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Ye Olde Meets Oh-So-Contemporary
Bette Midler once said, "When it's three o'clock in New York, it's still 1938 in London." With all due respect to the Divine Miss M, we beg to differ. True, there's a lot of seriously old stuff in this jewel of a city by the Thames, from world famous historic sites like the Tower of London to the ancient artifacts at the British Museum. Traditional British formality is very much alive in everything from the legendary hotel service to high tea. But there's a generous helping of the oh-so-fabulously new in just about every neighborhood cranny you might explore. Contemporary art thrives alongside Old Masters. Fashion juggernauts like Vivienne Westwood and Burberry cut fresh designs from classic cloth. Hot restaurateurs adapt time-honored British fare for modern palates. A city of contrasts, London is a bit like Anna Nicole Smith's marriage to that octogenarian: modern, sexy, and fashion-forward wed to old, established, and filthy rich.
This dichotomy manifests itself in all the ways to eat, sleep, drink, and be merry in London. Traditional elegance can be found at historic hotels like The Dorchester and The Lanesborough (personal butlers, anyone?), while modern hotels such as One Aldwych and Haymarket Hotel deliver classic British service with chic decor. Gastropubs like St. John have made delicacies of British heritage (translation: calf's liver and pig's spleen) as haute as the offerings of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and Marco Pierre White. Selfridges and other world-class department stores curate a British twist to cutting-edge fashion. Spas like the zen-inspired Ushvani are a modern melting pot of ancient approaches to massage and more. Swank clubs and lounges pack in the professional 20- to 40-something set, but the old-fashioned pub is still a winner with everyone.
London's distinctive neighborhoods are mini-trips in their own right. Each has its own flair and flavor, so it’s important to know the differences when deciding where to stay or play. They run the gamut from refined and Princess-Di-precious (Kensington) to fashion forward and don't-walk-around-alone-at-night edgy (Shoreditch). Knightsbridge, though shamelessly touristy, is a must-do. Stay or spa at Mandarin Oriental, shop at department store Harvey ‘Nicks’ (trust us, stay away from Harrods–except for the Food Halls), and pause for a soapbox speech at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park. In the West End, take in a show at one of the 30+ theatres, eat dim sum in Chinatown (try Jade Garden), and barhop in Soho on your way to your room at The Soho Hotel. Stop by Mayfair for tea at Claridge’s or a bite at Gordon Ramsay before shopping (or at least window-shopping) in crème de la crème Bond Street designer flagships. In Marylebone, spend an afternoon browsing through the charming independent boutiques like Daunt Books. Make like Julia Roberts and immerse yourself in the bohemian chic of Notting Hill shops and restaurants like E&O.
We know, we know, some of you are here for work, not play. If The City is your prime destination, don't despair. Stay at Threadneedles and sneak away to at least glimpse the Tower of London and St. Paul's Cathedral. After all, to quote another of our favorite divas, Mary Poppins, "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and...snap! The job's a game."BEEN HERE? SEND US YOUR PHOTOS