For first-time visitors, Central London has everything you need to see the top attractions from Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
What if you wanted to see it as a local? Our friend, jewelry designer Mira Ovaskainen of VALO, gives us some great ideas on how to see London without being a stereotypical tourist.
- After you enjoy the 11:30am pageantry of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, grab some sandwiches to go from Pret-A-Manger or EAT for a makeshift picnic lunch in St. James's Park. While you enjoy a leisurely stroll through the capital's oldest park, take note of the flower beds and variety of birds like robins, pelicans, blackbirds, wrens, woodpeckers and owls.
- Regent Street takes care of all your retail needs, especially during Christmas time. You'll be elbow to elbow with other fashion seekers, but if you can brave it, you can find some unique brands beyond the international chain stores. There's Liberty's uniquely-patterned clothes and home goods, Hamleys toy shop and a who's who of British clothing at Carnaby Street.
- Fancy an afternoon tea? Of course, you do. Skip the fancy hotels and department store tea rooms and head to the Mayfair section for Sketch. This slightly off-kilter tea parlor is situated in a 18th-century townhouse where each room has a unique theme. Have your scones, clotted cream and finger sandwiches in the India Mahdavi-designed, pink-filled Gallery room featuring art from David Shrigley or the quirky and slightly shagadelic Parlour room. Online reservations are a must.
- Inspired by Hollywood's golden age with a modern twist, Sea Containers at the Mondrian Hotel has dazzling decor with a spectacular view of the Thames at street level. Their gastropub-style menu features farm-to-table dishes and small plates for sharing. If cocktails are on your itinerary, head next door to the hotel's Dandelyan cocktail bar for a botanical-inspired tipple.
- Rumor has it the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street has the best view of London, so there's no need to wait in line at the Shard or London Eye. Nicknamed the "Walkie-Talkie," the top of the building was meant to be a free public space so you can marvel at the 360-degree uninterrupted view. As we always recommend, book your free daytime ticket in advance.
- Looking to dazzle your traveling companion? Fenchurch Restaurant at the Sky Garden will do the trick. Take note of the sunset times for an unforgettable view of London turning from day into night. As you enjoy the city lights twinkle, dine on contemporary British cuisine with juicy steaks and exquisite fish. You can also grab a cocktail and enjoy feeling like a Bond villain in their posh lair.