London is a destination well known for its cultural offerings, with world-renowned museums, art galleries, design emporiums – and shopping. Here are a few places to visit when you’ve already ticked off some of the more famous spots (we’re looking at you, Tate Modern) from your to-do list.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Loads of places get described as ‘treasure troves’ but once you’ve seen Sir John Soane’s Museum, you’ll never use that phrase casually again. Situated in the two Victorian row houses in which architect and extreme collector Soane (1753-1827) lived, this is the kind of museum that only a wealthy 19th-century British man could have created, and every inch of it reflects Soane’s aesthetically obsessive personality – especially because, in accordance with the terms of his will, nothing has been changed here in the 180-plus years since he died.
Its many rooms are all packed with incredible items ranging from Renaissance statuary to an Egyptian sarcophagus and a plethora of oil paintings, architectural drawings and Soane’s own sketchbooks, and entrance is free. It’s a small space, though, and only open to the public from Wednesdays to Sundays, so at very busy times you might have to wait a short while to get in. But it’s worth it: this is a genuinely fascinating and memorable place that made us think about what museums are for and how they function, as well as being an inspiring reflection of one person’s remarkable life and work.
Situated in one of the charming courtyards that make up Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden is The Barbary, a petite and perfectly formed restaurant from the clever people who also created Soho’s glorious The Palomar. The cuisine at The Barbary is inspired by the lesser-known Mediterranean food of the ‘Barbary Coast’ area – basically, we’re talking the coastlines of modern Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.
The menu changes almost daily and according to the seasons, but keeps the same general structure: it all begins with a ‘Baking & Grinding’ section – don’t miss the Naan e Barbari bread, or the Ashkenazi Chicken Liver – and then ‘mains for sharing’ are broken up into Land, Sea and Earth sections. If the Pata Negra Neck is on the menu, order it – it’s the single best pork dish I’ve ever eaten.
With everything being prepared right in front of you by the same team of enthusiastic people who also do the serving, all of which happens across a long curved bar counter, this is a genuinely interactive dining experience that’s loads of chatty fun. There are just two reservation times (12pm and 5pm) for parties of up to four people; for the rest, you’ll need to queue. It’s most definitely worth doing so, even in the rain.
The London Review Bookshop
London has loads of good bookshops, ranging from the brilliant Foyle’s flagship on Charing Cross Road and the simply beautiful Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street, to specialist spots such as Persephone Books on picturesque Lamb’s Conduit Street and Books for Cooks in Notting Hill. But The London Review Bookshop stands out even in this illustrious company, especially for readers who enjoy seriously expert service and an offering that’s absolutely up to the minute in terms of the intellectual ideas and debates of the day.
In part that’s because the shop is the ‘official store’ of The London Review of Books, one of the most important (and interesting) general literary review journals, which is published twice a month. This is where you’ll find the book your clever aunt asked you to look out for when in London, and where you’ll also discover a few writers you’d never previously heard of – and might well seriously enjoy.
There are two packed floors to browse and a tearoom that serves excellent cakes to boot. And once you’ve made your purchases, be sure to take them home in one of the store’s canvas tote bags. Available only in elegant deep green or navy blue and emblazoned with the classic London Review Bookshop logo, these sturdy bags are currently one of the hottest items to be toting on the streets of Seoul, South Korea – and even if no one realises quite how ‘on trend’ you are, yours will make the perfect reusable shopping bag back home.
Last but not least: while you’re here, pop in at the delightful Blade Rubber Stamps store (it’s almost directly next door) and pick up an ‘Ex Libris’ stamp with which to mark all your books when you get home.
Recommended to us by a Londoner on a recent visit as the best way to find the fastest route from A to Z in the city, the Citymapper app will suggest a variety of transport options to any given destination, and provide live updates and tips along the way too (including which section of the Tube train you’re boarding is likely to be the least crowded). It compares estimated travel times and costs of different forms of transport accurately and at the end of each trip, gives you a summary of how much of your journey time was spent walking, waiting and on the move, as well as an calculation of your calories consumed while making it. In short: super useful.