London On Parade

It’s the birthplace of punk, the home to top designers and the city of cutting-edge fashionistas.

It’s the epitome of cool Britannia. But like most international cities, London is full of contradictions. From the super-rich buying up apartment blocks on the River Thames to kids at art college trying to make a pound stretch a very long way; the ‘appointment-only’ boutiques on New Bond Street to the vintage shops in east London, it’s an intoxicating mix of gritty street style and high-end glamour. It just keeps getting better.

Fashion forward

London does cutting edge but it also does classic, high-end luxe. You’ll find the latter in Knightsbridge, home to both Harvey Nichols and Harrods. In central London, head to cool, calm Liberty or chaotic Topshop. In the East End, browse the eclectic pop-up mall Boxpark or Start London — an oasis of cool fashion. Love vintage? Visit Beyond Retro and Blitz.

Where to eat

For the best tapas in town, head to Barrafinas on the seafood counter.

For some boho appeal, head south of the river to Franco Manca. Don’t let the low prices put you off - these pizzas are made from slow-rising sourdough, baked in a brick oven and topped with UK-sourced ingredients. It’s a London standout.

Sunday lunch at the spacious Boundary offers simple and delicious French cuisine. And they make the best bloody marys in London. For seafood lovers, it’s worth booking a table on Sundays after 8pm, when all shellfish dishes are half-price.

For breakfast in style, pop into the Heron Tower elevator, hit the 40 button and hold tight. Not one for vertigo sufferers, Duck & Waffle is open 24/7, making it the perfect place for late-night snacks or breakfasts accompanied by a London sunrise.

Where to stay

LUXE:  London’s first hotel has welcomed presidents, prime ministers, royalty and writers. In fact, Brown’s Hotel inspired Agatha Christie’s 1965 thriller, At Bertram’s Hotel. 

COOL: W London, smack bang in Leicester Square, is for those who like their hotels slightly eccentric and very fun. The rooms are decked out in designer gear, the showers are big enough for two and food is served all day. 

OLD SCHOOL: You can’t get much more ‘classic London’ than Claridge’s, which first opened its doors in 1856. Each room, designed in either Art Deco or Victorian style, screams luxury. 

DESIGN: The new 91-room Ham Yard Hotel, located in the heart of Soho, features 13 hand-picked shops including Dinosaur Designs’ first UK outlet.

URBAN: Crash at Shoreditch Rooms after your visit to Shoreditch House — an unfussy but exclusive members’ club. As well as access to the chic club, the hotel offers a rooftop pool, private bowling alley and spa.

Hidden gems

London has a love affair with food, and you don’t have to book a table to experience it. Community group Kerb channels talented street vendors into some of the city’s hottest enclaves. Head to King’s Cross’s Granary Square, spread out on the grassy steps leading to the canal and feast on plates from the gourmet traders.

For an elevated view of east London’s rapidly changing heartland, board the London Overground train at Dalston Junction and travel south to Shoreditch High Street.

Dalston was once one of Hackney’s grittiest suburbs but it is rapidly gentrifying. The train takes you past storeys-high graffiti pieces, rows of Victorian terraces and imposing tower blocks, most notably Arnold Circus (tucked between Swanfield St and Boundary St), a stunning Victorian red-brick council estate, built in 1896, which was the first of its kind. Today, the streets radiate from the Arnold Circus bandstand, where you’ll find fashion photographers capturing the sun setting down Calvert Avenue. 

Must-see spots

Redchurch Street in Shoreditch has been declared London’s coolest street by more magazines than you can count, and this is where, in a modern-day take on Sunday best, folk come to show off their sartorial flair. It’s also one of London’s most interesting street art spots, so wander the side streets and see what was sprayed or freshly pasted up the night before.

If you’re there on a Sunday, make Columbia Road’s glorious flower market your next stop for an amble between the scented blooms. Grab your caffeine hit at Allpress, which serves one of the capital’s best coffees. The unmissable Tate Modern, Britain’s gallery of international modern art, is housed in a building as striking as the art it showcases, a retired power station on the banks of the Thames.

Catch the world-class collection of such heavy-hitters such as Matisse, Rothko and Beuys. Admission and daily guided tours are free.

Suburb spotlight

Once the butt of Only Fools and Horses jokes and considered south London’s most down-at-heel neighbourhood, Peckham has been transformed into a bohemian satellite of Shoreditch and is now popular with the arty crowd who can’t afford east London property prices. Combined with its close proximity to the legendary Goldsmiths College, the area has bloomed into a zone of trendy cafes, quirky boutiques and hipster music venues.

Make for Bussey Building, which hosts rooftop films and top international DJs.  Frank’s Cafe is slightly tricky to find, but once you’re up on level 10 of this car park, with a Negroni in hand and a sprawling view of London, you won’t regret it.

Petitou indulgent cakes and arguably makes the best coffee in Peckham. 

No67 cafe and restaurant at the South London Gallery is amazing for indulgent weekend brunches, but dinner is really special. You can get three courses for $40 on Wednesdays and Thursdays. 

Cafe Crema  in neighbouring New Cross is a cute, arty coffee shop that doubles as a buzzing community space, and is the spiritual home of the boho Goldsmiths College student crowd. 

Don't leave without...

Checking out one of the spectacular museums and art galleries in London. But if you can only see one, make it the Victoria and Albert. Its fashion collection, spanning five centuries, is the world’s largest and most comprehensive. From 14 March to 19 July, the V&A will honour four-time British Designer of the Year recipient Alexander McQueen with Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty — the late designer’s first and largest retrospective to be featured in Europe.

Also discover Wilton Way, an unassuming street in Hackney that serves up some of the most delicious food and drink in London. Grab a cake and coffee at Violet Cakes, reserve a table at Mayfields, a friendly local eatery with outstanding food, and have a drink at Borough Wines.

Living like a local

Fashion designer Eudon Choi moved from Seoul to London to study at the Royal College of Art. Since graduating in 2006, he has remained in London and now sells his womenswear collections around the world.

Where are London’s best places for fashion fiends? I love Dover Street Market. It has got such a distinct point of view and I love the way the space is laid out, not to mention the fantastic Rose Bakery on the top floor. LN-CC is also a fantastic space and has a great edit of brands and I love the fact you have to make an appointment to visit. Fashion should never be too easy.

Favourite places to hang out? I am obsessed with Brixton Village, a covered market near where I live which has dozens of small restaurants. There is something for everyone. My current favourite is Honest Burgers — the best burgers in London. In the adjacent Market Row there is a fantastic bar, Seven at Brixton, which has an inventive collection of cocktails. Brick House Bread does the best sourdough in London.

Where can people get your clothes? At Fenwick and The Shop at Bluebird.

Words by Simone Baird - Published in Voyeur September 2014
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 8 million
Area 1,572 km²
Time Zone GMT 0
Languages English (official)
Currency Pound (£GBP)
Electricity 230V with 50Hz frequency. 240V may also be found although 230V is the official voltage
Share this article 
facebook Twitter Pinterest Google
Related Articles 
Over Ground
Forget the London Tube - step into the light and see a new side to England’s capital by taking the overground Ginger Line.
Local's Guide London
The city of London is a haven for art, culture and history lovers. Here, Naomi Speakman of the British Museum reveals her top spots for soaking it all in.
Painting the town: Bristol
The slogan is sprayed across the brick façade of an old shop on Stokes Croft in Bristol’s centre, a message for all who pass underneath to see.