Selected images © Photos.London
London was calling to Richard Abbey who found the perfect base from which to explore on a recent visit to the capital.
Stepping off the train at King’s Cross you could sense almost immediately that London has not quite returned to ‘normal’.
Regardless of the time of day you expect to walk into a packed concourse before hustling your way to the tube to get to wherever you need to go, but there was none of that. It was much more sedate, relaxed even.
Of course this is not necessarily a bad thing and makes it a great time to explore the capital before the long haul flights begin to disembark onto its streets once again.
A late morning tube ride to Covent Garden was both short and quiet and on, exiting the station, full of surprises. Again it was distinctly less busy and seems to have undergone a bit of a transformation since my last visit. The market is still the hub (the street performers are still there) but the streets around this seem to have been elevated to another level. Many of them have been pedestrianised while garlands of flowers and lights suspended across these thoroughfares have added character and charm. Bars, restaurants and cafes now spill out on to walkways and squares to create a continental style atmosphere and with the addition of new shopping and dining areas such as The Yards and the Seven Dials Market, Covent Garden feels alive once again.
The base for our short stay was just a stone’s throw from Covent Garden and is a landmark itself, being part of the London skyline for over 112 years and steeped in history and heritage. The Strand Palace Hotel has recently undergone a two-year multimillion-pound refurbishment that has seen the renovation of all 785 bedrooms, public areas, and a brand-new restaurant and bar refurbished with a modern art-deco inspired interior design.
We stayed in two deluxe king rooms, linked by an adjoining door, which offered plenty of space for the four of us as well as comforts including Hypnos mattresses, air conditioning, free high speed wi-fi, Nespresso® coffee machine, complimentary fully stocked minibar and large HD TV. It was the perfect place to relax after a day exploring the capital.
Breakfast was included in our stay and was served each morning in the Haxells Restaurant & Bar. There was a good choice of hot and cold food as well as fruit juices, tea and coffee - my children particularly enjoyed the American-style pancakes lavishly smothered in maple syrup.
Haxells is also open for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner with a passion for provenance and a focus on impeccably sourced, top-quality ingredients. The menu is full of modern British dishes such as the Haxells burger, superfood salad, Hawaiian salmon poke bowl and to finish, chocolate cake with honeycomb ice cream.
As comfortable as it is inside, it’s the location that really sells Strand Palace with many of the capital’s world-famous sights and attractions, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, the London Eye, and the River Thames, on its doorstep. You’re also in the heart of theatreland and Soho, home to some of the London’s hottest nightlife spots, is less than a 15-minute walk from the hotel.
We’d pre-booked tickets for the lastminute.com London Eye and made the most of the glorious weather with a gentle stroll through Trafalgar Square, St James Park and Parliament Square before crossing Westminster Bridge to its location on the Southbank. Entry was well organised (and safe) as you’d expect and after a short queue we climbed to a height of 135m for unrivalled views over the city. Each pod had limited numbers - we shared with one other family - so there was plenty of room to distance but still enjoy the sights without getting in each other’s way.
After hitting the heights we enjoyed a long stroll down the Southbank, which has developed into a real foodie destination. There are shipping containers, vans and trucks, all with plenty of seating and all serving food and drink, as well as recognised restaurants and cafes. Gabriel’s Wharf, just next to the OXO building, even had a beach bar. We walked on to the Tate Modern before crossing the Thames to St Paul’s Cathedral and back along Fleet Street and The Strand, via Somerset House, to the hotel.
During our stay we also visited the British Museum and the National Gallery, which are both free to enter but, due to Covid restrictions, tickets must be booked in advance. The former, again a short walk from the hotel, is home to two million years of world history and culture and is worth the admission alone for the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, the largest covered square in Europe.
Our whistlestop tour of the National Gallery took in paintings from the likes of Johannes Vermeer, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh amongst others.
No trip to London is complete without a spot of shopping; Oxford Street and Regent Street cover all bases and were some of the busiest places we visited but again Covent Garden, and particularly the area around Seven Dials, came out on top with a good selection of independent stores as well as some well known high street favourites.
On the evidence of this visit, it shows that the return to ‘normal’ is definitely well on it’s way; after almost 18 months of Covid restrictions, our recent family trip was one of our first opportunities to get away and I’ll be honest, it felt fantastic.
Prices at the Strand Palace Hotel start from £106 per room, per night.
Strand Palace Hotel
372 Strand, London, WC2R 0JJ
Tel: 020 7379 4737