Something about London has always felt like home. I used to visit as a child, I lived here for ten years as an adult, and now I enjoy any excuse to explore London’s newest sights and oldest gems. My latest visit saw me dazzled by a neon gallery and then put in a sugar coma by a famed French chef. So whether your weekend city break is packed with you need a cake induced lie down or a weekend break in the city, I’ve gathered my favourite London spots, old and new, alongside dreamy city-centre hotels so you can lap it all up in style.
City break in London | culture, food and luxury
SEE | classic London sights and secret contemporary gems
Of course, London is all about the grand old architecture, but it also hides a few lesser known gems that not everyone gets to see.
The iconic sights
Head to Westminster to take in iconic sights like the Houses of Parliament & Westminster Abbey, then wander across Westminster Bridge towards the London Eye and Southbank. This riverside pocket is filled with street performers, exhibition spaces, cafes, restaurants and my favourite, a second hand book market under Waterloo Bridge. I have a thing for retro book covers, and managed to find old copies of Lolita and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when I was last here.
I relish any spare time I have in London, and I’ll usually try and pack in as many galleries or museums as possible during my stay. The first on the list are always the classic greats such as the Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the Saatchi are unmissable for art fans, while museums such as the V&A (I often visit the fashion gallery) and the Natural History Museum ooze those classic London vibes by the bucketload. Top Tip: skip the usually huge Natural History Museum queue at the front entrance by going to the side door on Exhibition Road. I’ve always been able to walk straight in when I’ve headed here first.
Posh London pads
Peer into some of the city’s poshest pads with a visit to Spencer House (only open on Sundays), an 18th century aristocratic home owned by Princess Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer. Also visit Sir John Soane’s Museum, a house filled with 40,000 objects collected by its former resident, architect John Soane. I was fascinated to hear that Soane managed to pass a legislation that his home be kept in the exact state he left it when he died, and that he had a three day party to unveil the Egyptian sarcophagus in his basement. Finally, head for high tea in the pale pink courtyard restaurant at my favourite place for tea and cake in London, The Wallace Collection.
An instagrammers dream
For something more off the beaten track, God’s Own Junkyard has become somewhat of an Instagram sensation over the last few years. It’s no wonder why, I was amazed by this room stuffed with neon lights and retro signs. Late owner Chris used to design signs for Hollywoodites such as Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton, so this really is the crème de la crème of neon.
STAY | the perfect hotels in London for quintessential grandeur and stylish hangouts
From old classic manor houses to slick and stylish industrial conversions, London has every kind of hotel for every kind of break.
Classic | old British luxury with indoor garden and proper afternoon tea
Next to Marylebone station sits one of London’s classic railway hotels: The Landmark. I used to live nearby, and I’d always walk past wondering what was hidden behind its grand entrance. The reality is better than I could have imagined – a huge indoor winter garden with a sky-high glass roof and towering palm trees, where you can devour an impressive afternoon tea. Plush traditional rooms come with marble bathrooms – ask for a room that looks over the winter garden for the best view.
The Landmark London
Classic | restored hotel for a grand British stay
One of my favourite buildings in London is St Pancras Station, and inside this grand pile sits the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, a lavish and lush hotel that was restored to its former glory after closing down in the 30s because it was too expensive to run. Inside, you can see why, everything is what you’d want from an English great: gold leaf, ornate stonework, a starry painted dome ceiling and a marble staircase that looks like it belongs in a cathedral. Rooms are just as fancy, the Chambers Wing rooms have vaulted ceilings and features like freestanding bathtubs and fireplaces. Cocktails in the old Kings Cross ticket hall are a must, the menu is inspired by Victorian apothecary, could we be more British?
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London
Contemporary | modern East London hotel with a swimming pool
I used to live in the hipster East. Back then it was a burgeoning blend of cultural neighbourhoods; now it’s filled with stylish destinations like the Town Hall Hotel. Found inside a majestic Edwardian building, this modern design hotel is perfect for exploring East London. Grand marble and art deco interiors await inside, with mid-century modern furnishings, a black-tiled basement pool and the peaceful Corner Room restaurant. There’s even a hotel dog, a magnificent greyhound called Dizzy.
Town Hall Hotel & Apartments
Contemporary | hotel with a rooftop pool and inspiring interiors
Heading more towards the city is The Boundary Project, an interior haven designed by Brit legends Terence and Vicki Conran. Every space in this hotel looks like it has been pulled from an interiors magazine. The rooftop is a local fave and there’s often a queue – I’ve joined it many a time to get my summer seafood fix – but you can skip it if you stay here. Each room is inspired by a design movement or a designer, the Eames room is my favourite, I do love a slick mid-century chair…
EAT | good old classic comfort food and surprising vegan treats in London's restaurants
You can dine in every corner of the world in London; the only problem I have is deciding between them all.
Traditional English fare
If you want to indulge in a classic London cliche you’d better get down the Simpson’s Tavern. This traditional chop house serves hearty classics from a good old English fry up to a roast beef lunch. I’m told that workers used to visit during their lunch breaks in the 1700s, even Arthur Conan Doyle used to eat here… Tradition dictates that they offer a sausage with everything, so don’t be surprised by their “do you want a sausage with that?” as you’re ordering. You can say no.
Classic French cuisine
Even with the whole world to choose from in London’s restaurants nothing gets better than a simple classic French favourite, steak-frites, and I found London’s best about ten years ago, at Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte. There is only one option on the menu, a starter salad and a steak-frites main, with a secret sauce that I’m still trying to figure out. I fell in love forever when I reached that point nearing my empty plate as I was thinking “I could eat that all over again” because guess what? You can. When they bring you seconds. Heaven.
London has become a pretty decent place for a pretty decent plate of pasta. Borough Market’s Padella regularly sees queues around the corner (try a late lunch for a shorter wait, and order the pici cacio & pepe), and it’s no wonder when you can grab a plate of fresh, hand-rolled pasta for under a tenner. Burro e Salvia in Shoreditch and Pastaio in Soho are also worth checking out for a tasty carb fix.
If you’re more health crazed, go vegan. New York’s by CHLOE arrived in 2018, turning the vegan dining scene on its head with vegan treats designed for carnivores. I have been seduced by the Guac Burger and the vegan Mac N’ Cheese.
Other vegan favourites include Genesis in Spitalfields, its pink interiors are photo gold (if you’re the photographing your food type). Deptford’s The Full Nelson specialises in junk food vegan-style, and the Wulf & Lamb deserves a mention even just for its dish names;my personal favourite, the chilli ‘non’ carne.
Sustainable dining is one of the bright new things in London, so check out Cub and Tiny Leaf for some yummy eco-friendly food.
DRINK | pints in classic London boozers to classy rooftop cocktails
There’s an old pub on every corner in London, and a selection of contemporary bars.
Traditional London pubs
You can’t get more classic London – or classic British – than a traditional pub. Wander any street in London and you’ll find one, and I’ve found some interesting dens doing just that. My recent discoveries have included the tiny Tom Cribb, where I stood outside with a glass of wine before seeing a play at the Pinter Theatre opposite, and The Queen’s Arms, hidden down a little cobblestone mews that I only found because I was seeking out a glass of wine before going to the Royal Albert Hall.
There are lots of famous London pubs too. There’s The George Inn, thought to be Shakespeare’s local, The Spaniards Inn, mentioned by Dickens in his Pickwick Papers, or The Carpenters Arms, once owned by the Kray Twins’ mother.
If you’re more cocktails than half pints, classics await at the American Bar at the Savoy, a fancy drinking den since the 1900s with a live jazz pianist. The Connaught Hotel’s The Connaught Bar shows off with some fancy Tom Cruise-esque cocktail shaker throwing; you’ll feel like a superstar in this old London haunt.
Allis White City
An old school venue with a brand new face, the Allis White City sits in the former BBC Television Centre. It was once famed for Top of the Pops and Blue Peter, now it’s home to champagne martinis and sausage rolls (although this is part of Soho House, we’re not talking standard buffet snacks here). I came to the BBC for work experience in the early noughties, and was pleased to see the sparkly, retro decor nodding to the building’s heyday – look out for the girl and clown test card artwork.
Pergola is my go-to for summer cocktails, but they open year round in Olympia and Paddington. Both are rooftop wonderlands with climbing flowers, featuring a collection of popup kitchens. My boyfriend and I usually grab a dish from each to share.
If you’re in London in the summer, I recommend a trip to Frank’s in Peckham for sunset drinks. Their bright pink staircase is legendary.
London’s rooftops get busy in the summer, so be sure to book before you go.
DO | classic theatre, unique shopping & crazy golf in London
From the West End to the East End, there’s always something exciting to do in London
Shopping in London
Shopping is sublime in London. There’s the famous Oxford Street, Regent Street, the two Westfield centres and department stores Selfridges and Harrods, but my personal favourite has to be Liberty. Presiding over Carnaby Street, it’s a black and white Tudor revival building with some really unique brands inside, from my favourite interiors brand Rockett St George to cutting edge fashion names like Bruta and Acne Studios. My favourite time to visit is in the winter; their top floor Christmas department is the best in London.
Music and shows in London
The Royal Albert Hall is a London institution, and you don’t have to splash the cash to visit. I’ve seen everything from film screenings with live orchestras to famous composers here, they also host podcast recordings, pop concerts and even all-star tennis games. If you’re into classical music, enjoy some of London’s free recitals; the Royal Academy of Music and St Martin in the Fields both offer lunchtime concerts.
Crazy-golf and bowling
I found myself playing crazy golf just off Oxford Street recently. The place was called Swingers, where you can escape the crowds, enjoy a round of golf and sample some street food in a 1920s Brit seaside setting. If bowling is more your thing, Bayswater’s Meatliquor serves its gourmet burgers and chips in a diner-cum-bowling alley.
Hackney designer outlet
Shoreditch shopping is great if you want something different, but Hackney Walk is my latest find. Set in hipster Hackney, it’s a designer outlet with some impressive names, including Aquascutum, Joseph and Matches Fashion.
Museum souvenir hunting
If you’re shopping for souvenirs, consider London’s museum shops for unique treasures. My most recent find was in the Saatchi shop – a bright pink leather bookmark, with a naked man drawn on one side. It has raised a few eyebrows when I’m reading on the tube… Check out the London Design Museum, the V&A, The British Museum, The British Library and the Imperial War Museum shops too.
Instead of taking an expensive river tour, just hop on the commuter river bus, it'll take you past Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the O2 and the Millennium Bridge.
Every time I leave London I feel exhausted, but in the best way possible. Visit London and you'll be culturally fed, foodie fed, and even if you feel like you've seen it all, you'll be itching for more.