To sit on a London tube car is to feel connected to the vast, vibrant world beyond this swiveling island city. As you watch a steady skyline of chimney stacks and brick abodes, distant high-rises and green parks pass outside your window, your immediate surroundings swirl with languages, looks and mannerisms from around the globe.
All the senses are aroused here in London, where most anything seems to go. People (wearing suits, exercise get-ups, colorful saris, work uniforms, beautiful hijab scarves, studded jeans, faux fur) float through train cars with arms full of bundled babies and mystery shopping packages, effortlessly swimming through crowds and going about quotidian duties as any urban dweller knows to do.
The London city skyline wows in any season — Photo courtesy of ©VisitBritain/George Johnson
If a London visit is in your future, you no doubt have all the big "must-see" sites and attractions already blinking on your radar. But what about those lesser-known discoveries that help you experience the city in a brand-new light?
We chatted with some locals to learn recommended ways of slipping into the city's fold, sometimes simply by lounging at an obscure cafe table or wandering a neighborhood market among families loading up on dinnertime provisions.
Where to stay
The Kimpton Fitzroy London enjoys an enviable location just steps from the Russell Square tube stop — Photo courtesy of Kimpton Fitzroy London
If you're able, pamper yourself with a stay at the Kimpton Fitzroy London across from Russell Square. After braving the city bustle, you'll joyfully sink into spacious luxury inside this grande dame of a 19th-century landmark building.
In art-filled suites featuring soothing neutral tones and pops of whimsy, you'll find contemporary amenities that make one feel looked after and pampered from heated towel racks and 300-thread-count linens to a complimentary "tuck box" full of tasty snacks.
In addition to expected Kimpton perks like morning tea and coffee service, a hosted wine hour each evening and complimentary bikes to borrow, this striking destination is home to several venues ready to serve guests (and in-the-know London locals) delicious food and drink.
Fitz's inside Kimpton Fitzroy London hotel proves a prime spot for people watching and cocktail sipping — Photo courtesy of Kimpton Fitzroy London
Enjoy a hearty breakfast on-site (think chia pots, omelettes, porridge and smoked trout) or an afternoon cuppa at casual Burr & Co.; when you're ready to transition to top-level cocktails, slide in past the theatrical curtains to park under a glitzy disco ball at Fitz's trendsetting bar. For a fine dinner afterward, cozy in among the pink hues and cascading greens of Neptune, where stand-out dishes include the beef cheeks, cabbage with mustard aioli, and chocolate, redcurrant and coconut delice.
Get to know Richmond
Rowers gather by the scenic River Thames in Richmond — Photo courtesy of ©VisitBritain/Matthew Williamson Ellis
To situate yourself outside of city center, book a room at an elegant spot like Richmond's The Petersham. Although this hotel's address still grants easy downtown access, it also feels worlds away thanks to calming views of green Surrey fields and the nearby River Thames.
While in Richmond, stroll the waterside path, rent a kayak, people watch from the Tide Tables courtyard, check out showtimes at the Richmond Theatre, or get lost among the main street's lineup of shops and cafes. Indulge in coffee creations at Kiss the Hippo, the delightful (gluten-free) avocado toast at Coori or Danish-style pastries and open-faced sandwiches at Ole & Steen.
When in London, eat at these 10 essential British restaurants
When in London, eat at these 10 essential British restaurants
To get a sense of local life (and to up your zen factor while on the road), buy a day pass to Bhuti, where yoga and meditation classes take place in a sweet, calming space that boasts a verdant garden and beautiful stained glass windows. Afterward, try one of the cafe's energy-boosting smoothies or the coconut-sweet potato dahl.
Dinnertime means a savory pie and pint at lively Prince's Head pub or lamb kofta and the friendliest service around at subterranean Richmond Vault. Note that many restaurants here add a 12.5% service charge to your bill.
Neighborhoods to explore
Feel the pull of the rich colors and flavors of London's Brick Lane — Photo courtesy of ©VisitBritain/Mauricio Orozco
To experience other areas, wander Little Venice, where you can travel by barge to Camden or pause for coffee and cake at local gems like The Quince Tree Café in Clifton Nurseries. In East London, stroll around the Saturday Broadway Market (in the heart of Hackney), indulge with a flavorful curry crawl along Brick Lane, or head south of the river to merrily traverse the Bermondsey Beer Mile.
And for something completely different? In a southeast suburb, go see the main attraction of the Victorian-era Crystal Palace Park: The gigantic statues of "Dinosaur Court."
Day trips to enjoy
Purchasing a Visitor Oyster card proves a quick and easy way to get around on public transit while here — Photo courtesy of ©VisitBritain/ Kiyoshi Sakasai
Quaint villages dot the English map, and the country's extensive train system makes day trips to these dreamy destinations very doable and pleasant. Charming Canterbury's main attraction is its stunning, historic cathedral, where guests can take fascinating guided tours of its soaring spaces or stay for Choral Evensong programming.
Other Canterbury highlights include a stop into The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge (an art gallery, library and visitor information center all in one), a French-inspired meal at Côte Brasserie and afternoon tea at Tiny Tim's, where the sticky ginger cake will have you reminiscing long after teatime has come to an end.
Other worthwhile getaways range from Stonehenge and the royal residence at Windsor Castle to alluring draws like the hot pools of Bath and stone cottages in the Cotswolds. No matter where your London itinerary takes you, we hope the city's many layers continue to surprise and delight in dazzling, unexpected ways.