Looking good, London: why a capital city break is a must this month

Put the flags out! Be part of the back-to-normal buzz in London while other staycationers flock to the coast and countryside

Visiting London during the summer has always felt special, but there is a just-can’t-put-your-finger-on-it buzz going around the capital following the Freedom Day lifting of restrictions. Restaurants, pubs and cafés have started to claim the streets as their own, with alfresco tables spilling out under awnings and fairy-lights creating a European atmosphere of romance and excitement. Open-air markets are fit to burst with foodie delights and antique finds, picnic in the park season is at its height, while galleries, museums, and theatres are putting on a show with more enthusiasm than ever. There’s a first time for everything feel, because, well, it’s the first time in a long time we’ve actually been able to enjoy ourselves and the city millions of us call home, even just for the night. So here is our guide to falling in love with London again, because the post-pandemic magic in a bottle moment might not last forever…

Let’s go alfresco…what and where to eat in London

Oh, how the tables have turned. If we can’t go abroad, we’ll try our very best to pretend we’re slurping spaghetti on a pretty piazza in Italy, or sipping rosé on a sunny street in France. Colourful chairs are filling up cobbled squares, as more and more places are becoming pedestrianised for dining beneath the skies. Just remember to bring your brolly if you’re unsure whether your table is covered or not…great British weather and all that.

For keep-coming-back coffee…

Images: @grind @pophamsbakery @pophamshome

The pretty pink packaging of organic and ethically sourced Grind Coffee (not to mention their signs’ motivational messages throughout lockdown) is sure to put a smile on your caffeine-fixed face, and with Instagrammable branches dotted throughout London hotspots, you’ll want to slow the grab-and-go routine to sit in surrounded by inspirational neon signs and a healthy amount of house plants. If you like your morning coffee with a freshly prepared pastry, artisanal bakery and coffee shop Pophams in Islington and Hackney should be your go-to, where you can also purchase the house ceramics, linens, glassware from their delectable homeware shop. For a super hip serving of Japanese coffee and custard cube kashi, Omotesando Koffee is as trendy as they come, while Wandsworth’s independently owned, Antipodean-style Flotsam & Jetsam café is our flat white favourite, made with delicious Allpress coffee beans.

For seriously good brunch…

Images: @bourneandhollingsworth

Arguably the best meal of the day, there are thousands of brilliant brunch spots in London. Whether you like a sweet or savoury start to your day, we’d recommend heading to Balham’s Milk for their secret recipe granola, Earlsfield’s Bean & Hop for mind-blowing bacon butties washed down with local craft beer (yes, you read that correctly), Southfield’s dog-friendly Dropshot for tennis-inspired toasties, and Clerkenwell’s Bourne & Hollingsworth for weekend brunch with bottomless Bellinis in a beautifully botanical setting.

For pub grub with a garden…

The rear garden at The Albion is covered by a stretch tent, keeping you from the worst that the Great British weather can throw at you. Dogs are also welcome to join diners and will be spoilt rotten by staff.

Going to the pub is a staple part of British culture, but choose one with a glorious garden and you’ll have found your second summer home. For a taste of when Islington was fields and farmland, The Albion is a wisteria-clad Georgian gastropub with a charming walled garden and an extensive wine list, perfect for sophisticated summer afternoons. For something a little more laid-back, Battersea’s Magic Garden has a festival feel, where you can cosy up on alfresco armchairs and sofas while listening to an ever-changing line up of live music.

For afternoon tea with a twist…

Physics, chemistry and gastronomy meet in a curious alchemy of dishes, from jams served in petri dishes, to chocolate spacemen and dinosaur biscuits, all served in a delightful English drawing room at The Ampersand Hotel.

Is there a more quintessentially British way to spend an afternoon? For a far-from-traditional take on this English ritual, be sure to book a table at The Ampersand Hotel for an out-of-this-world menu inspired by its South Kensington neighbour, the Science Museum. Then there’s the East meets West options at The Prince Akatoki, which fuses authentic Japanese flavours with homegrown produce from suppliers around London, or traditional Indian sweets and a bespoke tea selection presented by a professional Tea Sommelier at The LaLiT London. Tipsy tea takers will feel most at home on the rooftop restaurant of Vintry & Mercer, where you can sip from a creative collection of ‘Tea Pot-Tails’ overlooking the city skyline.

For ice-cream to rival Italy…

Image: @cremolosogelato

With rumours of a heatwave approaching later this month, we got the scoop on London’s best ice-cream parlours so you can sweeten your summer’s day when the frozen section of every supermarket has sold out. Gelupo Soho serves up the finest gelato this side of the Alps, with daily-made ice-cream in deli-inspired flavours, while Cremoloso in Earlsfield has regular queues for its photogenic ice-cream waffles and Sicilian brioche ice-cream sandwiches drizzled with chocolate sauce.

For “it feels like we’re abroad” alfresco dining…

Images: @petershamnurseries @dallowayterrace

With over 1,300 covers across Soho for alfresco dining, countless restaurant terraces and brightly coloured tables set up on Carnaby Street, Newburgh Street and Ganton Street for communal seating, there’s a strong Mediterranean vibe to this corner of the West End right now. Meanwhile in Bloomsbury, the ever-photogenic Dalloway Terrace has transformed into a flower-filled, citrus scented Amalfi Coast paradise, where diners can tuck into rosemary focaccia washed down with limited-edition Malfy Gin cocktails. Then there’s the slow-food menu courtesy of the Boglione family at Petersham Nurseries Covent Garden, home to two restaurants, a deli, wine cellar, and sensationally styled homeware boutique.

For creative, cool, and quirky cocktails…

Left: @mrfoggsgb / Right: DUKES Bar is renowned for serving the best martinis in town – even the world, some would argue.

In need of a tipple or two after months spent in lockdown? Celebrate your new-found freedom with friends at these well-established watering holes, from the James Bond-approved DUKES Bar tucked away in St. James’ where Sir Ian Fleming apparently coined the phrase “shaken, not stirred,” to Hoxton’s Nightjar, a small, speakeasy-style jazz bar which oozes 1920s glamour. Day drinkers can quench their thirst at the recently opened Mr Fogg’s Secret Garden, a whimsical Victorian garden with a Pimms Rose Walk and Tanqueray Orangery, serving botanical-infused cocktails beneath canopies of white roses and citrus groves.

The hottest tickets in town…a look at London’s must-visit exhibitions and shows

The capital’s arts and culture scene has been making a much needed come back following pandemic closures, with a whole host of exciting exhibitions, gallery pop-ups, and must-see shows hitting theatres and cinemas.

For some art and soul…

Art lovers should make a beeline for the highly anticipated, multisensory Vincent Van Gogh art experience at 106 Commercial Street, a former 19th century stable building which has been transformed into a fully immersive digital spectacle, where the iconic post-impressionist painter’s work is taking over the walls as visualised through the lenses of several dozen projectors and hyper-realistic VR headsets. Look out for going-like-gold-dust cancellations for Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms at the Tate, which is currently fully booked until the end of October this year, or meet the man behind the myth at the British Museum’s Nero exhibition, who’s gone down for his madness in merciless, matricidal megalomaniac history.

For a song and dance…

It’s time to take your seats on the West End, where Lily Allen has had rave reviews for her chilling performance in 2:22 – A Ghost Story, while there are only five weeks left to enjoy Les Misérables – The Staged Concert at the Sondheim, a show so good it has been extended twice by public demand. If you’re bored of Netflix and chilling, outdoor cinema is returning to the city’s parks, rooftops, and rivers with the likes of the Rooftop Film Club and Summer Showtime putting on a mixture of new releases and old classics on big screens around the capital. And if you’re struggling to secure last-minute tickets, why not settle for a sing along at one of the many piano bars across London?

In full bloom…the greenest places to go for a breath of fresh air

London residents are spoiled for choice when it comes to urban oases, from royal parks to secret gardens there is no shortage of places to picnic, walk your dog, or read a book on your break. There is an endless list of reasons why spending time outdoors is beneficial to both our mental and physical health, and the restorative powers of nature have never been so needed for us Vitamin D-deprived, house-bound city dwellers.

For picnics in the park…

The Pimms is flowing freely from strawberry-stuffed glasses, the hamper is full to the brim with honey-mustard sausages, crudités and delicious dips, Scotch eggs and overfilled baguettes, and the blanket or bench has been spread or set. On a swelteringly hot summer’s day, set up camp near the public swimming ponds at Hampstead Heath for a post-picnic dip, or seek shade beneath the trees in Kew Gardens’ woodland areas. Primrose Hill and Alexandra Palace Park both boast breath-taking views of the city, and the Thames-side positioning of Hammersmith’s Furnival Gardens means picnickers can watch boats bobbing along in the water while soaking up the sunshine.

For glorious gardens…

Chelsea Physic Garden are offering behind-the-scenes tours with a senior member of the horticultural team this month, for the green-fingered to see areas not usually open to the public.

With summer in full swing, the city’s gardens are currently at their most delightful. Feel transported to the Far East with a stroll through the Japanese-style Kyoto Gardens at Holland Park, or step back in time in 18th-century walled garden at Fulham Palace or the landscaped grounds at Hampton Court Palace designed by Henry VIII. For the royal treatment, take a turn about Buckingham Palace Gardens or Kensington Gardens, where budding gardeners can pick up tips for growing fruit and vegetables from the park’s very own allotment.

For dog-friendly walkies…

If your regular park rounds are starting to take the biscuit, we’ve sniffed out the safest spaces to let your lockdown puppy off-lead and give your four-legged friend a good run around. As London’s largest open space, Epping Forest has hundreds of walking trails through ancient woodland, with plenty of ponds and lakes to keep your dog cool in the summer heat. Richmond Park is a National Nature Reserve and also happens to be London’s largest enclosed space, with over 2,500 acres to roam – just be sure to avoid the park during the deer rutting (September to October) and birthing (May to July) seasons.

For fabulous flower markets…

Images: @strawlondon on Columbia Road

Undoubtedly London’s best and most famous flower market, Columbia Road is where locals and tourists alike flock on a Sunday to browse the narrow road lined with stalls spilling over with freshly cut flowers, along with an Instagrammable array of independent shops, cafés, restaurants and galleries. If you can’t face the crowds of Columbia Road, nearby Broadway Market is a lovely alternative on Saturdays, bustling with well-dressed Londoners on a morning mooch around curated bookshops with brown paper-wrapped bunch in hand. Early risers should head for New Covent Garden Market which opens at 4am, while night-owls can snap up some blooming bargains at New Spitalfields Market which opens at midnight and runs until 11am.

Where to stay in style…the best boutique hotels in London

Rooms at The Franklin rekindle the spirit of La Belle Époque London – reinvented for the modern era.

THE FRANKLIN… Gatsby-era glamour round the corner from the luxury shopping of Knightsbridge.

THE AMPERSAND… unique interiors inspired by London’s most famous museums, including the V&A.

THE LALIT… Indian hospitality meets British tradition, with rich colours and a fusion spa.

VINTRY & MERCER… quirky luxury boasting an exclusive speakeasy bar and a roof terrace restaurant with skyline views.

DUKES LONDON… a sophisticated home-from-home, featuring the bar that inspired James Bond’s famous martini.

ST. JAMES’S HOTEL & CLUB…a hidden gem conveniently placed for the best West End shopping and theatres.

THE PRINCE AKATOKI… minimalist, clean décor with Japanese influences, and a fine selection of whiskies and sakes to indulge in after a day in town.

FLEMINGS MAYFAIR…a chic townhouse hotel in one of London’s most exclusive addresses.

THE CAPITAL HOTEL, APARTMENTS & TOWNHOUSE…enviably located just yards from Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

THE ACADEMY…straight from a Georgian period drama complete with library – the perfect spot for a craft gin cocktail.

THE MITRE HOTEL…a dog-friendly riverside retreat offering a bespoke picnic service, waterfront alfresco dining, and afternoon tea in historical Hampton Court.

Indulge in one of the Royal rooms at The Mitre Hotel – the Catherine Parr suite perhaps, named after Henry VIII’s last wife – and delight in details like copper roll top baths, four poster beds and expansive river views. Photographs by Claire Menary.