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London: Soho

updated February 21, 2017

SEE Carnaby Street
The trendy center of Swinging London in the 1960s, thanks to a raft of funky boutiques. After falling from favor--by the 1980s, the boutiques were mostly replaced with tacky souvenir stalls--it's enjoyed a recent revival. There's now a new crop of interesting, offbeat clothing stores that are both browsable and affordable, especially near Foubert's Place.

SEE Leicester Square
This hub of London's entertainment district is lined with cinemas--including the massive UCI Empire and Odeon outposts--and has a handy half-price theater ticket outlet (a squat stone booth on the south side of the square). The once-tawdry green space at the center of the square was spiffed up in the 1990s.

SEE Gerrard Street
Wander down Gerrard Street for the sights and smells of London's bustling Chinatown. Sure, it's a little artificial--especially the cutesy temple-style phone booths and garish red gateways at either end--but the largely Cantonese restaurants are always packed.

EAT Andrew Edmunds 46 Lexington St., 20/7437-5708
A romantic hideaway amid the bustle, this ramshackle eclectic eatery's a low-key place for star-spotting because of the dozens of film companies headquartered nearby.

EAT Bar Italia 22 Frith St., 20/7437-4520, baritaliasoho.co.uk
Since the 1950s, this 24-hour café has been pulling espressos for locals and tourists alike. Stop here for some chocolate cake and a frothy cappuccino at 2 a.m.

EAT Busaba Eathai 106-110 Wardour St., 20/7255-8686
A burgeoning Thai chainlet that's a smart budget stop in the center of town. Designed like a canteen--expect to share a table--the decor is all dark afromosia wood set off by paper lamp shades.

SPLURGE Sketch 9 Conduit St., 870/777-4488
A white-hot, all-white restaurant that's gained notoriety for wallet-busting prices as well as an experimental menu, overseen by Michelin-superstar Pierre Gagnaire--think chocolate cake with black pepper ice cream. But its appeal doesn't end with the food--at 11 p.m., tables are cleared in the informal Gallery area so that guests can dance. Don't miss the sparkling, Swarovski-sponsored bathrooms, inspired by jewelry boxes.

DRINK Floridita 100 Wardour St., 20/7314-4000, floriditalondon.com
New Cuban-style restaurant and bar based on Hemingway's favorite hangout in Havana: Order a mojito to banish a bout of London's standard summer-rain or winter blues.

DRINK Milk & Honey 61 Poland St., 20/7292-9949, mlkhny.com
Old-school cocktails mixed to perfection in a dimly lit, speakeasy-style space: You have to ring ahead to make a reservation; press the buzzer on the unmarked door for entry. Closed Sun.

SHOP Concrete 35a Marshall St., 20/7434-4546, concretelondon.com
One of the hottest, hipper-than-thou concept stores in London, decked out like a louche living room, and stocking many a rising name in fashion and homewares. Closed Sun.

SHOP Foyles 113-119 Charing Cross Rd., 20/7437-5660, foyles.co.uk
In the heart of booksellers' row in London, Foyles is one of the largest independent booksellers in the world. Thanks to a recent overhaul, it's now a joy to browse.

PLAY Prince Charles Cinema 7 Leicester Pl., 20/7494-3654, princecharlescinema.com
Bargain cinema that shows first-run movies at a few months' lag--and at a significant savings (£3 to £10 a film). There's also a long-running rep season with arty classics, foreign films, and campy favorites.

ESCAPE Cambridge 906/586-2526 (toll number), visitcambridge.org
Hop on the train at Liverpool Street Station in London, and it's barely an hour's ride to the historic city of Cambridge. It's a much better option than Oxford, whose ancient buildings and collegiate vibe are overrun by the huge town surrounding it. Since Cambridge is much smaller, you'll gain a better sense of the university's history and hallowed halls. The enormous chapel attached to King's College is a world-famous Gothic masterpiece, while the smaller chapel at Pembroke College is a little-known work by Sir Christopher Wren, the designer of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Using the "loo"

Many public restrooms enforce a pay-to-use policy--either with attendants or coin-operated stall doors. Have at least 20p (pence) at all times to avoid unfortunate accidents.

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