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The Lowdown | London

Insider Notes: London Words by Maria Schollenbarger

Where United Kingdom

Quick Quote $1200 per day including hotel

Best Season Late Spring, Summer, Early Fall

Thinking of Culture, Food, Cocktails, Shopping

Best Portrayed in Matchpoint, Sherlock Holmes, Mrs. Dalloway

We’re not sure there’s a nation more enamored of its traditions than England; and London is a capital built on tradition. But coursing through all the venerable history is an electric vein of invention. An endless palimpsest of immigrant cultures, each wave of London’s newcomers brings with it influences—and creativity, and boundless energy—from across the world. It’s why you’ll see patent-blue leather Trickers paired with a bespoke Turnbull & Asser suit at the bar at Claridge’s (or at the famous burlesque hall Bistrotheque, in Hackney). It’s why you’ll find Shakespeare’s classic plays being performed in Maori and Cantonese at the 420-year-old Globe, on the south side of the Thames; and some of the world’s most directional contemporary theater at nearby Southbank Center. It’s also home to the Frieze art fair, London Fashion Week, and dozens of internationally ranked restaurants; a nexus of the utterly Right-Now, made that much more alluring by the age-old backdrop against which it all plays out.

Where to Stay

In this town, contemporary society does its thing to a great extent in the bars, lobbies, and lounges of its finest hotels. So whether you hew staunchly traditional or prefer the slick rigor of 21st-century design, among our picks there’s always the opportunity to watch the real London at work or play. And rest assured you’ll enjoy the element at which the top hotels here truly excel: polished service.

Whether for a weekend getaway or a week-long stay, London never ceases to supply the most dynamic energy and great sense of style in all things culture, food, shopping, drinking, and more.

Firmdale Hotels’s central-Soho pièce de resistance, The Ham Yard, marries ebullient design and a modern take on five-star service, with brilliant results. At the Rosewood London, the design, a marriage of the sleekly modern and the quirkily British, is eminently stylish. The Four Seasons 10 Trinity Square is housed in a Grade II-listed Edwardian building, in a mint business-travel location; slick, intimate, and with the Square Mile’s most dazzling spa, it more than measures up. The Laslett is just the thing Notting Hill has needed—an unpretentious but very-sleek-indeed boutique hotel offering a perfectly calibrated modern-English welcome in one of London’s most atmospheric neighborhoods. Corinthia Hotel is a state-of-the-art version of a grand old palace hotel, with lavish multi-bedroom penthouses, a glass-roofed tea garden, a proper British restaurant. 

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Words by Maria Schollenbarger London Editor

Maria Shollenbarger oversees all travel content for the Financial Times's luxury supplement, How To Spend It. She has been an editor-at-large at Condé Nast Traveler and a senior editor at Travel + Leisure, and has contributed to T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Town & Country, Departures, and Architectural Digest. She lives between London and Singapore, but tends to leave her heart in Italy or California. 

Where to Eat

Once, not very long ago at all, London’s culinary scene was, to put it politely, uninspiring. How things have changed: these days, long-standing ethnic culinary traditions are being dynamically reinvented, British produce and spirits have taken center stage, and world-famous chefs clamor to leave their mark alongside home-grown heroes. The jewel-box bar at The Woselely is the perfect place to wait for a friend; the menu is an utterly satisfying mix of standard British fare and Mitteleuropa classics, all reliably executed. Breakfast is a must. Little Social, is a dim, warm, sexy counterpoint to the refined but adventurous dining tradition Jason Atherton created with Pollen Street Social, just across the road. This Mayfair bolt hole is where he gets back to his British-with-a-twist roots. The Clove Club aims to have adventurous fun, from the camaraderie among the wait staff to the theatrics behind the bar, where delicious oddities are conjured into signature cocktails. Spring, Skye Gyngell’s first solo venture became a new London classic almost from the moment it opened—the showcase for a dynamic Australian expat talent who re-interprets Continental dishes with seasonal produce to spectacular effect.It’s no surprise that Gymkhana, where chef Karam Sethi plays with northern cuisine, has won a few “best Indian restaurant in the world” kudos. St. John has had many imitators, but Fergus Henderson’s temple to nose-to-tail dining is still the restaurant that London’s finest chefs and most exacting food critics make a beeline for. From the team behind Kitty Fisher’s comes the long-awaited sequel, Cora Pearl. This new restaurant is bigger, allowing for a larger selection of pastries and small dishes to be included on the menu. 

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What to See

English-language performance was born here, and a robust number of the world’s greatest museums—of art, design, crafts, even war history—grace its squares. But it’s the 21st-century face of London culture that’s the draw now: Frieze and Frieze masters, along with a growing number of blue-chip galleries, dominate the art world’s attention, while new bars are set, and then set higher again, in the worlds of theater and dance. Visit the Serpentine Galleries for stand-out single artist shows and their summer pavilion; Sadler’s Wells for the biggest names in modern, world, and alternative dance; and the Victoria & Albert Museum, the largest museum dedicated to decorative arts; The Tate Modern is one of the world’s preeminent modern art institutions and its Turbine Hall installations are groundbreaking. Britain’s best national theater company, The Royal Theatre, is where you come to see the Next Big Play. Proving that small is beautiful, especially when it comes to cultural venues, the Wallace Collection is a delightful assemblage of paintings, armor, 18th-century furniture, sculpture, and priceless porcelain arranged over a three-floor gallery. 

Where to Shop

Maggie Owen has been trading out of a landmarked Georgian-era dairy for over a decade, featuring her eclectic edit of costume jewelry, scarves and textiles, designer city guides and stationery. The sublime housewares shop, Pentreath & Hall, has become a cult destination with a global reputation. Wrapping papers and drawings, and whimsical decoupage plates, are souvenirs you won’t want to miss. Hidden down a narrow lane in charming Little Venice, Clifton Nurseries is the urban Londoner's garden center of choice—a verdant, inviting, impeccably styled oasis in the center of the city. Former fashion PR, current It Girl (and Essentialist Globalite) Alex Eagle opened her new digs, in a massive space where she showcases an inspiring cross-section of books and original art, jewelry and scents, and highly sought-after fashion collaborations. The Conran Shop, founded by Terence Conran in 1974, is as much museum of good taste as it is shopping experience. A gallery dedicated to contemporary British crafts was long overdue: now with The New Craftsmen—London finally has one. The lovely, light-suffused north Mayfair space, formerly an artist’s studio, is a trove of textiles, pottery and ceramics, prints, glassware and lighting, toys and jewelry. There are a handful of Daunt Books around town, but this flagship steals all the hearts with its two elegantly arcaded floors of top-quality travel guides and writing, fiction and history.

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