Arriving at London Heathrow on a crisp winter evening, I step into a Piccadilly line train towards Earl’s Court. I’m here almost after a decade, but everything strangely feels familiar. It’s almost like being on auto-pilot; my oyster card still works and it’s safe to say, I feel at home. The seamlessness of London’s transport system continues to amaze me, as I step out of the train, minding the gap, and make my way towards the exit. The ease of its tube connectivity doesn’t require a crash course. With 11 lines running across 402 km, plying almost five million daily riders, London Underground immensely simplifies a rendezvous with Greater London.
As I walk to my hotel, I see culturally diverse individuals on the streets; there is a sense of joy that Christmastime is becoming. Yuletide lights make this even more magical. Almost every fifth person appears to be Indian; and this isn’t a delusion. Indian traveller numbers to London have been ever-rising since a few years now. The number of visitors arriving in London from India is projected to reach 0.52 million a year by 2025, up from 0.27 million in 2016. This is set to register a monumental 90 per cent upturn by 2025, as per the latest data by the British capital’s tourism organisation.
Not only are people from Indian shores visiting more but their spends are also skyrocketing. According to data collated by London & Partners (L&P), the business arm of the Mayor of London’s office, Indian visitors to London spent £258 million in 2016, which is projected to rise to £721 million by 2025 – a staggering 180 per cent increase. It only helps that Virgin Atlantic along with British Airways now has direct flights from key Indian hubs of Mumbai and Delhi.
And it’s only understandable why London still maintains on an unmatched position in the affluent Indian traveller’s bucket-list. The British capital is the brimming hub of all things new. A trendsetter across the board, London is where the world’s ‘firsts’ originate. From being a flagship destination to the choicest haute couture labels to humble boutique brands; from sophisticated outposts of Michelin-starred chefs to the unpretentiousness of its street food; from mind-boggling skyscrapers to heart-warming colonial bridges — London is unparalleled. And I have no qualms of stating that even after travelling across many countries, it remains the city where my heart lies; a city that envelopes me in a sense of belonging.
Here is what you should see on your next trip to the English capital.
For the culture wanderers
Get off at London Bridge station and walk to Shakespeare’s Globe, the reconstruction of the erstwhile Globe Theatre, for which William Shakespeare wrote his plays back in the 1600s. Take up a guided tour for a glimpse into the thespian stories of the past, as you understand how this O shaped theatre makes for an experimental theatrical space. Running until February 19 is To The Forgotten She-Wolves, a contemporary drama where 20 writers rediscover women and non-binary ones who have been misrepresented by society.
Next on the list is the seat of the Bishop of London — St. Paul’s Cathedral. Get off at Blackfriars station and walk on Fleet Street until you spot the iconic white dome framed by spires — the stunning hallmark of London’s skyline since 300 years. The Cathedral dates back to the late 17th century and is a glorious example of classic English Baroque architecture. As you walk past the monument and towards the Millennium Bridge, don’t forget to turn around for a postcard worthy picture.
At the other end of the bridge is Tate Modern, one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world, and another cultural pitstop. While it houses an array of free permanent displays, some of the upcoming exhibitions we recommend include Dora Maar (until March 15) that features the French photographer’s provocative photomontages and Hyundai Commission Kara Walker (until April 5), a 13-metre tall working fountain inspired by the Victoria Memorial by artist Kara Walker.
If you your preference in art is more traditional than modern, head to National Gallery at Trafalgar Square (Charing Cross station). Not only is its façade a muse to architecture enthusiasts, but its collection of over 2,300 paintings is emblematic of London’s cultural and artistic influence. The Virgin and Child with St. Anne by Leonardo da Vinci and Titian’s Death of Actaeon are some of the Gallery’s most significant purchases.
Situated along the bank of River Thames and beside the Victorian Gothic-style Tower Bridge, is the Tower of London (Tower Hill station) — where you should venture next. Get lost in the tales of the ravens whose absence could mythically cause the falling of the Tower as you get dazzled by the Crown Jewels’ collection of 23,578 gemstones that are powerful symbols of England’s monarchy. The Kohinoor, one of the world’s largest cut diamonds in the world (105K), is a part of this collection.
For the taste seekers
Beside culture, history and futuristic advancements, London’s position in the world of the latest gastronomical trends is unquestioned. With their unique cuisines and experimental fare, London’s new restaurants and bars set the taste tone for the rest of the planet to follow. Restaurants from across the (chopping) board find their presence in the English capital, and there is no palate craving that can’t be satiated here.
From icons like Le Comptoir Robuchon that encompasses Michelin-starred Chef Joël Robuchon’s classy French vision to the three Michelin-starred The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s renowned restaurant for modern British cuisine, London is the Mecca of sophisticated dining.
If Japanese-Brazilian-Peruvian sushi has ever been on your list of innovative foods to try, visit the quirky Sushisamba that has multiple outlets in the city. Some of our picks include Din Tai Fung (a Taiwanese restaurant franchise), Zizzi for Italian, Zuma for izakaya-style Japanese dining and Tonkotsu for heart-warming bar-style ramen.
London, the home of chicken tikka masala, continues to innovate itself with edgy Indian restaurants that are breaking away from the regular rice and curry format. Chef Manish Mehrotra’s London outpost of his Delhi restaurant Indian Accent makes it to the top of our desi list. For innovative, Mumbai-style food with the likes of pav bhajji (minced vegetables with Indian bread) and Thumbs Up (the Indian counterpart to Coca-Cola), make a reservation at Dishoom. An outpost of The Leela Palace Bengaluru, Jamavar London brings to life a Michelin-starred Indian fine-dining experience. visitbritain.com
London’s Quaint Bazaars
The city’s charming markets welcome locals and tourists alike with their distinctive feel and products. Here are a few we recommend.
Edgy and old-worldliness mixed with delicious street-food and unconventional products. Camden Town, NW1 0NE
Perhaps London’s most renowned food and drink market that dates back to the 12th century. Southwark Street, SE1 1TL
With over 1,000 dealers, it is an extensive selection of antiques in Britain. Portobello Road, W11 3DB
Columbia Road Flower Market
East London’s floral paradise on a road of Victorian shops. Open on Sundays only. Columbia Road, E2 7RG
Brick Lane Market
A bustling vibe with cafés , vintage shopping, street art. Open on Sundays only. Brick Lane, E1 6QR
Where to Stay
Copthorne Tara Hotel London Kensington
If you’re looking to stay in Kensington, Copthorne Tara Hotel London Kensington with over 800 guestrooms is a good idea. Standard, Superior and Club rooms; Executive suites and a Presidential suite are some of the categories. Rooms offer Hyde Park or city views and feature a safety deposit, a flatscreen TV and a tea/coffee maker. This hotel’s Liffey suite and Shannon suite can fit 300 and 400 guests respectively for events. The Tara Tea Lounge is ideal for decadent afternoon tea. millenniumhotels.com
Grosvenor House Suites by Jumeirah Living
Fully serviced private residences in the heart of Mayfair, Grosvenor House Suites by Jumeirah Living offers the comfort of home with a luxurious perspective. It is situated on London’s Park Lane, overlooking Hyde Park. Accommodation types include residences and London and Penthouse suites. The interior design of the suites combines a classic British finish with contemporary touches. Its second-floor Atrium with a seven-storey high ceiling and a grand fireplace is available to residents and their guests for informal all-day dining. jumeirah.com/ghs
Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill
An ode to Sir Winston Churchill, Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill boasts interiors that are decorated in contemporary British style. Rooms equipped with iHome docks, Nespresso machines and Molton Brown amenities. The hotel offers 627 sqm of event space, divided into 11 meeting and event rooms.The Churchill Bar & Terrace offers some exclusive cocktails, homemade tonics and fine wine. hyatt.com
Intercontinental London Park Lane
Situated in Mayfair, the hotel is a flagship property of Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts. Guestrooms are designed with a mix of modern and traditional aesthetics. All guestrooms come with a Bose sound system and a Nespresso machine, along with Agraria bath amenities. The hotel also has 11 event suites that can accommodate up to 300 people. We suggest a classic British tea ritual at the Royal Afternoon Tea café. parklane.intercontinental.com
London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square
Located in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair close to Hyde Park is London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square. Deluxe and Superior rooms; Balcony and One-bedroom suites are some of the accommodation categories. With ten meeting rooms spanning across 1,755 sqm, its meeting spaces can fit about 1,000 people. Dine at Gordon Ramsay Bar & Grill to savour a taste of New York here in London. marriott.com
London Marriott Hotel Maida Vale
Located in Westminster, it is a short walk from Kilburn Park station. Accommodation categories include Executive King rooms, Accessible King rooms and a Presidential suite, among others. Rooms are minimal with elegant elements and modern touches. Four versatile event spaces can accommodate up to 180 people. The hotel’s all-day dining outlet Carluccio’s is an Italian offering that serves a varied range of classics. A dip in the Bannatyne’s swimming pool is ideal in summer. marriott.com
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane is located in London’s prime spot with interiors done by MKV Design. Along with guestrooms, it has Art Deco-inspired and Park View suites. Guestrooms’ amenities include bathrobes, slippers and toiletries are by Le Grand Bain. The hotel has over 900 sqm of event space that includes five meeting spaces and a ballroom that can accommodate up to 500 people. A quick coffee break at Caffé Musetti is recommended that can be paired with premium coffee along with some fresh pastries, salads and sandwiches. marriott.com
St. James’ Court, A Taj Hotel, London
Close to Buckingham Palace, the hotel is a short walk from Victoria station. Some of the categories of this 323-key hotel include Classic and Classic King rooms and Classic Junior suites. The wing by the courtyard features renovated rooms that are categorised as Premium. A Nespresso machine, a marble bathroom with Forest Essentials amenities, a work desk equipped with multiple charging points and a minibar are some of the features of the accommodation. The hotel has banqueting suites that can accommodate up to 250 people. A multi-course Indian dinner at Bistro with fine wine is a good idea. tajhotels.com