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The exterior of Royal Albert Hall in London, England - David Lliff

Mr. Harper's Notebook: Things to Do in London

By Andrew Harper

The Harper Way | May 18, 2017

London is one of the world’s most dynamic and cosmopolitan cities, despite the vicissitudes that have afflicted the financial world, on which its economy is heavily reliant. It is a place of pageantry and tradition, but also a fashion capital and a center for contemporary art. The quality and variety of the city’s restaurants is astonishing, with recent years having seen a robust revival of authentic British cuisine. The period of the year to see the capital at its best is from mid-April, when the parks and squares burst into bloom, until mid-July and the conclusion of the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

Take in the View at The Shard

Renzo Piano's The Shard is a 1,016-foot-tall skyscraper Fred Mouniguet

A quarter of a century ago, London had few high-rise buildings and St. Paul’s Cathedral was a dominant presence on the skyline, as it had been since the beginning of the 18th century. In the past 20 years, however, London’s financial district and certain sections of the South Bank have sprouted dozens of glass-and-steel towers. Renzo Piano’s The Shard, a 1,016-foot skyscraper, now overlooks London Bridge. The Shard contains a Shangri-La hotel, plus an open-air observation deck on the 72nd floor, at a height of 802 feet.

Visit the Tate Britain

The exterior of The Tate Britain GeorgeClerk/iStock/GettyImages

London’s art scene was revolutionized by the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, housed within the vast former Bankside Power Station. After a visit, I like to take the 15-minute trip along the Thames aboard the Tate Boat to Tate Britain, London’s principal collection of British art, which contains major works by Turner, Constable and Gainsborough, as well as those by contemporary masters such as Henry Moore and Francis Bacon. A major extension, which opened last June, offers 10 floors of gallery space dedicated to film, temporary installations and interactive performance art.

Tour a Royal Residence

Buckingham Palace, the residence and offices of the royal family of Great Britain mikeinlondon/iStockEditorial/GettyImages

It is possible to visit several royal residences when their occupants are elsewhere. Perhaps the most fascinating is Clarence House, home to the Prince of Wales. Small guided groups will be admitted from August 2 to 31, 2017 (Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only). At nearby Buckingham Palace, the State Rooms will be open from July 22 to October 1, 2017. Visitors may also stroll through part of the palace garden. Private guided tours are available.

Enjoy a Chamber Music Concert

Danny Elfman's "Music From the Films of Tim Burton" being performed inside Royal Albert Hall David Lliff

The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts — universally known as “The Proms” — are a summer season of classical music. This year, from July 14 to September 9, more than 100 events are planned, a majority to be held in the Royal Albert Hall. Up to 1,400 tickets are sold each evening. At any season of the year, London stages chamber music recitals in a number of more intimate venues. One of my favorites is Wigmore Hall, a 15-minute walk from either Claridge’s or The Connaught. My other favorite setting for chamber music is St. John’s Smith Square, close to the Houses of Parliament.

Get Lost in a Local Bookshop

The interior of Daunt Books Daunt Books

London remains a bookish city, and there are still quite a few surviving independent shops defying the ravenous maw of the Internet. Among my favorites is Daunt Books, which contains the finest selection of travel literature I have ever encountered, displayed in a historic shop with long oak galleries, graceful skylights and William Morris prints.

Take a Boat Ride

Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, a popular spot for boat rides in the city OlegAlbinsky/iStock/GettyImages

London’s parks form one of the city’s principal glories. Holland Park is centered on the ruins of Holland House, a Jacobean mansion partially destroyed by an incendiary bomb in 1940. This now provides a backdrop for a wonderful summer opera festival. On warm evenings, I like to stroll over to The Boathouse in Hyde Park to rent a small rowing skiff and scull gently up the Serpentine past the Sackler Gallery to The Long Water in Kensington Gardens.

Visit Sir John Soane's Museum

The Picture Room inside Sir John Soane's Museum Courtesy of Sir John Soane’s Museum - Gareth Gardner

The excellent Sir John Soane’s Museum recently saw the completion of a five-year restoration project. Soane’s houses a remarkable private collection that includes classical sculptures and mosaics; paintings by Canaletto, Watteau and Turner; drawings by Piranesi and Wren; and, improbably, the sarcophagus of pharaoh Seti I.

Shop in a Bespoke Perfume Store

The exterior of Floris, a perfume shop Floris

One of my favorite London shops is Floris on Jermyn Street, a bespoke perfume store and an invaluable source of gifts. Sometimes I indulge in the No. 89 aftershave, the preferred fragrance of James Bond.


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Andrew Harper Photo Andrew Harper is the editor of The Hideaway Report, a luxury travel newsletter that first appeared in 1979. He travels anonymously and pays his own expenses in pursuit of unique properties that offer unusually high levels of personal service. Hotels have no idea who he is, so he is treated exactly as you might be.

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