A few hundred years ago, heading out for the night in London meant zipping across the Thames in a row boat for an evening of raucous Shakespeare plays, a couple of Southbank prostitutes and a lot of bathtub gin (you’ll have to wait a few generations to sip your artisan sloe gin, hipsters!). However, technology, namely electric lighting, has since transformed our metropolises into a beating hive of activity long past twilight, allowing party-seekers, cramming students and night owls to stay up into the darkest moments of the day.
In light of the recent arrival of the Night Tube, London certainly holds a valid claim to be a 24-hour city – but what if you actually challenged yourself to stay up 24 solid hours in the Old Smoke? Check out my complete guide to how I would spend 24 hours in London – who knows, perhaps it will inspire an adventure of your own?
6AM-9AM – Duck and Waffle
Now let me clear something up. You’ll read plenty of guides that recommend making this towering 24-hour restaurant in the Heron Tower as the last thing to do, arguing you should see all the other stuff first and then enjoy cocktails and brunch at sunrise. In my opinion that’s a bit of a waste. When Kasha and I visited Duck and Waffle last year for our anniversary it was hands down the best meal I’ve eaten in London. Phenomenal service, incredible atmosphere and the most creative drinks and dishes I’ve ever laid eyes on, and had the pleasure to devour. With that in mind, after a full day of boozing in the Old Smoke, I wouldn’t want to leave the best till last, as I’d honestly be be too pissed to enjoy it.
No, I’d much rather start the day with a bang and hit up this panoramic foodie paradise so the first thing that touches my lips is a ristretto Negroni, followed by dates wrapped in bacon and the famous, eponymously titled duck and waffle – perfection on a plate.
9AM-12PM – Cycle Ride Around the Royal Parks
You’ll need to crack on with something active after your meal, lest you fall into some kind of food coma brought on my one too many ox cheek donuts. My suggestion is to jump onto the saddle of a Boris bike. Otherwise known as Santander cycles, these handy contraptions are ubiquitous in London and offer the perfect scenic A -to-B for people wanting to explore the capital’s green spots. My suggestion is to head to St James Park, Green Park, Hyde Park, past Kensington Palace and of course check in on the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
12AM-2PM – Borough Market
One of London’s best-loved and most-visited markets, this lively spot near London Bridge is a must on any visitor’s itinerary. The reasons for its inclusion in this list are three-fold: fresh, creative dishes and produce that always surprises me, a location surrounded by charming old pubs where you’ll gulp down local craft beer and finally the fact that’s its history goes back about 1,000 years. This fact makes chowing down on a chorizo scotch egg and crispy sweet potato fries beneath the railway arches a time-honoured London tradition.
2PM-5PM – Bermondsey Beer Mile
After all that artisan grub, you should be hankering to get your chops around a fresh, cold pint. Fear not, for our next stop is to the fabulous Bermondsey Beer Mile. Let me paint a picture, six microbreweries have set up shop under the railway arches stretching south from London Bridge. Each weekend they throw open their doors and this industrious part of South London becomes the capital’s most discerning pub crawl, as hop enthusiasts sample the freshly made beers straight from the source of some of the best brewers in Britain, like Kernel, Fourpure and Partizan. When the sun is shining, drinking in the capital doesn’t get much better than this.
5PM-7PM – Walk along the Southbank
Southbank isn’t just for tourists you know! I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to see some of the most vibrant parts of London. Proud skateboarders still dominate the Undercroft, foodie markets fill the air with heady fragrance and the capital’s most renowned cultural venues swing open their doors. I love looking at the old pubs, admiring the reconstructed Globe Theatre or getting a pigeon-eye view of the city from the London Eye – sensational!
7PM-9PM – Draughts Board Game Café
Geeking out in a city of 8.6 million is easy – in fact, embracing your inner nerd is somewhat in. London’s first ever board game café, Draughts, was actually the result of an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign. The Hoxton venue boasts over 700 games, a selection of craft beer, high-quality snacks (the charcuterie was yum) and even tournament nights – take that Saturday night!
9PM-10PM – Voodoo Rays Pizza
The first time I ever caught wind of this legendary Shoreditch pizzeria was at Glastonbury, where they had a sneaky pop-up in the late-night Shangri-La area. It was less that I heard great reviews from its patrons and more that I continuously heard groans of delight as revellers attempted to shove golden triangle slices of loaded pizzas as quickly into their mouths as possible. Since then, whenever I’m in Shoreditch, I’ll get a twinge of nostalgia and order a meaty slice of heaven from this Box Park hangout.
10PM-2AM – Nightjar
Undoubtedly my favourite bar in London. This subterranean cocktail mecca is hidden in plain sight near Old Street roundabout, and in my opinion boats the best cocktails in the city. The Nightjar is the grown-up equivalent of a sweet shop, especially since ingredients like alligator pepper, yumberries and cornflake smoke sprinkle the menu with a sense of magic. Order what you want from this speakeasy and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. If you’re here during a live music sessions, you’ll also be sipping your libations to a pleasing background of jazz vibes.
2AM-3AM – Beigel Bake
Brick Lane has long been a melting pot for cultures. Besides its reputation as the go-to place for a curry, its Jewish roots mean that it also has a line in traditional beigels stuffed with all the trimmings. Beigel Bake, an East End institution, is particularly notable for the fact it operates 24-hours a day, meaning clubbers and cabbies alike can queue up around the clock to be served a freshly baked roll topped with slabs of tender salt beef carved to order.
3AM-4AM – Night Bus
I wouldn’t want to, but if I’m being practical, this would the only way to reach our next destination at this time of night. The Victoria and Central lines may be running all night thanks to the arrival of the Night Tube, but if you’re heading west, you’ll have to slum it on one of the infamous night buses. Expect the unexpected.
4AM-6AM – Sunrise in Greenwich
There are many places in the capital that offer post-card perfect view of London, but for me the panoramic view from Greenwich Observatory is unbeatable. Take a load off here and celebrate 24 hours in one of the greatest cities on Earth. Champagne optional.
Thanks for reading my crazy 24 hour guide to London, if you want some further ideas about how you can fill out your itinerary, check out Cheapflights blog which gave me the inspiration for this post.
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If you’ve enjoyed this post but like poor Oliver you ‘just want more’ then check out my tips for some of the best London Apps you can download to navigate this buzzing metropolis.