Huge, energetic, historic, beautiful and edgy – London remains one of the world’s most fascinating cities. You can visit again and again, and never have the same experience twice.
Unless you have many months to spare, the best way to see London is to go for variety, selecting just a few areas. Here are some ideas:
Fridays and Saturdays show Notting Hill off at its best, if you can stand the crowds. Portobello Market is a heaving treasure chest full of antiques, street food, vintage clothing and flea market fare. Colourful cottages line the streets and chic boutiques sit happily alongside the market stalls. When your legs are tired you can sit in one of the hundreds of cafes, bars and pubs and watch the passers-by.
Soho & Chinatown
Soho is an excellent place to observe London in all its diversity. Self conscious media types in skinny jeans rub shoulders with market vendors in streets packed with cafes, bars, restaurants, pop-up shops and fringed by the city’s red light district. Old Compton Street is a vibrant slice of London’s gay community, and the theatre land of Covent Garden is a stone’s throw away.
Step over Shaftsbury Avenue and you are hit by the exotic, pungent flavours of Chinatown. Streets hung with red lanterns are packed with windows full of glistening crispy ducks, ancient Chinese medicines and unusual foods to take home. Feast yourself on dim sum and take in the aromas and colour.
Brick Lane and the surrounding Spital fields, Shoreditch and Whitechapel shows off London in all its artistic, cosmopolitan and eclectic glory. Steeped with history and yet constantly developing, the area is perhaps best known for its Bengal community and its top quality, cheap curry houses. Once haunted by Jack the Ripper, winding alley ways lead to open spaces and covered markets. The street food is excellent and urban art covers the crumbling walls.
If you fancy sitting back and taking in the view, the riverboat is a novel and relaxing way to get your bearings. Get on at Embankment and ride all the way to Greenwich to enjoy a winding river ride which takes in many of London’s famous landmarks as well as a fascinating combination of historic and cutting edge architecture: the Houses of Parliament, Tate Modern, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf, to name a few.
Tip: When it comes to accommodation, the best way to absorb the atmosphere of these areas is to avoid the big hotels and ‘stay local’. There are various beautiful boutique hotels, and for a truly authentic local experience, onefinestay.com provides quirky vacation apartments (complete with local tips) with all the comforts of a hotel.