London is one of my favorite cities to visit. My husband, daughter and I decided to head across the pond for a week in July. Having been many times, we didn’t plan to do all of the traditional sightseeing spots. We planned some really fun, unique experiences combined with a few typical sights that my daughter would really enjoy. London offers so much that it’s hard to decide what to see! A visitor has their pick of museums, historical sites, culture, restaurants, shopping, and parks.
Four Seasons Park Lane
Located by Hyde Park Corner in Mayfair, the Four Seasons Park Lane offers the ultimate in luxury and service. The central location is fantastic making it easy to get anywhere in London easily. We absolutely loved staying here! In the 19th century, Park Lane was a very fashionable street to live on dotted with mansions overlooking the park. Today it is just as fashionable. Celebrated hotel designer, Pierre Yves Rochen, decorated the 193 rooms, lobby and restaurant with a palette of reds, scarlets and deep velvets.
Our comfortable room had a wonderful view overlooking Hyde Park. The hotel restaurant, Amaranto, serves breakfast as well as a modern Italian fare at lunch and dinner. Located off the restaurant is very cool garden where we enjoyed an evening cocktail. The bar and lounge also serves food and a delicious afternoon tea. When in London, tea is a must! Check out the cherry pink grand piano in the lobby which is 1 of only 3 of its kind. But for the best view, visit the gym and spa located on the tenth floor. The views of the city are incredible. Working out and staring at Big Ben, Parliament and the London Eye was pretty amazing!
Two special things were occurring at the hotel while we were there. All of London gets into the Wimbledon buzz in July. We were greeted in our lobby with tennis décor among the gorgeous center pieces. Even our afternoon tea paid homage to Wimbledon with special pastries. I’m a huge tennis fan so I loved all of this! The Four Seasons was also sponsoring an art event. Incredible pieces of arts in various mediums, including oil and photography, were on exhibit throughout the lobby and lounge. I was in heaven enjoying my afternoon tea surrounded by these stunning works,
I have stayed at many Four Seasons. The staff is always helpful and friendly. But the service at the Four Seasons Park Lane was truly exceptional. The concierge was wonderful and above and beyond helpful providing us with restaurants tips, shopping ideas, and an incredible list of the most delicious pastry places. But it was the pastry class that the hotel staff organized for my daughter that was truly special.
Baking with Chef David
My daughter was so fortunate to spend three hours in the hotel kitchen with Chef David Oliver. He is the hotel executive pastry chef. I cannot say enough kind words about Chef David, the staff who organized it, and the entire baking experience. They had so much fun that their two hours turned into three. Walking into the kitchen of a luxury hotel is an incredible sight. To see the different work areas and staff is really cool. Chef David taught her how to make raspberry filled eclairs. He gave her a printed, detailed packet with the ingredients and recipe. After fitting her with a cooking jacket, they got to work. David was so kind with her. They were laughing and having fun. But the finished product was no joke. The eclairs were by far the best I have ever tasted. The raspberry fill had the most delicious taste! He also taught her how to decorate with fondant and gold glitter. An amazing experience!
Our Historical Walk
On our first day, we took a leisurely walk to see our “traditional” favorite sites. A short 10-minute stroll through the Green Park brought us to Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s home and working headquarters of the Monarchy. This massive palace was built in 1703 by the Duke of Buckingham. In 1761 King George III bought the palace for Queen Charlotte as a family home close to St. James Palace (the headquarters of the Monarchy then). In 1826, Architect John Nash was hired by King George IV to renovate the building. He doubled the palace in size going way over the budget he was given! In 1837, Queen Victoria became the first monarchy to live full time in the palace. She was also the first Monarchy to appear on the famous front balcony in 1851.
Today there are 775 rooms in the palace with 52 bedrooms and 78 bathrooms (that poor cleaning staff). Queen Elizabeth II lives in private apartments on the upper North side of the building. Other Royals have rooms in the East and North sections. The ground floor of the South side is reserved for the household staff. Each year about 50,000 people are invited as guests to visit the castle at banquets, receptions and the Queen’s garden parties. The Queen also holds a weekly audience with the Prime Minister. During the months of July- October, it is possible for the public to tour parts of the castle. We love to just walk up to the gates and watch the changing of the guard. Look atop the roof at the flag pole. If the Royal Standard flag is flying the Queen is in residence. If the British Union Jack is flying, the Queen is not there!
Our next stop on our walk is one of my most favorite places, the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace. Built in 1820s, the Mews are located on the South side of the Palace gardens. Mews means the stable, the carriage house and the garage. Today, the Mews house about 20 horses and carriages. The grooms, chauffeurs and other staff live in the rooms above. Do not leave the Mews without seeing the Gold State Coach. Built in 1760, this coach has been used in every Monarch’s coronation since King George IV (1820). The coach is completely gilded and incredibly heavy. It takes 8 horses to pull it but due to its enormous weight. They cannot pull it faster than a walk. On the roof, there are three cherubs (each representing England, Scotland, and Ireland) and 4 tritons (representing Britain’s Imperial Power). The coach is very impressive with its gold outside and red velvet inside clearly befitting any Royal.
From the Royal Mews, we walked over to the Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster. No trip to London is complete without a visit or stroll past the iconic Big Ben built in 1859. The tower was renamed in 2012 the Elizabeth Tower, in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. The full name of the bell is actually the Great Bell of Clock at Palace of Parliament Westminster. Today, most people use Big Ben to refer to the clock, the tower, and the bell. Either way Big Ben and the Parliament buildings are iconic symbols of London and worth a walk past.
The final stop of our walk was Westminster Abbey, located directly across from Parliament. This large, Gothic Abbey Church in Westminster has an incredible history. It is one of the most famous churches in England. The church standing today was begun by Henry III in 1245. The abbey began as part of a Benedictine Monastery. Today the Abbey is not attached to a monastery but instead the Church of England. Since 1065 (when William the Conqueror ruled) the Church has been the site of every monarch’s coronation and burial. 3,300 distinguished people are buried in the Church including Monarchs, monks and other notable people. In “The Poet’s Corner” 100 poets are buried. This began in 1400 with Geoffrey Chaucer. 16 Royal weddings have occurred in the church since 1100. The most recent wedding, Prince William and Duchess Catherine, occurred there in 2011. King Edward’s Chair or throne which is used for coronations of Monarchs is located in St. George’s Chapel. There is so much to see and so much history. Visitors receive a guided audio tour when visiting the abbey and it is worth it. I love to walk around outside too because the architecture is just stunning.
The Championships, Wimbledon
For tennis fans, Wimbledon is a must visit! Every July for two weeks, tennis frenzy takes hold of England. The pomp, the tradition, and the tennis make for a wonderful afternoon. Being a tennis player and fan, I have always wanted to attend Wimbledon. I was not disappointed. The Championships are the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament. It has been held at the All England Club since 1877. It is also the only one of the “grand slam” tennis tournaments to be played on grass; each court is made of perennial ryegrass. The courts are gorgeous to look at even without a match occurring! In 2009, a retractable roof was added to Centre Court. The roof takes 10 minutes to close and weighs 3,000 tons. With the spotty British weather the roof is a great addition. If you are lucky to score tickets to a match on Centre Court, make sure to gaze at the Royal Box. Located on Centre Court since 1922, this 74 seat box seats members of the Royal Family and other VIPs. Up until 2003, players were required to bow/courtesy to members of the Royal Family in attendance. Today, this is required on if HM the Queen or HRH the Prince of Wales is there.
Wimbledon is steeped in conservative British tradition. All players must wear white when playing while the official colors of the Championships are dark green and purple. In keeping with the more formal British culture, the tennis draws are called the ladies’ or gentlemen’s draw rather than the women's and men's. Strawberries and Cream and Pimm’s drinks are two Wimbledon traditions to definitely partake in. Both are delicious. Wimbledon was a highlight for me.
Afternoon tea is a must when visiting London. I have been to several traditional teas and loved them. This visit we decide to head to the trendy, hip spot, Sketch, for afternoon tea. Located in an 18th century townhouse in Mayfair, the building originally housed the Royal Institute of British Architects. After that it became the location of the Atelier of Christian Dior in London. Sketch opened in 2002. The experience of dining at Sketch appeals to all of the senses. The rooms are their own unique small worlds: an exotic green glade room, a plush pink room and space-like pods for the restroom. The rooms are their own works of art as well as galleries of art. The bathroom pods are bizarrely awesome with a colored ceiling highlighting the all-white pods and room.
In the pink room (where afternoon tea is served), David Shirgley, a noted British artist, displays 239 works on the wall. This is his largest exhibit ever. They are racy, provocative, and artsy. They are fabulous. The tableware that tea is served on has also been designed by Shirgley; it gives a feel of Alice in Wonderland to the meal since each piece has an eating directive on it! The food is delicious- featuring warm scones with jam, caviar and cheese, tea sandwiches, and sweet deserts. If you’d like to make your tea more of a bubbly experience, delicious champagne can be included. For a hip, quirky tea experience, Sketch is the place to go!
Located in the center of London and directly across from the Four Seasons is Hyde Park. This beautiful park provides many different things to do. The park was created in 1536 as the hunting grounds of King Henry VIII. In the 17th century, it opened to the public. It is the largest of the Royal Parks and merges with Kensington Gardens on its West side. We spent almost a whole day exploring the park.
Right in the middle of the park, is the Serpentine Lake. Paddle boats and row boats are available to rent. On a hot summer day, visitors can swim at the Serpentine Lido, which offers a small beach and roped in swim area. The Serpentine was used for the 2012 Olympics triathlons. We noticed that there are a lot of swans in the Serpentine. The swans are actually the property of the Queen. Each swan bears a ceremonial Royal ring around their leg. Since the middle ages, the swans have belonged to the Monarchy and were considered a delicacy and very valuable. Today, the swans are protected by law. Thousands of them live in the Serpentine and Thames River.
We walked around the Serpentine and found our way to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. This is the coolest fountain. Rather than spurting water into the air, this fountain is more like an oval shaped stream which allows people to wade in the water. It is built into the slope of the land out of 545 pieces of Cornish granite. On one side the stone is rougher, more jagged, and different textures. The other side is much smoother and flat. The bottom is a tranquil wadding area. The various characteristics were done on purpose to reflect Princess Diana’s life, one of tumultuous events as well as happiness. The fountain pays homage to her openness and inclusiveness allowing anyone to enter it at any spot and play or walk in contemplation. It’s a great spot on a hot day. My daughter brought her bathing suit and loved it!
Another great way to experience the park is by horse. Hyde Park Stables is located on the northern edge of the park. My daughter and I spent one hour riding on the bridle paths throughout the park. It was really cool to ride through the park. Our guide kept us close and explained different spots as we walked and trotted along.
All of this outdoor activity left us hungry for a snack. There are several restaurants and snack bars located in the park. But we had a special treat in mind. So, we walked from the park to Harrods. There is no better spot in London to get a snack then in the Harrods Food Halls. This is a foodie heaven. The desserts and breads are spectacular to just look at. They taste just as good as they look. Harrods also has several restaurants to sit and eat. My daughter is a huge fan of macaroons so she was delighted to find Laudree’s, the famous French macaroon store at Harrods. After filling our belly, we took a short stroll through the famous, beautiful store. A must when visiting London!
London has so much to offer to any lover of travel. I was sad on this trip that I didn’t get a chance to visit some of my favorite art museums- The Tate Modern, The National Gallery, and The Courtald Institute. But I loved all of the experiences we had and recommend them to anyone. The historical sights, outdoor time in the park, an English Tea experience, shopping, a fabulous baking lesson and an incredible luxury hotel all made for a fantastic trip to London!