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.




Monument to Prince Albert at
gateway to Kensington Gardens.

Marylebone is an area bounded on the south by Oxford Street — one of London’s great shopping streets — and on the north Regent’s Park.   To the west Edgeware Road separates Marylebone from less affluent Paddington; about two miles to the east Great Portland Street marks a similar boundary from bohemian Bloomsbury.

Marylebone (pronounced “Marley bone”, never “Merrill bone”) gets its name from St. Marylebone Parish Church.  The Victorian era church — the fourth to carry the name — was the site of the marriage of Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett, who had eloped from her parents’ home in 1846.  Located just off Marylebone Road near Madame Tussaud’s, it was used in the filming of the bio-pic “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1957).

At nearby 50 Wimpole Street lived the poetess and her family before the marriage.   Several houses down at No. 2 Arthur Conan Doyle opened his ophthalmic practice in 1892.  Which may well lead us a few blocks west to Baker Street, where Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes had his own digs and swam through many a night in an opium haze.

But these connecting webs of literary and historical reference are typical of Marylebone and no small part of its charm.   As a young man in the 1830s Charles Dickens lived here with his bankrupt father at 18 Bentinck Street.   In the 1770s Edward Gibbon wrote much of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” while residing at No. 7.   Novelists H.G. Wells and Wilkie Collins lived in Marylebone.  Ditto poets Stephen Spender and Edward Lear.  Lord Byron was baptized at St. Marylebone Chapel.  Ringo Starr slept here, for goodness sakes!  So did Paul McCartney!




Mansion along the Canal, Regent's Park.


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.




The Regent's Crescent designed by John Nash.


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).




Popular tennis courts in Regent's Park.


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. 




Stylish reception area at Ten Manchester Hotel.


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 Landmark Hotel, Marylebone.


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.




Breakfast in the atrium, Landmark Hotel.


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.




Royal Albert Hall, renowned concert venue.

But the most notable attractions of Kensington are its great museums. To take in a good number of these grand halls within a few days’ time is a formidable task even for the most athletic of urban walkers.

The tone for Kensington was set in Victorian times after the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, mounted in Hyde Park. This World’s Fair proved to be the catalyst for extensive public building in the vicinity over the next half century, e.g., the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Science Museum; the Museum of Natural History; and Royal Albert Hall. These structures are all within a mile of each other just south of Hyde Park, but to wander through all the corridors of each cavernous museum would require covering the better part of ten miles. Don’t forget your water bottle!

Green space walking in Kensington is most delightfully accomplished with a stroll through Kensington Gardens, renowned as the setting of James M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” (a beloved statue of Pan is located in the Gardens).

Within the Gardens is Kensington Palace, the main official residence of the British Royal Family before the construction of Buckingham Palace in the nineteenth century. The staterooms, currently undergoing renovation, are open to the public.  In recent decades Kensington Palace was the official residence of Princess Diana. At the north end of the Gardens the Diana Memorial Playground, with its wooden pirate ship, was designed with the Peter Pan stories in mind.

Of course there is plenty of high end shopping along Kensington High Street and into neighboring Knightsbridge. The iconic Harrods’s in Brompton Road — over one million square feet of luxury shopping space in over 330 departments — is arguably the world’s most famous department store.

To wander about London is to be overwhelmed by its English and foreign multitudes, its plethora of every conceivable sort of shop, restaurant, theatre or public venue. Good reason to settle upon a quiet and comfortable lodging, refuge from a hard day’s night.

In Kensington I found a couple of excellent, well-located small hotels. A bit the more luxurious yet certainly a good buy is The Cranley, just a few blocks from the aforementioned museum complex off Exhibition Road.




Bedroom with a four poster, The Cranley.


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.




Base2Stay Hotel, Kensington.


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:

www.tenmanchesterstreethotel.com
www.landmarklondon.co.uk
www.thecranley.com
www.base2stay.com/kensington-london

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.