Depending on where in London you go, it can feel like you didn’t really travel outside the Middle East. The moody weather and green parks are a perfect initial change of pace from desert climates, but the multitude of Arab eateries and trendy shopping options in some parts of town can make holidaymakers from the Gulf feel right at home.
This is particularly true of Knightsbridge and Mayfair, and most concentrated in the shisha bars of Edgware Road. A day of shoe shopping in Harrods – where the sales assistant will tell you that she has the hardest job in the world because she constantly has to resist temptation – can end with tea and macaroons on the department store’s ground floor at the Parisian tea room Laduree.
To complete a Dubai-like experience, choose Nobu for dinner on Old Park Lane, where waiters shout Japanese welcome-phrases at every customer from the opposite end of the festive restaurant. Save room for banana split, Japanese style, for dessert after trying signature dishes including sushi and the black cod fish.
Part of London’s charm is in its diversity. So if you’re craving something a little different to what you’re used to seeing, you can easily find it in the vicinity. Hidden among the pubs and bars on funky Great Marlborough Street, you will find hidden gems like Ssam, an authentic Korean restaurant with Korean waiters and clientele. Beef tongue and jellyfish are cooked on a small stove right in front of you, but they have a la carte options like chicken teriyaki for those with less adventurous tastes.
The best way to get to know a city is on foot, so don your boots and scarves and spend a day walking from the neon world of Piccadilly Circus through crowded Leicester Square and into the open Trafalgar Square. Packed with familiar cafe chains and tourists with big cameras, this area is usually the first stop for out-of-towners.
For those with serious shopping agendas, Conduit Street has upscale boutiques with well-dressed mannequins that beckon like sirens from window displays. Oxford Street is always a good bet, where you will likely spend too much at department stores like Selfridges and then sit at a cafe in St. Christopher’s Place to slow down.
London can also satisfy cultural cravings. Look into special exhibitions, such as Andy Warhol’s colourful images of Bridget Bardot on display at the Gagosian Gallery. A trip to the Tate Modern or the Saatchi Gallery will not disappoint modern art lovers and neither will a walk around the area. Trendy Sloane Square and the King’s Road are sprinkled with boutiques and cafes like Patisserie Valerie.
West End musicals continue to be crowd pleasers, while true theatre lovers can check out student productions in some of London’s many universities for fresh, off-the-wall material. A night of ballet at The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden – with its red velvet chairs – will make you contemplate a trip to the new opera house opening in Oman that will bring ballet, classical music and theatre to the Arab world.
There is nothing more refreshing than a walk or jog in one of London’s many parks – St. James’s Park, Regent’s Park, Hyde Park. That’s one thing often sorely missed in the Middle East, where there usually aren’t even pavements to encourage walking outdoors. So, take the chance to walk in the streets and lose your way; you may happen upon the ice skating rink by Somerset House, Camden Market, Little Venice or the V&A Museum. It will rain on you and you are sure to take a wrong turn at some point, but this vibrant city will always find a way to surprise you.