Perhaps you’ve done your fair share of traveling but somehow, other than layovers at Heathrow, have never planned a proper visit to London. Travel veterans for whom, say, a long weekend jaunt to Hong Kong isn’t out of the question but who are also visiting for the first time face a challenge: how to see the best of London without reverting to being a guidebook-toting, Madame Tussauds-visiting tourist. Here, clever ways to see the city while avoiding the traps.
Prepare to walk—a lot. Plan your visit in terms of neighborhoods rather than specific sites—try a morning walk through the charming residential streets of Notting Hill and find your way to Portobello Road for antiques (arrive early to avoid the crushing crowds of, yes, tourists), then grab a bite to go at Gail’s Artisan Bakery if you’re peckish or sit down for a proper meal inspired by Japanese, Korean, and Scandinavian cuisine at Flat Three (lunch is served on Friday and Saturday only).
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Or maybe build a day around ever-trendy East London for shopping (look out for massive markets like the one that pops up weekly on Brick Lane), people-watching, and great eating (try Leila’s Shop for breakfast or Lyle’s for a lovely lunch). For contrast, pop over to Mayfair for a turn through one of London’s most exclusive neighborhoods. Visit Gymkhana for northern Indian cuisine so elegant it earned a Michelin star, or stop in William & Son for a thoughtfully curated variety of jewelry, clothing, home decor, and a walk through its collection of stunning shotguns and rifles.
Take a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. Yes, the “hoho” buses are for tourists. And that’s okay. You, the wise traveler, will use it as a clever way to see lots of touristy sites with a minimal amount of schlepping. Board early in the morning with a cup of coffee and a pastry and grab a prime seat. The grand loop routes will take you past just about all of the most popular sites (Big Ben and Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and the like) so you can get a look without having to actually hop off and brave the crowds. The bus will empty out at the London Eye. Exchange a knowing smile with your travel companion as you stay firmly in your seat.
Be thoughtful about your hotel. If you’re looking for a charming, authentic London experience, The Goring is where Kate Middleton spent her last night before the royal wedding (it’s conveniently just a stone’s throw from the royal gardens and Buckingham Palace). The decor is traditional without feeling stuffy (the hand-painted Fromental wallpaper in the lobby is what Instagram dreams are made of), and the delicious breakfasts might turn you into a morning person. The 106-year-old family-owned property also features a sizable private garden hidden away behind the building—a perfect place to enjoy its famed tea.
For a bit of modern polish, opt for the Grosvenor House Suites in Mayfair—this all-suite property is a calm, sleek oasis with rooms overlooking Hyde Park or the streets of Mayfair. For larger families or longer stays, the penthouse apartments offer ample space, and all rooms come equipped with a full kitchen (the staff can arrange to have it stocked upon your arrival). The property is also quite close to some of the best shopping and restaurants in the city.