You may have noticed on TV, in print, and throughout public transportation that You’re Invited to visit Great Britain. London is hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics with an opening ceremony on July 27 to be directed by Danny Boyle, Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire. Boyle recently stated that the ceremony’s performance will entail hundreds of nurses and a 27-ton bell, and will be otherwise influenced by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. You can also count on children singing, but it’s doubtful they will also be drumming (nice one, Beijing).You might want to plan to watch the Olympic opening ceremony, as they say, “on tele,” as hotels are likely booked for August and September. Don’t fret, because H.M. Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee is scheduled to start on June 2; the activities of which will be announced in “due course.”
So where does that leave us? There’s more to London than jubilees, sports, and Pats & Eddy. After a 7 hour flight, here are nine must-do’s in one of the world’s most Absolutely Fabulous cities:
London’s Chinatown can’t hold a candle to similar districts in New York and San Francisco; but it will do for a speakeasy with fabulous drinks. Oh, you thought London = a pint at the pub? In that case, look for any establishment with gold letters, stereotypically antique fixtures, and a menu with fish and chips or steak and ale pie: Sherlock Holmes has a killer fried fish finger sandwich, and any local ale will hit the spot.
For a more metropolitan vibe, email the ECC (or charm the door person) to gain entry through an unmarked door on Gerrard Street. The dark brick walls and Victorian lighting contrast with chic cocktail waitresses running about with trays of eclectic cocktails. If you’re not willing to spend £150 on a dry martini made with Gordon’s dry gin bottled in the 1950s, you can’t go wrong with the savory and well-balanced Stockholm Syndrome: cumin and dill-infused vodka, aquavit, lemon juice and salt and pepper create a refreshing, Scandinavian tipple.
Yankees, rejoice: a New York City location is apparently open in the former Kush space on Chrystie St.Bermondsey on Friday, Portobello Road on Saturdays and Sundays, Covent Garden on Monday, and other food and vintage fashion markets are open weekdays every morning. However, the best mix of boutique jewelry and clothing, antiques, and food vendors is at Old Spitalfields Market in the east end.
One dealer was selling mid-century Spanish FASE lamps, another sells century-old jam jars and inkwells excavated from dumps around London. You’ll find the usual dealers of records, dishes, vintage clothes and jewelry, as well as plenty of designers giving Williamsburgers a run for their money.
If you get hungry, you can grab a curry, or tea and biscuits, or visit the vendor with baked goods piled high: lemon bars, danish, and nougat horns would make Willy Wonka blink twice. Hit the market on a Thursday morning, and then trek over to Brick Lane for an afternoon curry or browse clothes and records at the stores along the northern edge.
– The Haymarket has a lot going for it: it’s fairly cheap (rooms start at £265), there’s a pool and gym on the bottom floor, eye-catching Kit Kemp-decorated interiors including Brumus bar and restaurant, and let’s not forget location location location. The hotel is situated between Piccadilly and St. James Park. You’ll thank us later when you’re stumbling back from a night out on the town.
Take a break at the spartan Royal Oak pub for a snack plate of meats, cheeses, vegetables and a pint before planning your next move.
Indian food is an essential part of London’s culinary tradition. A night out in the East End isn’t complete without a curry to help soak up the ale. Mela on Shaftesbury is centrally located and worth a visit. The usual suspects are on the menu: papadum and naan, tandoori and curries; but they’re thoughtfully prepared with the most authentic spice combinations outside of India. Have an Indian beer with your meal, and you’re set for the next adventure.
6. Westminster walkEvery trip to a foreign country should entail seeing the national landmarks, and London’s no different. If you don’t end up booking tickets for the London Eye (and maybe you don’t like heights), at least start at Parliament Square and take in the gorgeous gothic architecture of the Houses of Parliament (including Big Ben) and Westminster Abbey. Walk west toward Buckingham Palace and don’t forget to take a pic in one of those iconic red phone booths along the way before they’re gone–thanks, Banksy.
If that’s not enough local culture, take a tour of the Tower of London–the crown jewels are breathtaking; and the suits of armor and bejeweled military weapons are great inspiration, especially if you’re interested in fashion and design.
7. Tate Modern
British enfant terrible Damien Hirst will be featured in April at the Tate–perhaps you’re familiar with his diamond-encrusted human skull, embalmed shark or colorful spot paintings? The Tate has a reputation for cutting edge art; fans of the yBa’s should especially plan to visit this world-renowned museum.
If you get to London before June, be sure to check out the Lucien Freud retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery. Buy your tickets in advance to see these gorgeous oil paintings of grotesque nudes, including the infamous Leigh Bowery.
8. Shop at Royal Warrant holder storesTreat yourself to the same goods as princess Kate or prince William by visiting stores along Jermyn street, just southwest of Piccadilly Circus. Whether you’re in the market for a formal town shell from Lock and Co. hatters or a proper shirt from Turnbull and Asser, princely attire is within your grasp. For a more financially sensible royal experience, shop for jubilee tea and stilton cheese at Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly–you’ll feel like Charlie Bucket in this high end grocer that makes Dean & Deluca look like a Stop & Shop. sous-vide technique, Blumenthal’s latest project continues his adventures in molecular gastronomy, with an emphasis on British culinary history. In fact, some of the dishes are inspired by recipes dating back to the 13th century. If you’re lucky enough to score a reservation, try the Meat Fruit: a wooden slab with a mandarin orange and a perfectly grilled slice of bread. Cutting into the orange reveals a pâté unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.
If you can’t score reservations, check out The Wolseley on Piccadilly: a classic venue for buck rarebit and other excellently-executed British fare.