The history, the culture and the fashion, not to mention the instantly recognisable sights; it’s hard not to think about London without getting a little bit romantic about it. From the Victorian London of Dickens to the Swinging London of the sixties, the city has seen it all and yet never fails to surprise.
Yet, as big as the sights are, and as fantastic as the museums and the galleries are, it’s the small delights that make it for me. The city is brimming with hidden gems channelling the various eras it has witnessed. London’s past is never far away so it’s no surprise that some call it the vintage capital of the world. Vintage cafés and retro boutiques adorn most corners of the city, filling in the gaps between established flagship stores and long-standing culinary institutions; both of which make the most perfect way to take a moment to soak up London’s vintage side.
Style-wise, London has seen it all and been at the centre of it all: flappers, mods, the austere chic of the forties, fifties pin-up, cool Britannia in the nineties to name just a handful. Needless to say it doesn’t disappoint.
Flagship must: Established in 1879, Oxford Street’s House of Fraser has been there since Queen Victoria ruled the throne. Now a British staple, the Oxford Street store houses exclusive collaborations and myriad concessions such as Links of London and the re-launched iconic brand Biba.
Hidden gem: Vintage shops of all sizes and descriptions can be found all across London, but for a more curated offering head to House of Vintage. Found just off Brick Lane, their collection ranges from the 20s to the 80s with top-quality vintage pieces from YSL, Givenchy and Burberry amongst others.
Top tip: Eschew the tacky souvenir shops in favour of a more timeless memento.
Not just a London tradition, but quintessentially English, afternoon tea has been a ritual since the 1840s. Originating from the need to bridge the gap between breakfast and dinner back when two meals was the norm, it is the perfect way to take some time out mid-afternoon. Afternoon tea isn’t just about tea of course – expect freshly baked scones with clotted cream, delicate finger sandwiches and scrumptious cakes. For the more extravagant, many places have the option of an accompanying glass of prosecco or champagne.
Flagship must: The Athenaeum Hotel in Mayfair has won awards for its afternoon tea, including the prestigious Tea Guild Award which is the equivalent of an ‘Oscar’ for tea!
Hidden gem: The Soho Secret Tearoom is indeed quite hidden. Occupying the space above a pub, this is a truly vintage experience with music provided by a gramophone and delicate chinaware.
Top tip: A full afternoon tea is serious business and it’s usually required that you book in advance.
A stroll in the park
Flagship must: Hyde Park is probably London’s most famous park for a reason. Open to the public since 1637 and spanning three-hundred and fifty acres, it has monuments, a lake, an ornamental garden and all kinds of activities from horse riding to swimming. Surely the greatest form of entertainment here though is soaking up the atmosphere and indulging in some people watching.
Hidden gem: Tucked away amongst the Georgian terraces of Greenwich, Greenwich Park Orchard is certainly a hidden treasure. Bearded keystone figures hug the surrounding walls of a park rich with wildlife and features that date back to the 18th century.
Top tip: Hyde Park and many others often host events, both big and small, so it’s always worth checking if anything is going on.