Roman walls and gleaming glass skyscrapers. Traditional teas and haute cuisine. Serene parks and frenetic nightclubs. London is a thrilling swirl of history and modernity — with a royal crown on top.
London’s also a notoriously expensive destination for tourists, but you can trim your travel budget by using a Visitor Oyster Card for travel, visiting in the spring and fall shoulder seasons and opting for affordable boutique hotels.1 Here are our best tips for where to stay, what to eat and what to do in London.
Let’s say you’ve already done the classic tourist circuit: the Tower of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. We have recommendations for a few more fun things to do in London.
Lose yourself in Harrods. With more than 1 million square feet of shopping space over seven floors, Harrods truly is the queen of department stores. A London institution since 1849, Harrods is famous for its Egyptian-themed interiors, elaborate shop windows, and enormous toy department. Lovers of luxury should visit the Cartier boutique in the jewelry department and the perfume department, home to some scents costing $5,000 and more.
Step back into the 1930s. Once owned by glamorous globetrotters Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, Eltham Palace “is part showpiece of Art Deco design and 1930s cutting-edge technology, and part medieval royal palace.” Admire the lavish furnishings, explore the 19 acres of gardens (including London’s oldest bridge) and try on some period clothing — you’ll feel like a character in a Hercule Poirot mystery.
In a city as infinitely varied as London, why stay in a boring hotel? The Rookery, near the Old Bailey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, blends 1700s coziness with modern conveniences. Each room is furnished with genuine antiques — Georgian four-posters, oil portraits and vintage bathroom fixtures — but also has Wi-Fi and a flatscreen TV.
Across from the British Museum stands The Montague on the Gardens, a boutique hotel that’s as posh as its name suggests, but also surprisingly affordable. The Montague’s known for its elegant afternoon tea, seasonal dining al fresco on the garden terrace, and the safari-themed Leopard Bar with live music. The Nadler Kensington is a wonderful contradiction: “an affordable luxury hotel” with a great location, small but stylish rooms (each with a mini kitchen) and low rates.
And for truly royal luxury, one of the very best boutique hotels in London is Hotel 41. This ultra-luxe hotel — on a single floor of the Rubens Hotel — prides itself on making guests feel exquisitely comfortable, most famously with its invitation to “plunder the pantry.” Help yourself to any treats you like, from sushi to canapes to tiny pies.2
Choosing just three places to eat in London out of thousands is almost impossible — but here are a few dining experiences you really should enjoy while you’re there. One is having a pint in a historic London pub. We’ll suggest The Nag’s Head near Harrods, which the Telegraph calls a “wonderful, poky little pub” where mobile phones are banned.3
Two is a really good (and really spicy) curry. London’s awash with excellent Bengali, Punjabi and Pakistani restaurants, but one standout is Gymkhana. Begin with a Quinine Sour cocktail and then taste modern takes on pork vindaloo and chicken butter masala.
Three is a classic British Sunday roast. You can’t go wrong with Sunday Roast for Two at the Harwood Arms pub, which will fill your plate with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, greens, cauliflower cheese and seasonal meats, such as Hereford beef, lamb or grouse.
When you’re planning your London getaway, don’t forget travel insurance! Travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance is your best friend when travel problems arise, from small (lost bags) to major (serious medical emergencies).