3 Days in London

This was a quick 3-day visit, our third, to see theatre, dine, and visit museums.


3 Days in London

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by artslover on April 6, 2006

This was a third trip to London, and only for 3 days, so we kept our plans to a minimum.

Our highlights were to dine at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, attend a play starring Sir Ian McKellan, go to St. Paul’s, and visit a few art museums. While doing so, we tried to walk as much as possible to get a feel for the Soho and Covent Garden areas, both of which are very lively and seemingly full of young people. We also walked in areas of The City and Southwark, along the bank of the Thames.${QuickSuggestions} London is too big to take in on one trip. Simply hitting the top attractions would mean never getting to see that London is a number of areas, each of which has a different character. We have stayed in different places and use that as a base from which to wander on foot in order sample the city in smaller and slower bites.

Our first trip, we stayed in Belgravia and used that trip to explore the area around Hyde Park, Knightsbridge (where Harrod’s is located), and Westminster Abbey. Another trip, we stayed in Bloomsbury, which put us close to the British Museum and the London Zoo in Regent’s Park.

You can still hit a number of highlights wherever you stay, but focusing on a few areas gives you the time and opportunity to get a feel for the different areas.

For a first trip to London, the hop-on, hop-off double-decker buses are a good way to get an overview and decide where you want to return to later. When we went, we sat on top in the cool breeze, which also was a good way to fight off jet lag.${BestWay} Your feet are the best way to get around London. Walk, walk, walk. It is the best way to see London.

When distances get too far for your feet, no matter where you stay, the Tube will get you quickly, easily, and inexpensively to your destination. The downside of the Tube is that you cannot see the areas you are traveling through.

Taxis are more expensive, but are a good option if you have larger numbers in your travel group and want to get a bit of a guided tour while you travel through less-familiar areas. London cabbies are probably among the best-informed taxi drivers in the world, and we have yet to meet one who cannot tell you something about London and the sights you can see as you drive along.

Hazlitts Hotel

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by artslover on April 8, 2006

This boutique hotel is very high on character. The three townhouses which form the hotel were built in the 18th century and effort has been made to preserve the 18th century feel, although, as the hotel is quick to point out, it has added the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing.The hotel is named after the writer William Hazlitt, who lived in one of the townhouses. Other rooms are named after other owners and residents. Each room has a great deal of charm. We had two rooms, the Duke of Portland and Major Roberts. They are among the least expensive rooms, £171 per night.The floors and doorways are uneven, but the beds are comfortable and the bathrooms roomy with very new copper pipes bringing hot water to the old fashioned claw footed bathtub. One room had only a tub and no shower. Both rooms had windows which opened, something no longer found in new hotels. We found the rooms clean and reasonably roomy by European standards. The arrangement of the rooms within the hotel make them feel very private. We hardly saw any other guests during our 3 night stay except around the front door.The hotel is in Soho, which can be very lively at night. If noise bothers you, you may want a room which is not facing the street side. Our room at the back was very quiet, while the room facing Frith Street received noises from the bars and restaurants down the street.The hotel has no restaurant but it offers meals through room service which can be taken in the room or in the sitting room on the ground floor. There is a mini bar in the room but no tea or coffee making facilities. We found it very easy to pop out of the hotel in the morning and find nearby coffee shops.The staff were friendly and helpful with information.The location is very central to the theatre district. There are lots of restaurants and busy shopping streets surrounding the Soho area.If you love boutique hotels with character, this hotel cannot be beat.
Hazlitts Hotel
6 FRITH STREET SOHO SQUARE
London, England
44 20 7434 1771

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by artslover on April 8, 2006

The first trick to dining at this Gordon Ramsay restaurant is getting a reservation. They only take reservations by telephone no more than 30 days in advance. The tables are usually booked within half an hour after the reservation line opens at 9am. Being on Mountain Standard Time, this meant getting up at 2am to book a table. But the sleep interruption was worth it.

When you first approach the restaurant, it is very unassuming. Located in Chelsea, there is not a lot of commercial activity around the restaurant. The large window and single door covered by an aubergine awning do not indicate the wonders within. And wonders are to be found inside this small restaurant.

Less than 20 tables are inside. Dress is smart casual, which they explain means jackets for men and no trainers, jeans, or athletic wear. Most of the diners are considerably better dressed than casual wear, giving this intimate feeling restaurant an upscale atmosphere.

From the moment you sit down, you are cosseted by the best service I have ever experienced in a restaurant. Not only are the staff attentive yet discreet, their attentions contribute enormously to make the experience memorable. Attention is personal, informative, and warm without being overly friendly. Most of the staff has French accents, which reflects the French-based menu.

The menu consists of either a seven-course tasting menu or a three-course menu. We opted for three courses, thinking we could not eat seven. But three courses is deceptive because of all the additional servings. Before we ordered, we received tiny amuse bouches of canneloni filled with avocado and smoked salmon, along with potato crisps filled with a garlicky cream cheese. This was followed by the most flavourful pumpkin soup. Our starters, which we ordered, frogs legs, scallops, ravioli, tuna, and swordfish carpaccio, were equally delicious. Our main courses of Cornish lamb, pork, and Angus beef were inventive, filled with numerous layers of flavour and presented like works of art. The dishes are served all at once and then a team of servers add sauces and explain the dish. A pre-dessert followed, then the desserts we ordered, then post-desserts. Despite the mind boggling amount of food, we had to eat it to experience the incredible tastes.

This experience is not cheap, 70 pounds for the three-course dinner, but I would return here without question.
Gordon Ramsay
68-69 Royal Hospital Road
London, England, SW3 4HP
+44 (207) 352 4441

The Ivy

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by artslover on April 8, 2006

In 2004, the Ivy was voted the most popular restaurant in London. It means you need to get a reservation well in advance. The Ivy is also reputed to be a good spot for celebrity spotting but when we were there, we did not recognize anyone, but then, how many British celebrities do we know?

 

The Ivy is located in Covent Garden making it very convenient for a pre or post theatre meal. When we went, it was obvious it is very popular. The restaurant, which is reasonably large, was very crowded with a well lighted, busy, noisy atmosphere. A lot of tables with large groups and a number of them with children.

 

The staff seemed to be moving very quickly and service was very efficient and attentive.

 

The menu has to be the most eclectic one I have seen anywhere. Starters ranged from sushi to foie gras. Main courses range from British traditional, to Italian, to east Asian. The menu seems to have something for everyone. We had a vegetarian soup, duck and watercress salad, bang bang chicken and spinach salad to start. For mains, we had shepherd's pie, gnocchi, hamburger and chicken masala. Given the wide range of cuisine, everything is quite good although not brilliant. For sweets, crème brulée, rhubarb pudding and chocolate truffles were all very good. The wine selection is extensive just like the menu.

 

The place is obviously a crowd pleaser and I can see why it is so popular - lots of good food for every different kind of preference. The main courses are between £10 - 15, fairly reasonable for the quality and service.
Ivy
1 West St
London, England, WC2H 9NQ
+44 20 7836 4751

Courtauld Institute of Art

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by artslover on April 8, 2006

The Art Gallery at the Courtauld Institute of Art is one of a number of galleries at Somerset House. Located on the Strand and facing Victoria Embankment, the Gallery is very centrally located in London.

The Courtauld is also a teaching institution for art students. The Gallery is best known for is impressionist and post-impressionist collection, but it has a number of excellent works from early Renaissance through to the 20th century.

Admission is charged for the gallery. For two adults and two children, we paid £10. The entire gallery can easily be viewed. The various rooms are set out on different floors. There are informative descriptions set out near the paintings and other art works. On the day we visited, there was an exhibit of the Baroque Italian painter, Tiepolo. The exhibit was included with the admission. Like the rest of the gallery, the exhibit was very informative about the style and methods of this painter, well known for his sumptuous paintings on ceilings. Unlike most art galleries, the Courtauld allows photographs to be taken as long as no flash is used.

The Courtauld has a more intimate feel than the vast National Gallery in London. The rooms are not huge and most have windows where you can view the courtyard of Somerset House. The location is lovely and the art pleasing at this lesser-known location.

London is full of world-class art galleries, but a trip to the Courtauld is well worth an art-lover's time.
Courtauld Institute Of Art Gallery
Somerset House
London, England, WC2R 0RN
+ 44 20 7848 2777

Donmar Warehouse

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by artslover on April 8, 2006

The Donmar Warehouse owes its name to the fact that the theatre was built in a former warehouse. The theatre is now surrounded by an indoor shopping mall of trendy clothing and arty shops. It is located in Covent Garden, the heart of London's theatre district.The Donmar specializes in intimate dramas. I would estimate the theatre holds somewhere between 150-200 audience members. There are two levels of seating. Along the front of the stage, seating is only two rows deep and three rows along the sides. When the actors are on stage, you feel like you are sitting right amongst them.We attended a new play called The Cut which starred Sir Ian McKellan. The play was a political allegory told in three acts. Each act had two main characters; in each act, one of them was Ian McKellan. His performance was magnificent all the more so because we were sitting so very close to him.Sitting in such a small intimate theatre near to one of the world's great actors was an indescribable experience. We were riveted throughout the performance and we were not the only ones. The entire audience was pin dropping quiet during the play.When in London, theatre like this is a must do.
Donmar Warehouse
41 Earlham Street
London, England, WC2H 9LX
+44 20 7369 1732

St Paul's Cathedral

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by artslover on April 8, 2006

We have visited London three times and I had not yet been to St Paul's. After viewing a program about the Cathedral surviving the blitz during WWII, I decided I had to see inside this historic and most significant London church.We walked to St Paul's along the Strand and Fleet Street. Despite it's height, which dominates the area, from Fleet Street, it pops up into view only when you are about a block away. Despite going there in March, not a high season, the surrounding church yard and inside the Cathedral was filled with tourists.Admission is charged to go inside. St Paul's was built to be England's version of St Peter's in Rome and the resemblances are many. The magnificent soaring dome over the cathedral floor and the opulent decorations are much like St Peters. Lots of details about London and England's history can be learned as you wander about viewing the many details.We decided to walk up to the famous whispering gallery which encircles the base of the dome. While my children were fascinated with whispering along the wall and seeing how far away they could get from each other, I had a decidedly different experience. Upon leaving the stair way up to the whispering gallery, you come out to a narrow walkway with a railing on one side and a bench along the wall. From the whispering gallery, you can see to the floor of the cathedral, a long, long way down. Too long for me. I hate heights and the view was making me ill. You can walk from the whispering gallery area up to the top of the dome and get a view outside, but there was no way I was going to attempt that.I descended from the whispering gallery, much to my relief and went down to the crypts, as low as I could get, where a number of famous people are buried and where the Cathedral cafe and shop are located.The trip to St. Paul's is well worth the time but if you dislike heights, be warned before taking the stairs to the whispering gallery.
St Paul's Cathedral
The Chapter House
London, England, EC4M 8AD
+44 (20 7) 236 4128

Tate Britain

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by artslover on April 8, 2006

Tate Britain houses one of the best collections of British art up to the 20th century. The most contemporary art is located at its sister gallery, Tate Modern. If you want to see both galleries, there is a boat service which takes you between the two.This was our second visit to Tate Britain, so this time we only visited the special exhibit and some of our old favourites. There is no charge to view the permanent collection. For the special exhibit, the admission was £7.50 for a family of four.The special exhibit, entitled Gothic Nightmares, featured the works of Henry Fuselli and William Blake both painters of the romantic movement in art. The exhibit brilliantly displays the influence of the romantic movement on belief in the supernatural, the increased awareness of psychology and the emphasis on extreme emotions both in art and in every day life. The final room of the exhibit showed how the influence continues today in stories and films about Dracula and Frankenstein. It was even apparent in some of the teenage viewers at the exhibit who were dressed in Goth clothing.We had seen the rest of the permanent collection which includes some of the most important and historical works of British art such as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Constable, Van Dyck and Hogarth. Our favourites were the paintings of Turner. Tate Britain has the most extensive collection of Turners anywhere. His paintings are throughout the gallery in the various themed rooms but also includes a number of rooms devoted only to him. One of my favourites is the room of his unfinished paintings which showed how he worked layer by layer.Tate Britain is a very viewer friendly gallery. The information area at the front entrance has a helpful staff, access to the online collection and numerous pamphlets which not only show the floor plan but have suggestions for viewing if, for example, you have never been to Tate Britain before, or if you want to see the most famous works or if you would like to see yellow or blue art.And when your feet are tired, you can stop for a bite at either the cafe or restaurant in the basement. I particularly like the restaurant with its wall mural depicting an idyllic English countryside.
Tate Britain
Millbank
London, England, SW1P 4RG
+44 20 7887 8000

A Loop Around the Thames

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by artslover on April 12, 2006

This was our own walking tour from our Soho hotel. We left in the morning, down Charing Cross Road to the Strand, to view the Royal Courts of Justice where the trial against Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code novel had been going on. The building is a very impressive Victorian era Gothic style. Visitors may enter but we just admired from the outside. Across from the courts is a statue of the great writer, Samuel Johnson, looking less than dignified with a pigeon on his head.Continuing on the Strand, it changes to Fleet Street and then to Ludgate Hill before you see St. Paul’s Cathedral. Our stop at St. Paul’s is described in a separate entry. After an hour at St. Paul’s we follow the signs to the Millennium Bridge which provides lots of photo opportunities back towards St. Paul’s, across to Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s New Globe Theatre and up and down the Thames River.We take the elevator to the 7th floor of Tate Modern to see if we can get a table for lunch despite no reservation. We’re in luck and have a quick bite while enjoying the fabulous view. The restaurant quickly fills as we are eating.Tate Modern is rehanging its permanent collection so only two special exhibits are showing. We have a quick look at one exhibit of two modernist artists. After a stop at the gift shop, we head over to the New Globe Theatre. We take a look at the exhibit but pass on touring with two noisy school groups.We walk along the south bank of the Thames passing under Blackfriars Bridge to join the Queen’s Walk. Again, lots of photo opportunities of sights across the river. At Hungerford Bridge, the walk becomes busier with people and much more tourist like with live statutes of silver or gold people and buskers. The reason, of course, is the proximity to the London Eye, the London Aquarium, the Football Association Hall of Fame, and other attractions.There’s a long queue for the London Eye and we have too many plans for the evening to wait to go on the Eye. We cross over Westminster Bridge admiring the Houses of Parliament as we walk, then continue along Victoria Embankment. We walk to Leicester Square, up to Trafalgar Square, past the National Gallery and take a quick visit to the National Portrait Gallery. We then find ourselves in the small area of Chinatown, make our way to Shaftesbury Avenue and back to our hotel. Our loop was about 6 miles and we finished around 4:30pm after starting about 10am. Like all travels on foot, it was a great way to see one area of London.
Walking along the Thames
Near Southwark Bridge
London, England

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