As well as world-class dining, drinking and shopping opportunities, the British capital boasts a surprising amount of green space. Here’s how to pass a weekend in this most exciting of cities.
Words by Sophy Grimshaw
With a population about the same size as Sweden’s, London is practically a country in its own right – an unofficial city state that’s very different from the rest of the UK. Though you may often find yourself overcharged in the capital (and in spaces that are overcrowded), the upside is easy access to many of Europe’s best museums, galleries and theatres, and a fast-changing bar and restaurant culture offering up every global cuisine you can think of – and often done brilliantly too. You can buy just about anything here – and do anything too. A long-outdated stereotype of a city swathed in fog somehow persists abroad, but the truth is that London is really rather green, at least in pockets.
2pm If you’re arriving on the Eurostar, order a coffee as an afternoon pick-me-up at the Booking Office Bar at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, the sparklingly refurbished Gothic Revival-style pile in the heart of the city. The hotel’s plushly carpeted staircase might look faintly familiar: the Spice Girls gyrated down it in the video for their hit single ‘Wannabe’. Nearby, the the Wellcome Collection is a brilliant niche museum that often explores the relationship between art and medicine. Its reputation for putting on fascinating exhibitions is well deserved. Nothing like contemplating one’s own mortality to kick off the weekend.
3pm You’re in a built-up part of the city and yet there’s a two-acre nature reserve just minutes away from the heart of King’s Cross. The Camley Street Natural Park, on the banks of the Regent’s Canal, was created from a disused coal yard in the early 1980s, yet many Londoners are still unaware of its existence. A mixture of meadow, woodland and ponds, it’s a haven for bats, rare bird species and professionals escaping the hectic city.
7pm The menu at chef Bruno Loubet’s King’s Cross restaurant, Grain Store, is not-quite-vegetarian but ‘veg driven’, with only the occasional meaty side order. Dishes are rainbow-bright, hearty and healthy. Sit outside for a view of the boats on the canal, and the coloured lights of the contemporary fountain, which kids love to run through, screaming, in summer. There’s a separate bar, so you can linger until late with cocktails from go-to mixologist Tony Conigliario.
10am You’re not really a Londoner until you’ve walked through Regent’s Park in all seasons. This vast swathe of greenery covering almost 400 acres is one of the Royal Parks, which were originally created as hunting grounds. The only royal action in the parks these days is an occasional glimpse of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, walking her dog in Kensington Gardens.
Regent’s Park encompasses an open-air theatre (offering productions of a high standard), sports grounds and ZSL London Zoo. Even if zoos aren’t your thing, you might enjoy the free view of our long-necked friends at the Giraffe House. Or you could hire a rowing boat and hit the lake.
12pm Time to head indoors, with a trip to the latest contemporary art exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. If you’re feeling flush, skip the café and lunch at the Zaha Hadid-designed Magazine restaurant, a great white wave of a building attached to the gallery.
4pm Head into Marylebone, arguably London’s most glamorous village and check out the shopping on the High Street, which has been enjoyed a wave of new openings. These include an outpost of Brussels’ chocolatier Pierre Marcolini. An old favourite, however, is chic homeware HQ The Conran Shop, in a former stable building. Drop into Amanzi Tea to choose your brew; pick from 150 types of premium loose-leaf tea and take home a pouch of leaves freshly decanted from the line-up of hulking glass jars.
8pm Evening, and it’s time to make the most of Soho. Foodwise, you’re spoiled for choice in this most competitive of restaurant neighbourhoods, with a dizzying number of recent openings. Try newcomer Hoppers, which serves a deliciously upmarket take on Sri Lankan pancakes. Afterwards, sink a pint in one of the creaky old Victorian pubs for which this part of the city is famous. Try the Dog and Duck, a favourite in its time with both George Orwell and, more recently, Madonna. Or for a members’ club feel with no membership required, there’s the smart and stylish Dean Street Townhouse.
9.30am The brightest way to spend a Sunday morning in London is to head east and join the crowds among the blooms of Columbia Road Flower Market. It starts at 8am and lasts most of the day, but arrive early for the full experience. The assorted indie boutiques in the neighbouring streets are handy for picking up small gifts.
1pm Head into Clerkenwell to while away the best part of the rest of the daylight hours at Workshop Coffee. Housed in a former textiles factory, this brunch spot has its own roastery. Indulge in a cheeky brunch-time cocktail after your macchiato, and tuck into the braised beans and corn fritters against the backdrop of a ‘living wall’ of greenery.
Where to stay
The Hoxton Shoreditch has a deeply romantic, Italian-style inner courtyard garden that serves as a cocktail bar, with a retractable roof ensuring year-round appeal. Rooms start at £89 a night.
The Laslett Notting Hill offers apartment-style living in the heart of this celebrated West London neighbourhood. Rooms start at £275 a night.
The London EDITION is a smart, trend-driven hotel in a Georgian building on the edge of Soho, with a critically acclaimed restaurant, Berners Tavern. Rooms start at £325 a night.