Before moving to Los Angeles four years ago, I lived in Notting Hill, probably (thanks to Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts) now one of the most famous enclaves in England's awesome capital, London. Now I go back a few times a year to film a TV show and for Christmas, to relax at home and enjoy the city.
If you're planning a visit, here are my favorite secret haunts and tips.
Starting with transport: Fly Virgin Atlantic, in my opinion it's the most comfortable and welcoming airline. Decent food, great cocktails and amazing movies to make the journey go quicker.
Once you're in town, walk as much as you can, it's the best way to see the city. Or buy a Travelcard and sit on the top deck of our famous red buses to get a birdseye view. Avoid cabs unless it's late at night, they are stonkingly expensive -- although our cabbies are the friendliest in the world and never, ever get lost!
Hit Colbert on Sloane Square for breakfast, or pick up a deliciously light and fluffy pastry and latte from Cocomaya around the corner, if you're on the run. St James' palace is one of my favorite places to start sight-seeing, take a photo with one of the Queen's Beefeaters (well, when in Rome...) and walk up St James to Berry Brothers, an ancient wine-seller that offers tasting nights in their labyrinth of wood-paneled back rooms and corridors. One corridor leads to a blocked-off tunnel, that allegedly once served as an escape route to the palace for ladies-of-the-night.
If you're game for a fun tour, there's a bus that turns into a boat -- yes really, just like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang -- called the Duck Tour. I took a friend and we didn't stop cackling from start to finish: it's genius, and the guides are all actual, off-duty comedians. The Tower of London is epic, from the Beefeaters and the infamous black ravens to the crown jewels.
And then you can't go to London without visiting a traditional pub. The Swag & Tails in Knightsbridge is up a windy lane across from Harrods. The log fire burns and it's a very local spot that no tourists ever find. As for hotels, my top pick (and Karl Lagerfeld's, incidentally) is Browns. You can see into Bond Street's designer boutiques from it's chic rooms, and the breakfast is out of this world delicious -- try the kedgeree.
Two new but very old-fashioned hotspots are The Factory House -- a restaurant oddly themed by the Industrial Revolution -- but somehow it works. You're underground next to rusting cogs, pipes, valves and a staircase that seems like a steam train. Charles Dickens eat your heart out. House of Wolf in Islington bears a similar Victorian resemblance but is a three-storey townhouse serving historic cocktails in apothecary vials, and hosts fun, short-lived music-hall type shows.
Have afternoon tea at The Wolesley on Piccadilly, it's so old school and grand. Next door is where the Queen gets her food, a beautiful 300-year-old department store called Fortnum&Mason. And across the street is the Academy of Art, always great for interesting exhibitions.
Spend a Friday, if possible, in Notting Hill. Portobello Market is gorgeous, full of antiques, vintage clothing and plenty of charm. Stroll along Westbourne Grove, pick up beautiful sweaters and shirts at Zadig & Voltaire or Wolf & Badger. Have drinks and dinner at the new hotspot Rum Kitchen on All Saints Road. It's a Caribbean-inspired bar serving the yummiest Jerk chicken wings outside of Jamaica (in my opinion!) and over 100 brands of rum.
If you're after something more romantic, check out Julie's. It's a townhouse tucked away right by the street where Elton John lives and is a maze of different little dining rooms, all decorated differently. Don't miss the Punchbowl in Mayfair for another evening's dinner either; Guy Richie owns it. Try a very English specialty, Shepherd's Pie.
Oh and if you're visiting during the festive season, book tickets now to go ice skating after dark at Somerset House. The whole ancient building is lit up and the gigantic Christmas tree is decorated by Tiffany's. Stock up on fresh foods and try the freshly-baked brownies at Borough Market, right on the river. Walking around, you'll spot Bridget Jones' very recognizable apartment, and you must try one of their barbecued sausages, which you can eat on the famous Southbank while watching the boats float by on the Thames.
Finally, Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is a smorgasbord of European delicacies, mulled wine and fairground rides.
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