AWTL London City Guide

London is calling. And when it does, I listen! Dubbed the “cultural capital of the world,” this multifaceted, vibrant and historical city - that is changing at a remarkable pace with new buildings and refurbs - is a year-round destination. In spring the weather is mild and parks are bursting with blooms. During the balmy summer months visitors play outdoors all day - enjoying festivals, events, or rooftop bars. In autumn, buildings are adorned with yellow and orange leaves and museums debut exciting new exhibits. And in winter, the city is transformed into a magical Winter Wonderland, with twinkling lights everywhere - decorating streets, hotels, markets - all dressed up in holiday finery.

London is a city that takes my breath away and that I enjoy again and again. London is a wonderfully walkable city of “villages” and its public transportation, the Tube, is excellent and used by most residents. I’m also a fan of the famous London black cabs driven by skilled, knowledgeable and chatty drivers.

By popular demand, London is a city that you voted as A Well Traveled Life’s next City Guide. And, with several British milestones in 2018 (a baby prince, a royal wedding, and oh yes, a new season of Netflix’s The Crown) London is now, more than ever, a top destination.

So mates, I welcome your feedback and updates, and hope you have a brilliant go at exploring this fantastic city. Cheers!

 

 

 

Stay:

London is one of the world’s most visited cities and offers a variety of accommodations for every budget. From historic grand dame hotels, to intimate boutique townhomes, to hipster new hotspots, this U.K. capital has a variety of hotels perfect for your stay.

The Corinthia, Whitehall Pl., Westminster. This psoh, lovely hotel with spacious rooms is an indulgence for sure. But I love it’s location in the heart of London and convenience to Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden, I enjoy sipping cocktails laced with violet liqueur in its swank bar late night with my hubby, and pretending that I live a glamourous life that doesn’t include folding laundry and trips to Target:) (I mean, I am on vacation after all!)

Grosvenor House Park Lane, corner of Mount Street. Reportedly a favorite of soon to be Princess Meghan Markle, this Mayfair hotel on lovely Park Lane offers luxury suites that overlook Hyde Park. (PS: Attention shoppers, Selfridges and Harrods are within walking distance.)

The Milestone Hotel, 68 Regent St. It’s rumored that royal wedding guests are staying at this lux hotel, formed of three Victorian townhouses, ideally located opposite Kensington Palace & Gardens. If you aren’t on the royal guest list, no worries! The hotel offers “royal wedding” inspired packages for you to experience your own special event.

The Ned, 27 Poultry. With a hot social scene, eight buzzing restaurants, and stunning 1920s architecture, this Soho House group property recently celebrated its first year and is credited with the rebirth of this area. When I stayed at this high energy “IT hotel” during the popular holiday season, there were queues of well-heeled people out the door, eager to enjoy the live entertainment in the hotel’s spectacular lobby bar. (PS: my room's Cowshed toiletries selection was AMAZING!)

The Rosewood Hotel 252 High Holborn. Located on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, the hotel’s grand Edwardian courtyard is a pleasant surprise. Note to all foodies - on Sunday, rain or shine, there is an outdoor market in the courtyard. Spacious rooms, sumptuous Italian bed linens, and a delicious British pie make the hefty price tag bearable.

The SoHo Hotel 4 Richmond Mews, Soho. The English aesthetic interiors designed by the acclaimed Kit Kemp, it’s eclectic and cool vibe (gin trolley in the bar), and the excellent service make this quiet hotel a standout.

The Zetter Townhouse 28-38 Seymour Street. Located in London’s fashionable Marylebone, staying at this 24-bedroom Georgian townhouse is like being a guest at a worldly English gent’s home. Sumptuous cocktail lounge Seymour’s Parlour, great service, and hipster vibe make this well-priced boutique hotel noteworthy.

Eat & Drink:

With a smorgasbord of delectable and diverse cuisine, London is a fun place to dine. Dinner reservations are highly recommended especially in the high season. Also note, and pack accordingly, London is a stylish place and people tend to “dress smart” for dinner, (Gents, bring a jacket).

Dinner

45 Jermyn St. Enjoy an innovative seasonal menu at this glamorous bistro where you can relax in the lush orange booths and dine on British classics, or treat yourself to a spiked ice-cream sundae. A theatre set menu is also offered.

Aqua Shard The Shard, 31 St. Thomas St. The panoramic views of the city from the 31st floor of this contemporary British restaurant make for an amazing dining experience!

Bluebird 350 King's Rd, Chelsea. Calling all Royalists! This neighborhood restaurant is ready to celebrate the nupitals of the royal couple on May 19th. But if you miss it, no worries! This popular eatery is celebrating all things floral and romantic until June 17th with their fresh seasonal menu, signature cocktails and decor.  

Chiltern Firehouse 1 Chiltern St, Marylebone. Whether it’s restaurants or hotels, Andre Balasz (his is the iconic Chateau Marmont in LA) has a magic touch. His London debut woke up this once quiet neighborhood. Enjoy the brasserie-style menu featuring classics like roast chicken and caesar salad, or seasonal seafood. In summer, enjoy dining outside in the garden.

Clos Maggoire 33 King St. Covent Garden. Contemporary French cuisine served in a gorgeous, romantic dining room twinkling with lights and greenery. (Don’t miss a fun photo op at the flower wall.)

Dean Street Townhouse 71 Dean St., Soho. I’ve had the pleasure of eating dinner here on a few occasions and love it’s vibrant, casual atmosphere and classic English food — fish and chips over mashed marrowfat peas.

Jamie Oliver’s 15 15 Westland Pl, Hoxton. Friends rave about their fabulous meals here and the outstanding service. I love that the restaurant offers neighbors a discount to encourage them to come by frequently. Incredible gin bar with homemade tonic and delicious cocktails.

J. Sheekey 28-32 St Martin's Ct. Covent Garden. An iconic London seafood restaurant perfect for pre-and-post theater dining. A glass (or two) of champagne is a must!

Le Caprice 20 Arlington St., St. James's. This legendary low-lit Mayfair dining spot, one of Princess Di's favorites, serves classic comfort food. We enjoyed a perfect date night here.

NAC 41 N Audley St, Mayfair. Casual French bistro with small plates. Relaxed, cool, fun.  

The Delaunay 55 Aldwych. Covent Garden. Viennese inspired elegant brasserie (same owners as The Wolseley) known for their Schnitzel. Great for pre-theater dinner.

The Harwood Arms Walham Grove, Fulham. An established gastropub in Fulham with a Michelin-star

The Ivy 1-5 West St. A fixture on the British food scene since 1917, this iconic Covent Garden eatery was redesigned with great fanfare. The gorgeous central dining bar is buzzing and does not require reservations, so it’s fun to stop in for a cocktail. British food with seasonal selections.  

The Wolseley 160 Piccadilly, St. James's. An iconic, Art Deco grand cafe, offers every meal but the breakfast and brunch are a classic. I’ve also enjoyed a late dinner and champagne cocktail!

Scott's 20 Mount St, Mayfair. Excellent seafood. Always.

Sexy Fish Berkeley Square House, Mayfair. This swanky, hotspot served some of the best sushi ever and other delicious dishes with a Japanese twist. (Chilean sea bass is rock-star dish!) Interiors ooze glam and it’s a fun place to people-watch. It can be tough to get a res, but we had no problem and it was during the high season. (Maybe beginner’s luck?!)

Sketch 9 Conduit St., Mayfair. Whether you can score a dinner res, stop in for drinks, or relax at a festive afternoon tea, this eccentric Mayfair hotspot with 3 lounges and 2 restaurants, is a must-see! We sipped cocktails in cut crystal glasses, and tried to blend in (lol!) with the hipster clientele. The Insta-famous Gallery with its pink dining room, scalloped chairs and velvety-soft banquettes and David Shrigley's sketches is a fave for good reason!

Lunch

Bernardi's 62 Seymour St., Marylebone. A quaint neighborhood restaurant perfect for brunch.

Blixen 65A Brushfield St. An ideal spot for brunch in the garden. There is a brand new bar below ground, Bar III, with hand crafted cocktails.

Dishoom 4 Derry St. One of the most popular spots for Indian cuisine in London, there is usually a wait but it’s worth it, so arrive early. Do not miss the naan, chicken ruby, or okra fries.

Granger & Co 175 Westbourne Grove. Close to Portobello Road and lots of cute shops, this is a must for breakfast. The flavors and presentation of every dish is so well done; even basics like scrambled eggs and toast are beautiful. Do not let the waiter leave your table without placing an order of ricotta hotcakes to share - you won't be sorry.

Il Baretto 43 Blandford St, Marylebone. A well-heeled Italian eatery with simple but delicious food and great atmosphere. Popular among locals.

NOPI 21-22 Warwick St, Soho. Tucked away from the Regent Street Soho shopping you will find NOPI, a quaint, bright and beautiful Mediterranean restaurant. We came for brunch and fell in love with the fresh juices, mushroom toast, but the real star of the show was the shakshuka.  

Pizza East, 310 Portobello Rd. Tasty rustic pizza. Perfect casual dining spot in Notting Hill for an easy dinner with friends. 

The Grazing Goat 6 New Quebec St., Marylebone. At this cozy gastro pub I had the pleasure of enjoying a festive holiday lunch of tasty grilled chicken, greens and “chips” with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. With so much catching-up to do, and the weather turning cold outside, our meal stretched into cocktail hour and the servers couldn’t have been more accommodating! PS: Cute boutiques next door and just minutes from Oxford Street and Selfridges.

Bars/Pubs:

Bob Bob Ricard 1 Upper James St., Soho. This iconic Soho restaurant with Art Deco decor and dining booths decked out with a “Press for Champagne” button at every table, is famous for pouring more champagne than any restaurant in the UK. Who can resist that?!  

Dandelyan Bar Mondrian London, 20 Upper Ground, Southwark, river views. Swanky, bubble gum pink-hued, playful interiors and green marble bar make for a fun atmosphere. Phenomenal cocktails. Mix that all up and it’s no surprise it was recently named the best bar in the world at The World's 50 Best Bars awards, among other accolades.

Mr. Fogg's Tavern 58 St Martin's Lane. Themed around explorer Phileas Fogg, this old-timey London pub is known for their extensive gin list and elaborate decor.

Park Chinois 17 Berkeley St., Mayfair.  This 1930s inspired, Cotton Club era bar and restaurant is gorgeous. Enjoy dinner, or cocktails and dancing in the ballroom until the wee hours...

Radio Bar 336-337 Strand. This rooftop bar is located on the 10th floor of the ME London Hotel with some of the best views of the city. Pairs well with a glass of bubbly:)  

Scout 93 Great Eastern St. New in Shoreditch, hipster crowd. This highly sustainable bar with a “zero-waste” goal is serving up some of the most creative and photo-worthy cocktails in London. Menu changes daily, reservations recommended but walk-ins welcome.

The Blind Pig 58 Poland St, Soho. Call ahead to reserve bar table. This speakeasy-eque bar serves up an extensive cocktail menu inspired by children's literature. From decor to drink presentation, this is truly a unique bar experience.

The Blind Spot 93 Great Eastern St. Covent Garden. Stylish, moody bar with live music and tasty cocktails.

Afternoon Tea:

A trip to London is not complete without experiencing the centuries-old tradition of Afternoon Tea introduced in 1840. The story goes that between lunchtime and the 8 pm fashionably late dinner time the Duchess of Bedford had hunger spells and desired a pot of tea and light snack around 4 p.m. Eventually, this “ceremony” became hugely popular. Today, the British custom is fondly regarded as “a way to break up the day in the nicest way.” I quite agree!... Even though there are over 240 spots for Afternoon Tea in London, reservations are always advised.

The Athenaeum 116 Piccadilly, Mayfair. Afternoon Tea is a ritual this hotel has down to a fine art! And, if you love the idea of partaking in this custom but are intimated, no worries! The website offers advice for perfect tea etiquette. For example, English Breakfast tea is a safe bet among the dozens of teas offered; they tell you how to use a tea strainer, and instruct the correct way to stir your tea! As for the food, they recommend think savoury first and progress to sweet.

B-Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour 164 Buckingham Palace Road. Jump aboard this vintage London Bus for a festive, perhaps boozy G&T, afternoon tea while you see the city’s famous landmarks.

Brown’s Hotel Albemarle Street. “TeaTox” a healthy makeover of the traditional menu of tea sandwiches, cream, pastries, etc. low carb, low, fat “think avocado and hummus” and gluten free raspberry brownies.

Claridge's Brook St, Mayfair. With the impressive bragging rights of serving afternoon tea for 150 years, Claridge’s is always a class act! The elegant, sumptuous afternoon tea - with it’s perfect pastries and to-die-for scones - is lovely for any celebration. You definitely need to book well ahead. Indulge in bubbly and select from 24 specially blended teas.

Fortnum & Mason 181 Piccadilly, St. James's. Come for the tea but stay for the biscuits in this quaint oasis the storied Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon located on the fourth floor, just out of reach from the tourist buzz down below, at this royal grocers founded in 1707.

Peggy Porschen Cakes 116 Ebury Street, (bakery open 8 am-8 pm.) This pastel Instagram hot spot is a dream come true for those who crave cupcakes, meringues, marshmallows, heart cookies, and of course, pretty lattes.  

The Dorchester 53 Park Lane, Mayfair. Afternoon tea here is a decadent affair. Served in the grand Promenade lobby with piano music softly playing, you feel like you don't have a care in the world except deciding which dainty sandwich to eat first, and whether you should put a dollop of Cornish cream before or after the preserves on your bite size scone.

The Goring Hotel 15 Beeston Pl, Westminster. Enjoy afternoon tea at this timeless hotel behind Buckingham Palace. This hotel is a favorite of Princess Kate's, and where she famously spent her last night before her wedding. The Queen hosts her Christmas lunch here and it's the 1st and only hotel to be granted a royal seal of approval. It's a fan and royal fave, with those in the know advising that when you book your plane tix to London, also book your tea time here!

The Langham Hotel step inside the lovely, lavish Palm Court for an unforgettable afternoon tea for the whole family. Despite the grandeur, the word is that it’s a lovely experience even for little ones including a cold chocolate drink and other sweet touches just for children.

The Ritz 150 Piccadilly, St. James's. Since 1906 afternoon tea has been a tradition here. Hosted in the hotel's ornate Palm Court, the tea includes the requisite finger sandwiches with smoked salmon, ham, alongside fresh scones and cakes on a tiered cake stand. Worth all the calories are the strawberry preserve and Cornish clotted cream perfectly paired with fresh baked scones. Note, you need to dress for tea here. Men cannot wear jeans, and tennis shoes or “trainers” are not allowed. Served daily 11:30 am-7:30 pm.

 

 

 

Shop:

Some of the world’s oldest department stores and street markets call London home. From posh boutiques to tiny vintage and quirky shops, there is shopping for every taste and budget.

Bond Street in the West End, there is New and Old Bond Street, offers boutiques from the best designers in the world if you can afford extravagant retail therapy, or window shopping here can be just as satisfying. In the heart of London, there is bustling Oxford Street with more than 300 shops, designer outlets and landmark stores such as Selfridges (see below).

The birthplace of the fashion revolution during the 60s, the 14 streets that make up Carnaby are located between Oxford Street and Regent Street (see below), and feature more than 100 brands, many unique, and dozens of restaurants, cafes and pubs. During the holidays these streets are a visual carnival of colorful lights.

Covent Garden this vibrant, traffic-free cobblestone square on the eastern fringes of the West End is a serious shopping destination with plenty of great eateries and entertainment. The Royal Opera House calls this area home, as do street performers, luxury shops, cafes and iconic restaurants like The Ivy. After exploring here, walk to nearby Soho...

Daunt Books 84 Marylebone High St., Marylebone. Sit and linger for a few hours at this wood paneled Edwardian bookstore. Enjoy an excellent selection of travel titles and poetry.

Floris Jermyn Street. Founded in 1730, the flagship Floris perfumerie shop is a treat! The elegance, history and frangrances of this family-run biz are intoxicating. Check out the small museum in the back with letters from royals and other fancy clientele like Sir Winston Churchill, Ian Fleming and Marilyn Monroe.

Harrods 87-135 Brompton Rd., Knightsbridge. This legendary department store looks like a storybook destination from the outside, but is crazy-crowded inside. However, many can’t imagine a visit to London without checking it out at least once (and maybe take home an iconic green and gold bag?!). And Harrods’ Food Hall is a foodie’s paradise!

Harvey Nichols 109-125 Knightsbridge. Oh, the shoes and the seasonal sales! To die for! Enough said...

JOSEPH 236 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill. A fun mix of contemporary brands in a lovely contemporary space. I found a beautiful, flirty dress here that I treasure.

One Vintage 1NR, 200 Kensington Park Rd. Tiny shop with unique vintage pieces. One of the city’s best kept secrets!

Regent Street is a shopper’s delight with Liberty being the quintessential British gem, right down to its Tudor Revival exterior, lovely staircases and clever displays. Famous for their fabrics, and I always buy a scarf from their unique selection designed by British artists annually. Equally impressive are some limited edition women's fashion lablels that I can't find elsewhere...

Marylebone Village 23 Queen Anne Street, behind Oxford Street’s fantastic department store, Selfridges.

Penhaligon's Covent Garden, 41 Wellington St. This Covent Garden institution is one of my favortie parfumeries! Years ago, my husband and I had a brilliant time here sipping champagne while sampling scents and learning the stories and history behind the perfumerie that dates back to 1870. I wear this pretty perfume regularly.

Selfridges 400 Oxford St, Marylebone. Love this iconic department store. I was lucky to admire its dazzling window displays dressed up for the holidays. Pure magic! The rooftop terrace is super fun for post-shopping cocktails.

Fortnum & Mason 181 Piccadilly, St. James's. A famous 18th century department store known for its gourmet treats. It’s holiday boutique at Somerset House is a sight to see.

Saville Row & Jermyn Street Ok, confession time: when my husband and I travel, shopping is usually about me. But in London, it’s his time! Over the years he has acquired shoes, custom wool pants, gorgeous tailored shirts and more in this iconic area that’s been home to the world’s finest tailors for centuries. The quality and selection of these outfitters can’t be beat.

 

 

 

See & Do:

Although London has a reputation of being an expensive city, there are many free attractions. The city boasts several museums with free admission, many located in South Kensington called “London’s Museum Mile.” (Museums listed below with an * are free; some exhibits may be an extra charge). It’s public parks are legendary with almost 50% of Greater London made up of green space - it’s no wonder a picnic in the park is a favorite summer pastime! Some of my favorite things to do are strolling through lovely Hyde Park - the largest of the four Royal Parks; wandering picturesque neighborhoods like Notting Hill; biking along the River Thames; or attending a live theater performance in the West End. After your excursions, take time to relax and indulge in Afternoon Tea…

Big Ben at the north end of the the Palace of Westminster, London. You can’t miss one of London’s most iconic landmarks on the London skyline. It’s best to visit this popular tourist area, that includes the Houses of Parliament and Elizabeth Tower, in the morning. But if you get the chance to see it at night, it’s spectacular when the clock’s four faces are lit.

Bicycle along the River Thames on the long stretches of traffic free paths. There are several rental bike companies for example, Fat Tire Bike Tours has several tour meeting places throughout the city. A fun way for kids to see the sights! See the website for more info.

Borough Market: 8 Southwark Street, London. Take the Tube (underground train) to this foodie’s paradise and historic market, (some say it dates back 1,000 years), nestled at the foot of the London Bridge. Start your gourmet adventure on a Saturday morning with coffee and fresh-baked goods (my fave is the almond croissants at Bread Ahead Bakery). There are 100s of stalls selling fresh produce, local honey, teas (of course) and gifts like dish towels and jams. The sprawling Borough is a familiar film location for Bridget Jones's Diary and other movies. A fun place to feel like a local!

The British Museum* Great Russell Street. The oldest museum in the world, and Britain’s biggest housing over 8 million objects, including the famous 196 BC Rosetta Stone. Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece is running until July 2018.

Buckingham Palace visit the Queen's official residence and one of the few open working palaces in the world. Tour the state rooms that are open to the public in summer; or year-round visitors can watch the impressive Changing of the Guard.

Greenwich a borough in London on the the banks of the Thames, easily accessible by the Tube from the city center. The Royal Observatory is the site of the Greenwich meridian line, and Greenwich also has much maritime history to discover. A friend recently took her teenage son and he loved it.  

Kensington Palace and Gardens, located in Hyde Park. Diana Fashion Exhibit is a must see, as well as the Queen's state apartment. There is a special outdoor screening of the Royal Wedding on May 19th, 2018.

London Bridge Tower Bridge Road. Day or night, this iconic bridge is a popular and pretty sight to see!

Theater District London's vibrant West End is the Mecca for theater lovers with over 40 theaters to choose from. Buy tickets online for the top musicals, plays, comedies and performances. We enjoyed the cheeky Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre and had so much fun being part of a lively audience that was totally into it!

The London Eye, Lambeth. This giant Ferris wheel launched in 2000 for the Millenium on the South Bank of the River Thames offers spectacular city views. At 443 feet, it is the world's largest cantilevered observation wheel. (I’ll be taking my teens for a whirl during our visit this summer).

The National Portrait Gallery* Covent Garden. The first portrait gallery in the world when it opened in 1856. See Michael Jackson, the Wall exhibit runs June 28 to Oct. 2018.

Natural History Museum* South Kensington is London’s Museum Mile and this is at the center of it. Don’t miss the Dinosaurs gallery and many more treasures. Great outing for a rainy day!

Notting Hill famous worldwide thanks to the film of the same name, with its picturesque rows of pastel houses, buzzing Portobello Road, and chic shops and cafes on Westbourne Grove, this charming neighborhood is always a delight...

Piccadilly Circus the portal to London’s buzzing West End, this exciting and vibrant (often compared to NYC’s Times Square) area is hopping with restaurants, shops, theaters and a neon-lit nightlife.

Portobello Road Market 306 Portobello Rd. The world’s largest antiques market is a sight to see but it’s best to arrive before 11 a.m. because it gets crowded. However, the effort is worth it if you are on the hunt for vintage treasures. I loved the heaps of polished silver spoons and flatware; so easy to pack...

St. George’s Chapel Windsor Castle, 2 The Cloisters, Windsor. This is the church where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will tie the knot May 19th, 2018. About an hour outside London in the royal family’s residence at Windsor Castle

The Tate Modern* Southwark. Bankside of the Thames. This museum was recently renovated and houses an impressive contemporary art collection. Be sure not to miss the EY Exhibition Picasso 1932-Love, Fame, Tragedy (March 8-September 9, 2018).

Tower of London St Katharine's & Wapping. This 900-year-old castle houses the Crown Jewels and has a infamous but fascinating history as a palace, a prison and a fortress. If you visit this summer, see the exhibit and learn of the tragic fate of Anne Boleyn Live at the Tower May-August 30, 2018.

Victoria & Albert Museum* (V&A), Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge. This gorgeous museum has a considerable permanent collection as well as exciting visiting exhibits in this artful space.