The kids are out of college and you’ve hit the peak of your career. Or, perhaps you’re retiring. Either way, now, dear baby boomer, is the time to go on that luxury trip to London you’ve been dreaming about.
No guided tour for you, you’re a maverick and like to travel on your own. Also, the British pound has dropped to approximately $1.29 in US dollars. With your dollar’s increased buying power, you can opt for a more lavish trip than you might have previously thought. To help you start planning, we’ve got some ideas for you.
London’s Heathrow is one of the busiest and most confusing airports in the world. Navigation is complicated by terminals that are spaced far apart, and of which you can only access by train. Some travel websites advise you to take the train from the airport into London, but after a long flight from the U.S. with a couple of bags to haul, in addition to the high cost of this particular rail ticket plus cab fare from your train stop in London to your hotel, this is the least palatable option.
TIP: Be very clear on where your driver is meeting you at the crowded arrivals area, and have a phone that works in London with contact number ready. Your hotel concierge can also arrange a more dapper car service.
Where to Stay
London can be daunting. Face it, you’ll never see it all so it’s best to taste London in delectable bites. Popular “must-see” London sights for the first-time visitor are located in either the Westminster or the South Kensington boroughs, so we’ve combined the sights into two groups, each with a luxury hotel recommendation that we have reviewed for service, quality and location.
It’s up to you to decide if you’d prefer a larger hotel with lots of food and beverage options, or one which resembles the grand London home it once was. You could even try both as you make your way around the city, if you choose to do so.
The elegant Milestone Hotel Residences at 1 Kensington Court sits in the heart of the stylish city, across from Kensington Palace. Two stately mansions now combined, the five-star Milestone offers deluxe rooms, luxury suites and two- or three-bedroom residences, each individually decorated with original artwork and antiques and offering 24-hour butler service.
Cheneston’s, the Milestone’s signature restaurant headed by Executive Chef Dan Putz which excels in British fine dining using the finest local ingredients, is a recipient of the coveted 2 AA Rosettes. Awaken to a lovely spread for breakfast, sip a traditional afternoon tea and spend a cozy evening in the Stables Bar enjoying the ever-entertaining bartender Angelo and his creative concoctions, or the famous smoky “Milestone Old Fashioned.”
Consistently capturing top London hotel awards, what impresses here at this Red Carnation Hotel is the level of personalized service. From your first greeting by the doorman to a friendly concierge willing to do whatever you need to an engaging and professional staff and more, you’ll be delighted to return to this oasis of calm and beauty after a day of sightseeing.
TIP: Ask for the Meghan Suite, inspired by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex. It’s definitely decorated to suit her style with a walk-in closet, enormous mirrored marble bathroom, antiques, rich gold décor, fresh flowers and a leopard print carpet.
A Stay in Westminster
The Rubens at The Palace is another property of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection with many top awards for service and a superb address to match. This five-star hotel at 39 Buckingham Palace Road is directly opposite Buckingham Palace’s Royal Mews, home of the royal coaches, horses and cars. When the Queen is in residence, Afternoon Tea by the panoramic windows of The Palace Lounge always necessitates a “Royal Watch,” hoping to glimpse her carriage or car.
This hotel with 161 rooms and suites is always bustling with check-ins and departures, but there are many friendly staff members available to help and the check-in time is a very generous 2 p.m. One of the features of this property is the many food and drink choices for guests.
#####IMG000000000#####PHOTO: Elegant English Grill at The Rubens at The Palace. (Photo via Kurt Winner / KWWMedia)
The hotel has a spectacular restaurant, The English Grill, awarded 2 AA Rosettes. Executive Chef Ben Kelliher cooks with only the best products, using the same suppliers as the Queen’s own kitchen. The dinner service befits a queen with candlelight and refined dining served by waiters in tails. Your options also include the Curry Room, three bars, a sushi experience with Chef Suren, the Gin Trolley experience, Afternoon Tea and 24-hour room service.
TIP: Ask for a suite or apartment on a high floor for views overlooking The Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace.
Most first-time visitors want to see the historical sights, do some shopping and visit a museum. Plan your days by grouping sights that are close to each other or easy to get to via London’s subway system called the Tube. Yes, this is a luxury trip, but to experience London like a local, try public transportation.
For example, a tour of Westminster Abbey, where kings and queens have been crowned and laid to rest since 1066, can be followed with a walk across Westminster Bridge to look back at Big Ben, then on to either the Houses of Parliament, Tate Britain, Trafalgar Square, Churchill War Rooms or the National Portrait Gallery.
The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace are open for ten weeks each summer and selected dates in spring and winter when the Queen is not in residence. However, the Royal Mews, where you can see the royal coaches, horses and livery, are open from February to November, and the Queens Gallery is open year-round.
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Touring Buckingham Palace is easily combined with a visit to Number One London, the First Duke of Wellington’s home called Apsley House. From here you are in Hyde Park, so visit the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Then walk to Harvey Nichols, the favorite department store of royalty, or walk a few more blocks to that “famous for being famous” store, Harrods.
The Tube stop at the South Kensington station beneath Victoria Albert Museum has a long tunnel right into the museum. The V A, home to the world’s largest permanent collection of decorative arts, hosts fascinating temporary exhibits. Although it is advisable to do only one museum a day, if you are still up for more viewing, the Natural History Museum is nearby with its collection of dinosaurs, animatronic T. rex, a stuffed elephant, extinct specimens, a moon rock, and a full-color range of 296 diamonds.
TIP: After making hotel reservations, contact your concierge for itineraries tailored to your interests. A member of Les Clefs d’Or, Head Concierge Jose Pauco at The Milestone Hotel Residences will provide a list of current events, festivals and street markets, and curate a list just for your interests. If you like jazz, antiques and cars, he can compile a group of antique and vinyl record shops, jazz venues and special interest museums like the British Car Museum.
From traditional pub fare to almost every cuisine in the world, you’ll find it in London. Ask your concierge for suggestions and reservations. The ideas below are tips that you may not have considered.
—Fish and Chips – Want to try Battered Haddock Fish and Chips? Couple your shopping at Harrods with lunch in the lively Dining Hall and sit at the Fish Bar for British seafood ethically sourced, and offered at a popular price. Beautifully presented, it’s enough for two to accompanied with a salad and a glass of wine.
—Food Market and Gin Tasting – Don’t miss wandering historic Borough Market with the Evan Evans Tour “A Taste of London: Borough Market Beefeater Gin Distillery.” A small-group walking tour, you’ll explore the stalls and food offerings with a guide who explains the historical importance of this market and the local sights nearby. You’ll have ample time to grab some lunch from a vendor before heading out for the Beefeater Distillery Museum. At the end of the gin tour you’ll be treated to a delicious gin cocktail which may enliven your return walk to the Tube station.
—Objet d’art and Ramen – If you’re hungry after the V A, their self-service restaurant is usually mobbed, while the outdoor Garden Cafe is slightly less so. If you don’t want to queue up there, exit the museum and head out of Exhibition Road passing the tourist trap eateries. A short walk down Old Brompton Road to number 68 is Dozo, a reasonable, sit-on-tatami mat Japanese restaurant. Shelter here from the chill with a bowl of steaming Tonkatsu Ramen from the large menu. But save room—on your walk back to South Kensington Tube Station you’ll pass Hummingbird Bakery for a cuppa and cake.
—The Parthenon and the Pub – The British Museum is a complete tour through Western Civilization. You could spend a day and not see it all. After you’ve marveled at the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies and the treasures of the Parthenon, you might fancy a bite to eat. A brisk five-minute walk from the museum is the Victorian pub Princess Louise Pub at 208 High Holborn Street, near the Holborn Tube stop.
—Jazz and Sushi – Looking for a jazz venue in London? Famous Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club in Soho sells out unless you purchase tickets well in advance. As an alternative, reserve a magical evening with a personalized sushi experience dinner for two with Suren the sushi chef in the Leopard Bar and enjoy a singer and jazz trio while you dine.
After touring Buckingham Place, you might be royally inspired to walk over to 181 Piccadilly for Afternoon Tea at Fortnum and Mason, exclusive purveyors of tea to the royal family. Famous for their tea blends, lemon curd and Battenberg Cake, they are dedicated to formal tea service. At the National Gallery, the afternoon tea experience in the museum’s National Gallery Dining Rooms include views overlooking Trafalgar Square.
At the V A in the stunning Morris Room, Victorian Afternoon Tea is on Fridays. One traditional favorite, The Orangery at Kensington Palace, is unfortunately closed for restoration. Close by in Notting Hill, “High-Tea” is served at the notable vegan restaurant, Farmacy. The vegan plant-based tea is free of dairy, sugars and additives, and artfully presented on a three-tiered stand entwined with foliage. It’s the first tea in London to serve a CBD welcome cocktail and a pot of hemp leaf tea with the savories and sweets.
Getting Around With the Oyster Card
For heaven’s sake, don’t rent a car in London—get a Visitor Oyster Card that you can load with fare money for your rides by bus, ferry (river bus), tram, certain rail services and the Tube. The card saves you money over buying single tickets for each ride. Keep in mind that on buses, you can’t use cash for the fare.
Oyster Cards can be purchased in advance and mailed to you in the U.S., but it’s simpler to get one from newsstands, Tube stations and shops that sell them all over London. Your concierge can also get one for you. It doesn’t expire. You may use it a lot, but don’t worry, there is a daily price cap meaning you don’t pay a farthing more per day. Top up the card with money as you wish.
Before leaving London, any money left on the Oyster Card and your card deposit can be refunded to you by visiting a tube station kiosk machine or ticket office. Read the directions carefully. In the Tube, you must tap the card at the stiles when you enter and again when you exit. On buses and trams, tap in but don’t tap out or your card will be charged a penalty fee. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.
Slow Down and Live it Up
Although you shouldn’t miss a night out at the theatre or a concert at Albert Hall, consider staying in after a day of traipsing about and enjoy the offerings at your hotel. After all, it’s your home while in London and you’ve carefully selected it for ambiance, location and vibe.
Try a new cocktail or learn about whiskey or gins from your bartender, engage your sommelier and taste an old-world wine region, marvel at the art of tableside service and linger over a meal. Appreciate the moments of your life with a toast to your partner and make some memories to cherish. Because isn’t that the reason you decided to visit London in the first place?