Arriving at Heathrow, travelers face a bustling airport and then a bustling,… (Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty…)
LONDON — I'm a Londoner and I love London. And 2012 is London's year. But it's not an easy city — not to navigate, not to find affordable accommodations, not to stay dry. As we approach the Olympics, here are some tips that may help you. If you're not coming for the Games, use them for later when the crowds have gone home but the difficulties remain. (Prices maybe higher during the Olympics.)
This hostel is in a converted 200-year-old magistrates' court in King's Cross. You can sleep in a prison cell and drink in lounges in the original courtrooms. It's ideal for backpackers. 78 King's Cross Road; 011-44-20-7183-9400, http://www.clinkhostels.com. Double room with bath $117, cell room $78; 16-bed basic dorm, $14.
Hampstead is one of the prettier north London villages. La Gaffe started as an Italian restaurant — it's still there — and expanded into rooms in a 17th century shepherd's cottage. It is well placed between the wildness of Hampstead Heath and the Tube station. The rooms are small but the service is friendly. 107-111 Heath St.; 011-44-20-7435-8965, http://www.lagaffe.co.uk. 18 rooms, all with bath. Doubles $117.
Sinclair Beecham, founder of the sandwich chain Pret a Manger, created the Hoxton hotel with the aim that it be stylish and comfortable without costing a fortune. The cavernous lobby restaurant buzzes, and there is even an olive tree in the tiny courtyard. 81 Great Eastern St.; 011-44-20-7550-1000, http://www.hoxtonhotels.com. 205 rooms with luxury beds. The earlier you book, the cheaper the room (from $92-297). It's nonrefundable, but you can change your dates.
Set in an 18th century Georgian block in the heart of Bloomsbury and run by Glyn, son of the founders Terry and Nest Beynon. At the back is a pretty, peaceful garden designed by another son, James. Full English breakfasts are included in the room price. 63 Gower St.; 011-44-20-7636-3199, http://www.jesmondhotel.org.uk. 15 rooms; doubles from about $155.
New Linden Hotel
This refurbished hotel is in a typical London square next to super-trendy Westbourne Grove and handy for Portobello Market on Saturdays. 58-60 Leinster Square; 011-44-20-7221-4321, http://www.lindenhotellondon.co.uk. Call or book online for best rates. 50 individually designed rooms. Doubles from $195, non-refundable.
This bar and cafe is on the top floor of Waterstones bookshop. The lovely 1930s building, once a posh clothes shop, is the largest bookshop in Europe. The bar and restaurant looks out over the Houses of Parliament. Wonderful place to meet people, and if the food is too pricey, you can just have a cup of coffee. 203-205 Piccadilly; 011-44-20-7851-2433, http://www.5thview.co.uk. Main dishes from $14.
This French restaurant has been here all my life (and then some); sometimes you just need a steak frites with a glass of red wine served by a brusque French waiter. 19-20 Monmouth St.; 011-44-20-7836-7243, http://www.monplaisir.co.uk. Main dishes from $27.
Cafe in the Crypt
In the brick vaults underneath the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Great value for lunch and early dinner. Save room after the fish and chips or the Sunday roast lunch for its famous apple crumble or bread-and-butter pudding with oceans of custard. Also fabulous tea and cakes. Or book a Wednesday night for jazz with your dinner. Trafalgar Square; 011-44-20-7766-1158, http://www.smitf.org. Main dishes from $11.
The new little sister of the lovely but expensive Indian restaurant Cinnamon Club. It serves small plates — unusual for an Indian restaurant — but it gives you a chance to sample more tastes. 5 Kingly St.; 011-44-20-7437-1664, http://www.cinnamonsoho.com. Dinner main dishes from $19.
Best for lunch, although open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. But first you must find it behind the bandstand in Arnold Circus. Ring the bell marked Canteen next to the gray door in the red brick wall and enter the garden of this former school. The restaurant is in the bike shed and offers a small menu with fantastic food. Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, London; 011-44-20-7729-5677, http://www.arnoldandhenderson.com. About $60 for two.
Jamie Oliver's restaurant, where unemployed young people get a chance to become professional chefs, with great success. 15 Westland Place; 011-44-20-3375-1515, http://www.fifteen.net. Main dishes from $30.
Venetian small plates, such as chopped liver crostini ($2.30). Reservations accepted for lunch, but dinner is first come, first served in this pop-up style but permanent restaurant. 41 Beak St.; 011-44-20-7734-4479, http://www.polpo.co.uk. Heartier small plates $9-$15.
Serving the same Anglicized Greek food — kleftico and moussaka — in a Soho basement since 1948. Even the prices haven't changed much. Expect basic Bohemian atmosphere and service. 23 Frith St.
Burger & Lobster