Pip Pip, Cheerio, Let’s Go! Here’s the scoop, based on many articles in my travel file and over 30 trips to London:
- Sloane Square Hotel—If 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.
- 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:
- The Sloane Club—is 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.
- The Knightsbridge (10 Beaufort Gardens)–stylish, cheery, townhouse hotel decorated by its owner, the fabulously creative and successful Kit Kemp!
- 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.
Following hotels get lots of positive press:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!
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:
- 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.”
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.
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.
- The Tate Modern–art museum in a very modern building with very contemporary exhibits/collection
- 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
- National Portrait Gallery–well-executed and good for history buffs, right around the corner from the National Gallery of Art on busy Trafalgar Square
- National Gallery of Art–lovely, traditional, world-class collection
- 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.
- 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,
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.
For RESTAURANT & SHOPPING recommendations, go to my “London: part 2/2 post.”
-posted May 2016