Traveler Jamie McDonald doesn’t just like London—it’s also his hometown, and the city he knows best in the world.
There are many traditional British things to do and attractions that every traveler should make time for, even on a short stopover. Fortunately, McDonald was eager to show Travel + Leisure around.
First, drop your bags at the 91-room Ham Yard Hotel. This charming property feels like a village inside the city, thanks to its location in a quiet corner of Piccadilly and leafy, private rooftop. For lunch, visitors should head straight to Borough Market. It's an easy ride on London’s underground train network the Tube, one of the most navigable subways in the world.
“Gordon Ramsey loves it, and it’s 1,000 years old. What more do you want?” McDonald said of Borough Market, which was first mentioned in the saga of St. Olaf, circa 1014.
He ordered a pork belly sandwich with crackling and Bramley apple sauce from Roast to Go—“is there anything more British?”—though London’s oldest greenmarket boasts more than 70 vendors, farmers, bakers, and more. Cheese mongers are plentiful, and street food stalls hawk everything from Ethiopian platters served with ingera bread and scotch eggs crafted with black pudding or lamb.
You can take your lunch for a stroll along London’s South Bank, stopping to watch skateboarders at an abandoned car park turned skate center at the Southbank Centre.
From here, you’ll also have a great view of Parliament—including the iconic Elizabeth Tower often mistaken for Big Ben (though that’s technically the name of the 16-ton bell inside).
Next, head to St. Pauls’ Cathedral—the iconic Baroque church that survived the 1940 Blitz entirely unscathed. Today, it’s a symbol of British resilience: and one of the best viewpoints in London. You’ll have to climb 528 steps to reach the Golden Gallery in the top of the dome.
Grab a pre-dinner cocktail at Cahoots, which is located in a disused WWII Raid shelter. McDonald ordered a Ploughing the Field: a verdant mix of Hendrick’s Gin, spinach, apple, celery, cucumber, ginger, and rosemary, though there are plenty of other cheeky drinks on the menu.
Being an old traditional city, consider dining at J. Sheekey, an old West End favorite especially popular with theatergoers. Seafood is your best bet here, and the menu boasts gravlax and smoked salmon, tuna tartare, sautéed razor clams, and even grilled octopus.
After a restful night at the Ham yard Hotel, check out Notting Hill a fry up at Pizza East, perched at the top of Portobello Road. This is your chance to experience the full English breakfast: eggs, sausage, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, and bonus pancetta.
Work off the feast with a stroll along this popular shopping street, best known for antiques and oddities. For a change of scenery, continue to the nearby Royal Parks. London has more green space than any other major city in the word, so you’re spoiled for choice. And tucked inside Holland are the transportive Kyoto Gardens: a gift from Japan to Great Britain in 1991 and currently inhabited by a few resident peacocks.
There’s a lot more to London than pubs and beer, McDonald reminds us, but don’t forget to check that box off your British bucket list. London’s oldest wine bar Gordon’s is the perfect spot for a glass of late afternoon sherry. The place has remained virtually unchanged since it opened in the 1800s.
Want more fun things to do in the city of London? Check out our comprehensive London guide.