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A guide for tourists spending 72 hours in the city
(This is part 2 of a double response to Elle Griffin’s question ‘how should a city be designed for its inhabitants?’, with part 1 here. Any resemblance to the UK’s capital in real life is entirely intentional).
The phrase ‘when you are tired of London you are tired of life’ might be a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.
There is more than enough in this city to exhaust even the most dedicated visitor, and that’s without considering some of the massive changes that the last 8 years have brought to a capital city that’s been on this site since the Romans still had an empire.
So let’s start with the greatest hits: whether you’re a monarchist or a Republican, no first time visit to London is complete without a visit to Buckingham Orchard - the former 77,000 square-metre palace of the British Royal Family which has now been converted into a public orchard housing a dazzling array of rare and beautiful flora and fauna.
His Majesty King Charles III, informally referred to as the first ‘climate king’ and a keen environmentalist, declared by Royal Edict in the year 2024 that sixty percent of the palace and its grounds would be given over to public contemplation and enjoyment of the ‘royalty of nature’.
Uncharitable interpretations of what drove such a monumental decision include the fact that giving away half of his ancestral home to the public was the only way Charles could win back the British public after his treatment of Princess Diana, or the fact that he was crowned King without paying any income tax on his extensive inheritance during one of the worst cost-of-living crises in living memory. Whatever the explanation, very few complain about the end result once they’ve seen it.
Within the former Palace grounds you will find native species of the British Isles as well as trees from further afield that only someone with a king’s budget could have rescued: these include several protected Californian Redwoods salvaged from encroaching wildfires, and a range of near extinct varieties of native Banyan from Vietnam, painstakingly bought back to life from seeds that have been kept in a vault in The Arctic Circle. The centerpiece, of course, is The Royal Oak, a now-monumental English Oak Tree originally from Shropshire in which His Majesty’s Predecessor King Charles II is said to have hidden from Roundhead soldiers after losing the battle of Worcester in 1680. The tree’s placement suggests His Majesty isn’t entirely without a sense of humour.
If you’re visiting during the summer, Apples from Buckingham Orchard are harvested and pressed into some of the world’s most potent and expensive cider, which is the poshest way possible to indulge in the UK’s favoured national sport: drinking.
There are several breweries around London now making beer using wheat and hops grown via vertical farms and rooftops in Camden, Haringey and Kensington, and it’s not just booze that grows in the city now. Summer in the city is urban harvest season, and there are maps freely available pointing you in the direction of the city’s multitude of common fruit trees, vegetables and plants should you want to pick your own.
British cuisine was an oxymoron for a long time, and the country’s food is still the butt of jokes amongst people who have never visited. But the country’s experimenting with food supply chains has led to a resurgence of food made with produce grown at the capital’s allotments, vertical farms, and rooftops – this development accelerated after the Covid-19 pandemic when the UK government incentivised landlords of vacant commercial property to convert it into green space, which led to the strange spectacle of large swathes of the city of London going from office space to garden and farm space.
In London, many regard eating before drinking as non-essential activity, but if you choose to buck the trend and not drink on an empty stomach, you’ve got options. Some of our favourites include:
The New River Café – an upscale sequel to Rick Stein’s Hammersmith institution which now only serves food found within three miles of the restaurant and in the last 24 hours.
Roadkill – a popular hipster restaurant in Shoreditch where the menu changes on a daily basis, and is composed (or as they joke, decomposed) from animal remains foraged around the capital’s roads and parks. Roadkill was recently closed when it emerged that Deliveroo drivers had been deliberately running over animals and then bringing them to the restaurant for money, but since they re-opened they have severed ties with all delivery services to ensure the integrity of their product, and their Mystery Meat Burger is delicious but not for the faint of heart.
Black Oxe Mangal – a popular joint in the Kingsland Road area that serves Turkish-style Mangal grill with a twist: every meat item on the menu is meat-replacement product. Their fake pig’s blood sausage is spectacular.
Eel Pie – Jellied eel is a uniquely British dish, and Eel Pie does pretty much what it says on the tin, but it does it very well indeed. Their job has been made easier since the clean-up of the Thames, Thames Estuary, which meant that eels are found and fished up and down the sacred river in far more plentiful numbers.
On the topic of rivers, the only better way to get under the surface of a city than walking or running it is swimming it, and Londoners have a strange predilection for outdoor water given how cold it is here: in addition to visiting The Serpentine or Hampstead Ponds, you can also swim in The Thames Baths, a large-scale public infrastructure project situated in the middle of the city’s great river.
The water here is heated, and if you’re there at the right time of year you might find unusual company swimming in close proximity in the river close beside you. The Thames was declared biologically dead in 1950, but a concerted clean-up effort and changing water temperatures have brought seals, seahorses, sharks and even the occasional whale further up the estuary and into the city, along with various different species of wading and fishing bird.
If you don’t fancy swimming, getting around the city is uniformly easy, with a range of public transportation powered by green energy – one of the advantages of being an island is plentiful offshore wind and wave energy, which the UK is now a world leader at harvesting, storing and using. Whilst the public transport is good, it is a sin to visit the city without travelling via the most popular, pleasant and free public transport system in the world – the London Greenground.
A ‘tube map’ displaying London’s many parks as if they were train stations had been popular for some time before the City’s Mayor elected to link them together via walkable green corridors. It’s now possible to walk all the way across and around the capital on foot without ever treading on concrete or having birdsong drowned out by traffic, and over the summer many people have been known to walk the trails all night in various states of sobriety. If you are going to overdo it at one of London’s innumerable pubs and clubs, there are worse ways to see off a hangover via one of these trails. Our personal favourite is Parkland Walk, a natural reserve running from Finsbury Park to Highgate.
Once you’re done eating, drinking, and walking the city, no trip to London would be complete without visiting some of its world-leading museums. We recommend purchasing a joint ticket to The British Museums, London Zoo and Kew Gardens, which offer a glimpse not only of the past, but of the future too.
As part of a cultural restitution and environmental protection programme, The British Museum agreed to return several key items taken from other nations – including the Benin Bronzes, and the Elgin Marbles – in exchange for rare items from those countries’ natural patrimonies, including a multitude of endangered species and several thousand forms of plant and tree life that were at terminal risk of becoming extinct due to climate change. Kew has now become a storehouse for the world’s environmental riches, and scientists there are developing hardier strains of endangered species and cross-breeding them to flourish in changing temperatures.
Beyond the big three museums, the Victoria and Albert Museum is always worth a visit: it now includes in its permanent collection a series of iconic canvases by British Artists Anthony Burrill, Tracy Emin Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry, Steve McQueen and David Hockney made with charcoal gathered after forest fires in California, The Brazilian Amazon and The Siberian Steppe.
It may be that after all this heavy culture you need some hedonism, and you’re in the right place for it. London’s nightlife is excellent, but whilst we could point you to the usual collection of clubs and haunts, we would also recommend closing your trip with a different kind of night haunt.
Since 2028, certain areas of London have been self-designated ‘dark boroughs’ for particular times of the year. At sunset head to Alexandra Palace, Greenwich Park or Brockwell Park to see the usual electric lighting shut down, and witness birds migrating overhead all the way from Europe. The country might no longer be part of the European Union, but birds still travel between the UK and the continent regularly. Only once you’ve seen the migration can you go and spend your final night in the city in bars and clubs without feeling like you’ve missed out on something.
So that was 72 hours in London. If you’ve got more time, please feel free to consult our ‘a week in the city’, and ‘a month in the city’ guides, but of course, the best way to really do the city is to live here.
And after spending a bit of time here, you can be forgiven for wondering why anyone would want to live anywhere else.