London resident Jonny Payne gives you an insider’s tour around the city that never sleeps, sharing some secrets that only the locals know.
Explore the streets of Covent Garden ahead of the hoards of shoppers, before really waking up with a cup of steaming, aromatic chai in Dishoom (12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, 020 7420 9320) from 8am. This Bombay-style café serves Parsi and Indian breakfast staples such as Akuri (spiced scrambled eggs) with pau buns, chicken keema, and fusion dishes including bacon and sausage naan rolls. Early birds seeking a British brekkie can head to The Delaunay (55 Aldwych, 020 7499 8558) for a full English or opt for European specialities such as oatmeal soufflé. Those craving a New York-style start to the day, meanwhile, will feel right at home at Balthazar (4-6 Russell Street, 020 3301 1155) – it might be a bit too early for a cocktail from its fabulous bar, but its pancakes and French-inspired egg dishes certainly hit the spot.
Skip past the mime artists and acrobats as they draw the crowds in the Piazza and head to Neal’s Yard, with its beauty shop Neal’s Yard Remedies (15 Neal’s Yard, 020 7379 7222), cheesemaker Neal’s Yard Dairy (17 Shorts Gardens, 020 7240 5700) and colourful buildings squashed in the narrow courtyard – it makes the perfect Instagram opportunity. From 10am, spend time examining the exhibits at the London Transport Museum (Covent Garden Piazza, 020 7379 6344), where you’ll discover how transportation has helped to shape the city – don’t miss the last remaining steam-driven Tube engine from the 1860s. Alternatively, take a 75-minute tour of the Royal Opera House (Bow Street, 020 7304 4000). This behind-the-scenes peak into the famous venue gives a fascinating insight into life as part of the Royal Ballet or Royal Opera. With each tour different due to the fact it’s a working theatre, you may even be lucky enough to see rehearsals or chance upon ballet dancers in training.
Stroll along The Strand to Somerset House (Strand, 020 7845 4600), stopping off on the way at The Savoy (91-92 Strand, 020 7836 4343) to have a quick look in the Savoy Museum. This small but fascinating enclave next to The American Bar features pieces from famous faces who have stayed in the grand hotel – keep an eye out for Noël Coward’s lighter. Once at Somerset House, you’ll be able to skate on the pop-up ice rink in winter months and explore the Courtauld Gallery (Strand, 020 7848 2526) with its stunning collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works. After your fill of Gaugins, Monets and Van Goghs, take the Tube from Temple to Tower Hill, skirting the Tower of London to arrive on Tower Bridge. Here, you should venture into the Tower Bridge Exhibition (Tower Bridge Road, 020 7403 3761), where you’ll see the inner workings of the famous bridge and take a brave walk along the newly opened glass-bottomed, high-level walkway.
If it’s a weekend, continue southwards along Tower Bridge Road to Maltby Street Market (Ropewalk), where you’ll find traders contained under the railway arches along Ropewalk. Try Bar Tozino (Ropewalk) for authentic tapas amidst a curtain of hanging Iberico hams, or stock up on delicious doughnuts from St John Bakery (72 Druid Street, 020 7237 5999). While there, take a look in the quirky Lassco (41 Maltby Street, 020 7394 8061) for reclaimed and antique treasures. If it’s a weekday, however, sample the unique creations of chef Tom Sellers at Restaurant Story (199 Tooley Street, 020 7183 2117). Sellers’ boundary-pushing dishes based on children’s books have won him a Michelin star, and include the likes of The Three Bears Porridge – three bowls of porridge with one too sweet, one too salty, and one just right. Alternatively, continue to Bermondsey Street, where you’ll find French gem Casse-Crôute (109 Bermondsey Street, 020 7407 2140 – make sure to book ahead as it’s tiny), gastropub The Garrison (99-101 Bermondsey Street, 020 7089 9355) and Spanish sherry and tapas bar José (104 Bermondsey Street, 020 7403 4902).
Walk off lunch with a meander along Bermondsey Street, home to trendy boutiques and independent shops. Make a beeline for London Glassblowing (62-66 Bermondsey Street, 020 7403 2800), a glass-blowing studio and gallery where you can see artist Peter Layton at work, or head to the brightly coloured Fashion and Textile Museum (83 Bermondsey Street, 020 7407 8664) for top exhibits encompassing fashion, textiles and jewellery. Rising majestically out of the ground near London Bridge station is Renzo Piano’s unmistakable glass structure, The Shard. If you have a head for heights, go up to Aqua Shard (The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, 020 3011 1256) for afternoon tea – at level 31 it’s not quite as high as The View from The Shard’s platform at level 72, but you’ll save on the entrance fee and the late afternoon views are almost as breathtaking.
From London Bridge, take the Jubilee Line north to Baker Street, home to master detective Sherlock Holmes. You’ll have enough time to learn more about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character and his trusted partner Dr Watson at The Sherlock Holmes Museum (221b Baker Street, 020 7224 3688). If you’re more into shopping, head instead to Alfies Antique Market (13-25 Church Street, 020 7723 6066) in fashionable Marylebone. This arcade houses 20 independent dealers offering everything from jewellery to retro furniture. No visit to the area would be complete without a perusal of Daunt Books (83 Marylebone High Street, 020 7224 2295). This Edwardian bookshop is crammed full of good reads amongst its oak bookshelves and galleries – the perfect place to rest your travel-weary legs over a chapter or two.
Soak up more of Marylebone’s village-like atmosphere by staying for dinner. Tuck into classics such as schnitzel, frankfurters and strudel at relaxed Viennese-style eatery Fischer’s (50 Marylebone High Street, 020 7466 5501). If you’re looking for somewhere a little more animated, try homely Peruvian outpost Pachamama (18 Thayer Street, 020 7935 9393). This basement venue mixes Latin sounds and a flavour-packed menu of sharing dishes with pisco cocktails from its fabulous reclaimed wood bar. Order some tongue-tingling ceviche and don’t miss the moreish lomo saltado (ribeye).
After dinner, take a short Tube ride to Angel, where you’ll emerge on Upper Street, the area’s main thoroughfare. Here, you’ll find plentiful options for a quiet or lively end to the night. Try the Apothecary Bar in House of Wolf (181 Upper Street, 020 7288 1470) for cocktails with a medicinal theme – remember to search for the Fainting Room hidden behind its walls. If you’re looking for somewhere a little more intimate, the self-styled “bar with no name” (69 Colebrooke Row, 075 4052 8593) should do the trick. Dark and with a distinct film noir feel, this sultry venue can be found by its lantern outside, and serves up classic and bespoke cocktails. End your night at nearby Barrio North (45 Essex Road, 020 7749 3940), which hosts DJs, live music and urban poets with a focus on world sounds in an eclectic setting.
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Written by World Travel Guide.