Power Trip: London
22 sights and scenes that won't make you feel like a tourist
This is Power Trip, a recurring series on hard-to-find but always sophisticated experiences in our favorite cities around the globe.
There is no better time to visit London than immediately after a Royal Wedding. Mostly because all of the Americans who were there for the Royal Wedding have decamped by now, which means the locals will actually treat you with some dignity and respect.
And speaking of the Royals: please don’t waste your time trying to catch a glimpse of the Queen behind ranks of red-cloaked and funny-hatted armed guards. Everything about Buckingham — and its greater borough, Westminster — is humorless and hegemonic and better left to its own devices.
Instead, branch out and spend your time away from the tourist traps. London, like New York, offers a kaleidoscope of eating, drinking and cultural experiences, and the best ones lie off the path beaten out by the guidebooks.
Below, the 22 sights and scenes we recommend visiting while you’re there. There will be soccer (er, football), there will be rock ‘n’ roll, and there will be at least one centuries-old inn in the countryside.
Images via The Curtain
HOTEL: The Curtain Shoreditch
You’ve heard of Soho House, that London-born social club and boarding house for people who pretend to have jobs while sipping cocktails over lunch each day? The Curtain is like that, except less pretentious, more approachable, slightly edgier and just as stylish. It’s located in trendy Shoreditch (think Williamsburg or Silverlake), and locals can enroll as members to use the facilities, while out-of-towners will find it a worthy home base for the duration of their stay. Amenities include a rooftop pool and breakfast boîte, gym, ballroom, co-working space and photography from legendary music photographer Mick Rock (this iconic shot of Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger adorned my wall).
All the rooms feel like suites, and are appointed as such: Marshall speakers, steam showers, king-size beds and a stocked martini bar. Should you be looking for an upgrade, the Shoreditch Suites will get you a clawfoot tub, parlor room and floor-to-ceiling windows; the singular Curtain Suite, meanwhile, comes with two bedrooms and the use of a Porsche Boxter. Remember to drive on the left.
Townhouse: The Arch London is a tech-savvy boutique in a central location set across nine adjacent row houses.
Hollywood: The Chiltern Firehouse is a super-boutique (read: 26 rooms) with quirky furnishings and a restaurant that makes for good celebrity spotting.
Clos Maggiore London (3 images)
Images via Clos Maggiore
EATING: Clos Maggiore
Voted Architectural Digest’s “most romantic restaurant in the world” in 2016, Clos Maggiore is basically what would happen if you stuck a renowned French chef (Marcellin Marc) in the garden out back of Miss Havisham’s place in Great Expectations. If you can get a table (big if), make sure it’s in the atrium-style conservatory, which features a retractible glass ceiling and roaring fireplace. And on your plate? Provençal-style dishes like stuffed chicken leg, slow-cooked short rib, lamb shoulder and roasted whole fish.
Brunch: Red Rooster, on the ground floor of the Curtain, does a Sunday Brunch with a raucous gospel choir. God fearer or not, go.
Excessive amounts of cheese: The Cheese Bar of Camden Market serves fondue, poutine, grilled cheeses and more.
4 AM: Brick Lane is a 450-year-old street in Shoreditch that is now home to tons of bars, discos and — most importantly — late-night curry houses.
Sunday roast: The Smokehouse Islington does wildly appetizing renditions of pub-fare standbys, but visit on Sunday to enjoy the quintessential English meal.
Image via the Connaught Hotel London
DRINKING: The Connaught Bar
Appropriately posh and self-serious, Connaught is the pinkies-out cocktail bar that will satisfy your need to feel like you’ve arrived in English society. Dress in your Sunday best (the bartenders will still outdress you, be forewarned), order up one of their house tipples (incanting “shaken, not stirred” will be met with an eyeroll) and take your time — drinks are about $25 a piece. Nota bene: they also offer cocktail masterclasses for aspiring mixologists.
Teatime: If you must, Sketch London is an aggressively pink, offbeat option that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Pub, traditional: The Churchill Arms offers local brews and ciders and footy on the telly.
Martinis: Some say Dukes Bar in Mayfair makes the world’s best.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
DIVERSION: Fulham FC at Craven Cottage
If you visit London between the months of August and May, taking in a Premier League match is compulsory. While most will visit the glitzy big-box stadia of London’s three biggest clubs (Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham), you’ll enjoy a far more intimate, authentic British football experience by getting behind one of the city’s smaller clubs. Our pick: newly promoted Fulham FC, for whom U.S. legends Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride once plied their trade. Their stadium, Craven Cottage, is among England’s most picturesque, a 30,000-seat park on the banks of the River Thames with an actual cottage at one end that was once a Royal Hunting Lodge (it’s now called the Pavillion).
Chin-stroke: The Tate Modern is the MoMA’s cross-pond rival, having amassed one of the most impressive collections of contemporary art in the world. Check out their website for info on current exhibitions, film screenings, music events and more.
Crate-dig: If you want to thumb through crates of vinyl next to the stage where bands like Blur and Queens of the Stone Age got their start, hit Rough Trade Records.
Clue-solve: London may well have more “escape rooms” per capita than any city on earth, and the Nickelodeon-esque Crystal Maze reigns king.
Image via Roundhouse
Originally built in 1847 to service a railway turntable, the Roundhouse has been a performing arts venue since 1964, with major renovations arriving as recently as 2005. These days, the almost 360-degree, 3,300-capacity venue hosts all manner of live music and variety act, from rock bands to DJs to burlesque, stage plays and poetry slams. Check out the upcoming schedule to see what’s on when you’re in town.
Rock ‘n’ roll: London isn’t hurting for drab rock clubs poised to launch the career of England’s next great musical export. Try The Garage, an unassuming spot in Islington with a serious eye for up-and-coming talent.
Rave: Fact: modern electronic music and the vibrant, sleep-averse scene that comes with it came of age in London. Second fact: Ministry of Sound has been one of its principal breeding grounds since 1991, and continues to fill that role today.
Power Trip London Field Trips (3 images)
From left: Soho Farmhouse (Soho House), Rye (Wikimedia Commons) and Bath (Wikimedia Commons)
Soho Farmhouse (Oxfordshire; 2 hours from London)
Got a night to spare? There’s no better contrast to the bustle of London than Soho House’s 100-acre manor in Oxfordshire, replete with a state-of-the-art spa, boat- and poolhouse, cinema, working farm, six restaurants, 40 cabins, one cottage, one seven-bedroom house … you get the point. It’s the members club’s flagship country estate, and the place has exactly one goal in mind: unrepentant luxury. And yes, non-members are free to book a stay as well.
Rye (East Sussex; 70 minutes)
If you’d prefer a quaint English village straight out of Chaucer, look no further than Rye. Population: 9,000. Construction date of the Mermaid Inn, where you’ll be staying: 1420. For eats, try the Standard Inn (traditional pub fare and board games) or the Fig (modern bistro with a focus on local ingredients). And your sojourn’s not complete until you take a nice long walk about the countryside.
Bath (Somerset; 90 minutes)
Here’s a fun bit of bar trivia for you: the city formerly known as Aquae Sulis was once a northerly spa of the Roman Empire. And remnants of that spa remain upright today, in the form of the town’s famous Roman Baths. And while can’t take a dip in those ones, you can down the road, at Thermae Bath Spa, which — like its progenitor — is fueled by Britain’s only natural thermal waters. The city also offers abundant parks and green spaces (like Royal Victoria Park and the Sydney Gardens) for tiring your legs out, and a bevy of postcard-worthy BnBs (like the Paradise House or Apsley House) for giving them a rest.
Main image via Arkadiusz Radek / Unsplash
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