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The Cole Haan Guide to London
What to eat, see, and do for a bloody good time in England’s capital.
By Abbie Moulton

Eclectic, diverse, and a little eccentric, London is a truly multifaceted city with history pulsing through its art, music, food, and architecture. A sprawling patchwork of style and structure, you’ll find rickety timber-framed Tudor houses sandwiched between modernist tower blocks, as neo-futurist high-rises soar to compete with icons like Tower Bridge and Big Ben for a slice of the skyline. At street level, individual villages jostle against one another, spilling across boundaries to claim their share of territory, each with its own character.

Influences from all corners of the world converge in England’s lively capital of culture and revelry, bringing together a global community. Carnivals explode with color, fragrant spice fills the streets of Brick Lane, and, in Brixton, smoke bellows from steel grills where jerk c hicken sizzles. Constantly evolving, adapting and growing, no two moments are the same here. From the new-jazz quarters of Peckham to the nightlife of Soho, the graffiti-drenched streets of Shoreditch and the design haven of Clerkenwell, to the soothing canalways of Hackney—there’s a London for everyone. Here’s a capsule curation of what the city has to offer.

All Illustrations by Russ Pope

What to See

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Get that “straight from the movies” feeling with a stroll along the Southbank, the iconic riverside walkway that stretches from Tower Bridge in the east to Westminster Bridge in the west. Great for a romantic walk or a scenic run, it’s particularly impressive at dusk as the sky changes colour and the city lights begin to glimmer. It might be a tourist hotspot, but crossing Westminster Bridge at golden hour when the skyline twinkles and Big Ben is silhouetted against the glow simply never gets old.

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Brutalist architecture swept through post-war London in the 1950s, scattering the landscape with harsh lines, repeating patterns, and raw concrete structures that came to define the decade. Utilitarian, hostile and imposing, the movement was met with less-than-popular regard, considered by many as the era’s eyesore. Half a century on, though, it’s held in reverence and even affection, with countless books, exhibitions and projects dedicated to the design. Visible in the jagged edges across the city, there’s no better place to get initiated than The Barbican.

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Somerset House may reside in a neoclassical palace dating back to the 18th century, but its arts and culture program is decidedly futuristic. A line-up of dynamic events dissect the now and lean into the new with recent exhibitions addressing climate change and highlighting the work of Black creative pioneers. The center is also dedicated to nurturing work by emerging artists. You can find something inspiring on the calendar here, no matter the season.

What to Eat

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Tucked in the leafy streets of Arnold Circus, Rochelle Canteen quietly epitomises the very best of modern British dining: a seasonal menu that changes daily celebrates the highest quality local produce, treated to the kind of gentle but masterful cooking that lets each ingredient speak for itself. Freshly caught seafood from the island’s east coast joins plump Sicilian tomatoes, while hearty pies filled with braised lamb shoulder and grass-fed beef are served alongside buttery potatoes and herbs. Leave room for pudding, or perhaps a slice of crumble, glossy with custard. This hidden courtyard of culinary pleasure is the kind of place you go for lunch only to find that you’re still there, two desserts and “just one more glass” of wine later, long after you’d planned to leave.

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A London institution in the heart of Mayfair’s Piccadilly, The Wolseley is a grand affair, all marble pillars and decadent archways that ooze old-time glamor. Despite the grandeur, the space is welcoming and bustles with locals and tourists alike at all hours of the day. It’s breakfast that draws the crowds, though, and it’s not to be missed. Delicate pastries and freshly cut fruits are on offer alongside more plentiful dishes like fluffy French toast, Eggs Benedict, and “The English”: eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, tomato, black pudding, and mushrooms. Best served with a pot of tea and the morning paper.

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Imad Alarnab won the hearts of Londoners with a series of pop-ups prior to the pandemic. No small wonder: he ran three restaurants in Damascus, before their destruction in the Syrian civil war forced him to flee. Traveling to the UK via Calais, he cooked for refugees along the way, finding comfort in the ability of food to bring people together. From his new permanent space in Soho’s Kingly Court, Imad’s Syrian Kitchen features vibrant dishes made for sharing, like creamy Baba Ghanoj topped with pomegranate seeds and his signature Fattet Macdous with minced lamb. To honor his journey, Imad donates £1 from every bill to refugee charity Choose Love.

What to Do

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East London’s cinematic Columbia Road dates back to the 1860s and the row of Victorian shops and houses is still a thriving part of local life. Sleepy and serene during the week, it bursts to life in a flurry of sound and color during the Sunday flower market. Barter like a local for seasonal blooms and pick up some cockney rhyming slang—just don’t forget the “bread and honey” (read: money) as the stalls are cash only.

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Notting Hill is home to many a mews: cobbled courtyards flanked by terraced houses and gated archways. Originally built as stables for the horse-and-carriages that transported high-society Londoners of the past, these mews have been converted to covetable abodes for the contemporary times—and they’re definitely worth a visit for postcard-pretty photos. From bright, pastel facades, to elegant cream and wrought iron, framed with flowers and green ivy, there are numerous styles to swoon over. Quaint, cute and quintessentially English, follow your map to Coleville Mews, Denbigh Terrace, Osten Mews, and Hyde Park Garden Mews for some of the best sights.

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The rebirth of jazz ripples out across the city and beyond, though its roots lay firmly in South East London, where the soulful melodies of sax and strings ascend from behind many doors. The new jazz movement is spearheaded by a younger generation, pushing boundaries by working collaboratively and incorporating cross-genre influences to carve out a unique new sound. To hear established acts as well as up-and-coming names, head to Peckham’s CLF Art Lounge and Roof Garden. With regular gigs in the sultry, speakeasy-style cocktail lounge, and weekly live jazz and soul sessions on the roof every Sunday, it’s a place to sit back, relax, and let the music do the talking.

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