It’s no secret that I love to travel and explore the world. But one thing I have always maintained is that my home city of London is up there with the best of them.
While some would rhapsodise about the New York vibe (and sure it deserves it) and the romance of Paris (not so sure anymore) for me, London was always top of my list.
London is “Capital of Capitals”
And so I was delighted when finally, London was crowned the “capital of capitals” at this year’s World Travel Market. It was a momentous moment of acknowledgement by the Resonance Consultancy putting the ancient Roman town of Londinium ahead of Singapore, New York and Paris.
The research was based on six parameters: perceived quality of a city, arts and culture and entertainment, prosperity, infrastructure, diversity and the surprisingly modern benchmark of online articles and recommendations. Clever.
In 2015 a record 31.5 million visitors streamed into London and 2016 is looking even better. The report notes that arriving in London is easier than anywhere else thanks to world-leading airport connectivity – there are five modern airports and the busiest, Heathrow, is about to be expanded.
And though Europeans may consider Britain to be the bad boy in the class in the aftermath of Brexit, it’s unlikely that this will result in a dent in tourist numbers to London especially while currency fluctuations favour holiday-makers.
Amazing London highlights
London for me at least, is awesome, literally. Whenever I walk past the Houses of Parliament in Westminster (and the iconic Big Ben especially when it chimes) I have to stop and stare for a moment, no matter the rush I may be in.
Who can ignore Trafalgar Square? With its lions, statues, especially the imposing Nelsons Column and superb fountains, tourists are drawn to meet and loiter here. I particularly love the Fourth Plinth. It was originally built in 1814 to hold a statue of William IV. Empty coffers meant that never happened. Now 150 years later it displays a new artwork every year by world class artists. This year (2016) it has David Shrigley’s giant hand in a (elongated) thumbs-up gesture.
Royal history abounds from the Tower of London, home of the crown jewels as well as some unpalatable history, which sits majestically on the North Bank of the Thames, while Buckingham Palace with its quirky army of Beefeaters is especially entertaining during the changing of the guards.
A walk on South Bank along the Thames is particularly joyful. The London Eye is its most famous landmark, but there’s also a sensational Sea Life Aquarium, National Theatre, Old Vic and its Southbank centre simply oozes art and culture especially its Festival Hall.
There’s also the sizzling party (and at times seedy) vibe of Leicester Square at night. Get there when there’s a film premier and pick up some celebrity signatures – they love to mingle with fans at this time – a London tradition.
Food and Restaurants
So many restaurants too. I always enjoy the Not Afternoon Tea of cocktails and cakes at the Brasserie on the 8th floor of the OXO Tower. It is especially delightful taken on a lazy, heady sunny afternoon while enjoying stunning views over the city. A lunchtime favourite is Cafe in the Crypt underneath St Martin-in-the-Fields church just off Trafalgar Square. They offer a reasonably-priced buffet menu of wholesome food which is eaten within beautiful 18th century brick-vaulted ceilings.
There are 65 Michelin starred restaurants with at least two with three stars: Gordon Ramsey in Chelsea and Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester hotel in Mayfair. My favourite haunt is Hakkasan a one Michelin-starred restaurant in Fitzrovia W1, where the dark wood and the dim lighting create a romantic and relaxing atmosphere to enjoy sumptuous Cantonese dishes.
In the last decade or so Shoreditch has grown from grungy to trendy. But I always loved the area and have fond memories of making my way to Brick Lane after a clubby night out to the Beigel shop in the wee hours for a warm salt beef or smoked salmon beigel. It’s still there and boozy party-goers still end up there for an end of evening munch.
London has some spectacular food markets too, such as Borough Market where proud producers sell their pies, vegetables and bread. There’s one in red-lanterned China Town too – it’s where I buy dumplings to cook at home.
Camden Market and Brick Lane Market are superb for unusual trinkets, vintage, and fashion as eclectic as their punters. Covent Garden is very much a hot spot for its elegant shops and stalls and plenty of restaurants – one of my favourites is Porters, an English restaurant serving traditional English pies.
I am so proud too of London’s influential intellectual life that has been gifted to us such as the British Museum voted “UK’s top museum”, the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery and V&A which are all amazingly still free to visit. And offer the opportunity to experience their museum by night with a glass of wine in your hand. There’s also ballet, opera and countless theatres and music venues that rival if not surpass those of New York.
Shopping is sensational. There’s Harrods of course and plenty of designer shops that spill out over Knightsbridge. Liberty’s in Regent Street where the road is lined with Beaux Arts style grandious architecture, Fortnum and Mason food store on Piccadilly and Selfridges and the contrasting bargain basement Primark in Oxford Street are the landmarks that define the retail experience.
Perhaps the most wonderful quality of this city is its tolerance. Two hundred nationalities and three hundred languages are spoken. Such diversity is found in the shops, in the community and in all modes of culture. And even though the culinary diversity is truly global, London has not forgotten its roots and you can still down a pint in a traditional British pub and enjoy a pub lunch.
And though Uber taxis has made an impact, visitors can still hail a London black cab, or ride in a red London bus, and easily navigate the city with a highly intricate (if sometimes crowded) underground tube network.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I love London so, but then again, perhaps it’s because London is just so lovable. What do you think?