Explore London in Style
“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.”
Why Go Now
No other capital in Europe has succeeded in merging the historic and the high-tech as successfully and beautifully as London. Like a Thomas Gainsborough beauty channeling her modern-day It Girl, the city is engaged in a playful dialogue between old and new. The 2012 Olympic nod was a national pride booster, and the next few years will see a flurry of activities as the city revamps existing sports venues and erects temporary ones in such iconic spots as Hyde Park and Horse Guards Parade. Even the current financial crisis has not resulted in panic or paralysis. Rather, London continues setting trends with creativity, style and a newfound thoughtfulness, as seen in several recent debuts that champion a return to British traditions.
Where to Stay
IF MONEY IS NO OBJECT
The Look: Elegant Edwardian with a deft modern touch
Who Stays: Mick Jagger, Karl Lagerfeld, Sharon Stone
This venerable 115-room property, built in 1897, sits in the heart of bustling Mayfair. A recent £70-million renovation ushered the Connaught into the 21st century, while beautifully preserving the art, antiques and architectural flourishes from the past. In a major culinary coup, French Michelin-starred chef Hélène Darozze signed on to oversee the hotel’s cuisine; next spring she will reopen the legendary Grill. Carlos Place; 44 (0) 207-499-7070; fax: 44 (0) 207-495-3262; www.the-connaught.co.uk
The Look: Old World luxury with original Art Deco details
Who Stays: Formerly European royalty and Jackie O.; now Elizabeth Hurley & Kate Moss
London’s premier address in Mayfair feels distinctly grand and glamorous, with gorgeous restored Art Deco details, imposing hallways, soaring common spaces and sumptuous fabrics throughout. There are 203 rooms, including several specialty suites created by British designer David Linley. Star chef Gordon Ramsay oversees the fine-dining restaurant, and real foodies can sign up for Claridge’s popular culinary master classes. 55 Brook St.; 44 (0) 20-7629-8860; fax: 44 (0) 20-7499-2210; www.claridges.co.uk
SMART LUXURYHaymarket Hotel
The Look: Eclectic, featuring an outrageous mix of colors and materials
Who Stays: David & Victoria Beckham, Jude Law
The Haymarket is located in London’s theater district, within walking distance of the National Gallery. The hotel has 50 rooms, all of which were envisioned by Firmdale designer-par-excellence Kit Kemp. There’s lots of good art, bold colors and a hodge-podge of design eras referenced in the comfortable common spaces. Those who prefer gentler tones in their bedrooms (all large by London standards) should request one of the more subdued schemes. Suffolk Place; 44 (1) 20-7470-4000; fax: 20-7470-4004; www.firmdale.com
Local Voices: “Without any doubt my favorite ‘business hotel’ is the Pelham Hotel, a small boutique hotel in South Kensington. It’s one of those amazing hotels where everything comes together and you want for nothing.” —Steven Schapera, CEO, BECCA
SMART FAMILYThe Berkeley
The Look: Grand Hotel elegance meets 21st-century flair
Who Stays: Gisele Bündchen, Leonardo di Caprio, Madonna
This Knightsbridge hotel overlooks Hyde Park and functions as a discreet hideaway that prizes pampering sans fussiness. The 214 rooms were recently redone but remain conservative and comfortable. Families are made to feel especially welcome. Rooms can be outfitted with everything from highchairs, Game Boy Advances and bottle warmers to child-size terry robes and slippers. The fantastic rooftop pool is another draw, as is the fanciful afternoon tea, where colorful cakes and treats, inspired by the latest fashion collections, are served on Paul Smith china. Wilton Place; 44 (0) 20-7950-5490; fax: 44 (0) 20-7235-4330; www.the-berkeley.co.uk
Sloane Square Hotel
The Look: Cheeky, contemporary design
Who Stays: Stylish families who care more about location than spacious rooms
Opened in 2006, the 102-room Sloane Square Hotel sits right on Sloane Square within walking distance of Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Belgravia. The rooms are small but tastefully outfitted like guestrooms in a friend’s flat. Tip: The Family Rooms feature special layouts for kids and parents traveling together. An added plus: the popular brasserie just off the lobby. Sloane Square, SW1; 44 (0) 207-896-9988; fax: 44 (0) 207-751-4211; www.sloanesquarehotel.co.uk
Insider Pick: South Kensington hotel Base2Stay is ideal for young families and couples who don’t want to scrimp on style but can’t bear to pay London’s steep prices. Simple and chic, Base2Stay has no spa, restaurant or room service; instead, each of the 67 stylish rooms has state-of-the-art technology, a kitchenette, A/C, 24-hour reception and an in-room booklet highlighting the area’s amenities.
Where to Eat
It’s no secret anymore that London has become a leading epicurean destination, recognized by Michelin and where chefs like Tom Aiken and Heston Blumenthal continue to push their craft. A major trend is an embrace of British traditions. Gordon Ramsay’s new York & Albany feels like the bustling dining room of a country inn, and J. Sheekey’s new oyster bar promises to deliver an old English fish experience so authentic that you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back into London circa 1910.
CLASSICSThose looking to splurge on a multicourse meal at one of London’s celebrated gourmet temples should make a reservation at the River Café, just reopened after an extensive renovation, which pulls in a sophisticated artsy crowd with contemporary Italian dishes; at Cecconi’s, the redesigned classic Mayfair restaurant that’s delicious and fun for lunch; at Le Gavroche, which in 1974 was the first U.K. restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star (today it has two); and at the authentic oyster bar at institution J. Sheekey’s.
BIG NIGHT OUTFor a blowout meal with flawless food, service and setting, consider Tom Aikens, a well-kept secret among foodies until Michelin awarded it a star in 2005; Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, a beautifully orchestrated experience of serenity and understated quality; and Launceston Place, Princess Di’s old Kensington hangout that was given a new lease on life when D&D London took over earlier this year.
NEIGHBORHOOD PLACESFor a stylish Soho backdrop, visit revamped Quo Vadis and new hotspot Aaya, featuring Japanese cuisine. Terence Conran’s Bluebird, on King’s Road, is a brasserie and pit-stop café bursting with delicious French and Italian treats. Camden’s York & Albany, a cozy, down-home refuge, sits by Regent’s Park and is headed by star chef Gordon Ramsay.
FAMILY FRIENDLYLondon is one of those European capitals that easily capture the imagination of young children, and there are tons of great places to refuel while you’re out exploring. (Tip: Always ask for a children’s menu, as most restaurants and gastro-pubs have them.) The Café 2 at Tate Modern has great views and serves up uncomplicated fare; the aptly named Brilliant Kids Café, an arts center that also offers a variety of cool activities, focuses on healthy yet kid-friendly food; and parents will love Tom’s Kitchen, a relaxed gastro-pub by chef Tom Aikens, which has communal tables and—always entertaining—an open kitchen.
Local Voices: “The Rose Bakery, a small café located on the fourth floor of the Dover Street Market, is the perfect place to drop by after shopping for tea and a snack. You’ll find all manner of left-field designs and cutting-edge curios, as well as stars from the fashion world munching on the bakery’s scrumptious fare.” —Nathalie Hambro, fashion designer
SETTINGLondon has no shortage of hot spots where you can go to see and be seen. Favorites include Scott’s, which has become an “it” place under new owner Richard Caring, a fashion magnate who also owns Le Caprice and The Ivy; Brumus, the restaurant at the Haymarket Hotel; and St. Alban, a new venture from Chris Corbin and Jeremy King (of The Wolseley fame), which attracts a heady mix of politicians, celebrities and literati glitterati.
Insider Pick: Lady Carole Bamford’s eye for detail wins again at Daylesford Organic in Pimlico. The gleaming white marble interior and handmade willow staircase are exquisite, as is the shop’s selection of cheeses (especially the cheddar). After antiquing on the Pimlico Road, stop here for a cappuccino and a slice of apple, chestnut or pecan pie.
What to See & Do
DAYTIMEArts & Culture
According to some curators and collectors, London has edged out New York as the art capital. If you have time for only one museum, make it the glorious duo Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Tip: Travel between the two on the Tate-to-Tate Boat, a scenic, 40-minute transfer across the Thames. Other classics not to miss include the legendary Victoria & Albert Museum, the venerable National Portrait Gallery, and the relaunched Hayward Gallery, which displays major changing exhibits. If you want to get an overview of the city’s contemporary scene, head to the White Cube; the reopened Saatchi and the Albion and Serpentine galleries.
Local Voices: “I love Sir John Soane’s Museum and the fabulous Wallace Collection.”
—David Lineley, designer
Many of London’s best-known tourist sights appeal to kids, such as the London Eye, the Crown Jewels and the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. Get a guide for a half-day to visit the Tower of London, and be sure to find out whether there are any “enactments” going on, as they really bring history to life. Context Travel specializes in customized tours of varying lengths and has guides who relate well to families.
Other child-friendly activities include visiting the London Zoo, the Science Museum and the Imperial War Museum, as well as the off-the-beaten path London Transport Museum, a perfect solution for a rainy day, with hands-on exhibits and vehicles that kids can climb. If the weather is nice, consider riding paddleboats in Hyde Park, mingling with local families at the popular “pirate ship” at the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, or exploring Chelsea Market, with a stop for a pizza lunch. If you’re visiting during the holidays, don’t miss Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, which has a huge Ferris wheel, a Christmas market and a toboggan run.
Insider Pick: Tour company Context Travel specializes in making a city’s history and present-day life come alive for children of all ages. Family-friendly highlights in London include “A World of Stories,” a fascinating journey through the National Gallery, and “Tides of the Times,” a walk along the Thames that focuses on the river’s role throughout history, as well as on the modern-day environmental issues it faces (the tour is co-hosted by Thames 21, a charity dedicated to cleaning up the river; part of the proceeds of each walk go toward these efforts).
Shopping & Style
London’s shopping scene is as diverse as the city itself. Each neighborhood abounds with finds, so map out your treasure hunt well in advance. Home to Harrods and Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge and Chelsea are where many well-heeled Londoners shop. Those who prefer a more bohemian vibe should head to Notting Hill, still the neighborhood for smaller, independent labels. Fashion havens to seek out include Heidi Klein, Emma Hope and Nicole Farhi for the ladies, and for men, cool Brit designer Paul Smith, whose massive Westbourne House flagship is the only location to offer bespoke tailoring services on the top floor. Men should also not miss the new Alfred Dunhill flagship, in a stately Georgian mansion once home to the Duke of Westminster.
Insider Pick: If you only visit one shop during your time in London, make the trip to Bamford, where quality trumps trend, and materials and lasting beauty are what matter. The spare white space sets off the subtle workmanship of the wares, selected with great care and style by Lady Bamford.
The West End is dominated by iconic department store Selfridges, Piccadilly Circus (where you’ll find Fortnum & Mason) and Savile Row, the penultimate in tailoring. Try Gieves & Hawkes for classic craftsmanship, Richard James for a more modern touch and Emma Willis, one of the few female tailors, for gorgeous fabrics and a small women’s shirt collection. Veering off the main drag in the West End is a must, though purist shoppers will first insist on stopping on Bond Street, where Burberry, Mulberry, Pringle and Smythson of Bond Street are practically neighbors. Don’t miss Longmire, an independent jeweler specializing in gold and silver cufflinks for true connoisseurs.
Many travelers also come to London for the outstanding antiques shopping. The Saturday market on Portobello Road is world-famous for its mix of lowbrow and high-end. Recommended independent antique showrooms include the two-story Town House; Hilary Batstone Antiques, which carries a mix of antiques and designer objets; and Dean Antiques and Core One, the latter a cooperative of eight antique dealers whose wares fill a massive space in one of London’s old gasworks.
Insider Pick: Nigerian-born Duro Olowu, 2005’s New Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards, opened a store called OG2 on Portobello Road, which carries his fabulous offbeat clothes, as well as colorful fabrics, African prints and Turkish rugs. By appointment only.
London is the world’s unrivaled theater capital and home to some of its most renowned playhouses, including Shakespeare’s Globe, the Old Vic, the Almeida and Donmar Warehouse. On any given week, there’s a tremendous amount of talent performing; for instance, the Donmar Warehouse alone is showcasing Kenneth Branagh, Jude Law, Dame Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi in four new productions this fall and in spring 2009. The West End sees the premieres of many big-name musicals before they go international (“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and “Sister Act” are slated for spring 2009). Opera and dance lovers flock to the traditional and grand Royal Opera House in Covent Garden; at the renovated London Coliseum, the English National Opera performs more cutting-edge productions. Premier Events, a VIP ticketing service, can help with securing seats to the most coveted productions.
Bars & Lounges
Like other fast-paced capitals (think New York or Tokyo), London has an ever-changing nightlife scene. Lots of trends originate here, though what’s hot today may be passé tomorrow. Here’s a short list of tried-and-true addresses that continue to draw a glam crowd. Those who enjoy a hotel setting should head for the Blue Bar at the Berkeley, forever packed with a fashion crowd, the chic Lobby Bar at One Aldwych, or the intimate Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel, where there is live jazz most nights after 9 p.m. Milk & Honey, the original speakeasy, in Soho, still serves über-inventive cocktails; Loungelover, in up-and-coming Shoreditch, draws an arty crowd, while The Cow, owned by Terence Conran’s son, Tom, caters to the cool Notting Hill set. For views and Champagne, make a reservation at wine bar Vertigo42, whose décor may look a bit tired but whose soaring, 360-degree city panoramas cannot be beat. And leave it to London to throw a great party at a museum: Once a month, the V & A hosts Friday Late, with deejays, live music and late-night access to the exhibitions.