The architectural wonder: Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Where am I? Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is one of the biggest Hindu temples outside of India. It was built out of 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, all of which was hand carved in India before being assembled at its present spot, like giant Lego. Once you’ve walked up the glistening steps and entered the main space, filled with intricate carvings and shrines, you’ll feel instantly transported.
The exotic hideaway: Leighton House Museum
Where am I? Gasp – you’re not in
Istanbul, you’re in Holland Park. Leighton House Museum, the former home and studio of Pre-Raphaelite painter Frederic Leighton, is described as the place ‘where East meets West’ and it turns out they get along famously. The house and studio are filled with the artist’s paintings in different states of completion. But it’s the ‘Arab Hall’ that’s the real jaw-dropper. This big domed room covered in tiles and mosaics from across the Mediterranean will make you forget which continent you’re standing on.
The romantic ruin: St Dunstan-in-the-East
Where am I? A secret garden in the bombed-out shell of a former church with gorgeous ivy and flowers growing out of the picturesque ruins. The first St Dunstan-in-the-East was built on this site, a stone’s throw from the Tower of London, way back around 1100, and then Sir Christopher Wren added a tower in 1700. The church got blitzed to bits in 1941, but rather than rebuild it, or knock it down, they converted the hauntingly pretty shell into a quiet green space in the middle of The City. The tower still watches over the garden, and it’s become a little escape from all the suits rushing around outside.
A temple to art: The Rothko Room
Where am I? A dimly lit refuge where you can consider some of the finest works of 20th-century art. Some people even use the word ‘masterpiece’ to describe American artist Mark Rothko’s most famous series. The artist sent detailed instructions on how the works should be displayed and lit. The lights are low and the air is still; the result is one of the most peaceful and beautiful rooms in all of London.
The 1950s time capsule: Rivoli Ballroom
Where am I? The Rivoli Ballroom is London’s last remaining mid-century dancehall, and it’s brilliant. Covered floor-to-ceiling in red velvet, it’s the very definition of plush hedonism. Combined with the ornate Austrian chandeliers, huge Chinese lanterns, glitter balls and art deco-accurate décor, it all makes for one of the most realistically retro nights out you could wish for.
The spooky stroll: Terrace Catacombs
Where am I? In Highgate Cemetery’s creepy catacombs. After you’ve wound your way up the snaking path through the looming trees and finally found the entrance to the Terrace Catacombs, you’ll be shaking like a leaf. Once you’re inside the immense gothic multi-tomb, you can marvel at the beautiful Victorian architecture. If you manage to escape, explore the rest of this beautiful cemetery where the likes of Karl Marx and George Eliot are buried. It’s dead good.
The Persian paradise: Behesht restaurant
Where am I? Tucked away in an Iranian grotto, guzzling cardamom tea and feasting on dried-lime stew. Once you’ve walked through the doors of Behesht restaurant and found your way through the rabbit warren of rooms to your table, you’ll think you were partying in downtown Tehran. This place is a treasure trove of Persian fancies – art and musical instruments, parrots cawing in cages. There’s even a pond! In a restaurant! Coupled with some of the best Iranian food in the city, Behesht is a seriously sensory experience.
The tropical retreat: Barbican Conservatory
Where am I? In the concrete maze of this brutalist architectural masterpiece, the Barbican Centre’s conservatory is a hidden oasis. Filled with more than 2,000 species of exotic plants that tumble over the concrete balustrades, it’s made all the more brilliant by how unexpected it is. There are few better places to escape London for a bit of tropical serenity.
Need to know
Royal Brunei flies direct to London from Dhs2,249 return.