July 17, 2019   9:36am
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London: Finally better pricing! Planning, theatre, museums, restaurants, hotels…

Fresh on the heels of Susan (our travel advisor) telling us to “Go to London in January,” she took her own advice, went there, returned and now reports to us the city’s discoveries and pleasures. An added enticement: The pound is currently around 1.45 to the dollar!

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LONDON CALLING

London remains one of the world’s most exciting cities to visit
Unless you are multilingual, most other European cities have their limitations for U.S. travelers – this gives them an exotic air for sure, but also changes the experience. In London, since we speak (more or less) the same language, we can go to the theater (something not to be missed), read the captions in museum exhibitions and find our ways around without any problems. A visit to London is, therefore, different than, say, a visit to Paris or Rome, in how we interact . . . Rather than a comprehensive guide, what follows are some of the special things that you can do while there. Actually, there are so many possibilities that this is just the tip of the iceberg:

PLANNING YOUR TRIP

www.timeout.com/london is one of the best ways to find out what’s going on in terms of theater, exhibits, places to eat, and even their take on hotels, plus much more. Reviews are, as they say “spot-on” — the site is extremely current and hip.

GETTING AROUND

The Tube (www.tfl.gov.uk/tube) remains the fastest and least expensive way to get around. A day pass is 5.60 pounds (multiple day passes are also available), transfers are easy between lines, and, even post-theater, the tube has proven to be a reliable way back to the hotel. The site noted above can help you plan routes and also give you information on other public transport options such as the infamous London buses. London taxis are always civil experiences, but they are not inexpensive, especially during peak traffic times. With that in mind, tube locations are listed under the destinations below.

THEATRE

Although you can take your chances at the box office or the half-price tickets’ booth (www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/tkts), if you want to make sure you have seats for West End productions check out theater listings at www.londontheatre.co.uk. It is the site of Lashmars, a ticket broker with whom you can purchase tickets via e-mail or by phone (necessary if you want specific seats, such as aisles, etc.). Their commission is not too onerous, and they are very helpful. For the Royal National Theater (3 different stages) and the Old Vic you can book tickets directly online, picking out specific seats, at www.nationaltheatre.org.uk (no commission charge) and www.oldvictheatre.com (minor commission charge). TIP: the National Theatre complex includes numerous coffee and wine bars plus the Mezzanine restaurant for pre or post-theater dining – book reservations in advance at the National Theatre web site.

Tube Stations: For West End Theatres: Leicester Square or Piccadilly depending on theatre, for the National Theatre and Old Vic, it is Waterloo.

MUSEUMS/GALLERIES(+ LUNCH):

Tate Modern (www.tate.org.uk/modern), London’s museum of contemporary art is located in the former Bankside Power Station on the South Bank and received much fanfare upon opening due to the renovation by the architects Herzog & DeMueron. All galleries are free (except for special exhibitions) and lunch at the 7th Floor Café overlooking the Thames should not be missed (reserve via the museum’s site or via www.opentable.com).

Tube Station (important!): Use the Blackfriar’s stop and follow signs to the Millennium Bridge (foot traffic only) designed as part of the Tate Modern development to cross the Thames – do not use the Blackfriar’s bridge!

British Museum (www.britishmuseum.org) lets you peruse everything from the Rosetta Stone (in the beautifully renovated Egyptian wing), to the Elgin Marbles and much, much, more, all with free entry (again, special exhibits have charges). Part of the experience is architect Sir Norman Foster’s glass entry court, including lunch at their Court Restaurant (book ahead via the museum’s site).

Tube Station: Holborn

Sir John Soane’s Museum (www.soane.org) : A short walk from the British Museum (pair as part of same outing) is the incredibly quirky Soane Museum of architecture in the former home and studio of neo-classical architect Sir John Soane. There are drawings, antiquities and architectural models, which he collected in his lifetime, all displayed in a chock-a-block way. Almost impossible to describe, best to be experienced. Often there are special exhibits of architectural drawings. Free entry, but a donation is appreciated.

Tube Station: Holborn, as above. Follow Gate Street to Lincoln Fields.

Victoria and Albert Museum (www.vam.ac.uk): The V&A has the world’s largest international collection of decorative arts and design, including ceramics, glass, textiles, costumes, jewelry, furniture, drawings, photographs and much more in 145 galleries. Once again, entry is free, except for special exhibits (which are usually not to be missed). The museum’s Café is located in the original Morris, Gamble and Poynter Rooms, which formed the first museum restaurant in the world, according to the museum’s web site. The renovated setting is lovely and, although service is food-court style, catering is of a very high level. As they say, recommended!

Tube Station: South Kensington

Saatchi Gallery (www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk) : A new find and not to be missed! Relocated to Chelsea, within the Duke of York’s complex (just by Sloane Square), this gallery presents innovative contemporary art within a beautifully renovated building. Check out the web site for current and upcoming exhibitions. Entry, once again, is free. Although the gallery has plans for an adjacent café, the surrounding Duke of York’s complex, and the adjacent Sloane Square area provide many café as well as shopping opportunities.

Tube Station: Sloane Square is right there. The Knightsbridge Tube Station by Harrods’s is about a 15-20 minute walk through a lovely residential area. If you are at the V&A, it is about a 15-20 minute walk between the two, so pairing them makes for a good outing as well.

Harrods’s Food Court (www.harrods.com): Technically not a museum, but very unique, is the display of foods in Harrods’s Food Court – don’t miss the architectural embellishments in the halls and the straw hats on the staff! Dining is possible in a variety of venues — oysters anyone? TIP: department stores are usually not open on Sundays in the U.K. except during special sale periods.

Tube Station: Knightsbridge

RESTAURANTS

www.timeout.com/london has good restaurant reviews and lets you search for restaurants by area and cuisine. Additionally, the booking service, www.toptable.com provides their own reviews which include diner ratings, and is very useful for finding deals such as 50%-off offers if you book via their site. Most of the restaurants listed below can be booked via www.toptable.com and their site shows location maps for the restaurants (as does www.timeout.com).

River Café (www.rivercafe.co.uk): Ruth Rogers (wife of architect Richard Rogers) and partner Rose Gray’s fabulous restaurant, serving contemporary Italian (yes, Italian) food on the banks of the Thames in Hammersmith (slightly outside of the city center). In summer months, dining outside is possible and dinner would most likely be lovely. In winter months, lunch is a great option – especially a late lunch before an early theater date back in the city. Slight warning: the quality of their ingredients and care in their cooking is represented by less than expensive prices. Booking ahead is essential for lunch or dinner.

Tube Station: Hammersmith. Important Tip: use the underground passageway (subway) from the tube station to get to the other side of the road and then follow the directions on the restaurant’s web-site – it is about a 15-20 minute walk to the restaurant.

Amaya (www.realindianfood.com) : Very stylish interior serving upscale Indian grill food – the combination of the environment and the food plating makes the even quite theatrical. Not inexpensive, but the 37.50 pound tasting menu will be more than you probably can eat and give you a good feeling for the kitchen’s repertoire. Booking ahead is essential. TIP: make sure to tell your server you want to pace out the meal and have courses served one after the other – although the service is gracious, the kitchen sometimes gets ahead of itself. Book ahead (although the bar area with a long communal table works quite well for walk-ins).

Tube Station: Knightsbridge

Boxwood Café (www.gordonramsay.com): This is Gordon Ramsay’s slightly more casual (i.e.: less costly) restaurant serving contemporary British cuisine in a setting designed by Barbara Barry. A stylish experience with good food to boot. Tip: If an early dinner (between 6-7 PM seating) suits you, perhaps because of an early flight the next day, there is a set menu of 21.50 pounds for 2 courses, and 25 pounds for 3 courses. There are 3 choices for the starters and main courses and a set dessert (but they will substitute this for ice cream if you ask nicely). Other Gordon Ramsay restaurants to try include Maze and Foxtrot Oscar – visit his web site to explore these. Book ahead for any of his restaurants.

Tube Station: Hyde Park Corner or Knightsbridge

Mango Tree (www.mangotree.org.uk): A hip, minimal interior in which authentic Thai food is served, with a British chef in charge and charming Thai staff to take care of you. Almost always fills to near capacity which adds to the energy of the place — this is not the place for a quiet romantic dinner, but it is always fun. Once again, don’t be disappointed — book ahead! TIP: this restaurant usually has a 50%-off offer on www.toptable.com – as they say, restrictions apply, but they’re not too hard to meet. And, per the restaurant’s website, they have locations in Bangkok and Dubai as well should you be traveling there.

Tube Station: Hyde Park Corner or Victoria

HOTELS

www.firmdale.com, as noted in previous posts, has a range of chic properties in good locations around London, including Soho, Covent Garden, Knightsbridge and South Kensington. All things being equal, this hotel group represents a favorite pick. Check out their web sites for rates and offers.

www.steinhotels.com also has several properties in London, often with good deals (current ones include “Recession Relief” and “Breakfast On Us”) and most are well located. Caveat emptor: the lower priced properties are usually less well located. Check the location map before you book.

www.capitalhotel.co.uk is a good property, well located and with special offers that include a fixed rate in US dollars (which may or may not be a good deal depending on how the exchange rate plays out).

If you have hotel points that you can use, London may be the place to do so. Marriott (www.marriott.com) has a hotel Grosvenor Square, as well as the Grosvenor House (different property) and the Park Lane — all well situated near Hyde Park. Hyatt (www.hyatt.com) has the Hyatt Regency Churchill and the new, ultra-hip Andaz.

If you’re still searching, try www.designhotels.com, and www.tablethotels.com.

You may have your own tips on London. Let us know at snoety.com!

Susan

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2 Comments
RayD says: February 12th, 2009 at 4:50 am

This is a good guide but the point about shops not opening on Sundays in the UK is no longer true, especially in London. Nearly all large stores (certainly all department stores) in cities/large towns open on Sundays, many small family owned businesses and stores in small towns don’t. Large stores are legally limited to opening for 6 hours or less though.

Susan Burdick says: February 13th, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Ray:

I am glad that you found the information about London helpful, and I thank you for your comment regarding department store openings on Sundays — this is a relatively new development and I stand corrected. I did note, though, on my recent London visit that it is hit or miss for specialty stores in terms of whether they are open on Sundays. Thanks again.

Susan

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