London: otherwise known as ‘the Big Smoke’. Without a game-plan you are in danger of getting a little lost in the city’s fumes. A couple of days is enough to get a flavour of central London and you needn’t arise with the dawn chorus or spend half your monthly wages either. This itinerary is 48 hours of seven things that sum up London: eating, drinking, culture, greenery, shopping, history and royalty.
Start the day with a leisurely brunch at The Breakfast Club. With outlets in Soho, Battersea, Hoxton, Spitalfields and London Bridge (opening August 2014), so long as you don’t mind queuing for a table you’ll find a huge range of breakfast options to choose from, plus tea, smoothies and decent coffee.
Jump on the tube to Oxford Circus and mooch around the 300+ shops on Europe’s busiest high street for as long as it takes to annoy you (for me it’s usually less than half an hour).
From retail to regal, make your way to Green Park and the official residence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Buckingham Palace tends to impress non-Europeans more than those used to grandiose stately homes, but it’s still pretty cool to know one of the most powerful people in the world is mere metres away (only if the Royal Standard flag is flying, though). Victoria Monument stands impressively in front of the main gate, a good place to perch to view the palace and the oh-so-English Queen’s guard in their bearskin hats.
After a quick tea-break in whatever café you can find en route, hop on a ‘Boris bike’ and ride towards nearby Hyde Park to forget you are in one of the world’s major cities for half an hour. More adventurous cyclists can continue north to Regent’s Park and cut across towards Primrose Hill for one of the best views of the London skyline. If you have the time and the inclination, spend an hour in the Sherlock Holmes Museum next door to Baker Street tube stop.
By now it’s almost certainly cocktail hour. Take the tube south of the river Thames to Wilton’s Music Hall (the nearest stops are Tower Hill and Aldgate East). This place lays claim to being the world’s oldest surviving music hall, and as you walk through the shabby doors it does feel as though you’re stepping into a part of history. Visit the Mahogany Bar to sample the seasonal cocktail menu and absorb the dusty atmosphere.
A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the theatre. Whether you go for a classic West End musical or something a little more high-brow, prepare to be entertained. Grab a quick pre-show bite to eat in Soho (plenty of restaurants offer early evening deals for theatre-goers). My ultimate London theatre is The Globe. Shakespeare’s stage of choice, the venue was lovingly restored by Sam Wanamaker and paying £5 to be a groundling for the evening in the open-air arena is something you’ll never forget.
Finish off the day with a drink (obviously). If you were clever enough to visit The Globe, walk along Southbank admiring St Paul’s Cathedral in the dark as you do so. There are a couple of overpriced bars by the river – you are paying for the location. Those near Soho have a range of English pubs to choose from for a late-night tipple.
Start with a quick breakfast – grab something from the tube station if you have to – because today there’s a lot of culture to squeeze in. Firstly, you’ll want to take in one of London’s famous museums. There’s a few to choose from – the British Museum (free), Science Museum (free), Victoria and Albert (free). My museum of choice, though, is the nation’s oldest – the Natural History Museum (free). Situated in South Kensington, the NHM is packed with interesting artefacts, an in-depth dinosaur exhibition and a life-size blue whale model. Climb up to the second floor to take in the majesty of the building.
Next it’s time to take in some art. Again, we’ll go for the freebies. The Saatchi Gallery near Sloane Square is fantastic – but it’s hard to go past the Tate Modern, a London icon and a legend in the modern art genre. Either way, it’s an easy way to while away a couple of hours. If you’re more into classical art the National Gallery (free) and National Portrait Gallery (free) are wonderfully located in another London must-see – Trafalgar Square. Marvel at Nelson’s Column and watch out for the pigeons.
When in England, do as the English do – drink tea. Some of London’s posh hotels offer luxurious afternoon teas where you can pretend to be in league with the hoity-toity for an hour. Highly recommended are Fortnum & Mason (between Green Park and Piccadilly Circus tube stops), Hendrick’s High Tea at Hush (near Bond Street) and the Sanderson’s Mad Hatters afternoon tea (near Oxford Circus). Take your pick.
Head on the tube to Westminster, then cross the bridge to the other side of the Thames for awesome views of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Try and time it on the hour to hear the famous clock chime. Walk east along the river to see the London Eye, the Millennium Bridge, London Bridge and the Tower of London. If it’s not Sunday and before 5PM, pop into the renowned Borough Market for a snack. The newly built Shard is just south of London Bridge if you wish to take in the view (or a cocktail and the view).
Use the tube to get to Liverpool Street Station (easily accessible via Bank) and walk two minutes to one of London’s quirkiest underground cocktail bars. The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is entered through a fridge door in an otherwise normal restaurant. Once inside you’ll be allocated a table and allowed to peruse the cocktail menu whilst feeling like one of the cool kids in the know. What better way to top off a great couple of days in London than enjoying a cocktail based on Paddington Bear?