London Weekend Guide
London is a cosmopolitan city with a unique blend of historic traditions and a hip and modern culture. You can enjoy tea and crumpets and celebrate the city's royal roots before heading out to a slick gastropub for gourmet dinner and drinks.
Where to Stay
From grand hotels to fancy town homes, there are accommodations for every taste and budget. If size doesn't matter and you plan to use your hotel simply as a launching pad to explore the city and a place to stow your luggage, check out a tiny, trendy pod hotel like easyHotel.
Covent Garden Hotel
Whoever said the British were stodgy has never checked into the Covent Garden Hotel just a few steps from the action of the theater district and nearby Soho. Each of the 58 rooms boasts a unique style, some with elegant 4-poster beds and others with headboards covered in vibrant fabrics and sparkling chandeliers. High rollers may spring for the Loft Suite with its own drawing room, study and a pair of bathrooms. Common areas are equally appealing with unexpected upholstery, a classy French stone fireplace and an honor bar where you can kick back with a drink and soak up all of this style.
Located in trendy Clerkenwell, the Zetter is a convenient spot if you're looking to eat and drink your way through the city's best of-the-moment restaurants and pubs. Rooms are a blend of cozy comfort with modern amenities like free music, Wi-Fi and funky mood lighting. The staff creates a sense of both the homey, with old-fashioned hot water bottles with hand-knit covers, and the modern, with clean lines, fluffy pillows and a stack of Penguin paperbacks for your perusal. The public areas are just as inviting with regional food with Asian and African flavors at Bistrot Bruno Loubet and a signature Ze-linni sparkly cocktail at the Atrium Bar.
This intimate hotel in Knightsbridge boasts a fashionable address, just a short walk to London's legendary shopping at Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Rooms are modern and comfortable with soothing neutral colors, luscious Egyptian linen bedding and chocolate on arrival. The hotel is a welcome retreat from hectic city life, with just 29 rooms on a quiet tree-lined cul-de-sac. Head back to the hotel for a mini afternoon siesta and complimentary tea and scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream from 3 to 5.
Where to Eat
Tea is such serious business in the UK that there's a Tea Guild on hand to honor hotels and tearooms for serving the best spot of tea in town. The Palm Court at the Langham Hotel is frequently recognized as the city's best and boasts the oldest established hotel tea time, going all the way back to 1865. Make reservations for the Wonderland Afternoon Tea or High Tea in the lush tea room with rich fabrics, overstuffed settes and live piano music. You may take your pick from over 30 varietals of tea and sample delicate crustless sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, toasted crumpets and fancy pastries. Just don't get caught dunking any of these tasty morsels into that delicate teacup as this tea-time faux pas violates the etiquette of this time-honored tradition.
For those who have not had the pleasure of dining in one of his restaurants, Gordon Ramsay is known as Britain's competitive celebrity chef with a fiery personality displayed on reality TV. But for foodies in London, he's known as the chef with the Michelin stars and award-winning restaurants. The Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospitality is decorated with 3 Michelin stars for perfection on a plate with French dishes like pressed foie gras with peppered Madeira jelly, smoked duck, peach and almond crumble and Cannon of Cornish lamb with confit shoulder, ratatouille and thyme jus. If you can't get enough of Gordon Ramsay's culinary expertise during your weekend jaunt, stop by Terminal 5 in Heathrow for more of the chef's signature tastiness at Plane Food, a refined airport restaurant for diners who are short on time.
London's gastropubs have dispelled any old notions of bland English food, and the Harwood Arms is a stand-out on this foodie scene. Specializing in wild game, local ingredients and classic food-prep styles, the menu is a showcase of hearty and flavorful dishes. The chefs create big flavor with often overlooked cuts of meat like oxtails, bone marrow, crispy pig ears, braised deer shoulder and slow-roasted pork belly. Hearty sides include crisp garlic potatoes, black cabbage, glazed parsnips, champ and Yorkshire puddings. Bring an appetite but save room for dessert and finish off the meal with homemade ice cream, buttermilk pudding with pears poached in mead or warm marmalade doughnuts topped with orange sherbet and whipped cream.
What to See & Do
There's so much to see and do in London that it can be difficult to narrow down your choices for a weekend of fun. You'll likely spend most of your time in West End neighborhoods, including the ever-hip Covent Garden, Mayfair with its high-end shops on Oxford Street, the great green space in Hyde Park and charming Notting Hill. You might take the tube to get around town or ride the original double-decker red buses and take in some scenery while you get to your next destination.
Take a 30-minute spin on the London Eye for expansive views of the city from the enclosed capsule. The highest point is nearly 440 feet high on this mega Ferris wheel. From there, you can see for 25 miles around the city, with panoramic views of Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace and, on a clear day, even Windsor Castle. Book a sunset or night flight to view the landmarks in a different light. Despite the great heights, this is no wild amusement park ride as the eye spins slowly allowing for plenty of photo opportunities.
Westminster Abbey is much more than a church or tourist attraction. It plays a crucial role in England's political and cultural identity as it celebrates Britain's most influential figures in both life and death. This towering Gothic church has been the official spot for coronation of royal leaders dating back to 1066 when King Harold and William the Conqueror were crowned here. King Edward's Chair has been the royal throne since 1308. In addition to the royal ties, many of England's legendary authors, religious figures and aristocrats are entombed in the Abbey's chapels and cloisters. Stop by the Poet's Corner for inspiration from Chaucer, William Blake, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, T.S. Eliot, John Milton and Jane Austen.
Housed in a former power station, the Tate Modern has an impressive collection of international modern art with works from the modern masters as well as cutting-edge exhibits from contemporary artists. Check out the masterpieces spread out over 4 wings from beloved artists like Picasso, Matisse, Dali and Magritte and study Pop Art from Warhol and Lichtenstein. Then familiarize yourself with British artists in the visiting exhibitions. Before you even arrive in London, you can map out your visit using the website's personal tour feature, which invites you to preview the collections and create a plan so you don't miss a thing. Museum fanatics can continue the journey at the Tate Britain, a short trip away on the convenient Tate to Tate boat that shuttles guests across the Thames to the British museum across the river.
Theater in West End
London's theater district is in the West End neighborhood lined with about 40 elegant and historic theaters showing favorite musicals, stirring dramas and often the next big thing as many of the theater world's breakout shows get their start right here. Dubbed "Theatreland" by the official Society of London Theatre, this area edges out Broadway as the world capital of theater. The longest-running musical "Les Miserables" still packs the house, while Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" has been thrilling patrons since 1952, making it the world's longest-running show. If your heart is set on a particular show, get tickets before you arrive. If you're willing to play theater roulette, take a chance at the ticket booths in Leicester Square and Brent Cross where you can score half-price and discount tickets for a performance up to a week ahead of time.
Cork & Bottle Wine Bar
Britain may be known for its pubs and ales, but there's no need for wine aficionados to go thirsty during a trip to London. The Cork & Bottle Wine Bar is in the heart of the theater district making it the perfect spot for a pre- or post-show snacks and wine. The expansive wine list stretches on for pages with affordable options and rare finds from around the world, and there's a nice selection of wines by the glass.
Pubs and Clubs
Most of London's pubs close by midnight, so you'll need to head out early to enjoy the city's best pubs. The White Horse on Parson's Green boasts a great pub atmosphere with a solid beer selection, including imported kegs from Belgium, about 6-8 rotating cask ales and over 135 bottled beers. During warmer months, enjoy some brews and BBQ outside in the Beer Garden. If you're still looking for fun after last call, there are late-night clubs around town for live music and dancing. The Windmill and Dogstar, both in Brixton, pack in crowds of music lovers looking to dance to the DJs or bands.
Travel Channel Insider's Tip
The museums are free so you don't need to feel bad if you only stop in the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone and the National Portrait Gallery to view a few of the 1,400 portraits from the early Tudors to supermodel Kate Moss.