Last updated on November 19th, 2023
The London Underground is such an efficient travel network. In under one hour, it can carry you from one end of the city to the other. And, it can be great fun, too. Just about every station has its own personality. Tottenham Court Road Station, used as a bomb shelter way back in World War Two, still features its original wooden escalators (circa 1900). Baker Street Station is decorated with Detective Sherlock Holmes’ famed silhouette. All the best buskers can be found at Piccadilly Circus Station — super entertainment! One of the loveliest fruit, veg and flower stands is located outside the City’s Temple Station, and King’s Cross, where all tube lines intersect, is reminiscent of Grand Central Station at rush hour. The Tube is truly the heart of the teeming human machine that is London.
For female-centred shopping, food and fun, the following are my top five tube stops as well as an intro to the neighbourhoods they’re found in. From the best bookstores to bra buying and a woman’s day spa, they’re yours to enjoy. Why not print this info, pack it and use it to plot a pleasure course via the Underground on your next London visit.
NOTTING HILL GATE (Central/District/Circle lines)
Nottinghill Gate is one of London’s funkiest, multi-cultural and sought after areas. Pop stars, actors and designers live there and the shopping is fantastic. On Saturdays, check out Portobello Market (Portobello Road W11) where you can find anything from antiques, one-off designer duds, kitsch bits and pieces as well as items for serious collectors of just about anything. For lunch, pop into 192 (192 Kensington Park Road) offering nouvelle cuisine and super celeb spotting. Or, if you’re lucky, you might find a spare table at Books for Cooks (4 Blenheim Crescent W11) which, as well as being an incredibly well-stocked book shop, is also an eclectic and delicious restaurant (only 5 tables and lunchtimes only). For more glamour, end your day with drinks at Beach Blanket Babylon (45 Ledbury Rd, W11) where you’ll get a real taste of the local flavour. This area can eat up an entire day.
SLOANE SQUARE (Circle/District lines)
Sloane Square Station sits at the head of the infamous birthplace of punk – the King’s Road. Once a haven for Malcolm McLaren and his Sex Pistols, it is now a must-see for shopaholics and foodies alike. For an old-style department store in the true British tradition, pop into Peter Jones or, simply window shop the King’s Road from one fabulous end to the other. En route, stop into famed restaurateur Terence Conran’s Bluebird Food Hall. This fab emporium boasts wine merchant, bakery, patisserie, cheesemonger, butcher as well as beautifully packaged delicacies that your friends will be proud to display in their kitchens. It’s a great place to eat, inhale and pick up a few presents. Further up the block, try my fave for a do-it-yourself dinner. Tiger Lil’s is an all-you-can-eat spot where you pick your ingredients from a fresh bar filled with veggies, seafood and meat. Select your very own seasonings. Then watch as your choice is cooked in giant woks atop great, big oil drums. Yummy!
KNIGHTSBRIDGE (Piccadilly line)
Anyone who’s anyone frequents Knightsbridge, so to experience London at its most elegant, make a stop at this station. The famed Harrods is here, but I, personally, prefer Harvey Nichols (109-123 Knightsbridge SW1), part department store, part fashion statement. To be seen, have a late lunch at its 5th Floor restaurant and then shop for designer clothing until you’re ready to drop. For a lesson in how to buy the perfect bra, stop into Rigby and Peller (2 Hans Rd SW3), where owner June Kenton will offer the same advice she dishes out to the Queen when she fits HER bras! And my tip for the perfect London accessory? Pick up sunglasses from Cutler and Gross (16 Kensington Green SW1). They’re not cheap, but if they were, the likes of Kate Moss, George Michael and Madonna wouldn’t be wearing them and… they do.
PICCADILLY CIRCUS (Piccadilly line)
Aside from the obvious, Piccadilly Circus is also the closest station to Soho, my favourite part of London. It’s nothing like the red light district it once was, rather it’s become the centre of London’s media world. Almost every film and television company has offices here and the trendy folk walking the streets are a testament to its cutting edge. Wander down Old Compton Street, Soho’s gay-friendly strip, where beautiful men populate the many street cafes. Or, any time of day or night, turn off onto Frith Street for a divine cup of coffee at Bar Italia (22 Frith Street), a true Soho institution and super people-watching site. If the sun is out, walk to the bottom of the street where you’ll find Soho Square, the only patch of green for miles. Offices spill out at noon and you’ll find an amazing cross-section of Londoners enjoying their lunch or catching a few rays. Eat at Melatil’s (22 Windmill Street. W1), a relatively inexpensive Malaysian / Indonesian restaurant where the first-rate quality has remained the same for years. If you’re suffering from a cold, one bowl of their super hot Tom Yam soup will clear you up in a jiffy! And if you need to check your email, cyber cafï¿½ Webshack (15 Dean Street) is comfy, inexpensive and they serve a lovely cup of java. Enjoy!
COVENT GARDEN (Piccadilly line)
Easily the largest open food market in London some 100 years ago, Covent Garden is now simply a tourist attraction housing an arcade of tepid shops. But this area is a secret treasure trove of sites so be sure to scratch the surface when you check it out. Wander down Neal Street for truly eclectic shopping. Turn into Neal’s Yard for a tiny holistic haven where you can have your mind, body and spirit soothed via massage, crystals, aromatherapy, Chinese herbs or health foods shopping. For those looking for more traditional pampering, walk to Floral Street and venture into The Sanctuary (12 Floral St WC2), a women-only day spa that is the epitome of luxury. Loll around in your white fluffy robe, swim naked in the tropical pools, indulge in your choice of beauty treatments, or simply take a sauna or steam. This place is the ultimate cure for jet lag! And if London is only one stop on your worldwide tour, stop in at Stanfords (Long Acre, WC2), the world’s finest travel book and map shop. It’s an education!
Leslie’s girl-to-girl advice for subway survival…
Living in the city, I’ve learned the rules and regulations of the London Underground (both written and unwritten). Although its not necessarily considered a ‘dangerous’ place, as in any big city, it’s very important to be aware of what’s going on around you. Think about your route beforehand. Try to appear as if you know what you’re doing so unsavoury types won’t pick you out in a crowd. Watch your purse and protect the goodies you just picked up shopping on the High Street.
Late at night (most stations close somewhere around midnight), it can get a little scary when you discover you’re on a platform or about to board a car all alone. Most Londoners have learned to walk along with the platform as the train arrives and then get onto a car that already has passengers in it.
Pubs close at 11 p.m. Taking the tube at 11:30, especially on a weekend, can be a somewhat harrowing experience unless you know how to deal with drunken louts in suits. These types are harmless but they can be loud and obnoxious. Time your tube travel accordingly.
Smoking is illegal anywhere on the subway system. The penalty is a very stiff fine besides, it’s not good for your health anyway!
London’s ten Tube lines are colour coded to help you chart your route. You can pick up a free Tube map at any underground station — simply ask when you’re buying your tickets.
A helpful telephone number to know is 0171 222 1234. This is an invaluable, 24-hour info line for both buses and the Underground.
Finally, Tube staff should be able to help with directions but unfortunately, they’re often nowhere to be found when you need them. Be sure to pick up an A-Z (street atlas) so that you can establish which exit you should use when leaving the station. Many stations have several exits — take the wrong one and you can get hopelessly lost above ground. Happy ‘Undergrounding’, ladies!
London weather words to make you smile…
Rain is one thing the British do better than anybody else.
Marilyn French, The Bleeding Heart (1980)
England is an aquarium, not a nation.
Rita Mae Brown, Southern Discomfort (1982)
In this country called England, there are only two seasons, winter and winter.
Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey (1958)
Editor’s packing note: Except for a few weeks in the summertime, it’s normally very damp in London so plan to dress in layers. Pack shoes with thicker soles and, please don’t forget your umbrella. I recommend the ones that have an aluminum frame — so light, you won’t even know you’re carrying one.