Ah Valentine’s Day. We know what you’re thinking: sad set menus and heart shaped glitter stuck your plate in an overbooked restaurant. Well, not today, Cupid, not today. We will not squeeze the notion of romance into 24 hours. This is London, and despite what you may have heard, this is the city of (self) love.
Since we’re feeling loved-up, we’ve picked out our favourite dreamy, romantic spots in the city. So trade the movies for an old music hall, and swap the wilting roses for a day on Columbia Road Flower Market. These are the real romantic spots you can enjoy almost any time of year – not just on Feb 14 – and you don’t even need a date to enjoy them.
London's all-year-round romantic spots
There are plenty of places to take in the London skyline, but at Tate Modern’s viewing terrace, you get to see it in 360ᵒ. Just don’t make eye too much eye contact with the Tate’s neighbours, who are less than happy about the Switch House crowds peering through their curtains. Check out work by game-changing artists like Louise Bourgeois, Sarah Lucas and Ai Weiwei on your way up, and grab some snacks from the neaby bar. What could be more romantic than that?
In the mood for a one-person party with a glass of wine and a book? Look no further than Little Venice, an curiously calm slice of London's waterways. Stop for a coffe in a canal-side café (The Waterway, Café Laville are both worth a look) or just stroll along the towpath to look at colourful narrowboats and enjoy some reassuring flashbacks to ‘Rosie and Jim’.
The Serpentine Lido has been welcoming the shivering bods of Londoners into its chilly waters for more 100 years. Freezing your nips and gnads off on a concrete pier for all of Hyde Park to see might not scream ‘romance’, but bobbing around in that expanse of water while looking out over the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is beautifully surreal. Once you’ve been for a swim, you have to reward yourself with tea and cake from the Lido Café Bar. It’s the law.
Why whisper sweet nothings into the ear of your Tinder date when you can save them for St Paul’s Catherdral instead? Share your secrets with the curving wall of the gallery in St Paul’s Dome and your words can be heard on the opposite side. The unusual acoustics are part of the gallery’s idiosyncratic design. You’ll need to climb 259 steps to get there, so it might be more ‘panting’ than whispering by the time you reach the wall. On the plus side, you'll get to exercise your hamstrings, and your childlike sense of wonder.
Wilton’s, the oldest grand music hall in the world, has weathered more than its fair share of storms. It’s survived the Blitz, a stint as a rag sorting warehouse and the threat of demolition. The fact it still exists as a Grade II listed theatre is one of London’s mini miracles. Created from a hybrid of five Georgian houses, with a paint-stripped frontage and a plush concert hall, it’s Shadwell’s own time machine. The packed Wilton’s schedule of gigs, theatre and cabaret makes it a decent place for a date too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
So what if nobody sends you flowers for Valentine’s? Get to Columbia Road Flower Market just before noon and snag yourself a cut-price deal on a giant bunch of tulips instead. Buy yourself a bloody lemon tree for a tenner if the mood takes you.
A stroll down this road on a Sunday morning is an olfactory attack that will cure almost any hangover. If you can get your arse there by 8am, it’s like stepping into a Kendall Wylie painting, only there are places to buy bagels and pastel de nata.
Want to give your Valentine’s the full Brontë? Have a dramatic solo walk through the Hampstead’s Pergola, a raised walkway overlooking the West Heath. At the right time of year (try mid April), its roof will be overgrown with vines and wisteria. The structure was originally built by Lord Leverhulme as a setting for his extravagant Edwardian parties. It doesn’t see much Viscount debauchery these days, but it is a great location if you want to reenact a Sixpence None the Richer music video.
London’s light-polluted skies aren’t exactly made for stargazing, but you can still go all moon-eyed over the big dipper from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Put things into perspective by peering through the Great Equatorial Telescope or take a tour the night sky at the Peter Harrison Planetarium. And if you must pose for the obligatory selfie on the Prime Meridian line, just don’t tell them we sent you.
Every corner of the V&A is romantic, but all that Italian Renaissance architecture looks even better when admired from an outdoor suntrap. If you have some spare time to be alone with your big thoughts and a paperback, go and lounge around at the John Madejski. The outdoor space at the V&A is a proper oasis, and it basically has one of its own: the garden’s main feature is an oval pool surrounded by green space to get supine.
What's more romantic than some of London's most prominent Brutalist architecture? Brutalist architecture swathed in a tropical jungle, of course. This well-hidden and truly calming green oasis is hidden in one of the wings of the Barbican Centre, and packs in more than 2,000 species of tropical plants. The free attraction is only open on selected Sundays, so double check before you set off, and finish your romantic day out with some film, theatre or art in the neighbouring world-class arts centre.
Whether you're going solo or with a date, a trip to the cinema is one of life's great pleasures and there's no better place to do it than the original cinema of the Everyman chain. Known as the Everyman long before there was ever a luxury group, the venue’s two screens are decidedly upmarket: each with armchairs, sofas (as well as a sprinkling of deluxe two-seater sofas in the larger screen) and staff serving food and drinks at your seat. The programming is a mix of mainstream and independent, so you can expect to see big blockbusters here as well as artier British and international films.
Transport: Hampstead tube. Standard adult ticket £17.
Primrose Hill, on the north side of Regent's Park, commands one of the most iconic views over London - and certainly one of the most romantic. It's a popular picnic and kite-flying spot though, so for more peace and quiet aim for an early morning sunrise stroll before the crowds set in. The surrounding area of the same name is just as attractive as the celebrities who frequent the gastropubs and quaint cafés along Regent's Park Road and Gloucester Avenue.
If rare books and reciting poetry doesn't spark romance, we don't know what will. Bibliophiles should plan a trip to the 1920s Dutch barge which has been lovingly transformed into a floating bookshop. It used to travel along Regent's Canal, but it’s now taken up permanent residence by Granary Square in King’s Cross. As well as keenly priced books they boast a woodburning stove, friendly dog and occasional live jazz performances. Check their Facebook page for details of book talks and events.
Quirky ways to get romantic around the capital
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