A long weekend in London


By Emanuela Guastella

Photography by Simon Bradfield/Getty Images

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March 2017

With its art, history and a hint of eccentricity, the European capital of cool has always been an ideal destination. And it’s not true that the weather is always grey: London can be spectacular throughout the year. And with British Airways flights departing from more than 10 Italian airports, you can get there within a couple of hours and explore the city over a weekend.

Fly to London

Ready, steady… go!

Once you’ve touched down in London, make your way to the hotel to drop your luggage. Then move to the nearest Simmons Bars: there are several spread around Central London and open till late. For an elegant stay, The Ampersand is a boutique hotel in South Kensignton, within easy reach of a clutch of museums. For a touch of glamour, The Rosewood is very central, in Covent Garden, while the Radisson Blu Edwardian Kenilworth is closer to the British Museum.

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Carnaby Street, that icon of the Sixties, is not showing its age and is still in tune with the times

  • A soft and wonderfully comfortable bed in London’s Rosewood.

    Full relaxation

    Touring can be tiring… Le Temps d’un Songe, a revitalizing treatment offered by the Rosewood’s Sense Spa is exactly what the doctor ordered.

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  • An injection of reinvigorating caffeine at Caravan, King’s Cross

    More than coffee

    Caravan in King’s Cross has a rich menu of small delicacies and original recipes from Monday to Friday (08:00 – 22:30) and Sunday (10:00 – 16:00).

    Exploring London
  • The architectural details of the Houses of Parliament are outstanding © anyaivanova/Getty Images

    Leaning Tower

    From close up, the Elizabeth Tower, encasing the famous Big Ben, is leans slightly to one side, perhaps because of the many years of underground excavations. Fear not, however: there is absolutely no danger.

    Discovering London

Saturday

09:00 – A bit of history

After a hearty breakfast at Caravan, a redeveloped grain store in Granary Square, the first day of exploration begins. A classic itinerary starts from Westminster, with a walk around the historic Houses of Parliament and the Abbey. A side entrance leads into the Chapter House: a real jewel, a small octagonal chapel with Medieval sculptures and wonderful frescoes. The entrance is from Dean’s Yard, on the south side of the cloister.

11:00 – History and politics

Going up Whitehall takes youpast the gate which, these days, protects Downing Street. It has not been possible to get up close to the Prime Minister’s residence for some years, but you can comfort yourself with a picture of the uniformed guards on Horse Guards Parade. Across the road, another gem lies waiting to be discovered: the Banqueting House, once part of the Royal Palace of Whitehall, with a wonderfully intricate ceiling painted by Peter Paul Rubens.

  • Peace and tranquillity: the Oriental Gardens in Holland Park © tbradford/Getty Images

    Did you know…?

    Half of London is made up of parks and green spaces, ideal for a short pause to admire the spring blossom.

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13:00 – Following Nelson’s footsteps

The grand avenue that is Whitehall leads you into Trafalgar Square, always packed with street performers. The National Gallery is full of masterpieces, but let’s make time for a different genre of artin the National Portrait Gallery and then have lunch or stay for afternoon tea, with its accompaniment of sandwiches, scones and patisserie, in the restaurant on the third floor, which has beautiful views over Trafalgar Square and the monuments.

15:00 – Fashion and British style

A walk towards Piccadilly leads towards Carnaby Street, the famous shopping district. It is full of international fashion outlets, but we suggest you try a couple of British brands: Drop Dead Clothing or Peckham Rye with its more traditional look.

19:00 – City lights

After shopping, it’s just a short ride by bus or tube from Oxford Street to Victoria, to take advantage of Golden Tours’ open top buses for a tour of the city as the sun goes down. The night-time view under the city lights is always mesmerising. The starting point is in Buckingham Palace Road and you need to be there by 19:45. The tour lasts 1¾ hours. At the end of the tour , the bus stops at Victoria station. Have you had dinner? A New-York-Italian restaurant worth a try not far from here, in Victoria’s NOVA complex.

Sunday

09:30 – The charm of the Thames

Today’s itinerary starts from Somerset House: this historical building dates back to the 16th century and the vast courtyard is occupied by galleries, restaurants and cafes; it also hosts a variety of seasonal events. For breakfast we choose Tom’s Kitchen and if the weather is kind we can sit on the terrace to admire the river views. The Courtauld Gallery, open from 10 to 18, is a must for art lovers. Manet’s Girl in the bar of the Folies-Bergère has the power to hold you with her mesmerising eyes.

  • Delicious Italian-inspired dishes in Hai Cenato

    Food capital

    London has 66 Michelin-starred restaurants, not to mention all the host of street stalls selling delicious, creative and irresistible ethnic food.

    Gourmet London
  • A match in Bounce Old Street

    Table service

    Ping pong is centre stage here, but refreshments are also good. For example, a Ping & Pong cocktail with red wine and bergamot.

    Flights to London
  • The swinging Sixties live on among the streets and shops of the Carnaby Street area © Alamy

    Soundtrack

    Carnaby Echoes is a free app with a guide to the streets of the area and their musical connections across the decades.

    Shopping in London

11:30 – Magic on the riverside

It’s a short distance from Somerset House to the Thames riverside. From the imposing wheel of the London Eye, a long stroll takes you from the South Bank to the British Film Institute, from the National Theatre to the Globe Theatre, until you reach the Tate Modern. If you don’t want to stop for a bite in one of the many stalls selling street food (though the aroma is irresistible…) you can take a seat in one of the Tate Modern’s cafes. Then it’s a climb to the top floor of the former power station - or a ride in the lift - to the new panoramic viewpoint in the Switch House.

15:00 – On the other side

Just across the Millennium Bridge is St Paul’s Cathedral, with its dome and the ingenious acoustic of the Whispering Gallery. With a bit of luck there might be a chance to listen to some organ music or the choir accompanying the Sunday service.

17:00 – Panoramic views

One New Change is the closest shopping centre to St Paul’s, with shops, restaurants and another panoramic terrace. To round off the day, move further east to Shoreditch and try a taste of modern Indian cuisine at Dishoom in Boundary Street with its décor inspired by an old Irani cafe in Bombay. Finally one last drink at Bounce - then work off the effects with a lively ping-pong match. And for those who want to dance till the small hours, a visit to the iconic Fabric nightclub is a must.

Monday

10:00 – An alternative itinerary

Start from Notting Hill: after a relaxed breakfast in Granger & Co we walk through the streets of Portobello. Monday is an off-peak day for the famous market and you can walk through it at a leisurely pace.

12:00 – Arts and music

Walk across Holland Park to reach High Street Kensington and take the side street leading to 12 Holland Park Road. Here is one last hidden jewel: Leighton House, the house and studio of Frederic, Lord Leighton. The ornate rooms, with decors inspired by Italian and Arab art, host a fascinating collection of pictures and sculptures by Leighton and his contemporaries.