The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
Skip to main content
By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
A house lining Millfield Lane next to Hampstead Heath.
A house lining Millfield Lane next to Hampstead Heath.

A local’s guide to London

A house lining Millfield Lane next to Hampstead Heath.
A house lining Millfield Lane next to Hampstead Heath.
  • By Lianne Kolirin
  • Photos by Harry Mitchell

London has a reputation for gray days and sky-high prices. Yet neither do anything to repel the millions of people who call this sprawling city their home or dampen their enthusiasm for it. And for good reason.

While eco-conscious commuters and visitors zip about on bikes and scooters, flitting between the tech start-ups in East London to the hyper-cool bars around Old Street or King’s Cross, history is inescapable, whether you’re touring the Houses of Parliament or crossing the street Beatles-style at Abbey Road. Culture vultures can choose between edgy street art in Shoreditch and the Old Masters at the National Gallery. Fine arts are on offer almost every day of the week. Plus, our reputation for drab and soggy food is long gone. International cuisine is everywhere — Lebanese shisha bars in the west, curry houses on Brick Lane, haute cuisine in exclusive Mayfair. Every hungry budget is catered for, from our street food to meals by celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver.

A short trip to London is never enough, which is why you’ll be back again and again. Britain’s capital has just about everything to offer (aside, perhaps, from sunshine).

Meet Lianne Kolirin

Lianne grew up in London and has spent most of her life there, besides her long-gone university days in Manchester and an adventure-filled stint spent globe-trotting. A busy freelance journalist, she is also mum to three young Londoners, born and bred.

Want to get in touch?

Read more about LianneChevronDown


Notting Hill
The best time to visit Notting Hill is in summer, when the neighborhood hosts Europe’s biggest street party. But even if you can’t make it in August, there’s plenty going on in this buzzing corner of west London. Portobello Road Market is the star attraction, as shoppers pour in to haggle over antiques, furniture, vintage fashion and more. Have your camera at the ready for a stroll along streets lined with pretty, colorful houses, or step it up a notch with some live music and entertainment at the Notting Hill Arts Club. Find this neighborhood.
Just 15 minutes away from central London on the Tube, Hampstead is a perfect refuge for those in search of down time. Attractions abound, including the sprawling urban wilderness of Hampstead Heath, with its outdoor swimming ponds and Kenwood House, a restored Georgian mansion. The affluent neighborhood, which has a distinct village feel to it, is also dotted with great restaurants, shops and even a couple of theaters. And as home to the rich and famous, it lends itself well to a bit of star-spotting. Find this neighborhood.

Explore more of London


Beigel Bake
Beigel Bake is a treasured East End institution and a surviving remnant of the district’s former Jewish past. While the area has evolved rapidly in recent years, the 24-hour bakery remains popular with early-morning workers and late-night clubbers alike. The signature salt beef-and-mustard bagel (a.k.a. beigel) might be a tall order if you’re just starting your day, but other favorites include the smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, and apple strudel or the cheesecake for a sweeter alternative.
BTW: Prepare to eat and run, as this is a busy bakery, not a cafe. But there’s plenty to do on the surrounding streets of cool and trendy Shoreditch.
Beigel Bake, 159 Brick Lane Shoreditch, London E1 6SB
For a breakfast with a difference, head to Dishoom, which pays homage to cafes in Mumbai that were set up by Parsi or Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran — once a regular feature of the Indian city and now few and far between. The extensive breakfast menu features a fiery blend of spiced-up favorites like eggs and bacon, as well as lesser known traditional alternatives, such as keema per eedu, a Parsi power breakfast of chicken keema topped with eggs.
BTW: Fortunately, Dishoom takes reservations for breakfast, so you won’t have to wait as long as you might later in the day.
22 Kingly Street London W1B 5QP
Borough Market
Whether you’re exploring the South Bank or heading up the Shard for a bird’s-eye view of the capital, it’s worth taking a mealtime detour to bustling Borough Market. A true feast for the senses, it offers a huge variety of delicious street food made fresh on-site. From vegan burgers to meat pie and mash, you’ll be spoiled for choice. While there, don’t miss out on the culinary shopping or free cooking demonstrations. The market has a modified schedule, so check their website before going.
BTW: Check out all the options before you commit. You don’t want to get order envy.
Borough Market, 8 Southwark St. London SE1 1TL
London’s foodie culture has been conquered by Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian partner Sami Tamimi. Their “chain” consists of four laid-back deli-style restaurants, as well as restaurants Nopi and Rovi. Whatever you choose, it’s more than likely going to be excellent. But lunchtime at Ottolenghi is all about the salads. The chargrilled broccoli is a specialty, and aubergine (or eggplant) often takes center stage. Save room for the giant meringues or any of the decadent desserts.
BTW: Unlike other branches, you can actually book for lunch at Spitalfields — a distinct advantage, given Ottolenghi’s popularity.
Ottolenghi, 50 Artillery Lane London E1 7LJ
Bang Bang Oriental Food Hall
It’s well worth venturing beyond the confines of central London to the city’s northwestern suburb of Colindale to this huge and happening Asian food court. Catering to every taste and budget, it features more than 20 concessions cooking up an eclectic mix of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Taiwanese and Malaysian cuisines. Translated from Mandarin as “Good Good,” Bang Bang offers a wide selection of sushi, dim sum, curry, bubble tea and more.
BTW: Not the place for an intimate meal; Bang Bang can be crazy busy.
Bang Bang Oriental Food Hall, 399 Edgware Rd. Colindale, London NW9 0FH
El Vaquero
Sorry, vegans and vegetarians; El Vaquero is a paradise for carnivores. Located on the outskirts of north London, the Brazilian barbecue restaurant is worth the journey for its huge selection of grilled meats served table side, accompanied by a selection of salads and veggies. Really hungry? Try the Man vs. El Vaquero challenge. Devour a set menu in an hour, and get your meal for free as well as your name in the hall of fame.
BTW: Pescatareans are also catered to, but fish must be pre-ordered when booking.
2 Hale Lane, Mill Hill, London NW7 3NX
The Fable
Spread out over three floors, the Fable is far from intimate — and yet every nook and cranny has a cozy feel, thanks to the awesomely quirky interior, including vintage typewriters and furniture crafted from stacks of books. On the edge of the City of London, this bar and restaurant is inspired by the fantasy world of fairy tales and Aesop’s fables. Every night is a late one, aside from Sundays, which are usually closed for private events.
BTW: The Fable will teach you how to blend your own cocktail with mixology classes.
The Fable, 52 Holborn Viaduct London EC1A 2FD
Temporarily closed
Ranoush Juice
Edgware Road, otherwise known as Little Beirut, has no shortage of top-quality shawarma and shisha joints. Among them is Ranoush Juice, which stays open until 3 a.m. Part of the long-established Maroush brand, which has eateries across the capital, Ranoush is a smaller, fast-food-style operation serving some of the best drinks and dishes from the Middle East, including hummus, falafel, moussaka and, needless to say, a fine late-night kebab.
BTW: Juices are squeezed fresh on-site, and you can order a blend of whatever is in season.
Ranoush Juice, 43 Edgware Rd. London W2 2JE
(London illustrator Jed Chisholm for The Washington Post)
  1. Once you're in the center of town, get walking. It's not as big as you think and is the best way to see the city.
  2. Shopping at Westfield Stratford City, by the Olympic park, is far more enjoyable than spending the day on Oxford Street. You can get everything you need, and an equally good part is exploring beyond the shops to the fabulous park.
  3. You can spend your life in London and never get bored. But if you have the chance, venture outside of it — Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton are all within an hour of the capital.
(London illustrator Jed Chisholm for The Washington Post)


Tea at the Ham Yard Hotel
Afternoon tea is a uniquely British experience. There are no shortage of venues that serve it, but this hotel’s special take outdoes its top rivals’. Tucked away in a hidden, tree-lined courtyard behind the throng of Piccadilly Circus, the Ham Yard has a funky “modern British” interior designed by Kit Kemp, with a 1950s bowling alley and a private cinema.
BTW: Despite its peaceful location, Ham Yard is right in the heart of theaterland. Afternoon tea is perfect to combine with a show.
Ham Yard Hotel, 1 Ham Yard Soho, London W1D 7DT
Columbia Road Flower Market
There is no greater start to a Sunday in London. Traders are here each week, come rain or shine, at this inner-city floral oasis. Not to worry if you’re just passing through, though; you don’t need a vase or a window box to enjoy one of London’s most colorful and fragrant attractions. This supercool destination has plenty of great shopping and dining.
BTW: Arrive early for the best selection and freshest produce, but if it’s a bargain you’re after, later in the day is the time to go.
Columbia Road Flower Market, Columbia Road and Ravenscroft Street, London E2 7RG
Horniman Museum & Gardens
With a much lower profile than the big London museums, the Horniman is no less worthy of a visit. Somewhat farther afield in south London’s Forest Hill, the museum was set up by Frederick John Horniman, a Victorian tea trader and philanthropist. Explore the manicured gardens and urban wildlife, as well as the eclectic collection of artifacts relating to natural history, anthropology and musical instruments.
BTW: It also features a butterfly house, an animal enclosure and an aquarium.
Horniman Museum & Gardens, 100 London Rd. Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ
Regent’s Park
Stretching from the edge of Camden Town in the north to Baker Street in the southwest corner, Regent’s Park is hugely popular with exercise fiends, young families and visitors from all over. Covering 395 acres, it is home to mesmerizing rose gardens, a boating lake, an outdoor theater that stages top productions in the summer, excellent sports facilities and the London Zoo.
BTW: If your budget won’t stretch to the zoo, make your way to the northern tip of the Outer Circle for a peek at the giraffes.
Highgate Cemetery
Not every city can boast a cemetery among its hidden attractions. In the leafy northern suburb of Highgate, this beautiful graveyard contains the remains of historical figures including Karl Marx and authors George Eliot and Douglas Adams. Singer-songwriter George Michael is one of the more recent high-profile celebrities to be buried there.
BTW: Visits to the western side are by guided tour only, although you are free to explore the eastern side. Call in advance; the cemetery occasionally closes for burials or bad weather.
Highgate Cemetery, Swain’s Lane, London, UK
Somerset House art center
Somerset House, a former Tudor palace, is as much an outdoor venue as indoor one, with its fabulous walled courtyard a star attraction in winter — when it’s an ice rink — and summer, when squealing children splash in the spray jets. Indoors, it hosts cultural events and cutting-edge exhibitions.
BTW: Check out the five-story-high Nelson Stair. Many have reported seeing the ghost of the legendary British naval commander wandering up and down it.
somerset house, Strand, London WC2R 1LA, UK
Lianne Kolirin
Lianne grew up in London and has spent most of her life there, besides her long-gone university days in Manchester and an adventure-filled stint spent globe-trotting. A busy freelance journalist, she is also mum to three young Londoners, born and bred.
Harry Mitchell
Harry is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in London.