A super-quick guide to London

A super-quick guide to London

Our most fire recommendations
for things to do in
the Big Smoke


A blue whale skeleton hangs in The Natural History Museum's Hintze Hall / Image: Trustees of the National History Museum, London

Francesca Specter

Francesca is a London-based freelance journalist, host of the Alonement podcast, and author of Alonement: How to be Alone and Absolutely Own It.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” declared Dr Samuel Johnson, the founder of the modern dictionary (and 18th century resident of the city). After a little time here to whet your appetite, you’ll soon see what he meant: while London is technically one city, it’s actually many cities – countries, even – compressed into one. Yes, it offers visitors classical British charm – welcoming gastropubs like The Queen’s in Primrose Hill, quaint National Trust properties like Ham House in Richmond Park, the grandeur of The Delauney in Covent Garden. But there’s also the finest cosmopolitan cuisine – authentic Italian trattorias on Portobello Road, towering Australian brunches – trips into the past at South Kensington’s world-famous museums and galleries; or the vibrant Soho nightlife scene where tourists and locals alike meet. One thing’s for sure – there will be no room in your itinerary for boredom.

Ham Yard hotel isn't just for sleeping – it has a retro bowling alley inside / Image: Simon Brown Photography

Stay here: Ham Yard hotel

Hoping to stay in central London without feeling like you’re in the centre? Ham Yard is the one. Set in its own leafy courtyard just moments away from Soho and Chinatown (the nearest station is Piccadilly Circus), and around the corner from upmarket Mayfair, this is a stand-out boutique hotel that will feel like a home away from home. There’s a private roof terrace where you can enjoy a cocktail – try the classic G&T made with homemade tonic and locally-brewed Portobello Gin – and views of London upon your arrival, and even a retro bowling alley for a playful evening. With rooms starting from £606 a night, it’s not cheap – but for a special stay it’s hard to beat. Looking for something a bit more budget? Just around the corner from Soho in Holborn, The Z Hotel has stylish, air-conditioned rooms starting at just £100. There’s also an inviting-looking bar area with a spectacular, towering ceiling, where you can meet fellow guests.

1 Ham Yard W1D 7DT

Brunch is best when it's at The Delaunay / Image: The Delaunay

Brunch here: The Delaunay

The Delauney is a European restaurant that combines the grandness of an Austrian ‘grand cafe’ with a relaxed, traditional British menu: you can feast on everything from porridge and avocado toast to a classic Full English fry-up (including sausages, baked beans, bacon, eggs).

Fancy escaping the heart of the city? Take a jaunt along the Thames down to Paddington basin, where you can visit brunch spot Darcie & May Green, a floating barge designed by artist Sir Peter Blake that serves up delicious Australian offerings (the Famous Banana Bread Sandwich is a speciality, and for good reason). Book ahead – best enjoyed on a sunny day.

55 Aldwych WC2B 4BB

The cocktails at Mr Fogg's Residence are inspired by world travels / Image: Johnny Stephens

Drink this: Cocktails at Mr Fogg’s Residence

Cocktails can be a little hit and miss in London, particularly around central – so avoid the soul-less chains and instead treat yourself to a trip to Mr Fogg’s Residence in Bruton Lane, a place that is truly magical. Named after a fictional Victorian era explorer Phileas J. Fogg, this spot looks like the interior of an antiques shop: with portraits lining the walls and traditional wood panelling. The cocktails are something else, inspired by world travels but with an English theme: think ‘The Admiral’ which combines, among other ingredients, Woodford Reserve Rye whiskey and Montenegro amaro with apricot jam – yes, you read that right. There’s live music (it varies, but there’s everything from a jazz saxophonist to a bongo player) every Saturday night until the early hours. On warmer days, head to the Secret Garden site just around the corner to enjoy your cocktails on garden furniture in the open air.

15 Bruton Ln, W1J 6JD

The Queen's is Primrose Hill's crowning glory

Meet locals here: The Queen’s, Primrose Hill

No visit to London is complete without a pub visit, and The Queen’s is one of the best of the best. A friendly gastropub on the edge of Primrose Hill park (one of London’s most famed green spots), it’s filled with local residents from the Camden area – and you might even spot a celebrity or two. The late Amy Winehouse once frequented this pub, while long-time A-lister residents – once known as the Primrose Hill set – include Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, Daniel Craig and Harry Styles. Enjoy a traditional craft beer pint (the bar staff will help you if you’d like to sample a couple) before heading out to the top of Primrose Hill itself, just next door, to enjoy one of the best free views of London imaginable.

49 Regent’s Park Rd, NW1 8XD

Installation view of Fashioning Masculinities at The V&A / Image: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Get smart at: The V&A

A world-leading art, design and fashion museum, the V&A (short for Victoria & Albert, named after Queen Victoria and her life partner Prince Albert) is a must-see location for London’s best cultural offering. The permanent collection contains everything from designer couture (including dresses from the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite designers, Jenny Packham and Alexander McQueen) to Chinese ceramics, while there’s a rotation of incredible free and paid exhibitions – recently, Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear. Nearby, you can go on to visit the Natural History Museum for a trip into the pre-historic era, including the famous blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. Oh, and it’s free!

Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL

Party here: Archer Street Soho

Want a nightlife spot where you’re guaranteed to have a good time and dance the night away? Archer Street in the heart of Soho is the one. Get there early (around 9pm) to avoid queues, and you won’t be sorry – this spot is known for its friendly atmosphere. Come for ‘members’ club’ vibes without the membership policy – this is where local musical theatre actors come to perform power ballads and pop songs on the tables, in between DJ sets, while the customers sing along. Locals and tourists alike love this place – and you’re guaranteed to make friends (or find romance, if that’s what you’re after!).

2-4 Archer Street, South Soho, W1D 7AP

Have dinner at: Lisa’s Italian

If you’re bored of English pub grub, Lisa’s Italian is the place to go. A neighbourhood Italian spot in the heart of Notting Hill, Lisa’s is a truly one-of-a-kind spot on the famous Portobello Road that serves up tasty negroni cocktails and fresh pasta dishes. Later on, it transforms into a buzzing nightlife spot with live music and, occasionally at the weekends, dancing.

305 Portobello Road, W10 5TD

No yolk, these are the futuristic Egg Loos at Sketch

Instagram this: Sketch

Recently redecorated from millennial pink to sunny yellow and designed by artist David Shrigley, Sketch’s The Gallery looks like it was tailor-made for your Instagram feed. Its afternoon tea, hosted in The Gallery, is something else, with a huge selection of flowering teas, a towering cake trolley serving cherry Victoria sponge, scones with Cornish clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches and locally-sourced sparkling wines – how much more of an authentic English experience could you get? And do excuse yourself to, as the British say, ‘nip to the loo’ (visit the bathroom) and make sure your phone comes along – the space-age Egg Loos (you’ll have to see it to understand…!) are a perfect place to take that selfie. Oh, and if you – and your Instagram grid – fancy another cake experience, then EL&N cafe, dubbed ‘The Most Instagrammable Cafe In The World’ is the one. Visit the main branch on Brompton Road, South Kensington (you might also spot various sites including Carnaby Street and St. Pancras station) – and try a signature Red Velvet Latte among plush, pink chairs and a cherry blossom tree. Snap away!

9 Conduit St, W1S 2XG 

Richmond Park is deer to our heart / Image: Adobe Stock

Make memories here: Richmond Park

Escape the city centre for a nature-filled day by taking the train to Richmond Park – it’s less than an hour out from central, and well worth the trip to see the deer roaming the grounds, a memory you won’t forget. While you’re there, take a horse-drawn carriage; visit 17th-century National Trust property Ham House; and enjoy a “spot of tea” (another British phrase!) at Petersham Nurseries. Peaking through the trees, there’s even a famous view point where you take a look back at St. Paul’s Cathedral from there, at one of the park’s most famous view points.

Richmond Park

The views from the O2 are oh too good to miss / Image: @upattheo2

Experience this: Up at the O2 Climbs

Feeling brave? Head to Greenwich where you can pay to do an outdoor climb of the O2 – originally the Millennium Dome – with options for daytime, sunset and twilight climbs, and get a 360-degree view over the Olympic Park. If heights aren’t your thing (and we don’t blame you!) get the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers, which stops at 24 piers along the river from Barking Riverside Pier in the East to the recently-renovated Battersea Power Station in the West, with all the best riverside views of London. A River Roamers ticket will allow you hop-on, hop-off access all day; a unique way to see the city by water.

Peninsula Square, SE10 0DX