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Exclusive | London: What to See & Do Part Four

Exclusive | London: What to See & Do Part Four

Next, head east for five minutes to Marylebone High Street, a hot place to hang for the last couple of years. Its renaissance from West End backwater to chic promenade has been remarkable, and now designer outlets like Ronit Zilkha (107 Marylebone High St., W1; +44-20-7486-6785) jostle for space with quality high-street chain stores and the excellent specialist travel bookshop Daunts (83 Marylebone High St., W1; +44-20-7224-2295). You're not going to carry a couch home with you, but the Conran Shop (55 Marylebone High St., W1; +44-20-7723-2223) is a gay must-see and just the place to buy candles or cookbooks as gifts in addition to the beautiful home furnishings.

Aveda (28-29 Marylebone High St, W1; +44-20-7224-3157) is where flower children with trust funds like to shop and lunch. Glass tanks full of aerated water dissect the space from ceiling to floor, creating a calm, soothing atmosphere where you can spend lots of money on hair, skin and cosmetics -- all made from pure flower and plant essences. Next, head east to Villandry (170 Great Portland St.; +44-20-7631-3131), one of London's pleasantest -- and priciest -- food stores. Here you can pick up a picnic of eclectic delicacies from all over the world. The stock changes constantly, allowing for almost mythical sightings of foodstuffs as diverse (and perverse) as ?2 butter hand-churned by Peruvian mountain dwellers (or some such) and Calvin Klein baked beans (no kidding).

From Great Portland Street, you are a just a short walk back through Fitzrovia to Tottenham Court Road. This bustling shopping street is home to two of London's best specialty stores -- homo home furnishings heaven Heal's (196 Tottenham Court Rd.; +44-20-7636-1666) is also great for stylish modern gifts, while Paperchase (213-215 Tottenham Court Rd.; +44-20-7467-6200) carries a huge selection of cards, wrappings and art materials.

London's charms are not all hidden behind closed club and pub doors. When the weather permits, gay and lesbian Londoners come out to stroll along the Thames (especially the South Bank, across from the Houses of Parliament and farther east), roller-blade through Hyde Park (a big draw on Sundays), swim and sunbathe at the men's pond in the Heath (very cruisy on weekends), stroll the canals, or just hang out in one of dozens of other parks and green squares that were once little villages in themselves. A simple wander through the city's jumble of alleyways and lanes will reveal a wealth of architectural surprises -- Georgian brickwork, Victorian facades, and centuries-old cobblestone streets.

Most street-level shops have been modernized, so keep your sights on the upper floors and, whenever possible, find yourself a perch from which to appreciate London's untouched and charming skyline of rooftops. For wandering, the older districts -- Soho, Covent Garden, Holborn, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, Clerkenwell, Borough -- are particularly charming.

There is an abundance of gay and lesbian sports organizations -- tennis clubs, running clubs, football teams, even wrestling and badminton groups -- that meet regularly. Consult the directory Gay to Z for the most complete listing, try Gay Times.

One of our favorite Saturday or Sunday outings is with the gay-friendly London Bicycle Tour Company (1a Gabriel's Wharf, 56 Upper Ground, SE1; +44-20-7928-6838), who offer 3-1/2-hour guided tours -- April through September -- of Chelsea, Hyde Park, and Covent Garden, as well as the river and docklands for a reasonable ?18. The free weekly Boyz also has the most complete listing of gyms and saunas in London, grouped by area. The Earl's Court Gym (254 Earl's Court Rd., SW5; +44-20-7370-1402) is still very gay popular, particularly with visitors.

The Soho Athletic Club (10 Macklin St, nearest Tube stop: Holborn; +44-20-7242-1290), just east of Covent Garden, is a spacious, well-equipped gym in a large loft space that has become a very gay-popular alternative to the Earl's Court Gym. It has better equipment, a better locker room, a friendly staff and a humpy clientele. It's easy to find, since a rainbow flag hangs outside. In South London, try Paris Gym (73 Goding St, SE11; +44-20-7735-8989), which is fully equipped, very gay, and conveniently located just minutes from the Vauxhall Tavern -- "snotty queens with attitude not welcome!" London's biggest gay sauna is Chariots (1 Fairchild Street EC1: +44-20-7247-5333; branches in Streatham and opposite Farringdon tube station).

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Related Articles:
London: Introduction
London: Where to Stay
London: Where to Eat
London: Where to Play/Meet
London: Resources

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Joe Okonkwo