London Travel Guide
Introducing London to a seasoned traveller is akin to introducing a single gay friend to Grindr. Its reputation precedes it. A cultural mecca, it is the birthplace of Keats, Woolf, Hitchcock, Bowie, McQueen and Beckham. Its skyline reads like an architectural tome; its restaurant scene represents every nook and cranny of the globe. What is left to write about a city like London that hasn’t been written before? A turbulent few years in the wake of political change has brought the best out in the city and her millions of residents. Yes, the UK’s capital has its problems, but its face is ever-changing. New LGBTQ spaces open often, to entertain and unite, while the city’s history remains as appealing as ever. London will welcome you into her ample bosom with open arms, always.
The best hotels in London
Hidden behind an unassuming door in the heart of East London, The Redchurch Townhouse is the latest offering from the Soho House Group. It is a hop, skip and a mince from its louder counterpart, Shoreditch House, and offers 37 exquisite rooms and two award-winning cocktail bars.
The East offers plenty of other bedfellows, both classic and contemporary. The Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green elegantly mixes both, with its mid-century design aesthetic and modern British restaurants. US export The Ace Hotel is firmly in the contemporary camp, with modern rooms and a laid-back approach.
Centrally, the Hoxton in Holborn is ideally located and offers design-led rooms and a community feel. New hotspot The Nadler Soho is a chic, 78-room hotel with easy access to Soho’s bars and clubs. For a more intimate experience, The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell is an eccentric 13-bedroom award-winning Georgian townhouse in the heart of the city.
Borough Market was made popular as the fictional home of gay icon Bridget Jones
Things to do in London
There are fewer places more enticing in London than its markets. Occupying pockets across the entire city, they are no longer evocative of Oliver Twist, where strumpets would sell flowers whilst lifting their skirts. They are food and drink havens, where independent and local craftsmen and aspiring chefs sell their wares. Our favourites are Borough and Broadway.
Borough Market was made popular as the fictional home of gay icon Bridget Jones and sits in the shadow of The Shard, Europe’s tallest building. It still has all the charm and draw captured by the film and is surrounded by some of the city’s finest restaurants, such as Elliot’s and Padella. Broadway Market in Hackney is lined with a lively mix of cool chains like Aesop and independent bookstores and cafés. On Saturdays, the street bustles with locals and Greater Londoners eager to sample the flavours the stall holders.
For a more tranquil experience, Kew Gardens is a majestic botanical paradise in the south-west area of the city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot. You’ll be surrounded by flora and fauna; afford yourself the whole day to explore this unique location.
London’s Queer Walking Tour, billed as ‘a mince through time’, takes in the sights and sounds of the city with LGBTQI+ locals. Visit significant sites in British gay culture, including places of protest and pleasure. Or, as London is the home of gin, why not try a gin tour? 58 Gin and Sipsmith offer tours around their factories, where you can learn about the distilling process while necking their notorious nectar. Don’t expect to remember your own name afterwards.
Things to see in London
A good place to start, even for the most seasoned of London visitors, is the Sky Garden atop the Walkie Talkie. There’s no finer way to absorb the atmosphere of the capital than up Rafael Viñoly’s glass phallus. The structure accommodates an airport terminal like space that affords stunning 360° views of the city.
London is the capital of world-class art and you don’t need Mr Hudson to tell you to visit the greats. The V&A, the National Gallery and both Tate galleries house some of the world’s greatest works of art. For contemporary alternatives, try Damien Hirst‘s brainchild, Newport Street Gallery, which the artist opened in 2015 to house his art collection and his ego. It regularly hosts exhibitions by his contemporaries, such as Jeff Koons and Gavin Turk. Art lovers should also check out the independents: Flowers, Hauser and Wirth, and Maureen Paley are always high on our list, as is Roca London Gallery, designed by the late, great Zaha Hadid. The Barbican offers a vibrant palette of performances alongside an art exhibitions programme. Theatre, dance, poetry and plays are all on offer in this Brutalist beauty.
Street food in London is thriving, thanks in part to Street Feast, four laidback venues featuring multiple restaurants and live DJs
Where to eat in London
The East is the home of the latest food trends and has been for several years. A visit to Bistrotheque always rewards; it launched a vibrant dining scene this side of the Gherkin. Despite innumerable openings nearby, it is still high on London’s best restaurant lists, and its fashionable clientele still makes way there for a Camp ‘Arry cocktail or fine selection of meats. Hoi Polloi, a 100-cover restaurant in the belly of the Ace Hotel, is Bistrotheque’s younger sister. It offers a relaxed brasserie feel with delicious Anglo dishes and a cocktail list catering for all tastes. And, just as Bistrotheque has Xavier playing pop hits on a piano, Hoi Polloi has a string quartet that makes even the cheesiest of pop princesses sound like unearthed Elgars.
There are, of course, plenty of haute cuisine options to choose from. Prime Ministers rub shoulders with pop stars at Chiltern Firehouse, which combines Gothic architecture with an exemplary menu. The Ivy in the Park is the latest offering from the notorious Ivy group, set amongst the hustle and bustle of Canary Wharf’s alpha atmosphere, providing a British menu for the bankers and their admirers. Spuntino is an Italo-American gem in the centre of Soho, serving sliders and small plates. Sit around the bar and enjoy a Bluesy soundtrack and a strong cocktail.
For food less fancy, the Wild Food Café is at the helm of the city’s vegan and raw food scene. A relaxed dining atmosphere offers foraged foods and healthy treats. Street food in London is thriving, thanks in part to Street Feast, four laidback venues featuring multiple restaurants and live DJs. Our favourite is Giant Robot, set in a dramatic Norman Foster erection that will soon house the new Crossrail transport system at Canary Wharf. Recent cameos have included the mouth-watering tapas by Jose Pizarro and Yum Bun’s tasty Taiwanese fare. This all-in-one experience is becoming ever popular with time-poor Londoners and is a great way to mix with friends, offering small, varied eateries under one roof. Mare Street Market in Hackney and Flat Iron Square in Southwark both do this really well.
Where to shop in London
London is a shopper’s paradise. From fashion to furniture, options are limitless. The city is a fashion capital and its menswear stores reflect this. For British heritage brands, Burberry and Paul Smith are well stocked across the city. For something more curated, the independent stores on Lambs Conduit Street in Bloomsbury feature flagships like Folk and Oliver Spencer. Redchurch Street in Shoreditch is a similar hotspot, catering for the modern gentleman with Murdock Barbers, A.P.C and many independent design stores.
Liberty will always be home to a diverse range of menswear and you can find London’s finest menswear brands like Raeburn and Albam here mixed with plenty of European labels. Try Goodhood if your style is more streetwear; run to Rei Kawakubo’s Dover Street Market if you know your Craig Green from your Comme des Garçons.
A must visit is Coal Drops Yard, a new food and fashion haven in King’s Cross. It hosts several menswear stores, including 18montrose, and Bonds, of the lovely Earl of East London candles, alongside a wide range of restaurants.
For the capital’s best sweet treats, try the infinitely Instagrammable pink paradise Peggy Porschen, purveyor of dreamy cupcakes; or Choccywoccydoodah, the delightfully named luxury chocolatier in the heart of Soho that gives Willy Wonka a run for his money.
Unsurprisingly, the city is full of unique and quirky concept shops. The Collaborative Store in Marylebone and Bonds of Hackney are both celebrated lifestyle stores stocking covetable homewares. God’s Own Junkyard deals only in retro neon signs. Rooms of Clapton is an eccentric mix of antiques and homewares carefully curated by artist Kentaro Poteliakhoff, where you can also buy his personal works. Prick on Kingsland Road in Dalston is entirely devoted to… cacti. And brave Get Stuffed in Islington for the capital’s only dedicated taxidermy store. Thank God.
While London has ample hotspots that cater to bar lovers, a visit to the city would not be complete without enjoying a good old-fashioned pub. Options are aplenty but choose well: avoid chains and Wetherspoons at all costs. The Old George in Bethnal Green and The Clapton Hart are firm favourites, where you’ll find a fabulous blend of hipsters and locals. The much-mourned Nelson’s Head, once Hackney’s favourite gay pub, has been reincarnated in Kennington, appropriately named The Cock Tavern. Its interior is a mind-blowing mix of Tiki and Georgian antiques, celebrating its illustrious history.
Famous for its queer spaces, London boasts pansexual party venues opening across the city on a regular basis. The Queen Adelaide, a bar-cum-club where only the most stylish hang out, is a good place to start your night, and occupies a former strip club. The Glory and Dalston Superstore are two of the scene’s stalwarts, the former the home of London drag, the latter a lively hotspot for disco and techno nights.
The capital’s central scene is on the decline, with many of Soho’s iconic venues closing down due to rising rates and dwindling numbers. The Yard, however, has bucked this trend and is still a lively location with heart, thanks to its unique inside/outside courtyard and chiselled bar staff. Of course, away from the devilish debauchery of the East End, there are dozens of cocktail bars worthy of your delectation. Tonight Josephine’s epic 1980s interior and pastel colours will make your heart swell, as will 69 Colebrook Row’s scientific approach to its burgeoning cocktail list, despite its tiny, speakeasy interior: work your way through the menu way into the night.
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Elliot's London | Photo: Matt Bramford
Bonds | Photo: Andy Donohoe
The Collaborative Store
Photo: Bruno van der Kraan
Photo: Bruno Martins
Photo: Matt Bramford
Photo: Matt Bramford
Photo: Matt Bramford