I love London. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern. The surprising outfits worn by fellow Tube passengers. Even the pop up hipster restaurants that think falafal is the way forward. Yet so often I come away after a weekend in the big smoke feeling overwhelmed, and thankful to get back to my sleepy countryside village.
There’s just so much to see and do in London. I inevitably end up traipsing backwards and forwards across the city, leaving a trail that would bemuse even the sharpest of navigators.
Realising I was never going to be able to pull off a convincing air of sophistication whilst clutching a tatty tourist map and rushing around like a headless chicken, I’ve changed the way I plan my weekends in London. It’s all about adding an element of luxury whilst maintaining a laid back pace.
And it doesn’t have to cost the earth.
How to add luxury to your London experience
1. Travel in style
I love the Tube, but only outside peak times, and when I don’t have luggage. There’s nothing worse than hauling a heavy suitcase up steps and down escalators, having to push through the crowds and then stand like sardines on the train. Trying desperately not to lurch into the businessman to your left who is reading The Economist using both hands and annoyingly managing to stay upright. And avoiding eye contact with the gum chewing goth to your right. The sweat running down your back isn’t just because it’s hot in the carriage.
She looks like she’d eat you for breakfast.
The buses aren’t any better. The sights are good, but you probably won’t get a seat, and the traffic in central London is so terrible it’s almost quicker to walk!
So on our latest weekend in London I decided we should up our game and arrive with a bit more dignity.
Added luxury: Private Car Transfer
A sleek black Mercedes with soft leather seats and a driver who knew all the short cuts did the job perfectly. We used Blacklane private car transfer service for our journey from train station to hotel, and have decided they’re going to be a feature in our travelling lives from now on. It was such a refreshing feeling arriving cool, calm and collected, and the driver stayed off the main thoroughfares which meant we didn’t get stuck in any traffic. Always a bonus!
It felt a bit like a private tour, driving past famous landmarks, and seeing parts of the city we’d never have discovered by ourselves. Reclining luxuriously in the back, I didn’t bother to suppress my wannabe regal streak, and smiled smugly at frazzled tourists negotiating the crowds and pavement stalls selling Union Jack t-shirts.
As we purred up to the hotel in our shiny vehicle, the doormen immediately leapt to attention, assuming (quite rightly!) that we must be guests of importance. The only thing missing was a red carpet and a bugle heralding our arrival.
2. Stay in a luxury London Hotel
This one goes without saying, but with so much choice, and such eye watering prices, it’s not always an easy decision. London has a lot of luxury hotels. I’m not even going to suggest I’ve tried them all, or can even really advise you where to stay. But there’s one thing that makes a hotel stay feel like a million dollars.
A good view!
Added luxury: a room with a view
Watching the twinkling city lights shimming above the Thames whilst sipping champagne on the balcony of a world renowned rooftop bar is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and undoubtedly amongst the best things to do in London. It’s an easily achievable dream at one of our favourite boutique hotels, the Mondrian. Built in the famous Sea Containers on the South Bank, it has sophisticated seduction down to a fine art, with interiors based on designer shipping and glamorous river view suites looking towards St Paul’s Cathedral.
Top Tip: Book well ahead to get the best deals, but also keep an eye on prices. If you’ve used a site like Booking.com then often cancellation is free, so if you find your room at a cheaper price nearer the time, you can just cancel and make a new booking. I saved myself £70 doing this on my last visit. Which I promptly spent on afternoon tea!
It can be difficult to choose a London hotel since there are so many, so it’s a good idea to first decide which attractions you want to visit, and find accommodation nearby. Wherever we’re staying, after checking in and freshening up/running around the room in a giddy frenzy taking photos, checking out the minibar (‘Intimacy Kit’ anyone?) and ramping up the air con, it’s time to head out.
Where better to start than with a spot of afternoon tea.
3. Indulge in a spot of Afternoon Tea
A London afternoon tea experience is nothing short of fabulous, darling. A luxury treat you really shouldn’t miss if you love cake and dressing up in equal measures. As an unashamed purveyor of this delectable upper class quirk, I’ve had more than my fair share of London afternoon teas, but there’s one thing I always look out for to make it feel extra luxurious…
Added luxury: choose somewhere with a pianist
A bit of background tinkling on the ivories really ups the afternoon tea game. Nothing screams classy more than a bit of Chopin with your cucumber sandwiches, or Saint–Saëns with your scones. One of my life’s goals is to work my way through the list of temptations on the brilliant Afternoon Tea website, but my all time favourites are the Chesterfield Mayfair and the Townhouse Kensington.
The service at the Chesterfield Mayfair is impeccable yet jovial, and dining in their elegant garden room transports you back to the days when duchesses used to nibble daintily on tiny pastries to tide them over until supper. One of the greatest ideas ever if you ask me! The pianist plays softly in the background, making you feel really posh, or like you’re back on that cruise! Oh, and they have a flowering tea called Dancing Dragon. If that doesn’t tempt you, I don’t know what will.
Meanwhile, at Townhouse Kensington, the sweet treats all come in the shape of famous London landmarks – does it get any better than that?
And remember afternoon tea isn’t just for girls. I dragged Hubbie along to try the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea at One Aldwych, and after eyeing up the candyfloss, the tarts and the flaming iced cocktails, he promptly asked why I hadn’t taken him for tea before!
Top Tip: Book well in advance if you’re visiting at a weekend, even in winter! And forget about lunch if you want to finish off all those cakes.
4. Put on your glad rags for a night at the theatre
After filling yourself with cake, it’s time for a bit of culture. Whether you’re into musicals, ballet, opera or plays (or even if none of them really float your boat), no trip to London would be complete without seeing a performance at one of the iconic theatres in the the west end. Forget about the last minute ticket booths in Leicester Square (the prices aren’t that much cheaper, and you’ll probably be sitting behind a pillar!), just make sure you book well ahead so you can choose a good seat.
Added luxury: get a box!
Having a box at the theatre really is the ultimate indulgent theatre experience, and perhaps surprisingly it doesn’t have to be that expensive. We spent the evening watching the Nutcracker (a ballet I’ve loved since I was a nipper) in a Royal Opera House box this month, and each seat only cost £34. We did have to buy all 4 seats, but at £136 for a private box that’s really not bad, and cheaper than many of the spots down below in the stalls!
Top Tip: Don’t arrive late, you won’t be allowed to take your seat until the interval.
5. Go on a walking tour with a local insider
There are lots of walking tours available in London, and whilst some have a general theme and take in lots of sights both ancient and modern, others have a more distinct focus so you can easily choose something that really interests you. Our favourites are the tasty food tours, the historical pub trips, and the quintessential Beatles walking tours where you can discover some of the venues that were once frequented by the fab four. There are also Sherlock Holmes quests for aspiring super sleuths, and Jack the Ripper walks that take you deep into the mysterious streets of Whitechapel.
Added luxury: book a private tour
If you want your walking tour to be extra special, book a private guide. This means you’ll be able to go at your own pace, and there is often a bit of flexibility in the itinerary which can be customized to your interests.
6. Take a spin on the London Eye
The South Bank London Eye was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel until 2006, and seeing the incredible 360 degree city views from one of the capsules is something you shouldn’t miss. You can get fast track tickets to avoid the long queues, and if you buy tickets online it’s cheaper than getting them on the day.
This is one of the best areas in London to stay, as you’ll be near many of the top sights, and the chances are, you’ll have a view of the Thames! There are lots of hotels close to the London Eye, which is good news if you have an early morning or evening ride booked.
Added luxury: a private capsule with champagne
To make your rotation that bit more special, book a private capsule complete with champagne and chocolates. Probably the most romantic thing you can do in London! Proposal anyone?
Adding a little luxury to your London weekend isn’t difficult. It doesn’t have to bankrupt you either, all it takes is a bit of planning ahead. So next time you’re heading to the big smoke, consider a few little extras which will make a big difference to how much you enjoy your weekend. Don’t come away frazzled and exhausted.
Laid back luxury is definitely the way to go!
We received a complimentary business class car transfer from Blacklane. All opinions remain our own, and we only accept complimentary services that we’d have been happy to pay for ourselves.
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