London continues to be the city that sets the trends, rather than merely following them. On the streets of Soho, the trading floors of the Square Mile, or the mighty bridges spanning the River Thames, it still feels like London is the fulcrum of the world -- just as it was at the height of its power, when half the world was run from Westminster. Expect to discover a city steeped in history and nobility, certainly, but one that's also inventing the future.
Britain's capital is so big -- and its residents such a diverse bunch -- that almost anything we could write about contemporary London life would be true somewhere in the city. Londoners dine out to an unprecedented degree, but at the same time, there's more interest than ever in food preparation at home. High-fashion boutiques sell outfits with staggering price tags, but thrift-store shopping for that unique vintage look has never been more popular. Londoners stand generally to the left of Britain's political middle, but a right-wing mayor leads the city. The shiniest new thing always attracts attention, but reverence for the old never disappears.
London practically invented tradition, but in fields as different as food, film, theatre, music, and just about everything else, the city is now, as always, right on the cutting edge.
The most obvious trend of recent years is the eastward shift of London's center of gravity. Residents -- particularly nightlife-loving, young Londoners -- are rediscovering the areas around the original city walls. First came the rebirth of Spitalfields and Shoreditch; then Hoxton and Brick Lane became magnets for the hip; and now the cutting edge is moving northeast -- following a path first laid down by the Romans, up the Kingsland Road to Dalston. Come on a weekend, and you'll find the streets of these areas as busy at midnight as they are at midday.
Musically, London is enjoying a mini-renaissance, and the city's urban music is finally holding its own in a market dominated by the U.S. East London's grime scene has produced headline acts, such as Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah, and Tinchy Stryder. Camden Town's N-Dubz have achieved mainstream chart success. Dubstep, a fusion of urban music styles, including garage and drum-and-bass, has traveled way beyond its London roots to influence some of the biggest names in U.S. hip-hop and R&B. London's Mobo ("music of black origin") has never been bigger, nationally or internationally.
Recent years have also seen Londoners grow increasingly interested in the ethics and economics of their food supply -- with those at the upper end of the income scale prepared (and able) to pay a substantial premium for a cleaner conscience. However, shopping seasonally and locally isn't straightforward in a metropolis with a taste for food from every corner of the globe, and the issues aren't always as clear-cut as they may appear. In spite of the "food miles" gap, an out-of-season tomato reared in Morocco can have a much lower carbon footprint that one grown in a cool Kent summer. Still, you'll see supermarkets and niche convenience stores such as Planet Organic selling a wide range of seasonal, organic, and Fairtrade goods, as well as produce markets like the one at Borough, which is packed to the rafters on weekends. In an upscale restaurant, expect your meat to be ethically reared, your poultry to be free range, and your vegetables and pulses to be organic -- and don't be shy about quizzing staff on these points. It's also increasingly easy to find local beers. Ales brewed by Meantime, in Greenwich, and Battersea's Sambrook are available in ever more bars around town.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.