With its mix of elegant townhouses, landscaped green spaces, cultural institutions and rich history as one of the most famous literary enclaves in the UK, London’s Bloomsbury has a lot going for it. It’s often overlooked in favour of fashionable Soho to the south and well-to-do Fitzrovia to the west, but recently, thanks to a slew of new openings, the area is seeing a resurgence that would make the Bloomsbury Set proud. Here is our list of the top things to do.
See historic architecture
Start in Gray’s Inn Walks Gardens, a leafy green space with rows of Georgian terraces lining a park that dates back to the 1600s. The gardens (which are only open from 12-2.30pm) have their own literary associations, from Shakespeare to the poet Shelley. From Gray’s Inn, make your way to Bloomsbury Square, with its grand architecture, and take a wander around its statues and walkways that have been popular with the upper classes for hundreds of years. Then head northwards up to huge Russell Square where TS Eliot worked for the publisher Faber & Faber, and where you can drop into the grand Kimpton Fitzroy’s Palm Court for an upmarket afternoon tea, Bloomsbury Set style. And don’t miss the brutalist concrete Brunswick Centre, built in the mid-1960s – to some controversy – but now holding Grade II listed status. It’s home to shops, restaurants and a cinema, but the modernist architecture, in complete contrast to the surrounding elegant terraces, is worth the visit alone.
Stay at The Hoxton Holborn
The second iteration in the hip Hoxton’s rapidly expanding portfolio has been open a while now, and it draws the cool crowd to its open-plan lobby with breakfast bar serving freshly squeezed juices and croissants. Upstairs there are compact rooms with bespoke Dickens-inspired illustrations on the walls, Marshall sound systems and cute area maps. The hotel has a packed events calendar featuring talks and gigs where you’ll meet like-minded types, and make sure you dine at the hotel’s restaurant, Hubbard & Bell. This seriously underrated eatery competes with any talked-about Soho opening food-wise but without the queues or months-long waiting list. Slide onto mustard-yellow leather banquettes and order the burrata with fennel and charred hanger steak with crisp truffle fries. The Hoxton is also a two-minute walk from Bloomsbury Square and Holborn Tube Station, making it one of the best-connected hotels in the city.
199-206 High Holborn, WC1V 7BD; +44 20-7661-3000
Drink at The Bloomsbury Hotel
The Bloomsbury Hotel is home to not one but two of the best bars this side of Soho: The Coral Room and the Bloomsbury Club Bar. There’s a hint of a Wes Anderson film set about the former, with its vibrant signature hue, lush foliage and gilded Art Deco bar. It might just have London’s biggest selection of by-the-glass English fizz; from West Sussex there’s the rare Albourne Estate 2013 Blanc de Blancs – one of just 2,800 bottles from the winery’s first harvest. Descend one flight of stairs to the Bloomsbury Club Bar and it’s a more sultry affair – picture teal leather booths, flickering candles and oak panelling, with live acoustic sets concealing illicit whispers. There’s a cigar menu befitting the gentlemen’s club vibe, and cocktails named after members of the Bloomsbury Group. Sample the gin-based Virginia Woolf or the whiskey and rum concoction Duncan Grant, and entertain yourself following the web of lines connecting their names on the menu – literally tracing the romantic links between the key players. Bar snacks at both spots revolve around upgraded comfort-food classics using British ingredients, such as Dorset crab with watercress and apple, black truffle sausage roll or cheese toastie.
16-22 Great Russell St, WC1B 3NN; +44 20-7347-1000
Eat at cool new restaurant Yopo
The newest restaurant whipping the critics into a frenzy is South American fusion restaurant Yopo. Delve into a dark tunnel just off Tottenham Court Road and emerge in the leafy Mandrake Hotel’s stylish open-air courtyard, with trailing vines, flickering candles and pulsing house music. Start with a refreshing Palo Santo tequila cocktail with aromatic santo wood and kola nut soda before dining in the palm-littered dining room, which looks out onto a leafy courtyard so it feels as though you’re dining outdoors. Choosing what to order is not easy but hedge for the plump Dorset rock oysters with a punchy mezcal granita and zesty scallop ceviche with tomatillo and mango and you won’t be disappointed. There’s a mainly fish main-course line-up, with tender white turbot that falls off your fork, while grilled calçots straight from Catalonia come with fluffy whipped stracciatella and basil. Emerge back out of the rabbit hole and into reality. We guarantee you’ll go back for seconds.
20-21 Newman Street, W1T 1PG; +44 20-3146-8880
Visit the British Museum‘s new gallery
It may have opened in 1759, but this year the British Museum (the largest museum in the UK) celebrates the opening of a brand-new gallery. The Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World (to give it its full name) showcases items from all over the world. You’ve got 1,000-year-old statues from Syria, embroidered robes from the royal court of Ottoman Turkey and punchy installations by contemporary Muslim artists. Take the time to pay a visit to long-term residents the Rosetta Stone and the famed Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo helmet in other parts of the museum, too.
Great Russell St, WC1B 3DG; +44 20-7323-8000
In-keeping with the British Summer Season, the Art Deco Bloomsbury Ballroom right on Bloomsbury Square will stage a new cabaret performance entitled Hats, Heels & Horses and inspired by Royal Ascot. It’s a whole evening of entertainment, with drinks and canapés to start off with as well as four-course meal followed by a show.
Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, WC1B 4DA; +4420 7242 0002