If you’re lucky enough to be heading to London for the Summer Olympics—or anytime for that matter—here are some favourite spots from my short-but-sweet recent visit.
Where to stay
I checked in to the Belgraves, one of London’s swankiest new hotels. It’s the Thompson Hotel group’s first U.K. outpost, and it lives up to the brand’s cool-kid reputation. The Belgraves is intimate (just 85 guest rooms), eclectic, modern—and already attracting celebs. (Just a week before I arrived, ELLE Canada’s Kathryn Hudson interviewed Gwyneth Paltrow here—pick up a copy of our September issue to read her “What would Gwyneth do?” cover story.)
The hotel’s sunken “lobby” feels cozy and surprisingly private—more like the living room of your dream house than a public space. Select an art or design book from the coffee table or the library-style shelves, order a Moroccan mint tea from Mark’s Bar, and sink into the tufted velvet couch. (Careful here…you just might not want to leave the hotel!)
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If you’re more into people watching—there are a lot of smartly dressed ladies and gents in this posh Belgravia neighbourhood—the hotel has a secret spot for that, too. Just to the side of the hotel’s glass-front entrance, you’ll find a velvety aubergine banquette (it’s perfect for two) facing out to the street. Consider it your very own viewing pod. “I think it’s the best spot in the hotel,” one of the denim-clad doormen tells me when I ask about the space.
Up in my room, there’s yet another great spot to curl up—my very own aubergine couch, which is built into a window box. (Some of the other suites also have a recessed desk-with-a-view window box as well—I’m told that a famous British writer likes to check in to get some writing done.)
What to eat
I ordered a delicious langoustine pasta for dinner one night at the Hix Belgravia, Brit chef Mark Hix’s resto in the Belgraves. (Bonus: hotel guests get a discount!). But for a quick bite, my heart belongs to Ottolenghi. The divine little take-away restaurant is just around the corner from the Belgraves on Motcomb Street and serves some of the loveliest savoury salads I’ve ever seen (they are beautifully heaped onto oversized serving platters) and tasted. (Confession: I ate there three times in two-and-a-half days!) Order the selection of three salads for £11—but good luck choosing. My favourites were the beetroot and poached rhubarb salad with gorgonzola, red onion and mixed herbs; the char-grilled broccoli with chili and garlic; and the roasted aubergine with wild garlic yoghurt, roasted cherry tomatoes, sorrel and pine nuts.
What to do
Head to the shopping mecca that is High Street, just for the experience, if not the sales. Right now Oxford Street is completely decked out in the Union Jack—but it’s also likely to be swarming with people. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I could hardly find space to walk on the sidewalk. As a result, I only made it to Liberty, the whimsical, wood-paneled iconic department store (which was my favourite stop), COS and Selfridges before the crowds became too much. (When I watched an ambulance crash into the side of a department store—amazingly, no one was hurt—I knew I’d had enough.)
You can’t go to London without visiting a museum or two. My first stop was the Victoria and Albert—the special exhibitions, in particular. Kate Bethune, an assistant curator at the V&A gave me a special tour of the Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 exhibit, and I also wandered through the British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in a Modern Age exhibit, which is on until August 12, 2012. (There are quite a few stunning dresses from the likes of Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen in this exhibit, too.)
Or, cross the river to the Tate Modern for the Damien Hirst exhibit, which runs until September 9, 2012. His sliced sharks and cows floating in formaldehyde and fly- and maggot-infested pieces creeped me out—but his glitzy gold pill cabinets and butterfly room (where live butterflies were emerging from pupae growing on white canvases) were pretty cool. As was For the Love of God, his diamond-covered skull. (You view it in a dark room, so the 8,601 diamonds sure sparkle!) Once you’ve taken in all that and your feet are about to fall off, head out to the Tate Modern’s front lawn for a little R&R. It’s a popular place to rest your feet and chat with friends.
Another great hang out spot is the lawn at Hyde Park, especially if it’s a sunny day. (I lucked out!) There were plenty of picnics, birthday parties and naps in progress. But instead of sitting around, I rented a bike and leisurely pedaled my way from one end of the park to the other. For me, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Next time I go
There is so much to do in London that you can never fit everything in! Here are a couple of things that are on my to-do list for my next visit.
People-watching at Broadway Market in East London. The Times writes that it’s currently “the most fashionable street in Britain” where street-style photogs and bloggers head to snap shots of the cool set. (So what are they wearing? Check out Hannah Bodsworth’s nicelyturnedout.com blog. She told The Times she takes most of her pics at this market.)
Stand-up paddle-boarding on the Thames. (I saw a story about this in The Times as well.) It’s just like they do it in Hawaii, except most people wear a wetsuit. And a life jacket. Active360.co.uk offers two-hour paddle trips from Kew Bridge to Richmond, or Hammersmith to Chelsea, from March to November for £50. Now that’s an adventure. Sign me up!