With nearly twenty million visitors making their way through the British capital last year, London’s reputation as the world’s most visited city – and one of the hippest – is as solid as ever!
For a Toronto native, a visit to London, England, is like taking a trip to your colonial motherland to finally meet your extended family. Undeniably, the spirit of London is closely interwoven into Toronto’s architectural and historical DNA. A walk down Toronto’s neighbourhoods will reveal Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian architectural influence along with street names such as Bathurst, King and Queen. With such a diverse repertoire of cultures, food, history and our connection as a commonwealth nation under its monarchy, London has the charm and character to delight any Canadian.
The city is immersed in history. Home to the British monarchy, London’s atmospheric streets reveal celebrated landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, which can be admired atop the city’s iconic red double-decker bus.
However, London is much more than its past. Ever evolving, it is a city with cutting edge creativity and striking modern architecture that continue to transform its skyline – think London Eye, Gherkin, Heron Tower and the Shard. This contrast of old and new has resulted in a spectacular skyline that should be admired from Tower 42’s Vertigo 42 Champagne Bar, or cruising along the River Thames past the city’s famed bridges and sites.
Since the time of Shakespeare, London has been a prominent city for theatre, and with a dazzling spectrum of shows, theatre lovers are spoiled for choice. Take in a show in the lively West End, an Elizabethan drama at The Globe, or a summer performance under the stars at Regent’s Park open-air theatre.
The centre of London is filled with museums and galleries, among them the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Gallery, Tate Modern, Saatchi Gallery and the British Museum whose collections are as diverse as they are magnificent. Visit as many as you wish, admission is free!
Londoners have been enjoying Afternoon Tea for centuries. Today, this highlight of London society has been elevated to an art form with renowned establishments offering premium teas. It’s served alongside decadent works of art and gourmet finger sandwiches accompanied by champagne. Warm scones with Devonshire cream and sweet preserves are still a welcome staple. A wonderful place to partake in this traditional affair is at the iconic Langham Hotel in London’s Marylebone. Here, Afternoon Tea is served on elegant china in the grand Palm Court, as live piano plays in the background and the hotel’s tea sommelier assists you in selecting the perfect tea. It is an unforgettable experience and one that should not be missed!
This fashionable British city has always had a unique sense of style. Shop the posh boutiques on Mount Street and Bruton Street in London’s Mayfair, the Luxury Quarter of Bond Street and Regent Street, or the trendy brands along Oxford Street. Stop by Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly, a favourite among royalty. In Kensington, you’ll find the city’s legendary Harrods and Harvey Nicols where the late Princess Diana loved to shop.
Home to 300 languages, London’s cosmopolitan landscape provides for a dynamic dining experience. Whether you want to dine on the quintessential British meal of ‘fish and chips’ in a century’s old pub or in a trendy restaurant in one of the city’s charming neighbourhoods like Notting Hill, Mayfair, Soho and Chelsea, London’s restaurants are some of the world’s best. If you’re looking for an affordable way to try the creations of a celebrity chef, head to Jaime Oliver’s Diner in Piccadilly Circus. For contemporary British cuisine, Notting Hill’s three-story West Thirty Six is perfect and features a bar and lounges.
The English are known for loving their gardens and green outdoor spaces and London is no exception, as the city is dotted with tranquil gardens throughout. On a grander scale, visit Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, and Hampstead Heath where you’re sure to find the perfect spot to relax, have a picnic or enjoy a stroll.
London is a fusion of art and culture, history and architecture. It is the world’s most international city and whatever tickles your fancy, London has something to suit.
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WHERE TO STAY
Described as staying at the home of an eccentric English aunt, the eclectic and vintage Portobello Hotel is located on a quaint street in West London’s Notting Hill. Since opening its doors in the 70s, this boutique property has hosted a long list of media, models and musicians such as Mike Jagger, Van Morrison, and Johnny Depp who famously filled the Victorian bathtub in room 61 with Champagne for his then ladylove, Kate Moss. This little jewel is steps away from the famous Portobello Road and market, as well as lovely boutiques and restaurants.
The whimsical and stylish Ampersand Hotel is located in South Kensington. Housed in a reinvented 1888 Victorian townhouse, its modern design theme and beautifully-finished rooms are located on a posh street, minutes away from some of the city’s best museums, restaurants, boutiques (think Stella McCartney and Harrods) and bars. The hotel’s popular Apero bar and restaurant is tucked down in an underground vault and perfect for nights when you want to stay in.
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