London at Park Lane
We asked George Murray, Concierge Manager at Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, to gather the savviest sight-seeing suggestions he could find—not just his own, but also those of the local connoisseurs, including some he works with every day at the Hotel. With its bustling nightlife, rich cultural offerings and upscale shopping districts, London is truly a vibrant, global destination.
Once in a Lifetime
This year, all of London will host the 2012 Summer Olympics Games and the Paralympics, with the world’s greatest athletes competing for gold in venues as widely distributed as the architecturally exciting Olympic Park in East London and Earls Court near the western entrance to Central London. Not to worry if you’ve missed out on tickets—several events, notably foot and cycle road races, will be run through London’s streets, free for all to watch. Or join other spectators at giant screens in Hyde Park and at Potters Fields beside Tower Bridge to watch and enjoy the games, plus live music in a festive atmosphere. The Olympic Games begin on July 27 with the opening ceremony and run through August 12. The Paralympics follow, from August 29 to September 9.
London’s incomparable museums and galleries are all getting into the spirit of this special summer with exhibits picking up on the themes of the Olympics, the Cultural Olympiad, the World Shakespeare Festival and the London 2012 Festival. At the British Museum, “Shakespeare: Staging the World” looks at London through the prism of Shakespeare’s plays, and “Winning at the Ancient Games” is a free trail through the museum’s sports-related treasures. Among the 11,000 portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, “The Queen: Art & Image” marks the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II by charting the evolving image of Her Majesty, one of the most-portrayed people of all time. At the Victoria and Albert Museum, travel through the decades since the first London Olympics in 1948 with “British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age.”
London is famous for its green open spaces. The lovely landscaped Kensington Gardens, and Hyde Park with its wild meadows and the Serpentine lake, are perfect for a quiet stroll, a picnic or a Frisbee toss. This summer, the parks will be a bit more crowded than usual, though, with Olympic Equestrian and Modern Pentathlon events in Greenwich Park, Swimming and Triathlon in Hyde Park, and cycle races running through Richmond Park—as well as giant Olympic screens everywhere throughout much of the summer. Try a family-friendly outdoor adventure on the Thames instead. London Duck Tours use original 1944 D-Day landings amphibious vehicles for sight-seeing across both land and water. If you book a tour during the Games, leave a bit of extra time to arrive at your departure dock and you should be fine. Or book a tour of London’s major attractions with one of the city’s expert and entertaining Blue Badge guides. These highly trained tour guides can provide private tours tailored to your special interests. And in 2012, many are offering special insights into London’s historic but previously overlooked East End.
The Views From the Top
The London Eye, London’s giant Ferris wheel, offers one of the best, leisurely views of the city, travelling to a height of 135 metres (443 feet) on its 30-minute “flight.” New in 2012, the Emirates Air Line is the UK’s first urban aerial tramway, carrying up to 2,500 passengers an hour across the Thames at a height of up to 90 metres (300 feet). Built to connect Greenwich with London’s Royal Docks across the river, the cable car will become a permanent feature of the London skyline, offering dramatic views of the O2 Arena, the Thames Barrier, Canary Wharf and other East London sights during its four- to five-minute flight. But probably the best and certainly the most iconic view of London can be enjoyed free from Waterloo Bridge. The panorama takes in Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the South Bank’s Royal Festival Hall and London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Swiss Re Tower (usually called “The Gherkin”), and Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers. At night the view is almost unbearably romantic.
London’s status as an international fashion capital makes it a shopper’s paradise. Look to Bond Street for well-established international and British luxury brands, including Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Stella McCartney, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Chanel. For one-of-a-kind accessories steeped in British tradition, visit Asprey. The luxury brand dates to 1781 and offers a range of gifts, jewellery, watches, leather goods and fine silver. And at Thomas Goode on South Audley Street, they have been turning out custom-made china and objets d’art for royals and heads of state since 1827. Their china museum, one of London’s best-kept secrets, is worth a detour. The surrounding neighbourhood of Mayfair is liberally laced with luxury. Buy fine art on Cork Street; exquisite leather goods and diamond jewellery on Conduit Street and Albermarle Street; and trendy, up-and-coming designers in one of several Browns boutiques on South Molton Street. Department stores like Liberty, Harvey Nichols and, of course, Harrods offer one-stop luxury shopping, while Savile Row’s legendary tailors make the greatest bespoke menswear in the world.