If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in London during the Christmas season then you’re in for a treat. Its pretty much the kick off for all things Xmas globally.
From beautiful shop windows to streets aglow with Christmas lights that look like they’ve been taken straight out of a film-set, London’s calling… actually the whole country is, well just for a weekend anyway.
In the Good Things Guy “weekend series” we showcase all the amazing things that you could possibly fit into an action packed mini-holiday out of town… or if you’re a local, we’ll maybe even give you a new perspective to your own town.
It’s tried and tested as the team plan the actual route way in advance with a fully loaded, jam-packed itinerary that we try our absolute hardest to stick too and then we try even harder to fit even more in… you know, to give you the best idea of what a city has to offer.
Friday… arrival after an incredible flight.
We arrived at a Heathrow lounge called ‘Revival’ after a pretty phenomenal flight on Virgin Atlantic airlines… that deserves its entirely own article to really break down the experience which will be released next week, we promise.
We hopped straight onto a train which connects to the ‘underground’. Getting around London is incredibly easy as long as you have an ‘Oyster Card’ and some sort of sense of direction or google on your phone. Google works in real time with the underground and will suggest the exact route you should take, right down to jumping stations or missing slow trains.
What we didn’t plan for was the rush-hour morning traffic of hundreds of thousands of humans making their way to some or other destination. While we were kicking off a weekend of fun, majority of the public transport users were on their way to live.
Tip: while in transit, always keep to the right when walking, on escalators or even on the streets… people who are walking faster, will always pass to the left and may the Queen help you, if you’re in the way. Just take my word for it. Its not fun being run over by an angry-looking-local in a rush.
After a short commute, we checked into a beautiful hotel called ‘The Leonard‘, centrally located near Marble Arch, just a few minutes’ walk from Hyde Park and right in the heart of London just off Oxford Street. The quaint hotel welcomed us with a roaring fireplace and incredibly friendly staff who were very helpful and attentive but discreet.
The rooms are furnished in traditional English style, very cosy and the beds very comfortable. The atmosphere is calm and unhurried but everything gets done efficiently with minimum of fuss.
After checking in my first stop on the list of ‘have-to-do’ was to have an authentic pub lunch… it’s the only way to enjoy the real experience of England – a cozy pub, a pint of good bitter ale to sip, a convivial atmosphere to enjoy, and in more and more cases a plate of wholesome food to tuck into.
And we were in luck. London boasts a pub on nearly every corner and nearly every one is just as good as the next delivering on the expectation of an authentic vibe and delicious meal.
Tip: Try avoid the pubs on the main streets or really touristy areas. They tend to be a little more expensive and when you’re working with South African Rands… every cent counts.
One of the other most English things to do is Afternoon High Tea and after a quick walk to Hyde Park we reached our hosts at the Inter-Continental Park Lane. With one of the most perfect addresses and a history of being the Queen’s childhood residence, this hotel could arguably be one of the best in the city. Paired with its phenomenal high tea, the venue lends itself to the perfect event.
There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
Honoured with the Award of Excellence from the UK Tea Guild, Afternoon Tea at the Wellington Lounge is inspired by its location overlooking the Royal Parks and London landmarks.
The experience is nothing short of amazing. Variants of Tea’s are served in expensive english porcelain pots accompanied with tiered hors d’oeuvres, finger sandwiches, scrumptious scones with cream and jam, and the most amazing dainty cakes, sometimes in shapes of the Queen’s hat, handbags and crown.
Nothing could be more British than afternoon tea in London.
Tip: Afternoon High Tea is filled with food. Lots of it. It literally doesn’t stop being served. Skip lunch or move dinner to really late to fit this incredible experience in.
Next stop was dinner and a show… or more like a show and then dinner. The group unanimously agreed that moving our next feast to later in the evening would do the day more justice… and allow our Queen’s handbags to digest.
We made our way to Covent Garden, near the Theatre district to have a quick drink before the show. Vibrant Covent Garden in London’s West End is a must-see destination for anyone who enjoys shopping, theatre, restaurants, bars, history and culture.
The Covent Garden area has long been associated with both entertainment and shopping. Covent Garden has 13 theatres, and over 60 pubs and bars, with most south of Long Acre, around the main shopping area of the old market.
We were booked to see Kinky Boots, based on the 2005 British movie, which was inspired by true events, the musical tells the story of Charlie Price. Having inherited a shoe factory from his father, Charlie forms an unlikely partnership with cabaret performer and drag queen Lola to produce a line of high-heeled boots and save the business. In the process, Charlie and Lola discover that they are not so different after all.
Tip: The best way to get tickets for the popular shows is to visit Discount websites like Time Out Tickets & Offers and lastminute are a good start for finding substantial discounts to shows in the West End proper and a few larger theatres elsewhere. Also try the reliable non-profit Leicester Square ticket booth, aka tkts.
After the show, we made our way to Sophie’s Steakhouse for a late dinner. Sophie’s has a warehouse feel with exposed brick and beautiful hanging light bulbs and boasts a great location in the middle of the theatre district. The place offers great steaks with friendly and attentive service that makes for an awesome outing.
We ended the evening with one of the most phenomenal surprises… a walk down Oxford Street to see the incredible Christmas displays. There’s nothing like the sparkle of London Christmas lights to give the city an instant festive makeover.
Saturday… but can we do more?
Fitting in as much as possible means waking up really early. Luckily the English are also really well known for their amazing breakfasts so being first in the hotel restaurant means we were winning on all fronts.
Tip: Try the haggis and black pudding… they are delicacies and actually quite delicious!
We were booked on a just out-of-the-city tour which was an amazing breath of fresh air and gave us a real in-sight to the countryside. A bus with the most talented guide collected us near our hotel and took us to Warwick Castle, Stratford upon Avon and the town of Oxford
The tour was incredible! Warwick Castle has to be one of the most beautiful castles in the world… the tour took us back through the 1,000 year history to a time of bloody battles, extravagant banquets and royal ceremonies. We got to visit the magnificent interiors of the Great Hall & State Rooms of the castle as well as the Towers and Ramparts where we saw an archer’s view of the historic town of Warwick.
We then visited Stratford upon Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We got to see his house and where he lived and heard all about his very interesting life. We also had an amazing pub lunch here and got to chat to some of the locals of the little town.
Tip: Set a location pin on your phone when the bus drops you in the towns to make sure you can get back to it with ease.
Our last stop was Oxford which dates back to the 13th century and among its famous students were Bill Clinton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll. We went on a fascinating walking tour to see Christ Church where many scenes from Harry Potter were filmed. We also went to the Bodleian Library and walked around the picture perfect college courtyards for which Oxford is famous.
The tour ends just in time to get ready for a night out in London… the city which pretty much never sleeps.
We were lucky enough to have a London-Insiders view on the real night life in the city which may have given us the upper hand and taken us away from the regular tourist spots.
Our first stop was to the inner-circle of Hyde Park which turns into the most incredible environment at the start of the Christmas season with a festival called ‘Winter Wonderland’.
The annual festival is a spectacular event in the heart of the capital. For six weeks, London’s famous Hyde Park is transformed into a magical wonderland of winter festivities.
It’s also FREE to enter so you can walk around at your leisure and soak up the atmosphere.
Winter Wonderland offers a dazzling array of activities and entertainment. You can skate around the UK’s largest open-air ice rink, have an arctic adventure in the Magical Ice Kingdom, see jaw-dropping circus shows, world-class ice dancing in The Nutcracker on Ice and see stunning views across London in the Giant Observation Wheel.
There’s over 100 spectacular festive rides and attractions, London’s largest German-style Christmas Markets, plus a wealth of delicious food and mulled wine aplenty!
Next up was a taste of London’s famous cocktails at a rooftop bar above Oxford called Aqua Kyoto… set in the landmark former Dickins & Jones building, the views were just breathtaking, the drinks were crafted with passion and served with pride, coupled with a vibe that was electric, this is a must visit in my books.
We then moved to one of the most interesting venues I’ve ever been too which required us to make our way down the longest, most daunting set of stairs… to a world recreated to look and feel like post-war in the 1940s.
Cahoots… a late night bar that literally transports guests back in time, in an abandoned underground tube station featuring dazzling cocktails, swing dancing and sing-a-longs around an old piano.
From the bar staff speaking in old english, to the decor newspaper clippings, 1940s music filtered through crackling speakers and the delicious cocktails served in antique tea pots bring the incredible theme to life.
Based in Carnaby Street, Cahoots, will transport you back the the prohibition era, in a bid to bring Soho’s illicit and nocturnal escapades from the era back to life.
Our last stop on our nightlife adventure was the Bussey Building in Peckham Rye… we danced the night away in a 120 year old multi level warehouse space which had some of the UK’s best DJ’s spinning the decks.
London is rightly famed for its nightlife, from the world-class theatres, bars and clubs of the West End to the alternative Camden scene, or a trendy night out in Shoreditch in the East. London’s nightlife scene caters for all tastes, be it comedy, theatre or music, there will always be somewhere to party the night away.
Tip: Don’t stay at any bar or cafe for too long. There are literally a million places to be visited and discovered, all waiting for you to have your own adventure.
Our final day was spent touring the inner city of London.
We got to ride in an authentic double decker red bus while seeing the cities famous monuments and learning about the vast history of the Capital’s modern masterpieces. The tour took us to see the spectacular Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, Tower Bridge and even saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
Before heading back to the airport we got to do some shopping in the famous Regent Street where the shop windows are as jaw-dropping as the sales.
Our trip ended with dinner and a spa treatment in the Virgin Atlantic clubhouse before making our way back home.
For more info… or to book your own London getaway, click here.