This is a hot year for Great Britain and Ireland. From the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare to the 40th anniversary punk (God Save the Queen!) to the farewell of Downton Abbey, Lady England is getting her game on. Ireland and Northern Ireland continue to play host to our fantasies, featured as the backdrops to Game of Thrones and Star Wars. And, speaking of the Queen, her majesty Elizabeth II has just celebrated her 90th birthday.
Getting there starts here at home. Via Toronto, Air Canada has four daily flights to Heathrow (twice daily from Vancouver, as well); Air Canada Rouge flies to both Edinburgh and Dublin. The airline has also launched a Vancouver to Dublin route.
WestJet has just launched its service into London’s Gatwick from Toronto and flies non-stop to Glasgow, Scotland via Halifax.
Royal watchers will prefer the areas of Knightsbridge/Kensington and Belgravia. Bohemians revel in Mayfair and Marylebone, while rock ’n’ rollers might want to spend a night or two in Shepherd’s Bush, or in Chelsea channeling their best Keith Richards. Hipsters are flocking to north London, to the pubs and restaurants of Islington and Angel; entertainment seekers still make the West End shows of Soho and Covent Garden’s theatre district. What’s your passion? In London, you can satiate your craving for just about anything. Art and History? Most galleries and many museums are free.
A poster child for the “everything that’s old is new again” adage, this Knightsbridge monument to the Regency period was recently stripped to the bones and then reupholstered to a grandeur that may just be its original heyday’s match. The 93 rooms are filled with Crystal, antiques, 18th-Century art and a touch of mahogany to richly round things out. Opulent? Yes. Old-school, why not? A butler at your service? Naturally. Lanesborough.com
BELLANGER From the team that brought London The Wolseley (tip: book breakfast at the Wolseley, which is partly owned by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, then walk it off along Piccadilly), this new brasserie is adding a bit of upper crust to the slightly edgy Islington ’hood. It’s a taste of the French region of Alsace, and the tarte flambées are thin, crispy crunches of savoury goodness. www.bellanger.co.uk
ARTESIAN AT THE LANGHAM, LONDON
There’s something about having a cocktail in what’s been voted the “world’s best bar.” There’s something even more interesting about having said cocktail arrive at table in a glowing box, the thorax of an oversized copper insect or in the belly of a lego-like mammoth.
Part theatre, part glamour and all mixology, Artesian is civilized entertainment with a rather artful twist. www.artesian-bar.co.uk
SEE + DO
With a glass of Champagne in hand, of course. London may not be known for its skyscrapers, but the Shard, the tallest building in Western Europe, also features London’s highest champagne bar. The views really are spectacular, from the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London (where Ann Boleyn lost her head) to St. Paul’s (where Charles and Di tied the knot) and beyond. And, there’s nothing like gourmet popcorn with your bubbles. www.theviewfromtheshard.com
THE ROLLINGSTONES Whether you’re a stones fan or not, you won’t be able to deny the pop appeal of the Stones, their key influence on the rock genre and, heck, the boys in the band helped to curate the show. Plus, it’s housed in Chelsea’s Saatchi Gallery. We like it, like it, yes we do. Until Sept. 4 at www.saatchigallery.com
Commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death with a visit to the historic Globe Theatre and take in the perma-nent exhibition and tour. Events, performances, even a bite to eat at the Swan just across the street, will put you in the mood for life in the playwright’s England, circa 1616. All the world really was his stage. www.shakespearesglobe.com