Curious London: a weekend guide

By Nick Curtis

Photography by Matt Richardson

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It’s Friday afternoon and you’re about to land in London. You’ve already crossed off the capital’s major sights, shops, museums and restaurants on previous visits, and you’re up for discovering something new. Our 48-hour guide uncovers the lesser-known corners of the capital, with tips for avoiding the crowds and secret alternatives to the usual tourist haunts – ensuring you’ll have a truly curious London weekend.


Evening - Make your escape

British Airways operates daily, worldwide flights to three of London’s major airports – Heathrow, Gatwick and London City – so you’re bound to a find a flight time that suits you.

If you’re flying into London City Airport, you’ll get spectacular aerial views of the capital, especially the burgeoning development East along the Thames corridor. Check in at nearby Lincoln Plaza, a supremely stylish and luxurious hotel based in Canary Wharf. Known as a major financial and business district, the area boasts boutique shopping and various bars, restaurants and cafes. If you’d rather stay closer to the centre of town, but still want to hang out with the hip crowds, try The Curtain in the achingly trendy Shoreditch area.

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Pick up some antique door knobs or marvel at some vintage maps as you sip on a botanical gin and tonic at LASSCO Ropewalk.

  • The Curtain hotel.

    Two wheels good

    The Zetter is where those in the know stay when they visit the capital. A boutique hotel in a converted warehouse, you’re within walking distance of dozens of world-class restaurants in design-centric Clerkenwell. Hire some of the hotel’s folding bikes to zip around the city.

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  • The London Aquatics Centre at Elizabeth Olympic Park

    Going for gold

    Two 50m Olympic-sized pools, diving boards, a gym and seating for 2,800 spectators are housed under the incredible futuristic sweeping roof (its design is inspired by moving water) of the Zaha Hadid-designed London Aquatics Centre – built for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

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  • Brick Lane’s Cereal Killer Café © Instagram/@livvflorence

    Super bowls

    Choose from thousands of cereal combinations at the Cereal Killer Café: there are 30 different types of milk alone (yes, really), 20 toppings and 120 cereals from all over the world with names you’ve never even heard of. Don’t settle for cornflakes – push the boat out with some Apple Jacks, Trix or even Royal Family flakes.

    Things to do in London

As you’re already east, take the Docklands Light Railway over to Rotherhithe, and sink a pint on the river terrace of the Mayflower pub – the oldest on the Thames – which takes its current name from the ship that took the Pilgrim Fathers from the nearby church to the New World. From here it’s a short walk to the indoor street food market, Hawker House where you can gorge on cheap eats, from pork belly buns to giant prawns, to fuel the weekend ahead. If the weather’s good, why not end the evening with a nightcap at the Midnight Apothecary, the garden bar on top of the entry shaft to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel (aka the world’s first footway under a river).


10:00 – Going for gold

After breakfast at your hotel, take a walk from the Thames up Bow Creek and the River Lea, to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home to the London 2012 Olympics, for swim at Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre. After that refreshing dip, take the 388 bus from Stratford to Shoreditch High Street and drop in at the Pure Evil Gallery, owned and run by Charles Uzzell Edwards, the second most successful British street artist after Banksy. Original works by cutting-edge talents will cost you, but prints of Pure Evil’s vampire bunny tag or ‘crying celebrities’ series are reasonable.

13:00 – Bagel break

You have a choice of lunch venues on Brick Lane. Either drop in at the 24-hour Brick Lane Beigel Bake, a London institution where fresh, filled bagels can be enjoyed for a couple of pounds. Or further down Brick Lane is a more modern manifestation of London’s foodie culture, the Cereal Killer Café, where London hipsters pay £4.40 for a large bowl of American Froot Loops.

14:00 – High life

Walk over London Bridge – not to be confused with Tower Bridge – and discover Borough Market, a foodie paradise of artisan market stalls. After you’ve had your fill, whizz up to the top of western Europe’s tallest building and enjoy an unparalleled view of London from the Shard’s viewing platform, a dizzying 800 feet above the city.

  • Sky-high dining: Sushisamba

15:30 – Get high

After a stroll around the vintage clothing, homeware and record stalls at Spitalfields Market take the speedy glass lift up to the 38th floor of the Heron Tower for a punchy mid-afternoon cocktail at the bar of restaurant Sushisamba – try the Coconut Seviche, an intriguing mix of citrusy yuzu and passion fruit with coconut gin and dark chocolate liqueur. You don’t have to book and show ID as you do at the nearby Sky Garden on top of 20 Fenchurch Street, aka ‘The Walkie-Talkie’, but there is a dress code and preference is given to restaurant diners.

19:30 – Culture vulture

The National Theatre, Old Vic and Shakespeare’s Globe are within easy reach – but so too are Southwark Playhouse and the Menier Chocolate Factory, both kooky theatres with buzzy bars in former industrial premises, which punch above their weight in terms of star casting and innovative drama. The Menier is particularly strong on musicals, staging recent revivals of Funny Girl and Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins.

22:00 – Vintage nightcap

Drop in for a drink at LASSCO Ropewalk to finish off the day – a bar in an antique shop on Maltby Street near London Bridge Station. The bar is peppered with unique finds – all with a price tag that you can buy. Pick up some antique door knobs or marvel at some vintage maps as you sip on a botanical gin and tonic.

  • Swap West End theatres for Southwark Playhouse
  • Prawnography’s XXL black tiger prawn on fries at Hawker House © ScottGrummett

    Street eats

    Fulfil all of your street food needs at Hawker House. Surrounded by high-rises and high-end restaurants in Canary Wharf, this refreshing fast food warehouse brings together London’s up-and-coming foodie talent at a fraction of the cost.

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  • Antiques at LASSCO Ropewalk © Instagram/@theseasonsatlassco

    Vintage wonderland

    Open Monday to Friday (08:30-17:00); Saturday (09:00-17:00); Sunday (11:00-17:00).Nearest tube: London Bridge or Bermondsey.

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11:00 – Breakfast of kings

Start the day with breakfast in one of the upmarket restaurants in the new developments around King’s Cross, including hearty Australian food at pared-back Granger and Co and German Gymnasium, a restaurant converted from London’s first Victorian gym. Then head for a pint at the Queen’s Head, a deliciously old-school Victorian boozer that is always packed (in a good way).

13:00 – Grills gone wild

If you want a bit more of a lie in, head for a later brunch at restaurant-of-the-moment, Berber & Q grill house in Haggerston. You’ll be lucky to get a seat in this no-reservations hotspot in the evening, but it recently launched a brunch menu which is under-the-radar – for now. Opt for the Israeli breakfast (think warm pita bread, avocado, boiled egg, feta, olives and dips) – it’s certainly Instagram-worthy. For an alternative, pop next door to Draughts, London’s first board game café and play Scrabble under the railway arches.

15.00 – Child’s play

Head back west through up-and-coming Bethnal Green and pop into the V&A Museum of Childhood – you’ll find it’s calmer and more manageable than its South Kensington big sisters. Great for kids and adults alike, there are plenty of vintage toys on display and nostalgic exhibitions. Pick up a yo-yo or some illustrated playing cards in the gift shop – they make great original presents for family and friends back home.

17:00 – Caffeine high

If you’re flying back from Heathrow or Gatwick, you can zip back into town on the Central Line for a pre-flight caffeine fix at Holborn Grind at The Hoxton Holborn, the central London offshoot of the cool east London hotel opened by Sinclair Beecham, co-founder of Pret a Manger. The coffee-cum-cocktail bar also does a mean espresso martini if you fancy something stronger before you head to the airport for your journey home.