London is a city with a fascinating past, present, and future. Its history is evident in the stunning architecture of its monuments, museums, buildings, and bridges, while its present and future hold much equal parts excitement, promise, modernity, and a diverse citizenry perhaps turning the page on a new era (Brexit).
Next to the London Bridge is a small pub where William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens used to go. In the summer days, the wooden tables placed at the entrance of the patio are filled with office workers, local artists, workers from a nearby market.
The mixture of tradition and modernity city breathes throughout the city. It isn’t strange that in the middle of a row of Victorian buildings, you may suddenly find a block of glass and cement. The intensive bombings suffered by the city in World War II – the well-known Blitz – partly explain these contrasts. But also in the 60s and 70s, the urban plans were driven by the idea of rapid construction with modern materials, and encouraged the population’s exit to the residential neighborhoods of the periphery.
London began to decline with the onset of World War II, until it lost almost a quarter of its population in the late 1980s. In the last twenty years, this trend has reversed, and the city now has more than 8 million residents.
The neighborhoods have certainly changed. East London, for example, hasnow become the trendy district and the center of technology and design companies in the country. The area with the largest number of nightclubs and cafés with Wi-Fi was, until recently, an industrial area and a focus for the waves of new immigrants in search of inexpensive housing where dock workers historically had lived.
Right on the edge of the financial district of the City of London – on the streets of Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and the now-fashionable Brick Lane – shops still emit music from Bollywood movies and women stroll with sari or chador. Some of them come out of the supermarkets with large bags of curri or basmati rice, and break bread with their new neighbors; young men in skinny pants that, in many cases, have also recently immigrated.
Even though many of the communities belong to a second, third, or even fourth generation, the city continues to attract thousands of immigrants from all over who admire the facility to integrate into a place where most feel somewhat foreign. From the Saudi millionaires who buy houses in Mayfair or South Kensington, to the new citizens of Eastern Europe who settle in modest neighborhoods, London is still transforming.
In recent years, it has undergone great changes: the City has become the largest financial center in the world and in 2012 hosted the Olympic Games. Its extension of more than 1,500 square kilometers prevents one from exploring the entire city in one short trip. But one can capture part of his character if he keeps his eyes, ears and even noses alert. The evolution of this great metropolis is not only found in museums, but in the subway system(mind the gap!), the bars, and of course, the food.
Coming to London is not just going back to the smelly streets of the Middle Ages, or imagining the scientific societies of the Enlightenment, or the glorious and decadent days of the Queen Victoria Empire. It’s also a chance to participate in a city that continues to evolve, like a great animal, aware that it’s best days have yet to come.
- Dean Street Townhouse (www.deanstreettownhouse.com, +44 (0) 207 434 1775, 69 – 71 Dean Street, W1D 4QJ): This former private club in downtown Soho offers rooms of all sizes with spacious beds and a restaurant frequented by the professionals of the creative agencies in the area. Nice but expensive too.
- Luna Simone Hotel (www.lunasimonehotel.com, +44 20 7834 5897, 47/49 Belgrave Road, SW1V 2BB): Family hotel close to Victoria station, with simple yet comfortable rooms. It offers a traditional English breakfast in the morning.
- Hoxton Hotel (www.hoxtonhotels.com, +44 020 7550 1000, 81 Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3HU): In the heart of the trendy district, this hotel is not only famous for its prices but also for the comfort of its bedrooms. It has free wifi and a lobby where you can observe the trends of the so-called Silicon Roundabout.
Bed & Breakfast and other places to sleep
- Fox and Anchor (www.foxandanchor.com/ +44 020 7250 1300 115 Charterhouse Square, EC1M 6AA): A stone’s throw from the City, its deluxe rooms don’t neglect any kind of detail (old bathtubs, large TV screens and Cushions). On the ground floor, the Edwardian pub owned by the owners offers the perfect spot for a pint before bed.
- Fleet River Bakery Rooms (www.fleetriverbakery.com, +44 20 7691 1457, 71 Lincoln’s Inn Fields WC2): Apartments with wooden flooring and neat decor on a tempting bakery on a residential street in central London.
- No 90 (www.chelseabedbreakfast.com, 90 Old Church Street, SW3): On a residential street in the friendly neighborhood of Chelsea. The rooms have all the modern comforts in a traditional setting. Another plus: the more personal treatment.
Studios 2 Let Serviced Apartments (serviced.studios2let.com, 36 – 37 Cartwright Gardens, WC1H 9EH): Functional apartments in the heart of Bloomsbury. Ten minutes from the British Museum and a short walk to the city center.
- St John (www.stjohnrestaurant.com, +44 20 7251 0848, 26 St John Street, EC1): When they opened it in the 90s, it became a cult restaurant. The recovery of dishes that had almost disappeared in the middle of an industrial place, made the casquería and meat with little treatment fashionable. Bread is also one of its secrets (go figure).
- Bistrotheque (www.bistrotheque.com, +44 20 8983 7900, 23-27 Wadeson Street, E2): The offer of cabaret, bar and restaurant has been a success for this place that maintains its air of old warehouse. Not even its location in an unattractive alley discourages the famous that from time to time appear here.
- Market Thai (+44 20 7460 8320, 240 Portobello Road, W11): Go up to the first floor to discover this Thai restaurant. Overlooking the busy market of Portobello, the yellow chicken curri and salads with crispy duck are two highly recommended options.
- Skylon (www.skylon-restaurant.co.uk/ +44 20 7654 7800, Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road, SE1): Spectacular: views, food and even the variety of drinks from this restaurant. Set in the cultural hall of the Royal Festival Hall, opposite the Thames and Charing Cross Station, they offer more affordable menus on a daily basis.
Cocktails and Wine Bars
- Gordon’s Wine (www.gordonswinebar.com), 47 Villiers Street, WC2N): This old cellar, in a cave barely visible from the street, claims to be the oldest in London. And it may be true. Its stone walls and wine barrels from all over the world reveal a distant past in which wine drinking in England was something exotic.
- Freud (www.freud.eu) 198 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H): Underground cocktail with industrial air with a very urban aesthetic that reminds one of art galleries Of the 80’s.
French House (www.frenchhousesoho.com, 49 Dean Street, W1): Something like a bohemian tavern, the history of the French House is tied to names like Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon or Charles de Gaulle. Although the area has changed a lot since then, the place still retains its peculiar character with its ban on music, television and mobile phones.
- Bourne and Hollingsworth (www.bourneandhollingsworth.com, 28 Rathbone Place, W1T): The wallpaper of roses on the walls and black-and-white photos of this cocktail bar would delight an English grandmother. Also the specialty of the house: cocktails in tea cups.
- Cargo (www.cargo-london.com, 83 Rivington Street, EC2A): Considered the birthplace of Shoreditch-Hoxton, Cargo continues to lead the way with music programming. Its location under a bridge is perfectly adapted to the past of this industrial area.
- Bethnal Green Working’s Men Club (www.workersplaytime.net, 42 Pollard Street, E2): Everything in this club has a burlesque feel. From its enclave – the building was the center of meeting of the workers of the district – until the subjects of the celebrations that are organized every weekends. Better not be too late to enter.
- Corsica Studios (www.corsicastudios.com, Units 4/5, Elephant Road, SE17): Another club that takes advantage of the atmospheric space of the arches of the train tracks. Although this time in a place a bit away from the nightclubs. A kind of laboratory for new sounds of electronic music.
- Bardens Boudoir (www.bardensboudoir.co.uk, 36 Stoke Newington Road, N16 7XJ): One of the first clubs to open in the chaotic and hipster neighborhood of Dalston. In the bar they have food and coffee, leaving the parties and concerts for the basement they run in the next room.
- Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes (www.jaguarshoes.com, 34-36 Kingsland Road, E2): Eclectic music, wood oven pizzas and good atmosphere. A perfect place to start the night in the heart of Hoxton.
WHAT TO DO
- Borough Market (8 Southwark Street, SE1): It’s impossible to resist the delights offered in this market. Cheeses, veal roasts, breads and delicacies from all over the world. Located under train tracks from London Bridge station, Saturday is its official day but there are already many stalls setup on Friday.
- Shoreditch: The hip neighborhood in London. Perfect place for vintage lovers, cafes decorated with old-looking furniture and the urban feel. The main artery is Brick Lane but on weekends one finds shops and bars in any unexpected corner.
- The British Museum (Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG): It’s no coincidence that it always appears recommended in city guides. Because of its size, it’s best to choose what you’d like to see before you start so you don’t get overwhelmed with so much history. One recommendation: the rooms of Assyria and Greece, next to the Rosetta stone, and mummies of Egypt on the first floor.
- Greenwich by boat (www.tfl.gov.uk): Visiting the Greenwich meridian is in itself highly advisable but much more so when the excursion also becomes a trip on the Thames. The ship, part of the local transport, departs from several downtown docks: Embankment, London Eye, Westminster and London Bridge.
- Flower market on Sunday (Columbia Road, E2 7RG): The rural aspect of the streets in this market don’t correspond with the cement towers that rise around it. But contrasts abound here. Musicians, artists, and exquisite stores co-exist with the haggling of East End veterans.
- The Victoria & Albert Museum (Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL): A museum somewhat ignored considering the quality of its collection and the majesty of its building. Essential for those who love design, fashion and those who want to be amazed by the history of objects. The cafe next to the central courtyard of the building is a gem.
- Stroll along the Thames (from the Tate Modern / St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Parliament): One of the best walks in London. The tour lasts about 45 minutes but on the way there are bars and restaurants to rest your feet. You can start from any point but it is best to do it from the Tate Modern (or even better, from the cathedral of Saint Paul and there cross the river by the bridge of the Millenium) to have a fitting end in the center of the city.
- Sunday roast: All pubs cook a roast on Sunday. Usually it’s roast beef, but in most places they offer other alternatives like lamb, pork and a vegetarian version. Wash it down with a large pint of homegrown beer.
- Flea markets: Portobello, Borough Market, Spitafield Market, Camden, Columbia Road … there are as many flea markets as almost neighborhoods in London. The most important days are usually Saturdays and Sundays but some, such as Camden or Spitafield Market, are open from the middle of the week.