London has always been a great town for walking, providing you don’t try to cover too much ground. After all, the city is immense and there is so much to see. A sensible plan to save shoe leather and avoid the usual “tourist overload” involves doing London by neighborhoods.
This year — for me — it’s a week in Marylebone and Kensington, two inner city boroughs that feature lush parks, charming squares and chic residential enclaves. (The opening graphic is of Kensington Palace Gardens.) Each area can be traversed on foot quite thoroughly within two or three days’ time.
My favorite part of Marylebone is Regent’s Park, at the district’s northern boundary. Its broad green expanse invites dreamy walks through Queen Mary’s Gardens and sporting fields up along the Regent’s Canal, where it’s possible to take boat excursions or just amble down the tow path.
John Nash laid out the royal park in 1812 as a setting for classically designed villas and terraces. His marvelous curved facades of the Park Crescent are one of London’s architectural jewels.
To wander the streets of Marylebone is to pass through a museum of eighteenth century London architecture, with row upon row of red-brick Georgian town homes in mint condition.
There’s Harley Street, famous for its medical offices and clinics (Lionel Logue worked to correct King George VI’s stutter here, as dramatized in “The King’s Speech”). In Baker Street visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B. The major east-west thoroughfare Marylebone Road features Madame Tussaud’s, one of London’s major tourist attractions, as well as the Royal Academy of Music. And among the commercial avenues, Marylebone High Street and Oxford Street offer some of the best shopping in London. The famous Selfridge’s in Oxford Street is the second largest department store in London (after Harrods’s).
Art lovers should not miss the Wallace Collection of eighteenth century French paintings, porcelains and furniture. The collection is housed in a mansion on the north end of Manchester Square. Wigmore Hall is one of the great concert venues of Europe, hosting hundreds of chamber music recitals yearly, including the weekly BBC Radio 3 concerts. In fact BBC Broadcasting House itself — home to much of BBC Radio programming — is nearby at Portland and Langham Place.
Hotels in Marylebone — scores of them—come in all varieties.
The recent trend is toward the small boutique hotel, a fine example of which is The 10 Manchester Street, just a few steps from Manchester Square. 10 Manchester offers 37 cozy rooms nestled within a fine red-brick town house. It’s but a short stroll away from all the above mentioned treasures of Marylebone, a quiet haven in the heart of the city with chic restaurant, satellite TV, mini-frig and continental breakfast.
For a splurge in Marylebone nothing fits better than the venerable five star Landmark Hotel on Marylebone Road. Opened in Victorian days as the Great Central Hotel, it was among the grandest of London’s railway hotels.
The Victorian Gothic exterior features lovely red brickwork and delicate arches. The eight story glass atrium, which can be viewed from all internal facing guestrooms, is a symphony of light and color. The first-class spa includes a delightful indoor pool area. In all the Landmark offers 253 rooms and 56 suites - each with an executive desk, private bar, high-speed Internet access and marble bathroom.
Next-door access to Marylebone Station (which can deposit you at Heathrow within a half hour) and Marylebone tube station make the Landmark perhaps London’s most convenient hotel for travelers.
Kensington is separated from Marylebone to the southwest by the expanse of Hyde Park and the contiguous Royal Park of Kensington Gardens. Like Marylebone, Kensington is one of London’s most affluent areas, resplendent with quiet garden squares of Georgian townhouses. Simply strolling about these park-like streets is food enough for a delightful afternoon.
The 39 room and suite Cranley is among the best of London’s new townhouse boutique hotels. The very personable staff puts the weary traveler immediately at his ease. Welcoming drinks plus complimentary champagne every evening set just the right tone. Lovely rooms (many with four-poster or half-tester canopied beds) harken to the Victorian roots of this graceful structure on a quiet street called Bina Gardens. There is also complimentary Wi-Fi internet in all rooms and free computer access for guests. Continental breakfast in the room at no additional cost? Yes! Plus afternoon tea on the front terrace in summertime.
Lack of an on-site restaurant or bar presents no problem since the Cranley is just a few steps away from a score of fine dining options and pubs on nearby Old Brompton or Earl’s Court Roads.
A good option for the budget-minded is the Base2Stay off Earl’s Court Road. Popular since its opening in 2006 (they have recently branched out to Liverpool as well) Base2Stay’s appeal comes from its no frills/no nonsense approach to snappy service and comfortable accommodation. No restaurant, no bar (mini or otherwise), no breakfast on site, but a kitchenette in every room, coupons for local bistros, free Wi-Fi and convenient location in the heart of Kensington more than make up for any perceived lack of in-house amenities. The Base2Stay idea of creating value and good design in a boutique lodging makes sense in an expensive city like London.
Very useful for travel in the United Kingdom are a pair of money-saving passes: the Great British Heritage Pass and the London Pass. GBPH, available only to overseas visitors, gives you entry to nearly 500 of Britain's finest heritage sites, including famous castles, palaces, gardens, churches, and monuments. Most of these are outside London. For London attractions best bet is the London Pass, which provides entry into more than 55 major London venues and tours. For more information on obtaining these passes go to www.britishheritagepass.com and www.londonpass.com respectively.
For more information about recommended hotel in Marylebone and Kensington check out the following websites:
Read the Jetsetters Magazine feature, "Walking London Literally".
— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine European Editor; photos by Todd Nemanic, and courtesy of the hotels.