London is one of the world’s best cities. It’s my hometown, so I’m not unbiased. Where else can you find pubs that date to the 15th century, stores with a million square feet of shopping, a thriving cultural scene, and a palace? Plus these days, the struggling pound makes London more affordable for visitors.
Here are some of my favorite itineraries for walking, sightseeing, and eating.
Stroll the South Bank
One of the best places to walk in the city is the South Bank. To start your excursion, you might grab coffee from Monmouth Coffee Company (2 Park St.; 020 7940 9960) at Borough Market. The open-air coffee store is touted as having the best beans in London—with the lines to prove it, though they move quickly. While at Borough Market (8 Southwark St.; 020 7407 1002)—a sprawling year-round farmers market selling everything from organic heirloom tomatoes to artisanal teas to wild-boar sausages—you can gather fixings for a picnic and sit on the grass by Southwark Cathedral (Montague Close; 020 7367 6700), which has views of the Thames.
A short walk up cobbled Clink Street—named after a 12th-century “clink,” or prison, that’s now a museum—will get you to the South Bank, where during a 20-minute walk you’ll pass the Globe theater, the Tate Modern art museum, the Millennium Bridge—which leads across the river to St. Paul’s Cathedral—Gabriel’s Wharf, and the National Theatre. You don’t have to just pass them. Shakespeare’s Globe (21 New Globe Walk; 020 7902 1400), originally built in 1599 and reconstructed in 1997, offers guided tours and exhibits; in June you can see an open-air production of Macbeth. The Tate Modern (Bankside; 020 7887 8888) is free and has one of the world’s best Mark Rothko collections.
See Shops and Science
The adjacent tony neighborhoods of Knightsbridge and South Kensington are fun for museum hopping and shopping.
Knightsbridge has Harrods department store (87-135 Brompton Rd.; 020 7730 1234)—famous for its size, mosaic-tiled food halls, and inflated prices. Attractions include a self-playing piano, an oyster bar, and an outpost of Paris’s bakeshop Ladurée, famous for its macarons. Across the street, Harvey Nichols (109-125 Knightsbridge; 020 7235 5000) is the Barneys of London. If you don’t spot a few celebrities there, you just might at Zuma (5 Raphael St.; 020 7584 1010), a Japanese restaurant down the street.
For a more wallet-friendly but almost as stylish dining option, take the bus to South Kensington and enjoy sushi from the revolving bar at Itsu (118 Draycott Ave.; 020 7590 2400). South Kensington is home to three of the city’s best—and free—museums: the Science Museum (Exhibition Rd.; 0870 870 4868), where 3-D Imax movies venture into space and under water; the Victoria and Albert Museum (Cromwell Rd.; 020 7942 2000), which through September has an exhibit on Grace Kelly’s wardrobe; and the Natural History Museum (Cromwell Rd.; 020 7942 5000), renowned for its dinosaur displays.
No place else makes an art of a midafternoon meal quite like London. There are hundreds of places to go to experience the ritual of afternoon tea, but my favorite is the Dorchester (53 Park La.; 020 7629 8888), overlooking Hyde Park.
Tea begins with finger sandwiches and a choice of gourmet teas, is followed by scones and jam, and ends with cakes and pastries—and perhaps a nap on one of the pillowy couches while a pianist lulls you to sleep. It doesn’t come cheap—£34.50, or about $53, per person—and reservations are advised, but the experience is hard to match.
Afterward, wander down Park Lane toward Green Park. Constitution Hill will lead you toward Buckingham Palace, where you’ll know the queen is home if you can see the royal standard flying.
Or walk from Green Park down Piccadilly toward the West End. London has some of the world’s most innovative theaters, largely in the West End. Summer visitors can see David Suchet, best known for PBS’s Poirot, in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre (31 Shaftesbury Ave.; 0844 579 1971) or catch Love Never Dies, the long-awaited sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which is at the Adelphi Theatre (The Strand; 0844 42 4651) all summer before going to Broadway in November.
Hyde Park is often called the best park in London, but I prefer hopping on a bus to 200-acre Battersea Park, just across Chelsea Bridge. There are riverside walking trails, a children’s adventure playground, a Buddhist peace pagoda, a rowing lake, an art gallery, and a zoo. In nice weather you can spend a day getting lost on some of the pathways, and a vendor sends fantastic gelato by the boathouse.
Across the river in Chelsea, King’s Road stretches from Sloane Square, home to the historic Royal Court Theatre, to Fulham, with hundreds of stores and restaurants along the way. Londoners love Peter Jones (Sloane Square; 020 7730 3434), an unglamorous but reliable department store. Also look out for the pedestrianized Duke of York Square, which leads off King’s Road—it has some great boutiques, cafes, and a French patisserie.