1. The Tower Of London
Quite apart from the chocolate-box gorgeousness of our iconic buildings – I’m not talking about ‘The Cheesegrater’ here – the Paddington films capture the great beauty of London. We get some glorious moments with the Tower Of London. Paddington also shows the cautiously open arms of a British welcome. There is usually a degree of suspicion at first but there’s a sense of welcome that I think lies in the heart of Britishness.
There is usually a degree of suspicion at first but there’s a sense of welcome that I think lies in the heart of Britishness
War and peace
The Imperial War Museum is open every day (except 24,25, and 26 December) from 10.00 until 18.00, including Bank Holidays, and admission is free.Explore London’s museums
Did you know…?
London’s original Chinatown, back in the 19th Century, was located in Limehouse in the East End. The current well-known Chinatown only started to form in the 1950s.Discover foodie London
The Imperial Crown of India was made in 1911 and is set with over 6,000 gems, but it has only ever been worn once, by King George V.Find a hotel in London
3. Le Relais de Venise
The restaurant Le Relais de Venise is a real surprise. You can’t book and there’s only one dish on the menu – steak frites with their magical, special sauce. Part of me thinks: “I refuse to be told what to eat!” And the other part of me thinks “This is marvellous – there's none of the faff and neuroses of going out for a meal.” I love that brutal French efficiency, and it’s a brilliant business model. You are treated with virtual contempt by the staff: “What do you mean you want pudding? Here’s the tarte Tatin – now go away will you? There are more people outside.”
4. Daunt Books
What I particularly like about Daunt Books is that I was one of the first people to stack shelves here – I was at school with the founder, James Daunt. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture, with wonderful skylight. It’s got this feeling of fin de siècle and a past era. You know you’re in a world of learning and erudition, but actually it’s got all the fun contemporary books as well.
The streets you see in the Paddington movies as being the neighbourhood where the Brown family lives, on Windsor Gardens, are streets around Notting Hill and Portobello – like the ones may have seen in Richard Curtis films for instance. But in Paddington 2 film, these little nuggets are burnished afresh. That’s director Paul King’s vision: he polishes up London and just gives it a different glow that you never expected. You end up thinking “This is a pretty good place.” That’s a nice feeling to have about your capital city.
Street of London
The beautiful Windsor Gardens exterior shots in the Paddington movies were actually filmed on Chalcot Crescent in Primrose Hill.Plan a trip to London
6. Yauatcha, Soho
I was taken to Yauatcha for the first time recently and fell completely in love with their steamed crab dumplings. For people watching, I adore the ground floor – I don’t like going into the darker downstairs room. You can watch as customers go in to buy cakes from the in-house patisserie, too; I love seeing people salivate as their purchases are being packed up.
7. Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum has had a major revamp in the past few years. When I last visited, there was a whole exhibition about the Victory Cross: it had loads of people lending their medals, and to see their individual stories from around the world who have done these remarkable feats of bravery was humbling and put everything into context. I found it very powerful and evocative. As a kid I went because I just wanted to look at the tanks and the guns – and now I go with a very different, respectful mindset.
8. Maida Vale Canal
There’s a whole section of Paddington that was filmed at the canal at Maida Vale at night: it’s never looked so beautiful! It’s a tucked away gem as it’s not on the main drag and it’s not a part of London I know well. The houses that look onto it are beautiful and the locals who live there on the canal boats are so proud of it. And rightly so.
9. Scarfe’s Bar
I really got intoxicated by Scarfe’s Bar at the Rosewood Hotel – in the right sense. They have this extraordinary bookcase full of drink which makes you tipsy just to look at it. I do still order my ‘Hugh’s The Daddy’ cocktail from my days on Downton Abbey: Silver Patron tequila, ginger ale and ice. I had one the other day as I was feeling sluggish and it perked me right up.
10. Shooter’s Hill
My early years were in Blackheath. I remember when I came to read Charles Dickens’ Tale Of Two Cities I was blown away that the coach journey that’s described was down the end of my road. It’s weird to think of Dickens writing about London locations that are very much alive and part of our functioning capital today – and he’s nearly a century and a half dead.