London: Chelsea Flower Show + Hot Restaurants

 

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Chelsea pensioner admiring the flowers (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

The Chelsea Flower Show opened in London  yesterday and continues through this weekend. Naturally, QE2 was there to kick off the festivities.

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(photo courtesy of BBC)

Lest you think of the Chelsea Flower Show as a frumpy gathering of old lady tea-sippers, behold the world of floral arts that you will see upon tiptoe-ing through the tulips…

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gorgeous garden created by Hay Joung-Hwang (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

  • Show-Stopping Gardens (like the one above) created in one week’s time on what were the bare grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the Chelsea pensioners. Click here to read a fascinating article about the relationship between the hospital and the 100-year old Chelsea Flower Show. I am told these gardens can cost $200,000 or more to create. That’s why most of them have corporate sponsors.
Morgan Stanley

This is the Best Garden Award winner, the Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC (a charity). “Designed to raise awareness of the work of the NSPCC, this garden’s design is a metaphor for the emotional transition that takes place in a child as they experience the positive impact of the NSPCC’s work,” according to the RHS website. (photo courtesy of the RHS)

  • Horticulture: Over 90 nurseries, growers, and florists creatively display their wares in the vast Great Pavilion. Here you will see the best tulips, the best roses, the best lupins, etc., in all of Britain.
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Peony headdress seen in the Great Pavilion (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

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Horticulture: displays of the very best of each kind of flower you can imagine (photo courtesy of BBC)

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admiring the rose display in the Great Pavilion (photo courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society)

  • Floral design
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bridal designs (photo courtesy of the BBC)

Where to Stay

No wonder the Queen visits the Chelsea Flower Show every year! Let’s hop on a plane and join her! Click here to see my hotel recommendations. The closest are the Draycott, the Sloane Club, and the Sloane Square Hotel.

Where to Dine

Make your reservations at the hottest London restaurants at the moment, as culled from Mimi’s Travel Files, …

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Kitty Fisher’s tiny subterranean dining room feels like a secret club with great food

  • Kitty Fisher’s, in Old Mayfair, stylish, intimate, good press…and I liked it, too!
  • Barrafina, Spanish tapas, no reservations, lots of rave reviews
  • Ottolenghi, “Oh!!! I love Ottolenghi….spectacular food!!! Great deli, too,” says my friend who has lived spectacularly and dined in London for many years. Ottolinghi is haute Israeli cooking from big foodie media star
  • Frenchie, Parisian import in Covent Garden
  • Riva in Barnes
  • Aquavit, in St. James, although my London friend, who has loved Aquavit for a long time,  has heard its service can be a bit off, from time to time
  • Sexy Fish , in Berkeley Square, is “very good,” per my London foodie friend
  • Chess Club, in Mayfair
  • Gymkhana, in Mayfair, perennially lauded Indian restaurant (UPDATE, March 2019: I just ate here and while the food and service were excellent, the ambiance was mediocre)
  • Palomar, in Soho, modern-day Israeli food in attractive setting; “love it, small tasty dishes pretty casual atmosphere but excellent food. ….as is its sister The Barbary,” per my London friend
  • The Greenhouse, tranquil French in Mayfair; “Good restaurant. Good quality. Not amazing but not disappointing,” per my London friend
  • Hawksmore Knightsbridge, art deco/1930’s glam
  • Park Chinois, in Mayfair
  • While these are not  new, they are wonderful!
    • River Café, superb Italian food in a transporting setting
    • Quo Vadis , delicious, creative food & excellent service in intimate setting in Soho.
Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk

Quo Vadis (Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk)

 

 

 

Heathrow-vicinity Hotels–with charm!

You don’t have to stay at a cold, over-priced airport hotel when you fly late into or early out of London’s Heathrow Airport: the following two hotels are less than 30 minutes’ drive away. And—bonus—they’re both charmers in charming towns!

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The Macdonald Compleat Angler in Marlow

Small Hotel in Small Town

The Compleat Angler is a nice hotel in a nice small town, just 20 minutes by car from Heathrow Airport. The hotel’s  64 rooms sit on the banks of the Thames River in Marlow. As the swans and boats float languidly past your room, the travel stress will melt away like butter. Request room #12, as it has a bay window looking onto the Thames, with its pretty church and houses across the river. I have stayed here five times and love it! A two-minute walk from the Compleat Angler, Marlow’s convenient stores stock all the odds and ends you might have forgotten to pack. PLUS: A Michelin two-star pub, The Hand and Flowers, is located just off Marlow’s “high street.”

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The Macdonald Compleat Angler

Small Coaching Inn in Small Village

The Olde Bell is a former coaching inn which first opened its doors to travelers in 1147. It is located in the quaint, quiet village of Hurley, which has one small store, two low-key pubs, and charming, old houses, large and small. The Olde Bell is a three-minute walk through the sleepy village to the River Thames.

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While the outside of the Olde Bell is wonderfully traditional, the inside is an attractive mix of old world and modern polish…though not sleek. Of its 48 rooms, #’s 1 and 2 have balconies overlooking the Olde Bell’s relaxing back garden.

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bedroom at the Olde Bell

Having arrived here thrice after late-night flights into Heathrow, nothing is more welcoming than the Olde Bell’s bar. You will feel instantly immersed in merry old England!

UPDATE (March 2019): I am disappointed to report that the bar has gotten a bit sloppy and somewhat tacked up with space heaters in the fine old fireplaces. Such a shame! The Olde Bell is SCREAMING for improved management, especially in the food and beverage arena.  Its town is still an unspoiled gem, full of history and lacking tourists.

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bar at the Olde Bell

Get the Kinks Out!

After that long flight over, get the kinks out by walking along the Thames River path. You will see long boats (classic river boats that are long and narrow), locks, swans, ducks, people walking dogs, country houses in park-like settings, and many an open field. It’s beautiful! If you walk from Hurley in the direction of Henley-on-Thames, you will come to the Flower Pot, an old pub full of character. A bit off the river, its decorative theme is fishing, with prints galore lining the walls of its charming interior. Eat inside or outside on its picnic tables in the garden. Then, walk back to the Olde Bell for a satisfying toes up.

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TIP: The fare from Heathrow to Hurley via car service is approx. 40 pounds. Get The Compleat Angler or Olde Bell to arrange a car service for you in advance.Why not just grab a taxi at Heathrow??? Because the driver will most probably know London like the back of his hand but will not know Marlow or Hurley.

THIS JUST IN: A world-traveling friend of mine with discerning taste highly recommends the Great Fosters Hotel, a luxury country house hotel near Heathrow. She has stayed here three times and loved it.

–posted October 2016

London (part 2/2): Eat, Drink & Shop

Organized by neighborhood…

NIGHT LIFE

Leicester Square & Soho

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  • The Crazy Coqs (20 Sherwood St., near Piccadilly Circus)– on the edge of London’s theater district–small, attractive, art deco nightclub (above); especially fun is open-mic night, when theater professionals and talented mere mortals perform (while it’s usually on Thursday nights, you may want to check the website to confirm the schedule)
  • Theater: Click here to find out what’s on!

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

Chelsea

  • Five Fields (8-9 Blacklands  Terrace)–EXCELLENT, excellent food and service in elegant, initmate room on a charming street
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Five Fields restaurant in Chelsea

  • Tom’s Kitchen (27 Cale St.)–deelish comfort food, casual but nice ambience on charming Cale St., which is parallel to the King’s Road
  • The Orange (37 Pimlico Rd.)–The BEST gin and tonic I had on our most recent trip to London! They plopped a date in the bottom of the high-ball glass and draped a bunch of bright red currants on the side=pretty and delicious. Also, good food and convivial atmosphere.
  • Peter Jones department store (on Sloane Square)– has a decent cafeteria on its top floor with amazing views of London; good for a quick bite while shopping

Hammersmith

  • River Café (Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd.)–The River Café has long been adored by many and justifiably so, as it has a relaxing, peaceful, low-key stylish ambience & GREAT food. Plus, the staff are into it in the best way! The taxi ride from central London is long-ish but worth it.
The River Cafe, Hammersmith, London.

The River Cafe, Hammersmith, London.

Kensington 

  • Walton Street–any place on this charming, short street for a good, low-key (but not boring) time, e.g., The Enterprise is nice and fun, and a hip, pulsating bar is just down the street.

Mayfair

  • Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill (11-15 Swallow St.)–Opened in 1916, Bentley’s serves shellfish, classics (fish pie, for ex.), as well as more exotic fare. Sit at the ground-floor oyster bar.

Victoria

  • Thomas Cubitt (44 Elizabeth St.)–nice, informal restaurant on a pretty street

Soho

  • Quo Vadis (26-29 Dean St.)–Departures (2015) highly recommended Quo Vadis, so of course we bee-lined for it and it did not disappoint: SUPERB food, service & ambience!
Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk

Quo Vadis (Credit Photo: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk)

  • Rules (35 Maiden Lane)–Rules is attractive & the oldest restaurant in London. Several scenes from “Downton Abbey” were filmed here, when Lady Mary and Lady Edith met friends in London. Check out the 2nd & 3rd floors.
  • Brasserie Zédel (20 Sherwood St.)–beautiful and very deco w/good food

Brasserie Zedel_interior_4

The following restaurants get a lot of good press, though I haven’t yet eaten there:

Soho

  • Ham Yard Hotel (1 Ham Yard)–Departures (2015), among others, recommended this happy, fun, stylish décor; buzzing with people when we were there at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon
  • Bocca di Lupo (12 Archer St.)–Departures (2015) recommended it so we stopped by & checked it out between meals. It is small, attractive, Italian, w/welcoming staff.
  • Barrafina (54 Frith St.)–tapas, several locations, don’t accept reservations, lines

Marlebone

The 3 “hippest, of-the-moment spots,” according to The [English] Times food critic (Departures 2015):

  • Dinerama (19 Great Eastern Street, on the edge of the financial quarter & Shoreditch)–“the smokingest ticket in town”
  • Kitty Fisher’s (10 Shepherd Market, Mayfair)–“the atmosphere is classic old-London bohemian” & the food is “at the cutting edge of current style”
  • Colony Grill Room (8 Balderton St., Grosvenor)–very snazzy 1920’s deco décor in a nice hotel (The Beaumont)

Beaumont_Colony_Grill_Room_Dinner_wide_view_Nick-Ingram_MR

PUBS

Chelsea

  • Fox & Hounds (on Passmore St., @ Graham Terrace, parallel to Lower Sloane near Sloane Square)–Located on a quiet street near Sloane Square, the Fox & Hounds is a small, very pleasant, un-touristy pub, with beautiful summer/spring/fall flowers, as you can see below

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Belgravia

  • Star Tavern (Belgrave Mews West)–charming mews location, nice pub
  • Horse and Groom (7 Groom Place)–close to Buckingham Palace, in a mews, closed on weekends
  • Wilton Arms (71 Kinnerton St.)–really attractive mews pub with tons of hanging baskets of flowers out front

Wapping

Prospect of Whitby (2)

Prospect of Whitby

  • The Prospect of Whitby (57 Wapping Wall, between the Tower of London & Canary Wharf)–London’s oldest riverside (great views of the Thames) pub dating back to 1520, though out-of-the-way. Originally frequented by those involved in life on the river and sea, the pub was a notorious haunt for smugglers, thieves and pirates. Other notable customers included Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and artists Whistler and Turner. Especially memorable: on the water side of the pub is the gallows, where unfortunates were hung and gradually drowned as the Thames rose!

COCKTAILS at Nice Hotels

  • Claridge’s–Claridge’s has two bars. Go to the smaller one with its own, separate entrance from the street. The bartender opens a bottle of champagne every six minutes. Elegant & full of life!
Claridge's Bar01

Claridge’s bar: Shake that thing!

SHOP IT!

St. James

  • Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly)–SUCH a nice store! You will simply have to visit. Several floors, over 300 years old and stylish, F&M sells food, home goods & some fashion. WAY better store than Harrod’s!
F&M blue white

This recent window at Fortnum & Mason will give you an idea of its style.

 

F&M flower teapot

another Fortnum & Mason window

 

Fortnum & Mason Ground Floor

This photo of Fortnum & Mason’s ground floor does not do the store justice. Go up to its other floors for the best eye candy…clothes, gifts, a sweet tea salon. Go down for a small, refined, ladies-who-lunch restaurant.

  • Jermyn Street–See the beautiful men’s shirts, suits, and socks shops, plus George F.  Trumpers for elegant, old-fashioned shaving products; shop the arcades off Jermyn, as well as Lock & Co. Hatters  around the corner; above Lock, see Rachel Trevor-Morgan’s  millinery (she has designed over 65 hats for Queen Elizabeth over the past decade) at 18 Crown Passage, one of the oldest pedestrian streets in central London

Knightsbridge

  • Walton Street–short, quiet street w/some lovely, little boutiques, including Departures (2015) fav, Alex Engle (91 Walton), which is “laid out like the home of an impossibly chic friend.” Sounds great!
  • Beauchamp Place–Check out the pretty dress shops, as well as the Map House, which sells charming prints.

Chelsea

  • John Sandoe (10 Blacklands Terrace, just off the Kings Rd.)–perfectly wonderful small store, with knowledgeable staff…just what a bookstore should be!

Sandoe green bicycle

  • Sauntering down the King’s Road: lots of good boutiques
  • Sloane Square–tempting stores on and off the square, including on Ellis Street, West Halkin and Sloane Streets, as well as Lower Sloane
  • Oliver Brown (75 Lower Sloane St.)–very British: OB rents and sells top hats and waistcoats (in gorgeous colors and patterns) & also sells some ladies’ clothes, including hunting skirts (long, of course), as well as other traditional English attire, of the finest quality
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Oliver Brown–Lady Mary and Matthew would have bought their hunting clothes here.

  • Pimlico Road (between Lower Sloane & Ebury St., which runs into Elizabeth St.)–sophisticated, small decorating shops with living-large style. For example, Linley (as in, nephew of QE) is a beautiful store with especially intriguing furniture (the look=sleek, masculine, updated-deco) and everything stylish to accompany it, including stunningly-crafted wooden boxes for cigars, jewelry, and must-have “vice boxes” (all yours for the low, low price of 7,000+ pounds!)

LINLEY Belgravia Flagship Store

Between Victoria & Belgravia

  • Elizabeth Street (between Ebury Mews & Chester Row)–lovely, elegant boutiques, including Philip Treacy, the “king of royal wedding hats,” per the Irish Independent (2011); click through to read his fascinating bio
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stunning Philip Treacy creation

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and yet another PT stunner

Mayfair

  • Maggs Bros. Ltd. (46 Curzon St.)–has one of the largest collections of antiquarian books in the world. Departures magazine dedicated a whole article to Maggs in its 2015 issue focused on the joys of London.
  • G. Heywood Hill (10 Curzon St.)–Wonderful bookshop with an interesting past: “Nancy, eldest of the famous Mitford sisters, worked here during the second half of World War Two. Her gregarious character and witty repartee helped establish Heywood Hill’s shop as a centre of English social and literary life during the 1940s,” (from GHH website). QE awarded GHH the Royal Warrant in 2011.
  • S. J. Phillips (139 New Bond St.)–stunning, stunning jewelry

Soho

  • Liberty (Regent St.)–In addition to its famed small flower-patterned scarves, this beautiful store sells cutting edge fashion, as well as housewares, notions and even books.

Notting Hill

  • Portobello Flea Market–really crowded but lots of interesting things; go to nearby Geale’s (2 Farmer St.), circa 1939, afterwards for a nice lunch/dinn post-shopping
  • Independent bookshops (per Departures 2015)–
    • Notting Hill Bookshop (13 Blenheim Crescent)–click through and you will probably recognize this as the bookshop owned by Hugh Grant in  “Notting Hill”

For HOTELS & SIGHTS to See, go to my London (part 1/2) post.

-posted May 2016

 

 

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London (part 1/2): Hotels & Sights

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Pip Pip, Cheerio, Let’s Go! Here’s the scoop, based on many articles in my travel file and over 30 trips to London:

STAY

Chelsea

Sloane Square Hotel 2013

Sloane Square Hotel

  • Sloane Square HotelIf modern décor in a great location is your thing, the SSH is attractive and sits right on Sloane Square, with its wonderful shops off the Square on Kings Road and on Pimlico Road, plus plays at the Royal Court Theatre right on Sloane Square, plus the nearby & lovely Chelsea Physic Garden, good restaurants, and a tube stop on the Square). Request a room overlooking always-buzzing and stylish Sloane Square.
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The Draycott

  • The Draycott Hotel–Two blocks from Sloane Square, the Draycott is refined, homey elegance, with traditional décor. This article from the HuffPost describes it best.The rooms are named after famous stage actors and your name will be inserted into the discreet name plate on your guest room door. Nothing flashy here, plus it is reasonably priced (though not cheap, because nothing good in London is). Request a  room with a balcony looking onto beautiful quiet Cadogan Square.

NOTE: If you are staying at the Draycott, drop by the nice bar at 11 Cadogan Gardens, a Small Luxury Hotel half a block away. Here’s what it looks like:

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11 Cadogan Gardens bar

  • The Sloane Clubis my personal fav, so if you can swing a letter of intro to this private club, go for it! In addition to individual rooms, they also have apartments. Great location just off of Sloane Square on Lower Sloane.

Knightsbridge

  • The Knightsbridge (10 Beaufort Gardens)–stylish, cheery, townhouse hotel decorated by its owner, the fabulously creative and successful Kit Kemp!
Exterior

The Knightsbridge Hotel

St. James

  • The Stafford (16-18 St. James Pl.)–VERY nice, old-school townhouse hotel with cozy, elegant bar. This photo shows the mews rooms (left). Ours was called The Daisy room because, in a former life, it was a stable for a horse named Daisy.
Blue Ball Courtyard

The Stafford

Following hotels get lots of positive press:

Mayfair

  • Claridge’s (Brook St.)–formal, traditional, fabled past, art deco, très élégant! Two beautiful bars. “…the suite with the prettiest of all balconies is 406,” per Departures (2015).

Claridge's lobby

  • The Connaught (Carlos Pl.)–very nice, with a buzzing, snazzy bar! This is where the Middletons stayed for Kate’s wedding. “The Apartment suite is London’s best example of making a hotel feel like a private home,” (Departures 2015)
  • Beaumont Hotel (Brown Hart Gardens)–Masculine art deco, upscale, nice neighborhood very near Grosvenor Square.

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Soho

  • Ham Yard Hotel (1 Ham Yard)–“the happiest hotel in London,” per Departures magazine (2015) PLUS beautifully decorated by owner Kit Kemp. The lobby was a-buzz with stylish people drinking tea and tasting champagne at 3:00 pm on the weekday afternoon when we popped in. It is a fun, happy place!
HYH Bar Orangery with plants MR

Ham Yard Hotel

SEE THE SIGHTS

London has too many fascinating sites to list here. Following are my fav’s, organized by neighborhood, from least obvious to most:

Embankment

  • Somerset House–history, fashion, art, good food, sublime terrace for drinks overlooking the Thames…it’s all here; SH is a former royal palace on the Thames, with four huge buildings and a central courtyard, in which Fashion Week’s fashion shows take place; the four buildings house art and fashion exhibits. PLUS Departures (Oct. 2015) recently named Spring restaurant at SH as one of 25 “tables of note.”

The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court at Somerset House © Jeff Knowles 2

Chelsea

  • Chelsea Physic Garden–LOVE this walled garden founded in 1673 to provide plants for medicinal purposes to the neighboring Royal Hospital; today, a section of its garden is organized by plants with healing ingredients for specific ailments. The CPG has a simple café, the Tangerine Dream Café, with very good food; suggest you make a reservation if you want to dine in the garden on a weekend, as fashionable Londoners fill up the tables for pastoral lunches…nice gift shop, too!
CPG August 20th-105

Chelsea Physic Garden

  • Chelsea Flower Show (every May): HEAVEN ON EARTH because so fabulously over the top, the best-of-the-best horticulture specimens and garden designs, beauty and brains meet creativity. The photos below say it best!
RHS Chelsea Flowe Show

Chelsea pensioners look at ‘Peter Beales Roses’  at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London

RHS Chelsea Flowe Show

Two men look at a flower display at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London

Westminster

  • The Houses of Parliament–in session: House of Lords and House of Commons (the H of C is better because they have more meaningful debates). Be sure to get tickets in advance through the U.S. Embassy because you do not want to wait in those long lines. The very best ticket is for the “Prime Minister’s Question Time,” though hard to get. No line or ticket needed for the House of Lords, whose ceremonial chamber is worth a short visit.
  • Westminster Abbey–lots of famous people buried here, gorgeous in and of itself, PLUS Kate and Wills were married here, so you gotta go!
  • Buckingham Palace–The public is allowed inside once a year, in summer when the royal family is in Scotland. Otherwise, you are limited to watching the changing of the guard (not a life-altering experience), visiting the Queen’s Galleries (traditional, top quality, art), and the coach collection in the Royal Mews.
  • St. James Park–In front of Buckingham Palace, this is one of London’s several beautiful public parks.
  • The Tate Britain–fantastic, traditional collection in classic building
  • Churchill’s Underground War Cabinet Rooms–I found these fascinating. My husband, who reads a lot of history, found them superficial. Go anyway! They’re great.
The Map Room at IWMCMCWR. 7th October 2009. Shot for Film Location.

The Map Room at Churchill’s Underground War Rooms

©IWM

Directly Across the Thames from Westminster

  • The Eye–This is a ferris wheel whose views are like looking at a giant map of London. It takes about an hour to go around and that’s because it does so verrrrrrrrrrry slowly. Each “car” is clean and big, so not claustrophobic. I did not wait in line either time I went, so you probably won’t have to, either.

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Southwark

  • The Tate Modern–art museum in a very modern building with very contemporary exhibits/collection

Kensington

  • The Victoria & Albert Museum (“V and A”)–has exhibits on any and everything related to design, be it design of wrought iron hinges, sterling silver or fashions; huge and something for everyone here; they even have an ice skating rink in the winter

St. James

Holborn

  • British Museum–historic artifacts on a major scale, e.g. THE Elgin Marbles are here, as is THE Rosetta Stone=fascinating and transporting; if you are short on time, the museum has a Top 10 pamphlet that directs you to the highlights.

Street walking: Yes, I am listing walking as a sight in and of itself because it’s a great way to soak up the many, charming details of London streets and architecture and style and history.

TIP: If you like to see the sights on foot, pick up a London A-Z, the small, detailed map book with every street in London, available at most bookstores and newspaper kiosks.

DAY TRIPS

  • Hampton Court: Henry VIII’s castle with beautiful garden; recommend you go one-way by boat (depending on the tide) & the other way via rail.
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew–impressive and historic
  • Greenwich’s Royal Observatory–as in, Greenwich Mean Time! Go if you’re interested in clocks, longitude & the British Naval Museum. Take a boat (make sure you’re going with the tide; recommend you pick up at Westminster or the Eye, for best city views) one way and the tube the other way,

WARDROBE

London is dressier than most US cities. You will see more women in heels and skirts here than in US cities. Also, they are not big on bright colors…except for men’s shirts, socks and waistcoats. Lots of black and grey assembled with panache.images

For RESTAURANT & SHOPPING recommendations, go to my “London: part 2/2 post.”

-posted May 2016