If you’re the type to pop over the pond for a quick visit to Old Blighty, might we suggest something a little more curated? Leave the tourist traps behind and dive into this whirlwind itinerary of London’s curiosities.
A stylish and reasonably priced sub-brand of the W Hotel group, Aloft London has – wait for it – loft-style rooms and overlooks Royal Victoria Dock. Or stay closer to the center of town at the Zetter Hotel in achingly cool Clerkenwell. Discover more hotels in London.
Getting your feet wet
If you are staying in East London, take the Docklands Light Railway over to Rotherhithe, and sink a pint on the river terrace of the Mayflower pub – the oldest pub on the Thames.
From there it’s a short walk to Hawker House, an indoor food market where you can gorge on cheap eats, from pork belly buns to giant prawns.
If the weather’s good, end the evening with a nightcap at the Midnight Apothecary garden bar.
10:00 AM Going for gold
After breakfast take a walk up Bow Creek and the River Lea to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home to the London 2012 Olympics, for a swim at the Zaha Hadid-designed Aquatic Centre. Then take the 388 bus from Stratford to Shoreditch High Street and drop in at the Pure Evil Gallery, owned and run by Charles Uzzell-Edwards, the second-most successful British street artist after Banksy.
1:00 PM Bagel break
You have a choice of lunch venues on Brick Lane. Either drop in at the 24-hour Brick Lane Beigel Bake, a London institution. Or keep walking to the Cereal Killer Café, where London hipsters pay $5.50 for a large bowl of cereal cocktails with names like "chocopottomus" (cocopops, krave, kinder happy hippo and chocolate milk) or "don't have cinnamon" (curiously cinnamon, cinnamon toast crunch, applejacks, honey and semi skimmed milk). In the mood for curry? Brick Lane is the center of London’s Bangladeshi community and is packed full of curry houses that entice diners with free beers and papadum.
2:00 PM High life
Walk over London Bridge to Borough Market, a foodie paradise of artisan market stalls. When you’ve had your fill, head up to the top of Western Europe’s tallest building and enjoy an unparalleled view 800 feet above London from the Shard’s viewing platform.
3:30 PM Afternoon aperitif
After a stroll around the vintage clothing, homeware and record stalls at Old Spitalfields Market take the speedy glass elevator up to the 38th floor of the Heron Tower for a punchy midafternoon cocktail with a view at the bar of Sushisamba, a restaurant where reservations aren’t required, but there is a dress code.
7:30 PM Culture vulture
The National Theatre, Old Vic and Shakespeare’s Globe are within easy reach – but so too are Southwark Playhouse and the Menier Chocolate Factory, both kooky theatres with buzzy bars in former industrial premises that punch above their weight in terms of star casting and innovative drama.
10:00 PM Vintage nightcap
Drop in for a drink at LASSCO Ropewalk to finish off the day – a bar in an antique shop on Maltby Street near London Bridge station that’s peppered with antique doorknobs, vintage maps and other unusual items (all of which you can take home, for a price).
11:00 PM Breakfast of kings
Start the day with breakfast in one of the upmarket restaurants around King’s Cross, including hearty Australian food at pared-back Granger and Co. and German Gymnasium, a restaurant converted from London’s first Victorian gym.
Then head for a pint at the Queen’s Head, a deliciously old-school Victorian boozer.
1:00 PM Grills gone wild
If you want a bit more of a lie-in, do a later brunch at restaurant-of-the-moment, Berber & Q, a grill house in Haggerston. Opt for the Israeli breakfast (think warm pita bread, avocado, boiled egg, feta, olives and dips). Your stomach will thank you.
As an alternative, pop next door to Draughts, London’s first board game café, and play Scrabble under the railway arches.
3:00 PM Child’s play
Head back west through up-and-coming Bethnal Green and pop into the V&A Museum of Childhood – it’s calmer and more manageable than its South Kensington big sisters.
5:00 PM Caffeine high
If you’re flying back from Heathrow or Gatwick, grab a preflight caffeine fix at Holborn Grind, a Central London offshoot of the cool East London hotel opened by Sinclair Beecham, co-founder of Pret a Manger. The coffee-cum-cocktail bar also does a mean espresso martini if you fancy one for the road.
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