This story was first published on 7 February 2019. It is now updated with the latest information on travelling to United Kingdom under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL).
Has London been on your ‘best places to visit in Europe’ bucket list for way too long? Perhaps it’s time to finally cross it off your list after a stressful year without a holiday abroad. As luck would have it, the United Kingdom is under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme — so there’s no need to fret about getting quarantined.
Kathy Anne Lim, a Singaporean photographer who has been living in London for years, shares her favourite eateries, picture-perfect spots and preferred places to shop. So, if you’re on a tight schedule and want to get the most out of your trip, read on.
While you should still try the typical fish & chips and bacon butty (bacon sandwich), the London-British food scene is an injection of other cultures, elevating its level of gastronomy. Kathy likes to be a little more selective and ventures off the tourist trail to get this experience.
1. Palomar – Award-winning Middle Eastern-Mediterranean cuisine
Within bustling Soho lies Palomar, “one of the hearty food spots” Kathy says. “Instead of going somewhere you pay through the nose for a plate of popcorn,” she recommends sitting at the 16-seater zinc kitchen bar and ordering a few shared plates. It’s more intimate to sit and watch the chefs plate the Israeli-inspired dishes, chat with them and enjoy a drink. Charming parquet floors, dark oak panelled walls and royal blue leather seats make for a cosy bite whatever time of the year.
Her favourite plates: The octohummus (£14.8) and confit duck with apricots (£16)
Nearby places to explore:
Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden are all within walking distance. The theatres – just a stone's throw away – include: Queens, Prince Edward, Cambridge and Her Majesty’s. For jazz fans, Ronnie Scott’s is just around the corner, as well as both The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, for culture vultures.
Address: The Palomar, 34 Rupert Street, W1D 6DN
Telephone: +44 (0) 207 439 8777
2. Pellicci’s Café, ‘The King of Caffs’ according to Timeout
Caff: a café that serves simple British food such as fried eggs, bacon, and sausages
Kathy suggests no London trip will be complete without a visit to an east-end joint. For more than just classic English breakfast, Pellicci's café offers up British grub breakfast alongside Italian fare. This charming eatery, dressed in old-fashioned movie-like décor, has been serving its community for the last century. Today, Mama Maria — who started plating breakfasts to diners in 1966 — is the icon of the shop. A full English, Mama’s Cannelloni, or the bacon butty will each set you back under a tenner (£10). For those with a sweet tooth, Kathy urges you to try her favourite, Mama Maria’s Tiramisu (£3.80).
Nearby places to explore:
Walk up Brick Lane for a wonderland of thrift and record stores or follow Banksy’s street art tour. After-dark options include cocktails at Satan’s Whiskers followed by all-night dancing at Oval Space.
Address: 332 Bethnal Green Road, E2 0AG
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7739 4873
Beyond the usual London Tower Bridge, Hyde Park and Big Ben, that foster a sense of uniqueness, Kathy enjoys getting lost in alleyways that lead to unexpected discoveries. To explore London in a different way, she shares her top three places to visit and capture memorable holiday snaps.
1. Cycle along the ‘Little Venice’ of London
As a cyclist herself, Kathy suggests riding along the canal, “it’s always lovely to see people take their canal boats out for a ride. English Boaters have a big sense of pride and community.” This area is fantastic for people watching. She recalls a time seeing a man living on a houseboat with “cats wearing tiny life vests!” Kathy loves to take the Maida Vale to Camden Lock route as it’s littered with picturesque moored boats and lush foliage. An idyllic scene to visit and get inspired.
Nearby places to explore:
If you get tired, ditch the bikes and head into Camden Town – a haven of counter culture curiosities waiting to be explored behind the doors of many old-school pubs. For live performances, a must is The Roundhouse.
2. From the intricate architecture of St Paul’s Cathedral to a breath-taking view of London’s cityscape
As a photographer, Kathy has an affinity for St. Paul’s Cathedral. Not only does its dome dominate the skyline, its resilience inspires her. She sees these landmarks as gateways to the past. Like her, you can easily spend hours wandering around St Paul’s Cathedral, inside Festival Gardens, snapping and soaking up the city vibes. Be sure to visit the Golden Gallery at the very top of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral too — it’s 550 steps up and back down again, but worth the breathtaking view of the London cityscape.
Nearby places to explore:
On the other side of the river is the famous Shard of Glass (The Shard tower), where locals tend to congregate after sundown for an affordable meal at Oblix that boasts a stunning view from the 32nd floor.
Address: Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7887 8888
3. A night out you won’t forget
Katy recommends planning a night at the movies with Secret Cinema (secretcinema.org). It combines both film screenings together with an immersive theatre experience that brings cult classics to life with real time re-enactment. Check the dates before you travel, book a ticket and await an email communication. The cinema’s follow up emails will provide the ticket buyer with details about their character backstory, costume, location, choice of arrival times as well as a host of videos, articles and news to help get into character before the event. Mostly outdoors (so take a jacket!), in travel Zone 3, accessible via the tube.
It wouldn’t be complete without a final pillar of shopping. Whilst Kathy could advocate for Knightsbridge or Bond Street, she recommends two hot-spots where she likes to spend her hard-earned wages.
1. Shop till you drop at The Goodhood Store, East London
One of hippest boutiques in town, this lifestyle concept store houses curated men and women’s designer streetwear, shoes and homeware. Kathy discovered Goodhood after moving when she was looking for eclectic homeware pieces she was used to.
Address: The Goodhood Store, 151 Curtain Road, EC2A 3QE
Telephone: +44 (0) 207 729 3600
2. More than mushrooms at the Portobello Market in West London
For vintage outfits and antique bric-a-brac, Kathy advocates Portobello Market (if you don’t mind the hustle and bustle of the crowd), as a brilliant shopping destination. There’s even a persistent rumour that Sir Paul Smith, British fashion designer, comes to hobnob with the street vendors around six in the morning for the best vintage picks.
Kathy loves to scrounge about for antiques and old cameras. “The people who own the stalls are serious hobbyists and talking to them about where the items come from is a bit like learning about a historical side to London.” As a photographer, Kathy sees Portobello Market as the hotbed for community gathering.
Address: Portobello Rd, London W11 1AN
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7361 3001
There you have it — tips on how to explore like a Londoner from a fellow Singaporean residing in London. While these places can help fill up your to-do lists in your VTL holiday abroad, venture off the beaten path for yourself and create your own adventure in the most unexpected ways. And when you need to chill-out a bit (literally), add London to your winter getaways hotlist!
Things to note while travelling in London
- Most Covid-19 restrictions across England have been lifted: there are no legal limits on social contact (both indoors and outdoors) and social distancing. Nonetheless, travellers should continue to consider the risks of close contact with others.
- Dining, leisure and events have resumed without any limits on capacity or social distancing requirements. Some venues, facilities and events that host crowded settings might still require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry. In such cases, a vaccine certificate issued by the Ministry of Health is accepted.
- Masks are no longer mandatory everywhere, but some businesses and transport operators will still request that they be worn.
- Masks have to be worn on the Transport for London network, in stations, and for the whole of your journey. If you do not, and you are not exempt, you could be refused entry, denied travel or told to leave stations and services.
- Stay updated here on what you can and cannot do while travelling in the UK
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Best time to visit
The best time to visit London is March through May — temperatures are comfortably mild and it’s when the city’s parks bloom with greenery in the Spring. If crowds or warm weather aren’t your thing, avoid visiting London during summer. Drop by instead during the autumn months of September and October, when the leaves turn colour and it’s chilly enough without being freezing cold.
Getting around in London is an affordable and breezy affair, with the London Underground system and bus routes that will take you anywhere you need to go around the city. Masks have to be worn on the Transport for London network, in stations, and for the whole of your journey.
Britain’s currency is the pound sterling (£).
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