The Inside Out Guide to London

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Credit: Miguel Romero

London is a massive metropolis, most of its expansive layout accessible by the extensive Tube system. Its robust royal history is a draw for plenty of visitors, while some flock for the world-class cultural offerings, from a rich theater scene rivaling NYC’s Broadway shows (and its equally as significant fringe and off-Broadway productions) to its array of standout museums. There are modern edifices like the Shard, offsetting history-steeped streetscapes and opulent landmarks, and a broad range of neighborhoods to explore, more than can be tackled in a weekend. Ahead, here are some ideas both iconic and unexpected for acing a London sojourn, from character-filled boutique hotels to worthy meals to palaces to poke around, and all sorts of other great vacation possibilities.

Where to Get Tattooed in London

Good Times Tattoo: Helmed by talented ink artist Nikole Lowe, who has appeared on London Ink, Shoreditch’s Good Times Tattoo is one of the city’s highest regarded studios. The bright, light-filled loft digs are a marked departure from the typical tattoo parlour aesthetic, and the modernized, pleasant environs and broader approach to ink make it a strong choice for that inaugural inking. In addition to New Zealand native Lowe’s skillful work, Good Times is where to find other a handful of other standout artists; the team currently includes talents Hannah Keuls, who can create expressive, dynamic designs, and Piotrek Taton, known for his ultra-detailed, realist designs. 147 Curtain Rd., 1st Fl., Shoreditch

New Wave Tattoo: This enduring local ink spot dates back to 1979, and owner Lal Hardy, known for his diverse skill set and varied styles he’s able to offer, The local institution is still a hit, four decades later: New Wave’s celebrity clientele includes Oasis’ Liam Gallagher, Dave Grohl, Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil, and assorted athletes. 157 Sydney Rd., London

Through My Third Eye: Standout ink artists Mowgli and Emma Bunkonis are the co-founders of this North London tattoo studio. It’s known for modern, creative designs. The studio is now also bringing its talents to Shoreditch in East London, thanks to a pop-up in The Curtain Hotel and Members Club. In addition to their permanent work, Through My Third Eye has whipped up flash tattoos featuring Mowgli and Bundonis’ creations, available exclusively at the pop-up. Through My Third Eye, 342 Hornsey Rd., Finsbury Park; Through My Third Eye Pop Up at The Curtain Hotel and Members Club, 45 Curtain Rd., Shoreditch

Where to Stay in London

The Pilgrm: Located in the buzzy ‘hood of Paddington, The Pilgrm, which opened in 2017, occupies four cobbled-together Victorian townhouses. Charming details like parquet wood detailing that dates back two centuries intermingling with all sorts of modern comforts one expects from a hip boutique property, with prices starting at $160 per night (though you’ll find deals for in the ballpark of $130 nightly). Guests enter through The Cafe in lieu of a lobby; another hotel convention that’s been nixed here is room service. Common spaces have cool touches like exposed brick, plush pink and grey armchairs, and ample indoor greenery, while the rooms have a mix of dark, handsome mid-century furnishings, tall ceilings, and plenty of clean white lines. Canine parents will appreciate that it’s a dog-friendly hotel, too. For a nosh on-site, head to The Lounge, an eclectic all-day cafe helmed by well-regarded chef Sara Lewis. Don’t miss the cocktails, either: eight creative concoctions, featuring oddball ingredients like plum vinegar, clay, and moss, were curated from eight standout cocktail bars globally. While staying at The Pilgrm, pop by the nearby Paddington outpost of Pergola on the Roof, a lushly landscaped food court of sorts with vendors including Vietnamese barbecue, burgers, modern French fare, and more.

The Chiltern Firehouse: For a luxurious splurge, consider The Chiltern Firehouse the first British property from hotelier Andre Balazs (Chateau Marmont in L.A., The Mercer in NYC; founder of The Standard) nestled in a former 1880s firehouse in the chic Marylebourne area. The majority of the Art Deco-style 26 rooms here are lofts or suites, with sumptuous decor and step-above touches like working fireplaces and Apple TV, starting in the ballpark of $550 a night. The property includes quirks like a secret outdoor smoking area, and on-site events like talks or movie screenings, which guests can partake in. Plus, it’s pet friendly, with furry pals provided with beds, bowls, treats, and toys.

Ham Yard Hotel:This cheeky, personality-filled option falls in a middle range price-wise (rooms start at $390 per night) features interior designer Kit Kemp’s cheerful mishmash of patterns and bright hues throughout. Rooms are on the spacious side, Fun touches include a bowling alley and bar lit with neon and a roof terrace replete with vegetable beds, fresh lavender, and olive trees. It’s prime location in the Piccadilly/Soho area, where a plethora of dining and drinking options abound, in close proximity to Mayfair. Art aficionados, take note: The National Gallery is a quick walk from Ham Yard.

What to Do in London

Buckingham Palace: One of the city’s most iconic sites, sure, it’s tourist-clogged and merits planning and buying a ticket in advance. But Buckingham Palace arguably delivers the biggest awe factor of London’s array of stately royal history-steeped attraction, as the London residence of the royal family.  All year round, you can witness the daily Changing the Guard ceremony, featuring those iconic crimson-clad, tall-hatted, stoic-faced guards; if you’re visiting in the summertime, it’s worth a visit inside. Open to visitors just two months a year, between late July and late September, when the Queen takes a vacation. Won’t be in town during summertime? Consider instead visiting Kensington Palace, with an exhibit exploring Queen Victoria’s life plus a collection of Princess Diana’s frocks, or Windsor Palace, the oldest, biggest occupied castle in the world, around half an hour via train from London and filled with artwork from the Royal Collection (plus, the largest dollhouse in the world, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House). Buckingham Palace, Westminster  

Columbia Road Flower Market: London is home to stellar markets of all sorts, from food-centric to antique gems to fresh flowers. The latter is the focus at the Columbia Road Flower Market, a must-visit if you’re in town on a Sunday. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekly, an adorable street lined in cobblestones and flanked by dozens of quaint shops becomes bursting with exquisite fresh blooms and cut flowers, along with bulbs and other gardening goods. It’s a charming experience even if you’ve got no need for floral purchases, with plenty of sweet cafes and casual food options to duck into for a break from ogling beautiful bouquets. Plus, it’s Bethnel Green location is near the heart of Shoreditch, one of the city’s hippest ‘hoods that warrants a leisurely stroll or two and is filled with cool shopping options and interesting eats, making for a perfect half or all-day Sunday excursion, when combined with nearby dining and inking highlights in the vicinity, outlined ahead. Columbia Rd., East End

Churchill War Rooms: History buffs, especially those with an interest in 20th century (or, even more specifically, WWII morsels) will delight in the Churchill War Rooms. The series of underground rooms were occupied by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his government associates when an aerial attack was launched on London. It’s a practically untouched time capsule dating back to 1945, and the site is where Churchill had clandestine conversations with President Roosevelt. Clive Steps, King Charles St., Westminster

Where to Get Inspired in London

V&A Museum: Previously called the Victoria & Albert Museum, the V&A dates back to 1851 and is pretty much a must-do for design hounds and fashion lovers, with plenty to interest a wider range of visitors, too. There are extensive exhibits showcasing everything from incredible jewelry to historical wedding attire to standout architecture to fanciful wallpaper. Special exhibits include “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams,” which runs through July 14, 2019, and one devoted to game-changing Brit designer and miniskirt pioneer Mary Quant. Admission to the V&A is free, though there are fees for some special exhibits. In need of a nosh? The V&A has the world’s oldest museum restaurant, featuring elegant period decor. Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge

Tate Modern: Masterpieces by relatively recent greats like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Georgia O’Keefe, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol are housed in this art institution. It opened relatively recently, in 2002, occupying a former power station; there’s also a 10-story addition called the Switch House that was unveiled in 2016. The Tate focuses on modern works from a global slew of big names, and there’s also its companion museum, the Tate Britain, featuring work by British artists dating back to the 1500s.  Living talents like Ai Weiwei and Tracey Emin can be found at the Tate as well. Best of all? The Tate is free to visit, including both its modern and Brit-focused locations.

Where to Eat and Drink in London

Nopi: Chef Yotam Ottolenghi hails from Jerusalem and, for the past decade and a half or so, has become a London culinary scene favorite thanks to his handful of fresh, creative, healthy-ish Middle Eastern restaurants. Nopi opened in 2011, and the Soho spot offers seasonally rotating small plates ideal for sharing that are ultra flavorful, rife with staple Israeli spicing like z’atar and sumac, and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily (except for Sunday nights, when it’s closed). Upstairs, there’s more traditional seating on offer, while downstairs has communal dining plus a view of the kitchen, for a more social, stimuli-filled experience. For a more casual, affordable way to experience Ottelenghi’s cooking, check out one of the Israeli chef’s other establishments around town, like his eponymous Notting Hill glorified deli, his first-ever London spot which opened in 2002. His influence extends further thanks to a handful of popular, beautiful cookbooks that are pretty user-friendly and unfussy; your mom or cooking obsessed BFF probably owns at least one.  21-22 Warwick Street, Soho

Borough Market: Another standout market among London’s veritable array of excellent, diverse options in the genre, Borough Market is one of the city’s biggest and oldest food markets, filled with over 100 stalls. Historically, it’s been a go-to for sourcing all sorts of ingredients sold wholesale and retail to fetch and cook up at home, from fine cheeses to ultra fresh produce to excellent breads, but there’s also tasty treats of the freshly prepared, devour standing up, ASAP variety here. Come hungry enough to enjoy the gooey, pungent, dripping cheese masterpiece that is Kappacasein’s raclette (piled on potatoes, gherkins, and pickled onions) and the stall’s toasted cheese sandwich, the ultimate adult grilled cheese containing cheddar, onions, leeks, and garlic griddled between slices of sourdough. It’s open Monday through Saturday year-round, and on Sundays, too, throughout December, with all of its stalls open on Wednesdays through Saturdays and a limited range of businesses open on Mondays and Tuesdays. 8 Southwark St., Southwark

Dishoom: Frankly, British grub doesn’t exactly have the most stellar reputation as far as national culinary heritage goes, compared to nearby European neighbors like, say, Italy or France. Sure, there are signature dining and drinking experiences worth sampling, particularly the latter: nonalcoholic, a.k.a. a posh afternoon tea service, and with alcohol, as in a few pints at a classic pub. Food-wise, topnotch Indian fare is something you’ll find in London (a lingering memento of British colonialism, to be clear), and Dishoom, which bills its flavorful fare as “from Bombay with love,” is a reliable, excellent place to enjoy it. The U.K. chainlet has five London locations, as well as outposts in Manchester and Edinburgh, but don’t let the multiple outposts to be a deterrent: the food, which includes topnotch curries, grilled meats and fish (don’t miss the spicy lamb chops), and extensive options for vegan diners, has legions of local fans, hence the waits for a table that can sometimes occur. There are also a few location-specific specials to consider at each Dishoom outpost. Dishoom Shoreditch, 7 Boundary St.; Dishoom Carnaby,  27 Kingly St.; Dishoom Covent Garden, 12 Upper St. Martin Ln.; Dishoom Kensington, 4 Derry St.; Dishoom King’s Cross, 5 Stable St.

Related: More Inside Out City Guides

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