At one point, it would have been fair to call London the capital of the world. Today, though it has rivals in cities like New York, Hong Kong, and Geneva, it stands its ground firmly as an international crossroad. In London, we have a political, cultural, and financial capital. We can but hope to see more than a sliver of it in 24 hours. But if we had to try, here’s what we’d do.
Breakfast sets the tone for the day, so what better place to start our 24 hours than forty floors up? The floor to ceiling windows at Duck and Waffle offer unparalleled views across the entire city from the center of the City. The best part is that you’ll still be able to see the Shard erupting out of tangle of streets in the London Bridge area — an unparalleled architectural sight. Order the eponymous duck and waffles for a crispy, sweet, and savory treat. Pair it with English breakfast tea, of course.
From the City — the old school financial heartland twinned with the glassy, modern financial center in Canary Wharf — head west to one of three museums. The V&A houses a centuries’ old collection of decorative arts spanning medieval England through to modern times. Similar to the British Museum, it’s notable for the sheer volume and quality of its exhibits. If you’re looking for a taste of British eccentrics, head to Holborn and visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum, where the art and antique collections of the nineteenth century architect who designed the Bank of England are housed in his preserved home. Go for the bits and pieces of Roman temples and paintings packed into every corner and up the walls, stay for the Monk’s Parlour. If you’re after a more traditional outing, you can’t go wrong with the Tate Britain. Founded by a sugar magnate whose collection of paintings were rejected by established institutions for lacking merit, this museum houses what is now considered one of the finest collections of British art.
You’ll have worked up an appetite with all of this wandering through museums, so we recommend skipping lunch in favor of an afternoon tea, preferably at the Langham Court Hotel or the Connaught Hotel, both establishments renowned for their attention to detail and sumptuous, generous menus. If you absolutely must have lunch, head to Borough Market to sample fare from every corner of the world for less than a fancy cocktail. Half farmer’s market, half street food market, 100% satisfying.
To work off all that food, we recommend partaking in that most British of traditions: walking. Hampstead Heath, Hyde Park, and Regent’s Park are all good options. Your choice should depend on whether you want a taste of the countryside without leaving the city, an old school promenade, or to laze amongst parterre and pristine flower beds (respectively).
London’s charms derive from its heritage as an international city. For dinner, sample the East Asian delights. For the best Korean fried chicken this side of the Ural mountains and that side of the Atlantic, seek out Jinjuu in Soho or Mayfair depending on what vibe you’re going for. If you’re in the mood for soup dumplings (who isn’t always in the mood for soup dumplings?), you can walk past the chefs making them at Leong’s Legends in Chinatown and sit down for a basket (or two. Or three.).
Lingering over dinner is a Doppeldecker tradition, but no trip to London is complete without some theatre so hustle over to the Barbican for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Erudite without being inaccessible, thoughtful without being overdone — the best way to take in the Bard’s works.
Time for a treat. Save the pub for the countryside and instead cross Waterloo Bridge (pausing to take in the astonishing view of old and new London) to reach Skylon, a sophisticated, modern, and thoroughly British bar with astonishing views and tasty cocktails. For a millennial daydream and some of the best cocktails in the city (the world?), head west along the riverbank to Dandelyan. If you want to keep it old school, the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel is considered the best for a reason. Don’t forget to make a reservation — there’s nothing worse than waiting for a table when all you want is a cold and herby gin and tonic.
If you’re anything like us, by this point you’ll want to head to bed. The St. James’ Hotel and Club provides plush, well-considered accommodation in a red-brick townhouse in the ritzy St. James neighborhood around the corner from the eponymous palace.
While breakfast at the St. James’ is unparalleled, head to the Wolseley or the Delaunay. Both restaurants are owned by Corbin & King — evident in the luxurious attention to detail and tasty menus — making the deciding factor whether you prefer Mayfair or Holborn. Both are around the corner from excellent shopping, so you’ll have just enough time to pick up some souvenirs for your wardrobe before hopping on your next flight.
Is the schedule ambitious? Yes. But what’s the point of going anywhere if you’re not going to seize it with both hands?