Author Leslie Woit Photography Mirjam Bleeker
DAY TWO / After breakfast in bed with the papers (the only real cure for a large London night), elevate the soul with a visit to one of the greatest collections of European painting in the world, The National Gallery. Since the public owns the paintings, admission is free.
Time for a walking tour. Set out across the recently pedestrianised Trafalgar Square (Mayor Ken Livingstone banned cars and feeding pigeons). Lord Nelson, who led Britain to victory over the French in the Battle of Trafalgar, still watches from atop his column. Head down Whitehall. On the right is 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s home, and on the left is Banqueting House, where Charles I lost his head in 1649. At the neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament, guided tours are offered for everyone but the queen when the House is in recess; by law the monarch is not permitted entry into the House of Commons.
Next stop is the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, an underground command centre where Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his government met as bombs rained down on London during the Blitz in 1940–1941. Perfectly preserved, the warren of situation rooms and sparse sleeping quarters offers an awe-inspiring look into wartime London.
Above ground, it’s time for a romantic picnic (weather permitting) in one of London’s most idyllic parks, St James’s. At Inn the Park restaurant, pick up your picnic and blanket or choose from the locally sourced organic menu indoors or on the terrace.
After your trip below ground, go to 135 metres (443 feet) above it. Hop aboard The British Airways London Eye. Glass of bubbly in hand, your smooth glass pod floats Mary Poppins–style above London’s skyline.
Next, it’s onto the River Thames. You’re headed to Tate Modern aboard the Tate Boat—door-to-door service in a sleek catamaran. Featuring a sea of expressionists and a room of Rothko, the gallery is the second-most-popular tourist attraction in the country. Walk over the Millennium footbridge afterward for a great view of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Back at the hotel, there’s time for a nap or a relaxing dip in the pool. This evening is dedicated to what London does best: “The play’s the thing.” If you didn’t get to the Half Price Ticket Booth in Leicester Square today, the concierge will arrange tickets at one of London’s West End theatres for the finest productions of Shakespeare, Wilde, Ibsen, Pinter, Lloyd Webber, and more. Take your seat and prepare to be transported.
The final curtain is your cue for a late dinner at trendy Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea. Simple gastropub-style cooking features tender aged beef and fresh seafood. Chef Tom Aikens opened this spot just down the street from his eponymous restaurant, which earned a Michelin star within 10 months of opening.