The Best Time of Year to Visit London Might Surprise You
Let's be honest—you aren't traveling to London for the weather, so why not visit in the winter, when plane fares are cheaper (after New Year's, that is) and the sites are all a little less crowded. Consider this your guide to what to eat, drink, and do in the English capital when it's less than pleasant outside.
WHERE TO STAY
Located a short walk from both the Victoria and Albert Museum and Harrods, the Draycott epitomizes old-school British luxury. Each of the Chelsea hotel's 35 rooms centers around an author or playwright who spent time in the neighborhood (think Agatha Christie, J.M. Barrie, and Lewis Carroll), and pairs Edwardian antiques and in-room fireplaces with modern amenities like free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, and heated towel racks. Ask the friendly 24-hour concierge to help you make the most of your wintertime stay in the city, or opt to simply spend an afternoon in the cozy sitting room. If the weather's amenable, relax in the charming private garden with a book from the property's extensive collection and a complimentary cup of hot cocoa.
Don't expect a porte-cochère at this Shoreditch spot. You could practically walk right past the front door of Batty Langley's, and have no idea you were even looking at a hotel. But what this trio of renovated Georgian town homes lacks in a grand entrance, it more than makes up for with character once you step inside. Guest rooms, which are named after local historical figures, feature early 20th-century-inspired decor, and antique details like carved four-poster beds and old school keys. As for the restrooms, "Georgians didn't have bathrooms, so we have created what we think they would have liked," say, hoteliers Peter McKay and Douglas Blain, a philosophy which translates to deep-soaking tubs, vintage showers, REN toiletries, and sound systems that play throughout the space. Venture down the block to Old Spitalfields Market, take a tour of the neighborhood's iconic street art, or head to dinner at the legendary
WHAT TO EAT
Tea at the Berkeley.
There's no better way to spend your first afternoon in London than by sipping tea and devouring tiny sandwiches, cakes, and cookies. The perfect antidote to jet-lag, copious amounts of caffeine, sugar, and carbs will ease you into Greenwich Mean Time while ensuring you don't waste a full day wandering through Harrods like a zombie. Book a table at The Berkeley Hotel's Prêt-à-
Without question, you'll have to wait for a table at Dishoom (they only take dinner reservations for parties larger than six), but it will be worth it. A self-proclaimed homage to the Irani cafes of Bombay, this Shoreditch establishment is not your typical curry joint. The retro decor is charming with vintage photographs and advertisements scattered throughout the large space, but where the restaurant really sets itself apart is with the food. Start with the far far, a small plate of salty cylindrical crackers, and the vegetable samosas, then convince your table-mates to dine family-style, sharing the chicken tikka (a family recipe, which uses sweet vinegar, as opposed to the traditional yogurt), the chicken ruby curry, and the spicy lamb chops, paired with a plate of garlic naan or grilled-to-order roti. Wash it all down with a Thums Up, Bombay's version of a Coca-Cola, or if you're looking for something with a bit more kick, order a batch of the Bombay Presidency Punch, a 1676 recipe of jaggery (an unrefined cane sugar), lime, Darjeeling tea, and Ceylon Arrack served in a vintage bowl.
Prince Harry in the market shortly after it reopened in June of 2017.
Upon reopening after this summer's terrorist attack, Borough Market had just two requests: "Firstly, a call that echoes through a thousand years of history: spend a little money with us if you can! And secondly, come here today; come here at the weekend; come here when you can; it’s your market. London is open. Borough Market is open."
Make your way to the sprawling food bazaar in the shadow of London Bridge to indulge in dishes ranging from handmade pasta to spicy chorizo rolls, freshly baked bread (like the kind from Bread Ahead, pictured above), juicy burgers, and indulgent sweets by the pound like Turkish delight.
Before you leave, do a little souvenir shopping and pick up a six-pack of local beers, a tin of spices, or some dried spaghetti to take back to the States.
Don't make plans after your reservation at this steak restaurant near St. Paul's Cathedral; you'll leave so pleasantly full that sleep—be it a nap or a full night's slumber—will prove imminent. While they offer a full selection seafood with dishes like lobster rolls, grilled monkfish, and house-cured salmon, steak, be it
One of the best ways to find your bearings in a new location is to see it from above, but rather than splurging on a £26 ticket to the Shard's observation deck, invest that money in cocktails at the Aqua Shard bar on the building's 31st floor. No, you're not at the tip-top of the fourth-tallest building in Europe, but saddle up to a window seat around sunset, and you'll still have an expansive view of the city below. Plus, there's no cover charge, meaning all you have pay for is your drink, and if you're peckish, a round of bar snacks like mixed olive or the cobnut and red wine salami.
THINGS TO DO
Go to a Premiere League Soccer Match.
The Chelsea FC crowd at the FA Cup Final in 2017.
Major League Soccer is starting to acquire a fan base in the States, but it'll be decades before the U.S. develops anything like football culture in the U.K. The season runs from August to May and while tickets are hard to come by for popular London clubs like Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, and West Ham United (here's a pretty good guide outlining your options), it's an experience you don't want to miss. Once at the stadium, pick up a scarf from the team store and grab a pint before you head to your seat—by the end of the match you'll be singing along with the local supporters.
Take a tour of the Royal Opera House.
At just £12 per person, the backstage tour of London's Royal Opera House is not only
Once you're finished with the behind-the-scenes experience, walk over to Covent Garden for window-shopping and lunch at Battersea Pie Station for a full afternoon that's easy on the wallet.
If this is your first trip to the English capital, sites like St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square are all itinerary essentials. But I'll make a case for visiting Westminster Abbey long after the shine of those other tourist attractions has worn off. Take the audio tour, then marvel at the grave of the unknown soldier, Poet's corner, and the stunning stained-glass war memorial. Before you head out, stop by the gift shop, which is second-to-none for souvenirs like coloring books of Duchess Kate, tins of English tea shaped like double-decker buses, chocolates themed around Henry VIII's wives, and (my personal favorite) ornaments celebrating the Queen's corgis. Really, what more could you ask for?
The British Museum.
A boon for budget travelers seeking to add a little culture to their London getaway, most of the big museums in the city
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.