As Samuel Johnson said in 1777: "When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." And what was true then is as true now, if not more so. In London's 600 square miles there is, indeed, all that life can afford: layer upon layer of history and eight million people living, working and playing in one of the most diverse, exciting and creative cities in the world. The question isn't why should you visit London but how can you afford not to?
The Tower of London (hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london) was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 as a symbol of his dominion over his captured kingdom. Today, it is an almost 1000-year-old palimpsest on which is written the history of the capital. In this time it's been a prison, a royal residence, an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint and, to this day, the home of the Crown Jewels. A tour is de rigueur if you want to understand London.
For a truly historical, quintessentially London eating experience head into East London and try pie and mash, the food of the true Cockney. It is what it says on the box – a minced beef pie with mash potato all smothered in a green parsley liquor. Smother with salt, pepper and vinegar and eat with fork, spoon and gusto. Cooke's pie and mash shop in trendy Broadway Market, Hackney, still does that old classic, jellied eels. Go on, I dare ya. For posher but equally British fare there's Fergus Henderson's nose-to-tail eatery St. John (stjohngroup.uk.com) in Smithfield Market. Expect bone marrow, lemon sole, smoked haddock and faggots.
A walk through St. James's Park is a pleasure in itself but it's the places that border the park that make this special. To the west – Buckingham Palace; to the north – The Mall; to the east – Horse Guards Parade; and Birdcage Walk to the south. Within the park do take time to visit Inn The Park (peytonandbyrne.co.uk), a cafe restaurant which serves excellent breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas.
The queues can be off-putting but a visit to Westminster Abbey (westminster-abbey.org) will always repay the wait. Underneath the soaring, ethereal stone arches are buried Sir Isaac Newton, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin – and that's quite apart from Poets' Corner where a host of the great and the good contemplate eternity. Take a tour if you can and also try to catch the choir performing daily evensong from the beautiful Victorian choir stalls (5pm, except 3pm on Saturday and Sunday).
London isn't short of places to stay but one of the funkiest new hotels to open in recent years is the Mondrian London (morganshotelgroup.com/mondrian/mondrian-london). With 3D images in the elevator, giant blue anchor-style chain links in the foyer and the feel of a 1920s cruise ship this quirky 359-room hotel in Southwark is great fun. Also, if you don't mind heights check in to the Shangri-La Hotel (shangri-la.com/london/shangrila), which takes up floors 34 to 52 in the iconic Shard building. It's also home to Gong, one of London's highest cocktail bars.
An Oyster Card is pretty much needed everywhere on the London transport system these days – the buses certainly don't take cash any more. Also, the Citymapper app is fantastic for finding your way around. It's free at citymapper.com/apps.