While CH usually keeps an eye out for hole-in-the-wall places and events when traveling, it’s oftentimes just as invigorating (even cathartic) to let your inner fanboy/girl out in unfamiliar places. There’s perhaps no better city to do this than London, which is hosting an incredible slew of cultural events this year. And we’re not just talking about the biggest one of them all: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, officially opening this summer; though Shakespeare admirers might dispute that, for it’s also the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Whether you’re a rock n’ roll or interior designer nerd on your first or 15th trip to London, some of the best attractions are hiding in plain sight—don’t let their mass appeal deter you. Beyond the essential London must-visits, from the Tate to a performance of Wicked in the West End, here are more ideas on where to Instagram your heart out.
Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones Exhibition
Produced in full collaboration with every member of the band, Exhibitionism is a new large-scale, immersive exhibit that will take visitors for a ride with the Rolling Stones over five decades. Eschewing a stale chronological set-up, it’s organized thematically by nine “chapters” that encompass stage costumes from Alexander McQueen and L’Wren Scott; a shrine of 75 instruments; original artwork by Andy Warhol (who designed two album covers), Jeff Koons, Shepard Fairey and more; even a performance in 3D. There’s a recreation of the band’s recording sessions at Olympic studio as well as an exploration of their famed makeshift studio at Villa Nellcôte. Opening 5 April through September 2016 at Saatchi Gallery, “Exhibitionism” is no stuffy retrospective, though it will probably glide over a lot of the drugs and debauchery. Consider it more like a concert-going experience—and the Rolling Stones (who are playing a free concert in Havana, Cuba next Friday) sure know how to put on a good one.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter
There are 82 days left until Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens, though many will have to wait far longer, as most tickets sold out through 2017. A great consolation is the fact that Warner Bros. Studio Tour London exists. About 20 miles outside of London, the sound stages have not only been used to shoot the Harry Potter films (including the not-yet-released “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) but also Muggle productions like the Star Wars prequels, The Dark Knight, Inception, Kingsman and more. The Making of Harry Potter walks fans through 10 years of authentic sets, props and costumes, and there’s no other word to explain it but “magical”—and you don’t have know what a hippogriff is to appreciate how much collective creative talent and work went into the movies. Walk through the Great Hall and Dumbledore’s cathedral-like office, watch the self-stirring cauldrons in the Potions classroom, bring an animatronic baby Voldemort to life, take a selfie in the Mirror of Erised, and don’t leave without sampling some butterbeer ice cream.
Lauded as one of London’s most Instagrammed restaurants, it will take more than one visit to soak up all that sketch holds, as its mission is to be “a place that is always changing and evolving.” Down the rabbit hole, you’ll find rotating exhibitions of contemporary art work and different themed rooms, like the Glade bar’s mystical fairytale forest. Afternoon tea in the Gallery—a plush, pink and gold sanctuary—is a memorable affair: 239 of David Shrigley’s drawings line the walls, and his kooky humor spills over to the table, with phrases like “It’s OK” and “Forget about it” scratched onto the English fine bone china cups and sugar bowls. After finishing off the finger sandwiches and your pot of ceylon and rose tea, hop over to the futuristic bathroom pods (pictured above) designed by Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance.
Handel and Hendrix
Only in London: two legendary musicians separated by two centuries and one wall. George Frederick Handel, the 18th century Baroque composer from Germany, spent the latter half of his life in Mayfair; this Brook Street house, which he died in, was carefully restored and opened as a museum (and intimate performance venue for historic instruments like the harpsichord) in 2001. It turns out that Jimi Hendrix lived right next door from 1968-9 (and once claimed he saw Handel’s ghost walk in). The Handel museum finally procured the funds to recreate his bedroom, permanently, and also dedicates a section to exploring the Hendrix’s personal record collection, where one could find Handel’s Messiah among Frank Zappa, Johnny Cash and more. Since the unveiling of the flat last month, Handel and Hendrix offers a time traveling tour of two musicians who entered the city as immigrants, bringing their unique style to shake things up in London.
For those who are into freebies: the city is running a Fans of London campaign to give away four different themed trips—flights covered by British Airways and accommodations by Hilton. Simply enter your email by 31 May, with the drawing taking place 3 June 2016.
Rolling Stones image courtesy of Helmut Newton, all others by Nara Shin