in partnership with IHG and ShopStyle
When is the best time to visit London?
An Australian girlfriend asked me this question and without thinking, I answered “December”.
She didn’t believe me.
Yes, it is colder and the days shorter and yes, the traffic is crazy busy. It doesn’t matter because London in December is magical. It twinkles with the festive glow like no other city and if holiday spirit is what you enjoy then book the first ticket over. I have lived in London, back and forth for more than seventeen years and it has never once failed to enchant me at this time of the year.
The second and most obvious question is, “where to stay”. The answer is dependant on many factors but the main one I believe is location. Last weekend I was a guest, in my own city, at the InterContinental London on Park Lane. Number one Park Lane to be exact and as addresses go, they don’t come much better. The views over Green Park and Hyde Park Corner are extraordinary at every hour of the day. I was mesmerised watching London ebb and flow against a backdrop of urban beauty.
For a London visit, there is no better location.
The InterContinental London is quietly elegant with everything on hand and wonderful service to make for a memorable stay. I could have stayed indoors and amused myself for days except I knew what was out the door and around the corner. If I could live right there, like Eloise, I would move in and never leave.
What is out the door and around the corner?
If there is one area to visit in London in December, it is Piccadilly.
Take a stroll through Green Park and catch a glimpse of Buckingham Palace. Head up Piccadilly and window shop at Bentley & Skinner. Stock up on Dr Harris & Co pharmacy goodies for your friends and family before saying hello to the doorman at the Burlington Arcade. He is charming and very ready for a chat.
Salvador Dali is showing at the Royal Academy of Arts until mid-January – don’t miss that. Cross over the road and snap the Christmas windows at Fortnum & Mason before entering their traditional heaven. If you haven’t time to make your own Christmas pudding, theirs is the next best.
Right next-door is Hatchards, one of London’s finest bookstores. It’s easy to get lost in there – time disappears. Back up a little and turn left into Piccadilly Arcade, one of the most lovely. Try the black truffle mustard from Maille and stock up on bath salts from Santa Maria Novella but most of all it is the quaint shop fronts in this arcade that are the standout. If you are struggling with what to buy the boys, look no further than Bowring Arundel on the Jermyn Street side of the arcade.
Jermyn Street, with the prettiest street decorations, is to the boys what Bond Street is to the girls. Heaven. We aren’t entirely forgotten and Floris is why. Their Lily of the Valley bath oil is worth crossing continents for.
And then there is Bond Street.
Try the violet and rose creams from Charbonnel et Walker in the Royal Arcade. Gaze upwards at the ceiling in this arcade, it is one of the prettiest. Cartier is entirely gift-wrapped for the holidays and Tiffany &Co is a twinkly playful light extravaganza.
If I wasn’t in the holiday spirit before last weekend, I am now.
Late afternoon and it is time for tea. London isn’t London without a Royal Tea in the Wellington Lounge.
Tea is one of the great British customs – think back to Downton Abbey and the Dowager Duchess. Apart from the tea, it is the finger sandwiches, the scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam and the delicate gateaux that make restraint impossible. Not to mention the champagne.
Tea would not be tea without a glass of champagne and London would not be London without tea.
For me, One Park Lane feels like the heart of London.
Watching the world go by, high up over the Royal Parks, is not only the perfect introduction for the first time visitor but also a reminder to someone who makes London home, that this vibrant city is something very special.
Let me know when you are coming; I’m ready for you. xv
One Hamilton Place, Park Lane,
LONDON W1J 7QY,
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