5 reasons to love London

The best of British is here, including Orlando Bloom!

When Qantas flew me and my 30 free kilos of luggage to London, I had clothes for every occasion, so here’s what I did.

1. Buckingham Palace

For two months every summer, the Queen’s state rooms are open to the public, so if you’re going in August or September, book online for a look-see. It’s a bit of a faff queueing to go through security, but it’s worth it to see inside the palace we all recognise so well from the outside.

A very good audio guide gives you all the info and if you can look past the crowds of tourists, you can imagine Her Majesty entertaining in royal style. I also went to see the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery, but with similar queues, I’d save your energy for Buck House. The walk around the gardens to the exit is fabulous too.

2. The exhibitions

It pays to find out what exhibitions are on before you leave so you can book online for these too. I’d have missed the amazing Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum had someone not given me the heads-up. Also, a friend and I tottered along to the National Portrait Gallery to go to the Audrey Hepburn photo exhibition, and it was sheer dumb luck that we got in as we happened to turn up at opening time when a handful of tickets went on sale, otherwise it was sold out. There’s a fabulous restaurant on top of the gallery, by the way, and it’s open all day. Our Audrey tickets got us a free glass of champagne. That even beats breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Early morning bike rides through gorgeous Green Park were a delight!

3. The neighbourhoods

This trip, I explored two neighbourhoods I hadn’t spent much time in before. Mile End in the east is where I was staying and I was delighted to find two great parks, plus I could ride a bike along the canal all the way to Camden in one direction or Canary Wharf in the other. Shoreditch is also worth a visit. Home of the hipster, along with neighbouring Hoxton, you can’t trip over a cobblestone without landing in a groovy pub, café or reconditioned furniture shop.

4. Santander cycles

They used to be called Boris Bikes after the mayor who introduced them and if you’re game, these cheap bikes are a great way to get around. Two pounds buys you a 24-hour pass and you can ride any bike for up to half an hour without being charged anything extra. An iPhone app will tell you where the stations are, as long as you have a local SIM card (cheaper than global roaming), and off you go. Traffic is kind to cyclists here, but you’ll need to find a helmet.

5. The beano feasts

As I was mostly on my own, I frequented two favourites where it’s not an issue flying solo. At the glamourous Woleseley on Piccadilly, I was rewarded for my bravery by having Orlando Bloom sit at the next table and, at the fabulous Barrafina in Soho (recommended to me by Tom Parker Bowles when I interviewed him yonks ago), I could happily sit at the bar and sip on a glass of rosé while munching my grilled calamari. When I found some friends, I made them come with me to Nopi, which belongs to my favourite cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi. This is shared plate style, so the more people you have, the more things you get to taste.

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