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Why You Should Go to London This Summer

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The Barbican exhibit “Lee Krasner: Living Colour” represents the artist’s first major European retrospective.

Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

The Barbican exhibit “Lee Krasner: Living Colour” represents the artist’s first major European retrospective.

What do Clive Owen, man-made waterfalls, pork katsu, and Barry Manilow have in common? They’re all captivating London this summer.

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Hopefully by the time you read this, London’s heat wave will be a thing of the past and everyone will be telling charming stories about how they soldiered on through the worst of it, stiff upper lip and all. London has myriad charms, of course, not least of which is how the city manages to remain forward-thinking, modern, and art filled, even when it’s held up by Roman walls, medieval castles, and certain incalcitrant political dinosaurs. Cross the Atlantic now to find the city alive with music, theater, a hotel opening, and an unfailing sense of fun.

In addition to the rainbows, moss walls, and waterfalls installed at the Tate Modern this summer, Olaful Eliasson’s “The cubic structural evolution project” offers thousands of LEGO blocks, encouraging visitors to become visionaries.

Dive into the coolest art

Every summer, the BBC Proms–an impressively extensive and eclectic music series centered at Royal Albert Hall—attempts to engage a wider audience with the best classical music in the world. Every single night for two months. Some events are aimed at classical hard-core audiences who want to hear seldom-performed works of obscure genius; others are programmed for the classical-curious and focus on greatest hits or music that’ll provide new listeners the gateway high required to become hard-core. The joyous final night of the Proms, traditionally held in Hyde Park, has a lineup this year that mixes classical with classic rock: Barry Manilow (he who shared a Chopin melody with the unwashed AM radio masses as his 1971 “Could It Be Magic”) and Chrissie Hynde, among others. BBC Proms, through September 14.  bbc.co.uk

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Right now in the West End, Clive Owen (Children of Men, The Knick) is causing a bit of an onstage heat wave himself as the disgraced priest stuck in a downward spiral in a hotel on the steamy Gulf Coast of Mexico in the Tennessee Williams play The Night of the Iguana. The production, which opened in mid-July at the Noel Coward Theatre, captures the restless, trapped feeling of the group of travelers staying at the Mexican guesthouse. West End. noelcowardtheatre.co.uk

The thrilling Lee Krasner show at the Barbican is (shockingly) that artist’s first major exhibit in Europe. Almost 100 of her works are on display, from small collages to large-scale abstract works with big, swooping, emotional energy that may finally convince the world that she was a contender, far more than simply Jackson Pollack’s wife. “Lee Krasner: Living Colour,” through September 1, Barbican Centre, Silk St. barbican.org.uk

The formidable artist-architect-showman Olafur Eliasson is occupying the Tate Modern with a captivating multimedia show (Waterfalls outside the building! Rainbows, moss, and fog inside!), In Real Life, that while fun and interactive, manages to transmit information about the global climate emergency and migration. Tables inside the Turbine Hall are strewn with a ton of white LEGO blocks for aspiring architects in the crowd to workshop ideas on the future of cities. Tate Modern, Bankside. tate.org.uk

If you find yourself wanting more, AFAR's partner Context Travel offers a private tour of artists' studios around the city that would enhance any art-lover's visit of London.

The first Standard Hotel in Europe has landed across the street from St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations.

Stay in a retro-futuristic hot spot

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The first European outpost of the Standard Hotel opened in July, after much giddy anticipation. Occupying a former government building, the hotel transmits the chain’s moody cool vibe with design that reflects a sort of ’70s Italian vision of the future. The 266 guest rooms, some of which face King’s Cross and St. Pancras train stations across the street, have tufted leather headboards, Bang & Olufsen speakers, and divine bathrobes. Just a couple of weeks in and the lobby, downstairs bar, and Isla restaurant (an indoor-outdoor affair with a small-plate menu, led by chef Adam Rawson) are attracting cool young crowds who look like they’ve been here waiting. Oh, you’re here, too? The Standard, London, 10 Argyle St. standardhotels.com

The Best London Neighborhoods for Every Kind of Traveler

Taste the next big thing

In addition to the predictable announcement that Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack is opening a location at Gatwick Airport in October, the 11th shack in the U.K. (cranky editor’s note: Shake Shack is great but do all cities really need all the same shops and restaurants?), there’s some fun food news in jolly old London.

  • Fancy a plate of chili-fueled Sichuan noodles with your pint? The kitchen of Marylebone’s The Jackalope, an 18th-century pub, has been taken over by the two female chefs of LIU Xiaomian. What started as a two-days-a-week residency last winter has blossomed into a Tuesday-Friday night situation. The slippery noodles have a spicy heat that lingers, too: You’ll feel it not just in your mouth and belly but also on your tingling lips. 43 Weymouth Mews.
  • London’s newest food hall, the 12,500-square-foot Arcade Food Theater, opened July 22 in a high-rise development in Central London between Covent Garden and Fitzrovia. The massive retail space has lured some equally massive players in the city’s food scene, which promises to benefit those among us who eat (and could become massive, too). Among the seven offerings in the market: a new Mexican restaurant, Pastorcito; Oklava, a modern Turkish restaurant (with an older successful sibling over in Shoreditch), and Tóu, a pork katsu sando-focused joint from the restaurateurs that wowed London with the Tātā Eatery pop-up; and a Pret a Manger (see Shake Shack diatribe above). 103–105 New Oxford Street.

>>Next: Plan your visit with AFAR’s London Travel Guide

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