Have you ever had to stay 48 hours (or less) in a city – on purpose? I’m not talking about layovers where you manage to sleep on hard plastic chairs because there is no airport lounge open in the wee hours of the morning.
Due to flight schedules, I found myself with a mere 48 hours (technically it was 35 hours) in London in early September. I welcomed the short time in the city, as I have not visited since March 2020. Clearly, I needed to make the best of my time and being that this was my 5th time to the UK capital, I was not queuing up to go to the London Eye.
How does one spend a short time in London? Here are my suggestions to help manage your time well.
Choose one property, in one central area, near transit. Thanks to the Tube, its’ all very accessible. Yet depending upon the airport in which you land (Heathrow or Gatwick), you can guarantee an hour (or depending upon traffic) more has gone by.
My area of choice for this trip was the Mayfair/Kensington/Soho area, which is the fanciest area in London that I have ever stayed in. You really can’t go wrong as there are so many great boroughs in London, each with their own highlights. There is no need to travel across the city to only spend an hour or so to get back.
My wonderful, but short stay was at the COMO Metropolitan London just off the landmark Hyde Park Corner. If you have ever played the original version of Monopoly – you will know the address, its Park Lane. Conveniently, Bond Street, Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Piccadilly are within easy walking distance.
There are 144 rooms and suites, as well as 19 long-stay apartments. Additional amenities include Nobu for Japanese-Peruvian cuisine and COMO Shambhala Urban Escape for Asian-inspired therapies. At COMO Shambhala Urban Escape, Guests can indulge in award-winning wellness treatments such as facials, massages, and acupuncture. There is also an onsite steam room and 24-hour fitness center, where personal trainers are available upon request. Barring my time limit, I would have visited the Shambhala Urban Escape.
Should you have any questions about an itinerary, the concierge is happy to answer questions and help plan your stay. The helpful concierge was able to secure two tickets to the Victoria Albert Museum’s DIVA exhibit, which was already sold out for the Saturday afternoon.
When I awoke from my restful slumber (Sadly, I had to pull myself out of the comfortable bed for my flight) I was served the most delicious breakfast in record speed. The coffee was strong, the hash browns were crunchy and the omelette had everything I requested. In 30 minutes, I had left the hotel and was whisked away back to Heathrow.
Perhaps you are jet lagged and tired, and all you really want to do is close the dark-out blinds and hibernate with room service. Fight the urge. The city is calling your name to explore.
South of Hyde Park is the Victoria Albert Museum (V & A South Kensington). The V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design, housing a permanent collection of over 2.8 million objects, books and archives that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. The museum holds many of the UK’s national collections and houses some of the greatest resources for the study of architecture, furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, jewellery, glass, ceramics, book arts, Asian art and design, theatre and performance.
It’s one of my favourite museums in the world and the main entry is free (tickets are needed for special exhibits). While I managed to check out the DIVA exhibit, the new Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto exhibit just opened (and sadly sold out – unless you become a member).
The Victoria Albert Museum is right beside the beautiful Natural History Museum, and if you have time and the attention for it, it’s also a great visit.
Pressed for time, I needed to get my fill of all the London institutions I could – my first stop was Fortnum & Mason. First founded in London in 1707, after Queen Anne permitted her footman William Fortnum to sell discarded candles from St James’s Palace, Fortnum’s has forged a close relationship with the British Royal household ever since. Fortnum & Mason has held several warrants, including one from Her Late Majesty, The Queen and continues to this day with His Majesty The King.
I have only had Afternoon Tea at the Piccadilly flagship once, but should your schedule allow 3 hours, it’s a quintessential must do. I left with a large bag filled with tea, chocolates, cookies and lemon curd spread. Had my bag not been filled to the brim, I would have brought more. While there is a store in Terminal 5 at Heathrow, nothing beats a visit to the beautiful flagship.
From food to textiles, Liberty is another one of London’s great retailers. In 1875, Arthur Lasenby Liberty borrowed £2,000 from his future father-in-law and took a building on Regent Street, with just three dedicated staff and plenty of ambition. The Tudor style building is magnificent with flooring constructed by the timbers of two ancient ‘three-decker’ battleships. The HMS Impregnable – built from 3040 100-year-old oaks from the New Forest – and the HMS Hindustan, which measures the length and height of the Liberty building. Shoppers can find luxuries from around the world, and most notable is the Liberty textile archive. Around the holiday season, Liberty comes out with a massive Advent Beauty Calendar that draws queues and always sells out. I love browsing through their section of stationery and Liberty print products.
If you are a fan of stationery and leather essentials, the Smythson flagship on New Bond Street is a must-stop. Since 1887 Smythson has been creating bags and accessories to notebooks, diaries, stationery, and home accessories to suit every adventure. Of course, a brand with so much heritage also has several Royal warrants under its belt. Pick up a notebook or two and have initials embossed in the cover, makes for a perfect gift to give (or keep).
Perhaps you are wondering if I had a chance to stop, sit and enjoy London’s finest food? With such a short timeline, I unfortunately did not. However, if you can make reservations over lining up in a queue for time-management sake, try one of the establishments in the area below.
Sometimes it is nice to visit familiar restaurants in other cities, so the expectations of service and food quality is clear. While I have visited the LAVO in New York, the restaurant recently opened during London Fashion Week at the BoTree Hotel. Split over two floors, LAVO is flooded with natural light, complete with a grown Olive Tree and features a sleek bar area with an intimate terrace. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu features a selection of high-end Italian dishes created by Chief Culinary Officer Ralph Scamardella and Head Chef Stefano Lorenzini.
SUCRE opened in London after a successful open in Buenos Aires in 2001. Founded by Chef Fernando Trocca the restaurant pays tribute to Argentina and its Mediterranean roots. The beautiful dining room is adorned with massive decanter chandeliers with a wood oven and huge “parilla” (or grill) at the centre. This ensures cooking is done the Argentine way, using embers rather than the live flame. The Sunday Asado prix fixé 3 course menu starts on October 15, where guests can choose from several mains, including a mouth-watering 300 g Striploin with Chimichurri.
If you are looking for something exclusive to London, try Franco’s. Established in 1945, Franco’s is considered as one of London’s first Italian restaurants. Head Chef Stefano Turconi’s menu offers homemade bread and fresh pasta, a variety of fish and meat as well as vegan and gluten free options. Franco’s opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The bar and heated outside terrace are open all day. Perfect for a quick chat over a drink. I have heard that the dedicated rosé wine section is one of the largest in the city.
Nestled in The Bloomsbury Hotel, you will find the Dalloway Terrace. This restaurant has been on my list for a while, as it has a dreamy ambience. It is a year-round garden terrace (fully heated in the winter). Open all day, the restaurant offers brunch, afternoon tea and a pre-theatre menu. The Dalloway recently partnered exclusively with Neal’s Yard Remedies and London Essence to celebrate their commitment to British biodiversity and sustainability.