This summer, London also hosts the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (aka 60 years of reign), World Pride and the 2012 Summer Olympics.
It’s a great time to visit London.
The metropolis is chock-full of attractions for the LGBT traveler — theaters, shopping, queens, bars/clubs/pubs and even great restaurants (I swear).
When to go
Contrary to its reputation, it doesn’t always rain in London. And sometimes it’s actually warm. For your best option, go in spring or summer. If you want to go this summer, you have your selection of royalty, gay or athletic.
From June 2-5, London will host the Queen’s Jubilee. Who doesn’t love Queen Elizabeth? The highlight of the event will be a 1,000-boat flotilla down the Thames. Talk about pageantry. Later that month, London is hosting World Pride, June 23-July 8. Organizers promised a gay jazz festival, a dog show, art exhibits, a parade and an LGBT “Strictly Come Dancing.” Other highlights will be a street party in Soho, which will be closed to vehicle traffic, and a conference on human rights.
They also promised some surprises, which they refused to dish on. Guess you’ll have to check www.pridelondon.org for details.
London rounds out the season with the Summer Olympics July 27-Aug. 12. This is the Summer Olympics with a Pride House, which will host LGBT athletes and spectators. Visit www.london2012.com for information.
Get there, stay there
From Philadelphia, both American Airlines and British Airways have nonstop flights to Heathrow. If your flight leaves in the morning, you’ll get to London at night, so you can hit a bar, then hit the sack and be ready to start your itinerary fresh the next day. If you leave in the evening, you can sleep on the plane and arrive in the morning, ready to start the day.
Because London grew from small villages into the city it is today, it can be overwhelming to sort out where to stay. If you want something centrally located and easy to get to, Radisson Blu Edwardian, Mercer Street is on Seven Dials in Covent Garden. The 137-room boutique hotel recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation, updating the décor with understated furnishings and muted shades with bright accents. Don’t miss the views of the neighborhood and (if you must) the solitaire on the treadmill. More Radisson Edwardian hotels are spread throughout the city (www.radissonedwardian.com).
Seven Dials is an intersection of seven small streets marked with a dial in the center — an extremely convenient landmark when you are walking around the neighborhood. The neighborhood itself is full of independent and small storefronts of larger retailers, running the gamut from quirky (Tatty Devine acrylic jewelry), iconic (Wolsey British menswear), to original (Orla Kiely womens’ and housewares and Albam menswear). Don’t miss Neal’s Yard — a courtyard with coffee and cheese shops, Neal’s Yard Remedies (beauty products and massage) and organic foods.
Where to dance/drink
There are plenty of gay bars in Soho, but only one lesbian bar in London, Candy Bar. For the gents, try Village (small club), G-A-Y at Heaven (huge club, mixed crowd), Circa (small bar in Soho) or Retro Bar (classic, old-school alternative).
Make sure to plan enough time to visit the tourist draws, then take time for the unconventional.
For a traditional afternoon tea, go to The Orangery, Kensington Gardens; in summer, the gardens will be beautiful. For a traditional perfume experience, visit Penhaligon’s (www.penhaligons.com), where they’ll take you upstairs in the former brothel for a perfume consultation. For some of the best chocolates around, visit Hotel Chocolat (www.hotelchocolat.com). The cocoa grower and chocolatier has its own plantation in St. Lucia (where the hotel is); they roast the cocoa beans and make the chocolate on-site, and have a small café. Grab a quick lunch — everything is made with cocoa — or a decadent chocolate.
For a different perspective, rent one of the “Boris Bikes,” installed by London Mayor Boris Johnson. Find a docking station, pay with a credit card, and remember to bike on the left side of the road. One note: Make sure you locate a docking station near your destination.
For something off the beaten path, visit Boxpark, a pop-up mall made of storage containers (www.boxpark.co.uk) in Shoreditch.