Neighbourhood guide: discover the best of the City of London

Zoe Gunn

17 June 2021

From the buzziest new hotel to historic institutions, here’s what to see and where to stay, eat and drink in one of London’s oldest locales

17 June 2021 | Zoe Gunn

In partnership with: Pan Pacific London

First established as a major commerce site by the Romans in AD 43, the City of London has been a key part of the now-sprawling metropolis for centuries. While little of the Square Mile’s ancient roots still exists, parts of the modern City date back to the Medieval times, making it the perfect starting place for anyone looking to experience the rich culture and history of the capital.

Of course, also being one of the best known neighbourhoods in the heart of one of the world's great capitals, the City is also at the forefront of innovation and a prime location for some of London’s most exciting new restaurants, bars, hotels and cultural happenings. Whether you’re a local looking to make the most of your hometown or a visitor trying to the pack as much as possible into your trip, here’s our ultimate guide to the City of London.

The hotel: Pan Pacific London

Set to open its doors in September 2021, the Pan Pacific London hotel is the perfect base from which to explore the best of the City. Located in Bishopsgate, just minutes from Liverpool Street Station, the Yabu Pushelberg-designed hotel is at once a haven of calm in this bustling urban neighbourhood and the site of some of its most exciting new entertainment options.

Home to 237 rooms, of which 42 are suites. in a striking 43-storey tower, guests can take advantage of a number of unique amenities designed to tackle jet lag, accommodate pets and promote wellbeing. The star of the show is a dedicated wellness floor featuring an 18.5m infinity pool, high-tech 24-hour gym, mindfulness studio, saunas, steam rooms, relaxation pods and treatment rooms.

The hotel’s culinary offering, meanwhile, has been overseen by Executive Chef Lorraine Sinclair and Executive Pastry Chef Cherish Finden and will be available to both guests and the public. The hotel’s main restaurant, Straits Kitchen, will boast all-day dining inspired by a multi-cultural modern Singapore, while afternoon tea will be served in the elegant Orchid Lounge. As night draws in, a sundowner on the terrace of the Ginger Lily champagne and cocktail bar is best followed by an intimate dinner in one of Pan Pacific London’s two private dining rooms; Newton and Katong. 

Visit panpacific.com. Stay up to date with the latest news by signing up to the Pan Pacific London newsletter here.

The cultural institution: Barbican

From the Museum of London to Guildhall Art Gallery, visitors to the City are spoilt for choice when it comes to culture. If you only have time to visit one institution during your visit, however, make it the Barbican. As famous for its divisive architecture as it is for the world class shows, exhibitions and performances housed inside, whether your passion is cinema, dance, art or music, there’s something for everyone at the Barbican.

If you’re short on time or simply want somewhere to soak up a little peace and quiet during a busy day, however, there are few more serene sanctuaries in the City than the Conservatory at the Barbican. Open via booking only while pandemic restrictions are in place, this tropical oasis opened in 1984 and was designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, the same architects who dreamt up the Barbican. Home to around 1,500 species of plants and trees, many of which are rare or endangered in their native countries, there are also three pools that play host to koi, ghost and grass carp.

Visit barbican.org.uk

The culinary experience: Eataly

While we would never steer you away from indulging in a traditional pub lunch (and the City has plenty of high quality boozers offering those in abundance), more discerning foodies can indulge their palates and test out their skills at Bishopsgate’s popular Eataly. As you may have guessed from the name, the emphasis here is on all thing Italophile and, while the stellar on site restaurant does serve up mouthwatering plates of fresh pasta, wood-fired pizzas and meats roasted over an artisan Italian wood-burning grill, this is so much more than just a place to eat.

Those wishing to get hands on can perfect their technique with Eataly’s vast range of cooking classes and events, which cover everything from making fresh egg pasta to nailing that ever-tricky risotto, while guided wine tastings will help you discover the perfect pairings for your favourite dishes. There are also special themed dinners, children’s classes and a market offering a wide variety of high quality produce and ingredients so you can continue the fun at home.

Visit eataly.co.uk

The shopping: Leadenhall Market

With the Square Mile home to the headquarters of some of the world’s biggest financial companies, savvy luxury retailers looking to cater to their well-heeled employees have long been attracted to the area. Established in 1321, Leadenhall Market is a unique combination of stunning period architecture, contemporary brands and crowd-pleasing restaurants, and the perfect place to give in to the temptation of a little retail therapy.

Marvel at the soaring glass ceiling and ornate cornicing before ducking in to cherry-pick from the latest collections from the likes of Barbour, Reiss and BeauGems. Indulge in a relaxing treatment at Skinology or Chequers hair and beauty before settling in for cocktails at Amathus and Bedales. Feeling peckish? From family-friendly options, like Pizza Express and La Tasca, to fine dining restaurants, such as Giorgio at Leadenhall and the historic Chamberlain’s of London, there are eateries to suit every appetite.

Visit leadenhallmarket.co.uk

The bar: Milroy’s of Spitalfields

When you’re in a new neighbourhood it can be easy to find yourself drawn to the nearest big chain pub – but with bars like Milroy’s of Spitalfields on offer, that would be a huge mistake. The East London outpost of the original Milroy’s of Soho, this unassuming-looking spot on Commercial Street is a mecca for all things whisky and boasts far more character than an identikit pub.

The ground floor bar is home to more than 1,000 different whiskies from all over the world which can be ordered neat or mixed into highballs. Don’t worry if you’re not an expert. Milroy’s highly trained (and extremely enthusiastic) staff are on hand to guide you to something you’ll love. The subterranean Proofing Room, meanwhile, is given over to cocktails and sake in an intimate setting – we defy you to find a better place for a first date – while the first floor Dram House members’ club is the place to mix and mingle with the capital’s foremost whisky aficionados.

Visit milroysofspitalfields.co.uk

The historic landmark: St Dunstan in the East

Image: Elisa Rolle

Surrounded by the high rise buildings and modern developments of the 21st Century city, to stumble upon St Dunstan in the East feels somewhat like a Narnia-esque trip back in time. Built in 1100 and named for a colourful 10th Century monk who eventually became the Archbishop of Canterbury, the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London but came back bigger and better with a new tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

Unfortunately its fortunes didn’t last. Almost everything except the tower was destroyed during the Blitz and, without the funds to rebuild, the Anglican Church passed it on to the City of London, which turned it into a public park in 1967. Now boasting sensitive landscaping which works in harmony with the ruined church it is one of the most ethereal and peaceful places to spend an hour or two in the city. A must-know for those in need of somewhere to unwind during arduous business trips.

Visit cityoflondon.gov.uk

The entertainment: Swingers

Stop giggling and get your mind out of the gutter – Swingers is London’s premiere spot for cocktails and crazy golf. Housed in a vast converted warehouse near the Gherkin, Swingers is home to no fewer than two crazy golf courses, four cocktails bars, three street food vendors and five private hire spaces making it a brilliantly flexible option for all kinds of occasions.

Inspired by the English countryside, order a drink at the elegant 1920s-style clubhouse before putting your putting skills to the test on a course featuring rolling hills, lighthouses, hedgerows and windmills. Worked up an appetite? Grab a seat and take your pick from London street food favourites Patty&Bun, Pizza Pilgrims and Breddos. We guarantee a night out you won’t forget.

Visit swingers.club

The landmark: St Paul’s

St Paul’s really needs no introduction. The domed cathedral is an icon of the London skyline and one of the capital’s most recognisable landmarks. Designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren and built in 1675, St Paul’s is still a working cathedral with free-to-attend services held twice daily (four times on Sundays), most of which are accompanied by the brilliant Cathedral Choir.

Those more interested in discovering the cathedral’s history and architecture are able to take advantage of guided tours and sightseeing sessions between services, while frequent events and talks allow visitors to delve into the cathedral’s vast archive of art, books and historic artefacts. If you wouldn’t go to Rome without seeing the Coliseum, don’t leave the City without paying a visit to St Paul’s.

Visit stpauls.co.uk