London, United Kingdom
When to go
London empties out in August, but tourist sites still get crowded. Spring and summer can be lovely, even if the weather is reliably unreliable.
From the blog
Tales from our travels
PlanesLondon has several international airports: Heathrow to the west is on the Piccadilly Line or 15 minutes from Paddington on the Heathrow Express train (www.heathrowexpress.com; tickets are cheaper if booked online). Gatwick to the south is 30 minutes from Victoria via the Gatwick Express (www.gatwickexpress.com). Stansted to the east and Luton to the north are where most of the budget carriers land. There are trains to Liverpool Street four times an hour from Stansted and a regular rail service to King’s Cross from Luton. City Airport in Docklands is dominated by European business flights and is on the DLR line.
BoatsThere are commuter and leisure boats all along the river: the main service runs from Putney with regular stop-offs all the way to Greenwich Pier. See www.tfl.gov.uk/river for timetables and routes.
TrainsInternational trains arrive at St Pancras (www.stpancras.com), which has good links via the Underground. The Tube network will be your saviour, taking you anywhere you need to go (www.tfl.gov.uk/tube); your best bet is to use your chip-and-pin card to touch in and out, or to buy an Oyster card from any station for reduced-price journeys (valid on buses too) across the capital.
AutomobilesOn weekdays from 7am to 6pm there’s a daily Congestion Charge (£11.50 if paid on or before the day you're travelling; £14 if paid the following day) payable to drive into and around central London (www.cclondon.com); parking is easy but pricey. Beware overzealous traffic officials.
TaxisYou can hail one of London’s trademark metered hackney cabs anywhere, or download and book using the Gett app (http://gett.com/uk) and a black cab will arrive to whisk you from A to B for a pre-arranged fare. Avoid unlicensed minicabs.
This melting pot’s most appetite-arousing scents drift from its markets, which offer a soapbox for enthusiastic artisans to grandstand about farms their favourite meat and veg hail from.
What's cooking? Pulled pork, sliders, bratwurst and brisket: the London urban food scene is in the throes of carnephilia. Right now, if it ain't meat, it ain't street.
• Step aside Borough Market – London's serious epicureans make a beeline for Ropewalk on Maltby Street on Saturdays. Salt-beef on rye from Monty's Deli is de rigueur.
• Wannabe patty-flippers may as well give up – Lucky Chip have pioneered the 'dirty burger'. Pick up a bunful of juicy deliciousness at the Sebright Arms off Hackney Road or from a secret Dalston pop-up opening soon (check Twitter for clues).
• We've achieved gladiator-level crowd skirting, bagging a whole sea bass from Portobello Market's Moroccan Fish Stall, but those who prefer their west a little less wild seek out Well-Kneaded Wagon's firebreads at Battersea Food Market (every Saturday), or Acton supper club Momma Goose's Dr Pepper ribs with mac 'n' cheese – BYOB, or two…
Stay at Town Hall Hotel & Apartments to take advantage of the scintillating East End street-food scene.
The UK’s original boutique hotel (and where the real-life Mr and Mrs Smith spent the first night of their honeymoon), Blakes is a decadent, Orient-inspired oasis in the heart of South Kensington. Designed with exotic exuberance by Anouska Hempel, each room takes its interiors inspiration from a different land – a tour-by-decor of Turkey, Russia, India and more. Room 109, the Cardinal Suite, is the most shamelessly romantic: with heavy, textured fabrics, floral artwork and the kind of ornate, crimson-draped four-poster that makes you reach for the smelling salts, it’s an essay in decorative decadence.
Stay at The Kensington Hotel London, where the Aubrey Restaurant's chef Russell Ford serves up appetite-kerbing Anglicised fare. Book here and you'll get a gratis gourmet cocktail-making class as your Smith extra.
Teal-hued velvet sofas, wood-panelled walls and mirrored countertops bestow a sophisticated, retro Mad Men-style air to the Aubrey Bar, so it's the ideal spot for some amateur mixology. When your cases have been whisked away and you've settled in to the jewel-box bar, you're armed with several glasses, petite bottles of spirits, quartered fruit and an array of metal whatsits and doohickeys that wouldn't look out of place in an operating theatre – albeit a lax one. Galvin Cup-holding cocktail maestro Alessandro Pizzoli gently guides you through addling techniques, spirit densities and the surprisingly complex choreography behind the all-important shake, diplomatically ignoring any spills or shakes along the way. You can choose to make a minty mojito, a passion-fruit-flavoured Truly Madly Deeply, a grown-up Campari-spiked Americano or a classic dry martini; you may not be able to pull off Tom Cruise's Cocktail spectacles – or his flowery attire – by the end of your session, but you'll have something decadent to drink that you'll be justly proud of.