Destination Expert: London
Lisa Francesca Nand is a London-based travel writer, journalist, presenter, film-maker and our destination expert on London! Read on for the very best on activities, hotels and restaurants from someone that really knows London town.
1. What makes you an expert on London?
Even though I’ve lived and worked in London since I was a young teenager even now I feel a palpable sense of excitement just being here. As a travel writer I try to see the city with fresh eyes, explore as I would abroad, and am constantly taking and tweeting photos like a tourist. I’m a cultural maven, I love going out, eating, drinking and exploring. After all this time I still get a thrill when I come home.
2. What makes London unique?
You might have heard London described as a series of villages and this really is the case. Centrally, the majestic sweep of the Thames, flanked by Big Ben, Parliament and scores of historic buildings, has to be one of the world’s most impressive cityscapes. Behind the grand facades are cobbled squares, greens, statues and a real juxtaposition between the old and historic and the fashionable and dynamic. In London you get the feeling that anything can happen, and indeed often has.
3. Where are the best places to eat? What should they order?
The UK’s old reputation for stodge has long since been mashed by London’s excellent eating options from the very high end to the backstreet market diner. Brick Lane is known for its curries but I would say instead grab a bagel at the famous (and 24-hour) Beigel Bake (the smoked salmon and cream cheese is legendery) and get your curry fix at the delicious Diwana Bhel Poori House on Drummond Street at the south end of Camden. The vegatarian Thali is heavenly. For an evening of high-end comfort food the wood paneled atmosphere of the Ivy really cannot be beaten. Book ahead and try not to look flustered when you’re papped on the way out by mistake.
4. What are some must see/do activities in London?
There are a lot of ‘must-sees’ and ‘must-dos’ in London with well-earned worldwide reputations. Our world-class museums and galleries are mostly free to get in and have historic works of art from across the centuries. The Natural History Museum is particularly special as is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Obviously London’s architectural heritage is all around but an open top bus tour will take you to all the sights – Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London - and you can hop on and off in your own time. Wandering different parts of town is one of the great joys of London so don’t miss areas such as Canary Wharf, the Docklands, Bermondsey Street (near London Bridge), historic Greenwich and the new areas being forged to the East by redevelopment for the Olympics. The diversity of the cities landscapes will surprise and impress you.
Tower Bridge on a gloomy day
5. Where are the best places for nightlife in London?
You only have to read the glossy magazines to know London’s nightlife buzzes year round. For swish clubs filled with everyone from Royals to footballers and of course just the likes of you and I head to Mayfair. The hottest club du jour changes with fantastic fickleness but staples like Movida and Mahiki are usually tabloid fodder on a weekend. For something more laid back head to the backstreet bars of Soho for cocktails (try Floridita on Wardour St for Mojitos and the 70s kitsch Lab Academy on Old Compton St) and some lovely traditional pubs. In fact a night out in London is not complete without a good old pub crawl. Just pick an area – Camden, the City of London, Liverpool Street Station (for that Whitechapel Jack the Ripper vibe) and go for it. For cocktails with a view head to the Oxo Tower on the South Bank and tell me that the Lychee Martini is not the most divine thing you’ve ever tasted.
Soho at night
6. Name three/five of your favorite places to stay: High end Hotels? Budget friendly places?
At the very high end the new W Hotel in Leicester Square is outstanding for it’s central location but this is reflected in the prices. There are so many gorgeous hotels in London but these of course come with a price tag. For old school glamour the refurbished St. Pancras Renaissance really cannot be beaten and also London institutions such as Claridges and the more modern Sanderson are also gorgeous but expensive. For something more affordable but still with character look slightly outside the centre for guest houses or apartments like the Cygnet House Serviced Apartments in Greenwich. It’s a great way to explore London further afield and live like the locals do.
The W Leicester Square
7. What is London’s best kept secret?
London is a real walking city and you will happen upon many hidden secrets if you just walk freely with no plan. Follow the river from Westminster all the way to Tower Bridge on the south side and you’ll pass street art, galleries, theatres, Shakespeare’s Globe and even some historic dungeons. They’re not exactly a secret but London is also one of the greenest cities in the world and no visit is complete without exploring some of our vast parks. The Royal Parks are the best, with Hyde Park, St James’ Park and Green Park occupying vast swathes of the centre, prefect for a picnic on a sunny day or a wintery walk. Don’t miss Primrose Hill in the North and also Greenwich Park in the South East for opposing but stunning views across the capital and great areas to explore too.
The Blackheath Village, one of London's green spots
8. What souvenir should everyone leave with after visiting London?
Blisters from walking everywhere, a left over Oyster Card and a return ticket. Best still, come live here for a while and be a Londoner. Once this city gets under your skin you won’t want to be away for long.