LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to explore the British capital during a business trip? Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors explore London’s mix of old world charm and modern culture.
4:00 p.m. If you’ve been here on business all week, make like the locals and conveniently misunderstand the timing or location of that late Friday afternoon meeting so you can slip away to the pub instead. Reschedule by text after the meeting has started and be all apologetic on Monday. Don’t fret, most of the other attendees will have made their excuses too.
If you’re in London’s square mile financial district known as the City, there are countless pubs and bars, from the ancient haunts of Charles Dickens to smart bars for the bankers, lawyers and other City professionals in need of refreshment.
On historic Fleet Street, the former home of most of the British press, known for centuries as the “street of adventure” for its foreign correspondents and latterly as the tabloid press reporters’ “street of shame,” you’ll find Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
Rebuilt after the 1666 Great Fire of London, the wood-paneled, sawdust-strewn Cheese was a haunt of Charles Dickens. Other illustrious former “regulars” include literary giants Oliver Goldsmith, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Samuel Johnson. See a review at: www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/84362/Ye_Olde_Cheshire_Cheese.
If it’s raining, you might try the Lamb Tavern (www.lambtavernleadenhall.com) situated at the heart of the covered Leadenhall Market first built in 1309 and rebuilt after the Great Fire. If you’d rather a more modern vibe, nearby is the sleek Revolution in the City bar (www.revolutioninthecity.com/leadenhall), which sits opposite the famous Lloyds and Gherkin buildings, or Abacus bar (www.abacusbar.co.uk) across the street from the Royal Exchange.
If you’re in the City’s modern annex, Canary Wharf, try Davy’s Wine Bar (www.davy.co.uk/winebars), Corney & Barrow (www.corney-barrow.co.uk) or any of the chain pubs like All Bar One, the Slug and Lettuce, Cat & Canary or Brown’s.
7:00 p.m. It’s decision time. Many Londoners stay at the pub on Friday night or go from pub to pub in the direction of home until around 11 p.m., when they head for a spicy curry dinner.
But if you can’t or don’t want to end up reeling from the effects of drinking on an empty stomach and are not a fan of pub food, then it’s time to make other arrangements.
Elegant Mayfair has a selection of good restaurants where, after eating, you can carry on with the end of week festivities. The Dover Street Wine Bar (www.doverst.co.uk) has an upscale restaurant, good live music and a dance floor that is hopping on a Friday night. The restaurant has a French/Mediterranean menu. Langan’s Brasserie (www.langansrestaurants.co.uk), just off Piccadilly, is popular with a smart crowd.
If you’d like to go a bit higher up the food chain, try Nobu Berkeley St (www.noburestaurants.com/berkeley/index.html), also in Mayfair, or The Wolseley (www.thewolseley.com) nearby. Both are good for celebrity-watching and may require the help of a well-connected hotel concierge to get you a table.
If you’re headed to the West End for a big night out, you could try The Ivy (www.the-ivy.co.uk), or the hunting, shooting, fishing, English country gentleman’s home away from home in the big city: Rules Restaurant (www.rules.co.uk) in Covent Garden. Rules bills itself as London’s oldest restaurant and serves a wealth of seasonal game. Making a reservation well in advance is essential.
11 p.m. At this point in the evening, you’re either heading out on the town for a lavish evening of partying, going for a late night curry, or heading back to the hotel for bed. There will be plenty of walking tomorrow, be warned.
If you’re choosing the big night, head to the West End and hit one of the bars, or if you’ve got the connections wangle an invitation to a private club.
The Groucho Club (www.thegrouchoclub.com), Soho House (www.sohohouselondon.com) or its sister Shoreditch House (www.shoreditchhouse.com) are the preferred options for media professionals and a wealth of local talent, PR executives, agents, celebrity journalists and visiting film stars.
You could also try the raucous nightlife of the London bar and club scene at top venues such as China White (www.chinawhite.com) and Whisky Mist (www.whiskymist.com) — popular with premier league soccer stars and tabloid regulars. Boujis (www.boujis.com) and Mahiki (www.mahiki.com) are favorites with young royals and the Sloane Ranger set.
For curry, head to Brick Lane, where dozens of restaurants serve up spicy chicken, lamb, sweet-smelling sauces and rice alongside steaming vegetable dishes, fiery tandooris, chicken kormas and tikkas beloved of the British beer drinker.
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9 a.m. The best way to recover from a Friday night in London is to get a good breakfast. If you’re not wild about the offering at your hotel, try one the Breakfast Club cafes (www.thebreakfastclubcafes.com), the Ritz in Mayfair (www.theritzlondon.com/restaurant/opening_times.asp), The Savoy Hotel’s River Restaurant (www.fairmont.com/savoy/GuestServices/Restaurants/RiverRestaurant.htm) overlooking the River Thames on The Strand, or an y of the numerous cafes offering a hearty Full English breakfast.
10 a.m. Ever wonder why James Bond, Prince Charles and top British executives look so suave in their suits? It’s time for a spot of shopping to get the look for yourself. But beware, it won’t be cheap.
Savile Row (www.savilerowbespoke.com) has been the home of bespoke British tailoring for centuries.
Retail shops for many of the tailors on the Row where Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Cary Grant and a host of other historic and famous names have been measured and clothed are open on Saturday morning.
Drop in to Gieves and Hawkes (www.gievesandhawkes.com), Norton and Sons (www.nortonandsons.co.uk), Anderson and Sheppard (www.anderson-sheppard.co.uk), H. Hunstman and Sons (www.h-huntsman.com), Hardy Amies (www.hardyamies.co.uk), Ozwald Boateng (www.ozwaldboateng.co.uk) or any of the other shops to buy off the peg or arrange to be fitted.
A number of the tailors on Savile Row, such as Dege & Skinner (www.dege-skinner.co.uk) cater for ladies.
Pop around the corner to Jermyn Street for shirts at Thomas Pink (www.thomaspink.com), Turnbull & Asser (www.turnbullandasser.com) — by appointment to the Prince of Wales — T.M Lewin (www.tmlewin.co.uk) and others, as well as a number of cobblers who make shoes by hand.
12 p.m. You’re shopped out for now and hungry, so it’s time for some lunch. You could grab a bite at any of the ubiquitous sandwich chains such as Pret-a-Manger (www.pret.com), or drop into supermarkets Marks & Spencer (www.marksandspencer.com) or Tesco (www.tesco.com) to save some money after the morning spree. Luxury options include the food halls at Harrods, Harvey Nichols or luxury retailer Fortnum & Mason (www.fortnumandmason.com), which has been feeding Britons since 1707.
Located across the road from the Royal Academy on Piccadilly, Fortnum’s is a London foodie’s treasure trove.
You can select a smorgasbord of delights for dining al fresco from the food counters or pre-order a picnic basket to take to nearby Green Park on a sunny day.
1 p.m. If you’re not interested in any more shopping and you haven’t taken yourself off to Buckingham Palace already, then hail one of London’s black cabs, drop your purchases off at the hotel and request a drive past Queen Elizabeth’s London home now. If there are no interesting exhibitions on, don’t tarry. Carry on to the British Museum (www.britishmuseum.org).
Spend a few hours wandering around to see the Elgin marbles taken from the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies and endless other fascinating artifacts collected over hundreds of years. There is nearly always a temporary exhibition.
Or, if you’re up for some more retail therapy to satisfy those in your party for whom a business suit is not a top priority, head to Bond Street (www.bondstreetassociation.com), home to many of the city’s high-end shops.
Harrods (www.harrods.com) and Harvey Nichols (www.harveynichols.com) are a short underground ride away in Knightsbridge.
3 p.m. Call time on all the shopping and take your weary bones for a refreshing afternoon tea.
Top tea-taking venues in London include the Ritz, Fortnum’s and Claridges (www.claridges.co.uk). All located in Mayfair on or just off Piccadilly.
Claridges has a choice of 30 teas from all over the world, savory sandwiches, pastries, scones and clotted cream. Tea costs about 35 pounds per person (45 pounds with Champagne).
For a slightly more relaxed atmosphere, try Brown’s Hotel in nearby Albemarle Street, which the Tea Guild voted the Top London Afternoon Tea in 2009. Brown’s has comfy furnishings you can sink in to, a pianist gently tickling the ivories, and a good selection of teas, cakes, sandwiches and scones.
7 p.m. You’re either going out for dinner at one of London’s top restaurants, or you’ve decided to go to the theater
London’s West End boasts some of the best theatres in the world. Whoopi Goldberg in “Sister Act,” “Les Miserables” and the triumphant latest version of “Oliver” are all on at the moment.
If you haven’t booked online in advance (Do an Internet search for “London theater tickets” and get an endless number of Web sites), then on Friday afternoon you’ll have to queue up at the box office in Leicester Square for a good deal on Saturday night theater tickets.
8 p.m. If you’ve opted for the posh meal, you’ll have discovered that it’s nearly impossible to settle on a top London restaurant. There are so many to choose from. There are some 140 restaurants in Britain with Michelin stars, four of which have the highest accolade of three stars. Two of those are in London.
As you’re, ahem, on expenses and you may be entertaining clients, you might consider wowing them with a visit to one of the three-starred venues: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea (www.gordonramsay.com/royalhospitalroad) or Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester (www.alainducasse-dorchester.com).
At Ramsay, named after its expletive-loving celebrity chef mastermind, you can go for broke with the seven-course 120-pound Menu Prestige, which includes foie gras, lobster and a hazelnut cylinder with ginger mousse and blackcurrant granité for dessert or “pudding” as Brits sometimes call it.
At the Dorchester, which offers private dining, guests can select the 100 pound Couture menu, which includes Angus beef or duck breast a l’orange. Note: Alain Ducasse closes in late August until early September.
For a selection of other Michelin-starred restaurants consult the Michelin guide at www.viamichelin.co.uk, or hunt for fine dining at www.squaremeal.co.uk, www.london-eating.co.uk or any number of other online guides.
11 p.m. Fancy some music? You could head to Ronnie Scott’s (www.ronniescotts.co.uk) on Frith Street in Soho.
Ronnie Scott’s is one of the oldest jazz clubs in the world for the 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. set. Anyone who is anyone in the world of jazz has played Ronnie Scott’s since it first opened in 1959 and since a 2006 refurbishment it has hosted greats such as Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, David Sanborn, Kenny Garrett, Billy Cobham and many more.
But it also has a history of inviting artists from other genres including Tom Waits, Eric Burdon and Mark Knopfler to play. Jimi Hendrix played his last performance here and the world’s top artists continue to come to this London mecca.
10 a.m. Today is tourist day, so head down to the nearest Underground station or if you feel some exercise would do you good, hire a “Boris bike.”
London’s Oxford-educated, bicycle-riding, slightly rumpled and witty Mayor Boris Johnson has just set up the British capital’s very own bicycle hire scheme (www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/14808.aspx) similar to the “Velib” in Paris.
However you travel, head to the Tower of London (www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon) for opening time.
Founded by William the Conqueror after his 1066 invasion of England, the Tower, with its strategic location on the River Thames, has been a royal palace, a place of execution, a prison for traitors and still holds Britain’s Crown jewels.
The best way to get the lowdown on the Tower’s bloodcurdling history of treason, treachery and royal skullduggery is to take a tour with a Yeoman Warder or “Beefeater,” the scarlet and black tunic-wearing former members of the British Armed Forces.
12 p.m. Cross over Tower Bridge, turn left and go for lunch at one of the many restaurants on the South Bank. For top dining try Le Pont de la Tour which overlooks the Thames, or slightly less formal dining at the Chop House and Blueprint Cafe. They’re all part of the same group: www.danddlondon.com/restaurants.
You could also try one of the chain pub/restaurants further along the riverbank such as All Bar One or Browns. All have tables outside.
1 p.m. Head back toward Tower Bridge and keep walking past it. Here are the Mayor’s round and gleaming glass and steel offices. There is a broad walkway beside the Thames that is popular with both locals and tourists.
The South Bank has been London’s pleasure-seeking district for centuries. This is where the Elizabethan playhouses were located, a Bishop’s palace, the Clink prison and all manner of illicit activities in ye olde days.
As you stroll along you’ll pass the Clink museum (www.clink.co.uk), Vinopolis (www.vinopolis.co.uk) — a wine-lovers emporium of all beverages related to the grape — a replica of Francis Drake’s globe-circumnavigating ship the Golden Hinde (www.goldenhinde.com), and a lovely bankside pub called the Anchor Bankside before arriving at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater (www.shakespeares-globe.org).
The Globe was rebuilt only a few hundred meters from the original, which burned down during a performance of “Henry VIII” in Shakespeare’s day.
The thatch-roofed, oak-beamed Shakespeare’s Globe is a faithful reconstruction of the open-air playhouse designed in 1599 and a unique international resource dedicated to the exploration of Shakespeare’s work and the playhouse for which he wrote.
As it’s open-air, the season for productions starts in spring — this year has seen “Macbeth,” the rebuilt Globe’s first performance of Henry VIII, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” etc... — and lasts until autumn. Tours of the building and the Shakespeare exhibition are on all year-round.
Book yourself in for a performance as a groundling (standing room only in front of the stage), bag a posh seat with a rented cushion or carry on further up Thameside.
Take in the last few hours at the nearby Tate Modern Museum (www.tate.org.uk/modern), housed in an imposing converted power station. You can go for a ride on the giant London Eye (www.londoneye.com) ferris wheel or cross the Millennium footbridge for a visit to Christopher Wren’s magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral where two of England’s greatest heroes — Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington — lie entombed.
Lastly, you can wander a bit further on and cross over Westminster Bridge for a visit to Westminster Abbey (www.westminster-abbey.org), where England’s monarchs are crowned and many put to eternal rest alongside the graves of the unknown warrior, Geoffrey Chaucer, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, George Frederic Handel and Laurence Olivier.
Editing by Steve Addison