I just loved the Royal Wedding. I was so happy to avoid the news for a few hours and enjoy all the pomp and circumstance (and lack of some) for these beautiful Royals. Part of what I think we all loved was how Harry and Meghan were able to respect so many of the traditions but still pull off a modern wedding. It made me think about the fact that, even though we love the United Kingdom for is its rich history and tradition, London is a modern city that just seems to continue to get better. That sun-filled day in the small town of Windsor could not have been more perfect, and reminded all of us why we have such a love affair with this country. So for those of you who are now inspired to plan a trip, take a tip from the Royals and create your own blend of tradition and modern.
Where to Stay:
Photo Courtesy of The Goring Hotel
Traditional: The Goring
This “Impeccably English” institution is just what you think your hotel should be on a visit to London. The boutique property has 69 luxurious suites and rooms and it is the closest hotel to Buckingham Palace. It also received the Royal Warrant in 2013 - the only hotel to have been awarded a Royal Warrant for hospitality services. Royal Warrants acknowledge those who supply goods or services to Her Majesty The Queen, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh or His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. The Goring Gardens is one of the largest private gardens in the capital. And don’t forget to make time to experience The Goring’s award-winning afternoon tea.
Modern: Firmdale Hotels
For those who are looking for a more modern take on the British experience, check out a Firmdale hotel. “Hotels should be living things not stuffy institutions” explains the owner of Firmdale hotels, Kit Kemp, an award-winning designer who personally designs the interiors of each hotel in her “fresh, modern English” style. Their eight boutique hotels in London (and two in New York) have high standards for excellence and a unique townhome style of decoration. While not a Royal Warrant, the Firmdale group was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2018. The Haymarket and Ham Yard hotels are particular favorites.
Photo Courtesy of the Ritz London
Traditional: The Ritz London
The Ritz Hotel’s Palm Court Salon is home to a spectacular afternoon tea. With sparkling chandeliers and ornate surroundings, this tradition has been going on since 1906. The Ritz London is the only hotel in the UK to have a certified Tea Sommelier, Giandomenico Scanu, who travels around the world to various tea plantations to source their selection of teas. Guests enjoy a selection of finely cut sandwiches, freshly baked scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserves, and a mouth-watering range of exquisitely presented pastries and teacakes.
Michelin star-awarded Sketch is located in a converted 18th century building on Conduit Street, in the exclusive neighbourhood of Mayfair. Celebrated British artist David Shrigley has transformed the Gallery at Sketch. 239 of his works line the restaurant's walls, forming the largest group of original drawings David Shrigley has ever exhibited. As you enter the whimsical Brassiere, You are invited to leap through a hopscotch court on your way to the tea room, bathed in pink and furnished with scalloped chairs and curvy banquettes upholstered in velvet. Each table is set with mismatched ceramics, with sayings like "Forget About It" and "It's Not Okay." Enjoy traditional British tea sandwiches and pastries all with a bit of a twist.
Traditional: Tate Britain
There is nothing more classic than the Tate Britain, which was chosen for the National Gallery of British Art in 1892. It is home to the largest collection of works by Turner, a master of history, landscape and marine painting who challenged the style of the old masters, trailblazing in technique and subject matter. Also on display are works by Francis Bacon and British artist Lucian Freud. This summer, you can see the new exhibit All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life.
Modern: Tate Modern
Across the Thames, The Tate Modern, with its massive structure as a former power station, opened in 2000 and came to signify a break with tradition. This summer it will host its first ever solo Pablo Picasso exhibition. It will bring you face-to-face with more than 100 paintings, sculptures and drawings, mixed with family photographs and rare glimpses into Picasso’s personal life. Three of his extraordinary paintings featuring his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter will be shown together for the first time since they were created over a period of just five days in March 1932.
Both Traditional and Modern: The Royal Academy of the Arts
The Royal Academy of the Arts seems to find a way to be both steeped in tradition but incredibly relevant - especially this year as it marks the 250th year of the Summer Exhibition. The RA was founded in 1768 by a group of 40 artists and architects who became the first Royal Academicians. The first president was Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose statue now stands outside Burlington House. One of the founding principles was to hold an annual exhibition that anyone could enter and anyone could visit. This summer marks 250 years of the Summer Exhibition held every year since 1769, including during both World Wars. The Royal Academy has also unveiled a newly expanded campus so is really worth a look.
Modern: Street Art
London has one of the biggest and best collections of uncommissioned street art in the world - most notably pop-up works by the anonymous Banksy, whose distinctive stencil artwork has regularly appeared in London for more than a decade. Some of the art makes a hard-hitting political point, while other works are extremely funny; often they are both. Time Out Magazine made a map of where to find all the Banksy pieces in London.
Residences and Parks:
Every summer, the queen opens her doors to the public. Explore the lavishly furnished State Rooms of one of the world's few remaining working royal palaces, and look out for some of the Royal Collection's greatest treasures including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin, Canaletto and Claude and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world. Of course I went a few summers ago to see one of the few Vermeers but learned the Queen had taken it to Balmoral Castle in Scotland :(
Worth mentioning: Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. It is open to visitors all year round. Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, it has since been the home of 39 monarchs. Today The Queen spends most of her private weekends at the Castle. You can easily take a train from Central London directly to Windsor in a little more than an hour.
Kensington Palace, the new home of Harry and Meghan, was once a small and suburban villa known as Nottingham House. New monarchs William III and Mary II chose this modest mansion in 1689 to be their country retreat. Over the years, Stuart and Georgian monarchs transformed the palace into a fashionable home for Britain’s young royal families. You are not likely to run into any of the Royals on your visit, but the palace always hosts interesting temporary exhibits. This summer you can see Diana: Her Fashion Story, the critically-acclaimed exhibition featuring some of the Princess of Wales' most famous outfits. Also current is the chance to explore the history of royal weddings from Queen Victoria through the Princess of Cambridge. The setting for Kensington Palace is Kensington Gardens, which covers 265 acres and was originally part of Hyde Park.
Traditional: J Sheekey
J Sheekey's fish restaurant, founded in 1893, is still considered one of the best seafood restaurants in London. It even has its own cookbook. The wood-paneled dining room and its oyster and champagne bar are always full. The super central location, tucked away on St Martin’s Court between Covent Garden and Leicester Square, J Sheekey is an iconic London restaurant that has been serving the finest fish and shellfish for over 100 years. The lobster and crab omelet is legendary. J-sheekey.co.uk
Modern: Yotam Ottolenghi
Known in the United States for his beautiful cookbook Plenty, Ottolenghi opened his first shop in London in 2002. He describes his food as ‘sunny’. “It’s full of harmonious contradictions: it’s vibrant and bold yet familiar and comforting; it’s beautiful to look at yet close to its original form; it’s full of surprising drama yet always comes together as one; it’s noisy yet peaceful, lip-smacking yet warm, simple yet daring.” Many credit Ottolenghi with changing the way we think about flavor and food. As a devoted disciple, I added in a deli visit to every day I was in London and made dinner at NOPI a must. This June he opens his second restaurant ROVI.
Traditional: Department Stores
The big department stores such as Harrods, Fortnum and Mason (the official grocer of the queen), Harvey Nichols, and Selfridges are all good choices. I’m a particular fan of Liberty because it has a bit of a modern edge for a store that opened in 1875 and is so full of tradition (including the iconic fabrics). This isn’t for bargain shoppers, but the well-curated collection is fun to explore. And, most important of all, if you are planning to be in London in July - the department stores have the best twice-a-year sales anywhere. Be sure to arrive early!
Modern: Independent Stores
Particularly fun, but hard to find as a tourist, are those independent shops that have a ton of character and personality. In London they are everywhere. I found a fun article that lists many of the independent shops and can serve as a good guide. Lots of buzz around LN-CC store, which describes itself as “an evolving platform of curated ideas that encompasses menswear, womenswear, music and books. The store consists of individual product rooms, a library, record store, gallery, cafe and a club space for events.” You’ll need to book ahead - you can visit by appointment only.