London is one of my favorite cities and I actually try to go every year. I even had the opportunity to live there for a month, when I had a month's sabbatical at a former job.
As many friends often ask for recommendations on what to see and where to go, I've compiled a list here. Check back for updates.
Getting the lay of the land
An excellent off-the-beaten path guidebook is City Secrets: London. From Amazon:
City Secrets London: The Essential Insider's Guide brings together the recommendations of artists, writers, historians, architects, chefs, and other experts whose passionate opinions and highly informed perspectives illuminate well-known sites as well as overlooked treasures. These expert travel companions share with you their favorite little-known places including restaurants, cafés, art, architecture, shops, outdoor markets, strolls, daytrips, as well all manner of cultural and historic landmarks.
I always make sure to find time for at least one London Walk. This is one of the premier walking tour companies in the world. The London Guides are actors, attorneys, writers, historians, and I've never been on a walk that disappointed. They take you into the nooks and crannies of London.
Bars and pubs
Duke's Hotel Bar, Dukes Hotel, Mayfair - This bar inspired Ian Fleming's "shaken, not stirred" martini directive for James Bond. It's a tiny place with excellent cocktails. Martinis are excellent. Better to go on a weeknight - we liked the staff better.
Sir John Soane's Museum - the home of the architect who designed the Bank of London. He also traveled widely and collected all sorts of things. The house is small but he tricked it out with all sorts of architectural gadgets to make it seem bigger.
The Temple Church - the Knights Templar Church near the Inns of Court, where some of the scenes from the "Da Vinci" code were filmed.
The British Library is definitely worth a look. It's near King's Cross Station. They usually have interesting things on display. You can also see Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross!
The British Museum is a must-see, but don't take it all in in one day. It's enormous. For your first visit: the Great Court (and be sure to read Tennyson's quote in the floor); the Rosetta Stone; and the Elgin Marbles. There's a nice pub across the street from the main entrance. There's also a famous occult bookstore a block away, Atlantis Bookshop.
Portobello Market - on Saturday mornings, the road is lined with antique dealers, second-hand carts, etc. Located in Notting Hill. If you saw the movie, you probably saw Portobello Rd.
Borough Market - in Southwark. Only open on Saturday mornings. There has been a market on that location for over 1000 years. Primarily a food market, it's fun to poke around and try samples. The George Inn is nearby - it's an authentic 17th-century coaching inn and pub with oak beams and large courtyard seating area.
The Shard - now the tallest building in London. It's stupidly expensive, but worth it to go to the 72nd "open air" floor. Even the bathrooms have amazing views!
If you get a chance, try to have lunch at The Blackfriar Pub. The interior is all Art Nouveau - simply gorgeous. There's a ghost, too.
Harrod's food hall - great fun to walk around and browse, just for the decor, as well as the amazing assortment of fine foods.
If you are there for a week or more, it's worth a day trip to any of the following:
- Windsor Castle
- Kew Gardens. The National Archives are also located in Kew, where you can see the Domesday book.