It’s such a cliche, but I really do like London. I like that it’s big, diverse and free and then there’s of course the conditioning by books, movies and music that makes it feel familiar and full of meaning. It’s also a relief that I can – literally – understand what’s going on, because I speak the language.
London can be overwhelming, though, simply because there is so much choice. I usually don’t stay there long, so have to plan my days relatively carefully as not to waste too much time getting from one place to another or finding food. What I’ve put together here is not an „ultimate“ day in London: in fact, if it’s your first time there, I wouldn’t suggest all of those things. But I was happy with how the day turned out, so I thought I’d share.
9AM Wake up in The Bloomsbury Hotel. This day makes – logistically – most sense if your hotel is somewhere in the Bloomsbury/Covent Garden area or Marylebone. We stayed in The Bloomsbury Hotel this time and I do recommend it, especially if you prefer your hotels historic rather than modern. The location is great, the food is good and the interiors glamorous. It’s not cheap, but not as insanely expensive as the nice London hotels tend to be. If you are willing to spend more, The Beaumont is beautiful and would also work for this day, with the possible exception of the next step.
10AM Visit the Persephone book shop. It’s about 15 minutes by foot from The Bloomsbury Hotel and such a lovely place. True, you need to be interested in the forgotten 20th century women writers, but I kind of assume you are. They mostly sell their own books – all beautifully designed – and some other bits and bobs. I would get a coffee on the way and not have breakfast at the hotel, because see next point.
11AM Brunch at Chiltern Firehouse. It is probably no longer the absolutely hottest place in town the way it was three years ago, but it’s still popular. And expensive. I’ve always wanted to stay at the hotel: I just like the aesthetics and any place where staff wears Emilia Wickstead is bound to be high on my list. Unless I’m going to have that book deal this autumn, though, the staying at the hotel is not going to happen any time soon, so the restaurant it is. Brunch is a pretty good way to do it, I think. You can enjoy the place and the atmosphere (both pretty relaxed), have crab doughnuts and pancakes and emerge relatively non-bankrupt*. We walked there from the hotel, but you can of course also come by taxi.
12.30PM The Wallace Collection. The more I visit museums, the more I tend to prefer smaller collections: they are less overwhelming and often very well curated. 14th-19th century European art is not necessarily my favourite period, but I’m not going to say no to seeing The Swing or some Velasquez in real life. As the web site says, the collection “is particularly strong in Dutch and Flemish paintings of the seventeenth century and in eighteenth and nineteenth-century French paintings, though there are also outstanding works by English, Italian and Spanish artists.” Correct. In fact there is hardly a dud in the bunch and I’m contemplating going back for the armoury. It is extremely conveniently located: about two minutes from Chiltern Firehouse and only marginally more from Oxford Street.
2PM Shopping on Oxford Street. My shopping priorities have changed through the years, but I still find Oxford Street a very efficient place to shop. I used to start with Topshop and work myself through the other high street clothing shops. I still do that, but less enthusiastically, and I tend to start with Selfridges these days: an excellent beauty selection and a good edit of mid-range fashion (like Bella Freud jumpers) that I can occasionally afford. A recent addition to my shopping agenda is Wigmore Medical – just off the Oxford Street – that sells serious, clinical skincare that can be difficult to get elsewhere. And wherever else I go, I tend to end up in Liberty, another great place for beauty lovers (this is where I get my P50 lotion) and also good for postcards, little gifts and nice things you don’t need.
4PM Book Shopping in Covent Garden. If you need to do some serious clothes/beauty/whatever shopping on Oxford Street, you’ll probably need to leave this for another day. But if you’re just interested in a shop or two or mainstream shopping isn’t your thing at all, then the Covent Garden area is close to the hotel and a good place for buying books. There’re many second hand book stores, there’s the Forbidden Planet for SF fans, Foyles is close (technically still in Bloomsbury) and Hatchards isn’t that far either. Full disclosure: I still haven’t visited the latter myself.
6PM BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall (after a quick change in the hotel and a taxi ride). This of course only works in the summer, but if you happen to be in London in July-August and have any interest in music, I very much recommend going. We have now done it three years in a row (plus once years ago) and it has invariably been wonderful. If you can afford it, sitting in one of the boxes is a great experience and you can also order food and champagne.** If classical music is not your thing, theater is another good option or one of the many cinemas of London.
Later: Dinner/cocktails. In case you do not eat at the Royal Albert Hall, it’s worth remembering that Chinatown is right next door of The Bloomsbury Hotel. There are plenty of places to get your Peking duck: we went full tourist and had ours*** at the Four Seasons. It’s not a glamorous place, but the duck was good. Next time, I’d like to go to Xu (which reminds me: if possible, always book ahead! Popular places fill up quickly in London). If you’re more into cocktails, you might want to try The Experimental Cocktail Club: our concierge recommended the place and it sounds great, but we weren’t in the mood. The Bloomsbury hotel itself does some lovely low alcohol, Mrs Dalloway-inspired cocktails, too.
So, here you go. What are your favourite places in London? Again, I’m not saying these are necessarily my absolute favourites, but I love them all and together, they make for a day well spent.
*You can of course also order oysters, several courses, a few cocktails and end up with a bill of 300 pounds for two.
**This is why there is no lunch on the agenda. If you eat a late brunch, it’ll see you through until you arrive at Royal Albert’s. The food there isn’t anything special, but if you have a busy day, it can be a good option.
***Not on the same day.