Ok, so teleportation and time travel aren’t a thing yet, but thanks to London’s rich history you can be transported back through the decades by visiting a variety of frozen-in-time places that will feel as if you’ve taken a trip in the Tardis. After all, if Marty McFly could do it back in the 80s, why not now, so many years later? Whether you’re a history buff, regularly daydream of time travel or are simply after a different way to spend your weekend, these time-warping spots in London will make for a memorable day out.
We’re kicking things off in the 1900s with The Ritz. The prestigious hotel opened in 1906 and was dressed to the nines with lashings of era-appropriate frills and finery (think glittering chandeliers and red velvet drapes) to achieve its aim of becoming the most luxurious hotel in the land. The vestiges of the decade are still present in its interiors now, though all with a modern twist of course. If you’re looking to really splash out in style you could book a room and wake up in the 1900s, or if it’s more of a rare treat yourself kind of day we hear the afternoon tea is pretty legendary.
If the price tag of indulging at The Ritz isn’t your cup of tea then you can always go for a bit of window shopping or a browse in Selfridges. The department store opened in 1909 and although inside it’s all pretty modern nowadays, you can still put yourself in the Edwardian shoes of the first customers who strolled through the doors.
Fancy a spot of fresh air? Why not take a stroll around St. James Park to stretch your legs and do a bit of Pelican spotting while you’re there? The park itself has been around since the 1880s but your true time-travelling destination is the final stop at the Admiralty Arch. The ceremonial gateway was completed in 1912 and is a landmark piece of Edwardian architecture built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s death. If you’re a fan of its location and historic past then you might be pleased to learn that it is rumoured to become a Waldorf Astoria hotel in late 2023.
Of course, that wasn’t the only thing happening in the 1910s, with the deadly conflict of World War I dominating the decade from 1914 to 1918. To pay your respects and gain a better understanding of the events you can visit the Imperial War Museum to study photographs, weapons, uniforms and more. Or, if reflection is what you’re after, retreat to the sanctuary of Kew Gardens to see the Japanese Gateway, which was gifted to Kew after the Japanese-British exhibition of 1910 in London.
When you think of the early roaring twenties you think of flappers, feathers and glittering Gatsby-style revelry. It was a time of post-war prosperity, with jazz-fuelled celebrations and women feeling empowered after winning the right to vote. Now, The Candlelight Club brings the 1920s to life once more, transforming secret locations across London into pop-up prohibition-era speakeasies for one unforgettable night. The delectably mysterious party promises a transporting night of live jazz bands, cocktails, dining options and cabaret performances. You’ll want to snap up tickets to the elusive affair and be sure to doll yourself up accordingly – start digging in your cupboards for a velvet tux, pearl necklace or feather boa.
On the other hand, you don’t have to limit your travels to London. Why not hop aboard the infamous Orient Express? With its stunning restored 1920s dining cars, you can embark on an old-world adventure, among sumptuous Art Deco surroundings, to locations such as Vienna, Prague and Budapest. We also hear that the French Alps will be added to the list later this year. If you’re lucky, you won’t get caught up in a twisted tale of murder a la Agatha Christie, though it could be worth it to lay eyes on Poirot’s magnificent moustache.
Found in Greenwich, Eltham Palace is a piece of frozen-in-time history from the 1930s that makes for a great day out. The architectural gem has a storied past as a mediaeval palace and Tudor residence, but it was in the 30s that it was transformed into an Art Deco mansion by eccentric millionaires The Courtaulds. Inside you’ll find a mix of eras but to get your 1930s fix you best check out the striking circular entrance hall, the bold geometric features of the dining room and the golden bathroom, complete with a statue of the ‘goddess of the soul’, Psyche.
There’s also a wartime basement bunker and, of course, the central-heated sleeping quarters of their beloved pet lemur – doesn’t everyone have one of those?… When all this time travel gets you peckish you can wing by the on-site cafe and then walk it off in the manicured 19-acre gardens.
Next up, in a blur of polka dots, rations and black-market liquor is the 1940s. For a true forties knees up, head on over to Cahoots. The 1940s-themed cocktail bar promises to whisk you away to old-school Soho with a speakeasy located inside an abandoned train station. There you can sip on aptly-named cocktails such as the Winston Churchill – a concoction of gin, cherry liqueur and guava – or the Sip For Victory – vodka and woodland liqueur topped with a grapefruit and basil soda. Scoundrels will be right at home learning the tricks of the bootlegging trade with an escape room-style cocktail adventure or you can simply sit back and listen to the swinging melodies of live music.
In the early years, with the conflict of World War II, it would come as no surprise that many people, servicemen and locals alike would probably be in dire need of a drink. This is where The Duke would come in. Situated near Russell Street station, the historic wartime pub is like strolling through a wormhole into the 40s, complete with understated Art Deco windows, wooden furnishings and salmon-pink walls. Head on over for a pint of bitter and a ploughman’s lunch.
Why restrict your time travelling to England? You can get a boozy taste of Hong Kong in the Fifties when you pull up a seat at Lucy Wong. The glamorous cocktail bar is a tribute to the 1957 Richard Mason novel ‘The World of Suzie Wong’, decked out with timeless decor inspired by Chinese design and serving up signature cocktails with an Asian twist. Tuck into a delicious dim sum or devour a Cantonese roast duck before heading to the dancefloor to bust a move to live music that reflects the era.
If dancing is what you’re after then the Rivoli Ballroom will be right up your street. Loving restored to maintain its 50s’ Art Deco grandeur, the ballroom holds numerous events, from Northern Soul nights to cinema nights with all the classic flicks – how many times can you say you’ve watched Pulp Fiction under crystal chandeliers, surrounded by ruby red walls and gilded detailing?
What better way to take it back to the 60s than the birthplace of Swinging London: Carnaby Street. While the infamous street has a storied history right back to the 1600s, it was in the sixties that it thrived. It would be a regular haunt of major music stars such as Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones as well as style icons like Elizabeth Taylor. They would often frequent the vibrant stretch to shop or, in the case of Tom Jones, to promote a new boutique by walking down the street with Casino Royale. actress Christine Spooner and a cheetah.
One way to be transported to the technicolour decade is, well, by bus. Climb aboard the psychedelic 60s Bus to discover the sights, sounds and Sixties staples of London. You’ll not only visit sites which helped launch the careers of rockstars and fashion icons but you’ll get to listen to all the timeless hits from the decade along the way. Groovy, baby.
Dig out your record players, disco flares and dancing shoes, the Seventies are here. There are a couple of places that can transport you back to this time; one to glittering Hollywood and the other to the old smuggling dens of India. The first is Sweeties, The Standard’s glitzy and glamorous cocktail bar which oozes slick 70s vibes with velvet sofas, mirrored tables and reportedly even an antique phallic sculpture. Sounds…intriguing. There, you can sip bespoke mood-boosting cocktails (ever tried adaptogenic mushrooms?) and gaze out at views of St. Pancras.
The second is Bandra Bhai, secreted away beneath a staircase at the back of the Pali Hill restaurant in Fitzrovia. Inside, you’ll find a moodily-lit den decked out with vintage fringed lampshades, lashings of animal print upholstery and retro trinkets. The delicious cocktails are infused with Indian flavours, like a vodka martini with a dash of cassia bark, samphire and sage spice.
Of course, if you’ve had your fill of cocktails for the time being you might prefer some more literary pursuits. Namely, Gay’s The Word bookshop, a London institution that opened in 1979 that was at the heart of the LGBT+ community and where Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners held their initial meetings (as brought to life in the brilliant film Pride). Head over to peruse their carefully curated and extensive collection of books that span, as they say; “from the profound to the frivolous, from the liberating to the indulgent“.
Now onto the totally tubular 80s, the birthplace of Back To The Future, acid-wash jeans, MTV and the shudder-worthy spandex. With that in mind, why not head over to the Back In Time Exhibition in Camden? It is full of memorabilia from the films, including costumes, sketches, scripts scrawled with notes, behind-the-scenes footage and even an impressive DeLorean replica which you can clamber inside to channel your inner Marty McFly – a true 80s icon with his epic puffer vest and double-denim outfit. It is the perfect place to throw it back to 1985 and maybe even get some time-travelling tips while you’re there.
The 1980s was a peak era for music, after all this was when the public’s ears were blessed with timeless hits such as ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, ‘Thriller’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ (the list could go on and on). So I wouldn’t blame you if this is your chosen decade for karaoke go-tos. One place you won’t have to wait for the mic to sing your heart out is Massaoke: 80s Live, unfolding in the Electric Ballroom on May 12. There you can indulge in a euphoric sing-a-long with a live band and a setlist of hairbrush anthems.
The last decade of the 1900s feels like just yesterday for some and a world away for others (ahem Gen Z’s) and there’s no denying it gave us some gems. Pull on your bomber jacket and slip your Spice Girls CD into your Discman to head on over to Four Quarters, a retro bar with a 90s feel crammed with arcade games. You’ll be able to indulge in childhood nostalgia button bashing The Simpsons and getting behind the wheel with Crazy Taxi, all fuelled by game-inspired cocktails (Yoshi Sour anyone?) and drool-worthy pizza. They can be found in both Hackney Wick and Peckham.
Plus, as with the 80s, the 90s brought some unforgettable earworms into existence which have the power to get everyone singing along. If you can’t quite remember the lyrics to 80s hits but have ‘Wonderwall’ down pat then Massaoke: 90s Live may be just the ticket. Taking place on March 24, you’ll be belting out Nirvana, Britney, Blur and more from start to finish.
Now it’s time for a new century. The noughties may feel relatively fresh in our memory but a rewind back to the decade will have us remembering when the iPod first launched, Harry Potter was brought to cinematic life and Beyonce and Jay-Z graced the soundwaves with ‘Crazy In Love’. You can toast to all things the 2000s at The Cocktail Club in Canary Wharf, where, on various Saturdays throughout the year they host a 00s Bottomless Brunch. In between taking advantage of the 90 minutes of free-flowing booze and tucking into a pizza, you can enjoy games, iconic noughties music and lip-syncing performances from your fabulous drag host.
Or, if you’re in need of a bit of magic, why not sprinkle some floo powder into the fireplace to be transported into the wizarding world at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford? Strolling down Diagon Alley, pondering over potions and exploring the shadowy wilderness of the Forbidden Forest will no doubt take you back to when you first saw the film on the big screen in 2001.
I’ve got to admit, not much immediately springs to mind when you think about the 2010s but one thing that did seem to grip the nation was a sudden thirst for craft beer. Right on cue, Camden Town Brewery opened its doors in 2010 and the rest is hopstory (sorry). Whether you’re a fan who wants to see where your drink of choice is made or simply want to know what all the craft beer fuss is about, the brewery tour might do the trick. Finish it off with a refreshing golden pint in the beer hall.
It was also at this time that immersive experiences came onto the entertainment scene and people have been hooked ever since. London has no shortage of these, so you can easily while away the hours untangling the intriguing web of a murder mystery, exploring the world of Peaky Blinders or losing yourself in the impasto brushstrokes of Van Gogh’s masterpieces.
No time-travelling is necessary, just take a look at our site to see the latest things to do and fascinating places to visit in London.