Discover all the best things to do in the Big Smoke, including great restaurants, world-famous attractions and theatre shows
Wander the incredible museums
Around 150 years ago, the Victorians made it easy for culture-cravers in London. In South Kensington, they constructed three of the most admired museums in the world, right alongside each other on the aptly named Exhibition Road. The Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum provide an almost complete education for the weekend breaker – the former covering all natural phenomena, from dinosaurs to blue whales (no-one who has seen it can forget the tremendous leviathan suspended in the Hall of Mammals), the latter housing an incredible collection of craft, art and fashion.
Venture further afield for the work of quirkier curators – the Wellcome Collection specialises in medical phenomena, while Sir John Soane’s Museum in Bloomsbury is a testament to the power of hoarding, and features movable walls to accommodate its founder’s vast collection of paintings.
Indulge yourself in world-class restaurants
From cheap Lebanese cuisine on the Edgware Road to Michelin-starred dining in Soho – when it comes to London food, the world is your oyster. For top-notch French, book a table at Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly, where moules, bœuf bourguignon and crispy frites are served at very affordable prices. If steak alone will satisfy your appetite, head to Hawksmoor (there are several branches across London) for the best beef in town. Its sticky toffee pudding isn’t half bad either…
You don’t have to be a star to dine like one in Great Britain’s capital. The queues outside Whitechapel’s Tayyabs are testament to the strong draw of its sizzling piles of Punjabi spiced meats, while the likes of Tonkotsu in Hackney provide a new spin on Asian soups, in laid-back surroundings for under £10. North London, around Stoke Newington and Dalston, is your destination for Turkish food, with simple mangal grills serving up perfectly seared lamb and chicken in a no-frills setting.
Splash your cash at the shops
Everyone knows that London’s biggest retail names are to be found on Oxford Street – with stupendous department stores including Selfridges and John Lewis lined up cheek-by-jowl. But it’s on the back streets that you’ll find the kind of off-beat style that has made London’s name as the world’s cool kid of fashion.
Covent Garden’s Seven Dials combines well-known names with one-off boutiques. Find retro-inspired prints at fashion and homeware shop Orla Kiely, sweet-smelling toiletries at traditional barber shop Murdock, and some of the city’s best coffee at Monmouth – do be prepared to queue for your caffeine hit, though. Drop by Portobello Road in Notting Hill first thing on a Friday (never on a Saturday!) for vintage wears as well as cheap fruit and veg. Meanwhile, Islington is the perfect place to go for a relaxed Sunday shopping session – its main thoroughfare features British greats such as Jigsaw and Toast, while its back streets bustle with little jewellers, paint shops and cafés.
In Stratford and Shepherds Bush, Westfield London shopping centres await you, offering you a mammoth shopping experience. From designer stores to chic boutiques, high street favourites, and even the more quirky shops, Westfield is sure to impress the keen shopper. As if the variety of shops weren’t enough to keep you busy, there is also a wide variety of amazing restaurants, cafés and pop up food and drink vendors, an exciting indoor city experience for the kids (Westfield, Shepherds Bush) and a Vue cinema to catch all the latest Hollywood blockbusters.
Soak up some culture
A great fun thing to do on a short break in London is to take a boat between the more traditional Tate Britain on the north side of the Thames, west of the centre (home to David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash and Dante Rossetti’s Proserpine) and the newly expanded Tate Modern on the south bank, east of Westminster, with its unrivalled collection of conceptual and modern art. The Tate Boat service runs every 40 minutes and affords a photogenic view of the Houses of Parliament as you pass.
In the heart of town, the side-by-side National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are always exhibiting must-see shows, from Van Gogh retrospectives to global photography competition entries. If you’ve worked up an appetite from all that wandering, head upstairs in the latter to the Portrait Restaurant for afternoon tea, and nibble on delicious scones, cakes and sarnies while gazing out of the window – the restaurant offers views of Nelson’s Column, Big Ben and, on a clear day, The London Eye.
Settle in for a West End show
London’s theatre heartland is Covent Garden. Here, all the major shows from Matilda to Mamma Mia are found, with the world’s stars of stage and screen to be seen treading the boards. If you come with an open mind, you can go to see a show very cheaply, by first visiting the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. This is the official outlet for theatres to sell their unsold seats on the day of the performance, mostly at greatly reduced prices.
Before show-time, you should also take advantage of the early set menus on offer nearby – many of the West End’s best restaurants, including the celebrated Bocca di Lupo, serve a quick supper for under £20.
If you fancy eating at some of the world’s best restauraunts or catching a West End show, why not check out our hotels in London.