The evening of 14 February can be a crowded, overbooked, unromantic time to be out in London. Instead, save your Valentine’s celebrations for the weekend, when you can take your time over all or part of this tour of romantic London.
Watch the sun come up at 7.15am
Take your beloved to a photogenic view — Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill, or the north bank of the Thames are all obvious winers — to grab a coffee and watch the sun come up.
From wherever you are, take public transport or walk to the Savoy (nearest Tube, Temple).
Eat breakfast in the Thames Foyer at the Savoy
In this hotel, Oscar Wilde conducted an affair with Bosie so steamy that Wilde went to prison for it. ‘The love that dare not speak its name’ took place on the third floor — but if you want breakfast, head to the glass dome at the heart of the hotel.
Cross the Strand and turn right, walking to the first traffic lights at Aldwych. Cross over towards the Lyceum Tavern, then take Wellington Street. The road turns into Bow Street, then Endell Street before you emerge onto High Holborn. Cross, and take Shaftesbury Avenue north, which becomes Bloomsbury Street. Take a right onto Great Russell Street; the British Museum will be on your left.
See London’s most romantic artworks
The world’s oldest artwork showing a couple making love is the Ain Sakhri stone, housed at the British Museum in Room 2 of the ‘Changing Museum’ section. It’s thought to be 11,000 years old.
Leave by the museum’s rear exit and head west to Gower Street. A little way north you’ll find a plaque on Number 7.
The plaque marks the place where the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded. If any Londoners knew how to love, this was they. Millais saved Ruskin’s wife from a loveless marriage, Rossetti seduced Jane Morris, and Hunt eloped with his lover Edith.
Continue through Bloomsbury, on to Fitzrovia and make your way west to Manchester Square.
The Wallace Collection is romantic in itself, but also houses Filippo della Valle’s Cupid and Psyche sculpture, and Pourbus’s Allegory of True Love. Take time out for a cup of tea in the galleries charming (and romantic) courtyard restaurant.
You can eat lunch after either of the museum stops — the Riding House Café would be good if you spend a long time at the British Museum. The Wallace Collection’s courtyard restaurant is among London’s most romantic. Or you could try one of Mayfair or Marylebone’s top pubs.
Head back to Oxford Street, make your way through Mayfair and cross Piccadilly.
Rest in Green Park
The quietest of the three great parks in this part of London, this is a tempting place to cuddle up to your partner for a few minutes and indulge in some cloud spotting, assuming the ground’s dry enough. Legend says that the park gets its name from spurned love. Charles II’s queen is said to have discovered that her husband gave a bunch of flowers from the park to another woman. In revenge, she plucked every remaining flower in the area. To this day, the park has no formal flower beds, and hence is the Green Park.
Carry on through St James’s Park, and on towards Westminster.
Visit Westminster Abbey
Site of 16 royal weddings, the Abbey also contains Poet’s Corner where Tennyson, Browning, Hardy and other celebrated writers are buried and others have memorials.
Walk along the Embankment from Westminster to Somerset House, and climb up the steps to Waterloo Bridge.
Watch the sun set over the Thames
Valentine’s London wouldn’t be complete without a Waterloo sunset. Head to the west side of Hungerford Bridge at 5pm to see the sun set at 5.15pm.
Walk back to the Embankment and up Northumberland Avenue. Cross Trafalgar Square, take Pall Mall and then go up Haymarket. At Piccadilly, cross and take Great Windmill Street into Soho.
Get your kicks in Soho
If you’re flush, take your other half shopping to Coco de Mer on Monmouth Street; if you’re cheeky, sneak down to one of the sex shop basements.
If you’re still in the hand-holding stages, listen to the National Trust’s free Soho Stories app as you walk — legendary Sohoites give the inside scoop on their memories of the area, including tales of Francis Bacon’s boozy nights, and Wee Will Harris on how Soho influenced the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.
Alternatively, follow the arrow in the statue of ‘Eros’ at Piccadilly towards one of London’s finest cheap eats, Brasserie Zedel. Bar Americain does great cocktails, or, if you prefer, you could dine in the restaurant, which was recently mentioned in a popular Londonist list of affordable restaurants (but book now!).