Design-Minded First Timers
There's no end to the different lives you can live in London — from grit to glamour to grime to royalty and back again in a few tube stops. I like to give the culturally inclined a good variety of grounding London experiences, especially if it's their first time.
THE STROLL — Redchurch Street, E2
For the East End experience — and a cleaner, more relaxed alternative to Brick Lane and the rest of Shoreditch and/or Dalston — walk along Redchurch Street. At first, you might think there's not much going on, because it hides a wealth of places you want to go, all conveniently located almost next to each other. Stop at Labour & Wait (#85) for timeless, traditionally made products sourced from around the world and Hostem (#41) for men's avant-garde and street styles. Closer to Shoreditch High Street you'll find a tiny A.P.C. (#5), an equally tiny Aesop apothecary-style shop selling the Australian brand's beauty products (#5A), and a Sunspel T-shirt shop (#7). Everything nestles around the hub of Terence Conran's Boundary hotel and restaurant complex (2-4 Boundary St.; entrance on Redchurch St.). There's a rooftop restaurant and the bakery/shop and Albion café on the ground floor, specializing in casual British comfort food. Depending on the time and day, it can be relaxed (weekdays), touristy (evenings), or very posey (weekend brunch). If self-conscious posing isn't your thing, head around the corner to Leila's (15 Calvert Avenue) for a more low-key experience and simple, honest, delicious food.
THE ART — South Kensington
There are other great, grand museums in London that you can easily spend all day in, but the Victoria and Albert Museum is always interesting, never stuffy, and expertly curated with world-class art, design, textiles, and fashion exhibitions. It's impossible to get bored. Add to this a fantastic range of events, late Friday hours (until 10 p.m.), a brilliantly stocked shop, cafés, and a garden, and you actually can make a day of it without getting museum fatigue. At the V&A Reading Rooms on Exhibition Road, you can browse books and have a glass of wine.
THE LITTLE BUN — St. John Hotel
A Little Bun Moment is one of those ceremonies that are pleasurable on lots of levels. I think of it as the modern version of afternoon tea, and there's no other way I'd rather spend a London afternoon. Cosseted away from the din of Chinatown and Leicester Square in the ultra-minimal surroundings of the bar at the St. John Hotel, between the hours of 3 and 5:30 in the afternoon, you will be served three steamed buns on a tiered silver tray and instructed on the order in which to eat them (top to bottom). The top bun is filled with anchovy paste, the middle with prune, and the bottom with chocolate. They prefer that you drink Champagne with buns but will allow you to order tea.
THE SHOP — Liberty
No other department store comes close to the character and charm of Liberty, so make this your only stop, even if you don't buy anything. The iconic Tudor revival building, constructed from reclaimed ship timbers, melds history, tradition, craft, and the brand new without batting an eyelid. You can find everything here, from the extremely affordable (stationery, chocolates, Liberty-print handkerchiefs) to the less so (the contemporary designer, shoe, accessory, and furniture departments showcase the best in design). Not to be missed is the fabric and haberdashery section, housing all the world-famous Liberty print fabrics in one place.
THE EVENT — Southbank Centre
The 1950s modernist Southbank Centre sits by the River Thames and offers a vast array of cultural activities, from music to theater, art, and film, as well as lots of bars and restaurants. Frequented by Londoners and visitors alike, it's a great place to spend a Friday night. The British Film Institute has an outstanding program of classic and contemporary films, a restaurant, a dark cozy bar, and a riverfront bar with an outdoor terrace and deck chairs. Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall often have free music events in their foyers, alongside the ticketed programs of theater and music.
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