It’s no secret that London is one of my most favorite cities. Any chance to visit I jump at. So recently I packed my bags and headed across the pond for a long spring weekend staying at the fabulous Corinthia Hotel and exploring some amazing sights. While the idea of spring in London may bring images of lots of rain to mind, our spring weekend was sunny, dry and full of wonderful adventures!
The Corinthia Hotel won my heart and ranks as one of my favorites. This luxurious, comfortable, classy spot had it all: a great location, amazing rooms, a heavenly spa, and beautiful art. The location is absolutely incredible- on Whitehall and near the Thames River and Embankment. The hotel is an easy walk to so many different areas of the city including Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden/The West End, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, and 10 Downing Street.
The Corinthia occupies an ornate Victorian building with modern interiors and modern amenities. Entering the hotel through the glass domed lobby is breathtaking. The hotel has their own florist; stunning centerpieces dot the lobby and restaurants. Art is featured prominently throughout the hotel with works from over 40 British artists. My favorite work was the Scottish artist Allan MacDonald’s Queen of the South located in the hotel’s restaurant, Northall.
Today there are 294 rooms and 7 out of this world penthouses. My room was spacious, comfortable and serenely decorated. Visiting the Musicians Penthouse with its 360 views of the London skyline, there was little doubt why celebrities, dignitaries and politicians love this hotel. What an incredible place to stay!
The building originally housed the Metropole Hotel which was a very fashionable spot in the late 1880s/early 1900s; King George VII often entertained there. With the advent of World War I and II, the Ministry of Defense took over the building using it for government offices. In the 1950s, the hotel was featured in the James Bond comic book depicting MI6 headquarters. As a nod to this famous character, the press conference for the Bond movie, Skyfall, was held in the hotel in 2011. In 2018, the movie, Red Sparrow, filmed several scenes at The Corinthia. Check out the specialty cocktail “The Red Sparrow” they created at the Bassoon Bar. DELICIOUS!
The Bassoon Bar is a super hip spot. The actual bar is seven meters long ending in the piano! Live music plays almost every night even featuring special shows by musicians such as Lana del Ray. But what I loved most about Bassoon was the jazz inspired paintings of American artist, William H. Johnson. They help to create a 1920s vibe in this art deco, cozy space.
The Corinthia also offers an ESPA spa unlike any other I have been too. The spa occupied several floors with treatment rooms, a gym, saunas, steam rooms, and incredible changing rooms with marble heated beds placed by a fireplace. But the Thermal floor was the highlight of the spa. This floor consists of a swimming and vitality pool, sauna, steam room, ice fountain, and more heated lounges. I ventured into both the vitality pool and swimming pool. As much as I would have loved to have lounged, there are too many things to see in London. The Corinthia offered us easy access to the fabulous sights of London.
We decided to head to the other side of the Thames to stroll along the Queen’s Walk- a promenade on the south side of the river between Lambeth’s bridge and London bridge. It was created in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s silver jubilee. Following the river, this walk meanders past so many incredible sights, including the London Eye, the Royal National theater, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and the Tate Modern (which was our destination).
The Tate Modern is one of five locations that make up the Tate network of museums which includes the Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, Tate St. Ives, and Tate Contemporary. The mission of the Tate network is “to increase public enjoyment and understanding of British art from the 16th century to the present.” The Tate Modern collection features International Modern and Contemporary art from 1900 to present day.
On May 11, 2000, the Queen opened the Tate Modern in the former Bankside Power Station of Southwark. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed the building which was completed in two stages between 1947 and 1963. The tall tower was designed in the same shape and style as the iconic London telephone booths. The station closed in 1981. In 1994 the Tate took over the building. Architects, Herzog & de Meuron were tasked with converting the power station into a museum.
The collection is displayed in 8 areas centering on a theme or subject. The sections of the power station- the Switch House, the Boiler Room and the large Turbine Hall- house permanent and temporary exhibits. The Turbine Hall originally held the electric generators; it is 85 ft. tall, 500 ft. long, 35,520 sq. ft., and has 524 glass panes in its roof! This is an amazing space. While I love the architecture and collection at the Tate Modern, I actually went to visit a temporary exhibit, The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932- Love, Fame, Tragedy. This is the first solo Picasso exhibit at the Tate. It included 100 paintings, sculptures, family photos and drawings. It also featured 3 paintings of Marie-Therese Walter (Picasso’s lover) that are together for the first time since 1932. FANTASTIC!
From the Tate Modern, we continued our stroll on the Queen’s Walk past the Globe Theater and through Borough Market (The smells of food were mouth-watering here so if you are hungry a must stop!) We arrived at the HMS Belfast cruiser, one of the Imperial War Museum sites. The Belfast is docked on the Thames and has perhaps the most breathtaking view of The London Bridge from its top deck. This Royal Navy ship opened as a museum on Trafalgar Day, October 21, 1971. We took a wonderful tour through the several of its 9 decks including many of its important rooms.
The Belfast was launched on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1938, by Anne Chamberlain, the Prime Minister’s wife. The ship played a key role in the Arctic Convoys, The Battle of North Cape, and D- Day. Before it was able to aide in these events, however, after only two months at sea it was hit by a magnetic mine and out of commission for 3 years! At the time, it was considered to be the most advanced, largest cruiser. From 1942-44 the Belfast returned to action protecting the Arctic convoys on the Russia supply routes. The Belfast also sank a German Cruiser in the Battle of North Cape. The Belfast is 1 of 3 remaining vessels that survived the D-Day landings at Normandy. The ship treated casualties and spent 33 days supporting the landings firing over 5,000 shells. Visiting the Belfast is super cool for any kid or adult!
THE CHURCHILL WAR ROOMS
In keeping with the theme of the Imperial War Museum, we decided to visit one of my most favorite museums in London, The Churchill War Rooms. This museum is like stepping back in time to World War II London. This underground bunker/ museum with 70 or so rooms is located in Westminster beneath the Treasury Building. This is the spot where Winston Churchill ran the war. The entrance is tucked away beneath the Clive Steps about 12 feet below the ground surface (Hitler’s bunker was 180 feet below ground!) The bunker was opened on August 27, 1939 days before Britain declared war on Germany on Sept. 3rd. In 1940, a 5 foot think layer of concrete was added for protection.
During the war, 100 people worked or lived in the War Rooms. It is so cool to wander through the rooms; it’s like a dimly lit maze of hallways. As you meander through the rooms, you will notice that the hallways have lots of alcoves; this was done deliberately to provide hiding spots if the Germans ever invaded! There are so many rooms to discuss but here are a few of my favorites. The typist room was the one room with an all female staff; there could be up to 10 people in this tiny room at one time!
The Map Room was manned 24 hours a day by members of the Royal Navy, Army, and Air Force. It was here that the daily intelligence reports were created for King George VI and Churchill. Look for the calendar; August 15, 1945 is the date displayed. This was the date of Japan’s surrender and the last day the War Rooms were used. Maps cover the walls with the pins placed to designate fleets throughout the oceans. There are many phones in this room. The black phone with the green handle were actually scrambler phones; anyone listening would only hear white noise. You can totally get the vibe of what it was like to be in central command.
The Cabinet Room was the command center for Churchill where he declared "this is the room I will direct the war from." The clocks all read 4:58 which was the time of first meeting on October 15, 1940. A fire bucket sits on the floor by the seat Churchill sat in. This served as his ashtray for his famous cigar habit. Churchill held 115 cabinet meetings in this room.
Churchill had a larger bedroom that served as both a bedroom and office. He, however, hated sleeping underground and only slept there 3 nights. His wife and daughter slept there often. It was from this room that Churchill made his BBC war broadcasts. He was known to have meetings in this room wearing his clothes or as little as his underwear. One interesting thing to note is the curtains on the walls used to cover the maps.
Perhaps the most amazing room to me in the War Rooms is one of the smallest. A small broom closet featuring the sign “private bathroom” held one of the most advanced machines in the bunker- the Transatlantic Telephone. This line provided Churchill with a direct line to President Roosevelt. A scrambling device called the SIGSALY created a buzzing sound and white noise so calls couldn’t be intercepted clearly. The first two terminals were installed at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and the basement of Selfridge Department Store in London. The SIGSALY allowed FDR and Churchill to have a very secure Transatlantic telephone line.
London is one of those cities that every time you visit you can discover or explore something new. I love the history and the art at every corner; the Tate Modern and the Imperial War Museums did not disappoint. Spending the weekend at the Corinthia was a big treat; the service, the décor, the art, the flowers and the food were impeccable. But the location of the Corinthia allowed us to easily explore and wander central London. Our springtime visit to London and the Corinthia was wonderful!