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London is a cosmopolitan city with a distinctive blend of historic traditions and a stylish and modern culture. You can enjoy tea and crumpets and enjoy the city's royal roots before heading out to a sophisticated gastropub for gourmet dinner and drinks.
Where to Stay
From magnificent hotels to extravagant town homes, there are accommodations for every taste and budget. If size doesn't matter and you intend to use your hotel mostly as a home base to explore the city and a place to store your luggage, check out a tiny, trendy pod hotel like easyHotel.
Covent Garden Hotel
Whoever said the British were stodgy has stayed at the Covent Garden Hotel just a few steps from the bustle of the theater district and nearby Soho. Each of the 58 rooms claims a unique style, some with fancy 4-poster beds and others dressed in vibrant fabrics and twinkling chandeliers. Big spenders may spring for the Loft Suite with its own drawing room, study and a pair of bathrooms. Common areas are equally attractive with remarkable furnishings, an elegant French stone fireplace and a well-stocked bar where you can kick back with a drink and soak up all of this style.
Located in trendy Clerkenwell, the Zetter is a convenient spot if you're looking to enjoy the city's best restaurants and pubs. Rooms are a combination of cozy comfort with modern amenities like free music, Wi-Fi and cool mood lighting. The staff creates a feeling of both the homey, with old-fashioned hot water bottles with hand-knit covers, and the modern, with clean lines, fluffy pillows and a stack of paperbacks for your review. The public areas are just as welcoming, with regional food with Asian and African flavors at Bistrot Bruno Loubet and a signature Ze-linni bubbly cocktail at the Atrium Bar.
Where to Eat
Tea is such serious business in the UK that there's a Tea Guild that gives recognition to hotels and tearooms for serving the best spot of tea in town. The Palm Court at the Langham Hotel is frequently credited as the city's best and claims the oldest established hotel tea time, going all the way back to 1865. Make reservations for the Wonderland Afternoon Tea or High Tea in the luxurious tea room with rich fabrics, overstuffed settes and live piano music. You can take your pick from over 30 types of tea and sample tantalizing sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, toasted crumpets and extravagant pastries. Just don't get caught dunking any of these delicious titbits into that delicate teacup as such a faux pas violates the etiquette of this time-honored tradition.
London's gastropubs have ousted any old concept of bland English food, and the Harwood Arms is a brilliant example. Specializing in wild game, local ingredients and classic food preparation, the menu is a display of hearty and appetizing dishes. The chefs create huge flavor with frequently overlooked cuts of meat like oxtails, bone marrow, crispy pig ears, braised deer shoulder and slow-roasted pork belly. Robust sides include crisp garlic potatoes, black cabbage, glazed parsnips, champ and Yorkshire puddings. Bring an appetite but save room for dessert and end the meal with homemade ice cream, buttermilk pudding with pears poached in mead or warm marmalade doughnuts topped with orange sherbet and whipped cream.
What to See & Do
There's so much to see and do in London that it can be tough to narrow down your options for a weekend of fun. You'll probably spend most of your time in West End neighborhoods, including the ever trendy Covent Garden, Mayfair with its fancy shops on Oxford Street, the abundant green spaces in Hyde Park and delightful Notting Hill. You could take the tube to get around town or ride the renowned double-decker red buses and take in some scenery en route to your next destination.
Take a 30-minute spin on the London Eye for sprawling views of the city from the covered capsule. The peak point is nearly 440 feet high on this jumbo Ferris wheel. From there, you can see for 25 miles around the city, with panoramic views of Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace and, on a clear day, even Windsor Castle. Take a sunset or night flight to see the landmarks in a different light. Despite the great heights, this is a calm ride park ride as the eye spins slowly allowing for lots of photo opportunities.
Westminster Abbey is much more than a church or tourist attraction. It plays a critical role in England's political and cultural identity as it commemorates Britain's most influential figures in both life and death. This gigantic Gothic church has been the official spot for coronation of royal leaders since 1066 when King Harold and William the Conqueror were crowned here. King Edward's Chair has been the royal throne since 1308. In addition to the royal connections, many of England's famous authors, religious figures and aristocrats are buried in the Abbey's chapels and cloisters. Stop by the Poet's Corner for inspiration from Chaucer, William Blake, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, T.S. Eliot, John Milton and Jane Austen.
Theater in West End
London's theater district is in the West End neighborhood with about 40 elegant and historic theaters showing beloved musicals, exciting dramas and often the next big thing as many of the theater world's breakout shows get their start here. Named "Theatreland" by the official Society of London Theatre, this area rivals Broadway as the world capital of theater. The longest-running musical "Les Miserables" still packs the house, while Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" has been enthralling patrons since 1952, making it the world's longest-running show. If your heart is set on a specific show, get tickets before you arrive. If you're willing to gamble, take a chance at the ticket booths in Leicester Square and Brent Cross where you can score discount tickets for a performance up to a week ahead of time.
Pubs and Clubs
Most of London's pubs close by midnight, so head out early to enjoy the city's best ones. The White Horse on Parson's Green boasts a great pub atmosphere with a great beer selection, including imported kegs from Belgium, about 6-8 rotating cask ales and over 135 bottled beers. During warm days of summer, enjoy some brews and BBQ outside in the Beer Garden. If you're still looking for fun after last call, there are late-night clubs around town for live music and dancing. The Windmill and Dogstar, both in Brixton, draw crowds of music lovers looking to dance to the DJs or bands.
The museums are free so go ahead and stop in the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone and the National Portrait Gallery to view a few of the 1,400 portraits from the early Tudors to supermodel Kate Moss.
Credit: Travel Channel