When asked what is my favorite place I have ever been, “the last place I have visited” is my usual reply. After a recent trip, I can honestly say that London truly is on the top of my list. It is one of the most captivating cities in the world, and last year's royal wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, as well as the upcoming 2012 Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee enhance its appeal. As one of the cultural capitals of the world, London is brimming with exciting things to see and do.
Most people who visit the city flock to the sights: Trafalgar Square, The Tower of London, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. The city, however, is a celebration of diversity and offers much more than what is immediately apparent. To experience all of what this great city has to offer would probably require more than one lifetime. During my trip, I was fortunate enough to enjoy some of the highlights with my lovely British host, Rebecca, and avail myself of her wealth of knowledge of London and the surrounding area.
While there, the city was buzzing with excitement about the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics, which will begin with the opening ceremony on July 27th and conclude on August 12th. The Paralympics follow, from August 29th thru September 9th. This will make London the first city to have played host to the modern Games of three Olympiads. In Trafalgar Square, where thousands of visitors gather daily, a jumbo countdown clock was unveiled 500 days before the commencement of the Games.
Unfortunately, most of the tickets to the Olympics are sold out at this point, but even without a ticket, one can still be part of the action. All of the Olympic events will be broadcast on a large screen, for free, at three different sites throughout the city: Hyde Park, Potters Field Park, near Tower Bridge, and in Victoria Park in Hackney, East London. As athletes make their way through the city during the triathlon, cycling and marathon events, onlookers will be able to cheer from the sidelines. The Opening ceremony will be called “The Isles of Wonder,” and some of Britain’s greatest modern musical performers, including Sir Paul McCartney, Adele, Sir Elton John and Coldplay, among others, will perform during the opening and closing ceremonies.
I also noticed the excitement of another spectacular celebration that will take place in London this year –The Diamond Jubilee, marking the Queen’s 60th year as reigning monarch. All over Britain, Diamond Jubilee events and exhibitions will take place, celebrating and exploring Britain’s rich and colorful royal heritage. One of the main events will take place on June 3rd when up to a thousand boats will be led by Her Majesty The Queen on the River Thames. This will be one of the largest flotillas ever seen on the Thames.
If you cannot make it to the Olympics or the Diamond Jubilee, any other time would be ideal to visit this fabulous city. And may I suggest The Ultimate Royal Itinerary?
The perfect hotel in which to stay is The Goring, where Catherine Middleton and her family stayed prior to Catherine’s wedding. It is the quintessential British hotel with beautiful décor and impeccable service. As the charming General Manager, Graham Copeman claims, the hotel staff will assuredly smother their guests with delicious “Goringness.” Having had the pleasure of staying there, I can attest to that fact that I was also treated like a “queen-in-waiting,” and all of their guests can expect to be treated like royalty.
From the hotel’s ideal location, you can enjoy a Royal Day in London by visiting the Royal residences both past and present including the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace and make the most of Royal London. Begin with either a walking tour of St. James Park or with a visit to the Royal Mews to view the royal family’s state cars and carriages.
You can then visit Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of Her Majesty The Queen, and Clarence House, the official London residence of Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry. The changing of the guard takes place at all the royal palaces, but the most famous one, of course, is at Buckingham Palace. If the crowds there are too much, there is a smaller ceremony at St. James’s Palace. Then pop over to Westminster Abbey, the venue of Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding.
The next day could include a tour in the royals’ footsteps, which would include a walking tour around London to visit the luxury shops with royal warrants. A warrant allows the business establishment to advertise the fact that they provide goods and services to the royal family. Included in the tour is a visit to the tailors, perfumeries, silversmiths, clothing/shoe shops and wine merchants used by the royal family. A special visit can be arranged to the jewelers, Garrards, the company that designed Princess Diana’s engagement ring, now worn by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
After a day of walking and touring, a traditional afternoon tea at the newly renovated Savoy Hotel will be necessary. This classic London hotel, which was built more than a century ago on the banks of the Thames, reopened this fall after a nearly three-year closure during the most expensive renovation any London hotel has ever undergone. If you enjoy people watching, this is the place to do it.
Of course, there are numerous other terrific venues to see in London.
The London Eye is one of the most distinctive features of the London skyline. It is among the world’s tallest Ferris wheels and offers amazing views of the city. In addition to the standard 30-minute ride, you can also reserve a champagne or wine capsule, your mode of “travel” on the Eye. Take your honey for a trip in a Cupid capsule or try out a London summer favorite–Pimms cocktails and fresh strawberries.
Another great option for a hotel, which is in walking distance of the London Eye and close to Trafalgar Square and Westminster, is the newly opened and sumptuously appointed Corinthia Hotel London.
THE TOWER OF LONDON
A trip to London is not complete without a visit to The Tower of London. It is infamous for the number of both tragic and fantastic events that took place there. Ann Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey were some of the famous occupants of the Tower, and Ann Boleyn was beheaded on the Tower Green.
Also, not to be missed are The Crown Jewels, which continue to be worn by members of the royal family and have been securely kept at the Tower of London for over 700 years.
LONDON'S GREAT MUSEUMS
There are so many world-class museums in London, including the Victoria & Albert (known as the V&A), National Gallery and Tate Modern, and, amazingly, there is no admission charge.
The Natural History Museum is a great place for families, and it seems to have a display of practically every living creature on the planet.
In my opinion, one of the most fascinating museums is the Churchill War Rooms, one of the five branches of the Imperial War Museum. The museum is a biographical museum, exploring the life of British statesman Winston Churchill. You can look back to the mid-20th century and view the secret rooms where Churchill and his staff plotted and planned Britain’s WWII strategies, as London was being bombed above them.
Madame Tussauds is another popular destination, particularly for children, where they can see many of their favorite characters and celebrities, from David Beckham to Justin Bieber, rendered in life-like wax statues.
The “Broadway” of London is in the West End. It is one of the world's most exciting drama and musical theatre districts. Some of the most famous productions have been originally produced in the West End, from The Phantom of the Opera to Cats. One of the top shows I enjoyed previewing was Ghost, which is a terrific and moving production and very much like the original movie. The British cast will soon be featured on Broadway. I also saw Jersey Boys with my friend Elaine, who originally hails from New Jersey. Even though the music was sensational, I do not believe the British audience connected with the story as well as our American audiences. We were the only ones dancing in the aisles!
Day Trips and Tours from London
There are many fabulous day trips that you can take either by car or train from London. Some of the more popular tours include a visit to Windsor to see Windsor Castle, which is the official residence of The Queen and the largest occupied castle in the world. St. George’s Chapel, where many royal weddings have taken place, is also worth a visit. Another option would be to travel to Bath, England’s most beautiful Georgian city and Stonehenge to see the famous and, some believe mystical, prehistoric mounds and carvings.
One of my favorite areas is The Cotswolds, situated in the heart of England. Here you’ll find ancient stone villages rising from the beautiful countryside. Not to be missed is the charming town of Bourton-on-the-Water. The Cotswolds is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and having visited there, I understand why.
If you want to explore another fascinating area of England, I would suggest a trip to Cornwall, located on the southwest coast of England. Its rugged beauty and milder climate is a perfect Mecca, especially for serious gardeners. I would highly recommend The Nare Hotel, an elegant, family-owned country house hotel. It is situated overlooking Carne Beach on Gerrans Bay, with gorgeous views of the water. Toby Ashworth, the owner, is a perfectly charming British host with a trove of knowledge about the area.
For those of you who have the time and want to venture out, you can also take a one-day train trip to Edinburgh and visit Scotland's capital city. Or, if you feel particularly adventurous, you can travel by Eurostar, the high-speed trains, and discover the City of Lights, independently or with a guide. Whether it's ascending the Eiffel Tower, or a simple stroll down the Champs Elysees, this tour can fill your Parisian dreams, all in one day. The journey to Paris takes just two hours and 15 minutes.
Prior to your departure from London, I would strongly suggest planning a day or two at Stoke Park Country Club & Spa, located in Buckinghamshire, which is just a few minutes train ride from London and a short distance from the airport. The club is set on 350 acres of gorgeous parkland, lakes, historic gardens and monuments created over the past 1,000 years. Many films have been set in Stoke Park, including Goldfinger and Bridget Jones’s Diary. After a delicious meal in their award-winning restaurant, the staff delivered a DVD of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to my room. It truly was the perfect place to wind up my trip to London and experience country living at its best, before boarding my return flight home.
Visiting London and the outskirts of England will lend you a special fascination for everything British. I believe the words of Britain’s great 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”