The Insider's Guide to London: Where to Eat, Shop, Stay and More


Ever wish you could text the most stylish people in the world to ask them for their lists of things to do in the places they know best? Here are insider travel tips for those who would never be caught dead in a tourist trap. Bon voyage!

Who

Four culture-shaping Londoners from the worlds of fashion, food, art, and design share how best to experience this sprawling city known for its vibrant multiculturalism and rich history: London native Priya Ahluwalia, creative director and founder of fashion brand Ahluwalia; British designer Faye Toogood of the clothing, furniture, and decor brand Toogood, a London resident for the past 25 years; Gallerist Pilar Corrias, owner of her eponymous galleries in Mayfair and a London resident for the past 30 years; and Sebastian Myers, cooking in London for the past 12 years and the current Chef of Planque, a restaurant and wine club in the Haggerston neighborhood.

What

What to Bring

London’s rain has everyone highlighting waterproof gear. Umbrellas and a raincoat are a must.

Ahluwalia recommends a pair of trainers (British for sneakers) for walking around, while Corrias cites a sweater for all seasons — even in the summer, it gets chilly at night. (If you forget one, she loves the local cashmere purveyors N. Peal and Brora.)

Due to the city’s sprawl — “think nothing of sitting on the tube or in a taxi for 40-50 minutes to go East to West” — Toogood emphasizes the need for a good book, as well as ear plugs and an eye mask for sleeping due to the noise and light pollution around hotels. And for the bold? A bathing suit “for a wild swim in Hampstead Heath,” she adds, referring to the swimming ponds in one of London’s most iconic parks.

What to Leave Behind

Myers questions the necessity of cash “as fewer and fewer places take it these days.” Per Ahluwalia, “huge backpacks are generally a way to annoy people on the tube.” Everyone aligns on otherwise feeling pretty unfettered. “It’s London, you can wear whatever you feel like,” says Myers, recommending following RHOC on Instagram “to find out all the latest trends.” Toogood echoes the sentiment: “Anything goes. Feel free to fully express yourself: a cocktail dress at breakfast or walking boots in a fine dining restaurant is totally acceptable.” There are nuances though, particularly in more buttoned up West London, “slightly more flashy or conservative in style than other parts of London,” Toogood caveats.

What to Keep in Mind

An open mind and an appreciation for diversity are essential, explains Ahluwalia. When navigating the tube (London’s subway system), always stand to the right side of the escalator and mind your own business. “Don’t stare, speak to or smile at anyone on the underground. Everyone is head down,” states Toogood, who also advises buying a daily travel card for zones 1-6. The tube and buses are the most affordable way to get around (Ahluwalia likes sitting on the top deck to see the sites).

When riding in black cabs, tell the driver the address before you get into the car, and don’t be afraid to engage in conversation, “if you want to find out about landmarks on your journey or British politics,” adds Toogood. As for general codes of conduct? Tipping is not expected, but if desired, 10-20% is good. And be very polite. The well mannered Brits appreciate pleases, thank yous, and sorrys, “Even when you’re not – especially when you’re not!” adds Corrias. “And respect the queue!”

Where

The NoMad in central London comes up more than once. Toogood loves the “interiors, party atmosphere, and individual approach to rooms” while Myers notes their restaurant’s “banging carnitas.”

The Standard also comes recommended, as do the Hoxton Hotels — a favorite of Ahluwalia’s for their multiple buzzy locations. For more boutique options, Toogood points to Artist Residence in Pimlico and The Mandrake in Fitzrovia, while Myers spotlights The Zetter in Clerkenwell and The Rose and Crown in Stoke Newington for a classic British feel.

Courtesy of Artist Residence

For something grand and glamorous, Corrias recommends The Connaught or Claridges, both of which are “extremely well-located — great for shopping, seeing art, and getting round the rest of town — and close to my gallery!”

Courtesy of The Connaught

Where to Start the Day

When it comes to breakfast, loyalties run deep. Corrias loves Norman’s Cafe in Tufnell Park, “a cool greasy spoon for a proper fry up.”

Courtesy of Norman’s London

For time travel, she’s partial to Paul Rothe & Son in Marylebone, “a charming, old-fashioned British sandwich shop and deli. Run by the same family since 1900.”

Courtesy of Paul Rothe & Son

Ahluwalia frequents the “stunning,” art-filled Berners Tavern in Fitzrovia. Myers loves Snackbar in Dalston, for its “cute little backyard, tasty food, cocktails, and coffee.” Batch Baby on De Beauvoir Road is also on his list for coffee, and Towpath, “an institution where you can sit by a canal, eat various tasty things on toast, hang out and watch the world go by.”

For coffee, Toogood nods to Allpress, Monmouth or Omotesando Koffee. For food, she champions La Fromagerie, “the best place for cheese in London and amazing breakfasts beyond cheese.”

Courtesy of La Fromagerie

For unique pastries, she’s partial to Toad in Peckham, and St. JOHN Bakery in Bermondsey for the best jam donuts.

Where to Eat

British food gets a bad rap, but London’s dining scene has undergone a vibrant renaissance over the past decade. For a neighborhood restaurant, Brawn on Columbia Road is “as close to perfect” as you’ll get, promises Myers. For a wine bar with “pared back but super nuanced food,” he lists Cadet in Stoke Newington. For “various flatbreads, offals, and pure flavor driven cooking,” he thinks Black Axe Mangal is not to be missed, located in a tiny, energetic room with a big wood burning oven. His last must visit: Quality Wines in Farringdon, for “the most unpretentious, exciting, and keyed in cooking.”

Courtesy of Quality Wines

For classics, Corrias loves J Sheekey, where they’ve been “shucking oysters since Victorian times,” Rochelle Canteen, a modern European restaurant she thinks epitomizes the London restaurant scene (also adored by Awhuwalia and Toogood); MiMi Mei Fair for pretty interiors and fantastic Chinese food; and for summertime dining, Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, “filled with flowers and just magical.” Ahluwalia loves West African inspired Akoko in Fitzrovia for its “amazingly experimental menu,” Gold on Portobello Road when exploring Notting Hill, and Dishoom for Indian food, “a chain but a great one.” For more Indian food, the Southall or Tooting districts are where to find the most authenticity.

Toogood will always hold a candle to St. JOHN Bread and Wine, where she hosted her wedding lunch. Their menu reflects iconic English chef Fergus Henderson’s “nose to tail eating.” But, says Toogood, “If you don’t want the pigs’ ears, bone marrow and ducks’ hearts (why wouldn’t you?!) then no fear, the vegetables are incredible.” Her fine dining choice is Spring at Somerset House where the “seasonal produce and creative plating” of chef Skye Gyngell keeps her coming back. Her choice for quick and easy is Leila’s Cafe. “You can take a tiffin tin [a lunch box popular in Asia and the Caribbean] to pick the daily dish for lunch or eat in… I always feel comfortable eating solo here.”

For a more social spot, Toogood enjoys Sessions Art Club. She calls it “a sanctuary for artists and arty types to have fun, eat incredible food and enjoy exhibitions and performances.” And for an eatery unlike any other, she suggests Cycene in Shoreditch, an innovative, multi-space tasting menu experience. “Book well in advance,” she warns, “there is only room for 15 people.”

Courtesy of Sessions Art Club

Where to Shop

For books, Corrias is fond of London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury. For clothes, head to Savile Row where she likes The Deck for women’s tailoring. After a big night, “if you’re feeling a tad delicate” she urges a visit to the old school pharmacy D.R. Harris & Co in St. James’s for their Original Pick-Me-Up, “a hangover cure they’ve been selling since 1860!” Myers enjoys Leila’s Shop (connected to the cafe where Toogood likes her solo lunches) for food shopping, and Klei, a shop on Hackney Road where you’ll find work by local ceramists. Ahluwalia points to Notting Hill’s Portobello Road. “Although pricier,” she says of the weekend market there, “it’s full of amazing vintage and antique pieces.” She urges visiting on a Friday or Sunday as Saturdays can be hectic.

Courtesy of London Review Bookshop

For independent fashion, Toogood likes Dover Street Market on the Haymarket, Egg on Kinnerton Street, and Mouki Mou in Marylebone. For perfumes and custom fragrances: Perfumer H. For beautiful and affordable craft and ceramics: The Lacquer Chest on Kensington Church Street for English antiques and Momosan Shop in East London for independent homeware. For art, fashion, and photo books: Claire de Rouen. For “stationary heaven”: Choosing Keeping. And lastly, for beautiful teaware: Postcard Teas.

Courtesy of Dover Street Market

Where to Look at Art

London’s cultural offerings are vast.“I personally love the V&A, the Tate Modern and The Design Museum,” says Ahluwalia.

For older works, both Toogood and Corrias love Sir John Soan’s Museum in Holborn, the historic home of an architect and collector with a singular vision . “Every surface, from floor to ceiling, is covered with paintings, sculptures, Classical architectural fragments, ancient relics and drawings. The best time to visit is during their special evening openings, when the artifacts are illuminated by candlelight,” raves Corrias.

Toogood also recommends the Garden Museum, which is housed in a former church, for all things horticultural. For more contemporary works, she’s partial to South London Gallery, Sprüth Magers, Hauser & Wirth, Raven Row, Newport Street Gallery, and White Cube — the latter of which is a favorite of Myers as well. “Always amazing shows, free, and not giant so it makes for a nice visit,” he says. “The National Gallery’s later Friday hours also make for a lovely evening wander.”

Where to Unwind

To get the blood pumping, Ahluwalia likes Soul Cycle for spinning and Blok for their variety of exercises: boxing to reformer pilates to HIIT. For something lower octane, Myers walks in Epping Forest and enjoys the saunas at Hackney Wick. “It’s not flash… like at all, it’s in a carpark with packing pellets everywhere, but it’s a fun little thing to do on a day off.”

For something glam, Toogood recommends Aire Ancient Baths in Covent Garden for Roman-inspired candlelit baths beneath a 17th century building. “This is a truly unique experience and the closest you will get to bathing in the Red Sea in London. The massages are really relaxing, and all the hot pools do the trick when it comes to relaxation.” For yoga, she likes Mission on Fashion Street, and for grooming she visits Josh Wood Colour for hair treatments and Teresa Tarmey for facials.

Courtesy of Aire Ancient Baths

Where to Get Some Fresh Air

“London is one of the greenest cities in the world,” says Ahluwalia. But if she had to choose her favorite parks, she’d say: St James’s, Regents Park and Hyde Park in central London, Hampstead Heath in North London, and Battersea Park in South London.

For views of beautiful houses, she also likes to cycle from Notting Hill to Primrose Hill along Regents Canal. Corrias’s preferred bike route goes from Primrose Hill to Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath. Around her galleries in Mayfair, Mount Street Gardens is a lovely place to take a breather during a busy afternoon of gallery hopping.”

Myers enjoys walking down the canals from Clapton up towards River Lea. “There’s a bunch of cozy pubs, interesting people and views,” he describes. For Toogood, Hampstead Heath can’t be beat, for walks, runs, fitness classes, dogs, picnics, and wild swimming at the ponds. “This is the closest you can get to nature and the feeling of the countryside in London,” she details.

Where to Have a Cocktail

Drinks choices are as robust as dining, here falling across 3 categories: the classic pubs London is known for, cocktail bars, and the newer age wine bars. Corrias’s favorite pubs are The Holly Bush in Hampstead, The Grenadier in Belgravia, and The Lord Stanley in Camden. She adds a tip: “Everything closes in London at 11pm, but if you’re a member of a private club you can continue into the small hours — I love Brydges Place Club and Maison Estelle.” Myer’s picks: Duke’s “for two martinis (that’s the rule),” A Bar with Shapes for a Name (or Shapes), open later than other bars in the area and located near his restaurant, Seed Library under 100 Shoreditch for “cozy and laid back” vibes, and his go-to wine bar: Hector’s in De Beauvoir.

Ahluwalia says to start with a neighborhood, she likes Soho for a night out in the bars. More specifically, she presents Spiritland in Kings Cross “a listening bar that often has interesting resident DJs playing vinyl,” Moko in Tottenham, and its sister bar Jumbi in Peckham, both Black-owned with “the best vinyl collections.”

Toogood’s list is vast. For a classic pick: Claridge’s Champagne Bar. “I feel like I am in a 1930’s film when I sit and drink champagne in this bar,” she raves. “It’s worth going for the Art Deco bathrooms alone.” For pubs, she bemoans how many have transformed into more upscale restaurants but says The Eagle in Clerkenwell or The Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden are still the real deal for a good pint. For cocktails: Hacha “for some Mezcal soaked up with their Tacos.” For low-intervention wines: Bambi in Hackney, “so not for the classicists but a really fun night if you stay for small plates.”

Where to Stay Up Late

On Thursdays, Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues at St Moritz in Soho is the place to be, says Corrias, “until the bleary hours. You’re guaranteed fun music, a cool crowd, and some wild future anecdotes.” Myers finds fun at Fold, and appreciates the DJs at Brilliant Corners, who, he notes, stays open late on Bank Holiday sundays. For “well-programed” nightlife that stays open until the early morning hours, Ahluwalia turns to Avalon Cafe or Venue M.O.T, adding that the iconic club Fabric is an institution worth visiting. For a more laid back vibe, Toogood enjoys Church of Sound and Wilton Music Hall for a drink and some contemporary music and performance.

When

Both Corrias and Toogood cite Frieze Week in early October as an electric time to visit London. “It’s when all the best exhibitions, dinners, and parties happen,” says Corrias. “The kids are all back to school, the parks are particularly beautiful, and the international art crowd are in town for people watching,” echoes Toogood. For Myers it’s all about the spring, “a time to be outside, drink in a park or wander from pub to pub on a Sunday afternoon.” Ahluwalia loves the city in the summer as it’s a time for many of London’s music festivals and outdoor pop-up events.

Why

Toogood struggles to talk about London as a whole due to the many worlds it contains. “It is a series of villages to discover and every one of those villages has its own vibe.” To her, the city represents expression and freedom. She advises accepting that you’ll never get it all in one go. It’s a place to return. “Focus on one or two areas and focus on those in depth. Acknowledge and feel the difference between those two areas. This is how to get the most of it.”

“I don’t know anywhere in the world that is as multicultural,” agrees Corrias. This history feeds the hyper accessible, creative scene in a way unrivaled by most cities. “Most exhibitions and museums are free, and have such a broad offering of theater, dance and opera that only New York can rival.” Myers touches on the unique paradox that is London: its enormity and its hyperlocality. “It’s a sprawling, historic, weird, fun, annoying, magic city with a lot to offer. For music, art, food, pints or late night kebabs (normally in that order) it’s got a lot to offer. There’s always something new.”

Ahluwalia ties it up nicely: “The people that would love London the most are the ones looking for a bit of an adventure.”

London’s skyline at sunset

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