London, High & Low: Top Hotel Concierges’ Picks

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Tower Bridge, over the River Thames, London, England

Heading to London town? We’ve asked a few top hotel concierges for their must-do’s in the city this winter. And the best part? Most of them are free.

Brexit, or no, there’s no denying the drop in the value of the pound has been a boon for Canadians travelling to the British capital. And many hoteliers in London have had the preternatural sense to spend time and money into reviving their properties.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often,” said the enigmatic Brit, Winston Churchill. We can’t help agree, sir.

Click through for four hotels that are definitely worth the splurge – but to balance our pocketbooks, we’ve asked the concierge at each of these fine establishments to give us their must-do’s in London this winter. The best part? Most of them are free, so you can spend what you’ve saved on another night living in the lap of London luxury. Pip, pip, cheerio.

The Place: Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill

The Location: Marylebone. Within walking distance to Hyde Park, Marble Arch and the shopping of Oxford Street, and an easy cab ride from Paddington Station, where the Heathrow Express makes its London stop.

The 5-Star Factor: Interior design firm DeSallesFlint has worked on Hyatt properties from Birmingham, England to Bishkek, Krygyzstan, so if you’re a fan of the brand, there’s a comfort to the high-end consistency in design and service.

The Winter Vibe: ‘Siberian Nights’ at The Churchill Bar & Terrace has had its annual makeover. Think fur-lined seats under the twinkling Northern Lights, luxe rugs and decor, including bespoke Churchill blankets and hot water bottles. The terrace comes complete with snacks and creative cocktails, from sake and absinthe toasted marshmallows in the White Fur Warrior, inspired by the White Army’s evening rituals, to the Arriba Spasibo, which signifies the mixing of Siberian and Mexican cultures during the 19th century and, finally, the Boreal Glacier Martini. Guests can continue to tantalise their taste buds with a range of new Siberian winter snacks, including King’s finest Siberian Caviar, as well as The Churchill Bar’s highly-renowned winter fondue menu.

The Bonus: With Netflix’ The Crown, there’s not only a renewed interest in Her Majesty, The Queen, but also of the enigmatic Winston Churchill, the inspiration behind the property. The hotel is a masterful mix of Churchill’s era – think Savile-row bespoke tailoring, eccentric artwork, Victorian- and Edwardian-inspired light fixtures – paired with the here and now affection for light-filled public spaces and informal modernity.

London on a budget, from the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill Concierge:

  1. Winter Festival at the Southbank Centre.
  2. The Radical eye: Modernist Photography from the collection of Sir Elton John at the Tate Modern until 7th of May. £15 (adult)

The Place: The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences

The Location: Mayfair. On Piccadilly, across the street from Green Park, which leads to a walking distance path to Buckingham Palace.

The 5-Star Factor: It may be a family-run establishment, but it’s big-name thinking. Designed by Brit agency Kinnersley Kent Design (who have also had a hand in the new looks of Marks & Spencer and Fortnum & Mason), the public spaces include Galvin at the Athenaeum, by the Michelin-starred London chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin. The Bar at the Athenaeum owes its look and feel to Giancarlo Mancino, one of London’s leading cocktail mixologists.

Tip: if you’d rather not make an entrance to The Bar through the hotel lobby, there’s a secret dedicated entrance on Down Street around the corner.

The Bonus: The outdoor terrace and many of the renovated rooms feature views of leafy Green Park and the people-watching hustle and bustle of Piccadilly.

 London on a budget, from the Athenaeum and

  1. Chinese New Year and the Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House and Gardens – 29 January 2017 (Chinese New Year): Celebrate the Year of the Rooster in London, with the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people descend on the West End to wish each other “Xin Nian Kuai Le” (Happy New Year in Mandarin) or “San Nin Faai Lok” (in Cantonese). The Chinese New Year festivities in Central London are free to attend and take place in Trafalgar Square, Chinatown and across the West End. January 19, 2017 to February 26 2017 (Magical Lantern Festival): Wander through a garden of magical lights as Festival returns to Chiswick House and Gardens. Celebrate Chinese New Year with spectacular light installations and hand-made lanterns in the shape of animals and plants, on an enchanting walk through Chiswick House’s famous gardens.
  2. Rowing: Head of the River Race, 25 March 2017 – Watch the crews speed along London’s famous river Thames in the annual Head of the River Race rowing event. Every spring, 400 national and international crews of eight rowers take to the waters to compete in this historic event. Rowed over the 4.25 mile (6.8km) Thames Championship Course, the race begins at 2.15pm at Mortlake and ends at Putney, taking around two hours from the time the first crew sets off to the time the last crew crosses the finish line. Crews start one after the other, at 10-second intervals, with the previous year’s winner starting first. The winner is the crew that completes the race in the fastest time. See the crews off from Chiswick Bridge, cheer them on from Barnes Bridge as they gather pace, or watch them approach from the Hammersmith Bridge. You can also try to find a good spot on the river banks or a seat in a cosy pub along the course. Free
  3. Rendez-Vous 2017: Tall Ships Regatta in Greenwich and Woolwich, From 13 April 2017 to 16 April 2017 – See the magnificent Tall Ships as they return to the Maritime Greenwich and Royal Arsenal Woolwich riverfronts. A fleet of 40 ships takes to the river Thames for four days of festivities over the Easter weekend, as the crews prepare for a 7,000 nautical mile transatlantic race to Canada. Marking the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation and organized by Sail Training International, the vessels will leave London at the end of the weekend, setting sail for Portugal, Bermuda and Boston, before arriving in Quebec on 18 July.

The Place: The Marylebone

The Location: Marylebone. Kitty corner to Golden Eagle, a classic English pub that’s been around since 1851, walking distance to The Regent’s Park, as well as The Wallace Collection gallery (see more, below), where art lovers can take in the Rococo artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing. The 18th-century painting is sublime in all its oil-painted glory, in which the suitor catches a glimpse of his lover’s skirts while she swings through the air with joyous ease.

The 5-Star Factor: Surrounded by what was formerly “the red-brick mansion flats of dowagers and their lapdogs,” as local art gallery director Benjamin Rhodes puts it, the award-winning hotel, which is part of the Doyle Collection, has retained its neighbourhood charm. But inside, it’s blond woods, turquoise lacquer, orange and purple velvets and white leather chic.

The Bonus: Art lovers will appreciate the hotel’s public spaces, which are employed as rotating gallery space. Black and white photography in the lounges make way for oversized colourful graphics in the hallways leading to the 108 Brasserie, Bar and Pantry. As intended, the Brasserie has a café society feel, mixed with this historic village in London’s West End.

London on a budget, from the Assistant Head Concierge, Riyas Kallan, at The Marylebone.

  1. Wallace Collection: A free national museum displaying superb works of art in an historic London town house. The collection was acquired principally in the 19th century by the 3rd and 4th Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess. Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 Winners Exhibition -Tuesday March 7, 2017 – Friday March 31, 2017. Price: Admission Free
  2. Wigmore Hall: One of the world’s great concert halls, specialises in chamber and instrumental music, early music and song. Many excellent performances will be there throughout the year.
  3. Star Wars Exhibition at Madam Tussauds: The Star Wars exhibition will include 11 immersive sets for the popular film series. Come face-to-face with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, Yoda, and Luke Skywalker. Guests can also take the controls in the flight deck of the Millennium Falcon – perfect for little and big kids alike! Open until June 30, 2017.
  4. Marylebone stopping stroll: The main shopping drag is Marylebone High Street, but the whole area is packed with fabulous shops and restaurants: Come here for everything from haute couture and baby clothes to organic butchery and extravagant cakes. There’s also a specialist travel bookshop called Daunt Books that’s worth a detour just for its Edwardian fixtures and fittings. Don’t forget to visit the Marylebone Farmers’ Market on Sundays, a brilliant little food market tucked away behind Marylebone high street. Fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, cheeses a total delight. It’s near the famous butcher Ginger Pig and La Fromagerie cheese shop is outstanding and well worth a visit.

The Place: Sheraton Grand London Park Lane

The Location: Mayfair, on Piccadilly.

The 5-Star Factor: Fresh off its 90th birthday, the hotel is making its debut as a new Grand tier hotel for Sheraton Hotels & Resorts. An art deco beauty, The Park Lane is the first of its kind in London – a Sheraton Grand – but it’s the historic preservation that mixes modern touches that will continue its rep as a meeting spot for Londoners shopping Piccadilly or travellers who want to explore the neighbourhood, from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. Our hosts told us, “As a well-known haunt of the “Bright Young Things” of 1920s Mayfair, the hotel has played host to many renowned celebrities and VIPs throughout its history.” Plus, the addition of 43 Club Rooms, which enjoy added privileges including a private Club Lounge (cocktails and canapés, included!) and business centre, doesn’t hurt, either. And check with the concierge on special events being held in the ballroom. When we visited, the Art Deco wonder room was being prepped for a boxing match!

The Bonus: It’s a Starwood property, so you’ll accumulate points if you’re a member of the hotel frequent guest program. Even better, the famed rendezvous spot off the lobby, the Palm Court, is maintains its air of art deco detail and is the perfect backdrop for those looking for a stylish respite with a spot of tea. The hotel has partnered with Twining, the venerable tea makers, to create a signature Art Deco blend. India: An exclusive black tea blend from Twinings with the two most famous Indian teas to recreate the flavours of the 1920’s. A light & complex Darjeeling married with the malty, rich Assam giving you a perfect accompaniment for any afternoon tea occasion. Delightful with or without milk.

London on a budget, from The Park Lane concierge:

  1. Borough Market, a fantastic food market, it is London’s most renowned food and drink market, specializing in high quality retail and wholesale food. The market is open year round Monday to Saturday.
  2. There is a slightly lesser known food market just half a mile from Borough Market called Maltby Street Market, which is open year round, Saturday and Sunday. It is a lively street market in Bermondsey with a combination of stalls, under-arch shops, pop-up bars and eateries, a great way to spend a few hours in an afternoon.
  3. Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath: A hidden gem set in the northern grounds of the heath is a former stately home.  It is managed by the English Heritage and is free for everyone to enjoy.  It has beautiful gardens as well year round activities for children plus a world class collection of art ( including sculptures by Henry Moore plus paintings by Rembrandt).  Hampstead Heath is one of the highest points of the city and offers amazing views over London.