London: Diversity, Choice and Entertainment

London: Hidden Gems, Famous Landmarks 

For unique, genuine London experiences think hidden gems. For the most typical and inspiring, think famous landmarks and entertainment. Experience some of the best boutique shopping in the world and if you’re looking for different sights, sounds and smells, you'll be at home in this melting pot of diverse culture. Soak up a buzzing atmosphere, admire weird artistic creations, and practice walking quickly through the thronging crowds without so much as a glance up from your book…

Shopping in London

For keen shoppers, Harrods, Selfridges and Oxford Street in general seem obvious choices. Indeed the latter has everything, and is discussed below. Don’t miss this fantastical shopping hot spot but don’t limit yourself either, there is so much more…


For unique one-off shops and market stalls, two popular areas full of handmade accessories and arty trinkets are Covent Garden and Camden Town, and for a huge assortment of fresh food and produce, the labyrinthine Borough Market - complete with market stalls, boutique shops and many ‘freebie’ tasting experiences.


Hot-foot it to the Covent Garden Apple Market for a variety of high quality unique gifts. These stall holders have to go through a rigorous audition-like process to get a stall here and justifiably - for such a prestigious location. The Jubilee market also at Covent Garden, whilst more budget, holds fantastic bargains and excellent little gifts including jewellery, bags and clothes.


Camden Town shopping, brightly coloured buildings In Camden Town head to Camden Lock and the Camden Stables Market (turn left outside the station and over the bridge). These are similar to the Apple Market, but bigger, weirder and cheaper. Camden Lock is a multi-level indoor market, a rabbit’s warren of diverse creative goods from jewellery, to home accessories. Camden Town generally has a very alternative feel. There are some excellent spiritual shops and market stalls at the Stables Market holding all kinds of items including rocks and crystals. Don’t let the tacky clothes shops fool you on the way to these markets from the station - it really does get better once you’re over the bridge and across the road…



















Oxford Street and the surrounding area is of course one of the most famous shopping areas. Housing some of the biggest high-street shops including the flagship TOPSHOP store which is a melting pot of high-street fashion trends, including a whole basement dedicated to shoes - the shoe lounge. Menswear on the top two floors houses one of the biggest ranges of high-street clothes, shoes and accessories for men in any comparable high street store.

An excellent little hidden gem just off Oxford Street is St Christopher's Place, across the road from Bond Street station. It is literally hidden away in a tiny narrow pedestrianised street and opens up into little courtyards of independent boutique shops, classy cafes and restaurants, and splendid Christmas decorations in the Winter months. 









For trendy mid/high-end high street shopping with a twist, head to Carnaby Street. The fantastical shoe shop ‘Irregular Choice’ is one of many funky shoe shops, and you’ll be sure to find snazzy high-street shops and labels along the lines of Miss Sixty and Diesel. For excellent vintage boutiques and fantastic luxury cupcakes turn into Kingly Court – a three-storey courtyard of shops and cafes just off the main street which also includes an excellent and reasonably priced bead and jewellery making shop ‘Buffy’s Beads.’


The main shop of focus in the Carnaby Street area is the famous and prestigious Liberty & Co on Regent Street. It is a department store with a strong ‘olde worlde’ character, and an excellent location to shop for luxury items in an atmospheric setting. The stunning black and white beamed building itself is worth seeing even if your wallet is on the lighter side. Carnaby street can be reached in less than 5 minutes from Oxford Circus and is signposted. Take the Argyll Street exit upon leaving the tube station and turn right into the first street, which takes you towards Liberty & Co, and the Palladium Theatre.


For a wonderful choice of up-market and designer brands such as Hugo Boss, Emporio Armani and Mulberry, New Bond Street just West of Regent Street is lined with exquisite collections of clothes and accessories. A main attraction is Fenwicks, the high-end department store.  

The two Westfield Shopping Centres are vast, modern and impressive malls/centres with a range of brands from haute couture, to high street, and lots of lovely places to eat. The centre in the East is in Stratford (on the DLR tube line), and the centre in the West is opposite the BBC in White City/Shepherd's Bush.


A Variety of London Attractions

From museums to Ice climbing (at Exelement.co.uk), London really has it all. It is not possible to pick the best of the attractions or even cover a significant range, however some typical, (and less typical) highlights all over London, are below:

National Maritime Museum - in Greenwich. This features London's only planetarium and a fantastic astronomy centre. Also the Greenwich meantime line! (A five minute walk from the DLR Tube line at Cutty Sark - follow signposts)


The extremely vast and educational Natural History Museum (get off the tube at South Kensington Station and its signposted from there)


The excellent, innovative Science Museum - see the directions above


Kew Gardens (West London/Twickenham) - scientific botanical gardens in glasshouses, including the huge and iconic Victorian ‘Palm House’. This fantastic attraction also features one of London’s most diverse aquariums and a huge stunning park.  Kew Gardens also features a fantastic ten-storey Pagoda (the first of its kind in the UK, indeed Europe), built in the late 1700s.

London Eye – the huge glass pods are anything but claustrophobic and you can barely feel the movement of the wheel as it makes its continuous circle, taking around half an hour. Views are incredible, especially of the houses of parliament and the river. Night and day are totally different and equally impressive. Avoid thick fog, you won’t see much!

Shows and Entertainment in London

Musicals, operas, stand-up comedies, ballets, small plays, famous plays, celebrities, up-and-coming independent performers, the list goes on. London’s live performances scene is most famously enjoyed in the West End theatres where world famous musicals such as the broadway-tastic ‘Chicago’, and the extremely well-lit and well-costumed ‘The Lion King’ are shown in magnificent auditoriums. Depending on whether you are looking for famous shows such as these, or intimate venues and alternative-type performance art, London won’t disappoint. Just make sure you research what’s on before simply making an obvious choice, book in advance if it is something you don’t want to miss, and book on the day at a discount kiosk in the city if you’re willing to risk it to get a really good deal on some last minute seats.   

Food & Drink in London

Markets

For a great food buying and tasting experience try the Borough Market in South East London. You will find an incredible range of fresh British and international products. For more information visit http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/

Cafes and Snacks

An excellent Champagne bar and upmarket lunching location for those with cash to spare (or seeking a good treat) is the St Pancras Grand Champagne Bar. Select a divine hot or cold dish, or even just choose the simple but delicious Strawberries with Champagne!


A great French-style chain called Apostrophe is a good option for those looking for a nice light croissant, baguette, wrap or other pastry, out of the way of the busy crowds. There is seating inside and outside. Apostrophe can be found in a number of locations in the city however probably the most useful for shoppers (and tucked away) is the one behind Oxford Street. Just turn down the side road next to Miss Selfridge, then it’s a few yards down the next street on your right.

Restaurants and Nightlife

Mr Wu - an excellent no-frills (and I mean no frills) restaurant in Chinatown on Wardour Street is a reliably busy and cheap option where you can expect to be eating plates of tasty Chinese food from a steaming buffet within thirty seconds of walking through the door. The mounds of typical Chinese food, such as sweet and sour chicken, chow mein, and crispy spring rolls never fail to satisfy a good appetite. Although the place is simple, its customer turnover is immense and the food is constantly coming out fresh from the kitchen which is all you can ask for. That and the fantastic price - £4.95 all you can eat.

Japanese chain Wagamama is a good sleek and modern mid-range lunch or dinner option, for those who enjoy various types of noodles in delicious sauces, sushi, or other tasty Japanese treats. This is a chain restaurant found in many areas, including SoHo and Bloomsbury.

TGI Friday’s at Leicester Square has a fantastic evening atmosphere, delicious food served til late and is within easy reach of Piccadilly circus and Leicester Square tube stations, This is an excellent choice for food and cocktails in a buzzing atmosphere, and also due to the location it is a great place to start if going out on the town!

Chiquitos, serving delicious Mexican food, is another great Leicester Square restaurant with a fantastic atmosphere. Located right on the square, you can’t miss it!


A fantastic and atmospheric restaurant serving authentic Greek dishes, named The Real Greek is located in a number of areas, the most useful possibly being in Covent Garden on Long Acre, and at Bankside on Southwark Bridge Road.


Marco Pierre White’s restaurant ‘Marco’ at Stamford Bridge just outside Chelsea Football Club is a contemporary and stylish establishment serving irresistible English and French inspired dishes. Free valet parking on non-game nights.

Jamie's Italian in White City/Shepherd's Bush (at the Westfield Shopping Centre) is a fantastic authentic Italian restaurant with Jamie's own spin on things. The cuisine is high quality and extremely tasty, and the options on offer include old favourites as well as slight more unusual and authentic options. There's a massive range of antipasti options, and quite a lot of seafood on offer, however there are no pizzas. 


In Soho the nightlife is buzzing (if not a bit weird), and if you stay away from the sleazy bars you will find some good places ranging from plush clubs to basic pubs and bars. Soho, Picadilly and Leicester Square are all close together and the choice is immense. The bigger clubs can be expensive to get into, but look out for offers and promotions on the night


Hotels and Accommodation in London

High End

The five star Andaz is one of the most beautiful contemporary hotels I myself have ever stayed in. Filled with tasteful modern art in its spacious halls, areas and rooms, this hotel is reminiscent of any generic modern art gallery. It has a very classy and upmarket appeal, whilst featuring unusual aspects such as having an open check-in area with friendly staff using laptops, as opposed to a traditional front desk. Rooms are just fabulous. Panelled in dark wood with sharp and tasteful spotlighting, the rooms are spotless and luxurious, and we can’t forget the free minibar! Address: 40 Liverpool Street, EC2M 7QN


Radisson Edwardian Grafton on Tottenham Court Road is a charming four star hotel, full of modern art and lots of luxurious character. Fantastically clean and comfortable rooms are tastefully adorned with gorgeous accessories to match the interior. Address: 130 Tottenham Court Road, W1T 5AY


Next door to Gucci, Millennium Hotel, Knightsbridge is a gorgeous contemporary four star hotel, great for exploring the upmarket Knightsbridge area, which of course includes Harrods! The hotel rooms are fresh, spotlessly clean and of course very comfortable. Address: 17 Sloane Street, Knightsbridge, SW1X 9NU


The five star Grange St Paul’s Hotel is in a great location for exploring the South bank, St Paul’s Cathedral and Covent Garden. This hotel is divine. A fabulously lit modern lobby, and contemporary bar greet you at the entrance and the clear glass lift takes you up to the rooms with a fantastic view of the hotel interior. The staff are very friendly and attentive. Rooms are spotless and contemporary. Address: 10 Godliman Street, EC4V 5AJ


Another excellent (and newer) Grange Hotel is the sleek and modern Grange Tower Bridge Hotel. Reception is crisp and modern with huge vases of fresh exotic flowers adorning the desk and foyer. Guests are free to use the Ajala spa, complete with steam room, sauna, large Jacuzzi, gym and pool. The facilities are immaculate and very stylish, with mood lighting, relaxing music and very friendly staff. There are beauty and wellness treatments available at extra costs. Rooms at the hotel are pristine and modern with lots of sleek lines and wood. The marble bathrooms and impressive showers with spot lighting add a wow factor, and as always in Grange hotels, the beds are sizeable with a high level of comfort. Address: 45 Prescot Street, City of London, Greater London, E1 8GP

Mid-Range

The executive Fraser Place Apartments at Canary Wharf are great for groups of up to 7 and are very reasonably priced. They are tastefully decorated; sizeable and very clean, often with fantastic views of the area. They apartments are within easy walking distance of many tube stations on the Docklands and also Canary Wharf tube station on the Jubilee line. There are also a good number classy bars and restaurants in the area without having to travel on the tube. Address: 80 Boardwalk Place, Canary Wharf, E14 SF

Budget

An excellent modern and clean hostel is St Pancras International Youth Hostel on Euston road. It is conveniently located a couple of minutes’ walk over the road from St Pancras International Station, with its connections to various Tube lines. The hostel is also around a five minute walk from Euston National Rail Station.


For further local information visit A Local's Guide to London on Gonomad.com






Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved

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