From the stunning architecture of Buckingham Palace, shopping on Oxford St to hearing the bells chime from Big Ben, London has so much to offer. London is a very special place for me and for those who know me, it is also essentially my second home. I spend up to a month each year living in the city during the Summer (can’t do a London winter sorry) spending time with a great bunch of London friends, and embracing everything the city has to offer me.
London has an energy that’s similar to New York, where you feel that anything and everything is possible.
If it is your first time visiting, you must of course tick off the essentials – Big Ben, Tate Modern, Buckingham Palace etc etc. However, don’t limit yourself to just the major tourist attractions. Like any city, London has so many hidden gems that only locals or people who like to explore beyond the tour map would be aware of.
If you have ever wondered what it would be like to party in a tube station in the 1940’s (haven’t we all at some stage) then this is the place for you. Hidden in amongst Soho in Kingley Court, this themed bar is outrageous, odd and quirky in every aspect. From its 40’s themed cocktails (mostly named after A-listers of that era) to cucumber sandwiches served in metal tins.
The best part about this place is it is very very hidden, and once you find it, you feel like you have struck gold and you don’t want to tell your friends. When I say this is a themed bar, that includes the staff who all talk in 40’s cockney accents, and… playing up to them can work in your favour! If they like you, you are invited to join the club, which includes VIP access when booking a table in the future and “in the know” details of what’s coming up.
Age restriction is 21 and over, and dress code is smart casual, however, if you decide to dress like a 1940’s businessman you will get treated like a King.
My cocktail suggestion is the All Hot & Buttered, served in a tea cup in the shape of the Queens head.
13 Kingly Court, Carnaby, London W1B 5PG, UK
Combining modern street food and the ever popular pop-up stores, Box Park is located in the heart of the arts and music suburb of Shoreditch. Its called Box Park for the simple reason that its entirely made out of industrial shipping containers in what is the worlds first pop-up mall.
With the number of shopping centre’s and high street ever growing, Box Park was created to put the independent creators of fashion, arts and crafts the chance to have a slice of the action. Because its a pop up mall, the tenants are forever rotating. Meaning, something fresh and new almost every time you visit.
It’s a great place to have a walk around on a Sunday afternoon, in-between exploring everything else Shoreditch has to offer. My food recommendation is Voodoo Rays, a NYC-style pizza joint with slices from just £4 a slice (which for London, is a bargain).
2-10 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6GY, UK
THE SHARD INFINITY POOL
Ok, so this one comes with just 1 small hurdle. Unless you have some connections, access to this pool will cost you about £400+ YIKES!! (and that’s if you get a good deal on lastminute.com). The Shard is a 95-storey skyscraper in Southwark; that amongst the stunning viewing level and sky garden, is the home of the Shangri-la Hotel.
Within the Shangri-la, guests have access to the infinity pool, located on the 52nd floor, with views overlooking the likes of St Pauls Cathedral and Tower Bridge. It is one of the only pools of its kind in London that far up, so having the opportunity to relax and take in views of such magnitude is truly something pretty special. Not to mention sipping on a cocktail or three at the same time doesn’t hurt either.
The sort of better news is, if you are visiting The Gong Bar that is part of The Shard (and connected to the pool), you do have access to these views for a more reasonable £30, however, unfortunately this doesn’t give you access to the pool itself. If you don’t mind splashing out, The Shard is still worth a visit, with many different options available to get that perfect view from the Sky Garden, High Tea Room or the viewing deck itself.
Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London, The Shard, Shangri-La Hotel, 31 St Thomas St, London SE1 9QU, UK
PRIMROSE HILL PARK
Unlike The Shard, this view is priceless and if you are in London during the summer, it’s the perfect spot to people watch, have a cider and watch the sunset. With a city so congested at times with traffic, road works and buildings, escaping to one of the many parks London has to offer makes you feel like you are completely out of the city.
Primrose Hill is special because if you walk to the top, you get an incredible viewpoint of the London skyline. The hill is 63 meters above sea-level and the trees are maintained to a level that doesn’t obscure the view.
Walking distance also to Camden and Notting Hill. Not a bad result.
IRONMONGER ROW BATHS
While some wouldn’t class this as a “must do” tourist attraction, it is a hidden gem, and if you like to keep fit and active during your holiday, this is not only a great fitness centre, but also has some interesting history behind it.
Built in 1931 and located in the heart of Islington (Angel & Shoreditch both walking distance) just off Old Street, it was originally a public wash house and later upgraded to a Turkish bath.
It has a 30.5m lap pool, spa & sauna facilities aswell as a laundry if you want to get your washing done while you take a swim.
What really stand’s out for me is the state of the art gym facilities, with a cardio room, weights room and the newly built functional training zone. There is so much history in this building that makes working out that little bit more exciting.
In terms of membership, I recommend Pay As U Gym, a website that allows you to buy single or bulk passes for a variety of gyms throughout the UK.
1 Norman St, London EC1V 3AA, UK
SOHO GRIND COFFEE
Any Coffee snob out there will tell you, finding a good cup in London (or the UK in general) is bloody hard to find. I found this gem a few years ago and it is always one of my first stops whenever I go back.
The great news is over the years the “Grind” chain has expanded and their is now a group of them scattered throughout the city.
Soho Grind is my favourite, but I also recommend the Shoreditch branch, which you could even visit before you head to Box Park 😉
I take great comfort in knowing a couple of Australians from Melbourne started this coffee chain, with anyone having been to Melbourne will know we take our coffee very seriously.
Avoid Starbucks, Pret or Costa’s and find a Grind chain. You will never look back.
19 Beak St, Carnaby, London W1F 9RP, UK
or Shoreditch Grind
213 Old St, London EC1V 9NR, UK