It's our favorite season: fall. As we don't get much in the way of changing leaves and autumnal temperatures here in Palm Beach, its always fun to branch out and get away during this magical time of year. London is a great place to do this. This wonderful city is simply buzzing in fall and we love it for so many reasons. October brings many bold and beautiful colors, making this charming city of history, cobblestone streets, and pubs galore somehow more spectacular than ever.
Getting to London
Though it is not the shortest flight, it's definitely worth it. Most flights from the east coast are red eye flights, meaning you leave late afternoon/early evening and land early morning London (GMT) time. If you can sleep on a plane, this is ideal as you will get the rest you need and wake up ready to take on London! If not, well let's just say the jet lag is real!
All major carriers fly to London, the majority of which head to the very busy Heathrow airport, although Gatwick can be just as hectic. We've done this trip MANY times and can confidently recommend the Delta/Virgin alliance as our choice airline. Virgin Atlantic (aka the flying cocktail party) is a fabulous way to travel, particularly if you're in any form of upper class. From their stellar entertainment service, accommodating staff, and a friendly atmosphere, it's a top pick every time we "cross the pond."
Customs in the U.K. can be brutal, but it has improved quite a bit in the past few years. Let's be honest, the last thing you want to do after an 8 and a half hour red eye flight is stand in a line that rivals that of Disney World the first day of spring. Alas, it is unavoidable. Though the lines may seem daunting, we promise, in our many trips to the U.K., the longest we've waited has been 40 minutes.
Both Gatwick and Heathrow are an easy train ride to central London, though we always opt for a black cab or uber. Expect to spend about an hour working your way towards zone 1, which is central London.
Where to Stay
We chose the Montague on the Gardens in a fabulous part of town. This four star hotel is part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, which also manages the Chesterfield here in Palm Beach. This pet friendly hotel is set within a Georgian building and is truly an ode to British aristocracy.
Located in Covent Garden, famous for shopping, off Broadway plays, the adorable Apple Market, and plenty of delicious restaurants and pubs, the Montague truly offers London at your doorstep. Just across the street you will find the British Museum, down the road plenty of amazing restaurants and shops, and is a short walk from several tube stations for your exploring needs.
The Montague Hotel radiates the gentility and coziness so often associated with proper London. Steps from Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and myriad other established London attractions, the Montague offers guests a choice location in London's west-end.
We were struck by the high ceilings, heavy drapery, and spacious rooms. The hotel is appointed luxuriously, the lobby staff is kind and welcoming, the lounge, dining room, and tea garden inviting and understatedly elegant.
The Montague overlooks no detail, from the welcoming rooms, to kind and inviting staff, and the wonderful location makes this hotel a must visit.
The hotel is located at 15 Montague Street, London, WC1B 5BJ. For more information, visit their website or call +44(0)20 7637 1001.
What to Eat
Tea Time at the Montague
You absolutely cannot go to London without enjoying a spot of high tea. This British ritual was started in 1840 by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. Reportedly, as lunch was often served at noon sharp and dinner not until 8:00 p.m., the Duchess would get hungry at around four o'clock in the afternoon. Her solution was to have her household staff prepare tea, small sandwiches and cakes to be served. After time she would invite her friends and this countryside born informal meal quickly became the fashion of aristocrats in London as she continued with her afternoon entertaining during season.
If you're staying at the Montague, you'll find a delicious and traditional afternoon tea served in the conservatory or terrace overlooking the Bloomsbury Gardens. The staff are extremely helpful, so if you aren't confident in your selection of teas (of which they have many!), they will explain them all and even make recommendations for how to doctor it up. We chose a selection of lady grey and earl grey teas, followed by a Darjeeling black tea to finish.
Afternoon tea at the Montague consists of traditional finger sandwiches with a gourmet twist! We found the bread to be moist and delicious, offering options such as smoked salmon, cucumber, egg and chicken salad. The tea cakes and petit four were also delightful and included a selection of chocolate brownies, macarons with caremel coffee cream, a raspberry tart with lemon, miniature cheesecakes and of course scones to finish complete with Devonshire clotted creme and preserves. The staff were very attentive and we never has to ask for anything! They offer to refill any tier of your tea as you like, which we find we never have need for but is always nice to offer. You can also choose to add champagne to your afternoon tea, which is always a fun treat!
In addition to traditional afternoon tea, the Montague also offer a fun safari themed menu, which includes an alternative selection of finger sandwiches such as African spiced chicken and apricot, an array of tempting treats including Giraffe macaron with salted caramel, toasted coconut mousse, banana meringue, and an extensive selection of traditional, flavoured, aromatic, fruit and green teas and freshly baked scones. The tea is also served with their signature Leopard Cocktail, which is made with Amarula cream liquor and adorably decorated with leopard spots and paw print.
Dinner at the English Grill
Steps away from Buckingham palace is the The Rubens at the Palace, an establishment that truly exudes the old London feel that we love so much. When we think of London, we think of fog, Big Ben, and of course the Queen. The English Grill brings you one step closer to the latter, where you can truly dine like royalty. The kitchen at the English Grill is proud to say that their purveyors come from the very same suppliers as the Queen’s kitchen.
Upon entering the English Grill we immediately noticed the open window kitchen, strategically placed in what feels like the geometric center such that all tables can see the kitchen and the movement from within, livening the room.
When dining at an establishment such as the English Grill, we felt duty bound to keep on the path traditional selections offered on their stellar menu. For our first course, we tried the black pudding scotch egg and the duo of smoked salmon. The scotch egg was rich with complex savory flavors that enhanced a traditional English favorite. The salmon was presented as a duo of Irish and Scottish smoked salmon. Both dishes were exquisite.
For the mains, we had the signature tomahawk steak, and the dover sole, with savory sides such as the duck fat potatoes and creamed spinach. The sole was delicate and flavorful, the steak rich and bold. The meal itself was wonderful and enhanced by the wine pairings that were suggested by the restaurants sommelier.
The restaurant boasts its own range of fine wines, which come from the cellars of Bouchard Finlayson Winery in South Africa, a sister company to the Red Carnation Hotel Collection. The sommelier kindly took the time to guide us through each variety with a selection of three wines per course. The pairings of white ranged from buttery to fuller bodied, with each of the three representing a step towards a fuller bodied wine. The reds were also presented in escalating tiers that, as our sommelier explained, began with a delicate South African pinot and concluded with a bold blended grape that is proprietary to the vineyard. All six wines were pleasing to the palate and the entire meal was an experience we recommend highly.
Other Dining Spots We Love
The London Underground is the oldest underground line in the world. It first opened in January of 1863 with the Metropolitan line. Both the Mayor of London and Transport for London take great pride in its cleanliness and efficiency. It is certainly the best way to get around London. Pick up an Oyster Card on your first day and either top up the amount on the card or pay daily travel rates. Your Oyster Card will work on all forms of public transport including the tube, trains, double decker buses and even the Thames River ferry boats!
What to Do
Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Each week at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday you can watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. This ceremony starts at 10.45am and lasts around 45 minutes. This is a free event, so be sure to arrive early to secure a spot with a good view!
See Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery
Stop to see the famous Trafalgar Square and statue of Nelson’s Column, a monument built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson in 1805 that is guarded by four lions. The famous square is a short walk from Covent Garden and the Montague, as well as the Houses of Parliament, Big Bed and Westminster Abbey. Here you will also find the National Gallery which houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900, including Van Gough's Sunflowers. The museum is free to enter, however they do accept donations.
Take a Trip on the London Eye
Just across the bridge from Parliament on the south bank of the River Thames is Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel Offering one of the highest public viewing points in London, this amazing giant ferris wheel was constructed in 2000 and is one of the best ways to take in a view of entire city. Pick up tickets online to beat the line.
Tour London's Many markets
- Borough Market: Enjoy a market that dates back 1014 AD near Waterloo station in London! The Borough Markets, originally created for Londoners to buy and sell every day products like grain, fruit, vegetables, fish and livestock, is today an amazing marketplace with hundreds of boasts stalls choked full of wordily goods with everything from pheasant to sea urchin, classic fish & chips, curry houses, exotic meats and more.
- Portobello Market: Tucked away in sleepy Notting Hill are the street stalls and antique shops that make up Portobello Road and on Saturday's, the Portobello Market. Make sure to stop into the original Hummingbird Bakery Cafe for a coffee and sweet treat!
- Apple Market: Located in Covent Garden, just a short walk from the Montague Hotel, is the adorable and versatile Apple Market. Largely an artisanal market, here you will find vendors with plenty of adorable handmade goods. It's like touring a physical store with all your favorite Etsy shops! What more could you ask for?
- Colombia Road Flower Market: If you're looking for a truly authentic British experience, the Colombia Road Flower Markets are a must-do. Known mostly by Londoners, this not so touristic location will show you how to real British people haggle - over flowers! It's truly an intriguing sight. Grown men shout and haggle over beautiful floral bunches of flowers coming from large trucks as far as the eye can see! Stop by, grab a coffee and stroll the streets as you take in the one-of-a-kind experience that is the Colombia Flower Market.
- Brick Lane: If you're not sure what kind of curry to go for, Brick Lane pretty much has them all. Less a market than a grouping of London's curry house experts all along one street in East London, here you will be greeted by the many restauranteur's who line the streets bargaining for your patron. You can haggle over everything that might be included in your agreed price, an interesting experience to be sure!
Visit the Sky Garden atop the Walkie Talkie
On top of one of London's newest sky scrapers you will find a three story 'sky garden'. This amazing space is atop the 20 Fenchurch building (fondly nicknamed the 'walkie talkie' building by Londoners), and boasts views of the entire city. During the day guests are required to book in advance. However, you can go up from 6:00 p.m. onwards if you simply wait in line. This was actually perfect for us as we hoped to catch the sunset (and did!). There is a bar in the center, live entertainment at night and two restaurants to choose from. It was one of our favorite new experiences in this amazing city.
Take a Ferry to the Greenwich Mean Time Center
Just a short ferry ride away is the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, Greater London. Here, you can stand at the centre of world time and learn all about how great scientists first mapped the seas and the stars. Home to the Prime Meridian Line, you can literally straddle both of the world's hemispheres. It's a wonderful experience and a fascinating museum.
Walk Hyde Park
Hyde Park is known all around the world for is outstanding gardens, beautiful and quiet paths, and proximity to tBuckingham Palace. More than just a garden, locals can do much outdoor activity in the park from taking a stroll to boating, tennis, and even horse riding. We suggest a walk through the gardens on your way to the palace for the Changing of the Guard!
Go On A Jack the Ripper Tour of Old London
Ok this one may not be for everyone, but we found it fascinating! Less gruesome than historical, we walked with a group of other curious history-lovers through cobblestone streets learning first and foremost about East London during the Victorian era. Our guide was knowledgable, personable, and interesting. We got to see some original buildings from hundreds of years ago, learned interesting facts about where buildings once stood and others have been updated, and yes, of course, learned about each and every woman that were a victim of the infamous Jack the Ripper. Wear comfortable shoes, we probably covered 4-5 miles in total throughout the walk.