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The Capital of Cool: Swinging London Revisited

by Moderator March - last edited March

Carnaby Street © HeyRocker.jpg

On the 9th February 1964 approximately 73 million people tuned in to watch The Beatles perform live on The Ed Sullivan Show, kicking off the British Invasion and launching a cultural revolution in fashion and music which defined an entire generation of American teens.

Half a century later, it’s hard to overstate the impact The Beatles and other British exports – The Kinks, The Hollies, The Animals, The Troggs, The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones and The Who to name but a few – had on the lifestyles and aspirations of the youth of America; a phenomenon whose roots can largely be traced back to the Swinging London of the early 1960s, more than 3,000 miles away across the pond.

Beatles graffiti at Abbey Road © nan palermo.jpg 

Beatles graffiti at Abbey Road © nan palermo
 

If you’re visiting London this year, you don’t have to travel back in time to experience the essence of this pivotal moment in British history. There are still plenty of ways to re-live the 1960s glory days, so if you’re planning a trip to the capital here’s how to recapture the spirit of the time.  

Bar Italia © Some Driftwood.jpg

Bar Italia, Soho © Some Driftwood
 

Music

If music’s your thing, you’re in luck. Musically-focused tours abound, including an excellent range of London walks and the chance to relive the capital’s classic pop moments on a Rock ’n Roll sightseeing tour in a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow – favoured status symbol of the music world’s elite – where you’ll visit the hangouts of British music icons to a pumping soundtrack of 60s and 70s hits. Other options include various Beatlemania tours and walks – covering ground from the Abbey Road zebra crossing to the apartment where Paul wrote ‘Yesterday’ to film locations from A Hard Day’s Night and Help! Try Beatles in London, the Beatles VIP Tour of London or a three hour private chauffeur-driven Beatles tour of London with Viator.

Abbey Road crossing © grahamc99.jpg

Abbey Road crossing © grahamc99
 

Fashion

Miniskirts and maxi-coats, kohl-rimmed eyes and the Union Jack became era-defining symbols of 1960s Britain, with fashion designers and shops like Mary Quant and Biba leading the way. Follow in the footsteps of eager British trendsetters on a tour of Kensington, King’s Road or Soho with Back in the Day Walks, or take a trip to Carnaby Street – birthplace of Swinging London – to see the sites of original Mod and hippie clothing boutiques frequented by dedicated followers of fashion.

Carnaby Street art © Shht!.jpg

Carnaby Street art © Shht!
 

Culture

In Swinging London, optimism reigned supreme, and the focus was firmly on the new and contemporary. First introduced in 1959, few icons of design evoke the era as eloquently as the classic Mini Cooper, and you can even hop in one for a tour of London with smallcarBIGCITY. Opt for the Italian Job experience for a fully immersive experience – flat caps, blue boiler suits and all. For a dose of Mod culture, head to Bar Italia on Frith Street. Home of the Bar Italia Scooter Club for the past 14 years, this Soho coffee shop has been a hangout for sharply-dressed cool cats since the early 1950s.

Classic Mini Cooper © smallcarBIGCITY.png

Take a tour of London in a Classic Mini Cooper © smallcarBIGCITY
 

Header photo of Carnaby Street © HeyRocker

Book your flight to London with Virgin Atlantic today. 


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About the author: Maxine

Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.