WHY WE LOVE IT
- The best of two worlds: London is simultaneously happening and historic.
- Iconic sights: St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace.
- A foodie's paradise: gourmet restaurants and celeb-packed bistros, plus glamorous cocktail bars and cozy pubs.
- Worlds within a city: groovy Notting Hill, hip Hoxton, trendy Marylebone, tony Hampstead, dynamic Docklands.
- A culture-lover's delight: world-class museums, galleries, theaters, concert venues and bookstores.
- Unique shopping: everything from boutiques selling naughty knickers to vast antiques markets and Harrods.
WHEN TO GO
London's weather is reliably unreliable, but it's most predictably sunny in June, July and September; the last two weeks of September and the first week of October are among the best times to visit, both in terms of weather and crowds. July and August are the busiest months, so that's when hotel rooms are hardest to find and highest priced, and August can be surprisingly spritzy. It's chilly in early December but dry, and the holiday lights are gorgeous. January isn't terribly cold or wet either; it's easy to get theater tickets—and, oh, those post-Christmas sales!
WHAT TO PACK
Think layers. Because the weather is so unpredictable, you can't go wrong bringing extra sweaters, jackets and raincoats, even in summer. If you're planning to dine at the top restaurants, glam it up—and have him bring a dress shirt, a jacket and a tie, which are sometimes required. London is a stylish city, so if you want to go all out, you'll fit right in. For daytime, pack comfortable shoes. And, of course, an umbrella, though there's no shortage of places to buy them.
Visit London (visitlondon.com) is the city's official tourist organization; its Web site is an excellent trip-planning resource. The well-staffed walk-in Britain and London Visitor Center (1 Lower Regent St.; visitbritain.com) offers maps, brochures and personalized sightseeing advice. Its services include a currency-exchange bureau, an Internet lounge and booking services for hotels, transportation, tours and entertainment.
GETTING MARRIED IN LONDON
Out-of-country visitors must reside in London for seven days, followed by a 15-day waiting period after filing for a license on the eighth day. If you're not a U.K. resident or EEA national, you must apply for a visa from your country's British consulate stipulating your intention to marry in the United Kingdom. For details, see the Marriages page of the General Register Office (www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/marriages/index.asp). You can be married in some terrific places, among them Tottenham Hotspur soccer stadium (during June and July) and the surprisingly romantic new St. Pancras International Eurostar station, which as luck would have it has the world's longest champagne bar. For other ideas, log on to Visit London (visitlondon.com) and type "wedding venues" into the Web site's search engine.
AMAYA BAR & GRILL
15 Motcomb St.
A stylish introduction to London's famous Indian-food scene, Amaya showcases the talents of Karunesh Khanna, who trained at posh places like the Dorchester and the Four Seasons before landing his own showcase. The focus here is on grilling, with three variations on the theme. Peer into the open kitchen to see line chefs working a sigri (charcoal grill), a tandoor oven and iron skillets. Sauces are subtle, with standards like ginger, lime and coconut never overpowering one another. Reserve a table weeks in advance, and be prepared to rub shoulders with celebs like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jade Jagger. The restaurant's slick design in sari colors and Khanna's elevated Indian street food, made for sharing, only raise the fabulosity quotient.
74 Blackfriars Rd.
A cavernous converted coach house is the setting for innovative, modern Polish (who knew!) food. Eggplant and caviar blinis, vodka-cured salmon with potato pancakes or paprika chicken with bean salad might turn up on the monthly-changing menu. Other enticements include stellar infused-vodka cocktails, frequent star-spotting opportunities, and Sunday and late-night jazz sessions. Where else could you toast each other over Ambers—buffalo-grass vodka, fresh ginger, cinnamon and limoncello? Cool, contemporary Baltic is a natural for post-Tate and pre-theater trysts.
On a sunny day, this unpretentious restaurant in a converted 17th-century mansion near Kensington and Notting Hill is pure magic—especially if you score one of the five terrace tables. The eclectic Euro cuisine hasn't a distinct personality, but the chef does a fine job on standards like foie gras, smoked-salmon tortellini, and sausage and mash. The crowd tends to be older—many are bound for Opera Holland Park, strains of which float through the open windows on summer evenings. After dinner, you can stroll across the formal rose gardens and visit with the peacocks.
159 Farringdon Rd.
One of the first gastro-pubs in London, the Eagle is the genuine item: an authentic neighborhood local with a loyal cadre of patrons who come for the low-key atmosphere and tasty, reasonably priced food. The chalkboard menu changes daily—sometimes hourly as popular dishes run out—but there are always soup, meat, pasta, fish and vegetarian selections. Clever pairing: The spicy-steak sandwich and a chilled pint of bitter. The decor is funky, with chairs that look (and sometimes are) rickety, but service is swift and friendly, and the ingredients are fresh. Perfect for a pre-theater bite or pre-clubbing fortification.
191 Portobello Rd.
From the owners of the members-only Soho House, this Notting Hill watering hole is a prime spot to drink and eat before heading next door to the Electric Cinema to catch a movie. Come on a Friday or Saturday afternoon after trawling the antiques stalls on Portobello Road. The cooks turn out well-prepared versions of the basics—rib-eye steaks, burgers, oysters, lobsters (cooked live, not frozen) and top-notch chips—and the service is casual and friendly. The low-lit room is romantic, but the tables are too close together and the scene too buzzy for intimate conversation. Enjoy the energy and save the cooing for later.
GALVIN BISTROT DE LUXE
66 Baker St.
All of London fell in love with the chef brothers Galvin when they channeled their collective expertise in French cuisine bourgeoise into this laid-back restaurant. Local, often organic ingredients make classics like escargots Bourguignonne and pot-roasted pheasant with Lyonnais sausage fresh for a new generation of diners while satisfying traditional gourmands. The regularly changing wine list is extremely user-friendly: short and reasonably priced. As you settle into a leather banquette in the wood-paneled room, you may find yourself wishing that more restaurants could work such deceptively simple magic. Dozens of awards haven't made this bistro any more pretentious or less of a value
This sensual boîte tucked behind Piccadilly has been the byword for glamour since it opened in 1981—which says a lot in a city that can be fickle about its dining loyalties. Some of the movers and shakers you'll spot have been coming here from the beginning. Their reverence is inspired by the basics: consistent service and consistently delicious food that's up to date without being fussy. Foie gras, rib steak and roasted lamb are among the non-PC favorites; vegetarians and vegans get a varied menu of their own. Le Caprice's original dark-walled Eva Jiricna design, a pianist and strategically placed spotlights give the restaurant a jump on the 1980s-decor revival.
THE RITZ RESTAURANT
The Ritz Hotel
This outrageously ornate dining room—all gilding, velvet and chandeliers, not to mention views of the Green Park gardens—witnesses more marriage proposals than any other restaurant in England. The formal service befits the seriousness of such occasions, and the food measures up too, especially since executive chef John Williams took the helm. He revitalized and lightened the menu while maintaining tried-and-true classic ingredients; you might find lobster ceviche and caviar or quail with truffles bouillon in the seasonally changing lineup. Be prepared to spend a small fortune (this restaurant is ridiculously expensive), and don't forget the jacket and tie even if you're coming for just afternoon tea.
ST. JOHN BAR AND RESTAURANT
26 St. John St.
Tel: 44 -20-7251-0848
Carnivore alert. This restaurant around the corner from the historic London Smithfield Market is, well, around the corner from a meat market and highlights updated versions of such traditional Olde English dishes as smoked eel, pigeon, ox tail, beef-and-kidney pie, whole roast suckling pig … you get the picture. Adventurous diners will find this sky-lighted converted bacon smokehouse fun, funky and affordable. The staff is happy to explain the more obscure dishes, as well as the all-French wine list. And even vegetarians can enjoy the excellent bread and desserts—among them Eccles cake, puff pastry filled with currants—baked right on the premises.
You'll always feel like you're where it's at in this grand and glamorous 1920s hall that's open all day. Don't come for cutting-edge cuisine: The Wolseley dishes up mittel-European classics like Wiener schnitzel, Hungarian goulash and strudel, all professionally prepared. Because this place is so popular, you're not encouraged to linger over after-dinner drinks. But you won't be disappointed if you're seeking delectable dishes and impeccable service in a dramatic setting. Arrive early with a dinner reservation—not always the easiest to secure—and you can smooch in the sexy private bar up front.
BAGLIONI HOTEL LONDON
60 Hyde Park Gate
Two completely divergent stimuli energize this boutique hotel gem: London gardens and Italian coffee. Gleaming dark woods, plush bed linens and sexy mood lighting make all 67 rooms—50 of them suites—ultra romantic. It's easy to imagine holing up here and just hiring the butler to occasionally replenish the supply of champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. There are 150 free movies to view on the LCD-screen TV—and, of course, that Illy espresso maker. Reasons to emerge: a glamorous lobby bar frequented by understated celebrities; Kensington Gardens, just across the road; free Maserati service within a one-mile radius; and nearby Notting Hill shopping.
Everyone from Theodore Roosevelt to the Emperor of Ethiopia has bedded down at Brown's, a cluster of Georgian town houses that opened as a hotel in 1837. Now, after a £24-million makeover by luxury hotelier Rocco Forte, it is once again a place to be seen. Expect chic understatement—tasteful contemporary rooms done in natural fabrics and hand-selected antiques—and top service. Sip Earl Grey in the English Tea Room or champagne by the glass at the happening watering hole, Donovan Bar, whose walls are lined with Brit photographer Terence Donovan's work.
One of London's social epicenters, thanks to Claridge's Bar and Gordon Ramsay's namesake restaurant, this grande dame of Mayfair also has some of London's most desirable rooms, decorated in amped-up English chintz and modern art-deco styles. Service is exemplary. An extravagant makeover for the new millennium made this 1812 classic a block from Bond Street's fashion houses a magnet for a new generation of glitterati and fashionistas—including the ill-behaved sort: singer Courtney Love was allegedly ejected for starting a fire in her room, and guests at supermodel Kate Moss's 30th-birthday bash continued the party here after reportedly being given the boot for boisterousness at another hotel. The more sedate will appreciate the classic afternoon tea and the location near top museums.
THE MAIN HOUSE
6 Colville Rd.
Live the fantasy and secure a light and lovely floor of ex–nightclub owner Caroline Main's stucco Notting Hill Victorian. The shabby-chic aesthetic—many of the antique furnishings in the airy high-ceiling rooms come from nearby Portobello Road, others were gleaned from Main's adventures as a safari guide in Africa—feels quintessentially English. But the (relatively) reasonable rates are a nice break from the usual London hotel tabs. With character come creaky floors, though personalized service and the great location in a fashionable neighborhood near Kensington Palace and Albert Hall go a long way to compensate.
22 Stanley Gardens
A hotel that was custom-made for misbehaving rock stars and the models who love them. The famous giant-circular-bedded suite with a huge tub has a louche, celeb-strewn history; Alice Cooper's boa constrictor and Johnny Depp are both said to have stayed here (though not together). Other "special rooms" in this eccentric Notting Hill Victorian have four-poster beds and lots of idiosyncratic charm. Skip the disappointing standard rooms. Whichever rooms you book, you'll be able to take advantage of the quiet Notting Hill location and proximity to such iconic London experiences as Portobello Market.
Old Park Lane
A design hotel with a heart. One of the first in London to embrace haute contemporary style, the Met still feels friendly and accessible. Zen-chic rooms are warmed by touches of peppermint and plum and, in the case of some suites, by views of Hyde Park below. The Armani-clad staffers make guests feel like insiders, as does access to the posh members-only Met Bar. And it doesn't hurt that the still-hot Nobu Japanese restaurant is the hotel's dining room. The overnight packages include a sensual bedside box with massage oils, a suede-and-silk blindfold and a deck of Kama Sutra cards, as well as the more traditional champagne breakfast in bed the next morning.
16 Sumner Place
For an experience more akin to temporary residence than tourism, these four town houses melded seamlessly into a white-wedding-cake confection fit the bill. It's easy to play make-believe Londoner while strolling the quiet nearby streets. But for all the tranquility, you're not too far (about a 15-minute walk) from major museums and gardens and you're very close to the South Kensington tube. Some of the 42 rooms are petite, but all are shelter magazine–worthy and have comfy touches like heated towel racks. Highlights include a drawing room with a fireplace and the exquisite enclosed gardens with burbling fountain and fishpond. Weather permitting, it's a cozy spot for breakfast.
A modern boutique hotel in a historic building, One Aldwych has everything to recommend it: incredible service, total comfort, a superb Covent Garden location. The rooms are simple but not stark, with original artworks, luxe bedding and the latest in natural bath products. Fresh flowers and fruit arrive daily too. Other perks: one of the classiest hotel health clubs and spas in town (at the pool, Bach is piped underwater), a buzzy lobby bar and a small screening room where you can dine and sip martinis with other guests. For the ultimate in romance, book the screening room for a private viewing of the first film you saw together.
THE SOHO HOTEL
4 Richmond Mews
The exclusive Firmdale Hotels group has made a name for itself with super-trendy properties, of which this is the crown jewel. The location, on a quiet street amid the bustle of Soho's theater and restaurant district and just a hop from Covent Garden, is ideal for night owls. Bedrooms and baths are not only stylish but also (for London) unusually spacious; we especially like the parlorlike lounges equipped with cornucopian honor bars, the deep bathtubs and the separate showers. In a neat variation on the typical urban-development scenario, a multilevel parking lot was razed to make way for this appealing hotel
THE ZETTER HOTEL
St. John's Square
86–88 Clerkenwell Rd.
The couple that wants to experience swinging Noughties London and the latest in industrial chic should check into this designer-architect-photographer's converted Victorian warehouse. Its five floors are set around a dramatic central atrium. Best splurge: the rooftop deluxe suite with king-size bed and patio, skylights and outstanding city views. All guest quarters are eclectic, with 1970s-referencing hipster decor—florals, blond wood, shag-pile rugs—and retro details like hot-water bottles. But you've also got all the mod cons, including some you won't find elsewhere: hallway vending machines that dispense everything from toothpaste to champagne. Memories are made of this.
The Thames cruises offered by Bateaux London (Embankment Pier or Waterloo Pier; 44-20-7695-1800; bateauxlondon.com) are a bit corny, what with the professional photogs on hand to capture the not-so-spontaneous moment, but the sightseeing is delightful, and the meals are cooked fresh on board rather than brought over in chafing dishes. On the dinner cruise you can dance the night away to the sounds of a live orchestra. The less commercial excursions on the Jenny Wren (Walker's Quay, 250 Camden High St.; 44-20-7485-6210; walkersquay.com) take you through the north London canals, where people live on colorfully painted barges, and then glide past Regent’s Park to Little Venice.
GREAT PARKS: HYDE, GREEN AND REGENT'S
London was green long before it became PC. Our favorites among the city's many grassy spots includeHyde Park (44-20-7298-2000; royalparks.org.uk/hyde), where you can glide across the waters of the Serpentine in the eco-friendly Solar Shuttle, pay your respects to Princess Diana at the Memorial Fountain or, come Sunday, head for Speakers’ Corner and hear vocal locals mouth off. Nearby, the smaller Green Park (44-20-7930-1793; royalparks.org.uk/green) may be the most romantic of the royal city parks; rent a couple of deck chairs and gaze at the wide arcades of mature trees. Among the many lures of the grand Regent's Park (44-20-7486-7905; royalparks.org.uk/regents) are its gorgeous rose garden and open-air theater and the huge London Zoo.
MAJOR ART MUSEUMS
The thrills at the British Museum (Great Russell Street; 44-20-7323-8299; britishmuseum.org) are both ancient (mummies, the Rosetta Stone, Greek statues) and modern (the glass-roof Great Court). The scene is oh-so au courant at the Tate Modern (Bankside; 44-20-7887-8888; tate.org.uk/modern); with its exciting exhibitions the museum has become a de facto city center, and on Friday and Saturday nights it's a veritable party. For a world-class survey of Western European art, drop by the National Gallery (Trafalgar Square; 44-20-7747-2885; nationalgallery.org.uk). Next door at the National Portrait Gallery (44-20-7312-2463; npg.org.uk) the labels—which tell who did what to whom and which sitters later got beheaded—are almost as engaging as the paintings. For all things art and design, visit the Victoria and Albert Museum (Cromwell Road, South Kensington; 44-20-7942-2000; www.vam.ac.uk).
The city's cultural outlets include some quirky gems. At the Geffrye Museum (Kingsland Road; 44-20-7739-9893; geffrye-museum.org.uk) you can find out what it would have been like to live in 17th-century London. The stars of this East End facility are the minutely staged English domestic interiors from 1600 to the present. Home to the excellent Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House (three entrances: Victoria Embankment, Waterloo Bridge and Strand; 44-20-7845-4670; somerset-house.org.uk) lets you combine culture with exercise in winter, when an ice-skating rink is set up in the courtyard. Drink in some history at Vinopolis (1 Bank End; 44-20-7940-8300; vinopolis.co.uk), devoted to world winemaking. Each tour you book—champagnes, perhaps, or European vintages—includes tastings of at least five wines, spirits or cocktails.
Kensington Palace (Kensington Gardens, hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace) dates to the 17th century, though it's best known as Princess Diana's former home. Exhibits here detail Diana's life and the lives of other royals past, including Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II's late sister. The Tower of London (hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon) saw some good days and some really bad ones, the structure having been at various times a palace—oh, those crown jewels!—a prison, a death house and even a zoo. The tower is where the Beefeaters of gin-bottle fame tour you around. The information line for these and other Historic Royal Palaces is 844-482-7777 (in Great Britain only). Even the non-pious can appreciate the grandeur of Westminster Abbey (44-20-7222-5152; westminster-abbey.org), with its Gothic hall that has hosted coronations since 1066.
You can't tour all 775 rooms at Buckingham Palace (44-20-7766-7300; royal.gov.uk), the queen's official London residence, but 19 of them open up to the public from late July through September. Year-round the poker-faced guards out front will amuse you (though not intentionally), and you can take a gander at the Royal Mews, with its collection of regal carriages and coaches, and the Queen's Gallery (royalcollection.org.uk), which exhibits impressive paintings, sculpture, decorative pieces, photographs and other works from the Royal Collection. Many tour companies run excursions from London-area hotels to the queen's official residence, Windsor Castle (Thames Street, Windsor; 44-20-7766-7304; windsor.gov.uk), where (most of the year) you can tour the State Apartments and breathtaking St. George's Chapel and peek into Queen Mary's Dolls House.
SHORT TRIPS FROM TOWN
Windsor Castle isn't the only pleasant day trip from central London. Greenwich Park (Greenwich; 44-20-8858-2608; royalparks.org.uk/greenwich) is notable for fantastic city views from across the Thames, for the Royal Observatory (ground zero for world time) and for its deer, which wander through the Wilderness. Best way to come: by riverboat from Westminster, Embankment or Tower Pier. The hothouses of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Richmond, Surrey; 44-20-8332-5655; www.kew.org)—less formally known as Kew Gardens—shelter more than 30,000 different species of plants, including some of the world's largest indoor plants. King Henry VIII commissioned palaces and buildings all over Great Britain, but he liked the vast Hampton Court Palace (Surrey; hrp.org.uk/hamptoncourtpalace) best. All the king's wives lived here too—until they didn't.
THEATER BY DAY
If you're interested in the theater at all, you'll likely enjoy daytime prowls of three London classics. Actors playing writers, characters from plays and, well, actors, take you through more than 300 years of drama at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (Catherine Street, Covent Garden; 44-20-7850-8793; theatreroyaldrurylane.co.uk). Behind-the-scenes tours of the National Theatre (South Bank; 44-20-7452-3400; nationaltheatre.org.uk) take you past everything from the storage areas for sets to prop-building workshops. The re-created Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (21 New Globe Walk, Bankside; 44-20-7902-1500; shakespeares-globe.org) devotes itself to showing how the Bard and his contemporaries would have been viewed in their day. The fascinating exhibitions examine the playwright, performers, theater architects and even the audiences of Elizabethan times.
THEATER BY NIGHT
London is famous for its commercial West End fare, but its audiences also support serious small-scale works and offbeat fringe performances. Good sources for theater info include these Web sites: London Theatre (londontheatre.co.uk), Time Out London (timeout.com/london/theatre) and the London Times (entertainment.timesonline.co.uk). If you want to visit a popular show, call your hotel's concierge before you arrive to find out the best strategy (e.g., ordering online or through the hotel) to ensure you get tickets. The Almeida Theatre (Almeida St., Islington; 44-20-7359-4404; almeida.co.uk) is consistently the best non–West End theater in London—not counting the estimable stages of the National, the Old Vic and Covent Garden's Donmar Theatre Warehouse. Whatever is on (at any of these theaters) is usually worth seeing.
The vistas from the London Eye (Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road; 44-87-0500-0600; londoneye.com), a giant Ferris wheel opposite the Houses of Parliament, are sublime. For a price, you can snuggle in a glass capsule all by yourselves while being served champagne; a ride on a clear day at dusk can be downright enchanting. The dome of St. Paul's Cathedral (44-20-7246-8357; stpauls.co.uk), affords a 360-degree panorama of the city, but unless you want to be overheard by the people on the opposite side of the dome, don't murmur sweet nothings to each other in the Whispering Gallery. For one of the most awe-inspiring dinner views in all of London, visit the seventh-floor restaurant at the Tate Modern (44-20-7887-8888; tate.org.uk/modern/eatanddrink).
Couples who love the film or book 84 Charing Cross Road will want to browse Foyles (113–19 Charing Cross Rd.; 44-20-7437-5660; foyles.co.uk), on the same bibliophile block. It's huge, quirky and, though modernized in the past decade—including the addition of a snazzy jazz cafe—still a slice of characterful London life. In Chelsea, Joe Sandoe Books (10 Blacklands Terrace; 44-20-7589-9473; johnsandoe.com) is rickety and cramped but still manages to carry nearly every volume you might want. The staff is well informed and helpful, not only finding what you're looking for but also recommending other books to match your interests.
CLOTHING FOR HER
Bargain seekers should head to Topshop (36–38 Great Castle St.; 44-20-7636-7700; topshop.com), a vast underground city of affordable designer knockoffs—sometimes cuter than the originals—that teems with DJs, a radio station, salons and free personal shoppers. It's loads of fun poking around looking for just the right outfit. Unless you're a child bride, avoid the teenage rampage during the weekend. Dover Street Market (17–18 Dover St.; 44-20-7518-0680; doverstreetmarket.com), created by London fashion guru Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons fame, showcases the hottest (mostly) young designers on six floors of a converted office building.
CLOTHING FOR HIM
For him, there's Mayfair, where the custom shirt makers on Jermyn Street include such venerable names as Turnbull & Asser and Thomas Pink; and Savile Row, with Gieves & Hawkes among the famous purveyors of bespoke suits. You'll spend an arm and a leg on either street but be treated like the royalty the clientele often includes. Kilgour, French & Stanbury (8 Savile Row; 44-20-7734-6905; kilgour.eu) has a ready-to-wear line should you not have the time—or deep pockets—for its bespoke wear. In Notting Hill, Bamford & Sons (79–81 Ledbury Rd.; 44-20-7792-9350; bamfordandsons.com) sells high-quality, stylish clothing—and techno-gizmos, useful if clothes shopping loses its appeal.
Visiting Harrods (87–135 Brompton Rd., Knightsbridge; 44-20-7730-1234; harrods.com) is like visiting Buckingham Palace: You have to do it, because everyone will ask if you have. It's a bit overwhelming, what with seven floors spread across four-and-a-half acres, but if you ride the Egyptian escalator, check out the shrine to Diana and Dodi (his dad owns Harrods) and browse the vast food hall, you'll be covered. Another huge retail institution, Harvey Nichols (109–125 Knightsbridge; 44-20-7235-5000; harveynichols.com) is a one-stop shop for designer labels. Londoners both love and poke fun at Marks & Spencer (458 Oxford St.; 44-20-7935-7954; marksandspencer.com) for its reasonable prices, sensible undies and vast range of takeaway food.
At the same location as it's been for nearly 300 years and still supplying groceries to the royal family, Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly; 44-20-7734-8040; fortnumandmason.com) offers plenty of up-to-date pleasures, including a wine bar adjacent to its huge fresh-food hall. The store has expanded beyond food into housewares, luggage, bath products, games and more, making it an outstanding source for posh-looking gifts. Taking the opposite course from the typical history-rich London business, Hotel Chocolat (844-493-1313 in the U.K. only;hotelchocolat.co.uk) started out online and then moved into the real world, including in Kensington (163 Kensington High St.) and Knightsbridge (5 Montpelier St.). Truffles, bonbons, caramels, nuts—it's a chocoholic's dream, instantly gratified.
It's been several decades since the at-the-time-unknighted Terence Conran opened his first store, Habitat, in London, but its offspring the Conran Shop (Michelin House, 81 Fulham Rd., Chelsea; 44-20-7589-7401; and 55 Marylebone High St.; 44-20-7723-2223, conranshop.co.uk) still defines contemporary British home design. Come ogle, even if you can afford only tea towels or egg cups. Don't be deceived by the proletarian name of the General Trading Company (2 Symons St.; 44-20-7730-0411; generaltradingcompany.co.uk), which has royal warrants to sell "fancy goods" to the queen and her kin. Oddly, this includes everything from whoopee cushions to updated Eaton chairs. Very hip, very fun but also very functional, the housewares at Purves & Purves (25–27 George Street; 44-20-7486-3200; purves.co.uk) are also a good value—especially for items created by top designers like Philippe Starck and Jasper Morrison.
Butler & Wilson (189 Fulham Rd.; 44-20-7352-3045; butlerandwilson.co.uk) stuffs its Chelsea shop with sparkly things, from rhinestone headbands to cobra-shaped crystal bangles. Turquoise, amber and other less flashy stones are also used, but this place still isn't for shrinking violets. The East End's Leslie Craze Gallery (33–35a Clerkenwell Green; 44-20-7608-0393; lesleycrazegallery.co.uk) represents an international array of up-and-coming jewelers working with materials that might include paper, lacquer and seashells. Selling their own designs are master goldsmith Ben Day (18 Hanbury St.; 44-20-7247-9977; benday.co.uk), whose Spitalfield shop carries bold pieces embedded with amethysts, sea pearls and emeralds, among other stones, and Stephen Webster (1a Duke St.; 44-20-7486-6576; www.stephenwebster.com), the self-described "diamond geezer," known for his numerous awards and celebrity clientele.
Started in hip Notting Hill and since expanded worldwide, Myla (original store: 77 Lonsdale St.; 44-20-7221-9222; myla.com) is the place to get your naughty knickers and other sexy lingerie. Also international now and perhaps even naughtier, the London-grown Agent Provocateur (6 Broadwick St., Soho; 44-20-7439-0229; agentprovocateur.com) sells pasties, whips and masks along with its bras and panties (also massage oils, candles and music for romantics).
Sprawled along Regent’s Canal in north London, Camden Lock Market (camdenlockmarket.com) is a favorite with locals, who come for high-quality crafts, vintage clothing, Asian food, funky furnishings … you name it. You'll find more stalls on weekends, but good shops are open every day. On Saturdays, Portobello Road (portobelloroad.co.uk) hosts the world’s largest antiques market. Bring your grandma's brooch if you want to get it professionally restored. Every Friday—the only day it's open—dealers of small antiques converge on Tower Bridge Road for the Bermondsey Market. Come before dawn if you want to find bargains. Hippest at the moment is Old Spitalfields Market (visitspitalfields.com), on the East End, near Petticoat Lane. Daily, you'll find cool urban design shops; on Sunday, everything from retro clothing to crafts turns up.
PERFUME & COSMETICS
The namesake founder of Floris (89 Jermyn St.; 44-20-7930-2885; florislondon.com) was a barber when he opened his ultra-elegant St. James shop in 1730, so it still sells men's aftershaves as well as some fine perfumes. Come here too for body lotions, candles, cut-glass bottles and combs—or just to see the premises, a converted family home. Another venerable (1872) London perfumer with his-and-hers products, Penhaligon's (flagship: 41 Wellington St., Covent Garden; 44-20-7836-2150; penhaligons.co.uk) sells creamy leather vanity cases and gleaming shaving kits alongside its seductive scents.