London’s a massive city with hundreds of awesome pubs, restaurants and things to do — you could spend years there and still not see a fraction of it all. But why see it all when you could see the best of the rest?
Narrow it down with this shortlist, courtesy of local expert Dugald Macdonald who has lived in London for the last 13 years. Dugald lives in North East London and works in central, and the only thing he appreciate more than good cocktails is a good meal.
Get acclimated: Pace, Hong Kongers, but this is the best city on the planet. Save for one thing – its size. Get comfortable with the fact that getting around takes a while and pick a couple of areas to explore. You won’t see everything but you will have a better time. To indulge a few hoary old stereotypes, West London is moneyed, South London is gritty, East London is creative and North London is, well, a bit up itself. The city is often thought of as a collection of villages, each of which has its own character, so decide what you like and base yourself there.
Don’t arrive without… a good pair of walking shoes.
We’re in England so a full English is a must. For the experience more than the food (I’m pretty sure they deep-fry the sausages) try E Pellicci (332 Bethnal Green Road, (+44) 20-7739-4873) in Bethnal Green with its wood panels and sugary tea. St. John makes a revelatory bacon sandwich or, if you’re feeling flush, it has to be eggs at the Wolseley.
The blockbuster museums are all well and good, but they can be crowded and, at times, stressful. London has a great lineup of small and quirky museums – I especially like Sir John Soane’s Museum, the historic and eclectic home of 19th century architect Sir John Soane, and the Horniman Museum, which is set in a garden and home to an aquarium and a quirky stuffed animal collection.
London has a great coffee shop or specialty tea cafe around every corner. Keeping geography in mind, as you really don’t have to travel across town for a cup, head to Fernandez & Wells in Soho for a central pit stop. All the cakes are incredible and they also do a mind-blowing pasteis de nata. However, for the best coffee, look East: Prufrock is a favorite as is Allpress.
Lunch should be long. And the perfect place for a long lunch is Moro for contemporary Moorish cuisine. Start with a manzanilla and end with coffee – other than that you can’t go wrong. If you’re in more of a hurry, there’s Morito, a more casual sister restaurant next door.
I either like to spend what’s left of the afternoon walking or in the pub. Frequently both. Hampstead Heath and Regent’s Park both offer great views over the city, plus there are plenty of pubs nearby to refuel before dinner. The Southampton Arms near Parliament Hill is perfect – there’s a wide selection of hand-pulled beer and cider, several pork-based snacks, and a pianist on Sunday afternoons. That being said, if you happen to be in town when it’s sunny and there’s a test match on, go to Lord’s for the cricket. Take some wine and a picnic, listen to the hum of the crowd and experience London at its most decorous.
For the second time on this list, it’s hard to look past St. John as Fergus Henderson’s mothership is the reason for so much that is right in the world. But for another local favorite I’d suggest Trullo, where you’ll find proper pasta, charcoal-grilled meat and pitch-perfect service.
A pub is a personal thing and, when you’ve found yours, there is simply no better way to wile away an evening. Mine is the Seven Stars (53-54 Carey Street, (+44) 20-7242-8521). For a nightcap, it’s off to 1950s-inspired 69 Colebrooke Row for the city’s best cocktails; it’s on the way home, after all.
Don’t leave without…. For sheer, jaw-dropping history The British Museum has it all.