If you really can’t start your exploration until after a caffeine boost, head to Monmouth on the edge of Borough Market, where you’ll find the best coffee in the city (there’s always a queue, but it’s worth the wait). The benches outside are a suntrap first thing in the morning, and a good place to watch the traders setting up their stalls. If this specific spot looks familiar, it might be because you’ve seen it on the silver screen – blockbusters like Bridget Jones’s Diary, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban have all used the surrounding streets to film memorable scenes.
From Monmouth, walk through Borough Market (try to imagine how it would have looked at various points in its 800 year history) past Southwark Cathedral and up onto London Bridge. Look out for London Grind on the left and stop for breakfast. It’s a hip spot with a great signature dish of poached eggs, avocado and chilli.
Head back to the river bank and walk east towards the iconic Tower Bridge (it’s raised once or two a day so you might be lucky and see it in action), enjoying views of the sky-scraping financial district juxtaposed with the 11th-century Tower of London.
Walk across Tower Bridge to the north bank and hop on a Thames Clipper at Tower Pier, making your way towards Westminster. The river is a perfect vantage point to enjoy several of London’s most famous landmarks: Monument, St Pauls’ Cathedral, the Shard, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern, the South Bank arts complex, the London Eye and finally Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament.
Disembark at Waterloo Pier and get yourself onto the London Eye (you can book in advance to avoid the lines). It’s touristy and a bit crowded, but does provide a truly epic view of the city, especially the Westminster area, and is definitely worth the 30 minutes it takes to do a rotation.
Cross over the Thames via Westminster Bridge, admiring Big Ben on the left, then turn right and make your way up Whitehall, past 10 Downing Street, until you reach Trafalgar Square, the closest thing to a centre London has. Dominated by Nelson’s Column, it’s from here that London’s main arteries spread out. The Mall sweeps away to the west to Buckingham Palace; the Strand meanders to the east towards the City; and the National Gallery overlooks the square from the north, with London’s entertainment heart, the West End, behind it.
Head northeast until you reach Covent Garden, where you’ll find street performers in the elegant, though often very busy, piazza and some excellent shopping in the quaint streets and alleys around it, and then slightly north to reach Rock & Sole Plaice, a top spot for a traditional fish and chips lunch.
he British Museum, one of the very best in the world, is a short walk from Covent Garden, and free to enter. Circuit the Great Court, topped by a striking glass canopy, and gaze at the Egyptian mummies, Parthenon Sculptures, Rosetta Stone and other world treasures.
Move south for a pint (you must be thirsty by now) at the Princess Louise, a beautiful ‘boozer’, with original Victorian decor, which frequently appears at the top of lists of great pubs in the capital.
From here, Hyde Park is just a short journey west on the Central Line (get off at Marble Arch or Lancaster Gate), with Kensington Gardens bordering its western edge. There isn’t a bad time to visit: in spring, the daffodils are magical; in summer, you can laze about in the wide open parts, or take a boat out on the Serpentine; in autumn, you can marvel at the colours; in winter you can find utter tranquillity, even if it is chilly.
A classic way to spend an evening in London is drinks, dinner and a show, and for this happy trio, you’ll want to head to the West End, also known as Theatreland.