On May 31, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Over recent decades, London’s central neighborhoods have lost many of their differences. Soho is no longer a den of iniquity (at least, not usually); Bloomsbury is no longer the meeting place of London’s greatest intellects. One exception is Mayfair: among the haute couture boutiques and luxe hotels, you can still find streets like Shepherd Market, which has a cobbler and a florist and traditional London pubs.
To enjoy a “real neighborhood” you now have to head a little out of town. Hampstead, in north London, still has a real village feel. Walking on its vast Heath—from where you can enjoy some of the best London panoramas—it’s hard to imagine you are in a city at all. Both Romantic poet John Keats and father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud were Hampstead residents, and both former homes are preserved for visitors.
Chelsea is another area with a long literary and artistic heritage. It is now extremely upscale, but hasn’t entirely lost the spirit of the Pre-Raphaelites (who met here) and Thomas Carlyle (whose former home is open to the public). London Walks, one of London’s best walks providers, runs a weekly Chelsea walk.
On April 30, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:If you like street food and craft beer, you've picked the right weekend to visit London—and east London, specifically.
On Friday evenings, Street Feast sees food vendors take over a former builders' yard from 5pm til midnight. The market's weekend's menus are posted ahead of time, and this week include Pop-up Barbados, the Wild Game Co. (for deer, deer and more deer), and Sweet Tooth Factory to round it all off with a sugar hit. Don't worry if you're not due in town for a week or two: this mobile feast runs every Friday through the end of June 2013. If you want to do Street Feast in style, reserve a table for cocktails in the Gin Store Window Room.
It's "one weekend only" for London's Brewing. Over four ticketed sessions, on Saturday and Sunday, you can enjoy a host of beers from 30 of London's best brewers (big, micro, nano and everything in-between). Enjoy The Kernel's famous IPAs and porter, as well as brews from exciting niche labels like Crate and Five Points. You can buy tickets via PayPal and store them safely on your Eventbrite app. Cheers!
On April 23, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:The only person I could ever imagine answering "yes" to this question would be the owner of a chain of car rental businesses. It would be madness to rent a car—or "hire a car," as we say over here—in London. The streets are narrow, and follow no real pattern save for the historical whimsy of various medieval landowners; the jams are legendary, especially between 7 and 9am and again between 4 and 7pm; there's a daily levy for private road users known as the Congestion Charge; the one-way system is mind-boggling—miss one turn and you could be 10 minutes finding your way back. I could go on... but I imagine you get the idea.
London's public transportation network is pretty good, and very comprehensive. Use the TfL website for general advice, and the journey planner for plotting a specific route. Also download a couple of good London transport apps to help you navigate the city's various networks.
If you intend to combine a trip to London with visiting the English countryside, then do the London segment at the start or the end. Collect your car from the airport and drop it off there. Main hubs Heathrow and Gatwick have countless auto rental options. You should use a metasearch engine such as CarRentals.co.uk or CompareCarHire.co.uk to select the provider best suited to your needs and budget.
On April 23, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:London has had two centres of bookselling and publishing operations within living memory. The buildings around St. Paul's Cathedral were stacked floor-to-ceiling with books and manuscripts... until they were destroyed in World War II, notably on the night of the Second Great Fire of London in December 1940. Bookselling HQ relocated to Charing Cross Road after the war, and you can still see signs of old-school dealers along the stretches just north and just south of Cambridge Circus. It's here (at no. 113) you'll find Foyles, which probably has central London's best range of books across both fiction and nonfiction. If they don't have it, they can probably get it for you—and quickly.
Another favourite mini-chain is Daunt Books, which has branches in some of London's most genteel neighborhoods, including Marylebone and opposite the Heath (and around the corner from poet Keats' former home) in Hampstead. The two-storey oak gallery in the Marylebone branch is like shopping on an Edwardian film set. Daunt's booksellers are genuinely knowledgeable. I especially like the way they arrange their travel section, shelved by country with fiction, nonfiction and guides thrown in together.
For anything travel or map related, Stanfords has London's widest range.
On March 28, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Chances are you are considering a night out in Theatreland, at one of the shows running in the theaters around Covent Garden. But the food offering at most theatres is limited, and you don’t want to sit in the auditorium for three hours feeling hungry.
L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon has the West End’s best fine-dining pre-theater deal. It is a Michelin-rated two star venue close to Cambridge Circus. The inside is arranged around an open kitchen and counter, Japanese-style. The food is French in heritage, but modern and precise in its presentation and concentration of flavour. At £28 for two courses, £33 for three it offers outstanding value for the quality of the cuisine.
Nearby Dishoom is a designer take on the Irani cafes of colonial-era Mumbai. You can’t book a table, but there is a cocktail bar downstairs where you can have a drink and bar snacks while you wait. Staff is very efficient at seating you. The menu offers classic Indian grills, but you will usually find the real gems on the specials board.
For something more traditional, J. Sheekey plays to its strengths: fish and shellfish, including halibut, sole, a fruits de mer platter, and daily-changing market specials. Or just drop into the Oyster Bar for a platter and something sparkling to wash it down. The place is a Theatreland institution.
On March 28, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Art is a matter of taste, of course, and picking the “best” among London’s many museums and galleries is a little arbitrary. The permanent collection I return to again and again is at Tate Britain. The “original” Tate Gallery (Tate Modern only opened in 2000) occupies a riverfront neoclassical building in Pimlico. The Tate has the world’s best collection of paintings by J. M. W. Turner, the Englishman whose washed-out, increasingly impressionistic works influenced both Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro when they visited London. The gallery also has the country’s best Pre-Raphaelite collection, including John Everett Millais’ Ophelia—the hyperreal detail and coloring of Millais’ painting still strikes me every time I see it. This summer, the gallery hosts a major retrospective of painter of the Industrial Revolution, L. S. Lowry.
It’s all on a much smaller-scale at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art. Highlights of the collection include Futurist works by Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini, and panels by Modigliani and De Chirico. The setting, inside a Georgian residence in Islington, only heightens the feeling that you’re roaming around a wealthy philanthropist’s private collection. Which you are, sort of.
If you prefer to hang around art’s bleeding edge, time your visit to coincide with the month’s First Thursday, during which the cutting-edge galleries and spaces of East London are open til late and host events, talks and open views.
On March 28, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:What you really need, before you throw yourself into a city, are a few conversation starters. You'll get more out of a visit if you can tap into some local knowledge. But where to begin in London?
Here are a few ideas for your next trip:
Londoners love to complain about the weather. It's either too hot or too cold; too wet or mid-drought; too windy or too still. You'll find most Londoners react with a degree of exasperation, and perhaps a look to the heavens. But you can cheer them up with a bit of weather trivia: it actually rains more each year in Milan or Sydney than it does in London, according to data gathered by weatherbase.com.
First up, there is no "London team". Don't fall into that newbie trap. In fact, there's nothing likely to provoke a fan's ire more than a stranger expressing admiration for the neighbours. Arsenal versus Tottenham is the major North London event (the "derby", with the "e" pronounced like an "a", unlike in Kentucky). Tottenham fans are not much loved in West Ham. Fans of West Ham share with those of Fulham a distinct lack of love for Chelsea. QPR fans likewise. In fact, apart from Chelsea fans, nobody likes Chelsea. Of course, there's a bit of leeway for visitors to make the odd faux pas…
It could be "leaves on the line". It might be "the wrong kind of snow". Londoners have heard a fair crop of excuses for why the train hasn't turned up. In fact, the Underground's unreliability is a bit of a myth. But one thing's for sure: if you're running a little late, nobody will raise an eyebrow if you blame "delays on the Central Line". And remember, if you have the right London travel apps, you needn't be delayed at all.
On March 22, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Winchester is my favorite day-trip from the city. This historic riverside market town is just one hour by train from London Waterloo Station.
It was the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex—it was from here that King Alfred The Great ruled southern England, between 871 and 899. Relics from King Alfred's time are scarce, but the city's huge Cathedral is a Norman and Gothic construction that dates from the 11th century. Novelist Jane Austen died nearby (in College Street) and is remembered by a plaque in one of the aisles. In the run-up to the festive season, a bustling Christmas market is held right in the cathedral close.
From the centre, it's a pleasant walk across the water meadows of the River Itchen to the Hospital of St. Cross. Medieval almshouses range around a Norman church—check out the ancient graffiti scratched into its choir stalls.
Winchester has also become a foodie destination, and you should reserve ahead of time if you want to enjoy the Michelin-starred, mod-British food at the Black Rat.
For more on the city, bookmark the excellent Visit Winchester website and follow the town's tweeting statue, @King_Alf, on Twitter.
On March 18, 2013Donald Strachan answered the question:Of course, you can't see London in a day; it's way too big. But the key to seeing as much of it as possible is simple: stay above ground. Every yard traveled on the Underground (or "Tube") is a yard spent admiring the inside of a dark tunnel. You could be almost anywhere in the world.
So, try and get to know the city's bus network. It's more complicated than the Tube, certainly, but a couple of routes ply between the most famous city sights. The 9 passes Green Park, Hyde Park, and Knightsbridge, on the way from the centre to Kensington. The 15 connects Tower Hill (for the Tower of London) with the shops of Regent Street, passing St. Paul's Cathedral and Trafalgar Square en route. The 24 connects Victoria Station with Camden Town's market, and passes Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, and Horse Guards Parade on the way. Sit on the top deck for a great view on any of those routes. You'll feel like you are getting your own private tour for the price of an Oyster bus fare.
If you want to see the same sights, but in a little more style, book a private tour with Small Car, Big City. A driver in a Mini Copper kitted out in retro Italian Job style will whisk you around the sights of royal London or along the banks of the River Thames. In fact, you can book a tour for as much or as little time as you like—even for a half-hour if you are pressed. Up to three passengers can fit into one Mini.