London is springing back to life. Heathrow Airport reports that March 2022 was its busiest month since the start of the pandemic, with passenger travel from North America in particular increasing by more than 60 percent from January 2022.
The uptick is linked to the British government’s recent elimination of coronavirus restrictions, a welcome move for many travelers eager for their fill of British culture, including once-in-a-lifetime Platinum Jubilee events and experiences based on “Bridgerton,” the heady hit show from Netflix.
“We love ‘Bridgerton’ and all things royal,” said Tasha Gelling, a Chicago-based teacher who with her daughter Ruth, 16, booked an afternoon tea during their six-day trip to Britain this month. The duo also toured the Tower of London and Hyde Park, and spent an afternoon in Bath.
Even with new coronavirus variants brewing and a war raging in Ukraine, many other U.S. travelers are planning trips to the British capital.
“London has remained the second-most popular international travel destination for Americans — only behind Cancun — for recent holiday travel periods,” said Jen Moyse, vice president of product for TripIt, a travel-organizing app with 19 million users. The volume of flight bookings to London, she said, increased 300 percent when comparing TripIt’s reservation data over the four-month period from April to July to December to March.
Some city stalwarts closed their doors during the pandemic. Among them: Cafe de Paris, a cabaret venue in the West End since 1924; Le Caprice in St James’s, once a favorite spot of Princess Diana; and the physical locations of Debenham’s, the 242-year-old department store. But throughout London, other cafes and shops bustle, scads of new bars and restaurants have opened and city squares teem with everyday life. Many of the Royal Parks are ablaze in daffodils and brimming with picnickers, while live theater is back in the West End. The return of in-person events lends to the buoyancy of the Platinum Jubilee “Central Weekend” in June, when public celebrations will mark Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign.
Here’s more on what is new and noteworthy in London.
The latest in restaurants
It’s a testament to London’s vitality that new restaurants managed to open and even thrive during the pandemic. One of the buzziest spots is Sessions Arts Club in Clerkenwell, a reimagined 18th-century courthouse where artwork and crumbling, dramatic décor lend a fanciful patina to fare from the chef Florence Knight. Dishes like sea bream with parsley and eel with creme fraiche are delightfully British with whiffs of France and Italy (entrees range from 10 to 25 pounds, or around $13 to $32).
Another new hit is KOL, Britain’s first Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant, where the chef Santiago Lastra turns out items like pork belly carnitas with cabbage purée. On the ground level is The Mezcaleria, which serves kicky, mezcal-focused cocktails (six- or nine-course tasting menus cost £90 and £125, without wine or mezcal pairings; cocktails at Mezclaria are £15).
Vegans and meat-eaters alike might be delighted with the restaurant Gauthier Soho’s pivot from classic French gastronomy to plant-based fine dining. One dish, rice with truffle “cream,” delivers the richness of dairy through a potato-and-lentil starch combination (the tasting menu starts at £50, without wine pairings).
When Leroy in Shoreditch adopted rotisserie chicken takeaway as a pandemic survival maneuver, the Michelin-starred restaurant might not have imagined the side hustle would evolve into a stand-alone eatery. Now, Royale sells whole or half cornfed Anjou chicken, sides like leeks vinaigrette, and a hazelnut parfait dessert (whole chickens cost £30, sides about £10).
At his 1970s-inspired, Thames-facing bar Lyaness, the bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana crafts cocktails around offbeat ingredients. A spring drink called the 21st Daisy blends vodka, passion fruit and crystallized verbena with a homemade “Green Sauce Liqueur” (£14.5), but this South Bank location also serves a weekend “Spirited Tea” (£55 for the full tea selection, paired cocktails, cakes and sandwiches).
Brown’s clocks in as the oldest hotel in London, opening its doors in 1837, but the bartender Salvatore Calabrese devises fresh ways to revisit the property’s history through cocktails. The First Call honors Alexander Graham Bell (who famously made the first phone call from Brown’s) with Elephant gin, pistachio pesto, verjus, coconut syrup, egg white and white port (£23). Another drink, the Winston — as in Churchill — is whisky based and spiked with coriander, lime juice and a swirl of smokiness (£25).
New hotels and lodging
In Covent Garden, the New York-based design company Roman and Williams has transformed a 19th-century Magistrate’s Court into the first European Nomad Hotel. The selected art and textured materials imbue spaces with a contemporary edge and the restaurant is housed within a three-story glass atrium (rates from £409).
Two interconnected Georgian homes are now the 14-suite Beaverbrook Town House in Chelsea, where interiors designed by Nicola Harding offer vibrant color combinations, lively prints and tassel-fringed upholstery inspired by London’s grand theaters (rates from £495). Hotel guests can access the leafy, residents-only Cadogan Gardens as well as enjoy “Bridgerton”-themed experiences with the sister property Beaverbrook Estate in Surrey.
Kingsland Locke has unveiled 124 sleek apartment-style rooms in East London’s Dalston neighborhood, with a coffee shop, microbrewery and kebab restaurant on the ground floor (rates from £123).
West End offerings
Lights are back on in the West End with blockbuster musicals like “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and “Six,” a modern chronicle of the fate of Henry VIII’s wives. For those seeking plays, there is “Much Ado About Nothing” at The Shakespeare Globe (through Oct. 23) and the West End openings include “The Glass Menagerie” starring Amy Adams (from May 23 to Aug. 27) and “Prima Facie” with Jodie Comer of “Killing Eve” fame (through June 18).
Ticket prices range for various shows, from £5 (standing room only) to around £90, and may be sold out for popular shows. Weeknight tickets and matinees are cheaper and the TKTS booth in Leicester Square offers discounted day-of tickets. Note that some theaters have their own vaccine requirements, so double check to see what documentation is required for entry.
At the Victoria & Albert Museum, the “Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear” exhibition brings together historical and contemporary ensembles to highlight the concept of gender fluidity. Expect to see 18th-century frock coats and suits worn by the Beatles to gowns sported by the singer Harry Styles and the drag performer Bimini Bon-Boulash (admission to the museum is free and there’s no timed entry; “Fashioning Masculinities” runs through November).
“Surrealism Beyond Borders” at the Tate Modern explores the global reach of the Surrealist movement with works by lesser-known artists from Osaka, Japan, and Bogotá, Colombia, juxtaposed with paintings by Dali, Miro and Magritte (free and ticketed admission to the museum and advance bookings are recommended; “Surrealism Beyond Borders” runs through August).
In King’s Cross, Britain’s first museum dedicated to L.G.B.T.Q. individuals, Queer Britain, opens May 5 with a display of paintings, photographs and paintings assembled by Matthew Storey, the art, design and L.G.B.T.Q. history curator for Historic Royal Palaces.
The Platinum Jubilee and other live events
Britain is celebrating the Platinum Jubilee, marking Queen Elizabeth as the first British monarch to spend 70 years on the throne, all year. But from June 2 to 5, events like “Trooping the Color,” a ceremonial parade featuring 1,400 soldiers, 200 horses, and 400 musicians, will be held. The parade will march from Buckingham Palace down the Mall with members of the royal family; among the other festivities that weekend are a concert at Buckingham Palace and a series of street parties.
Hotels are also celebrating. The Jubilee edition of the Berkeley’s “Prêt-à-Portea” features Her Majesty’s most iconic looks in petit fours and other pastries (£79 per person, available from May 30 to June 12) and on June 5, the Connaught will throw a Jubilee street party, with an English brass band, bunting and family-style tables offering tea sandwiches.
Amy Tara Koch
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