London

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London

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London

Quick facts

Barclays Cycle Hire

The Boris Bike revolution
Noteworthy for: Introduced in 2010, there are now millions of journeys made, with 6,000 bikes available in Zone 1 from 400 docking stations.

Word to the wise: While some vehicle drivers are cycle-aware, others can be dangerously oblivious. Turn on your lights by dusk and stick to cycle paths.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson Barclays' Cycle Hire has sprung up all over the city. Nicknamed Boris Bikes, regular users can register to hire them on the TfL website and are sent a key (GBP 3), which unlocks a bike from a docking station. Casual users can pay with credit or debit cards following on screen instructions at the terminal.

They do not come with locks, and are intended for getting to your destination, docking, then getting a new bike for your next journey. There are maps at each station and online to locate the nearest terminal to your destination.

Local government are aiming to make bikes as common as black cabs and red buses. However, for the complete novice, cycling through Central London can feel like running the gauntlet. Stick to the parks and quiet paths, or cycle along the canal from East to West London for a lovely day trip.
Phone: +44 20 8216 6666
Opening Hours: Daily: 24 hours

Bermondsey, Borough and South London

It ain't grim down south
Word to the wise: On Redcross Way, off Borough High Street, is the little-known site Cross Bones. This medieval, unconsecrated graveyard for prostitutes is permanently festooned with ribbons, flowers and tokens.

Tipple of choice: The George (Borough High Street) is one of London's oldest pubs dating from the 16th century, and it's still great for a pint.

London's north-south divide is slightly more complicated than it might first appear. There are some areas that, although on the southern side of the Thames, are not considered to be 'south' - in other words, North Londoners will happily go there. Incidentally, these areas are some of the most fashionable and exciting in the city, such as Borough and neighbouring Bermondsey.

Most visitors - and locals - head to the Borough for its weekend food market, but whilst there explore the surrounding area. Nearby Bermondsey Street is one of London's hottest spots right now, lined with buzzy restaurants and bars, great independent shops and the new outpost of hip gallery White Cube.

As for 'real' South London - pay no attention to the naysayers. Yes, there are a lot of estates and the wide roads can lend it a desolate air, but a large multicultural population and cheaper housing means some areas are vibrant and exciting, such as New Cross and Peckham in particular.
Address: Tube: London Bridge, Borough, Bermondsey, Kennington, New Cross

Brixton and Clapham

South London's non-identical twins
Noteworthy for: Brixton offers some of London's liveliest streetlife and markets, while Clapham has smarter shops and attractive cafes.

Word to the wise: Don't confuse Clapham with Clapham Junction, an area that, despite is name, is actually in neighbouring Battersea.

Talk of the town: Brixton houses London's last surviving windmill, in residential backwater Blenheim Gardens.

These two neighbouring South London districts perform a great double act: while Clapham is upscale and rather villagey, Brixton next door is bohemian, rough-edged and irrepressibly vibrant. In their own different ways, both demonstrate how South London has been transformed into a gentrification hotspot in the past few decades.

Brixton has long been a centre for London's afro-caribbean communities, and it's still a great place to pick up spicy jerk chicken and Caribbean groceries, not least in what might be London's liveliest street market, Electric Avenue. With the development of the Brixton Village covered arcades just across the road and the thriving Market Row, the area is also becoming a foodie hotspot with shabby chic cafe-restaurants and offbeat shopping.

Clapham also offers good restaurants, more traditional-style pubs and a sizable gay community. Highlights include Clapham Common, a broad green space lined with grand old houses, and Abbeville Village, a cute collection of cafes and independent shops lining the area's Abbeville Road.
Address: Tube: Clapham Common, Brixton

Budget London

London's not just for the rich
Noteworthy for: According to Zagat, the average amount a diner spends eating out is GBP 43.40, but you can get a meal for GBP 10 with a bit of research.

London is an expensive city to visit, but there are plenty of attractions on offer for free. Most museums' permanent exhibits are free and the huge number of markets make great free days out. Venues from Camden's Barfly to Southbank's Royal Festival Hall host free concerts, and pubs throughout the city stage free cabaret, comedy and gigs.

Eating out can be financially draining, but most curry houses, Vietnamese joints and many other restaurants offer Bring Your Own (BYO) booze, charging a small fee for corkage of a bottle of wine or such. This is a great way to save money and try some new interesting cuisine such as Little Georgia on Broadway Market, which serves authentic Georgian food and has a BYO policy.

Bus

Ride on a red-double decker
Talk of the town: The iconic Routemasters are slowly being replaced by modern replicas; the days of the friendly conductor are missed by Londoners.

Word to the wise: You don't need to tell the driver your destination; a single fare covers whatever journey you are making.

The London bus network stretches to every corner of the city. Most bus stops – signposted by a red and white sign – are request only, meaning you need to raise your hand so the bus driver knows you want it to stop. Tap in with your Oyster, or pay by cash. Most drivers won't change notes, and you can't top-up your Oyster on the bus.

The difficulty is you need to know when you've reached your destination. Look up the name of your stop on the TfL website prior to travel or ask the bus driver to let you know when you need to get off.

Traffic can be terrible in Central London, so this is not a quick way to travel, but it can be great for short off-peak journeys or if you’re on a budget. That said, riding on the top deck at the front of a double-decker is a great way to see the sights.
Phone: +44 843 222 1234
Opening Hours: Daily: 24 hours

Canary Wharf

London's mini Manhattan
Word to the wise: Canary Wharf teems with life on weekdays, but is like a ghost town on the weekends – great if you’re aiming to avoid the crowds, but equally, a little bit boring.

Noteworthy for: Until it was trumped by London Bridge's The Shard, One Canada Square was the tallest building in the UK.

Known as the Little Manhattan of London, Canary Wharf is a small city of soaring skyscrapers that make up London’s second banking and business district. Despite suffering several near bankruptcies and the dramatic demise of Lehman Brothers at the start of the recession in 2008, Canary Wharf still serves as London’s biggest money-maker.

Look up and the buildings offer plenty of opportunities to capture abstract snapshots, and then ride the escalators to the lower levels, where there lies a maze of three malls, with a selection of shops, cafes and restaurants, although these are all of the more mainstream and commercial ilk.

Over the bridge towards West India Quay is a group of restored warehouses (some of the best examples of preservation in London) that are now home to upmarket bars and restaurants dishing up a variety of cuisines. The scene is definitively business lunches and power dinners in this clean cut neighbourhood.
Address: Canary Wharf
Tube: Canary Wharf
Bus: D3, D7, D8, 135, 277, N550
Opening Hours: Stores, Mon–Wed: 9am – 7pm
Thu–Fri: 9am – 8pm
Sat: 10am – 6pm
Sun: 12noon – 6pm
Some store times vary

Culture

Live London like a local
Noteworthy for: With over 300 languages spoken, there's not one single idea of what a London local is, but a multitude of different cultures and characters that make the city.

1. Get out of the city centre
Many tourists head straight to Piccadilly Circus. London’s most authentic and rewarding attractions are away from the central tourist traps.

2. Drinking
Brits are famed for their booze binges, and depending on where you come from, the sight of drunken gaggles falling out of clubs may seem disturbing. It is however, very much part of British culture, and if you want to bond with the locals, the best place to do it is in a pub over a pint… or five.

3. Sex
London is probably one of the most liberal and tolerant cities in the world. Whatever your sexual orientation, it is unlikely anyone will bat an eyelid let alone pass judgment, and there are clubs catering to every preference or whim.

4. Don’t talk to strangers
Well, do, as you never know who can impart an interesting gem of information, but don’t be surprised if Londoner’s greet friendliness with suspicion. People keep their eyes to themselves on public transport and aren’t enthusiastic about entering into conversation. Of course, there are rewarding exceptions.

Dalston and Shoreditch

Gritty and grungy with hidden gems
Word to the wise: The 24-hour 149 bus route is the lifeline of this area. Starting at London Bridge, it passes Liverpool Street, Spitalfields, Shoreditch and Dalston, ending at Stoke Newington, all for GBP 2.30.

Popular plate: Kingsland Road is lined with Vietnamese restaurants selling great budget food with a Bring Your Own booze policy.

Shoreditch became such a mecca for uber-cool, skinny-jean wearing hipster kids that they made a TV series satirising them, called Nathan Barley. These days you're just as likely to find bankers from the City as Shoreditch-ites pouring out of the innumerable bars, pubs and restaurants. Nonetheless, it remains a hub of nightlife offering everything from dress-up-and-dance burlesque parties to dirty underground raves, with the more unusual offerings up towards Dalston.

Dalston doesn’t look like much from the outside – the Kingsland road is lined with Pound Stores, Turkish kebab joints and mobile phone kiosks – but hidden between these are underground drinking dens, music venues and budget eats. Traditionally a Jewish area, it absorbed immigrants from every community, transforming it into a multi-ethnic enclave, now also home to the arty types that were priced out of Brick Lane.

Ridley Road market sums it up: typical East End fruit and veg stands are sandwiched between stalls selling pig’s trotters and giant African snails, while across the road is an underground drinking den.
Address: Tube: Dalston Junction, Haggerston, Shoreditch High Street
Overground: Dalston Kingsland, Hackney Central
Train: London Fields

Gatwick

Britain's second largest airport
Noteworthy for: Gatwick's new inter-terminal transit system means you can now travel between terminals in under three minutes.

Word to the wise: If you want to take a black cab from London, agree a fare beforehand. Metered taxis don't apply as Gatwick lies outside of the Metropolitan Police District.

Located 25km south of London in West Sussex, Gatwick is the second largest international airport. The North and South terminals both have a comprehensive range of shops, restaurants, left luggage and the usual services.

The fastest way to get here is on the Gatiwck Express trains departing from Victoria every 15 minutes between 4am and 1am with the journey taking 30 minutes and costing GBP 18.90 single, GBP 33.20 return.

Regular trains depart from London Bridge, St Pancras International and Clapham Junction for Gatwick, taking a little bit longer with multiple stops, but significantly cheaper. Check National Rail for fares.

Airport Cars provide Gatwick’s official taxi service with booking offices in both terminals. The journey will take roughly one hour, and cost around GBP 95.
Address: Ring Road South, London Gatwick Airport, West Sussex
Phone: Information: +44 844 892 0322

Getting around the city

Top three transport tips
Noteworthy for: The sheer magnitude of London can be daunting, but once you get the hang of public transport, getting around suddenly becomes much less stressful.

1. Get an Oyster Card
If your stay is any longer than a day, this travel smartcard is indispensable. It will save you pounds every time you travel, and can be used on every method of public transport in the city. Get one from a manned-booth at any tube station or many corner shops.

2. Congestion Charge
Don't drive in London. It's madness, and will take you twice as long to get anywhere than public transport. If you do drive, you have to pay a GBP 10 daily Congestion Charge between 7am and 6pm, Monday to Friday in the Congestion Charge zone, which includes most of London. You can pay online, but don't forget - the fines are big.

3. Walk
London is enormous, but the centre is surprisingly compact. Many visitors find themselves getting a tube from Charing Cross to Leicester Square then realising they are only 10-minutes walk apart. With overcrowded public transport and congested roads, this is a walker’s city, so wear flat shoes.

Heathrow

London's major international hub
Noteworthy for: Heathrow handles more international passengers than any other airport worldwide.

Word to the wise: Local mini-cab companies offer much cheaper rates for taxis to and from Heathrow than black cabs, but always leave extra time.

Heathrow is the world’s third busiest airport, with an annual 67 million passengers passing through. Located in Hounslow, west of London, it has five terminals all linked together. Terminal 5 handles all British Airways flights; Terminal 4 is for long-haul transatlantic flights; most US airlines operate out of Terminal 3, and Terminal 1 is predominately inter-European flights. Terminal 2 is currently closed for reconstruction.

The Piccadilly line will take you from Central London to Heathrow in around 50 minutes for the price of a single journey to zone 4 (GBP 5), making it by far the most cost-effective. Tubes operate from around 5am to 12midnight.

A black cab should cost you between GBP 50-85, and will take between 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. Always leave extra time. Pre-booked cars can be cheaper.

The Heathrow Express is the most stress-free way to travel, with air-conditioned trains running every 15 minutes from Paddington station for GBP 34 return direct to your terminal. Heathrow Connect also operate trains taking around 30 minutes with multiple stops on route for GBP 9.10 single.
Address: Heathrow Airport, Hounslow, Middlesex
Phone: Information: +44 844 335 1801

Islington and Angel

The Notting Hill of the East
Talk of the town: George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh and Joe Orton all lived here in the 20th century, securing its former reputation as a literary hub.

Word to the wise: Camden Passage antiques market is not - as the name suggests - in Camden, but here in Angel, with stalls spreading throughout the charming pedestrianised arcades.

The closest to a West London vibe you’ll find in North London, Islington is, however, slightly less expensive and slightly less refined. Upper Street has an ever burgeoning number of delectable delights from kooky design stores to cake shops, and at night turns into a one-stop destination for dressed-up drinkers.

It thrives on a shabby chic appeal with the renovated Georgian mansions and Victorian terraces home to stylish city workers and successful artists making it distinctively upper-middle class. Once a haven for independent stores, Angel is increasingly commercialised, but you can still find the vibrant edginess along the Essex Road. There are also a number of theatres and live music venues here, as well as the great 'Screen on the Green' independent cinema.
Address: Tube: Angel, Highbury & Islington
Overground: Highbury & Islington
Train: Essex Road

Kensington and Chelsea

Exclusive, expensive and exquisite
Noteworthy for: This is London’s most affluent borough. Kensington Palace Gardens is even named Billionaire’s Row.

Talk of the town: This has been a favourite shopping destination for Royals ever since Henry VIII’s wives lived here. Princess Diana shopped along the King’s Road, as does Kate Middleton now.

This Royal borough in South West London is the playground for the rich and wealthy. The streets feel cleaner, the mansions grander, the restaurants pricier and the clubs snootier. It is traversed by two major shopping streets: Kensington High Street with its upper-end chains, and the ever-hip King’s Road with chic designer shops.

In terms of affluence, Knightsbridge reigns supreme. It is home to London’s most luxurious department store Harrods, and where designers from Prada to Jimmy Choo built their flagship stores. Beauchamp Place has smaller more intimate – though equally expensive – shopping options.

But it’s not all shopping – London’s most important museums line Cromwell Road, including the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Along the Fulham Road, you’ll find numerous antiques dealers, and the Saatchi Gallery is a stalwart of the contemporary art scene.
Address: Tube: South Kensington, Knightsbridge, Gloucester Road, Sloane Square

London City

The business community’s airport
Noteworthy for: It was created with business travellers in mind, which is reflected in the price of the flights. It also is home to the most central private jet centre for those who fly in style.

Word to the wise: There is free wi-fi throughout the airport.

London City Airport is just 5km east of the financial district of Canary Wharf, Docklands and the ExCel centre, making this single-runway airport a convenient hub of activity for business travellers who need to commute to Western Europe or other parts of Britain.

A Docklands Light Railway train departs every 10 minutes for Bank station, from where you can connect to the Underground, with singles costing GBP 4.30 taking 20 minutes. A taxi the same distance will take longer and cost around GBP 25.
Address: London City Airport, Royal Dock, East Ham
Phone: +44 20 7646 0088

London festivals

Frolic in the fields of London
Word to the wise: Tickets sell out early for the major events so buy in advance.

In the approach to summer the whole country gears up for festival season, when dozens of events take place every weekend from the Isle of Wight's dress-up dance-off at Bestival to Oxfordshire's boutique arts fest Wilderness. But you don't need to go far afield; London has its own roster of festivals throughout the year.

For the musically inclined, the Lovebox Weekender, Hard Rock Calling and Wireless all have a three-day lineup of major international acts from Hot Chip to Bruce Springsteen, as well as the usual field-based fun. Standon Calling, V Festival and Reading Festival are all just a short train journey away as well.

Film buffs shouldn't miss the BFI London Film Festival in October, whilst the biannual London Fashion Week will have fashion lovers salivating. But the most quintessentially 'London' event is the Notting Hill Carnival when what feels like the whole city takes to the streets of West London to dance.

London Underground

The city's iconic lifeline
Noteworthy for: The Underground, or colloquially ‘the Tube’, is the second largest subterranean system in the world after the Shanghai Metro, and the oldest.

Word to the wise: Avoid travelling at rush hour (8.30am – 9.30am and 5pm – 7pm) unless you enjoy being squeezed between hundreds of sweaty, grumpy Londoners.

As much as Londoner’s moan about the Underground, without it, the enormous urban sprawl would be completely impossible to traverse. It may be overcrowded and expensive, but it is invaluable, especially for the traveller.

Maps are fairly self-explanatory with a colour-coded grid. Some stations are very close together - in Central London you’re never more than 10 minutes walk to the next tube - so check a map before you make a journey needlessly.

The city is divided into six zones, and tickets priced according to how far you travel through zones. If you are in the city for longer than one day, get an Oyster Card. This travel smartcard can be topped-up at stations or online, and you ‘tap’ in and out on every journey touching your card to the yellow card reader at the gates. It covers all London transportation and will save you pounds. A single in zone one is GBP 2.10 compared to GBP 4.50 without.
Phone: +44 843 222 1234
Opening Hours: Daily: Around 4.30am - 12.30am (varies per line)

London's best parties

From dressed-up decadence to roving raves
Noteworthy for: There are dozens of London clubs, but while some are more reliable than others, it depends entirely on what night you go. Picking a particular party is often a better bet.

Word to the wise: Check out Run Riot, a cool cultural events listing website, which will let you know what big parties are held the week you're in town.

Roving parties take place throughout the city almost every weekend. Covering the entire gamut of hedonistic tastes, these periodic nights are often your best bet for a big night out. Rumpus, for example, is a carnivalesque, multi-floored extravaganza of silliness with performance from gypsy punk bands to trapeze artists held quarterly. Vintage gals and guys might prefer Prohibition Parties, where you dress in your 1920s best, and make like drinking gin from teacups is illegal.

Ravers amongst you should go for the hot-right-now Krankbrother; they hold electro nights in places like rooftops, railway tunnels, backstreets and yachts. The Last Tuesday Society hosts quarterly masked balls dedicated to decadence in all its forms with naked banquets and hot tubs. But what has gained a near cultish following is Underground Rebel Bingo. We promise this isn't how your granny plays it.

Luton

The cheap charter flight airport
Noteworthy for: This is easyJet’s main hub, and their 24 hour coach service - easyBus (www.easybus.co.uk) - provides the cheapest method of transportation to and from Luton Airport, starting at GBP 2 one-way.

Luton airport is northwest of London, and like Stansted predominately handles low-cost European journeys as well as charter flights from the small single terminal.

There are regular train services from Kings Cross St Pancras – these take around 30 minutes with a single fare starting at GBP 13 – which will deposit you at Luton Airport Parkway train station. From there shuttle buses connect to the airport terminal (a 5-minute drive) but make sure you get a through ticket or it will cost you GBP 1.50 at the station. Book your tickets through the London Luton Airport website for a full range of transport options.

A taxi into central London will take around one hour, and cost around GBP 45. There is a licensed taxi rank outside the airport, or a list of taxi numbers for advanced booking on the airport website.
Address: London Luton Airport, 2 Percival Way, Luton
Station: Luton Airport Parkway
Phone: +44 1582 405 100

Notting Hill

Home to swinging and swish Portobello Road
Talk of the town: Immortalised in the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts movie 'Notting Hill', there are far more real famous residents here, from Stella McCartney and Claudia Schiffer to David Cameron, before he became Prime Minister.

Walking past the multi-coloured rows of Victorian terrace houses or the grand front doors of white Georgian mansions, it’s hard to believe this area was ever counted amongst the city’s poorest, culminating in the Notting Hill race riots of the 50s. It is now, however, one of London's most sought-after addresses.

Portobello Road is the heart and soul of the area, home to the famous sprawling weekend market selling everything from Russian military uniforms to fruit and veg. All week an incredible range of fashion, crafts and antiques shops are bustling with the beautiful people of West London.

Head to Kensington Park Road for the best choice of fancy eateries, Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road for a glut of high-end boutiques and Golborne Road on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday for a fantastic antiques market.

But not to be missed is the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s largest carnival. On the last bank holiday weekend in August, the area is transformed as dancers clad in coloured, sequined outfits wiggle and shimmy through the streets in celebration of Caribbean culture. A feast for the senses.
Address: Tube: Notting Hill Gate, Ladbroke Grove, Royal Oak

River Bus

Take a boat along London’s liquid artery
Noteworthy for: Travelling by water is by far the most scenic and relaxing method of London transportation, and amazingly uncrowded.

Word to the wise: All boat fares have discounts for those with a travelcard (one-third off) or Oyster Card (10 percent off).

Considering the Thames runs straight through the middle of London, it is woefully underused as a method of transportation. However, there is a drive to make more use of the river, and Thames Clippers offer good commuter services.

Boats run from Embankment to Woolwich Arsenal Piers, passing many major attractions including the Tate and Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, South Bank, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Greenwich and the O2. There are services every 20 minutes during peak hours, and it is quick. A journey from London Bridge to Canary Wharf takes around 13 minutes.

Various companies also offer river tours from piers all along the Thames, with hop-on hop-off services, speedboat rides as well as organised routes, such as the popular ‘Tate to Tate’ trip (GBP 5.50).
Phone: +44 20 7941 2400
Opening Hours: Daily: 6am – 1am

Soho and the West End

The people's playground of Central London
Noteworthy for: Soho was once the heart of London’s sex industry with a staggering 57 sex shops during the mid-70s.

Tipple of choice: The Dog and Duck pub has been on the same spot since 1734 - when you could go hunting in Leicester Square - and is famed for its selection of British ales.

Soho was once the hub of the aristocratic high-life. Then the royalty moved west and it began its descent into the degradation and debauchery it became famous for. It wasn’t until the 1950s that it was no longer considered a slum, and was slowly resurrected to be hospitable by the artists and musicians that took residence.

It is colourful, cosmopolitan and crazy. Louche media luvvies dine at expensive restaurants, gay clubbers head to the nightspots of Old Compton Street, shell-shocked tourists ogle the sex shops and Cockney geezers prop-up the pubs. Of the thriving immigrant communities here, a walk through the red pagodas of Chinatown is a must, and Covent Garden, Soho's civilised neighbour, is where to go for shopping.

The West End refers to the multiple attractions of this central London area from the theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue – London’s Broadway – to the multiplex cinemas of Leicester Square, or the garish tourist traps of Piccadilly Circus to the sophisticated National Gallery of Trafalgar Square. This really is a cultural playground.
Address: Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden

South Bank, Bankside and Waterloo

Top sights in one stretch
Word to the wise: On summer weekends, there are sometimes free, unadvertised beach parties under the Royal Festival Hall pier (yes, the Thames does have a beach).

Talk of the town: The view of the city from Waterloo Bridge is such a guaranteed mood lifter, the Kinks even wrote a song about it.

It may be firmly on the tourist trail but unlike, say, Trafalgar Square or Piccadilly Circus, the southside stretch of the Thames is as much used and appreciated by Londoners, as visitors. A stroll there on a bright day can't fail to make one's heart swell with pride.

Essentially a greatest-hits package, the sights along the two and a half mile stretch between Lambeth and Tower Bridge include the London Eye, Southbank Centre, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre and Borough Market with a veritable sleuth of good restaurants and bars en route. The walk - along a pedestrianised riverside pathway - is equally appealing at nighttime, when the riverside is lit up by fairylights and the cityscape twinkles.

Just south you'll find Waterloo's The Cut lined with yet more restaurants and culture, including Kevin Spacey's Old Vic and Young Vic theatres. Head to ragtag Lower Marsh for a handful of great vintage stores, gift shops and cute cafes amidst one of London's oldest daily markets.
Address: Tube: Waterloo, Southwark, Westminster, St Paul's

Stansted

The low-cost carrier
Noteworthy for: Most budget inter-European flights depart from Stansted.

This small airport, 80km northeast of London, has just one terminal. It is the main base for low-cost airline Ryanair with over 100 destinations served by the airline.

Stansted Airport rail station is situated directly below the terminal, with the Stansted Express departing for Liverpool Street Station every 15 minutes. The journey takes around 45 minutes and a single costs GBP 22.50.

The most cost effective way to travel is by coach, with departures from across London starting at GBP 2 for the 75 minute journey to Baker Street. For available operators check the airport's webpage.

Taxis will cost between GBP 80-100 depending on the destination and take at least an hour, sometimes double during rush hour. The official taxi firm – Checkers Cars – will be a little more expensive than if you go with a local minicab company, but in general, the Stansted Express is your most efficient option.
Address: London Stansted Airport, Bassingbourn Road, Stansted, Essex
Phone: Information: +44 844 335 1803

The City

Home to Britain's Wall Street
Noteworthy for: Nicknamed the Square Mile, this is the site of the original Roman settlement of Londonium, and parts of the defensive wall from 200AD still exist today.

Word to the wise: Restaurants here cater to the financiers with expense accounts; be warned they can be pricey.

When Londoners talk of The City they are referring to the financial district, rich in history as well as wealth. Home to the Bank of England and London Stock Exchange, this has been the commercial hub of England since the 11th century. Badly bombed in the Blitz, only a few ancient buildings remain, now dwarfed by the towering skyscrapers and office buildings that keep the wheels of the British economy turning.

It can seem sterile here, but there are interesting sites from St Paul's Cathedral to the Tower of London. Smithfields has been home to a livestock market since the 12th century - as well as some witch-burnings and public hangings - and the beautiful Victorian arcades of Leadenhall market feel like a timewarp. Cutting-edge culture can be found at arts complex the Barbican.

While the streets, pubs and restaurants are buzzing with suited crowds by week, at the weekend The City is a ghost town.
Address: Tube: Bank, Barbican, St Paul's, Monument

The East End: Spitalfields and Brick Lane

The hectic heart of trendy East London
Noteworthy for: This is the stomping ground for arty students and vintage-clad fashionistas who come for the incredible markets and cheap eateries, or just to soak up the streetlife.

Word to the wise: Redchurch Street is one of the most up-and-coming streets in London lined with interesting shops, bars and galleries.

While once it evoked slums, workshops and criminals from Jack the Ripper to the Kray twins, these days the East End is the domain of the young and trendy, or those who like to think they are.

Originally, Brick Lane attracted visitors to its neon-lit Curry Mile established by the immigrant community here. But as students and artists arrived, lured by cheap rents, the red brick factories and warehouses began transforming into gallery spaces, concept stores and urban fashion shops. The walls were graffitied - look out for infamous Banksys - the bars gritty and the people interesting, but soon the masses arrived as did the gentrification.

Now Old Spitalfields is lined with independent boutiques and ritzy restaurants, and at the weekends the area goes into frenetic fifth gear for the incredible markets by day and bar scene by night. The style hunters after a vintage bargain become the serious drinkers clogging the streets, and Brick Lane heaves with Saturday-night hedonism.
Address: Tube: Liverpool Street, Shoreditch High Street, Bethnal Green, Aldgate East

Westminster and St James's

Come walk amongst royalty in this regal borough
Noteworthy for: The Queen, London’s most famous resident, draws visitors crowding round the gate to her main abode for a glimpse.

Word to the wise: Visit on a Sunday when the 12th century Mall is closed to traffic, and the royal chapels are open to the public.

Rarely visited by Londoners themselves, this area draws tourists for the big guns of London attractions: Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.

Ever since the 11th century, when Edward the Confessor moved into his newly built Palace of Westminster - now the Houses of Parliament - this has been the hub of royal, ecclesiastical and political power. Although there is little atmospheric street life, all the sights are in a half-mile radius and can be seen in a day.

The Royal family relocated to St James's in the 16th century, and the aristocratic residences surrounding Green Park are some of the most exclusive in London, the most notable being Buckingham Palace.

Hyde Park, once the hunting ground of Henry VIII, now offers an expansive green reprieve from the city chaos and Pall Mall, the main shopping street, caters to those of stratospheric wealth. The days of gentleman’s clubs and dressing-for-dinner still thrive in this part of town.
Address: Tube: St James's Park, Westminster, Picadilly Circus, Green Park, Hyde Park Corner

Barbican Centre

A grey concrete jungle housing Europe’s largest arts centre
Noteworthy for: It was voted London's 'ugliest building' in 2003.

Word to the wise: If you crave some greenery, visit the Barbican Conservatory, a calm tropical oasis harbouring thousands of species of plants and birds. It can be hard to find, so ask the helpful staff how to get there.

The Barbican Centre is an impressive shrine to the emerging architectural style of the early 1970s that was labelled ‘brutalism’. And you can see why it was named as such as you walk towards the looming grey towers that make up the housing estate next to the arts centre. Despite being voted London's most unattractive building, it has since garnered a more fashionable following in the last decade.

If you do like minimal grey concrete buildings (and it does have a certain charm great for composing abstract photos), then you’ll enjoy strolling along the lakeside terrace and through the centre’s maze of floors and corridors. Spend time perusing the latest exhibition, catching a film in one of its cinemas or watching an arts performance, for which it's most famous.
Address: Silk Street
Tube: Barbican
Phone: +44 20 7638 8891
Opening Hours: Barbican Centre, Mon-Sat: 9am - 11pm
Sun, Bank Holidays: 12noon - 11pm
Barbican Art Gallery, Fri-Tue: 11am - 8pm
Wed: 11am - 6pm
Thu: 11am - 10pm

British Museum

Tour through the world’s most famous antiquities
Word to the wise: There are an overwhelming number of galleries – 94 to be exact - so choose a couple that most interest you or take a tour to discover the highlights.

The British Museum began as no more than a personal collection of ‘curiosities' owned by royal physician Hans Sloane, which he later sold to the monarch for GBP 20,000. In 1753, the museum was opened to the public and today welcomes an average of five million visitors through its doors every year.

It’s an exciting journey through the ancient worlds of Greece, Egypt, Africa, Italy and Britain. Most people come here to see the vast collection of Egyptian mummies dating back to 10,000BC, but the departments dedicated to Rome and Greece with over 100,000 ancient artefacts are equally as impressive.

For those looking for something more contemporary, the themed and temporary exhibitions offer an interesting alternative to the permanent collections. Ranging from beauty in modern Japan to crocodile masks, modern Syrian art to an exhibition dedicated to the significance of badges, you'll be sure to find something of interest.
Address: Great Russell Street
Tube: Russell Square, Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street
Phone: +44 20 7323 8299
Opening Hours: Sat-Thu: 10am - 5.30pm
Fri: 10am - 8.30pm

Buckingham Palace

Fit for a Queen
Word to the wise: The State Rooms are only open when the Queen holidays in Scotland during the summer, so queues can be long during this time.

With their bearskin hats and bright red jackets, the Queen's Guard standing still, silent and solemn outside of Buckingham Palace is one of the definitive symbols of England. Crowds gather at 11am for the changing of the guard ceremony - officially known as the rather suggestive Guard Mounting - when the new guard replaces the old guard while visitors strain to see.

When that is over, the only rooms of Buckingham Palace open to visit - out of a grand total of 775, including a whopping 250 bedrooms - are the 19 state rooms that form the hub of the working palace and are home to some of the Palace’s most treasured possessions. This is where the Queen greets her guests (the Music Room), receives loyal addresses on special occasions (the Throne Room) or the Royal Family gather for official events (the White Drawing Room). End your visit with a stroll round the Palace gardens full of birds and wild flowers.
Address: Buckingham Palace
Tube: Victoria, Green Park
Bus: 11, 211, C1, C10
Phone: +44 20 7766 7300
Opening Hours: State Rooms, Aug 3–Aug 31, Daily: 9.30am – 7pm (last admission 4.45pm)
Sep 1–Sep 29, Daily: 9.30am - 6.30pm (last admission 3.45)
Changing of the Guard, May-Jul, Daily: 11am
Alternate days remainder of year (weather permitting)
Check website for full schedule

Chinatown

Travel to the Far East and back
Word to the wise: If you're visiting around the end of January or beginning of February, head here for the Chinese New Year when the entire area comes alive with dancing dragons and parades.

Noteworthy for: London's Chinatown is the largest in Europe.

With roast ducks glistening in windows, red paper lanterns twinkling from the sky and rows of exotic sweet treats lining the shops - not to mention the heady wafts of Chinese cooking from every doorway - London's Chinatown is one of the most sensuous and sensational in Europe.

The original Chinese community made its home in the East End's Limehouse Docks, infamous in the Victorian era for opium dens and oriental mystery, but as immigration increased many relocated to Soho in the 1950s.

Chinatown is now a heaving mecca of Asian cuisine, but be wary of tourist traps with MSG-laden, slightly stale buffets serving mystery meat. Try Young Cheng (Lisle Street) for dim sum or Imperial China (White Bear Yard) for classics. For something sweet and sticky, join the locals in the bakeries packed with weird and wonderful Chinese cookies, cakes and rolls.
Address: Gerrard Street
Tube: Leicester Square

Colombia Road Flower Market

This street bursts into bloom every Sunday
Word to the wise: Come early to avoid the crowds, or if you're looking to bag a bargain, arrive towards the end of the market, when stalls begin slashing their prices.

Noteworthy for: There has been a market here since 1869, and it suffered a direct hit during the Blitz.

On Sundays this relatively quiet street metamorphoses into a menagerie of plants, flowers and colour. As the sellers shout out their deals, the crowds heave their way through the street sniffing out bargains amidst the sweet smells of anything from red roses to tropical banana plants. People come for the stunning spectacle, as much as to shop.

Squeeze through the stalls, buy a bunch or two and then seek refuge in the Royal Oak for a pint of beer and chips, or for a caffeine kick, grab a cup in the Courtyard Café which also sells delicious bacon butties. Then spend the rest of the afternoon perusing the plethora of vintage shops, boutiques and galleries that line the street.
Address: Colombia Road, Hackney
Tube: Bethnal Green, Old Street
Bus: 8, 26, 35, 47, 48, 55, 67, 78, 135, 149, 242, 388
Opening Hours: Sun: 8am - 3pm

Cycle along Regent's Canal

See the sights aboard a Boris Bike
Tipple of choice: There are numerous points to stop for refreshment, from the wonderful Palm Tree in Mile End to the Island Queen pub in Islington.

Word to the wise: Use your bell before entering and exiting the tunnels; commuters cycle fast and a collision would have wet consequences.

With an abundance of birdlife, dripping willow trees and brightly coloured houseboats, the Regent's Canal is a beautiful thoroughfare. Developed throughout the 19th century, it was once the key to the city's trade, bringing in cargo from seafaring ships on the Thames to the rest of London. These days, the leafy causeway provides a safe route for London's cyclists and is a good way for visitors to see the city aboard a Barclay's bike.

Starting at Limehouse Basin, the canal winds all the way to Little Venice, the posher end of the route. You'll pass numerous interesting stop-off points; the market stalls of Camden Lock, the aviary of London Zoo, the green fields and ponds of Victoria Park and the impressive contemporary architecture around City Road Basin. For those disinclined to cycle, there's a water bus between Maida Vale and Camden, probably the most interesting stretch of canal.

Day trip to Brighton

For a titillating taste of the British seaside
Noteworthy for: As Britain's largest gay community, Brighton hosts one of Europe's largest Gay Pride celebrations with two days of carnival parades and street parties.

Tipple of choice: A pint in local boozer the Evening Star will give a taste of Brighton pub life, or head to Alley Cats for a bigger night out.

With its colourful Victorian terraces, infamous pier and quirky boutiques and eateries, Brighton has long been a favourite escape for world-weary Londoners.

It was a small fishing village until the dandy Prince Regent George IV decided to make it his playground and built the Royal Pavilion there. Soon the frivolous aristocrats followed and, just like today, people came for a breath of fresh sea air and the free-spirited nightlife.

Start with a traditional British breakfast at tearoom the Mock Turtle, then spend the day wandering the shops of The Lanes or the antique stalls of Snooper's Paradise. While eating fish and chips on Brighton Pier is the quintessential experience, you'll find better fare at organic Bills.

Trains depart from London Victoria and London Bridge station every 15 minutes, and the journey takes about an hour. All attractions are within easy walking distance of the station.

Dennis Severs' House

A unique house in historic Spitalfields
Word to the wise: The house is only open on Monday evenings and some Wednesdays, and booking is essential.

Talk of the town: Artist David Hockney likened the experience of the house to ‘great opera’.

One of London’s hidden gems, what lies inside this beautiful early Georgian house is part eccentric time capsule, part theatre. Inspired by the building’s history – it originally housed Huguenot silk weavers – the late owner Dennis Severs painstakingly reconstructed each of its 10 rooms as they would have been centuries ago, and invented a family who might have lived there.

On a candlelit tour, visitors encounter each room as if its imaginary inhabitants have just slipped out. Fires crackle, letters lie open on desks, breakfast is left half eaten; you may even spot a full chamber pot under a bed. Silence is encouraged in order to absorb the atmosphere and appreciate sound effects, such as the whispers of ghostly children and the clop of horses on the cobbled street outside. Dennis Severs described his house as ‘still life drama’ - we call it a magical and memorable experience.
Address: 18 Folgate Street
Tube: Liverpool Street, Shoreditch High Street
Phone: +44 20 7247 4013
Opening Hours: Silent Night, Mon: 6pm - 9pm
Oct 1-Mar 31, Wed: 6pm - 9pm
Duration: 45 minutes
Check webpage for full programme
To book: info@dennisservershouse.co.uk

Design Museum

From household design to high fashion
Noteworthy for: This is the only museum in Europe to showcase how and why produced objects work the way they do, and in what ways they've shaped our lives.

World to the wise: This is one of the few museums that is not free.

London's Design Museum occupies an old 1940s banana warehouse that was redesigned by the Conran group to look like it fell out of 1930s modernist LA. The result is an impressive stark-white Art Deco building that is as aesthetically pleasing as the fashion, graphic design and architectural exhibitions it hosts.

You could easily spend a whole afternoon here browsing the exhibitions. The café on the ground floor is a good place to refuel after a day of strolling along the South Bank; it serves up a tasty selection of salads, slabs of carrot cake and Monmouth coffee. Or if it hits dinnertime during your visit, there’s also the well-acclaimed Blueprint Café on the first floor that serves a changing menu of reasonably-priced English and Scottish dishes. Plus the amazing views of Tower Bridge are free.
Address: 28 Shad Thames
Tube: Bermondsey, Tower Hill, London Bridge
Bus: 42, 47, 78, 100, 188, 225, 381, RV1
Phone: +44 20 7403 6933
Tickets: +44 20 7940 8783
Opening Hours: Daily: 10am - 5.45pm (last admission 5.15pm)

Dulwich Picture Gallery

London's oldest public art gallery
Popular plate: The cafe is one of the best places for afternoon tea in London, but their lunches are equally good; try the roasted tomato risotto.

Talk of the town: The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince of Wales visited the gallery in March to see children drawing images of the Queen in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee.

This pioneering gallery space may be small, but it set the standard for galleries of the future. Conceived by celebrated architect John Soane in 1811, it features glass roof panels to allow the maximum amount of daylight without damaging the paintings, a design that has inspired, among many, London’s National Gallery and LA's Getty Museum.

In a fabulously bijou space, you can see the small but exceptional collection of Old Masters - Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Rubens to name a few. This summer, Andy Warhol's were displayed in the 18th century manner - crowded and chaotic on the deep red walls.

To get to the gallery take the train from Victoria to West Dulwich station, and turn left up Gallery Road.
Address: Gallery Road, Dulwich
Train: West Dulwich
Bus: 3, 37, P4, P13
Phone: +44 20 8693 5254
Opening Hours: Tue-Fri: 10am - 5pm (last entry 4.30pm)
Sat-Sun: 11am - 5pm (last entry 4.30pm)

Greenwich

Take a day trip to this World Heritage site
Noteworthy for: This is home to the The Royal Observatory, thanks to which Greenwich became the standard calculation for time: Greenwich Mean Time.

Word to the wise: By far the most enjoyable way to get to Greenwich is by ferry. Catch a boat along the Thames to drop you off at Greenwich Pier.

Located on the river in South West London, leafy Greenwich has all the charm of an old-world village full of boutique shops, eateries and history. The Greenwich Market is the main draw. It hosts an old-fashioned fruit and veg market every Wednesday (11am – 6pm) and an antiques market on Thursday. At the weekend (Thu-Sun: 10am – 5.30pm) there is a mix of everything that makes hip Londoners happy; you'll find home-rolled sushi, vintage posters and one-off fashion designs.

There is a wide choice of gastro fodder for foodies, as well as old pubs and quaint tearooms. On a sunny day, pick up a luxury picnic from Rhodes Bakery (37 King William Walk) and head for the green slopes of Greenwich Park, home to the National Maritime Museum, The Royal Observatory and a 13-acre wildlife enclosure.

Trains leave for Greenwich regularly from Charing Cross and London Bridge, or the DLR stops at Greenwich Station and Cutty Sark.
Address: Greenwich
Rail: Greenwich, Cutty Sark
Phone: +44 870 608 2000
Opening Hours: Tourist Information Centre, Daily: 10am - 5pm

Hampstead Heath

Countryside in the city
Word to the wise: Take time to wander through the picturesque Hampstead Village. Once known for its writers and artists, living here is now the preserve of the filthy rich.

Noteworthy for: The panoramic views from Parliament Hill are some of the best in London.

The North London suburb of Hampstead is neither trendy nor thrilling yet it's still one of the most coveted neighbourhoods in the city, for one major reason - the Heath.

This vast open space - almost 800 acres - has a different character to London's other greenery. One of the city's highest points, it's hilly and more like wild countryside than park. This is one of the very few places in Zone 2 where you can genuinely get lost.

This sense of inner city wilderness may be the Heath's most prized quality but, such is its size, there's still plenty of space for more structured activities. There are playgrounds and cafes for the local yummy mummies, a lido and tennis courts and exquisite Rembrandts and Vermeers on display at Kenwood House. Best of all are the swimming ponds where, come summer, you can dive into deliciously cool green waters and swim amongst ducklings.
Address: Tube: Hampstead
Overground: Hampstead Heath

Hampton Court Palace

Centuries of British royal and architectural history
Word to the wise: For a quiet, un-congested visit to Hampton Court, avoid sunny weekends.

Talk of the Town: The palace's Haunted Gallery is visited by the ghost of Catherine Howard, the second wife of Henry VIII to be executed.

Once far downriver from the city, this lavish palace in London's Southwestern suburbs can teach you centuries of Britain's royal history in an afternoon. First started by Henry VIII's chief minister Cardinal Wolsey, the red brick palace became a headquarters for the Tudor king before being substantially added to and rebuilt by St Paul's Cathedral's architect Christopher Wren in the 17th century.

The result is a very British hotchpotch of Gothic turrets, vaulted halls, sumptuous Baroque interiors and sweeping grounds. The gardens themselves are also an attraction, housing a real tennis court built for Henry VIII and a knotty hedge maze to get lost in.

Popular with Londoners and visitors alike both for its park and its house, Hampton Court is hardly off the tourist map, but it has so much to see that it is still well worth a visit.
Address: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesley
Train: Hampton Court (departing from London Waterloo)
Bus: 111, 216, 267, 411, 461, 513, R68
Phone: +44 203 166 6000
Opening Hours: Palace and Maze, Summer, Daily: 10am – 6pm
Winter, Daily: 10am – 4.30pm
Formal Gardens, Summer, Daily: 10am – 7pm
Winter, Daily: 10am – 5.30pm
Informal Gardens, Summer, Daily: 7am – 8pm
Winter, Daily: 7am - 6pm

Highgate Cemetery

London's most evocative cemetery
Notable for: Highgate Cemetery houses the graves of Karl Marx, writer George Eliot and punk icon Malcolm McClaren.

Talk of the town: In 1970 there were alleged vampire sightings in Highgate Cemetery. Two rival groups began hunting down what they claimed was an undead menace, a quest actually reported on British television news.

Ivy covered, dark and decidedly gothic, Highgate Cemetery is one of the most atmospheric spots London has to offer. Opened in 1839, its steep, wooded hillside site, victorian tombs and scattering of famous graves have their own grim beauty - perhaps the most striking is a monumental enclosed circle of neoclassical vaults topped with a huge Cedar of Lebanon.

The cemetery's eastern section, featuring the star attraction of Karl Marx's grave, can be visited unaccompanied. The older, more impressive West Cemetery, separated by a road, is alas, so overgrown and fragile it can be visited only in guided groups, on tours lasting an hour. Even en masse, it is still eerie enough that the shaded walks are liable to give the fainthearted the shivers.
Address: Swain's Lane, Highgate
Tube: Archway, Highgate
Overground: Gospel Oak
Phone: +44 208 340 1834
Opening Hours: East Cemetery, Mon-Fri: 10am- 4pm
Sat-Sun: 11am - 4pm
East Cemetery Tour, Sat: 2pm
West Cemetery Tours, Mon-Fri: 1.45pm (booking essential)
Sat-Sun: 11am - 3pm (hourly, no booking required)

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

Home to the governing bodies of Great Britain
Word to the wise: If you want to watch the debates you must arrive hours before admission because seating is limited.

Noteworthy for: At 96.3ft tall, Big Ben is the third largest clock in the World – the minute hand alone is 4.3m long. The bell weighs 13 tonnes and has rung every New Year since 1924.

If you’re big on politics or enjoy a good debate, head to the Houses of Parliament. Today, the splendid neo-Gothic buildings act as the seat of the British government, but they were once home to the royal family until 1547 when the building was converted into its current guise. Sadly the original buildings were completely destroyed by a fire in 1834, though it did make way for what you see today, designed by architect Charles Barry.

Only UK residents can take a tour of the Chambers or climb the Clock Tower, but foreign visitors can visit Parliament on Saturdays and during the summer openings, and attend the often riveting parliamentary debates. For the best photo opportunities, walk over the Thames along Westminster Bridge; somewhere near the middle you'll find the perfect viewpoint of Big Ben.
Address: 20 Dean's Yard
Tube: Westminster
Phone: Tickets: +44 844 847 1672
Opening Hours: Guided Tour, every Sat: 9.15am - 4.30pm
2012: Jul 27-Sep 1, Mon-Sat: 9.15am - 4.30pm
Aug 15, 22, 29, Wed: 1.15pm – 4.30pm
Sep 19-Oct 6, Wed-Sat: 9.15am - 4.30pm

Hyde Park

A green oasis in the centre of London
Noteworthy for: The Serpentine Gallery hosts some of London's best contemporary art exhibitions.

Talk of the town: Speakers' Corner has been the site of public debate since the 1870s, and Hyde Park has seen mass protests from the Suffragettes to the Stop the War Coalition.

An expanse this grand and green could have only ever been a royal backyard. The former private hunting grounds of Henry VIII, they didn't let 'gentlefolk' in until the 17th century.

Today, with 625-acres this is London's largest park, and a haven to escape the city’s hustle and bustle. The grand Serpentine - commissioned by Queen Caroline in the 1730s - divides the park where children come to feed the birds and rowers speed over the surface. There are playgrounds, cafés, restaurants, a museum and festivals throughout the summer.

Rotten Row, a four mile bridle path, is used for cycling, horse riding, jogging and rollerblading. During summer, striped deck chairs are out in force as sun worshipers turn up in their droves to make the most of the good weather – it’s the perfect place for a picnic, to play frisbee or just to relax on the grass with a good book.
Address: Tube: Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner
Opening Hours: Daily: 5am - 12midnight

Kew Gardens

The world's largest collection of plants
Word to the wise: After spending a day examining plants, recharge your batteries with a burger from the Pavilion restaurant’s terrace BBQ (open April to October).

Noteworthy for: Kew Gardens was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

With over 300,000 species, this is the world's largest collection of plants, but if you're not a budding horticulturist, this shouldn't put you off. The 300 acres of magnificent gardens are beautiful enough to soften the hearts of most city-slickers. Grand Victorian glasshouses are filled with life, from ponds dappled with waterlilies to banana orchards.

For the more adventurous, there is a treetop walkway 18 metres above the ground that extends through the treetops of Kew’s Arboretum. For those wanting to keep their feet firmly on the ground, take the ‘Cherry Walk’, which winds through the Japanese Cherry and the Great White Cherry trees, which, when in blossom in the spring, are sprayed with a dramatic pink frost.

For kids, Treehouse Towers is a world of play, and for parents, Kew Palace is resplendent with history. Also seek out the little-known Marianne North Gallery, for the intrepid female explorer's 800 paintings from all over the world.
Address: Kew Gardens, Richmond, Surrey
Tube: Kew Gardens
Train: Kew Bridge
Bus: 65, 237, 267, 391
Phone: +44 20 8332 5655
Opening Hours: Daily: 9.30am - closing time varies seasonally (check website)

Late night museum openings

Get a culture kick on your night out
Noteworthy for: It's a treat to be able to sip a glass of wine whilst perusing some of the world's finest art collections.

Word to the wise: If you're single and into science, the Science Museum also hosts speed-dating during their Wednesday late night, with a free drink thrown in for all daters.

If you ever found yourself growing bored of wandering solemnly through galleries, the late night openings at most of London's major museums may be just the thing to liven up your culture kick. With programmes including live music, talks, tours, classes and performances, they allow you to engage with the exhibitions in a new way.

Escape the school groups at the Science Museum on the last Wednesday of every month when they open until 10pm for punk science and pub quizzes. The National Portrait Gallery opens late every Friday night, and hosts art classes and interesting live music. Late at the Tate Modern attracts a younger art crowd every Friday and Saturday night until 10pm, while the V&A's Friday Lates, held on the last Friday of every month, have a different theme each time.

Little Venice

Picturesque waterside living
Noteworthy For: Little Venice's attractive Victorian quaysides boast a floating population of houseboat and barge dwellers, plus a regular gaggle of migrating water birds.

Talk of the town: There's some disagreement about who first coined the term Little Venice, but the most popular candidates are poets Lord Byron and Robert Browning.

Comparisons to Venice might seem slightly optimistic, but this little knot of tree-fringed canals and grand Italianate houses in West London remains one of London's prettiest areas. Huddled around the intersection of the Regent's and Grand Union canals, Little Venice consists of a basin and walkable quaysides moored with a motley mix of houseboats, plus quiet canal-side streets lined with neoclassical houses that are among the city's most sought after.

Little Venice offers no particular sights, but it's a charming sight in its own right that's delightful for wandering through, possibly stopping at a canal-side pub or cafe. Among these, Anglo-Italian Cafe Laville (453 Edgware Road), whose open terrace actually straddles the canal, has great views, although the lavish victorian Prince Alfred pub (5a Formosa Street) nearby has better food and decor.

If you feel like navigating the canals themselves, waterbuses run between the area and Camden Lock, chugging through the leafy fringes of Regents Park.
Address: Tube: Paddington, Warwick Avenue

London Eye

Unparalleled views over London
Noteworthy for: The London Eye boasts the best views of the capital; don’t forget to have your camera at the ready.

Since it opened back in 2000, the London Eye continues to attract a staggering 3.5 million visitors each year, making it one of England's most popular attractions. Its queues have been known to snake down the side of the Thames, so get there early to avoid disappointment.

This giant ferris wheel located on the South Bank is best on a clear sunny day or at dusk when the sun is setting over the city. The ride takes around 30 minutes and offers the most breath-taking views of central London, including the city's largest landmarks. On a clear day you can even see Windsor Castle, located some 24 miles from the centre of London.

Check out the website before you go as they often publicise special offers, and if you buy a flexi fast track ticket in advance, you can avoid the long wait as it will let you bypass most of the queue.
Address: Riverside Building, Westminster Bridge Road
Tube: Waterloo, Westminster
Train: Charing Cross, Waterloo
Bus: 77, 211, 381, RV1
Phone: Tickets: +44 871 781 3000
Opening Hours: Jan-Mar, Daily: 10am - 8.30pm
Apr-Jun, Daily: 10am - 9pm
Jul-Aug, Daily: 10am - 9.30pm
Sep-Dec, Daily: 10am - 8.30pm

London Fields

Hackney's most bijou abode
Noteworthy for: As well as the tennis courts and playgrounds, the major draw is the lido - a heated outdoor swimming pool that's refreshing in summer and exhilarating in winter.

Popular plate: There are dozens of great restaurants here, including Little Georgia, serving great-priced, homemade stews and salads.

Long before the rest of Hackney was considered desirable, the tall Georgian houses overlooking this little neighbourhood park were already full of wealthy, eccentric types fabulously at odds with the surrounding council estates and their apathetic youths.

But after Broadway Market became the hippest of Saturday hobbies with its gourmet foods and vintage goods, soon the park filled up with trendy East Londoners. Now every sunny day, the grass is packed with barbecues smoking, music playing and bicycles whizzing by. Pick up a cider from the corner shop, stock a picnic basket from the market and join in. As the sun sets, the revellers decamp into one of the many pubs - the Cat and Mutton is normally the epicentre - and drinkers line the pavements until midnight.
Address: Train: London Fields

National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery

The complete history of European painting
Noteworthy for: The entire collection is owned by the citizens of the United Kingdom.

Word to the wise: Both venues host Late at the Museum nights (6pm - 9pm) with music, talks and a bar, so you can view the collection, drink-in-hand.

Art collections don't get any bigger or more impressive than this. The most important European painters of the last 500 years, from Michelangelo to Matisse, are all represented, housed in a resplendent building on Trafalgar Square.

With more than 2,300 artworks on permanent display, there's far too much to see here in one trip (or several). Make the most of your time by doing some research beforehand - the gallery's website has a complete catalogue, browsable by artist, era, or room. Guided tours and audio tours are also available. Or simply turn up, choose a wing, and discover something new.

The National Portrait Gallery, whose mission statement is to build a comprehensive portrait collection of important British figures, is housed in a building adjacent to the National Gallery, and is also well worth a visit.
Address: Trafalgar Square
Tube: Charing Cross, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus
Phone: +44 20 7747 2885
Opening Hours: National Gallery, Sat-Thu: 10am - 6pm
Fri: 10am - 9pm
National Portrait Gallery, Sat-Wed: 10am - 6pm
Thu-Fri: 10am - 9pm

Old Vic Tunnels

Creative and challenging cavernous theatre space
Tipple of choice: The Bunker bar is a good spot for a pre-performance tipple or a post-performance debrief.

Word to the wise: Lower Marsh around the corner is a great street for vintage shopping, while Waterloo's main drag The Cut has several notable restaurants such as gastro pub the Anchor and Hope.

These dark, dripping cavernous arches are not your usual theatrical space. Located beneath Waterloo station, there is something magical about descending into this labyrinthine underbelly of London, and the performances staged here make the most of the atmospheric surroundings.

It began when theatre company Punchdrunk and the Old Vic staged a series of interactive, unusual shows down here. Realising its potential, the Old Vic took it on full-time in what has been an award-winning venture. Now this 30,000 square foot maze of subterranean vaults hosts everything from cabaret to site specific immersive theatre experiences often pushing the boundaries of audience experience.

The Old Vic itself, located just around the corner, is a British theatrical institution. First built in 1818, it is under the artistic direction of Kevin Spacey, who has continued to build on its reputation for staging an incredible programme attracting theatre greats. It's worth checking out both this and the Young Vic while in London.
Address: Station Approach Road
Tube: Waterloo
Phone: +44 20 7993 7420

Postman's Park

A special spot in the City
Talk of the town: The park played a key role in 2004 film Closer; one of the characters, played by Natalie Portman, even takes her name from one of the memorial plaques, Alice Ayres.

A peaceful leafy enclave in the frenetic, dense City of London is a rarity in itself, but this park near St Paul’s has something really unusual: a wall of Victorian plaques commemorating ordinary people who died performing brave deeds.

The rather moving tributes contain enough detail to capture the imagination, such as the one to Alice Ayers who, in 1884, ‘by intrepid conduct saved 3 children from a burning house in Union Street, Borough - at the cost of her own young life.’ The memorial was proposed by philanthropist G.F Watts in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria's Jubilee; when the idea was not taken up, he created it himself.

The name comes from the fact that the park was once next to the General Post Office and workers used to have their lunch here; now, they've been replaced by city workers having a moment's respite.
Address: King Edward St, City
Tube: St Paul's
Bus: 4, 8, 25, 56, 100. 172, 242
Opening Hours: Daily: 8am - 7pm or dusk, whichever is the earlier

Primrose Hill

A charming neighbourhood park
Tipple of choice: In the summer, crowds fill the Queen's pub on the corner, buying jugs of Pimm's to drink in the park with their picnics.

Talk of the town: Kate Moss, Jude Law and Sadie Frost were all dubbed 'The Primrose Hill Set' after the infamous parties held in their homes here.

Primrose Hill is a beautiful little village gem in North London. Known for the pastel-coloured houses that line the park and for the fantastic views from the top of the hill (the highest point in London), it is little wonder so many celebrities choose to make this their home.

The park makes up the north corner of Regent's Park with its fantastic zoo, treehouses and gardens. Popular for being less intimidating in size, the real appeal is the delights of Regent's Park Road. From iconic eateries such as Odette's - lauded London's most romantic restaurant (#130) - to interesting cuisines (both Greek Lemonia (#89) and Russian Trojka (#101) are famous) this has a concentration of great places to eat.
Address: Primrose Hill
Tube: Chalk Farm

Roman London Amphitheatre and Guildhall Art Gallery

A little-known Roman ruin beneath London City
Talk of the town: In 2002, an eight foot tall marble statue of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher on display in the gallery was decapitated by a protestor.

Word to the wise: The gallery can close at short notice due to civic events at the Guildhall: check the website before visiting.

A roman amphitheatre in the City - who knew? Not many people, actually. Although unearthed back in 1988, many Londoners themselves aren't aware that the Guildhall Art Gallery houses these ancient ruins in its bowels, and that they can be visited.

Ok, so you shouldn't expect the Coliseum - only fragments of the structure survive - but the missing parts have been imaginatively reconstructed using light and sound effects, and you can see the gate the animals would have rushed through into the ring.

Upstairs, the Guildhall Art Gallery itself is often overlooked by visitors, but is definitely worth an hour of your time - especially as entrance is free. This 'collection of art treasures worthy of the capital city' has an eclectic mix of work, mostly with London themes, with a particularly strong showing from the Pre-Raphaelites.
Address: Guildhall Yard, City
Tube: St Paul's, Bank, Moorgate
Phone: +44 20 7332 3700
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am - 5pm
Sun: 12noon - 4pm

Saatchi Gallery

Cutting-edge contemporary art
Talk of the town: The nature of Richard Wilson's 20:50 was at first kept secret so its effect would be more shocking. Head to the basement to experience it for yourself.

Word to the wise: Free guided tours of the current exhibition are held at 3pm weekdays, and 2.30pm and 3.30pm at the weekends.

The brainchild of uber-collector Charles Saatchi, the gallery's place in art history was established in the 90s with its infamous show 'Sensation', which heralded the ascent of Young British Artists such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas.

Once controversial, the work of the YBAs has now become part of the canon - as has the Saatchi Gallery, one of the top five most visited art venues in London. Saatchi has continued his mission to provide a platform for emerging contemporary artists and this is where you'll find some of the most interesting new ideas in the art world today.

The gallery moved to its new HQ just off the King's Road in 2008: the stunning neoclassical facade belies the surprising world you'll find within.
Address: Duke of York's HQ, King's Road
Tube: Sloane Square
Bus: 11, 19, 22, 49, 137, 211, 319
Phone: +44 20 7811 3070
Opening Hours: Daily: 10am - 6pm (last entry 5.30pm)

Secret Cinema

Tell no one
Noteworthy for: Following its success in London since 2007, the secret cinema concept has been adapted around the globe, from Sydney to Berlin.

Word to the wise: If you don’t like being left in the dark, try Future Cinema. Run by the same people behind Secret Cinema, you're told theme and film in advance.

It’s not easy to describe an event you’re not supposed to talk about. Furthermore, as every night changes in theme and style, it's near impossible to predict what the clever kids behind this roving cinema will do next. The best advice: just roll with it.

Appealing to film buffs of all ages with a sense of adventure, this immersive cinema experience invites guests to become a part of the narrative of a flick before - and during - viewing, whether that is a massive pie fight for Bugsy Malone or battling through the recreated dystopia of Blade Runner to find your seat.

The film itself won’t be revealed until the lights dim, but you’ll receive clues along the way, such as instructions about what to wear that accompany your ticket purchase. There are secret rooms, mini adventures and a hidden dining room to seek out, though the latter verges on the pricey side.
Address: Central London location revealed upon ticket purchase

Shakespeare's Globe

A carbon copy of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Globe theatre
Word to the wise: It can get cold during the evenings, even if the day has been a scorcher, so make sure you wrap up warm. Bring something waterproof if it’s forecast rain.

If you have a fondness for Shakespearean word-play, the Globe is a must-see. Conceived by the late actor and film director Sam Wanamaker, Shakespeare’s Globe is an exact model of William Shakespeare’s 16th century theatre.

Complete with an authentic circular thatched roof and open-air stalls, it sits on the South Bank nestled next to the Tate Modern and stages some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, such as 'Much Ado About Nothing', 'Midsummer Night's Dream', and of course literature’s most famous love story, 'Romeo and Juliet', as well as new plays.

A performance in the round is a truly interactive, intimate experience. Actors often go right into the audience and regulars 'heckle' back at the show, just like they would have done years ago. The evening shows tend to get booked up in advance, but you can often reserve tickets for an afternoon performance on the day.
Address: 21 New Globe Walk
Tube: Mansion House, London Bridge, Southwark
Phone: +44 20 7401 9919
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 10am - 5pm
Also open before each event.

Sir John Soane's Museum

An eccentric time capsule from Georgian London
Noteworthy for: The Museum houses the unusual collection of Georgian architect John Soane, who also radically rebuilt the building.

Word to the wise: The Museum hosts candlelit visits between 6 and 9pm on the first Tuesday of each month. They are so popular that, with no bookings taken, visitors sometimes get turned away.

This unusual and charming house museum in Holborn is a wonderful treasure chest of Georgian and Regency bric-a-brac, archaeological artefacts and unexpected, sometimes lurid decor. Its creator John Soane was a highly talented, rather eccentric Georgian architect, who also designed London's Dulwich Picture Gallery. Soane used his own remodeled home both to dabble with creating unconventional interiors and as a gallery for his often excellent collection of classical sculpture.

The house has been open to the public more or less unchanged since Soane's death in 1837. It's still a delightful warren of little niches, domed vaults and atmospheric salons that feels as if the occupants have only just left. As entry is free and the location very central, the museum has also long been a popular place for arty, bookish Londoners to go on dates.
Address: 13, Lincoln's Inn Fields, Central London
Tube: Holborn, Chancery Lane
Phone: +44 20 7405 2107
Opening Hours: Tue-Sat: 10am - 5pm

Southbank Centre

A department store for the arts
Noteworthy for: Criticised at first for its stark, concrete architecture, the centre is now very much part of the South Bank's identity and contrasts beautifully with the lights of the city by night.

Word to the wise: Many tickets to shows at the National Theatre cost only GBP 12, thanks to a collaboration with Travelex.

Officially, the Southbank Centre consists of a cluster of art institutions on the south side of the Thames by Waterloo Bridge: concert venues the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery for contemporary art. However, in most Londoners' minds it also includes its next-door neighbours the National Theatre and the British Film Institute, with its art-house cinemas, making the name synonymous with a one-stop shop for top drawer culture.

But you don't need an official purpose to hang out here: there's a buzzy, upbeat atmosphere on the riverside and often free entertainment, as well as plenty of places to refuel and get merry. A classic date spot, it's a rare Londoner who hasn't, with a prospective swain, had a stroll along the river followed by a self-conscious browse of the secondhand book stall under Waterloo Bridge and a glass or two in the BFI cafe.
Address: Belvedere Road, South Bank
Tube: Waterloo
Phone: +44 20 7960 4200

St Paul's Cathedral

An inner-city sanctuary
Noteworthy for: There has been a cathedral here since 604AD, but the original building was burnt down during the Great Fire of London.

Word to the wise: Prayers, Eveningsong and Morning Prayer, as well as celebrating the Eucharist, take place daily and are open to all. Check the calendar for times.

Its grand dome appears on the skyline, majestic and mighty, a reminder of the epic history of this city. The finest example of 17th century architecture in London, St Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren taking 35 years to build and surviving another 400, despite the best efforts of the Blitz. It has become a symbol of strength, and has played a part in some of the most momentous occasions in British history. This is the site of Winston Churchill's funeral, Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee, Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding and most recently the 'Occupy London' protest camp.

Join in one of the daily services or just have a look around. Climb the dome to the Whispering Gallery and listen to the amazing acoustics, and then 270 steps upwards to the Golden Gallery for breathtaking panoramic views. Or make your way underground to the crypt to visit the magnificent tombs of the nation's heroes.
Address: Tube: St Paul's, Mansion House
Bus: 4, 11, 15, 23, 25, 26, 100, 242
Phone: +44 20 7246 8357
Opening Hours: Sightseeing, Mon-Sat: 8.30am - 4pm
Sun: Worship only

Swim in a London lido

Brave the British weather for an outdoor dip
Noteworthy for: You'll be swimming alongside the ducks, fish and weeds at many of the natural ponds, such as Hampstead Heath.

Talk of the town: Every Christmas Day since 1864 the Serpentine Swimming Club have met for the famous Peter Pan Cup swimming race. That is, when the water hasn't completely frozen.

You probably weren't thinking about going swimming when you decided to visit London. But put aside your skepticism - a dip in one of the capital's numerous outdoor pools is a must in summer, and it'll give you a new perspective on this teeming metropolis.

For a start, the pools - known as lidos - are located in some of London's prettiest spots: in the middle of parks or tucked away in suburban corners. Residents cherish them, so local government makes sure they're clean and well-staffed (unlike the city's hugely variable indoor pools). And they're under the tourist radar, making them great places to mix with real Londoners.

In summer, the large outdoor lidos - like Brockwell lido near Brixton, the ponds at Hampstead Heath, and the Serpentine lido in Hyde Park - are deliciously cool and refreshing. Many pools close over winter, but some - like London Fields lido and Hampton pool - offer year-round swimming in balmy heated water.
Opening Hours: Check individual weblinks for times

Tate Modern

Modern art in a monumental gallery
Noteworthy for: The Tate is an organisation that houses the UK's collection of art across four galleries. Also visit the original Tate Britain, opened in 1897.

Word to the wise: Take the Tate Boat, which runs every 40 minutes during gallery opening hours between Tate Britain and Tate Modern.

Housed in an impressive and beautifully converted power station on the South Bank, Tate Modern is home to the world’s largest collection of contemporary art, having exhibited everyone from Pablo Picasso to Damien Hirst.

Walk around to the East entrance so you can saunter down the slope into the vast and cavernous Turbine Hall to confront anything from giant spiders to giant slides in the changing temporary exhibit here. Check the website to see what's on, but the free permanent collection is always fascinating for first timers.

Once you’ve had your fill of Monet and Matisse, take the lift up to the top floor restaurant for a glass of wine and an eye-full of London’s skyline through the vast windows. Head back via the ultramodern Millennium Bridge linking the Tate to St Paul's Catherdral, illuminated like a blade of light by night.
Address: Bankside
Tube: Blackfriars, London Bridge, Southwark
Bus: 45, 63, 100, 344, 381, RV1
Phone: +44 20 7887 8888
Opening Hours: Sun-Thu: 10am - 6pm (last entry 5.15pm)
Fri-Sat: 10am - 10pm (last entry 9.15pm)

The Horse Hospital

A central London outpost for East London's art crowd
Notable for: The Horse Hospital has been staging avant garde art, film and and performance in an old stable since 1993.

Talk of the town: Built in 1797, the Horse Hospital's building in a Bloomsbury mews is London's only intact former stable open to the public.

Word to the wise: Some evening events here end up starting later than advertised.

Most alternative art venues can't afford Central London rents, so it's refreshing to come across something as underground and left-field as the Horse Hospital just round the corner from the British Museum. Hosting events and exhibitions relating to film, fashion, literature and music, it's an eclectic place that also benefits from its unusual building, an old stable whose upper floor is still reached via a horse friendly ramp.

Happenings at the Horse Hospital typically involve avant garde film screenings, photography and painting exhibits, plus the occasional band. Its openings and film club nights attract a sociable and hip, if not always very inclusive art crowd who come to drink at the basic bar and chat as well as to see the art. Exhibitions are generally free, while evening events usually charge a small, variable entrance fee.
Address: Colonnade, Bloomsbury
Tube: Russell Square, Holborn
Bus: 7, 59, 68, 91, 168, 188
Phone: +44 20 7833 3644
Opening Hours: Exhibitions, Mon-Sat: 12noon - 6pm
Events, Mon-Sat: 7.30pm - 11pm

The Hunterian Museum

One of Britain's oldest anatomical and pathological collections
Noteworthy for: This year the Hunterian Museum celebrates its bicentenary, with a free exhibition dedicated to its work and achievements (14 May-9 Nov), as well as a series of celebratory events.

Word to the wise: This makes an excellent double visit with Sir John Soane's Museum, another of London's more unusual attractions, which faces it across Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Housed inside the impressive Royal College of Surgeons, the Hunterian Museum displays one of Britain's oldest collections of anatomical and medical specimens. Based on the collection of pioneering Scottish scientist and surgeon John Hunter, its free permanent exhibition of preserved corpses and organs, medical equipment and skeletons is at turns instructive, poignant or plain ghoulish.

With some specimens likely to shock the squeamish, the museum clearly isn't for everyone, but it's still an interesting view into Britain's medical history and a reminder of the body's fragility. Perhaps the star exhibit is the skeleton of 7 foot 7 inches tall Irish giant Charles Byrne, an 18th century freakshow celebrity who, in a sad twist, asked in his will to be buried at sea specifically to avoid the clutches of anatomists like John Hunter. He has inspired several works of art, most notably Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel's novel, 'The Giant O'Brien', becoming a star attraction.
Address: 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn
Tube: Holborn
Phone: +44 20 7869 6560
Opening Hours: Tue-Sat: 10am - 5pm

The Old Operating Theatre

An intriguing reminder of medicine's dark days
Notable for: This perfectly preserved surgical suite in a church attic was an operating theatre for female patients from 1822 to 1847.

Word to the wise: If the idea of inspecting a "tonsil guillotine" sounds like too much for you, you might find the museum a little grisly.

There's something slightly terrifying about the Old Operating Theatre, Europe's oldest surviving surgical chamber. Housed in an improbable location inside a Baroque church's roof, this theatre, created in 1822, once witnessed countless necessarily swift, anaesthetic-free surgical procedures performed on a bare wooden table.

The galleried chamber is the main attraction here, but there is also interesting information on surgical history, a gruesome display of old surgical instruments and a garret full of apothecary's herbs. Just outside, the modern hulk of Guy's Hospital (and the Shard, which towers over the building) remind you that the old days are thankfully long gone.

Every Saturday (2pm) they hold a surgical demonstration (no real body parts, we promise) and every Sunday (2pm) they demonstrate how ingredients such as foxglove, myrrh and unicorn horns were used to make medicines. Check out the webpage for details of other events and talks held here throughout the week.
Address: 9a St. Thomas St, Southwark
Tube: London Bridge
Phone: +44 20 7188 2679
Opening Hours: Daily: 10.30am - 5pm

The Photographers' Gallery

Britain's premier photography space
Noteworthy for: The Photographers' Gallery has been Britain's most significant art space dedicated to photography since 1971.

Word to the wise: If you've been busy shopping on nearby Oxford or Regents Streets, the Photographer's Gallery's calm cafe feels like another world.

The Photographers' Gallery has the unlikely accolade of being the best Central London art gallery that visitors never find. An impressive seven storey complex reopened in spring 2012, its location in a dark alley behind Oxford Street means you would never come across it by chance.

It's well worth the effort to hunt it down. Open on various sites since 1980, the gallery has been hugely important to promoting photography in Britain, staging the first UK exhibitions of such luminaries as Juergen Teller, Sebastião Salgado and Robert Capa. Its exhibitions are often excellent, while its newly expanded gallery space is roomy and its bookshop great for both browsing and buying.

The Photographers' Gallery's free entry and central location also makes it an excellent choice for a 30 minute culture fix when you've got time to kill en route to somewhere else.
Address: 16-18 Ramillies Street, Soho
Tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 20 7087 9300
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed, Fri-Sat: 10am - 6pm
Thu: 10am - 8pm
Sun: 11.30am - 6pm

Tower Bridge

The iconic symbol of London
Talk of the town: Tower Bridge dressed itself up for the 2012 London Olympics with giant Olympic Rings temporarily installed.

Word to the wise: Check out The Scoop nearby; an open-air amphitheatre, hosting free theatre and films during the warmer months.

Tower Bridge was the city’s first overpass linking London’s North with its South. It was finished in 1894 and took a staggering 432 construction workers eight years to complete. Applauded as an impressive feat of engineering in its heyday, it is still one of London’s most famous landmarks.

Today, approximately 40,000 people cross the bridge on a daily basis and the bridge is lifted for large ships a few times a week. While there are interesting exhibitions available, including the permanent River Thames: Source to the Sea and Tower Bridge Exhibition, the main appeal is the spectacular views of London from the high level walkways.

See if you can spot the little-known Tower Bridge chimney, cunningly disguised to blend in with the lamposts. It connects to a room tucked underneath one of the piers, which had a coal fire to warm the guards.
Address: Tower Hill
Tube: Tower Hill, London Bridge
Bus: 15, 42, 78, 100, RV1
Phone: +44 20 7403 3761
Opening Hours: Exhibition, Apr-Sep, Daily: 10am - 6pm
Oct-Mar, Daily: 9.30am - 5.30pm

Tower of London

A spectacular royal castle with a bloody history
Word to the wise: It's actually a good idea to join a guided tour. They are lead by the Beefeaters (royal guards), who’ll throw in a few anecdotes and may even help you to spot a ghost or two.

There’s no precise date documenting when building of the Tower of London began, but records show that it was well on its way during the 1070s under the watchful eye of the King, William the Conqueror, following his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Since then, this enduring fortress has been enjoyed as a royal palace, used as an armoury and prison for a number of years during the reign of King Henry VIII and the Tudors, and even housed a zoo.

Today, the Tower is as impressive as ever to visit and has been beautifully maintained; you can see the old prison cells, execution site where enemies of the state met their gruesome ends and the Jewel House where the British royal jewels are still on display. In the winter, an ice rink is built here and the tower forms a fabulous backdrop for a skate.
Address: The Tower of London
Tube: Tower Hill
Bus: 15, 42, 78, 100, RV1
Phone: +44 20 3166 6000
Opening Hours: Mar 1-Oct 31, Tue-Sat: 9am – 5.30pm
Sun-Mon: 10am – 5.30pm
Nov 1-Feb 28, Tue-Sat: 9am – 4.30pm
Sun-Mon: 9am – 4.30pm
(last admission 30 minutes before closing)

Victoria and Albert Museum

A museum dedicated to beauty
Popular plate: The V&A’s café Benugo serves some of the tastiest scones and clotted cream in town.

As you walk through the V&A’s revolving doors, the first thing you see is the blue, green and yellow glass Dale Chihuly chandelier hanging from the ceiling, giving you some indication of what you might find here. Occupying around 150 galleries, the V&A was founded in 1852 by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to display the largest collection of decorative arts in the world. Today it shows some of the biggest and best exhibitions on earth dedicated to fashion, design and architecture.

The museum is vast and you won't be able to see it all in one day. It’s a good idea to plan your visit before you come, or just buy a ticket for the current exhibition on show, spend a couple of hours there, and then walk through the French doors out into the beautifully-designed Italian-style courtyard for a spot of tea.
Address: Cromwell Road
Tube: South Kensington
Bus: C1, 14, 74, 414
Phone: +44 20 7942 2000
Opening Hours: Sat-Thu: 10am - 5.45pm
Fri: 10am - 10pm

Victoria Park and Village

East London's green corridor
Noteworthy for: Opened to the public in 1845, it was known as the 'People's Park' used by the working class families of the East End, and known for the political rallies and meetings that took place here.

Word to the wise: Victoria Park hosts many of London's summer festivals such as the LoveBox Weekender and Field Day.

East London's Victoria Park, an area as well as an actual park, always surprises those Londoners who imagine Hackney to be nothing but gritty streets packed with edgy bars and cool kids. The 86.18 hectares of wide green space - London's oldest park - is home to a multitude of bird life, congregating around the one-time bathing ponds and waterways of the adjacent canal path. There are two adventure playgrounds, a deer enclosure and the odd pavilion dotted about. There's enough green grass fields here for all the cool kids to get their kit off and do cartwheels.

But what really overturns those East London stereotypes is the Village. Verging on the type of twee better known of in West London, yummy mummies take lunch in the collection of cute independent cafes that wind along Lauriston Road, before swinging by the Ginger Pig for the best meat in London. The pubs here pack out every summer evening but your best bet is the Hemingway (84 Victoria Park Road).
Address: Victoria Park, Grove Road
Overground: Hackney Wick

West End Theatre

A magical mix of musicals, dramas and comedies
Word to the wise: The top shows sell out quick, but there are usually standing tickets on the door if you arrive early. Phone ahead to confirm.

Noteworthy for: Amazingly, the National Theatre sells half the tickets to Travelex-sponsored shows for a mere GBP 12.

London stages some of the best theatre in the world, so you can’t visit the capital without catching a show. From the musical classics like Chicago, Les Miserables and The Lion King to highbrow fare starring Royal Shakespeare Company actors such as Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, the only difficulty is choosing.

Whilst theatres are concentrated in the West End around Covent Garden and Piccadilly, also check out south of the river venues such as The Old Vic - run by Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey - and the National Theatre.

Kevin’s not the only film star to exchange Hollywood highlife for London’s stage – the list includes Sienna Miller, Keira Knightley and French darling Audrey Tatou, all drawn here by its world-class reputation.

For something more challenging, it's also worth checking out Off West End theatres such as the Bush and the Almeida.
Phone: Tickets: +44 20 7492 1515

Whitechapel Gallery

East London art pioneer
Noteworthy for: Designed to bring art to a deprived area, the Whitechapel Gallery's blueprint has been copied by other inner city public galleries across the world.

Talk of the town: The Whitechapel Gallery's dining room is also worth visiting, following a relaunch in mid-September 2012 with a menu devised by Gordon Ramsay protege Angela Hartnett.

Created in 1901 as a beacon for high culture in the working class East End, the pioneering Whitechapel Gallery has been bringing contemporary art to Londoners for over a century. It's long been a groundbreaking but unstuffy place, with temporary exhibitions providing Britain's first venue for new work by artists including Picasso, Mark Rothko, Frida Kahlo and Sophie Calle.

The institution has recently found itself at the centre of one of London's newest gallery districts, and its importance to London's art scene has grown since its gallery space doubled following an extension into a former library next door in 2009. With an excellent programme of courses and screenings supporting their exhibitions, plus a good modern British dining room, the Whitechapel remains a cheerfully buzzing place that's also conveniently located for people visiting the nearby Brick Lane and Spitalfields Markets.
Address: 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, Whitechapel
Tube: Aldgate East
Phone: +44 20 7522 7888
Opening Hours: Tue-Wed, Fri-Sun: 11am - 6pm
Thu: 11am - 9pm

Wilton's Music Hall

The city's hidden theatre
Tipple of choice: Take a drink in the muted magnificence of the Mahogany Bar. Surviving since 1725, it was a favourite stop for sailors in the 19th century.

Word to the wise: There is no theatrical facade - just a doorway set into a peeling wall - so leave enough time to track it down.

Dominated by high-rises and traffic-choked roads, the area east of Tower Hill is not obviously appealing, but look closer and you’ll find some of London’s most evocative historic buildings. Most magical is this wildly atmospheric, unrestored 19th century music hall, the world’s oldest still in operation, for which the term ‘faded grandeur’ could have been invented.

They host an eclectic and exciting programme of entertainment from an interactive theatrical production of the Great Gatsby to gala screenings of Hitchcock classics. With opera, live music and dance too, there is always something surprising going on. Wilton's is perpetually fighting for funding to keep this stunning yet crumbling slice of history and art upright. It's well worthy of the support.
Address: Graces Alley, Wapping
Tube: Aldgate East, Tower Hill, Shadwell
Phone: +44 20 7702 2789
Opening Hours: Bar, Mon-Fri: 12noon - 11pm
Sat: 5pm - 11pm

Leon

Tasty fresh and organic fast food
Word to the wise: A recent change in management has caused some of the service to go downhill, but the food is still delicious.

Noteworthy for: This place won the award of 'Sustainability Champion 2010'.

At last; healthy, organic and fresh fast food at inexpensive prices. It's perfect for an on-the-go lunch, serving tasty salads with the body-boosting likes of bulgur, quinoa and watercress, soups, pressed juices, smoothies, coffee and generously-stuffed pita breads.

Despite having a total of 12 locations - including Spitalfields Market, Tate Modern, Carnaby Street, The Strand and Old Brompton Street (pictured) - making it something of a prolific London chain, it is a reliable option for a quick bite. They're all kitted out in colourful and cool decor with an American diner vibe, and are perfectly pleasant to eat in.
Address: Spitalfields Market, 3 Crispin Place
Tube: Liverpool Street, Shoreditch High Street
Regent Street, 275 Regent Street
Tube: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly
Phone: +44 20 7247 4369
Opening Hours: Check the webpage as each location varies
Spitalfields, Mon-Tue: 8am - 10pm
Wed-Fri: 8am - 10.30pm
Sat: 9am - 10pm
Sun: 9am - 8pm

A little of what you fancy

East London secret serving delicious seasonal dishes
Word to the wise: Make sure you book a table to avoid disappointment – it’s well known amongst the East London fashion-crowd and fills up fast.

Popular plate: The slow braised oxtail with red wine, herbs and garlic is deliciously rich and filling.

Tucked nonchalantly between a laundrette and a disused building; walk by too fast, and you’ll miss it. There’s no sign on the door so the only way to find this place is to know the exact address. Understated on the outside it may be, but walk in and you’ll be confronted with London’s trendiest crowd. Don’t forget that in Dalston, the more dilapidated a place looks, quite often the cooler the kids.

The decor inside is laid back and rustic, with wooden tables and chairs, and the menu is small but perfectly formed. Here they serve British food with a Mediterranean twist, such as a mushroom pate with toast to start, a selection of tasty meat dishes and salads for main and generously sized puddings that are perfect for sharing.
Address: 464 Kingsland Road, Dalston
Overground: Dalston Junction, Dalston Kingsland
Phone: +44 20 7275 0060
Opening Hours: Tue-Fri: 9am – 4pm, 7pm – close
Sat: 10am – 4pm, 7pm – close
Sun: 12noon - 5pm

A. Gold

Ye olde British sandwich shoppe
Popular plate: East Londoners can't get enough of A. Gold's rendition of the Scotch egg, a highlands snack consisting of a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried.

Londoners used to be typically self-deprecating when it came to Britain's cuisine, but recent years have seen a swelling of pride in the country's grub - both at posh restaurants like Heston Blumenthal's Dinner and at small, local joints like A. Gold.

It's a cafe and deli that makes a small range of very British things very well: English cheddar sandwiches on 'Granny' bread; nibbles like pork scratchings and flapjacks; and beverages such as apple juice with elderflower.

Locals mob the place at lunchtime on weekdays, when service can slow to a crawl. Visit before midday instead, when the baked goods are fresh from the oven.
Address: 42 Brushfield Street, Spitalfields
Tube: Liverpool Street
Overground: Shoreditch High Street
Phone: +44 20 7247 2487
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 10am - 4pm
Sat-Sun: 11am - 5pm

Arancina

Sicilian pizza by the slice
Word to the wise: While the pizzas here are near-perfect, their pastas and salads are below par. Stick to what they do best.

It can be hard to find a budget snack whilst shopping on the pretty but pricey Portobello Road, so this family-run, laid-back Italian is good to know about. You'll spot it by the orange Fiat Cinquecento in the window and the racks of freshly baked pizzas.

You can either order a generous slice to-go of one of the classic combinations like rucola and prosciutto, or get a 70cm pizza alla pala made up fresh and wait for it at one of the upstairs tables.

They have a restaurant on Westbourne Grove too, although the Pembridge Road branch is better for a quick bite.
Address: 19 Pembridge Road, Notting Hill
Tube: Notting Hill Gate
Phone: +44 20 7221 7776
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 8am - 11pm
Sun: 9am - 11pm

Arbutus

Modern, minimalist and metropolitan pan-European bistro
Tipple of choice: The whole wine list can be ordered by revolutionary 250ml carafe allowing you to taste several wines during your meal.

Word to the wise: The lack of background music might not be to some people's atmospheric tastes.

With a shiny Michelin star under its belt, it's a surprise this Soho restaurant is so reasonably-priced, which only makes the modern European bistro fare more enjoyable. It's inventive and imaginative without being too off-the-wall: popular dishes include the squid and mackerel 'burger' or roast Yorkshire grouse with wild blueberries, foie gras and Armagnac toast.

With its clean-cut design, casual atmosphere and creative cooking, Arbutus is a reliable option. Run by Anthony Demetre and Will Smith, they also do Wild Honey, Les Deux Salons (French) and new tapas bar Donostia, all with excellent food and the same buzzy, metropolitan vibe.
Address: 63-64 Frith Street, Soho
Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus
Phone: +44 20 7734 4545
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: 12midday - 2.30pm, 5pm - 11pm
Fri-Sat: 12midday - 2.30pm, 5pm - 11.30pm
Sun: 12midday - 3pm, 5.30pm - 10.40pm

Bibendum

Fancy French food in designer surroundings
Popular plate: You can't go wrong with Bibendum's classic roast chicken with tarragon.

Word to the wise: Experience the beautiful surroundings without blowing the budget with the reasonable selection of soups and sandwiches available in Bibendum's café.

Set in a striking Art Nouveau building, constructed in 1909 to house the British headquarters of the tyre company Michelin, Bibendum is a classic French restaurant with an English twist. Founded by designer and entrepreneur Sir Terence Conran, along with celebrated chef Simon Hopkinson and publisher Lord Paul Hamlyn, they renovated the building to its former glory, and the restaurant is one of London's classics.

The restaurant is timelessly elegant, with plush red armchairs and banquet tables, and the authentic, simple French-influence menu is consistently good. There's an oyster bar and crustacea stall for those in a hurry.
Address: Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road
Tube: South Kensington
Phone: +44 20 7581 5817
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 12noon - 2.30pm, 7pm - 11pm
Sat: 12.30pm - 3pm, 7pm - 11pm
Sun: 12.30pm – 3pm, 7pm - 10.30pm

Brawn

Beautiful meats and bountiful eats
Tipple of choice: Opened by the same people who run Terriors wine bar in Charing Cross, they're serious about their vino here. Just get the barman started and you'll be lovingly regaled with options.

Word to the wise: Thanks to a huge buzz, it's booked up every night of the week. Reservations are a must.

Bang on the global trend for head-to-toe eating, a section of Brawn's menu is simply entitled 'Pig', and you can sup on every bit of Babe, from cheeks to trotters.

With an emphasis on carefully sourced produce - the provenance of each dish is indicated on the menu - they create something akin to delicious and decently-priced French tapas (but be aware, the bill can quickly mount up).

Columbia Road is normally quiet except for the Sunday morning Flower Market but Brawn, with its hip, vintage vibe and high foodie standards, is drawing in the crowds all week long.
Address: 49 Columbia Road, Hackney
Tube: Bethnal Green, Hoxton
Phone: +44 20 7729 5692
Opening Hours: Mon: 6pm – 11pm
Tue-Sat: 12noon – 3pm, 6pm – 11pm
Sun, set lunch only: 12noon – 4pm

Brick Lane Beigel Bake

London’s oldest and most popular bagel shop
Popular plate: Choose a fresh bagel filled with succulent salt beef and mustard or the classic smoked salmon and cream cheese with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of pepper.

Bagels have been sold on Brick Lane since the late 19th century when the East End was a labyrinth of Jewish immigrant culture. Now assimilated into the London medley, the Brick Lane Beigel Bake has survived, becoming something of an institution.

Open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, with the bagels cooked fresh throughout the night, queues form over the lunch hour and late at night when the post-pub peckish party revellers descend. Expect everyone from bin men to ravers, city workers to market stall holders waiting in line for the deliciously fresh, warm bagels.
Address: 159 Brick Lane
Tube: Aldgate East
Overground: Shoreditch High Street
Phone: +44 20 7729 0616
Opening Hours: Daily: 24 hours

Brixton Village

South London's gastro hotspot
Noteworthy for: Brixton Village has some of London's best affordable eats, plus a lively street scene.

Word to the wise: Currently at a peak of popularity, Brixton Village gets very busy at weekends, so crowd-phobics should stick to weekdays. Also, be aware that some places accept cash only.

Bohemian Brixton Village is currently one of the best places in London for food, coffee and people watching. A busy warren of 1930s covered market arcades, it mixes everyday stalls selling veg and household goods with a clutch of excellent artisanal cafes and hip, makeshift-looking dining spots.

With a real community vibe (the place is run by a form of cooperative) it's a relatively new addition to Brixton's lively fabric that so far blends well with the area's diverse, unstuffy character. Pizzeria Franco Manca, Federation Coffee, Honest Burgers and Thai street food restaurant Kaosarn are especially popular establishments here, but everything on offer is pretty good.
Address: Coldharbour Lane, Brixton
Tube: Brixton
Phone: +44 20 7274 2990
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed: 8am - 6pm
Thu-Sat: 8am - 12 midnight
Sun: 8am - 5pm

Caravan

Dig in to an antipodean brunch
Tipple of choice: Doing their hometown proud, they serve a mean coffee here, though we would prefer some chocolate with our cappuccino.

Word to the wise: They're prepared for the crowds here and have a good system of serving coffees to those waiting, but if you're not up for the crazy scene come mid-week.

You could find somewhere like this on any corner in Sydney, but in London it's something of an anomaly, which makes it insanely popular and thus insanely busy at the weekends. They're famous for their brunches, and crowds in full hipster regalia (no matter how early) dig into everything from avocado on toast to the full fry-up.

Come evening they serve the what seems to have become the compulsory selection of small plates, but they do it well with inventive twists veering from baby eel salad to arabica oxtail. With white walls and big windows the decor is cool yet simple, but its all about the buzz here.
Address: 11-13 Exmouth Market
Tube: Farringdon, Angel
Phone: +44 207 833 8115
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 8am - 10.30pm
Sat: 10am - 10.30pm (bar open until 12midnight)
Sun: 10am - 4pm

Ceviche Peruvian Kitchen and Pisco Bar

A lively taste of Lima in Soho
Popular plate: Naturally, kick off with one of the zesty ceviches, such as Don Ceviche featuring raw sea bass bathed in deliciously sour and spicy yellow chilli tiger’s milk.

Tipple of choice: You need to go for Peru’s signature cocktail, the Pisco Sour – pisco (grape brandy), lime, sugar syrup, bitters and a dash of egg white.

Peru is one of the world's hottest food destinations, and London has jumped on the bandwagon with a sleuth of Peruvian openings. The most exciting of these in 2012 for food and ambience was Ceviche. Occupying a narrow Soho room, it has been transformed by Martin Morales, a long-time exponent of Peruvian cuisine, into a lively slice of Lima.

You'll spot the culinary influence of Japan in the anticuchpos - small skewers of meat, similar to yakitori - the Spanish in the recuerdos (favourite classics) such as the paella-like Arroz con Mariscos, and the Chinese roots of wok-fried Lomo Saltado. Intended to be shared tapas-style, try as much as you can eat.
Address: 17 Frith Street, Soho
Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus
Phone: +44 20 7292 2040
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12noon - 11.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 10.15pm

Ciao Bella

Traditional Italian dining
Word to the wise: Book about a week in advance if you want to get a table upstairs – this place is popular and is packed-full practically every night of the week.

Popular plate: It may be traditional but the rich and creamy lasagna alla bolognese is a classic for a reason.

It doesn’t get more Italian than this old-style trattoria, and like all the best Italian eateries, it’s colourful, noisy and crowded, all adding to the authentic atmosphere. Black and white photos of movie stars and Italian memorabilia clutter the walls, a grand piano stands waiting to be played (and often is) and the bowl of parmesan cheese, breadsticks and olives on the tables instantly endear.

Ciao Bella serves up an unsurprising menu of all the Italian staples, from spaghetti bolognese to veal escalope, and the generously-sized portions makes this place perfect for sharing.
Address: 86-90 Lamb's Conduit Street, Bloomsbury
Tube: Russell Square
Phone: +44 20 7242 4119
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12noon - 11.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 10.30pm

Climpson & Sons

Chill-out with a good strong brew
Popular plate: Chew on some sweet cinnamon toast with cream cheese and honey.

Another Antipodean-run café, Climpson & Sons was one of the first to bring Australia’s smoothest coffee to London. Located in the busy and buzzing Broadway market, it caters to East London’s fashion crowd on the weekends and is a great place to chill-out during the week. A row of the best-dressed caffeine addicts permanently line the pavement tables, while their pugs wait for tidbits by their feet.

It may be terribly trendy, but Climpson & Sons are still very serious about their coffee. They make their own in the roastery just behind the café, where you can also pick up a range of beans.
Address: 67 Broadway Market
Tube: Bethnal Green
Rail: London Fields
Overground: Dalston Kingsland, Dalston Junction
Phone: +44 20 7254 7199
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 7.30am – 5pm
Sat: 8.30am – 5pm
Sun: 9am – 5pm

Fernandez & Wells

A simply stylish Soho stalwart
Popular plate: You need to get there early to grab their best-selling sandwich – chilli chicken, tarragon and mayo on focaccia. And the pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) are divine.

This is a pretty perfect place for a coffee and sandwich in Soho. It's unpretentious yet cool, and indulgently foodie yet both casual and welcoming. One of four outposts, including a market stall-style deli (43 Lexington Street) and a food and wine bar (16a St Anne's Court) both around the corner, the Beak Street cafe is your best pop-in, pop-out option.

They do seasonally changing organic gourmet sandwiches, hot breakfasts, own-blend coffee from independent roasters Has Bean and scrumptious cakes and pastries from Aston’s Organic Bakery – all to eat-in or takeaway.
Address: 73 Beak Street, Soho
Tube: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square
Phone: +44 20 7287 8124
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 7.30am - 6pm
Sat: 9am - 6pm
Sun: 9am - 5pm

Food for Thought

Nourishing vegetarian nosh
Noteworthy for: This is one of the most popular takeaway places for worker's in the area; the queue is often for the takeout counter upstairs, but there is seating downstairs if you want to eat-in.

Word to the wise: They don't serve alcohol but you're welcome to bring-your-own and they don't charge for corkage.

There are very few good vegetarian places in London and this is by far one of the best. Operating on a first come, first serve basis, the queue is often out the door, but the food is worth the wait. They doll out generous helpings of salads, casseroles, quiches and soups from a changing menu of daily specials with freshly baked bread and a delicious selection of desserts.

The place has a 1970s feel with higgledy-piggedlgy seating and a hectic kitchen. It is counter service only, but the atmosphere is convivial. Salads start at GBP 3.50, which makes Food for Thought a great alternative to the more expensive places in this part of town.
Address: 31 Neal Street, Covent Garden
Tube: Covent Garden
Phone: +44 20 7836 9072
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12noon - 8.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 5.30pm

Franco Manca

Perfect charcoaled pizza in Brixton
Popular plate: Sink your teeth into the simple, but classic tomato, mozzarella and basil.

Word to the wise: Tourists don't often make it down to Brixton, which is a shame, because you'll learn a lot more about real London here than in the centre. Take an afternoon before dinner to explore.

The pizza-making skills at Franco Manca have been applauded as nothing short of an art form (with five star reviews to back it up). Serving sour dough pizza cooked in an authentic wood-burning stove, this is a traditional Italian method that owner Neapolitan Giuseppe Mascoli prides himself on.

Toppings are simple but well-sourced, with choices like mozzarella and wild broccoli with Wotton organic Pecorino cheese from Somerset, and home-cured Gloucester Old Spot ham, mozzarella, buffalo ricotta and wild mushrooms, and the wine they serve is organic. It’s also great value for money, so if you’re looking for a cheap and tasty place to eat in South London, this is it.
Address: Unit 4, Market Row
Tube: Brixton
Phone: +44 20 7738 3021
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed, Sun: 12noon – 5pm
Thu-Fri: 12noon – 10pm
Sat: 11.30am – 10pm

Granger & Co.

Antipodean all-day diner from culinary star Bill Granger
Popular plate: He's famous for his illegally creamy scrambled eggs making brunch the big meal here. But another excellent signature dish is the semolina-crusted calamari aioli.

Noteworthy for: Granger and Co. is the British take on his famous Sydney cafe Bills, which can now be found in several Asia locations too.

He's practically a hero in Australia, so for many Antipodeans, as well as his army of recipe book fans, the arrival of his first UK bistro was hotly anticipated news. The light, airy all-day dining room opened up to a hail of reviews, queues, applause and gripes (bad service and overpriced being the main complaints).

However, after one year it's settled into being a very handy casual eating spot on otherwise painfully trustafarian Westbourne Grove. It fills ups with glossy couples with impeccably dressed children, entertained with crayons by the eager staff, and that new breed of boho banker. But come for the food: easy going yet eclectic, it's what's made his name.
Address: 175 Westbourne Grove
Tube: Notting Hill
Phone: +44 20 7229 9111
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 7am - 11pm
Sun: 8am - 10pm

Hawksmoor

Dishing up the best beef in London
Popular plate: Indulge in the pièce de résistance: chateaubriand (a particularly thick cut from the tenderloin) followed by the salted caramel ice cream.

Word to the wise: The cuts of beef are big, so small eaters should share and order a couple of the superb side dishes.

There is no better place to sink your teeth into a big juicy steak. Celebrated by critics as the finest in the city, Hawksmoor serves what they describe as ‘dictionary thick’ cuts.

Their beef comes from Longhorn cattle reared in North Yorkshire and dry-aged for 35 days by the award winning butchers, The Ginger Pig. Once in the restaurant they are cooked to perfection on a charcoal grill.

The décor of all three restaurants is simple but warm, with exposed brick walls and dark wood parquet flooring so as not to distract from the star of the show – the beef.
Address: Spitalfields, 157 Commercial Street
Tube: Liverpool Street, Shoreditch High Street
Seven Dials, 11 Langley Street
Tube: Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road
Guildhall, 10 Basinghall Street
Tube: Moorgate, Liverpool Street
Phone: Spitalfields: +44 20 7426 4850
Opening Hours: Spitalfields, Mon-Fri: 12noon – 2.30pm, 5pm – 10.30pm
Sat: 12noon – 2.30pm, 6pm – 10.30pm
Sun: 12noon – 4.30pm
Check webpage for Seven Dials/Guildhall times

Jose

Tiny but perfectly formed tapas bar
Talk of the town: Jose chef Jose Pizarro has recently opened another restaurant further up Bermondsey Street. Called Pizarro (see what he did there?), it's larger, slightly more formal and just as popular.

Word to the wise: For a really speedy bite head to Maltby Street market on Saturday, where Jose has a tapas stall.

Bermondsey Street's reputation as a foodie mecca is thanks to a crop of stylish, buzzy restaurants such as this bijou place, which has been permanently packed since opening in 2011.

Jose Pizarro's aim was to create an authentically Spanish sherry and tapas bar, but the industrial-chic interior has a distinctly London/New York vibe. There's no arguing with the food, however. Single-ingredient tapas classics are top quality, whilst daily specials - say, pumpkin salad and Mahon cheese - depend on what's good at nearby Borough Market.

Accompany with a glass of sherry and a view either of the dishy chefs working their magic in the open kitchen or the action on the street outside - that's in the unlikely event you get a choice, of course.
Address: 104 Bermondsey Street
Tube: London Bridge
Phone: +44 20 7403 4902 (no reservations)
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12noon - 10.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 5.30pm

Koya

Probably London's best Japanese noodle bar
Noteworthy for: Koya specialises in the Sanuki Province-style Udon noodles found on Shikoku, the least populous of Japan's main islands.

Popular Plate: With a particular focus on broths, the mushrooms with walnut miso are especially good.

London has its fair share of Japanese noodle bars, so you really have to put a lot of oomph in your udon to make them stand out, which is exactly what Soho's Koya has done. With simple, deliciously authentic dishes like miso broth enriched with walnut puree and Udon noodles tossed with smoked mackerel and green leaves, Koya just makes that much more effort, though charges slightly more to match.

It also looks good, with a sparse but elegant cafe-style decor. All this makes the place especially popular with local media workers, so expect to find queues at peak times, especially as they have no phone number and a no-reservation policy.
Address: 49 Frith Street, Soho
Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12noon - 3pm, 5.30pm – 10.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 3pm, 5.30pm - 10pm

Kulu Kulu

South Kensington sushi joint
Popular plate: The soft shelled crab tempura hand roll is insanely good. In fact, it's worth going to Kulu Kulu just to eat one, or three.

Amidst the fancy South Kensington restaurants, this little Japanese joint may be basic but it's a great spot to know about for a quick, affordable and authentic sushi meal. The chef chops up fresh fish, as guests sit around a conveyor belt of sushi trying not to take every single dish off the dispenser.

You know this is the real deal by the number of Japanese diners that gather here as soon as it opens. There is also an equally popular Covent Garden outpost (51-53 Shelton Street), which has a seemingly never-ending 10 percent discount on the total bill.
Address: 39 Thurloe Place
Tube: South Kensington
Phone: +44 20 7589 2225
Opening Hours: Daily: 5.30pm - 10.30pm

La Bodega Negra

Sexy Soho Taqueria and bar
Popular plate: Try the tacos de cameron, a piquant mix of jumbo shrimp, avocado and red cabbage.

Tipple of choice: Central London fashion and media types come just for the bar, which boasts delicious bespoke margaritas and over 25 kinds of tequila.

'Sex Shop; Adult Videos; Peep Shows,' glares the neon-lit sign outside this Mexican restaurant in the heart of once-seedy Soho. But never fear, La Bodega Negra launched with such hot-right-now hype that by the time you visit no one will tut at you upon entering.

The maiden British venture from Manhattan nightlife impresario Serge Becker, the dimly lit and edgy Day of the Dead-style interiors are perfect for dates with made-for-sharing Mexican - via Texas and New York - street food. It's easier to get a table at the cafe (entrance at 16 Moor Street), but it doesn't have the same sex appeal.
Address: 9 Old Compton Street, Soho
Tube: Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 207 758 4100
Opening Hours: Restaurant, Mon-Sat: 6pm - 1am
Sun: 6pm - 11.30pm
Cafe, Mon-Sat: 12midday - 1am
Sun: 12midday - 11.30pm

Les Trois Garcons

Opulent French boudoir
Popular plate: While the set menu is good it's the six course tasting menu where the chefs excel, with amuse bouche and petit fours as extra treats.

A giant taxidermy giraffe in an antique tiara may preside over your meal - or perhaps the regal tiger draped in pearls - as chandeliers and vintage handbags glitter from the ceiling above you. Decked out like the boudoir of an eccentric aristocratic lady with a penchant for fur and glitter, Les Trois Garcons is as much about the opulent decor as the food.

Luckily, that's delicious too: a decadent French menu that'll leave you stuffed. The gracious service befits the setting, and they will even bring out a selection of reading glasses on a pillow if you forget your own.



Address: 1 Club Row
Tube: Liverpool Street, Bethnal Green
Overground: Shoreditch High Street
Phone: +44 20 7613 1924
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: 12noon – 2.30pm, 6pm – 9.30pm
Fri: 12noon – 2.30pm, 6pm – 10.30pm
Sat: 6pm – 10.30pm

Lucky Seven Diner

Authentic American-style diner
Popular plate: You can't go wrong with a classic cheese burger.

Word to the wise: If it's full or you're looking for a party vibe, try Mexican cantina Crazy Hommies next door. Also a Tom Conran venture, they serve great tequila cocktails.

Dubbed the best diner this side of Brooklyn, this West London burger bar is a small and intimate place with a large neighbourhood fan base, which includes Kate Moss as a regular.

Walk inside and step back in time; like the set of Grease or Happy Days, the place is decked out with authentic 50s green leather booths and the walls are festooned with memorabilia from that bygone era.

It prides itself on its authentic 100 percent Aberdeen Angus burgers, American breakfasts and deliciously thick milkshakes. It’s not cheap – burgers start at GBP 7 - but the beef is good and the portions are generous.
Address: 127 Westbourne Park Road, Notting Hill
Tube: Westbourne Park, Royal Oak
Phone: +44 20 7727 6771
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: 10am - 11pm
Fri-Sat: 9am - 11pm
Sun: 9am - 10.30pm

Lupita

Bona fide Mexican food
Tipple of choice: Naturally, you should order 'agua fresca' - tequila - with your meal, and one of the frozen margaritas - flavoured with everything from avocado to coffee - to finish off.

The culinary hotbed of London falls short where Mexican food is concerned, usually offering Tex-Mex fare in a restaurant overladen with sombreros and lurid cacti. Lupita, however, actually has a team of Mexican chefs behind it, with 45 years experience from a leading taqueria in Mexico City, ‘El Farolito’.

The restaurant puts great pride in fresh and flavoursome ingredients, and goes beyond the usual burritos and tacos with dishes to challenge most Londoners powers of translation: huitlacoche, tinga, nopales and cochinita pibil. Their specialty Volcan - a grilled tortilla with melted cheese and Arrachera steak or cactus - is perfectly executed.
Address: 13 Villiers Street
Tube: Charing Cross, Embankment
Phone: +44 20 7930 5355
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: 12noon – 11pm
Fri-Sat: 12noon – 11.30pm
Sun: 12noon – 10pm

Maison Bertaux

London's oldest French patisserie
Talk of the town: The cafe was a favourite of the late Alexander McQueen, and comedian Noel Fielding exhibits in the upstairs art gallery.

Popular plate: Viennoiseries and frangipanis are reliably delicious.

Word to the wise: The French influence extends to the service, which is universally snooty.

Open since 1871, this little cake shop feels like it fell out of old world Paris onto the streets of Soho. The mismatched vintage furniture seems always in disarray and the cakes are not exercises in saccharine perfection, but rather look like they were baked in mammy's kitchen with heaps of cream and love.

Tea at Bertaux's is as much about its charmingly chaotic atmosphere and the chance to watch the Soho street life from a pavement table as it is about culinary craft. This place did shabby chic before anyone knew it was cool.
Address: 28 Greek Street, Soho
Tube: Picadilly, Covent Garden, Leisester Square
Phone: +44 20 7437 6007
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 9am - 10pm
Sun: 9am - 8pm

Meat Liquor

Trailer trash burger joint in Mayfair
Popular plate: The Dead Hippie burger is the big hit: two beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles and the mystery Dead Hippie sauce, which we can only imagine is so named for the smelly breath it gives you.

Tipple of choice: The rum medley House Grog is so strong its limited to two per person. But all cocktails are excellent here.

It feels like a trailer trash biker bar, somewhere bad things happen in the toilets and late at night it all kicks off, except, it's none of these things. This almost too cool burger joint is in swish Mayfair, and, while it certainly gets going when the DJ turns up at night, the only thing kicking off is the queue, which winds all the way down the street.

But it's worth it, if only for the free onion rings they dish out to the waiting line, but mostly for the GBP 6.50 burgers. Served diner-style on trays with rolls of kitchen towel for napkins this isn't fancy, but its damn tasty.
Address: 74 Welbeck Street
Tube: Bond Street, Oxford Circus
Phone: +44 20 7224 4239
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: 12noon - 12midnight
Fri-Sat: 12noon - 2am
Sun: 12noon - 10pm

Milkbar

Serving up Soho's smoothest coffee
Word to the wise: This place doesn’t have a toilet, so plan accordingly.

This offshoot of the wildly popular Flat White serves the same great coffee, made by a crack team of Australian and Kiwi baristas, but cuts out the unrelenting busyness and occasional elitist attitude that can mar its big sister establishment. The dark-hued cafe space sits on one of the few Soho streets not perennially thronged with foot-traffic, making it a favourite with those in-the-know, as well as with homesick antipodeans.

The focus here is very much on the coffee: the food menu is small, and there aren't amenities like free wi-fi to encourage lingering (or tourists). But with espresso this satisfying, who needs distractions?
Address: 3 Bateman Street
Tube: Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 20 7287 4796
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 8am - 7pm
Sat-Sun: 9am - 6pm

Montparnasse Café

Cosy French bistro-style café
Popular plate: The almond croissants would even satisfy a Frenchman.

Word to the wise: The lunch queue can be long, so bring a book to keep yourself entertained.

When on a High Street Kensington shopping spree, this small café is a great place for a snack or light lunch away from the crowds. Sticking to a traditional French boulangerie aesthetic, it's pretty in pink with an awning, wicker chairs and a traditional counter bursting with baked goodies. In addition, they have a small menu of freshly made sandwich-type fare.

Its location off Kensington Square can be a challenge to find, but just follow your nose. The French expat staff keep standards high without any snootiness, and are happy to chat in their native tongue.
Address: 22 Thackeray Street
Tube: High Street Kensington
Phone: +44 20 7376 2212
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 8am - 6pm
Sat-Sun: 8.30am - 5.30pm

Moro

Award-winning Spanish fare on a foodie street
Word to the wise: If you can't make it to Moro you can re-create their food at home: the restaurant's series of cookbooks have become kitchen classics.

The fortunes of most restaurants ebb and flow, but since opening in 1997 Moro has been constantly packed and still wins awards. Owners Sam and Sam Clark were pioneers of imaginative Spanish and North African cooking - chargrilled lamb chops with date and parsnip salad and pumpkin pilav, for example - and their choice of location in Exmouth Market, a cute, villagey patch between Islington and the City, helped turn the area into a foodie hotspot.

In 2010 the couple opened Morito, a small tapas bar next door. It's a less pricey, more casual option but, with its no reservation policy and popularity, a wait for a table is a given.
Address: 34-36 Exmouth Market
Tube: Angel, Farringdon
Phone: +44 20 7833 8336
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12.30pm – 2.30pm, 6pm – 10.30pm
Sun: 12.30pm – 2.45pm

New Street Grill

Superior steaks served with chic, low-wattage intimacy
Noteworthy for: The restaurant is set in the oldest surviving 18th century warehouse originally used by the East India Company to house exotic goods.

Popular plate: The steaks may be the main event here, but the well-balanced menu also has a number of superb seafood options, such as the fresh Cornish crab, served in the shell.

This may be a carnivore’s paradise located in the City of London, but New Street Grill is not the red-blooded, testosterone-fuelled affair you’d imagine. Tucked away down a quiet lane near Liverpool Street Station, there’s something of an intimate, romantic – and far from corporate – atmosphere, aided by the dusky, warm glow emitted from the rows of dangling light bulbs, not to mention the burgundy walls, vases of flowers, and contemporary art works.

But it’s not all style and no substance – the food is excellent, and the steaks are faultless. Their Black Angus beef, seared in the wood fired Josper grill, is juicy, tender, flavourful and perfectly medium-rare. Sides include standard options such as the excellent triple-cooked chips and more adventurous fare like the lobster macaroni. If you’re having trouble choosing, just consult the attentive and knowledgeable staff.
Address: 16A New Street
Tube: Liverpool Street
Phone: +44 20 3503 0785
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 12noon - 3.30pm, 5.30pm - 10.30pm
Sat: 5.30pm - 10.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 4pm

Orrery

Sensational, perfectly conceived luxe French cuisine
Word to the wise: Book a table next to the large arched windows overlooking the leafy St Marylebone Church gardens. You'll feel like you've escaped to the countryside.

Tipple of choice: Opt for the superb accompanying wine selection, guided by the knowledgeable French sommelier.

While we normally shy away from superlatives, Orrery deserves every column inch of critical acclaim it has received, for it is, quite simply, the best French restaurant in London, offering an unfailingly meticulous and unforgettable dining experience.

And there’s not one misstep. The atmosphere is refined and measured, the décor spare and neutral yet elegant, so as to not distract from the real star of the show: the beautifully presented, impeccable food.

Expect gastronomic treats like the creative and flavourful escalope of red wine poached duck foie gras with pear and Riesling jelly, or the exquisite tournedos Rossini with sauce périgourdine; all with palate-cleansing intermezzi in between. To finish, explore the cheese trolley or try the equally indulgent manjari chocolate cremeux with orange sorbet.
Address: 55 Marylebone High Street
Tube: Baker Street, Regent's Park, Great Portland Street
Phone: +44 20 7616 8000
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: 12noon - 2.30pm, 6.30pm - 10pm
Fri-Sat: 12noon - 2.30pm, 6.30pm - 10.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 3pm

Polpo

A lively Venetian-style baraco in Soho
Word to the wise: In keeping with their homely aesthetic, you'll be squeezed in tight with your neighbours, so this isn't the best place for a quiet meal for two.

What is a baraco you ask? Well, it is a rustic, working-class tavern, but while the wooden tables, brown paper menus and candlelight give it an air of rustic chic, the good-looking clientèle and the even better looking food put it definitely in the upper echelons.

The restaurant nurtures the atmosphere of a backstreet joint in Venice full of feasting Italian locals and joviality, but it's the menu where the real commitment to the aquatic city shines with its accomplished selection of cicheti. This was a hit on arrival, and with no reservations available, expect a 45 minute wait for a table.
Address: 41 Beak Street
Tube: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly
Phone: +44 20 7734 4479
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12noon - 11pm
Sun: 12noon - 4pm

Racine

Back to the bourgeois bistro
Word to the wise: The prix fixe menu for lunch and dinner is very reasonably priced - the only catch is you have to eat before 7.30pm.

With several awards under its portly belt, this is the place to go if you want exceptional French food. Its chef-patron Henry Harris spent eight years under the watchful eye of Simon Hopkinson at French restaurant Bibendum before branching out.

More resolutely French than the former, this is the sort of bistro you sometimes struggle to find in France. The classic wooden interiors and assiduous service pales in significance to the ‘bourgeois’ French cooking; a mouth-watering variety of meats including rabbit, guinea fowl and veal, but ask for the fabulous nutty walnut cake drowned in crème Chantilly for dessert.
Address: 239 Brompton Road
Tube: Knightsbridge, South Kensington
Phone: +44 20 7584 4477
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 12noon - 3pm, 6pm - 10.30pm
Sat: 12noon - 3.30pm, 6pm - 10.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 3.30pm, 6pm - 10pm

Railroad

Café-cum-bar staging an eclectic schedule of events
Word to the wise: On Wednesdays it’s ‘Bright Idea’ – a night of stories, poems, songs and other performances.

Popular plate: The pressed chocolate cake with cream will become a guilty pleasure.

Good coffee shops are springing up all over East London and the Railroad café is one of the newest kids on the block. The setting's not ideal – right on a busy road off the beaten track in Hackney - but it stays open past most places’ closing times, serves locally brewed ale and there is a small space downstairs where they host comedy and music nights.

Squeeze in tight to the tiny booths or bag one of the two big tables, and enjoy their good selection of food in the friendly, laid-back atmosphere. While you wait, admire their mini bookshop with shelves bursting with classics, cookery books and the latest bestsellers.
Address: 120-122 Morning Lane
Overground: Hackney Central
Phone: +44 20 8985 2858
Opening Hours: Winter, Wed-Sat: 10am – 11pm
Sun: 10am – 5pm
Kitchen, Wed-Sat: 10am – 3.30pm, 7pm – 9.30pm
Sun: 10am – 3.30pm

Randall and Aubin

Tasty seafood, hot waiters and loud music in Soho
Word to the wise: It doesn't take bookings for dinner, so expect a queue.

Popular plate: It's all about the classic French Plat de Fruits de Mer – a glutinous portion of crab, oyster, clams, scallops and shrimps for two.

If you ever thought house music wasn't the natural accompaniment to champagne and oysters, think again. This Soho institution has both the food of a fine Anglo-French bistro and the music of a nightclub, with no sweaty, inebriated people to ruin the pleasure.

Housed in an old butcher’s shop founded in 1911, its current owners kept all the old fixtures and fittings, and just updated the vibe. The music is loud, the chatter even louder and the male waiters mince around and flirt with each other - we are in Soho, after all.
Address: 16 Brewer Street
Tube: Leicester Square, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus
Phone: +44 20 7287 4447
Opening Hours: Mon–Wed: 12noon – 11pm
Thu–Sat: 12noon – 12midnight
Sun: 12noon – 10pm

RIBA Restaurant

An architect's fine-dining dream
Word to the wise: Go up to the third floor and take a peek inside the Art Deco-style library with a fabulous collection by world-famous architects, such as Sir Christopher Wren.

Popular plate: The ‘express menu’ is perfect if you’re in a hurry to get back to sightseeing.

The Royal Institute of British Architects might not sound like a place for lunch, but it’s one of the best-kept secrets in London, and you don’t have to be a member to eat here. If you are a bit of an architecture nut, you’ll love being in a 1930s Grade II listed white Art Deco building.

They serve a changing seasonal menu of Mediterranean-influenced cuisine - try the seared tuna or pan fried cod fillet, followed by the zesty lemon tart. If the weather’s nice, you can also eat outside on the terrace. If it’s just a pot of traditional English tea that you want, walk up the grand staircase to the café on the first floor landing that’s overlooked by four monumental marble columns that stand tall as soldiers surveying the space.
Address: 66 Portland Place
Tube: Great Portland Street, Regent's Park, Oxford Circus
Phone: +44 20 7307 3888
Opening Hours: Restaurant, Mon-Fri: 12noon - 3pm
Last Tuesday of the month: 6pm - 9pm
Cafe, Mon, Wed-Thu: 8am - 7pm
Tue: 8am - 9pm
Fri: 8am - 6pm
Sat: 9am - 4pm

Rochelle Canteen

Changing menu of fresh food in an artistic cafe
Word to the wise: It's only open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays.

Popular plate: The menu changes daily, so try whatever is in season.

This is one of East London’s best-kept secrets - you've probably never heard about it, unless some trendy arty type told you. It was started up by catering duo extraordinaire Melanie Arnold and Margot Henderson (wife of Fergus Henderson of St John Restaurant fame), who have catered for the likes of Vogue, Acne, The Serpentine Gallery, Marc Jacobs and Penguin Books.

Located in a converted bike shed, inside La Rochelle School - a site housing art studios and a gallery that has hosted amongst many others, The New Contemporaries - it's a small, but cosy canteen-style café. They serve a delicious seasonal menu that changes on a daily basis, so visit their website to see what's available on the day.
Address: Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, Shoreditch
Tube: Shoreditch High Street, Old Street
Phone: +44 20 7729 5677
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 9am - 4.30pm

Salt Yard

Some of the best tapas in town
Noteworthy for: Pay an optional GPB 1 on your bill, and it will be donated to a local charity.

Popular plate: Salt Yard and its sister restaurants Dehesa and the Opera Tarvern, all do one thing particularly well; Ibérico pork. Have it in any guise from salchichón to presa.

Salt Yard serves meats, ingredients and wine sourced from Spain and Italy, and fish bought from suppliers dedicated to sustainability, making this snug little tapas bar-cum-restaurant the perfect place to try the best food that both countries have to offer.

What begins the evening as an unassuming place for a bite of charcuterie quickly ups the ante as the punters pour in, becoming the buzzing restaurant that swept the boards with awards for its ever-changing menu of tapas goodness. Booking is recommended, but if you're happy to wait, just waltz on in.
Address: 54 Goodge Street
Tube: Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 20 7637 0657
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 12noon - 11pm (3pm - 5.30pm bar snacks only)
Sat: 5pm - 11pm

ScooterCaffè

Charming retro cafe with resident cats
Tipple of choice: Try the hot chocolate, which is so thick you could stand a spoon in it.

Word to the wise: If you are very allergic to cats stay away, as ScooterCaffè has three.

Housed in an old scooter workshop, this small, slightly scuffed looking cafe is one of South London's most charming. With wood-lined walls, retro signage, and even a Vespa left over from its former incarnation, the cafe's ramshackle chairs, tiny garden out back and trio of jaded-looking cats give it real character.

A mixed aged crowd of vintage lovers (frequently plus laptops) are usually in residence, often after shopping at one of the two fine vintage clothing shops on the same street. It's far from just a daytime haunt however, morphing into a lively but low-key bar come sundown.
Address: 132 Lower Marsh, Waterloo
Tube: Waterloo, Lambeth North
Phone: +44 207 620 1421
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: 8am - 11pm
Fri: 8.30am - 12midnight
Sat: 10am - 12midnight
Sun: 12noon - 10pm

Shanghai

Dim sum, karaoke and Chinese food
Popular plate: Try the 'Shanghai Vice' - it's the restaurant's authentic beef recipe that's marinated with Shanghai spices and chilli, and wok-fried over a high flame.

Word to the wise: On Sundays between 1pm and 3pm the dim sum menu is half price making it a bargain lunch.

Set in the beautiful listed premises of an old pie and mash shop that was built during Queen Victoria’s reign, this place is famous for more than just good food. Try and sit in one of the authentic wooden booths if you can, but if there’s no room, the back opens up into a typical oriental-style restaurant.

The food is good (if not a little pricey) for the area, and they also do very tasty dim sum. It’s also often filled with local Chinese, which is always a sign that the food is good. It's also a popular place to go for karaoke, and they have a separate room that you can hire out.
Address: 41 Kingsland High Street
Overground: Dalston Junction, Dalston Kingsland
Phone: +44 20 7254 2878
Opening Hours: Daily: 12noon - 11pm

Shrimpy's

Fashionable Latin fusion food in a former garage
Noteworthy for: The team behind Shrimpy's are known in London for their ultra-hip pop-ups, with this one being their longest temporary lease yet.

Popular plate: Shrimpy's soft shell crab burger with avocado is currently a big hit.

Word to the wise: While staff are pretty friendly, Shrimpy's discourage bookings from large groups.

To score a spot on London's hip list, you normally need a quirky angle to your affair. Shrimpy's nailed it when they set up shop in an old petrol station behind Kings Cross. Created by the team behind East London restaurant/cabaret Bistrotheque, they serve food until mid-2014 in what is now a surprisingly elegant-looking 1960s garage.

Revamped to resemble an arty version of a classic American diner inside, Shrimpy's gets busy with a crowd of art and fashion people, plus escapee East London hipsters. The California-meets-Latin America menu is fresh and attractive, but being part of the in-crowd is arguably what attracts most diners here.
Address: King's Cross Filling Station, Goods Way, King's Cross
Tube: King's Cross St Pancras
Phone: +44 20 8880 6111
Opening Hours: Sun-Thu: 11am - 10.30pm
Fri-Sat: 11am - 11pm

Sketch

Food for the fashion conscious
Talk of the town: The main toilets are made up of egg-shaped pods that look like something out of 'Space Odyssey 2001'.

Word to the wise: Go to The Parlour Café in the afternoon as it’s members only from 9pm.

Once the headquarters for Christian Dior, Sketch started its fashionable life as it meant to go on. Opulent and lavish, it oozes style, and leggy, impeccably-dressed beauties only add to the effect.

Dine in The Gallery restaurant downstairs - the walls are adorned with video art installations - or if you’re feeling a little more flush, head for the Art Deco Michelin-starred Library.

If your budget doesn't quite stretch to eating at Sketch, have a coffee and a cake in the The Parlour Café; the décor is just as eclectic and drinks are served in colourful, mismatching Victorian tea cups.
Address: 9 Conduit Street
Tube: Oxford Circus
Phone: +44 20 7659 4500
Opening Hours: The Parlour (members only from 9pm), Mon-Fri: 8am – 2am
Sat: 10am – 2am
Sun: 10am - 8pm
Lecture Room, Tue-Sat: 12noon – 2.30pm, 7pm – 11pm
The Gallery, Mon-Sat: 6.30pm – 2am
Check webpage for the Glade and East Bar times

Spice Market

Eclectic pan-Asian cuisine in sleek surroundings
Popular plate: Save room for the delicious desserts. Our current favourites are the Thai jewels and fruits on crushed coconut ice, and the ovaltine kulfi with caramelised banana.

Don't let Spice Market's location on the corner of uber-touristy Leicester Square put you off - it's actually full of surprises, offering a culinary adventure across Southeast Asia.

Housed in the relatively new, glass-wrapped W Hotel and covering two 25-metre-long floors, Spice Market manages to be both huge and intimate, with dimly lit brass screen lanterns, gold mesh sliding screens and cozy black leather booths.

Order several starters to share (the black pepper shrimps are a must), before moving on to tasty mains like the red curried duck with pineapple sambal or the cod with Malaysian chilli sauce.
Address: 10 Wardour Street
Tube: Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus
Phone: +44 207 758 1088
Opening Hours: Lunch, Daily: 12noon - 3pm
Dinner, Sun-Thu: 5pm - 11pm
Fri-Sat: 5pm - 12midnight

Spuntino

NY dining transplanted to London
Noteworthy for: This was the most raved-about casual dining spot to open in London in the past two years

Popular plate: The PB&J 'sandwich' - made with slabs of peanut butter ice cream and cherry jam - is unimpeachable.

How much you enjoy dining at Spuntino depends on how enamoured you are with the concept: an unmarked door, no reservations, no phone number, grungy decor and staff that can only be described as hipsters. It's exciting and of-the-moment for some, too much effort for others.

What can't be argued about is the food. The team behind two other lauded London eateries, Polpo and Polpetto, has assembled a classy collection of US-style comfort dishes, including mini 'slider' burgers and a decadent mac 'n' cheese. The desserts, meanwhile, are intoxicating enough to make you forget your ultra-hip surroundings completely.
Address: 61 Rupert Street, Soho
Tube: Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 11am - 12midnight
Sun: 12noon - 11pm

St John Restaurant

Adventurous food not for the faint-hearted
Popular plate: Try their signature dish of roast bone-marrow salad with parsley.

St John is not for the squeamish, or anyone not big on meat. Headed up by trained architect, chef and food pioneer Fergus Henderson, famed for his Nose to Tail eating philosophy, St John serves a menu that’s inevitably heavy on the meat.

Henderson believes that every cut counts and makes full use of each animal. Not intended for the fussy eater, the menu changes daily and is an adventurous mix of offal, calf’s brain terraine, ox’s heart, with seafood thrown in for good measure. There are vegetarian dishes available, but it would be a shame to come to a restaurant celebrated for its daring meat choices just for a salad.
Address: 26 St John Street, Clerkenwell
Tube: Farringdon, Barbican
Phone: +44 20 3301 8069
Opening Hours: Mon- Fri: 12noon-3pm, 6pm – 11pm
Sat: 6pm – 11pm
Sun: 1pm – 3pm

The Shed

Notting Hill farm kitchen
Word to the wise: If you're a foodie, sit at the chefs table. As you watch Oliver cook he'll talk you through his techniques displaying his great passion, precision and flair.

Popular plate: On weekends listen out for the bell; when it chimes the 'theatre joint' is paraded through the restaurant with portions going on sale.

Set in an apparent rural lodge, it looks somewhat incongruous amid the chic Notting Hill environs - however, it stands out for a lot more than its appearance. The food here is exceptional, the service charming and the whole experience feels more like dining in a friend's cosy and colourful country cottage.

Headed up by the Gladwin brothers, Richard works on the Sussex farm sourcing the ingredients through his own stock, local suppliers or foraging, while chef Oliver devises the daily menu. It's rustic to the point of gimmicky, but impossible not to be utterly beguiled by the toy farms animals on the window shelves or tin signs hung at jaunty angles.
Address: 122 Palace Gardens Terrace
Tube: Notting Hill
Phone: +44 207 229 4024
Opening Hours: Tue-Sat: 12noon - 12midnight

The Wapping Project Restaurant

Sample a seasonal menu amongst exposed machinery
Popular plate: The chargrilled squid and sweet corn fritters are a tasty starter.

Word to the wise: Even if you’re not hungry enough for dinner, get a coffee and marvel at its machinery-clad interior and explore the exhibition space.

Hosting everything from a Guy Bordin photography exhibition to a display of exquisite Yamamoto dresses in association with the Victoria and Albert museum, this restaurant-cum-gallery space, set in a beautiful old hydraulic power station down by the old docks, offers a lot more than just good food.

Converted in 2006, the Wapping Project's restaurant has a seasonal menu of Spanish-inspired dishes - sample the Spanish charcuterie for a starter and the rich venison pie for main. Desserts are satisfyingly sweet and zesty - the buttermilk and lavender pannacotta comes complete with berry compote, and they do a very good brunch.

Address: Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall
Tube: Shadwell
Overground: Wapping
Phone: +44 20 7680 2080
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 12noon - 3.30pm, 6.30pm - 11pm
Sat: 10am - 12.30pm, 1pm - 4pm, 7pm - 11pm
Sun: 10am - 4pm

Tina We Salute You

Coffee, cakes and local art
Popular plate: Try the salted caramel chocolate cake; it's rich and sweet with a dash of salt.

This place began life as a modest cupcake stall in Brick Lane’s Sunday Upmarket. But business grew until they had to upgrade to a fully-fledged café. Tina is small, cosy, with a well-worn leather sofa, one large table and window seats.

Serving Square Mile Coffee – an East London staple (and one of the best in London) - they also source meats from Spanish supplier Brindisa and all the cakes are made by one of the café’s owners. They've dedicated one large white wall to the local artistic talent. After eight weeks the wall is painted white again and a new artist is given free reign to adorn it.
Address: 47 King Henry's Walk
Overground: Dalston Junction, Dalston Kingsland
Phone: +44 20 3119 0047
Opening Hours: Mon: 8am - 5pm
Tue-Fri: 8am - 7pm
Sat-Sun: 10am - 7pm

Yalla Yalla

Beirut street food in a Soho alleyway
Word to the wise: Yalla Yalla - translated as 'hurry up' - make many of its dishes to go. When there are no free tables, picnic in nearby Soho Square instead.

Noteworthy for: They have opened a second branch in Fitzrovia (1 Green's Court - pictured), and there is soon to be a Shoreditch pop-up too.

This charming Lebanese joint is both very Soho (tiny, discreet, and sex shop-adjacent) and very Beirut (brightly decorated in yellow and white, and decked out with old wooden tables). The cramped dining room and dominance of small plates make eating here an intimate event - bring friends and family, but catch up with business acquaintances elsewhere.

The grilled meats are the star attraction, boasting a winning combination of char and succulent flesh. The ample meze selection makes vegetarian dining easy, too: be sure to order some of the thick, whipped hummus and a plate of grilled halloumi, livened up with tomato chunks and fresh mint.
Address: 1 Green's Court
Tube: Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus
Check webpage for other locations
Phone: +44 20 7287 7663
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am - 11pm
Sun: 10am - 10pm

69 Colebrooke Row

Superb cocktails and savvy service
Word to the wise: The bartenders here have encyclopaedic cocktail knowledge, and pride themselves on the fact - so feel free to ask for something that's not on the menu.

This small bar injected some sophistication into Angel's nightlife scene when it opened in 2011. The idea is simple: a small room, a perfectly balanced drinks list, and cool but never cold staff. Many establishments working with the same formula fall short, but here the concept succeeds brilliantly.

The less-is-more vibe - and the strength of the cocktails - lend themselves to intimacy, and you'll find an abundance of would-be couples here, fluttering their eyelashes and talking about splitting their (charming, handwritten) bills. The place takes reservations, and you'd be wise to make one.
Address: 69 Colebrooke Row
Tube: Angel
Phone: +44 7540 528593
Opening Hours: Sun-Wed: 5pm - 12midnight
Thu: 5pm - 1am
Fri-Sat: 5pm - 2am

93 Feet East

Brick Lane's post market party place
Word to the wise: In an area overflowing with students, artists and life's general mischievous miscellany, the happy hour (Mon-Fri: 5pm - 8pm) goes down well.

Located in the bustling heart of Brick Lane, 93 Feet East wouldn't have to try very hard to pull in the punters, but happily, it still puts on an eclectic programme of unexpected musical treats from Motown nights to indie bands. The first Saturday of every month is the always fun Bangers and Mash, but check the website for individual listings.

There are three rooms - the main room hosts bands, while the gallery and pink bar are for drinking and DJs - as well as a cobbled courtyard, with an ever-popular barbecue throughout the summer months.
Address: The Old Truman Brewery, 150 Brick Lane
Tube: Aldgate East, Liverpool Street, Shoreditch High Street
Phone: +44 20 7770 6006
Opening Hours: Mon–Thu: 5pm – 11pm
Fri: 5pm – 1am
Sat: 12noon - 1am
Sun: 3pm – 10.30pm

Barts

A prohibition-style party place
Tipple of choice: Park Avenue is their bestselling cocktail, but its ingredients are top secret.

Word to the wise: If you're struggling to find the entrance, the hotel reception will normally point you in the right direction.

'Anybody who is anybody will soon walk in that door', their website proclaims. It's a bold statement, but true in the case of this supposedly secret bar, hidden behind an unmarked door deep inside the Chelsea Cloisters Hotel.

Find the lantern, ring the bell and you'll be eyed through a hatch suspiciously. If you make it past the doorman, you'll find somewhere surprisingly kooky for a West London joint, perhaps to attract only the coolest of the Chelsea crowd. The walls are adorned in Mickey Mouse print, antique clocks and kitsch, but the real fun is to be found in the dressing-up box.
Address: Chelsea Cloisters Hotel, Sloane Avenue
Tube: South Kensington, Sloane Square
Phone: +44 20 7581 3355
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: 6pm - 12.30am
Fri-Sat: 6pm - 1.30am
Sun: 5pm - 11pm

Bethnal Green Working Men's Club

Burlesque brouhaha and vintage-inspired vaudeville
Word to the wise: People come in their hoards: arrive early for dance floor madness and everything from nipple tassels to tea dresses.

This place has been a bona fide East End working men's club since the 1950s, but these workers know how to throw a wild party. They began hosting events to save the club from closure in the 90s, and to this day are still at the core of the local community.

One of the first London venues to kickstart the burlesque bandwagon, BGWMC puts on everything from the racy to the ridiculous - go-go dancing, gay bingo, a Bollywood-themed club called Poppadum Preach...

An antidote to the bland commercialism of so many trendy clubs, its sticky carpets and trashy aesthetic all add to the appeal, as well as the original members propping up the bar.
Address: 42-44 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green
Tube: Bethnal Green
Phone: +44 20 7739 7170
Opening Hours: Varies: Check webpage for event listing/times
No entry/re-entry after 12midnight

Cable

South London's cutting edge club venue
Word to the wise: If you're looking for some post-club partying, head straight to 'Jaded' – Cable’s big Sunday after party that starts at 5am and finally throws customers out at 1pm.

Lurking under the dark arches of Bermondsey Street, five minutes from London Bridge, is Cable; a 1,000-person capacity super-club with a steadfast aversion to commercial tunes, instead revelling in cutting edge electro.

Of the three rooms, the largest has been kitted out with laser lights reminiscent of the 90s heyday of illegal warehouse raves. Attracting a mix of club kids, students and city boys, the general emphasis is on good tunes and good times.
Address: 33a Bermondsey Street Tunnel
Tube: London Bridge
Phone: +44 20 7403 7730
Opening Hours: Varies according to event. Check webpage for details.

Dalston Superstore

Pioneering East London club still has life in it
Word to the wise: Trying to connect to their free wi-fi? The password is 'jockstrap'.

Popular plate: The tiny kitchen upstairs offers decent brunch, lunch, and dinner.

The coolest kids may have moved on to clubs further north and east, but Dalston's original den of debauchery still packs out on weekends with the local fashion crowd. The Superstore started out as a multipurpose meeting spot for gay club kids, but soon the neighbourhood's hipsters took over. Now, the original crowd is reasserting itself, with several hugely popular gay nights and a languorous, pansexual bar vibe during the week.

The venue occupies two floors: upstairs, there's a long wooden bar; an assortment of worn booths and high tables. Descend the spiral staircase to the subterranean club area and you'll find a dark dancefloor and a cheeky unisex bathroom.
Address: 117 Kingsland High Street, Dalston
Overground: Dalston Kingsland and Dalston Junction
Phone: +44 20 7254 2273
Opening Hours: Mon: 12noon - 2.30am
Tue-Thu, Sun: 10am - 2.30am
Fri-Sat: 10am - 3am
Check webpage for event listings/times

Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC)

A decadent drinking den
Tipple of choice: The Havana comes highly-recommended; a smoky, cigar-infused bourbon concoction that hits the back of the throat with a bang.

Word to the wise: Contrary to belief, ECC is not a member's club, but has an open door policy. Booking however, is recommended, and can only be made by email on reservation@chinatownecc.com.

Hidden behind an unmarked wooden door on Gerrard Street, ECC is a stylish Chinatown speakeasy, steeped in quasi-secrecy so you feel like one of the selected special few. But it's not all about image - the bartenders are serious about their mixology, too.

Set over three floors of a listed building, the look is Victorian opulence just on the right side of kitsch; think Chesterfield sofas, velvet footstools and warm, golden light from the chandeliers which sparkles in the mirrored walls and ceiling. The cocktails are titillating enough, but the antique kissing chair adds a further element of the naughty.
Address: 13A Gerrard Street, Soho
Tube: Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 20 7434 3559
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 6pm - 3am
Sun: 6pm - 12midnight

Fabric

A hedonistic hot-bed of DJ talent
Noteworthy for: It makes a high appearance every year in 'DJ' magazine's ‘Top 100 clubs' list.

Word to the wise: Don't miss Room One’s vibrating dance floor, dubbed ‘bodysonic’ by the staff.

Fabric exploded onto the London club scene in 1999, and quickly dominated the dance music world. Inhabiting a renovated meatpacking building - opposite old Smithfield Meat Market - inside are three warehouse style rooms, each dedicated to a different type of sound.

Friday nights' FabricLive remains the main draw taking you on a magical musical tour through a soundscape of electro, dubstep, hip hop and drum and base. But the club claims to have changed Sundays forever with their weekly 'Wetyourself' nights; best not have anything too taxing planned for Monday.
Address: 77a Charterhouse Street
Tube: Barbican, Chancery Lane, Farringdon
Phone: +44 20 7336 8898
Opening Hours: Daily: 9.30pm - 7am
Check webpage for event times/listings

Frank's Cafe and Campari Bar

The hippest bar around - in Peckham? Yes, really.
Noteworthy for: Frank's is a temporary, open-air venue open only during the summer months.

Tipple of choice: If you don't have a taste for house spirit Campari, try the similar but milder-tasting Aperol.

Word to the wise: Part of a sculpture project, look out for the contemporary art installations dotted around the car park venue.

Until recently, the suggestion of a night out in Peckham would have been treated as a joke. However, the much maligned south London borough has had something of a renaissance of late, thanks in no small part to this open-air cafe/bar which has been a roaring success since opening in 2009.

There's undoubtably a novelty factor at play: Frank's is on the top floor of a grotty multi-story car park and isn't brilliantly signposted, so getting there is a small adventure in itself (check the website for detailed instructions). But more than that, the food and drinks are top drawer and inexpensive, the view is to die for and it has buckets of the ineffable cool factor which lures even hard-to-please east London hipsters over to SE15.
Address: 10th Floor, Peckham Multi-Story Carpark, 95a Rye Lane
Overground: Peckham Rye
Phone: +44 7582 884 574 (no bookings)
Opening Hours: Thu-Sun: 11am - 10pm

House of Wolf

A creative pleasure palace
Noteworthy for: It's a bar, music venue and restaurant, but we like it best by night, when it turns into a decadent dance of debauchery, whether it's Saturday's Burning Beat gypsy carnival or Wednesday's Musical Bingo.

Word to the wise: Find the secret room beyond the Apothecary for the best seat in the house (though the wall art may shock).

From the outside, the House of Wolf could be any Upper Street pub, but once inside it feels like the mad playhouse of the circus' lost stars. Scantily clad sirens swing seductively from a hoop suspended in the ceiling, burlesque dancers wiggle and bounce through the crowd and on stage a man is making steam spew from his piano as he plays.

Upstairs in the Apothecary, amidst glass bottles and gas lamps, they're mixing cocktails in flower vases to make your mouth dream, and if it all gets too much, retreat to the attic dining room where every month a different chef takes residency.
Address: 181 Upper Street, Islington
Overground: Highbury & Islington
Phone: +44 20 7288 1470
Opening Hours: Tue-Sat: 6pm - 4am
Restaurant, Daily: 6pm - 11pm

Lounge Lover

Get loved-up in lavish surroundings
Tipple of choice: For the seriously sweet-toothed opt for the Rock Candy cocktail; vodka topped with lychee liqueur, cranberry and apple juice with a hint of ginger, and then finished off with a marshmallow.

Talk of the town: Everyone from Lily Allen to Madonna has indulged here.

Situated down a dingy backstreet in stylish Shoreditch, this menagerie of the weird and the wonderful feels every bit a bad-behaviour boudoir. With a permanent pink glow, posters of anatomy adorn the walls and the bar is decked out with lavish antiques, stuffed animal heads and sparkling chandeliers.

Customers canoodle on luxurious sofas in individually styled areas called the Baroque, the Cage and the Gold Room. Book a table if you want a seat, but it’s just as thrilling to lounge by the bar, sipping cocktails and making eyes at the beautiful drinkers.
Address: 1 Whitby Street
Overground: Shoreditch High Street
Tube: Bethnal Green
Phone: +44 20 7012 1234
Opening Hours: Sun-Thu: 6pm - 12midnight
Fri: 5.30pm - 1am
Sat: 6pm - 1am

Nest

A bare bones electro party
Talk of the town: This is the latest opening from the people behind Fabric and the Old Queen's Head.

Word to the wise: Get there before 10.30pm for the weekly Saturday night party Lemonade and you'll get free entry.

Located in a dark Dalston basement, this club certainly has nest-like qualities - if, that is, your nest was equipped with a serious sound-system and a roster of London's top DJs.

Despite a supposedly 350-person capacity, the club feels a lot smaller, with a minimalist aesthetic of concrete floors, exposed pipes and low lighting. The retro neon porn signs and call girl cards give it a smutty edge.

They host everything from veteran DJs to no-name underground sounds, attracting a crowd of oh-so-cool 20-somethings in Dalston uniform. Surprisingly, it also manages to be unpretentious; here, it's all about the good times.
Address: 36 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston
Overground: Dalston Junction or Dalston Kingsland
Phone: +44 20 7354 9993
Opening Hours: Fri-Sat: 9pm - 4am
Sun-Thu: show dependent

New Evaristo Club

Underground Soho stalwart
Noteworthy for: Also known as Trisha's, after the former owner, or the Hideout, you're just as likely to find mafia types as you are hipsters.

Word to the wise: If there's a doorman, just say you've been there before, and he should let you pass, though big rowdy groups will have less luck. It's not that sort of place.

For many people this is somewhere they've ended up in the early hours of the morning, drunk on the cheap spirits dancing to some rockabilly band and chatting up the cardboard cutout of Humphrey Bogart in the corner. But despite hours traipsing through Soho's seedy streets they never can never find it again.

Well, the no.57 blue door is unmarked, and the brightly lit stairwell definitely looks intimidating, but persevere and you'll find your way into one of Soho's oldest member's only drinking dens that's still going strong. This was a speakeasy before the word was bandied about by every bar in town.
Address: 57 Greek Street, Soho
Tube: Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 20 7437 9536
Opening Hours: Daily: 5pm - 2am

Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour

An oriental den of fine drinking
Popular plate: The dim sum is like joy in your mouth. Go for the Woo Kok; these pork and scallop taro puffs don't sound like the most exciting thing on the menu, but they are.

Word to the wise: The prices are high here so come for considered cocktail drinking rather than the all-nighter.

You would never suspect a bar like this to be here, at least, not in this century. On Chinatown's main drag of Gerrard Street, pass through a jade door, up a dark staircase, you'll find yourself in an oriental tea parlour, but continue upwards and it turns into a decadent 19th-century opium den steeped in dark wood with curtained corners.

Created by bartending royalty, they bring an element of theatre to the impeccable cocktail list so expect a flourish with your Orient-influenced drink. If you want to learn the tricks of the trade, head to the back room bar academy and apothecary, where you can get yours hands dirty mixing drinks.
Address: 15 -16 Gerrard Street, Soho
Tube: Leicester Square
Phone: +44 20 7734 7276
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed: 12noon - 12midnight
Thu-Fri: 12noon - 3am
Sat: 6pm - 3am

Proud Camden

A hip place to horse around
Talk of the town: Jessie J, Dizzee Rascal, The Kooks, Dirty Pretty Things and I Blame Coco have all performed and partied here.

Noteworthy for: Ever expanding, they now have a gallery in Chelsea, a cabaret supper club in the City and a ballroom in Brighton.

Before Proud, Camden was crying out for a good place to hang out that wasn’t a dingy watering hole or rock dive, and luckily this bar-cum-live-music venue fills the quota.

It’s housed in Camden’s old Horse Hospital above the market, and attached to Proud Galleries, a space established back in 1998 dedicated to exhibiting only photography on its white walls. There is an outdoor terrace and a large indoors area where live bands belt out their latest offerings. The interiors retain many of the old stables’ fixings – but instead of housing horses, there are now tables and booths that can be hired out for parties.
Address: The Horse Hospital, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road
Tube: Chalk Farm, Camden Town
Phone: +44 20 7482 3867
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed: 11am - 1.30am
Thu-Sat: 11am - 2.30am
Sun: 11am - 12.30am

Ruby's

Laid-back and lovely Dalston drinking den
Talk of the town: Prior to its life as a bar, Ruby's was a Chinese takeaway, and then a photographic studio shooting the likes of Rihanna and Adele.

Noteworthy for: They close relatively early for the area - this is somewhere to come for a good natter and a strong drink before hitting the dance floor elsewhere.

Dalston remains the place to head for a night on the lash, but the area can be intimidating for the uninitiated, with teenagers in day-glo and ironic moustaches swarming into grim-looking snooker halls and kebab shops. But behind those inauspicious-looking facades are some real gems, such as this new, fun and friendly basement bar hidden behind a neon cinema sign declaring, 'Nothing to see here.'

The textured walls, mismatching furniture and oddities scattered about give it the feel of someone's ramshackle secret play den, as do the drinks served in anything from 1940s milk bottles to tin cups. It's refreshingly unpretentious.
Address: 76 Stoke Newington Road
Overground: Dalston Kingsland
Opening Hours: Wed-Thu: 7pm – 11pm
Fri-Sat: 7pm – 12midnight

The Alibi

Cool club kids dance off
Word to the wise: See the Alibi at its more sedate during the Monday night Film Club (7pm - 10pm).

When the pub lets out at 11pm and you want to move your feet to some decent beats without committing to a full scale nightclub, the Alibi is what you're after. Staying open until 3am with free entry all night was always going to make it popular, but adding to that is the fact that it's owned by creative collective Real Gold, who, from their days of throwing warehouse parties, have a troop of cool club kids following in their wake.

The club is unassuming from the outside, but wind your way down the narrow staircase to the cavernous basement dance floors, where all sorts of bad behaviour goes on in dark corners.
Address: 91 Kingsland High Street
Rail: Dalston Kingsland, Dalston Junction
Phone: +44 20 7249 2733
Opening Hours: Sun-Wed: 5pm - 2am
Thu-Sat: 5pm - 3am

The Book Club

Cerebral salon-style bar
Noteworthy for: It's all about the fun times, with just the right amount of culture thrown in.

Word to the wise: The monthly Electro Swing night is one of their most popular, on the forefront of a new music trend in the city. Expect queues.

The Book Club opened its doors in 2010 under the management of Queen of Hoxton (located around the corner) and quickly made a name for itself as the go-to place in Shoreditch. It hosts a packed schedule including erudite panel-led talks hosted by Future Human, a night dedicated to 90s disco and speed dating.

The exposed brick work and mismatching vintage furniture all add to the relaxed atmosphere, and the bar serves up a good, fuss-free selection of drinks and snacks. Downstairs, there’s another bar, pool table and a dance floor with a ceiling decorated with old lightbulbs.
Address: 100 Leonard Street
Tube: Old Street, Shoreditch High Street
Phone: +44 20 7684 8618
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed: 8am - 12midnight
Thu-Fri: 8am - 2am
Sat: 10am - 2am
Sun: 10am - 12midnight

The Cow

Notting Hill pub specialising in seafood
Popular plate: The atmosphere is what makes this place a joy to wine and dine in, but if you want something more formal the upstairs restaurant has just as an accomplished menu.

Noteworthy for: In summer the patio tables are the hot seat, but come winter the armchair by the coal stove is a winner.

One of Tom Conran's trio of venues along Westbourne Park Road The Cow is his most grown-up and most British. A cute and kitsch cubby hole of a pub, there is a muddle of tables and chairs around the bar. It always seems to be jolly in here and packed full of pink in the face, tweed-wearing drinkers.

They're famous for their seafood however, and great platters of oysters, pints of prawns, bowls of whelks and whole Dorset crabs appear from behind the bar. Wash them down with a classic tankard of black velvet, the very British blend of champagne and Guinness.
Address: 89 Westbourne Park Road, Notting Hill
Tube: Royal Oak
Phone: +44 20 7221 0021
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12noon - 11pm
Sun: 12noon - 10.30pm

The Electric Diner

Portobellos' go-to eating, drinking and socialising spot
Word the wise: Officially a restaurant, we like it best by night when the red leather booths fill with a cool cocktail drinking crowd. Queues for a table can be long, so sit at the bar instead.

Talk of the town: A fire in June 2012 gave them a much needed opportunity for a revamp reopening with a fresh menu and new look in December.

This central Portobello pitstop is the go-to venue for many locals; that place you always seem to end up any time of day or night because it does everything you might want whether that's a big American brunch while reading the free papers on offer or a late-night speciality ale.

Adjacent to the independent Electric Cinema, this is one of the best movie theatre bars in town with a retro American diner feel. Upstairs is Electric House, a members only club where some fun parties happen for those with an in, but who needs exclusivity when you have such an all-rounder available downstairs.
Address: 191 Portobello Road
Tube: Notting Hill Gate
Phone: +44 20 7908 9696
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu: 8am - 12midnight
Fri-Sun: 8am - 1am

The Elk in the Woods

Gastro hunting lodge
Tipple of choice: The Venezuelan Rum Toddy will warm your hands on a cold night.

Word to the wise: The Camden Passage Antiques Market (Sat, Wed: 8am - 1.30pm) spreads up this street, and the Elk makes a great spot to stop for lunch.

Located down Camden Passage – a chic walkway that’s home to a selection of up-market boutiques, cafés and the famous antiques market - the Elk in the Woods is decked out in the style of a Canadian hunter’s cabin. There are oak tables, comfortable maroon leather chairs and the walls are adorned with taxidermy and impressive antlers.

By day, the focus is on the food with excellently sourced meat and fish mains, but by night it turns into a cocktail bar with an adventurous list of good mixes.
Address: 37-39 Camden Passage, Islington
Tube: Angel
Phone: +44 20 7226 3535
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 8.30am - 11pm
Sat: 10.30am - 11pm
Sun: 10.30am - 10.30pm

The French House

Old Soho watering hole
Word to the wise: Don't even try to use your mobile here; a no-phone policy is strictly enforced.

The French House is everything a drinking establishment should be. Bolshy and bohemian, with an air of faded elegance, it has long been a magnet for Soho's demi-monde and the walls are adorned with photos of past customers from Francis Bacon to Charles de Gaulle.

Somehow, the pub has resisted the call of change, and conversation flows through the ever-open windows as the old guard of artists, intellectuals and hangers-on prop up the bar and pour out onto the pavement.

In true Gallic style, they only sell lager in halves, stock real Breton cider and the wine list makes a mockery of most British pubs.
Address: 49 Dean Street, Soho
Tube: Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus
Phone: +44 20 7437 2477
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12noon - 11pm
Sun: 12noon - 10.30pm

The Holly Bush

The quintessential 'old man pub'
Noteworthy for: This timeless tavern is one of few in Hampstead that has resisted gentrification.

Tipple of choice: Since this is a Fuller’s pub, choose one of the five casks on offer; the bar staff will be happy to help you with tasters.

Tucked away in a cul-de-sac, this 18th century pub is quiet and cosy by day but at night it transforms into one of the most popular local pubs in the area, attracting a loud beer-loving crowd of all ages.

From the dark wood panelled rooms and mismatched furniture to the high backed booths and open fireplaces, this place fulfills all your fantasies about what a traditional British pub should be like. But it’s not just the décor; the roast dinners are delicious, which makes this the perfect place for a refuel after a Sunday stroll on the Heath.
Address: 22 Holly Mount, Hampstead
Tube: Hampstead
Rail: Hampstead Heath
Phone: +44 20 7435 2892
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 12noon - 11pm
Sun: 12noon - 10.30pm

The Shop

Buy up the bar
Noteworthy for: They pride themselves on sourcing everything locally: the sandwiches and cakes they sell in the daytime, the artwork on the walls and the DJs playing at weekends.

Talk of the town: Boys get the pleasure of perusing vintage pornography while in the loo.

The night begins with their delicious fruity cocktail concoctions - served lovingly in jam jars - and ends with you walking home clutching a pair of their vintage chairs and a fine art print. No, this wasn't a drunken moment of thievery; everything in The Shop is for sale. Just don't get too carried away.

This small neighbourhood bar is the latest addition to up-and-coming Kensal Green. Centred around Queen's Park, you'll find art-house cinemas, expensive boutiques and late-night pubs all with a scruffy yet chic community vibe, though The Shop has certainly upped the cool factor another notch.
Address: 75 Chamberlayne Road, Kensal Green
Overground: Kensal Rise
Phone: +44 20 8969 9399
Opening Hours: Mon: 12noon - 12midnight
Tue-Sun: 10am - 12midnight

The Southampton Arms

Ale, cider, meat and no fancy business
Popular plate: The Southampton arms sells meaty bar snacks from homemade sausage rolls to roast pork baps. For a full meal, however, head up Highgate Road to the Bull and Last.

Until a few years ago, this small drinking hole near Hampstead Heath was a dreary, unwelcoming old man's pub. Now, under new owners, it's so hot that people London-wide make a pilgrimage to drink here and several respected institutions have crowned it their pub of the year.

Its secret? A narrow and serious focus, dedicated to selling only beers and ciders from small, independent UK breweries (wine drinkers have the choice of red or white), and to soak it up, just old-fashioned, meat-based snacks. The spit-and-sawdust style room is equally back to basics: only cash is accepted and there are no reservations - indeed, not even a phone number.
Address: 139 Highgate Road
Tube: Kentish Town, Gospel Oak, Tuffnell Park
Opening Hours: Daily: 12noon - '11/12 ish'

The Troubadour

Legendary bohemian bolt hole in Earls Court
Noteworthy for: As well as the club and cafe, this rambling building is home to a gallery, a wine shop, a wine bar, a serviced apartment and a beautiful garden, perfect for sunny summer days.

Talk of the town: The club still pulls in good names - Adele, Laura Marling and Jamie T all played here early on.

The Troubadour is the stuff of musical legend. The downstairs club has been graced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Nick Drake and Paul Simon, and it's still a fantastic place to catch up-and-coming live acts or folk stalwarts. But while this is what made it's name, we like it best as a bar.

Harking back to the days when west London was the heart of bohemia, the Troubadour Cafe is happily stuck in the swinging sixties. It serves decent food by day, but by night it fills with local arty types drinking from the sizeable wine list, who see this as their haven from the swankiness that swallowed the rest of South Kensington.
Address: 263 Old Brompton Road
Tube: Earls Court, West Brompton
Phone: +44 20 7370 1434
Opening Hours: Daily: 9am - 12midnight
Club, Sun- Wed: 8pm - 12midnight
Thu-Sat: 8pm - 2am

Worship Street Whistling Shop

Modern science meets old-school manners
Noteworthy for: Brought to you by Fluid Movement, a forward-thinking cocktail-making collective, this is their second London bar after Purl in Marylebone - another charming combination of Victorian squalor and elegance.

Along a quiet backstreet, through a discreetly signposted door and down a dimly lit flight of stairs, you'll find impeccably groomed bartenders mixing old-fashioned drinks. Not everything is vintage inspired; the cocktails are given a hi-tech twist with ingredients from the bar's subterranean lab (chlorophyll bitters, malic acid and super heat-treated beer all feature prominently).

The place can get uncomfortably crowded during the usual peak times, and their online reservation system for tables is not always reliable. But visit on a quiet weekday afternoon and you'll find space to stretch out, plus a genuinely charming Old London atmosphere.
Address: 63 Worship Street
Tube: Old Street
Phone: +44 20 7247 0015
Opening Hours: Mon-Tue: 5pm – 12midnight
Wed-Thu: 5pm – 1am
Fri-Sat: 5pm - 2am

Beyond Retro

A shrine to vintage fashion
Tipple of choice: Pop across the road to the Carpenter's Arms for a pint. Despite a refurb it still feels like an old English pub, with wonderful owners and great grub.

Petticoats of every colour hang from the ceilings, mannequins don glitter and masks, and the shop cat sleeps peacefully in a basket of vintage silk scarves. Beyond Retro is an emporium to bygone years, and the staff themselves are walking time capsules of fashions from every decade.

While there is no small amount of 80s shoulder pads and 90s plaid-infested grunge, an area near the back is reserved for the more special 50s ball dresses and dapper two-piece suits. The Brick Lane store is most fun, but there are two smaller shops in Soho and Dalston.
Address: Brick Lane: 110-112 Cheshire Street
Tube: Bethnal Green, Whitechapel
Soho: 58-59 Great Marlborough Street
Tube: Oxford Circus
Dalston: 92-100 Stoke Newington Road
Overground: Dalston Kingsland, Dalston Junction
Phone: Brick Lane: +44 20 7613 3636
Soho: +44 20 7434 1406
Dalston: +44 20 7923 2277
Opening Hours: Cheshire Street, Mon-Wed, Fri-Sat: 10am - 7pm
Thu: 10am - 8pm
Sun: 11.30am - 6pm
Check webpage for Soho and Dalston opening times

Borough Market

Full of tasty food to try and buy
Word to the wise: If the Borough crowds are too much, join the locals at nearby Maltby Street, home to a much smaller and more laid-back off-shoot market.

Noteworthy for: Cheeky people come just for the ample tasters available, so you can try before you buy.

Borough Market is the capital’s oldest food market, packed with stalls that sell produce and delicacies from all four corners of the world. This place is without doubt a food lover’s paradise; sniff out cheese from Switzerland, sample sausages and chorizo from Spain, feast on fancy French pralines or indulge in an Indian curry.

It's not all about the stalls, though: on the narrow streets surrounding the market are a good selection of eateries and food suppliers, including the famed Neal's Yard Dairy (see separate entry) and Monmouth, which brews some of the best coffee in London (hence the permanent queue). If you fancy a sit down meal, try Elliot's or the Wright Brother's.

The market gets terribly busy on Saturdays so try to arrive before 11am or, better still, go in the week instead. At the end of the day, they often slash the prices too.
Address: 8 Southwark Street
Tube: London Bridge, Borough, Southwark
Phone: +44 20 7407 1002
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed: 10am - 3pm
Thu: 11am - 5pm
Fri: 12noon - 6pm
Sat: 8am - 5pm

Brick Lane

A multi-cultured and mad medley
Noteworthy for: Famous for its vintage shops, you can buy everything here from peacock feathers and Indian spices to antique suitcases and designer shoes.

Word to the wise: Aladdin's Cave on offshoot Bacon Street is an antique hunter's daydream. Low prices, chaos and valuable clutter.

Tipple of choice: Overflowing with bars, some of the coolest here are along Redchurch Street.

Colourful and vibrant Brick Lane bustles with East London life. Curry smells waft out of Bangledeshi restaurants as waiters tempt customers inside with discounts and art students sit drinking cans of Red Stripe on the dirty streets.

The shopping however is some of the city's most eclectic. The Whitechapel end is full of Indian textiles and exotic candy stores, the Old Truman Brewery markets (see separate entry) dominate the centre, and the streets are lined with vintage and bric-a-brac shops, as well as the designers who moved from market stalls to their very own boutique shops. For the best of these head to the charming Cheshire Street.
Address: Brick Lane
Tube: Aldgate East, Shoreditch High Street, Liverpool Street

Broadway Market

Hip Saturday shopping hot spot
Tipple of choice: On a hot day grab a cold cider from the off licence on the corner and wile away the afternoon in London Fields with the rest of East London.

Broadway Market’s barrow boys have been hawking food and wares to the Hackney community since the 1890s. Today, there are more than 100 stalls selling everything from gourmet fudge and ostrich burgers to hand-made lingerie. It forms the hub of Hackney’s hip and trendy community who come in their droves on Saturdays.

It's a great place to hang out any day of the week – enjoy a drink in the fashionable Cat and Mutton pub on the corner, sip smooth coffee in Climpson and Sons or walk a little further down the road for lunch in Little Georgia - a cosy café serving tasty traditional Georgian dishes.
Address: Broadway Market
Tube: Bethnal Green
Train: London Fields
Opening Hours: Sat: 9am - 5pm (shops open normal working hours)

Camden Market

Punk-rock party market gone proper
Noteworthy for: Camden became the stomping ground of the punks and goths of the 80s, and you'll still see a concentration of multi-coloured mohicans and studded leather here.

Camden Market began around 40 years ago as a traditional crafts market, but by 1985 its size and popularity had grown so much that two more markets opened near the original site.

Now sprawling over a sizeable canal-side area, it may have lost its cool credentials with the locals circa 1990, but after a recent revamp it is still a great shopping destination for antiques, vintage and art, as well as a lot of tat, cheap clothes and punk memorabilia. There are dozens of bars, cafes and restaurants here with the Lock Tavern particularly good for a Sunday pint and party.
Address: Tube: Camden Town, Chalk Farm
Opening Hours: Daily: 10.30am - 6pm (some sections open weekends only)

Carnaby Street

Famous for style since the 60s
Tipple of choice: Ain't Nothin' But...Blues Bar is a Soho legend, with live music seven nights a week.

Word to the wise: Kingly Court is the cooler enclave of Carnaby Street with expensive but well-chosen vintage shops and even a rockabilly hair salon.

The epitome of the swinging 60s, this is where designer Mary Quant opened her first store and bands like the Rolling Stones and the Who would come to play. Carnaby Street was crucial in shaping the British fashion and music scene of the time, and to this day it's constantly regenerating to keep on trend.

Now with 67 independent boutiques, 44 unique concept stores and 32 global fashion brands, as well as restaurants, clubs and bars, spread over 12 pedestrianised streets, it is a compact and dense shopping haven.
Address: Carnaby Street
Tube: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am - 7pm
Sun: 12noon - 6pm
Check webpage for individual store opening times

Chatsworth Road

Sweet and small, Hackney's new Sunday market
Popular plate: For a taste of old England, head to the What the Dickens? stall and admire their Victorian uniform while eating a foot-long steak sandwich.

Talk of the town: In 2002, nearby Clapton Road was famously dubbed Murder Mile for the number of gun-related deaths, but over a decade later its put this infamy behind it.

Handmade rum-filled chocolates, freshly baked focaccia, gourmet scotch eggs and Japanese pancakes are just some of the gastro fare of Chatsworth Road Market. But having only reopened in 2010 - after 20 years in hibernation - this is one market that most Londoners don't even know about.

Clapton was once more famous for gun crime and drugs, but the multi-coloured Victorian houses, tree-dappled parks and glut of independent shops were ripe for gentrification, and now Chatsworth Road is one of the most up-and-coming areas of East London.

The new incarnation of the market is in its infancy, but already has a friendly village fete vibe. And unlike Broadway Market, you can browse unperturbed by crowds... for now, at least.
Address: Chatsworth Road, Hackney
Overground: Homerton, Clapton
Rail: Hackney Downs
Opening Hours: Sun: 11am - 4pm

Coco de Mer

Elegant boudoir of the erotic
Talk of the town: Coco de Mer's customers have included Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Noteworthy for: If you're looking for a naughtier take on the normal holiday gift, this might fit the bill.

A daring den in the middle of Covent Garden, Coco de Mer is like the boudoir of a 19th century courtesan with excellent taste. Delicate lace lingerie is strewn on silk hangers and antique horsehair whips sit beside erotic photography coffee table books.

The brainchild of Sam Roddick, daughter of Body Shop founder Anita, the emphasis is on the artisan and the ethical paired with the kinky - so the cost of your leather cuffs will go towards Bondage for Freedom, which donates to Burmese charities.

Prices range from GBP 30 for a pair of knickers to GBP 5,400 for the 'Tally ho' chair; you can guess its hidden function.
Address: 23 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden
Tube: Covent Garden, Leicester Square
Phone: +44 20 7836 8882
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed, Fri-Sat: 11am - 7pm
Thu: 11am - 8pm
Sun: 12noon - 6pm

Covent Garden

A colourful piazza for calmer shopping
Word to the wise: if you’re on the hunt for a cheap place to eat, try the superb vegetarian restaurant Food for Thought (see separate entry).

Talk of the town: Audrey Hepburn sold flowers in Covent Garden for her role as Eliza Doolittle in 'My Fair Lady'.

A large bustling piazza in the heart of central London, Covent Garden is home to shops, cafes and a large indoor market selling jewellery, clothes, arts and crafts. For the best shopping, avoid the tourist-heavy central square - where crowds gather around street artists - and head down the side streets filled with designer labels and thrift stores.

While Long Acre is home to the most high street names, from Reiss to Calvin Klein, Neal Street has more boutiques with a lovely concentration of shops around the cobbled Neal's Yard (above). Refuel in Monmouth Coffee, arguably the best coffee shop in the UK.
Address: Covent Garden
Tube: Covent Garden, Leicester Square

Deuxieme

Designer vintage in a beautiful boutique
Popular plate: Treat yourself to a homemade cake in their sweet garden cafe, with its charming, shabby chic, summer house aesthetic.

Noteworthy for: Each piece is hand chosen by the staff and sold at no more than 80 percent of the original retail price.

As one of London's most affluent boroughs, Fulham is populated by fabulously dressed men and women, the type to wear their outfits only once.

This works out very well for high-end vintage shop Deuxieme. With a stunning range of second-hand designer shoes, handbags, accessories and clothes, they stock everything from Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs to unusual one-off creations, and even the occasional high street piece. Unlike many boutiques of this calibre, the atmosphere is welcoming and the staff friendly.
Address: 299 New Kings Road
Tube: Parsons Green, Putney Bridge, Fulham Broadway
Phone: +44 20 7736 3696
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am - 6pm
Sun: 11am - 5pm

Dover Street Market

Avant-garde fashion finds
Popular plate: The fourth floor Rose Bakery - first founded in Paris - does delicious little savoury tarts, mouth-watering cakes and a selection of teas and coffees.

Noteworthy for: The Dover Street Market is headed up by Comme des Garcons' Director Rei Kawakubo.

More a collection of designer boutiques than a market, each 'stall' is as beautifully and uniquely designed as the clothes it exhibits, making them near art installations in themselves. Set over six floors, it’s a great place to peruse the latest fashion by some of the biggest and most avant-garde names in the industry, such as Christopher Kane, Erdem, Gareth Pugh and Martin Margiela.
Address: 17-18 Dover Street
Tube: Green Park
Phone: +44 20 7518 0680
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed: 11am - 6.30pm
Thu-Sat: 11am - 7pm
Sun: 12noon - 5pm

Fabrications

An emporium of textile design and inspiration
Noteworthy for: Fabrications works hard to help transform local waste into usable things and art.

If you're interested in contemporary textile practice, eco-design and sustainable thinking, Fabrications is a good place to go. Goldsmith’s textiles graduate Barley Massey opened Fabrications in 2000 on Broadway Market as a studio space-cum-shop to showcase her own work, as well as other local contemporary designers.

It has since sold work by over 200 local artists, provides a great source of inspiration, and stocks knitting and sewing supplies, books and kits for adults and children. On Sundays, craft classes are open for those wanting to improve their knitting and sewing skills.
Address: 7 Broadway Market, Hackney
Tube: Bethnal Green
Train: London Fields
Bus: 236, 394
Phone: +44 20 7275 8043
Opening Hours: Tue-Fri: 12noon - 5.30pm
Sat: 10am - 5.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 5pm (Classes 2pm - 4.30pm)
Appointments by telephone

Fortnum & Mason

A quintessential English experience
Popular plate: The store contains several restaurants but there are better options nearby - try the Wolseley for tea.

Word to the wise: There is a colony of bee hives on the roof of the shop and their produce is coveted: if you spot a jar of 'Fortnum's Bees' honey for sale, snap it up.

In 2011, a group of young campaigners protesting about government cuts peacefully occupied the food hall of Fortnum and Mason's. It was a move designed to strike at the heart of the Establishment: since opening in 1707 Fortnum's has been a treasured constant in the lives of the upper classes, offering good, traditional quality and service and more varieties of cheese biscuits than you could munch through at Christmas.

These days, the ornate food hall is geared towards tourists, but it's still well worth a wander: smaller than those at Harrod's and Selfridges but, well, more English. Prettily-packaged tea, biscuits and jars of preserved fruit predominate.
Address: 181 Piccadilly
Tube: Piccadilly Circus, Green Park
Phone: +44 845 300 1707
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am - 9pm
Sun: 12noon - 6pm

Harrods

A gaudy and gorgeous ode to excess
Talk of the town: In 1898, Harrods debuted England's first 'moving staircase'. Brave shoppers were given a hit of brandy at the top to revive them after their 'ordeal'.

Word to the wise: The only time prices approach close to reasonable is during the store's seasonal sales.

Harrods opened at its current site in 1851, in a single room with young Charles Digby Harrod, two assistants and a messenger boy. His clients soon included Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier and Sigmund Freud.

Ever since it has been heralded as one of the world's most opulent department stores, now spread over a staggering seven floors, not to mention the food hall with its gastro sculptures of culinary decadence. This is London's most exclusive borough's gaudy ode to excess, exemplified by the Egyptian Hall. Drown in fashion while Queen Nefertiti gazes down on you.
Address: 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge
Tube: Knightsbridge
Bus: 9, 10, 14, 19, 22, 52, 74, 137, 414, C1
Phone: +44 20 7730 1234
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am - 8pm
Sun: 11.30am - 6pm

Hub

A better cut of denim
Noteworthy for: Hub is one of the many independent shops of Stoke Newington Church Street, known for fervently battling against the arrival of chain stores or global supermarkets.

Located on Stoke Newington Church Street and now just off Broadway Market, Hub stocks a well-edited selection of men and women’s designer clothes, accessories and footwear brands, such as Acne, Dr Denim and Something Else, as well as home grown label Beth Graham.

The staff are friendly and always on hand to offer advice. This is about good quality clothes with a minimal aesthetic and an individual edge near impossible to find on the high street.
Address: Hub Women: 49 Stoke Newington Church Street
Hub Men: 88 Stoke Newington Church Street
Train: Stoke Newington
Tube: Manor House
Overground: Dalston Kingsland
Phone: Hub Women: +44 20 7254 4494
Hub Men: +44 20 7275 8160
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10.30am - 6.00pm
Sun: 11am - 5pm

King's Road

Posh people and big name boutiques
Word to the wise: Fancy a bit of contemporary art with your conspicuous consumption? Pop into the free Saatchi Gallery at the eastern end of the road.

Talk of the town: Kate - or her Duchess of Cambridge - and Pippa Middleton, both Sloanes themselves, come here for their finery.

You may be aware of the London demographic of well-bred young things known as 'Sloanes': well, if you want to see these creatures in the flesh, head to their stamping ground, the King's Road.

The heart of Swinging London in the 60s, this well-manicured, two mile stretch in Chelsea is no longer really fashionable - poshness and hipness rarely going together - but has a good selection of shops and restaurants, and fewer crowds than Oxford Street. The end nearest Sloane Square (where the nickname comes from) has a concentration of big name chains and boutiques, with more independent shops the further west you go.
Address: King's Road
Tube: Sloane Square

Labour of Love

Labels you'll fall for
Talk of the town: This is fashion designers Luella Bartley and Erotokritos Antionades' favourite London boutique.

Located on North London’s swanky Upper Street, Labour of Love is a unique and quirky boutique stocking a range of emerging, avant-garde and unknown labels that the owners have literally fallen in love with.

Their philosophy behind the shop is to sell everything including clothes, shoes, books and music by brands that are so good, they don't need an advertising campaign saying so. Look out for playful geometric designs and French-inspired fabrics from fledgling label Lu Flux.
Address: 193 Upper Street
Tube: Highbury & Islington, Angel
Phone: +44 20 7354 9333
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 11am - 6.30pm
Sat: 10.30am - 6.30pm
Sun: 12noon - 5.30pm

Liberty

A striking store steeped in history
Popular plate: If you’ve got time, grab a cup of tea in its opulent café that serves doorstop-sized carrot cake and scones.

Word to the wise: At Christmas, Liberty stocks the finest Christmas decorations that will grace the best trees in Britain.

Arthur Liberty founded the department store in 1875 in a small shop on Regent Street with just three staff and began selling fabric and ornaments that he’d found in far-off lands. This was to form the foundations of what is today a London retail institution selling beautifully designed furniture and fashion.

Housed in a Tudor-style building constructed in the 1920s and made from the timbers of two ships, it’s worth a visit just to marvel at the magnificent architecture.
Address: Great Marlborough Street
Tube: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus
Bus: 3, 6, 12, 13, 15, 23, 53, X53, 88, 94, 139, 159, C2
Phone: +44 20 7734 1234
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am - 10pm
Sun: 12noon - 6pm

LN-CC

Fashion favourites for the East London in-crowd
Noteworthy for: LN-CC is not just a clothes shop: it also has a photography studio, a "library" room that houses rare vinyl and cult periodicals, and a sleek event space.

Word to the wise: The store’s usual trading hours are 11am - 6pm, but staff will sometimes take evening appointments - if you ask nicely.

Hidden in the basement of an old warehouse in trendy Dalston, LN-CC boasts one of London's best collections of high-end, avant-garde fashion. Across three large rooms, carefully selected pieces from icons like Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester share rack space with edgy Japanese labels (Sasquatch, Unused) and up-and-coming British designers.

The store's womenswear edit is particularly impressive, offering a more daring and masculine take on female luxury than comparable stores such as Dover Street Market.

Visits are by appointment only, though don't be intimidated: the owners are warm and helpful, whether you’re shopping for the latest Margiela jacket or simply browsing.
Address: 18 Shacklewell Lane
Overground: Dalston Kingsland, Dalston Junction
Phone: +44 20 3174 0727
Opening Hours: Daily: 11am - 6pm

Maltby Street

Foodie fervour under the railway arches
Talk of the town: It started when a group of seven Borough traders were evicted for selling their produce here as well. When they permanently relocated, it took off as the under-the-radar alternative.

Borough Market is one of London’s great spectacles but, boy, can it get crowded. Rather than fighting through the throng to get their groceries, in-the-know locals slip down the road to this small off-shoot, where some of Borough’s best loved food suppliers, such as Monmouth Coffee and Neal's Yard, have opened up their warehouses to the public.

It doesn't have the finish of Borough nor does it look like a gastronomic destination, with its metal fencing and derelict surroundings. It's not even a bona fide market per se, rather the storage operation of traders who came here for cheaper rents. But its dedication to great gastronomy is just as strong.
Address: Maltby Street
Tude: Borough, Bermondsey, London Bridge
Opening Hours: Sat: 9am - 2pm

Milk Concept Boutique

Unexpected designs and quirky furniture
Tipple of choice: Shoreditch High Street is lined with bars and cafes, so when you can't afford your designer brogues, you're within spitting distance of solace.

Located in Clerk's House, a beautiful 18th century building in the heart of Shoreditch, Milk Concept Boutique is an East End rendezvous for design and fashion lovers. Dedicated to eclectic design, it stocks everything from jewellery, porcelain, furniture and fashion to affordable art, housing a range of iconic brands as well as wares by local designers, as it aims to encourage and promote East London’s creative force.
Address: The Clerk's House, 118 1/2 Shoreditch High Street
Tube: Old Street, Shoreditch High Street
Phone: +44 20 7729 9880
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed, Fri: 11am - 7pm
Thu: 11am - 8pm
Sat: 11am - 6pm
Sun: 10.30am - 6pm

Neal's Yard Dairy

London's big cheese
Talk of the town: Monty Python used to have offices in Neal's Yard - spot the blue plaque - and John Cleese was one of the Dairy's first customers when it opened in 1979.

A truckle of cheddar may not be the most practical souvenir to put in your hand luggage but if you're in need of some good cheese during your time in London - and frankly, who isn't? - hot foot it to Neal's Yard Dairy.

London's most famous cheese retailer has two handsome shops, one in Borough Market and the other, the founding branch, beside Neal's Yard in Covent Garden. Both are hugely popular, not only for the range and quality of their mainly British and Irish cheeses but for their knowledgable staff, all cheese fiends themselves and delightfully generous with the free samples.
Address: Neal's Yard, 17 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden
Tube: Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: Covent Garden: +44 20 7240 5700
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am - 7pm

Oxford Street

London's mainstream shopping hub
Word to the wise: Unless you're a glutton for punishment, come on a weekday morning to avoid the crowds.

Noteworthy for: You can find pretty much everything you might ever need in this one stretch of London.

Most Londoners shudder at the thought of shopping on Oxford Street, but they still do it, because no other place has such a concentration of high street shops in the country. Every single fashion chain will have a HQ here, and while it's not great for independent boutiques or quirky finds, it is a capitalist haven for the mainstream.

With 200 million visitors a year, trying to get from one end to the other can feel like running the gauntlet with seemingly everyone walking the other direction. Monolithic Topshop is the biggest hive of activity, but if it gets too much just nip down a side street into Soho.
Address: Tube: Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 20 7462 0689
Opening Hours: General store opening hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am – 8pm
Thu: 9am – 9pm
Sat: 9am – 7pm
Sun: 12noon – 6pm

Radio Days

A vintage darling's fashion den
Noteworthy for: They're famous for their window displays, which dramatise everything from a gangster speakeasy to a homage to old Hollywood.

Word to the wise: There are a number of other vintage and thrift stores in the area, as well as independent cafes and bars, which make for a good day's outing.

This cool little shop on Waterloo's adorable Lower Marsh is packed with vintage clothes. The rails are so tight together you disappear between the skirts of fifties dresses and folds of forties trenches.

Many of the items here are of genuine antique quality with silk camisoles or wool capes from the early 19th century. There is a room for the boys too, with Paddington Bear style duffle coats, wool suits and brogues. They also offer prop hire, and you can find all manner of vintage household goods and memorabilia from old school telephones to wartime girlie mags.
Address: 87 Lower Marsh
Tube: Waterloo
Phone: +44 20 7928 0800
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am - 6pm
Fri: 10am - 7pm

Rellik

Famous designer vintage store in West London backwater
Talk of the town: Kate Moss is a regular and the likes of Penelope Cruz, Lady Gaga and Adele have all been spotted shopping here.

Word to the wise: While here take time to go up Trellick Tower opposite. This famous example of Goldfinger's brutalist design has amazing views across London and has starred in many movies, songs and images.

In the shadow of the imposing Trellick Tower sits what appears to be an unassuming shop lost in the outer reaches of Portobello. But ring the bell, and enter a fantasy land wardrobe, stocked with the sort of vintage designer pieces that make you feel dizzy.

Happily, it isn't remotely stuffy like so many high-end places, and the clothes are packed on racks like in any other vintage store despite the labels reading Vivienne Westwood, Ossie Clark and Chanel. There are great finds here with prices starting at GBP 30, and even the wow-factor pieces are capped around GBP 650.
Address: 8 Golborne Road, Notting Hill
Tube: Westbourne Park
Phone: +44 208 962 0089
Opening Hours: Tue-Sat: 10am - 6pm

Rough Trade

The past, present and future of British music
Talk of the town: The Rough Trade record label signed The Smiths in the 80s and The Libertines and Babyshambles in recent years.

Word to the wise: Rough Trade East holds free gigs, discussions, and workshops most evenings - check webpage for details.

What started out in the 1970s as a small independent record shop in West London championing burgeoning genres like reggae, punk, and new wave, has become one of the UK's most beloved cultural brands. The retail stores - known as Rough Trade East and Rough Trade West - are renowned for their freakishly knowledgeable staff and peerless selection of niche recordings, from the latest in UK electronica to the darkest in European metal.

While Rough Trade East has a coffee shop perfect for Brick Lane people-watching, old schoolers should head to quirkier Rough Trade West to marvel at vintage flyers and soak up the nostalgic vibe.
Address: West: 130 Talbot Road
Tube: Ladbroke Grove
East: The Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane
Tube: Liverpool Street
Phone: West: +44 20 7229 8541
East: +44 20 7392 7788
Opening Hours: West, Mon-Sat: 10am - 6.30pm
Sun: 11am - 5pm
East, Mon-Thu: 8am - 9pm
Fri: 8am - 8pm
Sat: 10am - 8pm
Sun: 11am - 7pm

Selfridges

Luxury goods, and lots of them
Noteworthy for: Selfridges is the edgiest of the major London department stores, often collaborating with fashionable artists for their window displays and in-store installations.

Selfridges vies with Liberty as most Londoners' favourite department store. The latter may be more charming but can't compete in scale with Selfridges, the second largest shop in the UK after Harrods. If your tastes lean towards the high end and you want to be sure of finding what you want, head for the behemoth on Oxford Street.

The 50,000 square metres of glam retail space includes departments for homeware, a food hall and a plethora of good eating places, but fashion is its real strength. The range is almost overwhelmingly vast, from the likes of Alexander McQueen and Dries van Noten to premium high street brands, not forgetting the world's largest shoe department.
Address: 400 Oxford Street
Tube: Bond Street, Marble Arch, Oxford Circus
Phone: +44 113 369 8040
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 9.30am – 9pm
Sun: 11.30am – 6pm

Stoke Newington Church Street

Charming hive of harmonious local life
Noteworthy for: So-called Stokey is something of a London secret. Without a convenient tube stop, tourists seem to cross this off their agenda so it retains a special, slightly smug, appeal.

Stoke Newington Church Street has a village-fair atmosphere with bunting in shop windows and numerous bakeries. The architects and designers who reside here come out on Saturdays for brunch on the pavement tables of the laid-back and affordable gastro cafes. The street is lined with vintage shops, independent boutiques and heart-warming local life like nurseries and car-boot sales.

There is an arts and crafts market the first weekend of every month in Abney Public Hall (Sat-Sun: 11am - 5pm) and a farmer's market selling organic fruit and veg every Saturday (10am - 2.30pm). After window-shopping contentedly, head to Clissold Park to see the deer, giant rabbits and goats that live there.
Address: Train: Stoke Newington

The Old Truman Brewery markets

From vintage rags to foodie fads at Brick Lane's heart
Noteworthy for: There are markets throughout the Brick Lane area spreading up Sclater Street and along the boutique-laden Cheshire Street from Japanese fashion students selling their clothes to East End veg stalls.

Tipple of choice: 93 Feet East, Vibe and the Big Chill are overrun every weekend.

In the 1990s, the Old Truman Brewery was no more than a series of derelict buildings. But what was once London's largest brewhouse, has become the heaving heart of Brick Lane's home to four markets, and dozens of shops, bars, clubs and restaurants.

The Sunday Upmarket houses 200 stalls with everything from reindeer antlers to fairy cakes, as well as some of the best new fashion designers.

The Backyard Market opened a few years ago with a focus on arts and crafts while the neighbouring Vintage Market does what it says on the tin. Newest of all is the Boiler House Food Hall - find it by looking for the trademark Truman Chimney - an overload of culinary delights.
Address: The Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane
Tube: Aldgate East, Liverpool Street, Shoreditch High Street
Phone: +44 20 7770 6000
Opening Hours: Vintage Market, Fri-Sat: 11am - 6pm
Backyard Market and Boiler House Food Hall, Sat: 11am - 6pm
All markets, Sun: 10am - 5pm

The Sampler

Help yourself wine-tasting at local wine shop
Noteworthy for: A real neighbourhood favourite, if you find a bottle you want to take your time with, head to the downstairs wine bar which is tucked away from the usual crowds of South Kensington.

Popular plate: They also offer nibbles of cheese and charcuterie to pick away at as you taste.

It can be difficult to choose a bottle of wine without resorting to the tried and tested staples. So The Sampler had the ingenious idea of letting you try before you buy.

Get a Sampler card from the counter, which you can charge with as little as GBP 5, and then work your way through the 80 changing wines available topping up your glass. Prices are proportionate starting at GBP .30, or you can splash out and taste a once-in-a-lifetime bottle.

The staff at this independent wine merchant have impecable knowledge of their 1,500-strong stock, so whatever you're cooking, they'll be able to find a bottle to match. They also have a shop in Islington (266 Upper Street).
Address: 35 Thurloe Place
Tube: South Kensington
Phone: +44 20 7225 5091
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 11.30am - 10pm
Sun: 11.30am - 7pm

The Village Bicycle

Multi-label cool kids fashion boutique
Talk of the town: It's followers include current British cool kids like Daisy Lowe, model of the moment Cara Delevigne and daughter of former French Vogue editor Julia Restoin Roitfeld.

Word to the wise: Some items reach astronomical prices, but the kooky accessories are totally affordable. They are also one of the few stockists of cult jeans label Tripp NYC.

For many years Westbourne Grove has been the territory of that breed of boho banker and their Bugaboo-wielding wives, but this boutique is catering to a new crowd. The Village Bicycle counters Notting Hill twee with a dose of neon and tongue-in-cheek wit.

Yes, it's still expensive, stocking those young designers that the majority of us haven't heard of yet and will soon be lusting after, but it's worth a visit for cool factor alone. Decorated with glowing crosses, pop art and Japanese toys, London socialite owner Willa Keswick has certainly succeeded in creating something at odds with the other grown-up, intimidating shops of the area.
Address: 79-81 Ledbury Road
Tube: Notting Hill Gate
Phone: +44 207 313 9031
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed, Fri-Sat: 10am - 6pm
Thu: 10am - 7pm
Sun: 12noon - 5pm

Topshop

King of the high street
Talk of the town: The Oxford Circus flagship is said to be the world's biggest high-street shop.

Word to the wise: Weekends are mayhem, so if you don’t fancy pushing your way through a stream of shoppers, plan your visit on a weekday morning.

Topshop is bold, creative and always ahead in terms of the latest catwalk-inspired fashion for the high street. The Oxford Circus branch is a five storey shopping utopia and you could easily lose the day here.

Boys can peruse the slightly less interesting Topman in-house collection upstairs, but check out ‘concessions’ for limited runs of designer brands. For girls there is a mass of accessories on the ground floor, three lower floors of clothes for all styles and occasions and a shoe heaven in the basement. If you’re finding it hard to choose what to wear, book yourself in for a free bespoke styling appointment.
Address: 36-38 Great Castle Street
Tube: Oxford Circus
Phone: +44 844 848 7487
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed, Sat: 9am – 9pm
Thu-Fri: 9am – 10pm
Sun: 11.30am – 6pm

Vivienne Westwood

Fashion Anglomania
Talk of the town: Her creations are worn by everyone from Helena Bonham-Carter to the Duchess of Cornwall, and in 'Sex and the City', Carrie gets married in a Westwood dress.

The flame-haired grand dame of British fashion, Queen Viv has been rocking London since the 1970s, when her punk designs became hugely influential and the whole country coveted voluminous tartan, edgy corsets and ironic tees complete with tea stains and safety pins.

Now she's more known for her distinctive, flattering tailoring. The Conduit Street flagship store houses the main Gold Label line, the more casual Anglomania and a range of accessories. Opposite at number 18 is Vivienne Westwood MAN, the first boutique dedicated solely to menswear. Yes, her clothes are expensive, but they're also iconic.
Address: 44 Conduit Street, Mayfair
Tube: Bond Street, Oxford Circus, Picadilly Circus
Phone: +44 20 7439 1109
Opening Hours: Mon-Wed, Fri-Sat: 10am - 6pm
Thu: 10am - 7pm
Sun: 12noon - 5pm

Whistles

Sexy, grown-up women's fashion
Noteworthy for: There are 24 Whistles stores around London - including a branch on Long Acre in Covent Garden - as well as concessions in all the big department stores.

This high street brand has had a significant reinvention in recent years thanks to the leadership of Jane Sheperdson, one of the most respected women in British fashion, also credited with turning around the fortunes of Topshop.

Once the preserve of middle class mothers, Whistles' clothes are now far edgier, aimed at 20- and 30-something women who want to look both classy and on-trend. The emphasis here is on quality fabrics and cut, rather than exposing large swathes of flesh: come summer, their dresses can be spotted at weddings around the land.
Address: 24 Long Acre, Covent Garden
Tube: Covent Garden, Leicester Square
Check webpage for other locations
Phone: +44 20 7240 8195
Opening Hours: Long Acre, Mon-Sat: 10am - 8pm
Sun: 12noon - 6pm

Welcome to London

London is a sprawling modern Babylon. Traces of every century, every movement, every nationality, religion and race, every trend and tradition can be found within its great expanse. The ancient gothic churches and cobbled winding streets are set against the modernity of architectural skyscrapers and bright rushing lights. The grandeur of palaces and wide green spaces are far removed from the gritty graffitied back streets overrun with drinkers and the cacophony of city sounds.

Its sheer size can be daunting. The best way to think of it is as a collection of self-contained villages, each with their own character and community. London began as a Roman settlement in 40AD roughly around London Bridge. As it expanded it enveloped everything in its wake. Most boroughs were once towns on its outskirts, which partly explains its multiple personalities. Add to that a melting pot of the world’s nations - there are more than 300 languages spoken - and you’re coming close to understanding the city.

Thanks to this diversity there isn’t a food you want to try, a trend you want to follow or music you want to hear that isn’t available somewhere. Writer Samuel Johnson once wrote, ‘By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show’. That was as true in the 18th century as it is today.

40 Winks

Playground du jour for East London's art set
Word to the wise: They have monthly Bedtime Story nights, where beautiful revellers arrive in their nightgowns to be told a tale with a gin cocktail and a midnight snack.

Home to the designer David Carter, prior to its life as a hotel, 40 Winks was used as a location for fashion shoots. Now the beautiful people sleep here too, and it is possibly the most fabulous abode in East London. Fantastical, opulent, dripping in magic, it carries you away to a place of make-believe. Marble lions in the hearth, chaise longues, brass bath tubs, gold leaf wallpaper; it's both playful and luxurious, blending Victorian genteel decadence with a Vivienne Westwood-style anglophilia.

The hotel isn't about gizmos or gadgets; rather, it's just a beautiful home in which to escape from everyday practical reality. There is no typical reception area - just a hallway for your coats and shoes - and there aren't TVs in the rooms, though if you're a real addict they have a secret one in the opium den-esque drawing room upon request. How refreshingly old-fashioned.
Address: 109 Mile End Road, Stepney Green
Tube: Stepney Green, Whitechapel
Phone: +44 20 7790 0259

Andaz

Unconventional - and affordable - luxury in Liverpool Street
Word to the wise: If staying here, try not to miss one of London’s most unusual experiences, Dennis Severs’ House, just a few minutes walk away.

Situated right beside Liverpool Street station, Andaz is a red brick giant of a hotel, with 267 rooms and 10 restaurants and bars. It’s part of the Hyatt group, yet thanks to its bold, design-led interiors and an imaginative management style, it feels anything but characterless and corporate.

Take, for example, the desk-less reception area and the fact that, alongside the standard tourist sights, the hotel recommends visiting grubby, avant-garde Shoreditch bar The Foundry. Andaz is for those who want a hotel with lots of facilities, but also some soul.
Address: 40 Liverpool Street
Tube: Liverpool Street, Aldgate
Phone: +44 20 7961 1234

Boundary

Style school of Shoreditch
Talk of the town: Boundary is located at the edge of the Boundary Estate, which was built in 1890 as the UK’s first council housing project and still has an atmospheric, Dickensian feel.

A few years ago, a down-at-heel corner of Shoreditch was transformed by the arrival of two instantly fashionable establishments - private members club Shoreditch House and Boundary, a complex housing a restaurant, bar, food store and 17 bedrooms.

An initiative of Terence Conran, one of Britain’s most successful designers, Boundary is naturally extremely stylish. Each of the rooms is different, inspired by famous names or schools from the design world such as Hoffman and Bauhaus, and guests have the use of a complimentary iPad during their stay.

The downstairs cafe, The Albion, is great for a healthy snack, but it's the rooftop bar and restaurant that locals lust after, rivalling that of Shoreditch House, for panoramic views of the city, food and cool factor.
Address: 2-4 Boundary Street
Overground: Shoreditch High Street
Phone: +44 20 7729 1051

Eccleston Square Hotel

A hi-tech haven in swanky SW1
Talk of the town: To see how the other 0.00005 percent live, take a walk around the area: Belgravia is home to some of the priciest real estate in the world.

If free wi-fi is the first thing you look for in a hotel, the tech on offer at this new five-star will really get your pulse racing. Each of the 39 rooms comes fully loaded with gadgets including an iPad 2 on which you can order room service; 'smart glass' bathroom walls that turn frosted at the touch of a button; a 46-inch HD and 3D plasma TV with complimentary 3D movies; massaging beds; a personal Nespresso machine... and we could go on.

Housed in two Georgian townhouses, the hotel also has more analogue charms: a good restaurant; views over - and access to - the private Eccleston Square gardens; and a location two minutes from Victoria station - highly convenient, if you can tear yourself away from your room.
Address: 37 Ecclestone Square
Tube: Pimlico, Sloane Square, Victoria
Train: Victoria
Phone: +44 20 3489 1000

InterContinental Westminster

Discrete, glossy abode with much personality
Talk of the town: The hotel has its own Division Bell, which lets MPs know that they must return to parliament to vote. So don't be surprise if you see hotel guests hastily leaving when it rings.

Despite being located in the city’s political epicentre (the powers that be are making crucial decisions just around the corner at the Houses of Parliament), this is a hotel which, charmingly, doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Situated in the historic Queen Anne’s Chambers – a former government building – the redesigned interiors are, as you’d expect, slick, polished and luxurious; all marble and muted colour palettes. You’ll soon notice, however, that there are subversive touches everywhere: from eye-catching, controversial abstract art pieces to humorous satirical cartoons and political caricatures – not to mention that the dining room, Emmeline’s, is named after Emmeline Pankhurst, political activist and leader of the suffragette movement.

The hotel is ideally located – close to London’s main sights and a 15-minute walk from Leicester Square – and handily opposite St James’s Park tube station. Even so, you’ll probably not want to leave the extremely comfortable, well-appointed rooms, complete with all the mod-cons (think: rotating flat screen televisions and coffee machines) and large bathrooms with walk-in rainforest showers and Molton Brown products.
Address: 22-28 Broadway
Phone: +44 20 3301 8080

Metropolitan

The Park Lane hot spot is still going strong
Noteworthy for: The massages at the hotel’s new spa, COMO Shambhala Urban Escape, are considered amongst the best in London.

Popular plate: It may be a cliché to sing the praises of the black cod at Nobu, but there’s a reason why it’s so famous.

It’s rare for a hotel to keep its cool for 15 years, but The Metropolitan has managed it. Although many similarly sleek, modernist design hotels have sprung up in its wake, it still has a cachet, thanks to a fabulous location overlooking Hyde Park, great service and, possibly, the fact that residents get priority booking at its restaurant, the perennially fashionable Nobu.

True, its bijou Met Bar might not be quite the celebrity hangout it once was, but at least now you might be able to get a seat.
Address: 19 Old Park Lane
Tube: Hyde Park Corner, Green Park
Phone: +44 20 7447 1000

Number Sixteen

Discrete, elegant service in an extroverted neighbourhood
Noteworthy for: Frequent travellers appreciate the low-key atmosphere and personalised service at Number Sixteen, and the hotel has also recently become popular with the fashion set.

Word to the wise: If you feel like a night in, there is an expertly curated DVD library and scented candles in each room.

It may not be as large or as flashy as some of Kensington’s better-known hotels, but Number Sixteen gets the little things right – and it has earned itself a fierce cult following in the process. Late check-outs, unusual room service orders, and requests for local knowledge are all accommodated by the hotel’s graceful staff.

The hotel was fashioned from a row of townhouses, and retains an elegant English feel, with 42 individually decorated rooms and suites. Bright wallpaper and brash art prints inject some vibrancy into the cosy, comfortable accommodations, and there is a no-nonsense European feel in the bathrooms, with shiny granite surfaces and Miller Harris toiletries.

The common areas are worth a visit, too: the hushed library and verdant garden will make you feel miles from the bustle of West London.
Address: 16 Sumner Place, South Kensington
Tube: Gloucester Road, South Kensington
Phone: +44 20 7589 5232

Portobello House

Charming, small Notting Hill boutique
Word to the wise: In a nod to the cultural heritage of Portobello, you can take part in the Wine, Poetry and Film Clubs in the hotel.

Noteworthy for: With rooms starting at GBP 130, this is affordable style.

Being greeted with a complimentary glass of bubbly or a fabulous in-house cocktail always predisposes you to like a place. The Fellini-esque bar is definitely an appeal, but this charming boutique hotel has a lot more going for it. Each room is individually designed with different colourful embossed wallpaper, modern furnishings and luxurious touches like the down duvets and Millbrook beds. Couples can opt for the Romantic Rooms, with four poster bed and extra-special staff attention.

Located at the funkier end of Notting Hill near Ladbroke Grove, this is a great base for exploring up-and-coming Kensal Rise, the antiques markets of Golborne Road as well as Portobello Road right on the doorstep with more restaurants than you could possibly eat in. Nonetheless, the in-house bistro comes highly rated.
Address: 225 Ladbroke Grove
Tube: Ladbroke Grove
Phone: +44 20 8960 3522

San Domenico House

Your own Italian villa just steps from Sloane Square
Tipple of choice: Although there is no bar, hotel management ensures that at least one trained cocktail waiter is on duty at all times, so don’t be shy about asking for a drink.

Word to the wise: The hotel’s secret rooftop terrace provides respite from the city below.

San Domenico House feels less like a hotel and more like an ornate Italian town-house that’s been expertly replanted in the heart of Chelsea. There is a definite ‘more is more’ vibe on display here: the lobby and hallways are groaning with exquisite antiques, the walls are adorned with paintings and prints, and there are thick red curtains and dark wood finishes everywhere.

The lack of a restaurant and the strict door policy (no non-guests allowed) gives San Domenico House a secluded, exclusive feel, and makes it a favoured spot for celebrities and others keen to keep a low profile.

Some of the hotel’s enormous suites are split over two levels, but if your budget doesn’t stretch quite that far, the smaller rooms still offer high ceilings, decadent furnishings, and some of the most comfortable hotel beds in London.
Address: 31 Draycott Place, Chelsea
Tube: Sloane Square, South Kensington
Phone: +44 20 7581 5757

Sofitel London St James

An injection of Parisian chic in London's ritzy West End
Noteworthy for: The hotel’s new brasserie, The Balcon, has been generating buzz since it opened in late 2011 – its Franco-English mashup menu includes cottage pie with foie gras.

An expert blend of regal British style and cool French efficiency, Sofitel’s flagship London hotel proves that ‘big’ doesn’t always mean ‘impersonal’ when it comes to accommodation in the British capital. The staff-to-guest ratio here is one of the most generous in town, with an abundance of charming Frenchmen and women at your beck and call. (Be prepared to tip those who go above-and-beyond.)

Extensive renovations were completed in 2011, bringing several communal areas - including the St James Bar - up to date while retaining the classic charm of this heritage-listed building. Sofitel’s signature browns and greens have a calming effect in the 200-or-so suites and rooms, which are massive by London standards and are decked out with sleek French touches like Hermes toiletries and proprietary Sofitel MyBeds.
Address: 6 Waterloo Place
Tube: Green Park, Picadilly Circus
Train: Charing Cross
Phone: +44 20 7747 2200

Soho Hotel

A bastion of cool with plenty of unique touches
Word to the wise: The hotel’s private cinema hosts a movie club on Sunday afternoons at 3.30pm. Popcorn is free, and guests can order champagne to be delivered to their seats.

Despite the fickle tastes of the London in-crowd, the Soho Hotel – tucked down a side-street on a site that was once a carpark – remains one of the hottest places in town to party, be seen and – occasionally – to sleep. The downstairs areas are constantly buzzing as musicians, film directors and magazine editors hold press conferences in meeting rooms or hash out new projects at the bar.

Away from the frenzied activity, the hotel is actually quite calm, especially on the top two floors. Floor-to-ceiling windows and cast-iron finishes give the rooms a Manhattan feel, and the Italian linens are soft and sumptuous. Each room is individually decorated, generally in one or two shades, and the furnishings are elegant and minimal - quite a contrast to the untreated wood and 10-foot porcelain cat sculpture in the lobby.
Address: 4 Richmond Mews, Soho
Tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 20 7559 3000

The Alma

Have a night at the inn
Word to the wise: The Garden Room is away from the pub noise for light sleepers.

Noteworthy for: Chelsea is right over the river, but there are more local delights on your doorstep such as the boutiques of Northcote Road and restaurants of Clapham Old Town.

There was a time when the only accommodation available to travellers was the pub inn. They would rest their weary legs at the bar, eat their grub and then head upstairs to the rooms. The concept may be old-fashioned, but that's the only thing out-of-date at the Alma.

The 23 bedrooms found above this Wandsworth pub are modern, clean and bright with Osborne & Little textured wallpaper, Missoni-style fabrics and bespoke furniture, as well as universal phone chargers and iPod docks on the spacious desks. The White Company toiletries and monsoon shower make bath time a joy.

The large Victorian Alma is typical of a modern English neighbourhood pub; nicely refurbished, with a good selection of ales, football on big screens and gastro fare on offer in the adjoining restaurant. Staying here will definitely give you a glimpse of real British life.
Phone: +44 20 8870 2537
499 Wandsworth Bridge Road, Wandsworth
Train: Wandsworth Town

The Arch

A grand townhouse where heritage luxury meets modern perks
Talk of the town: Madonna is thought to live in a 10-bed mansion opposite.

Popular plate: While most hotel restaurants are disappointing affairs, chef Shane Pearson creates hearty, classic fare at remarkably affordable prices that has even attracted the local foodies.

The new kid on the block in the luxury hotel world, The Arch quickly found its following. Located in Marble Arch where virtually every building is a hotel, the Arch feels smaller, cosier and more personal somehow, despite being stretched over seven interconnected Georgian townhouses and two mews homes.

Designed in line with the trend for modern heritage chic, the 82 individually designed guestroooms have kept their classic Georgian features of sash windows, stone fireplaces and ornate cornices, while being brought up to date by contemporary art work, iPod docks and rain showers.

Nice perks include the hundreds of DVDs to borrow, goose-down duvets and a flat screen TV at the end of the bath tub (with waterproof remote, of course).
Address: 50 Great Cumberland Place
Tube: Bond Street, Edgeware Road, Marble Arch
Phone: +44 20 7724 4700

The Connaught

Quintessential British luxury with a royal touch
Noteworthy for: The best of their five suites is The Apartment with walls adorned in fine art and views over the rooftops of London.

Tipple of choice: The Connaught Bar is famous for its Martini trolley, but if you want to drink with the local A-list of Mayfair head to Guy Ritchie’s pub The Punch Bowl around the corner.

This elegant British hotel in the heart of rarefied Mayfair has quite the royal pedigree. It was named after Queen Victoria’s third son, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught. Opened in 1897, it began life as the secret haunt of the aristocratic London gentleman, and these days you'll still find just such refined folk despite the modern touches of the GBP 70-million revamp.

Italian linen, Asprey toiletries, butler service, a ballroom and an Aman-run spa are some of the nods towards a regal degree of luxury, as well as the overall crisp, colonial elegance of the aesthetics. While the afternoon tea can be disappointing, both chef Hélène Darroze’s Michelin-starred restaurant and the elegant brasserie Espelette will cause taste buds to tingle.
Address: Carlos Place, Mayfair
Tube: Bond Street, Green Park, Marble Arch
Phone: +44 20 7499 7070

The Haymarket

Creative and quirky hotel for design buffs
Noteworthy for: The rooms are spacious and sleek, but this is one for those who put style over cosy home comforts.

Talk of the town: There are frequently parties in the suites and paparazzi waiting outside for a star guest to emerge.

British design duo Tim and Kit Kemp don’t have one signature look; they just create achingly hip and creatively quirky hotels with a buzz, and the Haymarket is no exception. In the heart of the West End, the delights of theatre-land, Soho and Covent Garden are within walking distance, which says something of the cool and cultured crowd it attracts.

While it may look classic and conservative from the outside, each of the 50-rooms in the Regency-era building are individually styled in a jamboree of genres and decades. The gym is under par, but their pièce de résistance is the 60ft pool magnificently lit by artist Martin Richman’s mesmerising kinetic wall installation changing between blue, yellow and red complete with poolside bar. A rare treat in London.
Address: 1 Suffolk Place
Tube: Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square
Train: Charing Cross
Phone: +44 20 7474 4000

The Kensington

Regal refinement in the heart of royal London
Word to the wise: This is not somewhere to scrimp and save; to get the real Kensington experience you should opt for one of the suites.

Located in London’s most affluent borough, the Kensington offers the life of gilded grandeur. With patrician delights of the V&A, the Royal Albert Hall and Harvey Nichols around the corner, you could be forgiven for never venturing far from the hotel lobby.

The 149-room hotel underwent a GPB 20-million renovation in 2009, honing the atmosphere of civilised yet comfortable luxury. Chandeliers adorn the public areas, the bath tubs have clawed feet, and the self-consciously mismatching furnishings adhere to the palette of luxurious burgundy, purple and blue.

They boast superior service through small gestures, such as a flask of warm milk and cookies by your bed at night. However, the breakfasts are verging on average and the standard rooms can feel a little overlooked for the price. But you don’t come here for the standard - you come to feel like you are part of an old gentleman’s club, even if it’s just for a few days.
Address: 109-113 Queen´s Gate, South Kensington
Tube: Gloucester Road, South Kensington
Phone: +44 20 7589 6300

The Montague on the Gardens

Classic English service in a row of converted town-houses
Word to the wise: The garden-facing rooms are blissfully quiet in the morning, but are subject to a moderate amount of noise from the hotel’s al fresco restaurant on summer evenings.

Noteworthy for: The Montague actually delivers on its promise of old-fashioned English service, unlike many of London’s pricier ‘traditional’ hotels.

The Montague’s location in the heart of literary Bloomsbury – bordered by wide, quiet streets and just around the corner from the British Museum – gives it a tranquil feel that’s almost impossible to find so close to London’s city centre. Unlike many of the larger hotels in the area, it’s not a magnet for the backpacking hordes – you’re more likely to share the elevator with a visiting university professor or a young author.

Each room is bespoke, and while space is at a premium – this is London, after all – there is no shortage of creature comforts, from dark wood furnishings to well-stocked marble bathrooms. Best of all is the service: a combination of Continental efficiency and classic English manners that’s nearly impossible to find in the capital these days.
Address: 15 Montague Street, Bloomsbury
Tube: Holborn, Russell Square, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 20 7637 1001

The Rookery

A romantic retreat in historic Smithfields
Talk of the town: A ‘rookery’ was an 18th century nickname for a slum – an evocative but misleading name for this classy place.

Word to the wise: If you like the Georgian character of the Rookery but want to be based in the West End, check out its equally lovely sister hotel, Hazlitt’s.

Occupying a trio of Georgian houses opposite Smithfield meat market, The Rookery wears its past on its sleeve. Each of the 33 bedrooms has panelled walls, creaky wooden floorboards and antique furniture, and even the bathroom fittings are Victorian (but don’t fear, the water pressure is up to contemporary standards).

Modernity is also discreetly present in the form of free wi-fi, flat screen TVs, and good double-glazing – you’d never know that one of London’s most popular clubs, Fabric, is a few doors down. There’s no restaurant, but tons of great places to eat nearby. We recommend the buzzy Hix Oyster and Chop House.
Address: 12 Peter´s Lane
Tube: Barbican
Train: Farringdon
Phone: +44 20 7336 0931

The Sanderson

Minimal Manhattan design chic at this fashion-first hotel
Tipple of choice: Try the Vesper at the resident’s only Purple Bar. This intimate space feels like stepping inside a bizarre fantasy world of the fashionable elite.

The bold, white minimalism of the Sanderson epitomises Philippe Starck’s monumental influence on design, and wows just as much today as it did a decade ago when it first opened in its current guise. This is clinical chic at it’s most fashionable and flamboyant.

The Sanderson was the first venture which paired boutique hotelier extraordinaire Ian Schrager with Starck, and let their playful streak run wild resulting in a lot of glass screens, red lip sofas, wave chairs and silver-leaf sleighs for bed-frames.

There are lovely touches throughout from the oil paintings on the ceiling to the pashminas draped casually across the bed. But there are downsides too including the irksome charge for wi-fi in the rooms.

In-house Suka restaurant and the Long Bar are destinations in their own right especially during fashion week, although the food is inconsistent. Nonetheless, with a location just north of Soho, this is where London’s media glitterati come out to play.
Address: 50 Berners Street
Tube: Goodge Street, Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road
Phone: +44 20 7300 1400

The Town Hall Hotel

Award-winning design in gritty East London
Popular plate: One of the best things about this hotel is the restaurant. Headed up by Nuno Mendes, a master of molecular gastronomy, Viajante's nine course menu may cost GBP 90, but it's worth it.

Noteworthy for: With room rates starting at GBP 175+VAT a night, this is great value for the high standard.

You would never guess there was a hotel here. Tucked into the Edwardian Town Hall off gritty Cambridge Heath Road, this is definitively off the tourist trail. But nip inside, and you'll find yourself transported from the heart of Hackney to the lap of luxury. This isn't indulgence of the stuffy, old-fashioned sort, though: Town Hall has won numerous awards for its architectural marriage of cutting-edge contemporary design and national heritage.

Each individually styled room uses original vintage pieces to complement the designer bathrooms and kitchens, and is flooded with natural light. On top of simply stunning design, the Town Hall Tea Lady will mix you a martini, the Michelin-starred chefs will make you dinner in your room and the house goldfish will keep you company.
Address: Patriot Square, Bethnal Green
Tube: Bethnal Green
Train: Cambridge Heath
Phone: +44 20 7871 0460

The Zetter

Fun, affordable and much-loved Clerkenwell institution
Word to the wise: There are two hotels to choose from - the original, modernist Zetter and, nearby, the new, Georgian-style Zetter Townhouse.

Tipple of choice: Do try one of the cutting edge cocktails at the bar of the Zetter Townhouse. Inspired by historical recipes, ingredients include fig leaf and gunpowder tea tincture.

There are many boutique design hotels in London, but few have the charm of the Zetter. This patch of Clerkenwell may now be studiously cool but neither hotel nor staff take themselves seriously, and a stay here can’t fail to lift the spirits.

Décor is described as ‘quirky modern vintage’, which can be translated as ‘pretty much anything goes’. Think pink chandeliers, Union Jack-draped four posters, bright hot water bottles and Timorous Beasties wallpaper.

Technology is a feature, too - not only free broadband but music playlists are streamed through each room’s TV. Oh, and the complimentary spring water comes from the hotel’s very own borehole.
Address: St John´s Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road
Tube: Angel, Barbican
Phone: +44 20 7324 4444