High Road House Hotel
Located in the heart of Chiswick, the High Road House Hotel is a 14-room, 5-star, luxury boutique just 20 minutes from central London. This intimate hotel features wood and natural materials that create a snug and homely feel. Rooms are available for both non-members and members, with a discounted rate offered to members. The hotel’s restaurant serves three meals a day and is a flexible space that can adapt to meetings, parties, or quiet laptop work. High Road House also has a private dining room for 14 people and a recreational space called Downstairs at the House featuring games and media.
The Mandeville Hotel
Within a few minutes walk of some of London’s most exciting galleries and Mayfair hotspots is the Mandeville Hotel. This 142-room, 5-star, luxury boutique is also near Sotheby’s and Harley Street clinics. Perfect for a corporate or leisure London stay, Mandeville features rooms designed by ARA Design Company with furniture by Julian Chichester. Enjoy luxurious accommodations in the Mandeville’s one-bedroom suites, which offer marble bathrooms, a separate sitting room, a guest bathroom, and amazing London views. Also available is the Terrace Suite with its own entrance staircase, bedroom, sitting room, and terrace overlooking Hinde Street Church and Manchester Square. Hotel guests can dine on modern British cuisine at deVille restaurant featuring interior design by Stephen Ryan. Stop in at the stylish Mayfair cocktail bar deVigne for a stiff whiskey. If you need to hold a meeting, the Red Room at the Mandeville is equipped with state-of-the-art AV and wifi. The hotel provides a dedicated Event Manager to ensure your every need is met.
Ideally situated in the Clerkenwell neighborhood of London, The Zetter is a 59-room, 5-star, luxury boutique hotel near some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, and vibrant cultural scene. Looking out onto the historic cobblestones of St John’s Square, The Zetter offers easy access to city center with a 10-minute taxi ride to the West End. With rooms individually designed with an eclectic mix of the vintage and the modern, this hotel’s rooms fuse state-of-the-art in-room entertainment and technology with a dedication to cozy comfort and detail. Guests can dine on contemporary dishes and reinterpreted classics at Bistro Bruno Loubet or relax over cocktails at the retro-stylish Atrium Bar & Lounge. If you are looking for a venue, The Zetter offers two meeting rooms with dedicated Events Managers to take care of all your hi-tech presentation and entertainment needs. Opened in 2004, The Zetter has been named one of the worlds “50 coolest hotels” by Condé Nast Traveler.
The Shoreditch House
Set in the heart of Shoreditch, this 26-room, 5-star, luxury boutique hotel is a private members’ club in East London just a 10-minute walk’s away from the Liverpool Street Station. If you join, you can verify your card at the Ground Floor reception on Ebor Street and take the lift up to the House. Rooms at the Shoreditch are bright and airy, featuring vintage twists within an urban setting. All rooms feature bespoke furniture, including old-fashioned telephones, tallboy chests and wooden shutters, while bathrooms feature Cowshed products and rainforest showers. There is a lending library with more than just books: the “Borrow Me” collection also features games and dress-up gear. Members can have a drink at the Biscuit Tin or, if necessary, hold a drinks party for up to 120 people. The venue is equipped with presentation, screening, and DJ facilities. For more active fun book the Biscuit Pin, a two-lane bowling alley with its own bar for up to 50 people. Shoreditch also offers the Square Bar, the House Kitchen, and the Roof Top Bar, Kitchen & Lounge, which features a pool area and large open fire. Don’t miss the Cowshed Shoreditch Spa House for Cowshed’s trademark social grooming in an indulgently comfortable surrounding.
Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel
A Rocco Forte luxury hotel since 2003, the Brown’s Hotel is a 117-room, 5-star boutique located in the heart of Mayfair on Albemarle Street. Brown’s Hotel has a history: it was the first ever hotel to open in London in 1837. Perfect for travelers to London for business or leisure, Brown’s is a short walk from exclusive Bond Street shopping, West End theaters, and St James’s. Rocce Forte Collections’ Director of Design Olga Polizzi designed the rooms and suites at Brown’s in a contemporary and comfortable style while retaining the hotel’s English charm. Suite services at the hotel include unpacking and packing service, complimentary garment pressing, use of a Nokia mobile phone, wifi, and complimentary in-room movies. Dine on Executive Chef Lee Streeton’s creations while observing the fine art collection in the Albemarle restaurant, which includes a neon by Tracey Emin, photography by Rankin, paintings by Fiona Rae, Toby Zeigler, Peter Peri, and Mat Collishaw, and line drawings by Tim Noble and Sue Webster. Exquisite and ultra luxurious, with an unmistakably British accent on the art and appointments throughout, Brown’s Hotel combines one of London’s most exclusive addresses with impeccable comfort and outstanding service for a must-stay experience for the ChicTraveler.
Gone are the days when the gourmet cringed at London restaurant food. London is a foodie’s playground, from Barbecoa, the new restaurant from celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Adam Perry with design by Tom Dixon, to mainstays like Moro, known for its “Moorish” tapas. Visitors will also love destinations like Bake-a-boo, a unique hideaway in West Hampstead featuring hand-baked seasonal cakes, treats and cupcakes galore. Do make sure you stop for afternoon tea as often as you can in London as many restaurants will oblige with the most sophisticated options in the world. For some heat, try El Floridita, a Latin-inspired supper club that combines an iconic, vibrant restaurant with the infamous Floridita Cocktail bar boasting the most impressive selection of rums in Europe and exciting live entertainment. For pioneering Asian fusion where the control of the dining experience is placed firmly in your hands, check out Inamo and its interactive ordering system. To try a modern take on the pizzeria, hit Pizza East, where traditional and rustic ingredients meet a progressive approach to gourmet pizza with a commitment to sourcing local and seasonal produce in a postindustrial space.
For the big department store, and just to make sure you can say you went, stop at Harrods—it’s spectacular if overwhelming. Don’t be shy either—London boasts some of the best street markets—Brick Lane Market will give you a good idea. If you like big malls, you can easily access Westfield Mall from the Shepherd’s Bush Stations. For high fashion, stick to Mayfair; for custom tailoring, head to Savile Row and Jermyn Street. For amazing shoes, South Molton Street; for jewelry, stop at Butler & Wilson while you’re there. You’ll also find chic boutiques on New Bond Street and Old Bond Street.
London is a premiere destination for world-class museums: they simply know how to do them. They are beautiful and smart. Here are a few not to miss:
Victoria and Albert Museum
Natural History Museum
Museum of London
National Maritime Museum
London Transport Museum
London can accommodate all tastes with sophisticated and abundant nightlife. London is of course one of the best cities in the world for theatre, concerts, movies, and a fabulous street buzz. At night it’s fun to walk over Waterloo Bridge to South Bank and see what’s on at Royal Festival Hall, the BFI IMAX cinema, or the National Theatre. There are shops and restaurants along the way, and the view of the Thames is impressive. Or, take a black cab to a West End theatre and then to a restaurant, pub, or club. To get an overview of the city, it’s no harm to just be a tourist and hop on one of the city’s many double-decker bus tours. If you want to bus and club, have a crazy, mobile night on the Party Bus Nightclub Tour. If you’re just into stationary clubbing, enjoy the huge space at the End and AKA; for a gay-friendly dance party, check out Heaven. To see if you can spot the upper class, try the Library Bar; for a taste of the best Russian vodkas, stop at Baltic. For the cozy pub experience, choose a snug at the Lamb and Flag. The ChicTraveler might especially appreciate the stylish Cuckoo Club.
The 2012 Olympics is a great reason to visit London, but there are lots of other annual events that can be fun to plan a trip around. London’s Chinese New Year (Feb 3-6) is the biggest celebration outside of China; Wimbledon (20 June – 3 July) is a no-brainer for the sports lover—so is a match at one of the London football clubs like Chelsea or Arsenal. London Book Fair (11 – 13 April), the London Marathon (17 April), Guy Fawkes Night (Nov 5), and the Notting Hill Carnival (August) are all unique to this great city and worth a visit.