How to Spend the Perfect Long Weekend in London
From the touristy, historical West End to the trendy, burgeoning East End, London is a city full of culture and style (we’re looking at you, Kate Middleton). Here’s how to make the most of a long weekend there.
Covent Garden and Central London
10 a.m. Travel to Bombay for Breakfast
Start your day in Dishoom in Covent Garden, where the black-and-white-tiled floors and retro photos mimic the feel of an old Irani café in Bombay. Order the fried eggs on chili cheese toast and the famous bacon naan roll and wash it all down with “the Dhoble,” a refreshing breakfast cocktail that’s heavy on the gin.
11 a.m. Escape the Crowds in Covent Garden
Sure, it’s a bit touristy, but Covent Garden, a neighborhood on the fringes of London’s West End, is home to hidden gems, too. Venture beyond the main square through the windy streets of Seven Dials, where you’ll find some of the best shopping in the city. Look out for quirky stores like Stanfords (great for stocking up on old maps and travel guides) and FOPP (great for throwback music and foreign films). Get your art fix at Somerset House, a contemporary museum currently offering a terrific exhibit on the history of scent.
2 p.m.: Eat Your Way Through Borough Market
Now that you’ve spent a few hours getting your culture on, you’re ready to eat again. Just near Tower Bridge stands London’s oldest and most delicious food market, great for fresh produce, olive oil, fish, cheese and meats. Make a special stop for the glazed doughnuts from Bread Ahead and the juicy chorizo roll at Brindisa.
4 p.m.: Take a Walk with a View
As you walk along the South Bank of the Thames River, you’ll pass Shakespeare’s Globe, an awesome, reconstructed Elizabethan theater (worth a quick look), and the Tate Museum, home to works by heavy hitters like Braque, Picasso and Lichtenstein. End the afternoon at Founder’s Arms, a happening pub where you can enjoy a Pimm’s on the patio overlooking the water.
8:30 p.m.: Feast on South American Flavors
Ceviche, a colorful spot in Soho, is one of several Peruvian restaurants popping up around London. Seafood steals the show, so make sure to order the smoky barbecue calamari and sea bass, marinated in citrus, chili and red onion. Oh, and of course, a zesty pisco sour.
Kensington, Notting Hill and the West End
10 a.m.: Brunch with the Stars
Start the day in the swanky, central neighborhood of Marylebone at Chiltern Firehouse, the brasserie of choice for celebs like David Beckham and Kate Moss. Your order: A bubbly hibiscus-strawberry Champagne cocktail and mini crab stuffed doughnuts. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
11:30 a.m.: Take a Royal Stroll
Hyde Park stretches from the entrance of Kensington Palace for 350 acres, and is the perfect spot for a brief escape from city life. Rent a paddle boat, meander through the rose garden and make sure to stop in the Serpentine Galleries, where you’ll find rotating exhibits by contemporary artists.
1 p.m.: Hunt for Antiques on Portobello Road
You’ll probably recognize the Crayola-colored storefronts that line Portobello Road in Notting Hill (especially if you’ve seen the film starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant). Each Saturday, the street turns into an all-day, exuberant flea market, where you can find anything from antique tchotchkes and vintage cowboy boots to second-hand fur-lined coats and street food.
2 p.m.: Fuel Up on Middle Eastern Bites
A short walk from Portobello Road sits Ottolenghi, a charming café that serves Middle Eastern and North African-inspired dishes like grilled chicken salad with harissa and roasted aubergine with tamarind yogurt.
4:30 p.m. Window-Shop at Dover Street Market
With a full stomach, hop in a cab to Dover Street Market in Haymarket: It’s a wonderfully chaotic, five-floor retail space and art gallery that’s synonymous with London fashion. If you’re not looking to drop $1,500 on a handbag, you can admire the Gucci and Proenza Schouler wares from afar, then head upstairs to Rose Bakery and treat yourself to an oat-and-maple scone with cream and jam.
8:30 p.m. Share Iberian-Inspired Small Plates
You don’t have to cross into Spain for great tapas, thanks to Barrafina in London’s Soho neighborhood, which features some of the best small plates in the city. Go for the gooey, deep-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese or meaty red prawns plucked freshly off the grill.
East End, The City and Mayfair
10 a.m.: Grab London’s Best Bagel
Beigel Bake, a 24-hour bakery among the ethnic restaurants on Brick Lane, is good enough to give New Yorkers pause. But instead of going for the classic cream cheese, order your hot salt beef bagel topped with spicy mustard and pickles.
10:30 a.m.: Shop Shoreditch for Trinkets and Treasures
Locals know Shoreditch as the city’s grungy, hipster neighborhood, filled with colorful street art, endless cocktail bars and trendy coffee shops. Pop into Spitalfields Market, where you can nab goodies like handmade leather bracelets and vintage CDs.
12:30 p.m. Sit Down to a Real English Lunch
You can’t go to London and not try the fish and chips. Poppies, an old-school spot in Spitalfelds Market, has been serving the same recipe since the 1950s. Think: Battered, flakey cod with tangy tartar sauce and thick cut chips (fries).
2: p.m.: Follow the Church Bells
Whether you’re a cathedral lover, a history buff, an architecture aficionado or a Harry Potter enthusiast, the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral won’t disappoint. (You might recognize the spiral staircase from The Prisoner of Azkaban.) A ticket will give you access to the Crypt, the acoustically intriguing Whispering Gallery and the Stone and Golden galleries, along with amazing city views.
4 p.m.: Sip Tea Like the Queen
When it comes to teatime, Fortnum & Mason’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is the gold standard. (Just ask the Queen of England, who opened this parlor to celebrate her 60 year reign.) Come for the elegant Georgian interior and light blue chinaware. Stay for the lemon tarts, smoked salmon scones and egg salad finger sandwiches.
5:30: p.m.: Get Lost in a Good Book
Need a book for your plane ride back? Pop by London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury to grab a classic work of literature, contemporary fringe-novel or darling children’s book.
8:30 p.m.: Keep Calm and Curry On
A nod to the gentlemen’s clubs of Raj-era Colonial India, Gymkhana is a restaurant that’s difficult to forget (with a price tag to prove it). It’s possibly the most exciting Indian restaurant in the city, thanks to a game-heavy menu featuring dishes like charcoal tandoori guinea fowl and spicy goat curry.
10:30 p.m: Sip on a Classy Nightcap
Located inside the glitzy Connaught Hotel, the Connaught Bar is an elegant, art-deco space where the martinis arrive at your table on a trolley and the creative Champagne cocktails are worth every penny. Cheers, to a fabulous long weekend!