Buckingham Palace is a bucket-list destination for so many travellers to the UK, but the area surrounding the Queen’s London home is equally as beautiful and entertaining. Base your trip around a visit to the palace, and explore the multitude of places nearby – from classic cinemas to contemporary Chinese restaurants.
Known the world over as the byword for Britishness, Buckingham Palace is every bit as splendid and awe-inspiring as you could expect. This gigantic estate, which has been the monarch’s London residence for nearly 200 years, has seen the entirety of the great and good stroll through its gilded halls – from princesses to princes, presidents to prime ministers. And with its daily tours and exhibitions, you too can experience a taste of royal hospitality.
A short walk from the palace, the most proper and strait-laced institution in the country, is the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), which may be the UK’s most radical. Established in 1947, just after World War II, the ICA has been a safe haven for wild, daring art since day one, giving an early platform to talents such as Jackson Pollock, Damien Hirst and Yoko Ono. If you want tomorrow’s art today, you will likely find it in the halls of the ICA, so don’t miss a chance to view one of its latest exhibitions.
A slice of Americana in the heart of London, Benjamin Franklin House is the only residence of the Founding Father still in existence, and a must-visit for anyone interested in history or science. The legendary polymath spent decades in the city at the tail end of the 18th century, engaged in radical politics, invention, research and revelry, and his former house now stands as a testament to the considerable achievements he made in his lifetime.
Should the British weather turn on you, a great place for respite from the rain is the Grade II-listed Curzon Mayfair cinema. Built at the height of British Modernism in the early ’60s, this beautifully maintained multiplex is one of the UK’s best independent cinemas, with an interior and theatre experience every bit as special as its architecture. Everything from family-friendly hits to art-house classics can be found and enjoyed in its plush screening rooms; it’s an essential visit for any cinephile.
Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill is a Mayfair institution | Courtesy of Bentley’s
The Grande Dame of Swallow Street, as it is often called, is a Mayfair institution: the home of London’s finest oysters, and under the ownership of chef Richard Corrigan, some of the country’s most refined British cookery. For over a century, Bentley’s has stood for indulgence – a very particular kind of indulgence typical to this corner of Mayfair, where the suits go to loosen up after work, clearing through plates of shellfish and bottles of champagne. It’s a level of decadence that is, beyond all else, a lot of fun.
Chef Andrew Wong has been putting out London’s finest Chinese food for some time now. After taking over this labyrinthine Pimlico space from his parents, Wong has wowed the city’s critics with his thoughtful, sumptuous take on Chinese cuisine. His menu and style is grounded in extensive research, both through all of China’s 16 gastronomic regions, and academically, in partnership with London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). As a result, Wong’s dishes make as much use of the little-known techniques and flavours of China as much as the tried-and-true dishes of his parents. Head here for a dim sum lunch at the counter and prepare to be wowed.
The Harp is a publican’s pub; full of quirky knick-knacks and salty old regulars, sticky tables and walls covered in beer mats. With 10 ales on tap, and a shelf lined with spirits when you’re after something stronger, The Harp is a quintessential pub experience – one that feels almost out of place in the centre of the city. Even its prices aren’t bad, which, for its location, is a rarity.
The Goring is the Queen’s favourite hotel and the site of her legendary Christmas party that she hosts each year for the members of her personal staff. The Goring is also the last hotel of its kind to still be ran by the family who built it, and as such, the experience is quite different to a stay in The Ritz or The Savoy – the hospitality is more smiling than stiff-collared, winning a host of awards in the process.
Few hotels on the planet can match the glamour and intrigue of the Corinthia Hotel, which has been an unofficial royal residence, government department building, field marshal barracks and spy agency throughout its existence. Situated on the corner of Whitehall, as close to the corridors of power as you could ever stay, the Corinthia’s rooms offer an unparalleled view of Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column and Great Scotland Yard. It’s a hotel like no other.
For those wanting a luxury experience that also takes the whole family into account, the St James’s Hotel & Club in Mayfair is the perfect destination in Central London. Children stay free in the St James’s Hotel, with interconnected rooms on offer to ensure space for everyone. What’s more, the family rooms come with their own designated children’s concierge, who provide whatever is needed for your child’s stay, even down to booking activities across the city on your behalf.