Escapist Guide to London

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The most populous city in Europe and constantly in the running with New York for capital of the world, London is a city full of it all.  While the city doesn’t have the 24 hour appeal of its American competitor city, it has a lot to offer for experiences, food and drink. Musicians, actors and artists flock to have their works hosted in galleries and concert venues while the finance wiz’s of Canary Wharf push industry forward.  There’s always something happening in London.

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Table of Contents

Where to Eat

A Bao Burger from Belly N Bao

A Bao Burger from Belly N Bao

I feel like the mistake most people make when visiting London is trying to stick with only British food.  Yes, London has fought hard in recent years to rid itself of the stereotype of British food as bland and without taste, but London is a megacity whose food offering is actually a function of the cultures that are currently thriving within it.  The city is now home to numerous Michelin stars and renowned food markets and street food vendors.

From the tourist haven of central London to the trendy areas in East London, the city offers a cosmopolitan selection of food that is difficult to beat. The restaurants here are all great options for an evening out in London.

  • Bodega Negra – Mexican food in the heart of London! Found in London’s infamous Soho district, you wouldn’t know this was a restaurant if you were just walking past.  The exterior boasts only neon signs advertising a peep show and adult shopping, but brave the entrance and you enter into an intimate Mexican restaurant with a staples like Elotes, Tacos, and Guac as well as a great cocktail selection.
  • Tokyo Diner – Set in London’s Chinatown (yes Japanese in Chinatown, but this Japanese restaurant is legit) this restaurant offers some of the best bento and sushi in the city at affordable prices.  Its website is half incomprehensible to those who don’t speak Japanese, because it’s actively used as a recruiting tool to attract chefs from Japan!
  • Dishoom – It seems like Indian food is almost as British as Fish and Chips.  But when you want something beyond just random curry houses scattered across the city, Dishoom is your spot.  With locations in Kings Cross, Covent Garden and Shoreditch, Dishoom is based off of Bombay cafes and offers some of the best Indian food I’ve had at moderate prices. The Black House Daal is unbelievably addictive.
  • Duck & Waffle – I had to put at least one spendy restaurant on here, and Duck & Waffle has earned it. Offering amazing views from high up on the 40th floor within the Gherkin building, Duck & Waffle is a 24 hour modern British/European restaurant with set meals. Book in advance to dine in.

Where to Drink

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Another common misconception about London is that the beer is served warm or room temperature.  Now, this is only partly true.  If you get a cask ale, notable for their giant taps that are actually pulled versus their lager counterparts which are tapped from pressurized kegs, then you may end up with a warmer drink.  But London is making large strides with craft breweries and great drink options.

  • Brewdog Camden – This is actually a fast-growing chain, but it deserves all the success it gets. The Camden location is their first ever and provides a haven for craft beer enthusiasts.  If Citra, Cascade and Chinook are in your vocabulary, you’ll find a second home in Brewdog.  They also offer great bar food.
  • Somer’s Town Coffee House – Hidden off on a side road in between busy stations Euston and St Pancras Intl, this gastropub serves both food and drink, but it has an emphasis on the drink.  Offering a good selection of ales and lagers on the main floor as well, they also feature a cocktail bar in the basement.
  • Shoreditch Grind – Espresso bar by day, cocktail bar by night, Shoreditch Grind has the best of both.  Amazing coffee from their custom grind and perfected Espresso Martinis make this a great spot to start the night.
  • Gordon’s Wine Bar – London’s oldest wine bar is located just north of the river by Embankment.  Gordon’s Wine Bar offers the best cheese and wine plates you can imagine.  First, you choose your own cheeses like you’re at a Chipotle choosing burrito toppings, then take as many of the chees plate palate mixers as you desire, along with a giant baguette.  Then you choose your wine.  There are plenty of options to choose from and you can walk away with a bottle of wine and three massive cheese selections and baguette for around £30!

What to Do

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Just like the eating and drinking sections preceding this, it’s impossible to distill the best of what to do in London in a few key points.  But with all of this taken into consideration, we’ll aim for a solid mix of tourist musts with some unique experiences as well.

  • Take Afternoon Tea – Afternoon Tea is a typically British experience, very touristy, but something that must be done.  It’s a two hour affair that involves savory finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, then a dessert tray.  All while you can sample dozens of different types of teas and possibly champagne if you book the right package.  I recommend Conrad London for their free flowing champagne tea (read a review here)
  • Walk the Bermondsey Beer Mile – A short distance from the famous Borough Market, the Bermondsey Beer Mile is a walk that takes you through six craft breweries based in London. It is self-guided but walking tours are available. Plan your own route though to save money and just make sure you include. Use this guide to plan your day.
  • Visit a Pop Up – With rotating themes and housed in semi-permanent structures, pop ups seem to be the trendy thing these days.  Night Tales in Shoreditch is a great one to experience the best of London’s “experimental bar culture”.  Be sure to research their social media accounts/websites to stay up to date on what’s happening when you’re in town.

Museums & Art

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If there’s one thing London has no shortage of it’s art galleries and museums.  The city is a cultural hub and it shows with the vast array of galleries and exhibits on display at any given time.

  • British Museum – Free Entry.  As a fan of languages, the British Museum is a favorite of mine since it houses the actual Rosetta Stone!  There are numerous other pieces of history housed within this spanning thousands of years.
  • Saatchi Gallery – Free Entry.  The home of London’s contemporary art scene and a Launchpad for emerging artists.  Sometimes controversial, always intriguing, the Saatchi gallery has a rotating schedule.  Check to see what’s on.
  • National Gallery – Free Entry.  If you are a fan of paintings then this is your museum.  There are numerous works from Turner, Da Vinci and many others within the walls of the National Gallery.
  • Tate Modern – Free Entry. London’s home of modern art has many of the greats on display, from Dali to Pollack to Monet. Well worth a visit to just walk through the halls and admire these.

Neighborhoods

Greater London is comprised of 32 neighborhoods (boroughs) each with their own unique characteristics.  We’ll cover some of the more visited ones in hopes of giving you an overview of what to expect in each one.

The City

If London had a “downtown” this would be it.  A relatively small borough with a lot of tall buildings and smack in the middle of the city.  Major sites include:

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • Bank of England
  • Barbican
  • The Gherkin

Westminster

Westminster is a diverse and centrally located borough which is home to parliament and many other tourist sites and attractions.  Major sites include:

  • Big Ben
  • Tate Britain
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Sub Districts
    • Soho / Chinatown
    • Covent Garden
    • West End
    • Mayfair

Camden

Made famous by the numerous artists and musicians who have started their careers playing the beer soaked halls, Camden is a vibrant neighborhood with a lot to offer.  Sites include:

  • Camden Market
  • Camden High Street
  • Primrose Hill
  • Belsize Park

Shoreditch/East London

One of the trendier areas of the city, Shoreditch is a haven for young urban professionals with a few quid extra to splash out on a single-origin chemex brewed coffee.  Further to the north you can find Hackney and Dalston which are arguably “cooler” as they aren’t as devleoped of areas and some reasonable housing can still be found.  Sites include:

  • Box Park
  • Brick Lane Market
  • Graffiti Tours

 

 

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